Thursday, September 1, 2011

Secret CIA terrorist prisoner flights to 'black site' prisons detailed in lawsuits

Thursday, September 01, 2011

By The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The secret airlift of terrorism suspects and American intelligence officials to CIA-operated overseas prisons via luxury jets was mounted by a hidden network of U.S. companies and coordinated by a prominent defense contractor, newly disclosed documents show.

More than 1,700 pages of court files in a business dispute between two aviation companies reveal how integral private contractors were in the government's covert "extraordinary rendition" flights. They shuttled between Washington, foreign capitals, the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and, at times, landing points near once-secret, CIA-run overseas prisons.

The companies ranged from DynCorp, a leading government contractor that secretly oversaw the flights, to caterers that unwittingly stocked the planes with fruit platters and bottles of wine, the court files and testimony show.

A New York-based charter company, Richmor Aviation Inc., which supplied corporate jets and crews to the government, and a private aviation broker, SportsFlight Air, which organized flights for DynCorp, have been engaged in a four-year legal dispute. Both sides have cited the government's program of forced transport of detainees in testimony, evidence and legal arguments. The companies are fighting over $874,000 awarded to Richmor by a New York state appeals court to cover unpaid costs for the secret flights.

The court files, which include contracts, flight invoices, cell phone logs and correspondence, paint a sweeping portrait of collusion between the government and the private contractors that did its bidding — some eagerly, some hesitantly. Other companies turned a blind eye to what was going on.

Trial testimony studiously avoided references to the CIA. When lawyers pressed a witness about flying terrorists from Washington or Europe to Guantanamo Bay, Supreme Court Judge Paul Czajka of Columbia County, N.Y., put on the brakes: "Does this have anything to do with the contract? I mean, it's all very interesting, and I would love to hear about it, but does it have anything to do with how much money is owed?"

At another point, the name of a high-level CIA official was mentioned, but the official's intelligence ties were not divulged.

Among the new disclosures:

* DynCorp, which was reorganized and split up between another major contractor and a separate firm now known as DynCorp International, functioned as the primary contractor over the airlift. The company had not been previously linked to the secret flights.

* Airport invoices and other commercial records provide a new paper trail for the movements of some high-value terrorism suspects who vanished into the CIA "black site" prisons, along with government operatives who rushed to the scenes of their capture. The records include flight itineraries closely coordinated with the arrest of accused 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and the suspected transport of other captives.

* The private jets were furnished with State Department transit letters providing diplomatic cover for their flights. Former top State Department officials said similar arrangements aided other government-leased flights, but the documents in the court files may not be authentic since there are indications that the official who purportedly signed them was fictitious.

* The private business jets shuttled among as many as 10 landings over a single mission, costing the government as much as $300,000 per flight.

According to invoices between 2002 and 2005, many of the flights carried U.S. officials between Washington Dulles International Airport and the Guantanamo detention compound, where the U.S. was housing a growing population of terror detainees. Other flights landed at a dizzying array of international airports.

Some flights landed at airports near CIA black sites

Jets were dispatched to Islamabad; Rome; Djibouti; Frankfurt, Germany; Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Shannon, Ireland; Glasgow, Scotland; Tenerife, Spain; Sharm el Sheik, Egypt; and even Tripoli.

Some flights landed at airports near where CIA black sites operated: Kabul, Bangkok and Bucharest. Others touched down at foreign outposts where obliging security services reportedly took in U.S. terror detainees for their own severe brand of persuasion: Cairo; Damascus, Syria; Amman, Jordan; and Rabat, Morocco. Billing records show scores of baggage handlers, ramp officials, van and car providers, satellite and flight phone firms, hotels and caterers routinely serviced the flights and crews and earned tens of thousands of dollars.

The court records do not specify who was aboard the planes beyond a count of crew and passengers. But in several cases, the flights dovetail with the arrests and transport of some of the most prominent accused terrorism suspects captured in the months immediately following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks: Mohammed, the purported mastermind, and Ramzi bin Alshib, his key logistics man; Abd al-Nashiri, who allegedly planned the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole; and Hambali, an Indonesia terror leader tied to the 2002 bombing of a Bali nightclub. The detainees all vanished into the CIA's now-shuttered "black site" prison network and all are now at Guantanamo awaiting military trials.

