Al-Qaida In The Arabian Peninsula In Yemen

Guests

Dina Temple-Raston, NPR's counter-terrorism correspondent
Gregory Johnsen, Princeton University

Investigators still don't know who sent the two mail bombs shipped from Yemen to the U.S. Both were intercepted. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano said the plot had "all the hallmarks of al-Qaida and in particular, al-Qaida AP" — al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, a terrorist group based in Yemen.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

Investigators from several countries believe that last week's mail bomb plot bears the fingerprints of a terrorist group in Yemen. Two packages addressed to Jewish centers in Chicago were intercepted, one in Dubai, the other in Britain.

Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano says the plot has all the hallmarks of al-Qaida and, in particular, al-Qaida AP, that's al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.

That group acquired its current identification in January, 2009, as a coalition of militants from Yemen and Saudi Arabia, operationally separate, but ideologically united with Osama bin Laden.

Since then, AQAP has launched attacks in Yemen and in Saudi Arabia and took responsibility for the failed attempt to bring down an airliner over Detroit last Christmas Day.

If you have questions about the plot, the group believed to be behind it or about its base in Yemen, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. Thats at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Later in the program, through the Persian Gulf, Iraq and Afghanistan on a holiday USO tour with Lewis Black. But first, NPR counterterrorism correspondent Dina Temple-Raston joins us from NPR's bureau in New York City. Dina, always nice to have you on the program.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: Thank you very much. It's great to be here.

CONAN: And today, the Associated Press quoted a French official as saying one of those bombs was 17 minutes away from explosion. Have you been able to confirm that?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, actually, it looks like that report was a false alarm. The French interior minister had announced this morning, at a press conference, that there was this 17-minute gap before it was going to explode, but so far, there have been nothing but a series of denials from just about anybody who has anything to do with the plot - from law enforcement officials I've talked to, to the U.K., to Dubai and even the White House today.

CONAN: Well, what do we know about the triggering mechanism of these devices?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, you know, we don't know an awful lot. We do know that there was some sort of cell phone detonation device, but my understanding is that the two different packages had two different detonating devices. They were both filled with PETN, but which is this explosive that's related to nitroglycerin. But the packages were a little bit different from each other.

This is what they're trying to get to the bottom of, and I think they've been very careful about what they've released in terms of information until they feel they have their arms around the entire plot.

CONAN: And also different amounts of PETN packed into the well, packed into printers.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, actually, it was quite ingenious. It's a this PETN, almost a pound of it, was packed into the toner cartridge inside a Hewlett-Packard computer printer. And if you've ever tried to change one of those toner cartridges, you know that there's black dust that gets all over your hands any time you do it.

In this case, it was white dust, and that white dust was PETN, this explosive. And it was rigged up with a circuit board underneath it that had some sort of triggering device, probably the alarm on a cell phone, and that was supposed to make it ignite.

CONAN: Is the belief that these were intended to explode while aboard aircraft in the air, or were they intended to explode after they were delivered to an address in Chicago?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, the addresses in Chicago that we've heard so much about, that were supposed to be Jewish synagogues or Jewish community associations -in fact, what they were, were obsolete addresses. So the packages never would have gotten to where, theoretically, they were supposed to go.

They were also addressed, rather ironically, to historical characters from the Spanish Inquisition and from the Crusades. So the packages were not supposed to get to a particular place, I don't think.

And by virtue of elimination, I think that now, authorities have decided that the packages were probably supposed to explode some time in midair, as they were winging their way to Chicago. And what the presumably what the terrorists were trying to do was something like Lockerby, in which, you know, the planes would fall on a populated area and kill more people there.

CONAN: Well, the design for Lockerby was that it would explode over the mid-Atlantic, and nobody would ever know where the device came from. There would be no traces left. So Lockerby obviously did explode over a Scottish village.

