Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Al-Qaeda's influence in Yemen


By Jeremy Bowen
Middle East editor, BBC News, Yemen

To get an idea of the state of mind of the men here in Yemen who run al-Qaeda in the Arabia peninsula, just take a look at what they said about the failed attack on the US airliner on Christmas Day.
Framed photos of Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Saleh in Sanaa
President Saleh's government has been accused of corruption

In a swaggering and ambitious statement, they claimed that they sent the Nigerian student onto the plane, and that he only failed because of a technical fault with the bomb.

For them, getting that close counts as the next best thing to a successful mission.

And take just one look at the terrain of this country to understand why al-Qaeda is feeling so comfortable here, relaxed enough for one of its leaders reportedly to have moved his wife and family down from Saudi Arabia.

Yemen's mountains are rugged, hard to reach, and best of all from a jihadi point of view, they are not controlled by the central government.

Al-Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula established itself in Yemen after it was forced out of Saudi Arabia, taking advantage of the fact that large swathes of Yemeni territory are controlled by powerful, well-armed tribes, not by a government that is getting closer to the US and its counter-terrorism advisers than ever.

Already there are claims and counter-claims of a kind that are familiar from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq.

On 17 and 24 December al-Qaeda sites in Yemen were attacked. Reports based on American sources suggested that 60 "militants" had been killed.

Children killed?

It has been reported in the United States that American military forces carried out the attacks.

But local journalists here who say they have visited the sites in question tell a different story.

Abdulelah Hider Shaea, who has close connections with al-Qaeda, told me that people at the places that were attacked insist that dozens of women and children were among the dead.

It is the belief of at least one person there, he said, that the Yemeni government and US President Barack Obama were congratulating each other on killing their children.

Making deals with tribes that have lost large numbers of women and children in government attacks will be very difficult.

Mr Shaea said that al-Qaeda in Yemen believes that American actions will bring it recruits.

And he compared Yemen with Pakistan's tribal areas.

The country's going to hell. The crises are converging with each other
Dr Abdullah al-Faqih
Professor of political science, Sanaa University

"The United States wants to fight al-Qaeda here. It won't work, they'll make this a new Waziristan, exporting fighters all over the world."

A diverse range of observers, in Yemen and abroad, agree that a heavy-handed counter-terrorism strategy will create more problems than it will solve.

But alternatives to military action move slowly and do not guarantee success either.

In Washington, President Obama is under pressure to take action. The Christmas Day attempted attack over Detroit may have failed, but it brought back instant memories of 9/11. Military action will continue.

Numerous problems

Al-Qaeda is not Yemen's only problem.

Saudi Arabia has intervened in the long-running tribal war in the north. A separatist movement in the south wants Yemen to be divided back into two countries.

The poor are getting poorer. Levels of illiteracy are high. The birth rate is the highest in the Middle East.

Its main export, oil, will run out within the next 10 years and new gas fields do not appear to be lucrative enough to replace it.

Yemen's water supply is also running dry, not least because of the amount that is used to irrigate the fields of khat.
Yemenis in Sanaa
Yemen suffers from poverty and illiteracy

Chewing khat leaves, which are a mild stimulant, is the national pastime.

Yemen's President Ali Abdallah Saleh surrounds himself with members of his own clan and adroitly juggles all the other forces in Yemen to stay in power.

It is a strategy that has worked for 30 years. But his government is accused of being not just ineffective, but also riddled with corruption.

So the US, Britain and Saudi Arabia, are looking even more nervous about Yemen and its list of challenges.

They will have a chance to talk about what to do next in a meeting in London at the end of the month.

When I asked Dr Abdullah al-Faqih, professor of political science at Sanaa University about Yemen's position, he was succinct.

"The country's going to hell. The crises are converging with each other."

The risk, he said, was that Yemen would go the same way as Somalia, its neighbour across the Gulf of Aden, which descended into violent and bloody confusion a generation ago and has never emerged.

Yemen is not Somalia, nor Afghanistan. At least not yet. It is not a failed state, but it is failing.

Holding back chaos

It will be very hard to stabilise matters here, but it is not impossible.

Many Yemenis are devout, but that does not make them jihadis. The tribes are powerful and traditionally are open to making deals.