President George W. Bush acknowledged the existence of the prison network in 2006, and the CIA director in 2009, Leon Panetta, said the prisons were no longer in use. The intelligence agency has never acknowledged specific locations, but prisons overseen by U.S. officials reportedly operated in Poland, Romania, Thailand, Lithuania and Afghanistan. Detainees have claimed in legal actions that they were flown, often hooded and shackled, to the prisons, where some were exposed to simulated drowning known as waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques.

The inner workings of the flight program have leaked previously. Aviation logs and other records were exposed by lawsuits and European parliamentary inquiries, and investigative accounts have traced patterns of some planes used in the flights. The Council of Europe estimated in 2007 that 1,245 CIA-operated flights passed over the continent, but an accurate count of actual rendition flights will probably never be known without a U.S. government accounting.

But few court and corporate records have emerged describing the backstage role of private companies that aided in the secret flights. The international human rights group, Reprieve, which discovered the court case in New York, said the material provides "an unprecedented insight into the government's outsourcing of torture."

On Thursday, the Council of Europe's Human Rights Commissioner faulted the U.S. for "countless crimes," specifically citing the rendition flights and black sites as "systematic violations of human rights."

"Through rendition, the CIA captured individual suspects on foreign territories, often with the assistance of the local security services, and flew them to some specific third countries to be interrogated," said Commissioner Thomas Hammarberg. "This technique kept the suspects outside the reach of any justice system and rendered them vulnerable to ill-treatment."

In the court case, Richmor accused SportsFlight in 2007 of failing to pay more than $1.15 million for guaranteed flight hours that were unused after at least 55 missions flown by planes and crews chartered by DynCorp for government use. A state judge ruled for Richmor in January 2010, awarding the company $1.6 million. In May, an appeals court affirmed the decision, cutting the judgment to $874,000. Richmor contends it still has not been paid in full.

Company president says he took the work for patriotic reasons

During the trial, Richmor's president, Mahlon Richards, carefully described flights as classified and said passengers were "government personnel and their invitees." But he also said he was aware of allegations his planes flew "terrorists" and "bad guys." In a phone interview this week, Richards said he had agreed to work with the government as a patriotic response to the Sept. 11 attacks, adding that his company was only one of several air charter concerns that provided jets.

"We thought we were doing a good thing," Richards said. He declined to specify which government agency he dealt with or describe how the flights operated, citing confidentiality agreements with the government. But he noted, "It was the government that called the shots."

SportsFlight's lawyers made the nature of the flights a central part of its legal appeal, insisting that SportsFlight's president, Don Moss, learned over time that "the flights would be going to and from Guantanamo Bay and would be used for assorted rendition missions."

In one deposition, he blurted out the name of a CIA official during a line of questioning quickly aborted by the lawyers. The official's intelligence background was not mentioned, but The Associated Press has independently confirmed the official's role in CIA operations. Contacted at his New York home, Moss would only verify that his trial testimony was accurate.

A CIA spokeswoman said the agency does not comment on pending litigation.

DynCorp is the largest company known to be involved in the secret flights. Previously, the most prominent company linked to the airlift had been Boeing subsidiary Jeppeson Dataplan, which was accused in a 2007 ACLU lawsuit of providing flight planning and navigation for rendition jets. Justice Department attorneys intervened in that case, urging judges to dismiss the case on national security grounds, and a federal appeals court agreed. There is no indication the government intervened in the New York state case.

DynCorp was purchased in 2003 by Computer Sciences Corp., another leading federal contractor, in a $940 million merger. Computer Sciences Corp. then took on a supervising role in the rendition flights through 2006, according to invoices and emails in the court files. CSC sold three DynCorp units in 2005 to Veritas Capital Fund, a private equity firm, for $850 million, but retained ownership of other parts of the old company. Veritas in turn sold the restructured DynCorp — now known as DynCorp International — for about $1 billion in 2010 to Cerebrus Capital Management, another private equity fund.

DynCorp International spokeswoman Ashley Burke said Wednesday that the company "has no involvement in or information about the litigation between Richmor and SportsFlight." She added that none of the DynCorp entities listed in the court files is owned by or has any affiliation with DynCorp International.

A Computer Sciences spokesman, Chris Grandis, said the company could not comment because of the ongoing lawsuit.