But were these printers the only things in the packages?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, there were other things, as well. There were it seems like the packages were designed to almost have a narrative of their own, and that narrative being that this would be the kind of things that a student might send back to the United States after a semester at school. So there were clothes and Yemeni trinkets, and things like that. So the box itself was supposed to not arouse any suspicion.

I mean, to go back to this Lockerby point that you just made, Lockerby was supposed to go down over the Atlantic Ocean, but what now is seen by terrorist organizations is, if it goes down over the Atlantic Ocean, then nobody gets any footage, you know, film footage. It doesn't make the news in a way that's very dramatic.

And part of the goal in a terrorist attack is to have dramatic news coverage of it, so everyone sees it. So having a plane disappear over the ocean now is sort of an outdated mode of a terrorist attack. They very much want it where everyone can see it.

CONAN: Was there a return address on these packages?

TEMPLE-RASTON: There was, and the return address on the packages was that of a student who is an engineering student in Sana'a, which is the capital of Yemen, went to university there.

But it appears that her ID was stolen, and actually, her address and all her information was stolen, as well. Because when they brought her in for questioning, they had the man who had actually taken the packages in try to identify her, and he said that she was a different woman than the one who had dropped off the packages.

CONAN: So a woman dropped of the packages, though?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Apparently so.

CONAN: And how do do we know how authorities were tipped off?

TEMPLE-RASTON: We don't. There's a lot of confusion about how they were tipped off. I mean, I've heard from my sources that there were a series of different intelligence tips. And one of the ones that people have been talking about had to do with a former Guantanamo detainee who apparently had second thoughts after he joined up, again, with al-Qaida in Yemen. And after surrender, and the Saudis sent a plane for him, and when they started questioning him, he revealed the large details of this plot.

That was sort of badly reported by some news organizations, and they said that he had actually provided the tracking numbers of these packages. And he would have left Yemen too early to have the tracking number of these packages.

So essentially what happened, is he may have given them the outlines of the plot, and gathering other intelligence, they were able to sort of trace it down to these two packages.

CONAN: The we're talking with Dina Temple-Raston, NPR's counterterrorism correspondent. Of course, we're talking about the plot that was foiled last week when authorities intercepted two packages carrying pretty significant amounts of high explosives, one of them in Britain, the other in Dubai. Both were en route to the United States through the air cargo handling system.

If you have questions about the plot, about the group believed to be behind it or about their base in Yemen, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org.

And Dina, we also have to ask, we're in the middle of another investigation of another series of parcel bombs, this one believed to be originating in Greece. Just a coincidence?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Right now it looks like it's just a coincidence. The bombs are completely different. The ones I understand the sort of letter packages that have been happening were more gunpowder-based, as opposed to PETN-based. So I think it ends up being a so far, it looks like it's just a weird coincidence.

CONAN: And believed to be from a leftist group in Greece, not from an al-Qaida-related group in the Arabian Peninsula.

As authorities continue these investigations, one plot that has also been associated with AQAP was the plot to blow up an airliner over Detroit last Christmas, the so-called underpants bomb. Are these two devices connected?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Connected in the sense that they were actually constructed the same way. The man who was going to try and blow up the airliner over Detroit actually had to inject a particular chemical accelerant into the into his underwear, where this PETN was, to try and blow up the plane. And what happened was it caught fire, but it didn't quite ignite the PETN. He was carrying about 80 grams of PETN, and that would have blown a hole into the side of the fuselage.

In this case, they had over a pound of that in these toners, and there was actually a syringe that was sort of set up in such a way, with the same chemical that they think the Detroit airliner bomber had.

So it was a very, very similarly constructed bomb. In fact, they both think it's they all think that the bomb-maker for al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula is the one who was responsible for all the bombs.

CONAN: Let's get a caller in on the conversation. Dave's(ph) on the line, Dave calling from Philadelphia.

DAVE (Caller): Hi, thank you, how are you today?

CONAN: Very well, thanks.

DAVE: Thanks.