One strategy for al-Qaeda's enemies could be to pay them to ban al-Qaeda from their territory.

The Saudis and the Americans have plenty of money for that. They don't necessarily have the necessary time, luck and judgement that has to go along with cash.

Action is needed, because all the indications suggest that if matters are left as they are, Yemen will slide steadily into chaos.

Egypt Copts killed in Christmas church attack


At least five Coptic Christians have been killed in a drive-by shooting outside a church in southern Egypt, officials say.

The shooting came as worshippers left the church in Naj Hammadi after a midnight mass on Coptic Christmas Eve.

Unidentified gunmen sprayed gunfire indiscriminately into the crowd, officials said.

Two Muslims passing the church were among 10 people reportedly injured in the attack.

Naj Hammadi is 40 miles (64km) from Luxor, southern Egypt's biggest city.

Coptic Christians account for about 10% of the Egypt's population of 80 million.

They have complained of harassment and discrimination, though sectarian violence is unusual.

Turkmenistan opens new Iran gas pipeline


Turkmenistan has opened a second gas pipeline to Iran, further eroding Russia's historical domination of its energy sector.

The new pipeline will eventually more than double Turkmenistan's annual gas exports to Iran to 20bn cubic metres.

With a pipeline to China that opened last month, sales to Russia will be a much smaller proportion of exports.

The EU also wants to build a gas link that bypasses Russia, which for now remains the main buyer of Turkmen gas.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad inaugurated the new 30km (19 miles) pipeline with Turkmen President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov in a ceremony in the desert near the Iranian border.

The two jointly turned a spigot to symbolically open the link, which will deliver gas from the Dovletabad field to Iran's Khangiran refinery.

"This pipeline will be a good stimulus for energy co-operation between Turkmenistan and Iran, as well as for delivery of Turkmen gas to the Persian Gulf and the world market," Mr Ahmadinejad said.

The new pipelines have given Turkmenistan more power in negotiations with Russian energy giant Gazprom, which has now had to agree to pay higher prices for Turkmen gas.

Previously, the bulk of Turkmenistan's gas was transported along Soviet-era pipelines that went through Russia, giving Moscow the power to dictate prices.

Gas supplies to Russia resumed in December after an eight-month dispute over pricing.

Russia will now buy 30bn cubic metres annually, down from 50bn cubic metres before supplies were cut by a pipeline explosion in April.

Chinese dairy executives charged in tainted milk case



A year on from China's tainted milk scandal, there are allegations that the practice of selling milk contaminated with the chemical melamine continues.

Prosecutors in Shanghai have confirmed to the BBC that three dairy executives are to go on trial for allegedly selling milk tainted with melamine.

Reports suggest the authorities knew about the contamination but failed to inform the public.

Six children died and 300,000 became ill from tainted milk in 2008.

Melamine is an industrial chemical used in the making of plastics and fertilisers. If ingested it can cause kidney failure and kidney stones.

Cover-up?

Some Chinese dairy producers were convicted of watering down their milk to make supplies go further, then adding melamine so that it appeared to have a higher protein content.


MELAMINE SCANDAL
10 Sept 2008: Fourteen babies reported ill in Gansu province
15 Sept: Beijing confirms first deaths from the contamination
22 Sept: Number of ill babies soars to tens of thousands
23 Sept: Other countries start to recall Chinese dairy products
31 Oct: Melamine routinely added to animal feed, say China media
23 Dec: Main dairy firm involved, Sanlu, goes bankrupt
31 Dec: Four senior Sanlu executives go on trial
2 Jan 2009: Firms say sorry in mass New Year text message
22 Jan: Two men sentenced to death and 19 jailed in Hebei
March: Higher courts reject appeals
24 Nov: Zhang Yujun and Geng Jinping executed

Timeline: China milk scandal

In late 2008, the government ordered 22 firms implicated in the scandal to pay millions of dollars in compensation to the families affected by the contaminated milk.

The firms' milk products were supposed to have been destroyed.

Two people were executed in November last year for their part in the scheme and 19 other people have been jailed.

Now, prosecutors in Shanghai have told the BBC that three executives from Shanghai Panda Dairy Company are to go on trial within a week.