Under DynCorp's guidance, Richmor provided 10-passenger Gulfstream jets and flight crews for its government clients nearly once a month between May 2002 and January 2005, according to flight invoices. The maiden flight was a May 2002 trip from Washington to Guantanamo and back, but by year's end, the Gulfstreams were flying more complex routes that paralleled the suspected movements of high-value al-Qaida and other terrorist captives to black prison sites.

Airplanes traveled with State Department letters

Every time the Gulfstream and other planes in Richmor's fleet took to the air, they carried one-page transit documents on State Department letterhead. The notices, known as "letters of public convenience," were addressed "to whom it may concern," stating that the jets should be treated as official flights and that "accompanying personnel are under contract with the U.S. government."

In trial testimony, Moss said the documents were provided from the government to DynCorp, which furnished them to Richmor. Richards said the letters were given to flight crews before they left on each flight, but declined to explain their use.

The notes, signed by a State Department administrative assistant, Terry A. Hogan, described the planes' travels as "global support for U.S. embassies worldwide."

The AP could not locate Hogan. No official with that name is currently listed in State's department-wide directory. A comprehensive 2004 State Department telephone directory contains no reference to Hogan, or variations of that name — despite records of four separate transit letters signed by Terry A. Hogan in January, March and April 2004. Several of the signatures on the diplomatic letters under Hogan's name were noticeably different.

Lawrence Wilkerson, who was chief of staff for Secretary of State Colin Powell from 2001 to 2005 during the Bush administration, said he was not familiar with the Hogan letters and had not been aware of any direct State Department involvement in the CIA's rendition program. Wilkerson said the multiple signatures would have raised questions about the documents' authenticity.

A State Department spokesman said the department has a policy of not commenting on "alleged intelligence activities."

In some cases, the notes added that the jets were not restricted by standard federal flight rules governing aircraft for hire. Although such exemptions are vague in practice, said Gregory Winton, a former Federal Aviation Administration lawyer, they might allow pilots to avoid normal FAA restrictions on the amount of duty hours they could fly — helpful on the long international missions such as those flown by the Gulfstreams.

In some circumstances, Winton added, such diplomatic cover letters might also be used to allow pilots to deviate from their flight plans and to win cooperation from foreign authorities after an international landing. Human rights groups and foreign critics have contended that some rendition flights obscured their real destinations when they dropped off detainees at airfields near the black sites.

"When you go overseas and show up in somebody's backyard in your private plane working for the U.S. government, that's a diplomacy issue, not a flight issue," Winton said.

The court files break down costs incurred for on-flight computers and phones, landing fees and even money spent for meals. A $440 catering bill from Ohio-based Air Chef for an October 2003 flight from Washington to Guantanamo showed the Gulfstream was well stocked as it headed south. It carried fruit platters, assorted muffins and bagels, deli sandwiches, potato chips, cookies and two $39 bottles of wine.

Sav Momgelli, Air Chef's vice president for sales, said the company had no idea it had been providing meals for secret government flights.

"We don't ask questions," he said. "We're never told and we never ask. It could be a VIP, but to us it doesn't matter. It's just another customer."

Grand Mosque of Sanaa: historical landmark and centre for moderation

Yemen's ancient mosque preaches the values of religious moderation and tolerance.
By Faisal Darem for Magharebia in Sanaa – 01/09/11
The Grand Mosque in Sanna is one of the oldest mosques in the Muslim world. It was the first mosque built in Yemen (sixth year Hijri, 627 AD) and is regarded as a spiritual, historical, artistic, and archaeological symbol in Yemen and throughout the Muslim world.
Besides its historical significance, the site offers theological sciences and jurisprudence programmes and knowledge workshops that make the mosque a centre for moderation and rejection of extremism.
Abdullah al-Raii, who teaches theological jurisprudence and Arabic at the mosque, told Magharebia the mosque is an Islamic institution that graduates scholars, theological jurists, and judges who complete courses and workshops in the theological sciences and in Arabic which they attend during the year.
Al-Raii said the curriculum is based on the principle of moderation in Islam which rejects the radical ideas promoted by certain groups and organisations that claim to be acting in the name of Islam but instead exploit sectarian differences to sow discord.
Al-Raii said, "This problem is rooted in the issuance of fatwas by unauthorised sources. The Grand Mosque had in the past restricted fatwas to scholars who have reached an advanced stage in theological sciences that goes beyond Ijtihad." He said individuals who benefited from sectarian differences are those who sow sedition, extremism, and terrorism such as al-Qaeda.
Al-Raii appealed to the government and scholars to establish a juridical and Sharia college or academy that would limit the issuance of fatwas which damage Islam and the Islamic nation.
Taha al-Ruqaihi, a Grand Mosque preacher, spoke about his sermons and their role in disseminating moderate views among citizens.
Al-Ruqaihi said the topics of his sermons are drawn from contemporary society. He uses themes that stress moderation and a rejection of terrorism and extremism, warning worshippers against extremist ideas.
He stressed "the need to raise people's awareness about those problems and protect the youth and children in general from those ideas". Al-Ruqaihi said al-Qaeda's suicide bombings and its killing of innocent people can be attributed to "fossilised minds".
As for the Grand Mosque's religious and cultural value, Sheikh Abd al-Hadi Ahmad al-Mahdi, a senior sheikh at the Grand Mosque, said it is "one of the oldest, most reputable, and most historical of Yemen's mosques. It is on par with the Al-Jund mosque built by Maath bin Jabal in Taiz. Both were built during the time of the Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him. "