CONAN: My question deals with the relationship between United States and Yemeni, Arabian Peninsula, you know, Saudi Arabian intelligence, where the tip on these packages came from.

The packages weren't, to my knowledge, discovered through screening or normal screening procedures, which are lacking in cargo. It was more of a very, very specific...

CONAN: Off a tip is what you're saying.

DAVE: And intelligence agencies know that much to know very specific tip. Are they willing or are they sharing greater information, much more information, or are they selective in what they share in holding this information close to their chest?

CONAN: Dina?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, I can't be absolutely positive about that, but I can tell you that when it comes to this group in Yemen, al-Qaida's arm in Yemen, AQAP, the Saudis are on them like white on rice because for a long time, their main target was the Saudi monarchy.

And about this time last year, they had actually launched an attack in which they had sent one of their members to meet with the Saudi intelligence chief. And he theoretically was supposed to be negotiating a giant sort of surrender of a bunch of AQAP members.

And when he got into the room with the intelligence chief, he pretended to call these intelligence, these Yemeni members and in fact exploded a device that was hidden inside his body and blew himself apart.

And he was supposed to actually be killing the intelligence chief, the Saudi intelligence chief, at the same time. But his body took most of the blow of the explosives. So the intelligence chief survived.

Ever since that happened, I think that focused minds of Saudi intelligence in a whole new way, and my understanding from my sources is that the Saudis can hear quite a bit of what's going on with AQAP, and they are following and tracking that group very, very closely, and they're sharing that information with the U.S.

I mean, I thought it was very interesting as a general matter when intelligence tips are shard. We as reporters don't generally hear who shared it, and in this case, the White House actually put out a press release to say that the Saudis had shared this information.

CONAN: And is this group, AQAP, believed to be based in Saudi, in Yemen or in both places?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, the way AQAP actually started as an entity was in January of 2009, two groups came together. There was a small group of al-Qaida fighters who were in Yemen, and then there was an even smaller group in Saudi Arabia. And the problem was that Saudi Arabia was focused so much on al-Qaida it had driven these guys out. So in January, 2009, they merged their forces, and that's how you got AQAP.

CONAN: Dave, thanks very much for the call. We're talking with Dina Temple-Raston about the bomb plot foiled last week when devices were intercepted before they exploded, one in Dubai, the other in Britain. When we come back, we're going to be talking with a specialist on Yemen, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

Investigators of last week's cargo bomb plot continue to follow a trail of clues back to Yemen. It's a country roughly twice the size of Wyoming that is in the southwest corner of Arabian Peninsula. It's also the poorest of the Arab countries and faces a growing threat from groups linked to al-Qaida. More about that in a moment.

NPR counterterrorism correspondent Dina Temple-Raston is with us. If you have questions about the plot, the group believed to be behind it or about its base in Yemen, 800-989-8255 is the phone number. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. Thats at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Let's bring another voice into the conversation now, Gregory Johnsen, an expert on Yemen, based at Princeton University. He joins us on the line from Cairo in Egypt, and nice to have you with us today.

Mr. GREGORY JOHNSEN (Princeton University): Thanks so much for having me.

CONAN: And can you describe AQAP for us?

Mr. JOHNSEN: Absolutely. This is a group which I think Dina did a great job of talking about earlier in your segment. It's actually the roots of it go back to a prison break in February, 2006, when 23 al-Qaida suspects tunneled their way out of a maximum-security prison in the outskirts of Sana'a into a neighboring mosque, where they said their morning prayers and then walked out the front door with the rest of the worshipers.

And that was sort of al-Qaida's resurgence into Yemen, a group that the U.S. and Yemen governments had originally defeated after 9/11.

CONAN: And is this the same group of people associated with the attack on the USS Cole?

Mr. JOHNSEN: No. At the time that the USS there were two of the individuals who escaped who had been involved in the USS Cole attack. But there was a split after this prison break, where the older generation cut a series of deals with the Yemeni government, where they came to sort of a tacit nonaggression pact, if you will, whereby they would agree not to carry out any attacks within Yemen if the Yemeni government didn't go after them.

