Time has an excerpt of a new book by Ron Suskind that says al Qaeda perfected a device that would allow hydrogen cyanide gas to be produced remotely from commonly available chemicals. The plans for the device were captured in Saudi Arabia; the CIA immediately constructed a device from the plans and found that it worked. The weapon was immediately shown to President Bush and Vice President Cheney.
One of the most interesting aspects of the excerpt is that the target of al Qaeda’s plot–the New York subway system–was revealed by a CIA mole inside al Qaeda. So it appears that we do have some human intelligence inside that organization.
For reasons unknown, Zawahiri called off the New York attack 45 days before it was scheduled to occur. But al Qaeda still has the ability to produce a deadly hydrogen cyanide attack at will.
I don’t think much of Ron Suskind; he co-authored The Price of Loyalty, a book that was in some ways deeply misleading, with Paul O’Neill. You can’t tell from the Time excerpt who Suskind’s sources are, but it sounds like he’s basing the story on leaks from inside the CIA, which means that they will have an anti-administration spin.
If nothing else, the story highlights the fecklessness of the Democrats, who have just published their plan for “A New Direction for America” that never mentions al Qaeda, terrorism, or any aspect of national security.
UPDATE: Patrick McGuire’s question was echoed by several readers:
So, we have a mole inside al Qaeda. Boy am I glad my right to be informed has been upheld. Would this not be an intelligence secret?
Can we put Suskind in the same cell with Bill Keller and whoever the WaPo’s editor is?
Of course, it’s possible that the mole might not still be a secret. I wish we had reason to feel confident that that’s the case.