The terror plot that has temporarily closed 19 U.S. diplomatic posts around the world was proposed by al-Qaida's Yemeni branch and approved by the global al-Qaida chief, a senior U.S. official said on Thursday.
It had long been believed the plot was ordered by al-Qaida's leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, The Wall Street Journal
The intercepted communications of exchanges between Zawahiri and the leader of the Yemeni branch, Nasser al-Wuhayshi, showed Wuhayshi presenting his plan of attack to seek tacit approval — and he received it, several current and former U.S. officials told the Journal.
"Zawahiri isn't directing the plot that we're concerned about emanating from Yemen," the senior U.S. official said. "He certainly provided inspiration and support.
"Zawahiri's giving his blessing for a plot is very different from ordering that plot or being able to launch a 9/11-style attack," the official said.
The new information depicts a bottom-up relationship between al-Qaida and its Yemeni affiliate, which differs from the top-down description in many recent news reports that say Zawahiri had ordered the attack.
The description of the relationship is consistent both with U.S. intelligence reports in recent years and the assessments of outside experts who track the Yemeni affiliate, the Journal reports.
The issue of whether al-Qaida's leadership is directing plots has become a point of debate for critics who say the Obama administration had overstated its successes against the terrorist organization, the Journal states.
While the intercepted communications show the plot originating with the Yemeni branch, it also demonstrates a tight relationship between the leadership of the group and its affiliate, the Journal reports.
By Monday, many news organizations had reported that Zawahiri had ordered the attack.
But had Zawahiri ordered an attack, it would have suggested that al-Qaida's leadership was commanding its affiliates and wielded a more muscular role than U.S. intelligence officials have described, the Journal reports.
The senior U.S. official sought to explain the connection between the intercepted communication and the threat picture presented by al-Qaida and its affiliates, particularly al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, known as AQAP.
"The notion that Zawahiri is providing operational control to AQAP on this current threat stream is just not accurate," the official told the Journal. "It is no secret that he would support any effort to attack Americans."
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