But a younger group of fighters, people who'd come back, who'd been in Afghanistan with Osama bin Laden, said that they really couldn't be making deals with what they called tyrants, in a reference to the Yemeni government, and so they essentially went on the warpath.

CONAN: And Tyrants, is that an accurate description of the Yemeni government?

Mr. JOHNSEN: Well, the Yemeni government right now is in a really difficult situation. We all know about the threat from al-Qaida, but it's also battling an on-again-off-again war up in the a civil war up in the north. And there's increasingly violent calls for secession in the south.

So you have those three security challenges, and then you have a state which is really just being hamstrung with massive amounts of poverty. Almost half of the population lives below the poverty line. The government's incredibly dependent upon oil revenue, and the oil wells, along with the water wells, are dropping at an alarming rate, which means that the government has no money.

And for a country that's heavily dependent upon subsistence agriculture, people are moving away from that and into the cities, which is really exacerbating the unemployment problem.

CONAN: Are the militants of AQAP Yemenis or Saudis or who?

Mr. JOHNSEN: Yeah, they're as Dina said earlier, they're a mixture of both. The leader of the organization is a man named Naser al-Wuhayshi, and he actually spent four years in Afghanistan with Osama bin Laden. He got separated from bin Laden in the Battle of Tora Bora, and he was really an apprentice, almost an understudy to Osama bin Laden.

So what he's done since he got out of prison in this prison break is he's used this blueprint that Osama bin Laden had in Afghanistan in the late 1990s, and he's used that as a template to built a parallel al-Qaida organization in Yemen.

And he's recruited a number of Yemenis, and there have of course been the Saudis and people from around the world, including Americans and Southeast Asians, who have now joined the group as it's had what in the terrorist world goes by successes.

CONAN: Dina Temple-Raston, one of those Americans that Gregory Johnsen just mentioned, Anwar al-Awlaki, the American-born cleric who left Virginia to return to Yemen and has been associated with a number of attacks against the United States.

TEMPLE-RASTON: He's become the face of AQAP, basically their voice and their face because he's very popular on the Internet, and he has an enormous following.

In addition to him, we also believe that there's a young North Carolina man named Samir Kahn, who born in America and an American who left this time last year to go to Yemen theoretically to learn Arabic and then disappeared off the grid and about six months later, he came out or a magazine for al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula came out called Inspire magazine, and that magazine had a lot of articles that were very similar to articles that Samir Kahn had written for a pro-al-Qaida blog he was producing here in the United States.

The concern is that there are more Americans than that. And I think the other concern is that a lot of people who are members of AQAP are former Guantanamo detainees. So they have a real focus on the United States that's different than some of these other groups.

CONAN: Let's get another caller in, Chuck(ph), Chuck with us from San Francisco.

CHUCK (Caller): Hi. I'm wondering to what extent does terrorism provide economic benefits to Yemen because it seems that the terrorist groups provide financing. Other nations provide resources to fight the terrorist groups. And so I'm wondering if economic factors aside from the ideological political ones we typically associate with al-Qaida are to what extent those drive the terrorism.

CONAN: Gregory Johnsen?

Mr. JOHNSEN: Yeah, I think that's an excellent question. And in fact, if you go back to right after September 11, the U.S. and Yemeni governments cooperated quite closely. By the end of 2003, they'd really destroyed al-Qaida. Al-Qaida was no longer an issue.

And I'll give you an example to illustrate what I'm talking about and the situation that Yemen finds itself in. Two years after that, in November, 2005, President Ali Abdullah Saleh, the president of Yemen, took a state visit to Washington. He paid a visit to then-President Bush.

