A: I think the Obama Administration has seen this as a very significant problem from day one. The president's counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, early on focused on this as one of the key priorities in dealing with al Qaeda. But the same problems that bedeviled Clinton and Bush before them still bedevil Obama, which is the Saleh government is weak, it has other problems and much of the security services have been heavily infiltrated by Jihadist sympathizers over the year.
So, for example, there have been repeated jailbreaks of senior al Qaeda operatives out of prisons in Yemen, including the current head of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, was in a Yemeni jail and broke out in 2006. And many of these jailbreaks have all the earmarks of inside jobs.
Individual incidents aside, I give the Obama administration credit for seeing this problem early on and for recognizing that it was getting worse over the course of time. But there are no easy solutions and no magic answers to these problems.
Q: How big is the U.S. intelligence presence in Yemen?
A: For operational sources and methods and reasons, I'm going to pass on that question.
Q: Has the government of Yemen done enough to combat the threat of terrorism?
A: I think the government of Yemen is still struggling to find the resources and the resolve to take on al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula while it manages all these other security threats, which are much more direct and more immediate for the Yemeni government. They also need help, and I think the Obama Administration is wise to double military assistance to Yemen and to step up intelligence cooperation.
But we're in this for the long haul, there's no "made-in-America" solution to this problem. Drones can take out senior al Qaeda officials, and some have, but even the drones depend in the end on Yemenis to provide us the information on where the targets are. And to fill the ungoverned spaces in Yemen requires Yemenis, not Americans.
I think after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the notion of putting American boots on the ground in any significant numbers in another country in the Middle East is not one Americans are very eager to think about.
Q: How big is the threat now in Yemen in terms of terrorists and al Qaeda? How big is the threat there, versus Afghanistan and Pakistan?
A: I would say the Yemen, in the last year, and in particular in the last few months, has emerged as a major staging base for al Qaeda to reach beyond Yemen, and attacking American targets in Yemen, but now to attack inside the United States itself.
The Fort Hood massacre was not launched by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, but it's pretty clear that Maj. Hasan was in touch with parts of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and that they were encouraging him to do this. And, of course, we now have Christmas Day.
All that said, al Qaeda in Yemen is a subsidiary of the al Qaeda core in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The head of the snake is in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and it's the al Qaeda core that provides strategic direction to cells like the one in Yemen or North Africa or Indonesia.
Q: Indonesia was not listed as a country of interest for new TSA rules that require special screening for citizens of that country entering the U.S. Are we paying enough attention to al Qaeda in Indonesia?