The company was shut down and the executives arrested for allegedly selling dairy products a year ago that contained melamine.

The BBC's Chris Hogg in Shanghai says it impossible to confirm details of the allegations because the company has been shut down.

Meanwhile, Shanghai government departments connected with the case refer all enquiries to each other.

The state-run China Daily reported that local authorities discovered the contamination at the end of 2008 and launched an investigation in February 2009, but did not tell the public or recall Panda dairy products.

Some commentators in China have suggested that this was because officials were worried another scandal would harm the dairy industry as it tried to recover from the first one, says our correspondent.

China was supposed to have imposed tougher regulations on the dairy industry to protect consumers after children first started falling ill from tainted milk in September 2008.

Government officials have said the Shanghai case is unconnected with the 2008 poisonings and did not involve tainted products that should have been destroyed in the scandal's aftermath.

Japan PM replaces finance minister


Japanese PM Yukio Hatoyama has been forced to replace his experienced finance minister, Hiroshisa Fujii, who has resigned due to ill health.

Naoto Kan has been chosen as the country's new finance minister.

Mr Hatoyama had earlier said he did not want Mr Fujii, one of the few veterans in his Democratic Party-led government, to stand down.

Mr Kan will inherit the job at a time when Japan faces deflation, a fragile economy and huge public debt.

The change of faces in such a key post is being seen as a severe test for Mr Hatoyama - who came into power in September after nearly 50 years of conservative rule and is already suffering from falling ratings.


ANALYSIS
Roland Buerk
Roland Buerk, BBC News, Japan
Once 77-year-old Hirohisa Fujii said he wanted to resign because of ill health, there was little way the prime minister could keep him in office.

Long, gruelling days beckon when parliament convenes the week after next with the budget at the top of the agenda.

The new finance minister, Naoto Kan, has headed a National Strategy Unit that sets fiscal priorities. But he has nothing like the budgetary experience of Mr Fujii.

The question for bond markets is whether he will be able to resist pressure for more government spending, especially if Japan's economy sags towards a double dip recession.

Mr Fujii's departure will add to uncertainty about the new government's ability to handle the economy.

Trusted by the markets for his fiscal restraint, he had been working on a budget which faces a crucial vote later this month, and had resisted pressure from within Japan's governing coalition to spend more on public works.

Mr Kan is unlikely to favour big spending at the moment, either, given that public debt is almost 200% of GDP. But analysts say he may be unable to resist the pressure to release more money if the economy stalls again.

Mr Kan, like Mr Hatoyama, is a founder of the ruling Democratic Party.

He is known for his tough debating skills, and is keen to reduce the political clout of influential bureaucrats.

He previously headed the National Strategy Bureau that sets priorities for fiscal policy, but he is thought by the markets to lack Mr Fujii's extensive experience of budget and tax issues.

Mr Fujii tendered his resignation overnight, after being admitted to hospital last week suffering from high blood pressure.

He had told reporters he was exhausted after weeks of wrangling within Japan's governing coalition to finalise the budget.

Mr Hatoyama then reportedly asked Mr Fujii to stay, to see through his work on the budget. But later the prime minister told public broadcaster NHK: "Problems of health are inevitable... and so I have accepted his resignation."

"Finance Minister Fujii has been exhausted. The doctors' medical certificate said it is difficult for him to execute his official duty as a minister. I have no choice but to take the doctors' diagnosis seriously."

Naoto Kan (archive image)
Naoto Kan is a tough debater, but does he have the necessary experience?

When the DPJ came to power in September, after half a century of conservative dominance, it promised to enlarge the welfare state, assert the power of elected politicians over bureaucrats, and move Japan from what it sees as diplomatic subservience to the US to become a leading power in an integrated Asia.

But the party also started its tenure at a time of deep economic uncertainty, according to the BBC correspondent in Japan, Roland Buerk

Japan's debt is already the largest in the developed world, and for years its sustainability was a distant, if constantly nagging worry - much of it is held domestically.

The Japanese were big savers but now the baby boomers are hitting retirement and they are drawing on their nest eggs.

In recent times the Japanese have been saving less even than Americans, our correspondent says.

