Revealed: Secret target of U.S. airstrikes in Syria was French intel agent who defected to Al Qaeda

The highest-ranking defector to Al Qaeda since the war on terror began, according to McClatchy’s sources. Not only did he have western security clearances, he’s apparently an “explosives expert.”

Current status: Alive.

European intelligence officials said the former officer had defected from either French military intelligence or from France’s foreign intelligence agency, the General Directorate for External Security, known by its French-language acronym as the DGSE.

The former officer, according to one rebel source, is an explosives expert who fought in Afghanistan and in Syria with al Qaida and had assembled a group of about five men that was operating out of a mosque in Idlib.

The French operative is “still alive and kicking” after the airstrikes, said one European intelligence official, who described the man as “highly trained in Western intelligence trade-craft and explosives.” The combination of Western-style intelligence training and devout jihadist beliefs made him among the most dangerous of al Qaida operatives, the intelligence official said…

For their part, Syrian rebels, who are already furious at the United States for not notifying them in advance about the strikes and for not including Assad government facilities among the targets, expressed puzzlement at why the U.S. government hadn’t approached them about trying to seize the man.

McClatchy has what they believe is the guy’s name but the western intel people they interviewed for the story were so nervous about this scoop coming out (one European agent described himself as “appalled” by the leak) that there simply aren’t enough people willing to confirm it — yet. Lots of questions here, but we’ll start with two. First, is there any obvious reason besides embarrassment to keep this information secret until now? Normally intelligence developments are kept quiet because babbling about them publicly could tip off the target somehow. Given the circumstances, Agent X already knows he’s a target. Or … does he? McClatchy is coy about when, precisely, this guy defected and when western intel discovered that he was a turncoat. Maybe he was operating as a double agent and thought he had the French and U.S. fooled: He might have been telling them that he was fighting with AQ in Syria as part of his infiltration into the group when really his sympathies had shifted and he was secretly working western intel connections for security vulnerabilities in Europe and the U.S. At some point western spies figured it out and decided to target him, and rather than trust friendly Syrian rebels with a capture mission which would tip him off that he was exposed if it failed, they tried to take him by surprise from the air. Or at least, that’s one theory. The other theory: Nope, this is an ol’ fashioned cover up to spare our French allies deep humiliation. The guy defected in plain sight months or years ago and he’s been making trouble ever since. Western intel kept it under wraps to avoid a black eye in the media.

Second question: Is this guy connected to the Khorasan Group somehow? If so, is that why the public wasn’t told about the KG until a few weeks ago? Lots of ideas have been floating around about that online lately. Lefties like Glenn Greenwald naturally think the KG is a figment of the White House’s imagination, floated to a gullible public at the eleventh hour to justify a new war in another Muslim country. By linking the Khorasan Group to Al Qaeda, Obama was able to invoke the 2001 AUMF, which in turn allowed him to bomb Syria without getting any new approval from Congress. (Not that Congress would have denied him that approval anyway.) Righties like Andy McCarthy think the KG is real enough but that the name has been cooked up by the White House for PR reasons. There’s no “Khorasan Group,” there’s just Al Qaeda — and a president who’s been assuring voters for years that “Al Qaeda has been decimated” naturally has strong reasons politically to avoid mentioning now that Al Qaeda is in Syria plotting to blow up airplanes. With Agent X in the mix, though, other possibilities present themselves. If he’s connected to the Khorasan Group, that might explain why info on the group was held back for so long — again, western intel might have been worried about tipping this guy off in the past that they were onto him, which leaks to the media about the KG would have done. If he isn’t connected to the KG, it could be that his own terror cell is even more dangerous than they are — but because the embarrassment would have been tremendous in admitting “we need to bomb this Frenchman who’s gone rogue,” the White House and its European allies chose to emphasize the KG as a prime target instead. Regardless, McClatchy is vague about any possible link. They mention the KG in today’s story and note that Muhsin al-Fadhli is the only member who’s been named by western sources, but they never say that Agent X is linked to the group. Hmmmm.

One more half-assed theory: Maybe they’ve held his name back until now because they fear he’s getting help from one or more collaborators within western intelligence. If that’s the case, then obviously secrecy is essential while they work to find out who the collaborator is. Anyway, something to think about while you read this morning’s news about how little U.S. airstrikes are doing to stop ISIS’s advance. They’re on the brink of seizing the Syrian town of Kobani near the Turkish border, which is going to leave many thousands of Syrian Kurds trapped and facing certain death if Turkey doesn’t let them in. Some Kurdish women fighters, faced with being overrun by ISIS inside Kobani and subjected to horrendous abuse and murder, are already choosing the least bad option.