Agencies Fear New U.S. Attack Plots Are Afoot in Yemen

U.S. law-enforcement and intelligence agencies are warning that the Yemen-based Qaeda affiliate that they believe launched Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab on his alleged unsuccessful Christmas Day underpants bombing mission is currently believed to be plotting fresh attacks inside the U.S. The problem: according to several intelligence and law-enforcement officials, there is no specific information on where, when, or how any such attacks might be carried out.

Officials contacted by Declassified said that intelligence agencies were poring over recent reporting that suggest one or more additional plots have been set in motion by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). It is unclear whether these sketchy reports are regarded today as more alarming than they would have been before the Christmas incident. According to an official familiar with U.S. aviation-security precautions, few if any specific additional security measures are being urgently implemented in response to the latest intelligence. (The first media report on the new threats appears to have come from Pete Williams, the respected Justice Department correspondent of NBC News.)

The existence of the new threat reporting was confirmed by multiple U.S. counterterrorism officials, who asked for anonymity when discussing sensitive information. One official said: "We remain concerned about threats to the homeland but have nothing specific at this time." Another of the officials said it was "highly unlikely that AQAP stopped all their plotting" against targets inside the U.S. in the wake of the would-be underpants bomber's arrest.

As Declassified reported earlier this week, between late 2008 and Christmas 2009 U.S. spy agencies issued multiple reports warning that AQAP was posing a growing threat and that the group was plotting against targets in the West in general and inside the U.S. in particular. However, none of this reporting was specific enough to enable U.S. security or intelligence agencies to divine in advance that AQAP had launched a young Nigerian extremist on a Christmas Day underpants bombing mission.

UPDATE: After this item was posted, the Homeland Security Department issued a statement indicating that U.S. aviation security measures are being stepped up, although the statement, by Secretary Janet Napolitano, did not specifically mention the latest threats from Yemen. But NBC reported that this was in response to intelligence indicating that Al Qaeda in Yemen is planning another attack on the United States.

Here is what Napolitano said:

"In view of the event of Christmas Day we must remain vigilant about the continued threat we face from al-Qa'ida. We are taking an additional set of aviation security precautions to protect the American people. Some of these measures include enhanced random screening, additional federal air marshals on certain routes and adding individuals of concern to our terrorist watch list system. As a result of these measures and others we have put in place since Christmas, travelers should allot extra time when flying-particularly into the United States from overseas. We are facing a determined enemy and we appreciate the patience of all Americans and visitors to our country, and the cooperation of our international partners as well as a committed airline industry. We will continue to update and adapt our defenses as needed to ensure air travel is both safe and efficient. As always, we continue to ask all Americans to report any suspicious behavior to the local law enforcement authorities."