Afghanistan CIA suicide bomber 'fooled family'

The Jordanian suicide bomber who carried out the worst attack against the CIA in decades in Afghanistan tricked his family, the BBC has learnt.

Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, 36, killed seven US agents and a Jordanian intelligence officer when he detonated himself at the Khost base last week.

But his friends and relatives had believed the doctor was in Turkey.

A relative told the BBC that the family only realised his whereabouts when they heard news of the attack.

'Double agent'

The BBC's Dale Gavlak, in Zarqa, Jordan, spoke to a family member who refused to be identified after being told to remain anonymous by the Jordanian authorities.


ANALYSIS
By Dale Gavlak, BBC News in Zarqa, Jordan
In terms of reaction to the news the bomber was a double agent, there has been very little reporting in the Jordanian press.

When the body of the Jordanian intelligence officer was returned on Saturday, as he was a relative of King Abdullah, the body was received by the royal family.

A wake was held for the man at a royal palace, but there has been almost no news about it in the papers.

The lack of coverage may highlight that the issue of Jordanian intelligence links to the CIA is so sensitive. It would play very badly with Muslims and Arabs.

He said Balawi had fooled them all about his intentions and his beliefs, telling his family he was travelling to Turkey to join his Turkish wife and children and continue his medical studies.

Instead, he went to Forward Operating Base Chapman, in Afghanistan, where he carried out the worst attack against US intelligence officials since the US embassy in Beirut was bombed in 1983.

The relative cried as he spoke about Balawi, our correspondent reports. He described him as a devout - if somewhat aloof - Muslim who cared for the poor.

Balawi was reportedly recruited by Jordanian intelligence officials when he attempted to enter Gaza as part of a medical team last year.

According to US media reports, he was a CIA double agent whose specific mission was tracking down al-Qaeda's number two, Ayman al-Zawahiri.


The revelation that the man was a double-agent is embarrassing for both the US and Jordan
Frank Gardner, BBC Security Correspondent

Mystery of CIA bomber

Neither the CIA or the US government has confirmed these reports.

According to the Washington Post, Balawi had lured the CIA officers into a meeting at the base's gym with a promise of new information on al-Qaeda's top leadership.

Google's new phone to protect mobile advertising base


By Maggie Shiels
Technology reporter, BBC News, Silicon Valley

Google has said it is defending its online advertising empire with the launch of its own brand mobile phone.

It is the first time Google has designed and sold its own consumer hardware device.

Google said the Nexus One represented the next frontier in the company's $20bn (£12.4bn) core business - selling advertising through search.

"It's all about the mobile web, and advertising is their bread and butter," said analyst Michael Gartenberg.

"It's the latest salvo from Google on the wireless industry. The landmark news here is that Google is now a consumer electronics retail company," added Mr Gartenberg, of Interpret.


The Nexus One means this will be the first time Apple has to be reactive
Robert Scoble
Tech blogger

Google, like many in the industry, recognises that more and more people are accessing the web via their mobile phones rather than through their desktop or personal computers.

In the developing world, the majority of users are going online for the first time using a smartphone.

"The new paradigm is mobile computing and mobility," David B Yoffie, a professor at Harvard Business School, told the New York Times.

"That has the potential to change the economics of the internet business and to redistribute profits yet again."

Apple 'cool' fading?

Google has called the Nexus One a super phone, no doubt to set the device apart from the other players, including the BlackBerry and Apple's iPhone.

Despite its much anticipated arrival on the scene, many industry watchers do not think the Nexus One is an iPhone killer, though they do believe it will force Apple to step up its game.

NEXUS ONE HANDSET
Close-up of Nexus One, Getty
3.7 inch touchscreen
1GHz snapdragon processor
5 Megapixel camera with LED flash
GPS and compass
Accelerometer
Noise cancellation technology
Voice recognition can be used with all applications
Light sensor changes screen brightness to conserve power
512MB Flash memory with SD card slot (expandable to 32GB)

"Google is coming at the mobile industry with a lot of horses and I think 2010 is the first time Apple is going to have to chase something," said technology blogger Robert Scoble of Scoblizer.com.