"The Messenger ordered the construction of the mosque between the Malmlamah rock and a tree in Ghamdan palace in Sanaa, and therein lies an indication of a scientific miracle. When the Grand Mosque and the Haram al-Makki (Grand Mosque in Mecca) were photographed via satellite, the Grand Mosque was found to be on a straight line with the Kaaba," al-Mahdi said.
Al-Mahdi said the mosque was built using stones from the former Ghamdan palace, and the steel doors of the mosque originally belonged to the palace and bear ancient Musnad inscriptions.
"The [Musnad] era dates back 7,000 years which adds to the historical and archaeological value of the mosque," he said.
The Grand Mosque is different from other mosques because it is a standalone institution with a house of manuscripts, a historical library that holds ancient writings, old manuscripts, and Sharia books. There is a copy of the Quran that was written by Imam Ali bin Abi Talib. The mosque is also a fatwa centre and a school for judges and scholars.
"To this day, the mosque's library remains as one of Yemen's Islamic treasures that represents a part of the Islamic heritage and authentic Islamic thought, and the mosque's house of manuscripts is a regional hub in the Middle East. We have capable Yemeni experts, workshops, and equipment for the repair and maintenance of manuscripts which are a national treasure."

North Africa: 9/11 Ten Tears On - the Threat From Al-Qaeda

Maha Azzam

September 1, 2011


Ten years after 9/11, al-Qaeda's financial, logistical and leadership capabilities have been greatly depleted.

However, the risk of terrorist attacks remains high, partly because al-Qaeda in whatever capacity, wants to show that it is still a force to be reckoned with.

The threat posed by al-Qaeda affiliates - AQAP in Yemen and AQIM in North Africa - are likely to exploit instability in Yemen and Libya and wherever the opportunity lends itself due to civil or sectarian unrest, or a lack of security. The threat of al-Qaeda inspired terrorism lies in the fact that it can strike anywhere, that it can be the product of a sophisticated well planned attack, or one carried out by more amateur activists.

And yet, a fundamental change has occurred since 9/11 that has undermined al-Qaeda and the potential for increasing popular support of global terrorism: the challenge to authoritarian regimes in Arab countries through the espousal of non-violence and a call for democracy. The overriding desire for ensuring a democratic political system by both secularists and mainstream Islamists is a major challenge to violent extremism and clearly has popular support.

In the case of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood and Tunisia's al-Nahda, commitment to democracy is a central component of their political platform and is accepted as a fundamental pillar of their ideology which they perceive to be compatible with Islam. Democracy is seen by Islamist and secular activists as the best defence against the abuses of state power.

The majority of Muslims have rejected al-Qaeda's message; the level of resistance to regimes from Tunisia to Yemen just this year has never been matched by a similar show of support to al-Qaeda's call. Al-Qaeda's new leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, has declared his support for the uprisings in Yemen, Syria and Libya, but he is marginalized by the overwhelming appeal of democratization.

The transition to democracy in parts of the Arab world will be fraught with challenges. There may be groups who find themselves frustrated at the slow pace of change, or feel excluded; there will be those who believe that they have a monopoly on the 'true' interpretation of religion and may attempt to undermine the democratic process through a resort to violence - but they will be a minority.

9/11 has left an indelible imprint on the memory of a generation of Americans; in the Arab world the violent repercussions of the Iraq war are still being felt, but today's generation has moved beyond the memory of bin Laden and the appeal of violent extremism to an alternative strategy for political change and independence.

