"This story is consistent with how you would infiltrate a terrorist group like al Qaeda," Riedel told ABC News. "You need someone who's a plausible recruit... He's the perfect kind of infiltrator, perfect kind of plant inside of al Qaeda."
Riedel said that as good as America's technological capabilities are in fighting terrorism, there's little substitute for having a man inside.
"The drones themselves are amazing technical phenomena, but the information that leads the drones to the target is what really matters," Riedel said. "In the end it's human beings and the little technical means they can put on somebody to track them down."
ABC News' Mark Schone, Randy Kreider and Rym Momtaz contributed to this report.