"For the last three years the iPhone has been way out in front in the mobile space in terms of mindshare. The Nexus One means this will be the first time Apple has to be reactive," Mr Scoble told the BBC.

To date, the iPhone has sold about 30 million units and spawned countless imitators, including this new phone.

The technology blog TechCrunch said that the Nexus One looked more like the iPhone than any other phone on the market.

There is no physical keyboard, it has a removable battery, a 5 megapixel camera, touchscreen, and is driven by Google's Android operating system.

Google says the phone is as thin as a number 2 pencil, at 11.5mm, and as light as a Swiss army knife keychain at 130g.

Google's Eric Tseng demonstrates the vocal command features on the Google phone

"The Nexus One is an important milestone in the smartphone market," said TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington.

"This is a software company frustrated with making compromises with hardware manufacturers, that has taken the product bull by the horns. When combined with Google Voice, there is no phone on the market today that can touch the Nexus One."

Google has voice-enabled all text boxes on the device, which means that users can put together an e-mail message or tweet by speaking into the phone rather than typing text on the touch screen.

Pricing models

As well as going into the hardware business, Google is also trying out something different by offering the phone to users without being tied to a contract with a mobile phone operator.

It is offering the Nexus One through its online store at $179 (£112) if users sign up to a two-year plan with T-Mobile, or $529 (£332) without a plan.
Screengrab of Nexus One page, Google
Google will host a web store that will sell the Nexus One

Some believe Google should have been braver with its pricing options and offered a sweetener by subsidising the phone through its advertising revenue.

"It would have been nice to see them roll out something a bit more unique," Danny Sullivan, editor of SearchEngineLand.com, told BBC News.

"Google has speculated in the past that there one day might be phones that are entirely ad-supported and because Google is this huge ad behemoth, this was a natural opportunity to roll out a phone like that."

The Nexus One was built by Taiwanese electronics manufacturer HTC.

It joins about 20 other devices that already run on the Android operating system.

At the moment, the Nexus One is only available in the US but will be sold in Europe, Hong Kong and Singapore in the spring through Vodafone. Google said it hoped to add other devices and carriers for sale in the future.

Crossover

Google's emergence as a retailer is regarded as an escalation in the budding rivalry between Google and Apple.

But it is not all one way.

Ahead of the launch of the Nexus One, Apple announced a deal to buy mobile advertising service Quattro Wireless. It is seen as an effort to counter Google's planned $750 million acquisition of rival AdMob.

"If there is any doubt that 2010 is the year of Mobile Advertising, Apple just cleared up any speculation," said Paran Johar, chief marketing officer of competing mobile ad network Jumptap.

"For pessimists who thought the Google acquisition of Admob was a fluke, this reinforces that mobile advertising is here to stay," he said.

"Handset manufacturers, software providers, infrastructure vendors, and carriers are all looking to connect the dots and carve out a share of what will be the primary access point of the Internet in five years."

Afro-Cuban priests predict social unrest in 2010


By Michael Voss
BBC News, Havana

Some of Cuba's leading Afro-Cuban priests are predicting social unrest in 2010 and have called on the older generation of leaders to step aside.

The priests are from the influential Santeria religion, a mix of Catholicism and traditional African religions introduced by slaves.

They made their annual forecast after conducting animal sacrifices.

Their prediction is seen as politically contentious in a country still ruled by the aging Castro brothers.

The priests - or babalawos as they are called - made their forecast following a secretive New Year's Eve ritual on the outskirts of Havana.

Their prediction: a year of social and political unrest, struggles for power, and treachery.

They also warned that there could be a coup d'etat or other sudden political change.

Speaking about their findings, one of the leading babalawos, Victor Betancourt, said it was time for a new generation of leaders to take over.

"Times change. The older generations should pass their experience on to young people because they are better prepared," he said.

Followers of Santeria in Santiago, Cuba (4.12.09)
Santeria is a fusion of Roman Catholic and ancient African beliefs

Cuba has been ruled for the past 50 years by the Castro brothers, Fidel and Raul.

Very few here have made such demands for generational change publicly.

Santeria has deep roots in Cuban society, where about a third of the population are of African descent.

Its religious practices have generally been tolerated by the Communist-led authorities, partly because it was heavily repressed before the revolution.