Yemen Interior Ministry: 300 al Qaeda fighters killed since May

September 1, 2011

Sanaa, Yemen (CNN) -- Clashes between al Qaeda fighters and government troops since May in southern Yemen have killed 300 militants, the country's Interior Ministry said Thursday.

A total of 183 government troops have died in the fighting, according to security officials in Abyan province, an al Qaeda stronghold.

Yemeni troops also have retaken numerous villages previously in the hands of militants, a government spokesman said.

"The numbers of killed terrorists is a sign that the government is taking the matter seriously and will continue to fight them until the country is cleansed from them," according to spokesman Abdu Ganadi.

In February, Yemen Foreign Minister Abu Bakr al-Qirbi said al Qaeda fighters in Yemen only numbered a couple of hundred.

But some questioned the government figures.

"If we take in consideration what the foreign minister said earlier in the year and what the Interior Ministry announced ... there aren't supposed to be any more al Qaeda militants in Yemen," said Ali al-Jaradi, a political analyst and expert in al Qaeda affairs.

"If 300 were killed in Abyan then who is fighting our troops?"

The government defended its numbers, saying they are not exaggerated.

"The ministry is not under pressure to raise the number of those killed as has no reason to give false information on the militants death toll," Mohammed al-Maweri, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said.

Abyan province was taken over by a extremist militant group called Ansar al-Sharia in late May, which has since then been in control of most districts of the southern Yemen province.

The group also announced its desire to takeover Yemen's business capital, Aden, which borders Abyan. If successful, it would create a crescent shaped Islamic emirate.

The group has links to al Qeada, according to the Interior Ministry.

This comes as a local security official in Lahj province said that more than 100 al Qaeda militants have entered the province, coming from neighboring Abyan.

Residents of Lahj fear that the government is planning to evacuate its thousands of troops like it did in Abyan and force the province to fall in the hands of militants.

"Why is the government allowing them to enter Lahj," said Khaldoon Mansoor, who lives in Howtah, the capital of Lahj. "It knows they are coming in the province and yet doing nothing to stop them while they are in small numbers."

More than 90,000 residents of Abyan were evacuated after developments in May and are now living in shelters in neighboring Aden and Lahj provinces.

In January, young protesters took to the streets of the capital, Sanaa, demanding the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Fears of an all-out civil war have spiked in recent months as government forces and people alleged to be Hashed tribesmen slugged it out in the capital.

Saleh, who has been confronted with widespread anti-government sentiment and militant activity, has been urged to accept a political transition plan that will lead to his departure. He is currently in Saudi Arabia, undergoing treatment for severe burns suffered in a June 3 attack on his palace.

Yemen forces 'advancing on militants in Zinjibar'

ADEN, September 1, 201, (AFP) — Yemeni army units on Thursday advanced towards Zinjibar, the southern Abyan provincial capital which fell to insurgents linked to Al-Qaeda in late May, a military official told AFP.
"Units of the 201st and 119th brigades advanced towards Zinjibar on two fronts and have managed to link up with the 25th mechanised brigade," which has been encircled since militants captured the city, the official said on condition of anonymity.
The military recaptured Al-Wahda stadium seven kilometres (four miles) east of Zinjibar, then advanced to the outskirts of the Hosn Shaddad neighbourhood adjacent to the 25th mechanised brigade, he said.
"They linked up with the besieged soldiers of the brigade," he added.
Other military units backed by tanks, were about five kilometres from Zinjibar after capturing the village of Al-Kud from insurgents over the past two days, he said, adding that there were reports of heavy fighting.
Gunmen claiming to be from the group Partisans of Sharia (Islamic law), a Qaeda-linked organisation, captured Zinjibar on May 29. They besieged the base of the 25th mechanised brigade, and managed to take temporary control of other Abyan villages.
In their new progress towards Zinjibar, the armed forces have come up against stiff resistance from insurgents, according to a local official, who said the extremists had taken heavy losses in fighting on Wednesday.
"Al Qaeda lost 30 men yesterday in the fighting south of Zinjibar," Mohsen Saeed Salem, a local official, told AFP.
Among the insurgents killed was "Yasher Alban, an Al-Qaeda leader from Lahij," the neighbouring province to Abyan, he added.
A source close to the militants told AFP that between 15 and 20 insurgents had been killed.
The bodies of four soldiers killed in fighting the previous day near Zinjibar were transported to the military hospital in the main southern city of Aden, a medic told AFP.

