Posted by: theheartlander | March 17, 2011

We’re losing track of former Gitmo detainees in the current Middle East chaos

From the Wall Street Journal:

The U.S. has lost track of many former Guantanamo detainees who had been sent home to the Middle East and North Africa, a sign that unrest in the region is disrupting critical terror-fighting relationships America has built up since the Sept. 11 attacks, U.S. officials say.

The flow of information from Libya, Yemen and other governments in the region about the whereabouts and activities of the former Guantanamo detainees, along with other Islamists released from local prisons, has slowed or even stopped, the officials say. U.S. officials say they fear that former detainees will re-join al Qaeda and other Islamist groups.

…For nearly a decade, the U.S. has conducted a major cloak-and-missile campaign against al Qaeda, teaming up with friendly Arab leaders to swap intelligence, interrogate suspects, train commandos or carry out military strikes from Morocco to Iraq. The value of these partnerships was evident last fall when Saudi Arabia tipped off U.S. and European intelligence agencies about an imminent plot to blow up U.S.-bound cargo planes by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the terror group’s affiliate in Yemen.

Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula's leadership. Two of the four are former Guantanamo detainees.

Now popular movements sweeping the region have knocked some counterterrorism allies from power, and left others too distracted or politically vulnerable to risk open cooperation with the U.S. 

Intelligence-sharing has already slowed in some areas as the U.S. struggles to identify reliable counterparts in reshuffled governments.

“It’s difficult to share information when you don’t know who the players are,” said another U.S. official.

The upheaval has upended U.S. foreign policy in the region, with old friends shaken or gone and the allegiance of emerging leaders uncertain. The effects on counterterrorism efforts are one of the aftershocks that worry the intelligence community the most.

…In Yemen, U.S. and European officials are increasingly concerned that former Guantanamo detainees are no longer under much, if any, government surveillance. At the same time, they have detected an uptick in activity by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Another senior counterterrorism official said the group is “very actively” plotting new strikes against the U.S. during the lull in American and Yemeni counterterrorism operations. Military strikes by American fighter jets and cruise missiles have been on hold since last May. The current unrest means Yemen is unlikely to allow them to resume anytime soon.

The fear, according to senior U.S. officials, is that al Qaeda plots that would normally be thwarted could now slip through the intelligence-collection cracks.

Read the whole thing.

Hat tip: Weasel Zippers

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