Secret files held by Yemeni security forces that contain details of American intelligence operations in the country have been looted by Iran-backed militia leaders, exposing names of confidential informants and plans for U.S.-backed counter-terrorism strikes, U.S. officials say.
U.S. intelligence officials believe additional files were handed directly to Iranian advisors by Yemeni officials who have sided with the Houthi militias that seized control of Sana, the capital, in September, which led the U.S.-backed president to flee to Aden.
For American intelligence networks in Yemen, the damage has been severe. Until recently, U.S. forces deployed in Yemen had worked closely with President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi’s government to track and kill Al Qaeda operatives, and President Obama had hailed Yemen last fall as a model for counter-terrorism operations elsewhere.
But the identities of local agents were considered compromised after Houthi leaders in Sana took over the offices of Yemen’s National Security Bureau, which had worked closely with the CIA and other intelligence agencies, according to two U.S. officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive operations.
Yemeni intelligence officers still loyal to Hadi’s besieged government burned some secret files, one official said. But they couldn’t destroy all of them before the Houthi fighters, whose leaders have received some weapons and training from Iran, moved in.
The abrupt changes in Yemen, including the loss of the intelligence files, has prompted criticism that the White House failed to adequately prepare for the collapse of a fragile ally, and that it relied too heavily on poorly trained local security forces.
“It was a train wreck that anyone who knows anything about Yemen could see happening. It seems we put our head in the sand, and the train wreck has happened and now we are saying, ‘How did this happen?’” said Ali Soufan, a former senior FBI agent who worked on terrorism cases and now heads the Soufan Group, a security firm in New York.
“We pulled out from any meaningful control of the situation in the country and now I think it is too late, because every decision is a bad decision,” he said.
Full article: Iran-backed rebels loot Yemen files about U.S. spy operations (LA Times)