This is by far the most overtly political annual New Year forecast.

The priests believed 2009 would be a year of conflict between neighbouring countries and warned of the necessity to foment respect within families.

In 2008 they failed to predict that Fidel Castro would step down as president.

A rival Santeria group with closer ties to the government came out with its own prediction saying that 2010 would be a year of improving health, possibly referring to Fidel Castro's continuing recovery from major surgery.

Aboriginal Canadians divided over Vancouver Olympics


By Brandy Yanchyk
Vancouver

The Canadian city of Vancouver is gearing up to host nearly four weeks of Winter Olympic and Paralympic sporting action in February and March.

The Games, set to attract international attention, have a particular importance for Canada's aboriginal peoples, as many of the sporting events will take place on their ancestral land.

The peoples involved - the Lil'wat, Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations - who live on and share the land, have joined forces.

Together with the Vancouver Olympic Committee (Vanoc), they will be hosting the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games in a partnership that is making Olympic history.

This is the first time that aboriginals have been official partners in the Olympics and have been involved in every aspect of the Games starting from the bidding process.

'Stolen land'

For some aboriginals, this partnership is seen as a unique opportunity for Canada's indigenous peoples to show their culture to the world.

For others, the Vancouver Olympics are a waste of money and resources that could be better spent on serious issues facing aboriginals in Canada.


Rose Henry
Many of our community members are paying with their lives with the inadequate housing and healthcare
Rose Henry
Olympic Resistance Network

Canada's indigenous peoples have suffered a long history of poverty, unemployment, and problems with addiction and high rates of suicide.

Tewanee Joseph, head of the umbrella group known as the Four Host First Nations, sees the Vancouver Winter Olympics as a great time for aboriginals to rebrand themselves in a positive way.

"What people will learn is that we're business people, we're entrepreneurs, we're visual artists and we're performing artists. You know our culture is really living and thriving today and it's been through challenges," says Mr Joseph.

"We no longer want to be seen as just Dime Store Indians, just beads and feathers. I think for us those stereotypes are very important for us to break."

Despite all the potential positive attention on their culture, many of British Columbia's aboriginals still feel that the decision to hold the Olympics in Vancouver (and the resort town of Whistler) was wrong.

"A lot of First Nations considered the land to be stolen," says Josh Anderson from the Lil'wat Nation.

"Our people were actually there to watch the construction of the facilities for the Olympics just in case the lands were desecrated or disrespected in any way."

A number of First Nations continue to be concerned about how the expansion of Whistler for the Olympics is affecting their land and the environment.

'No teepees'

Despite the opposition by some of his people, Mr Anderson welcomes the arrival of the Olympic Games and intends to use the exposure as an opportunity to educate the world about his culture.

He will be teaching Lil'wat history to visitors at the new Squamish Lil'wat Cultural Centre in Whistler, built with provincial and federal government funding.

Performing at the Squamish Lilwat cultural centre
There are aims to bring the aboriginal culture to a wider audience

"A lot of people think that we, the Lil'wat and the Squamish, are Eskimos and that we live in igloos and that we have teepees here. We don't have teepees and we are not Eskimos," Mr Anderson says.

"We do have cold winters and we used to live in underground dwellings in pit houses. We call them istkens."

For aboriginals like Rose Henry, of Sliammon heritage, and Jayson Fleury, who is Saulteaux-Cree, the idea that Vanoc is spending C$1.7bn ($1.6bn;£1bn) on the Games is upsetting. They both belong to the Olympic Resistance Network (ORN) whose motto is "No Olympics on Stolen Native Land."

They believe that some of that money should be spent on issues like homelessness and addiction.

"If you go to Vancouver's downtown eastside, you will see that most of the homeless are First Nations people and they are from this area," says Mr Fleury. "So their rights, their livelihood are not being honoured in any fashion."

"It is costing us a lot more than just the dollars," adds Ms Henry.

"Many of our community members are paying with their lives with the inadequate housing and healthcare and so the rippling effects go beyond the 17-day party that's going to be happening here that we can't afford."

Snowboarding success

The province of British Columbia, Vanoc, and the Four Host First Nations still believe that the Olympics will have a lasting positive impact on Canada's aboriginals and have set up economic, art and sporting legacy programmes.