U.S. Counterterror Chief: Al Qaeda Now on the Ropes

September 01, 2011| Associated Press

On a steady slide. On the ropes. Taking shots to the body and head.

That's how White House counterterrorism chief John Brennan described Al Qaeda on Wednesday as he offered the first on-record confirmation that Al Qaeda's latest second-in-command was killed last week in Pakistan -- roughly four months after Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden there.

In an Associated Press interview, Brennan said the death of Atiyah Abd al-Rahman in Pakistan's tribal areas last week was a "huge blow" to the group, damaging the network and keeping Al Qaeda's leadership too busy trying to hide to plot new attacks. Al-Rahman reportedly was hit by a CIA drone strike.

In a wide-ranging interview, Brennan credited aggressive U.S. action against militants across the region as the main reason U.S. intelligence has detected no active terror plots before the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

The former CIA officer described that as proof that the White House has found the right formula to fight Al Qaeda, by pairing U.S. intelligence and counterterrorist forces with host nations from Pakistan to Iraq to Yemen, fighting beside them or sometimes through them. The goal is to keep Al Qaeda off balance, unable to replace the seasoned terrorists the U.S. campaign is taking out.

"If they're worrying about their security ... they're going to have less time to plot and plan," Brennan said of the militants. "They're going to be constantly looking over their shoulder or up in the air or wherever, and it really has disrupted their operational cadence and ability to carry out attacks."

He pointed to the killing of al-Rahman as an example of how U.S. pressure is degrading the network.

"There's no longer a management grooming program there. They don't stay in place long enough," Brennan said.

Al-Rahman had barely assumed a leadership position since bin Laden's death pushed his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, into the top spot. Brennan described al-Rahman as a "workaholic" and an "operational mastermind" who kept Al Qaeda's nodes from Yemen to Europe connected.

"Taking him out of commission is huge," Brennan said. "There's not another bin Laden out there. I don't know if there's another Atiyah Abd al-Rahman out there."

Brennan said the key to keeping another al-Rahman from rising is to keep constant pressure on all locations where Al Qaeda operates, working through host countries to target operatives who "are flowing sometimes back and forth" among Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia and other parts of Africa.

Brennan brushed off some of the major crises in those relationships of late, from Pakistan's strident objections to drone strikes as a continued affront to its sovereignty in the wake of the bin Laden raid, to the revolts across the Mideast that swept from power U.S. counterterror allies in places like Egypt.

He said the relationship with Pakistan is improving.

And he described the Arab revolts as a "speed bump" that only temporarily disrupted cooperation. He said U.S. contacts in Egypt have been able to recover quickly following longtime leader Hosni Mubarak's ouster earlier this year. The counterterrorism relationship with Tunisia, where the so-called Arab Spring movement began, also remains strong, he said.

Brennan said the uprising in Yemen, however, had kept Yemeni forces engaged in a fight for political survival, and had slowed down the fight against arguably the most dangerous bin Laden affiliate, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. AQAP, as the affiliate is known, has worked with the rebel tribes to grab large swaths of territory in the south.

The unrest has forced the U.S. to draw down the hundred-plus military and intelligence personnel it had working with Yemeni counterterrorism forces. Those Yemeni forces, led by ailing Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh's sons, have been reluctant to leave the capital unguarded, even when a brigade of conventional Yemeni troops became trapped by Al Qaeda in the Abyan region.

U.S. forces had to air-drop food and water to the embattled unit, which was threatening to surrender. Brennan said the U.S. has since persuaded the Yemenis to send enough forces their way to free them, and he has urged the country's vice president to send more troops into the fight.

"This political tumult is ... leading them to be focused on their positioning for internal political purposes as opposed to doing all they can against AQAP," he said.

Saleh is still recovering in Saudi Arabia, with some 70 percent of his body burned and a lung pierced from an assassination attempt in June, as he was praying in his palace compound.

While Brennan says Saudi Arabia would allow Saleh to return from his temporary medical exile, he repeated the White House's earlier calls for Saleh to stay away and let new elections take place.

"I've told him that I do not believe it's in his interests, Yemen's interests or our interests ... to go back to Yemen," Brennan said.

He called Yemen a "tinderbox" that could erupt into a civil war that Al Qaeda would take advantage of.