One fund has helped to create the First Nations snowboard team which started with 10 members and now has 200 from 13 First Nations across British Columbia.

Afghanistan CIA killings a major blow to US and Jordan


By Frank Gardner
BBC Security Correspondent

The revelation that the man who blew up himself, four CIA officers, three security guards and a Jordanian intelligence officer in Khost, Afghanistan, was a double agent is embarrassing for both the US and Jordan.

For Washington, it risks making a mockery of the CIA's attempts to track down and infiltrate the intimate circle of al-Qaeda's leadership.

One can only imagine how much false intelligence this al-Qaeda double agent had been feeding his handlers, before he killed them.

For Jordan, this is a clandestine relationship it would much prefer to have kept secret.

The idea that Jordanian intelligence officers are working hand-in-glove with the CIA will be deeply resented by many in Jordan.

Fearsome reputation

Jordan's intelligence service, the General Intelligence Directorate (GID), has a fearsome reputation in the Arab world.

Rivalling Egypt's agency in its ability to uncover Islamist extremist networks, it has also been accused of human rights abuses and of colluding with the CIA's programme of extraordinary rendition of al-Qaeda suspects.

The GID failed to prevent al-Qaeda in Iraq's bombings of Jordanian hotels in Amman that killed 60 people in 2005.

The CIA will now have to go through the depressing exercise of re-evaluating everything their supposed mole had told them

But the following year it was patient, painstaking work by Jordanian human intelligence that led the Americans to their most wanted target in Iraq.

In June 2006, US special forces operating near the Iraqi town of Baquba were able to direct an airstrike that killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the al-Qaeda leader in Iraq who had come close to triggering a sectarian war between Iraq's Shia and Sunni Muslims.

But now, following the disastrous blow to the CIA's intelligence gathering delivered by the Jordanian suicide bomber in Afghanistan on 30 December, US intelligence officials will likely be taking a close look at their intelligence-sharing with Jordan.

Expertise lost

It appears that the bomber was, after all, an al-Qaeda "triple agent" who had supposedly been turned against extremism by Jordanian intelligence while in prison, recruited to spy on al-Qaeda, sent to the Afghan-Pakistan border region to try to get close to al-Qaeda's leadership, but who all the while had never abandoned his jihadi affiliations.

CIA DEATHS: 1965-2009
2009: Seven killed in suicide attack on their base in Afghanistan
2003: Two CIA contractors die in Shkin, Afghanistan; CIA officer killed during training exercise in Afghanistan
2001: Officer shot during prison uprising in Afghanistan
1993: Two CIA employees killed at the agency's Virginia headquarters
1989: Six CIA employees die when a plane carrying military equipment from DR Congo to Angola crashes
1985: CIA Beirut station chief killed after having been kidnapped and tortured
1983: Eight CIA employees killed in the US embassy bombing in Beirut
1965: Seven CIA employees die, most of them in Vietnam
Source: Washington Post

Mystery of CIA bomber's identity

Named as Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, the Jordanian physician apparently completely fooled his Jordanian handler, named as Capt Sharif Ali Bin Zaid.

He convinced both him and the CIA that he had urgent information to pass on, so a mini-summit of intelligence officers was convened on Forward Operating Base Chapman in Khost to hear what he had to say.

Since Jordanian intelligence had vouched for him, the bomber was never properly searched and, early in his bogus "briefing", he detonated the explosives on his body.

For the CIA, this is a blow on many levels.

It has lost some of its most valued officers with expertise at the sharp end, it will now have to go through the depressing exercise of re-evaluating everything their supposed mole had told them, on the basis that it is probably false.

It will have to assume that everything the assassin had been told and taught by his handlers - methods, codes, aliases - will all have been passed to al-Qaeda, who will take a keen interest in such information.

And above all, it shows that far from the growing complacency mouthed by Western government officials - that al-Qaeda was on the run after CIA drone strikes killed 15 senior al-Qaeda leaders and one Taliban leader in Pakistan's tribal belt since January 2008 - the fugitive organisation and its followers are, in fact, capable of striking back hard where it hurts.