He felt he was going to be congratulated, really rewarded as being this great ally in the war on terror. He had helped the Americans, al-Qaida was no longer an issue in his country, but this was in the midst, if you'll remember, of then-President Bush's attempts to sort of remake the Middle East, democratize the Middle East, and instead of viewing President Saleh as an ally in the war on terror, he was now being seen as someone who was a problem on democracy.

So instead of rewarding him, they actually slashed aid. President Saleh got slapped around very publicly. He met with Condoleezza Rice. He was told Yemen was being suspended from an account that cost it $20 million. The next day, he went to the World Bank, and they told him they were cutting aid to Yemen, as well.

And the message that he took home, on his flight home, he fired all his economic advisors. And one of the individuals who was on the plane told me that the message that really stood out to President Saleh was that without an al-Qaida problem in Yemen, Yemen was just one more poor country in a world of beggars.

CONAN: Chuck, thanks very much. I'm sorry, did you have something else?

CHUCK: Well, then, that makes it seems like that presents some real problems about how to address the problem for nations like ours because it seems like then, there are incentives on both the government and the terrorist side to maintain the status quo. Do you see what I mean? What do we do, I guess is what I'm asking.

CONAN: Okay, Gregory Johnsen?

Mr. JOHNSEN: Yeah, the U.S. has a real problem in working against muscle memory and how it's distributed aid over the past 10 to 20 years and particularly in convincing countries like Yemen that getting better and getting rid of an al-Qaida threat is actually in its economic interests because the way that the U.S. has distributed aid has suggested that that is in fact not the case.

TEMPLE-RASTON: And if I could add in here, I mean, Yemen is also getting it from both sides because AQAP just this week had bombed one of its oil pipelines that had belonged to I think a Korean oil company in response to this onslaught in the area where this AQAP is supposed to be.

So you can't win for losing in the sense that al-Qaida's targeting him as much as the U.S. economic aid is dependent on al-Qaida.

CONAN: Chuck, thanks very much.

CHUCK: Thank you.

CONAN: Bye-bye. Let's go next to we'll go to Cynthia, Cynthia with us from Pinehurst in North Carolina.

CYNTHIA (Caller): Hi.

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

CYNTHIA: My question is, it's not a criticism of the investigative reporting but a real question in terms of how do we balance the information that we don't want them to know we know?

CONAN: Ah, Dina, I think that's to you.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Yes, that's one of my perennial themes, actually, when I talk to people is the amount of responsibility you have when you're a counterterrorism correspondent because a lot of the time, you find out things before you should.

Just to put it in context, a lot of people give you information so that you understand why they're saying what they're saying. And then you end up holding back that information until, for example, they make an arrest.

I think that's what's sort of interesting in this particular case. Normally, we would never hear about, you know, a former Guantanamo detainee who had provided the key tip about a plot, and it's very interesting this time that they made that so public.

CONAN: And why do you think they did?

TEMPLE-RASTON: There happens to be an enormous arms package to the Saudis that is going to be...

CONAN: Up before Congress, yeah.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Yes, exactly.

CONAN: Okay.

TEMPLE-RASTON: I'm sure that's not a complete coincidence.

CONAN: All right. Cynthia, good question. Thank you.

CYNTHIA: Got it. Thank you.

CONAN: Let me turn to you, Gregory Johnsen. And the United States has also been eager to, at various times, at least, itself intervene militarily in Yemen. Not with boots on the ground, then with Special Forces or with drones or air attacks.

Mr. JOHNSEN: Yeah. The U.S., in fact, started - they carried out an airstrike in December 2009, where they were going after some al-Qaeda targets. The system for the U.S. was blinking red at the time. This is an approach that's been talked about and been called the surgical-strike approach. Unfortunately, that attack in December of 2009 was anything but. It may have killed a couple of militants, but unfortunately the vast amount of causalities were women and children in a village in south Yemen - in the village of Maajala. And this has been something that al-Qaeda has went back to over and over again over the past several months, saying America is attacking Yemen just like in Iraq, just like in Afghanistan. All true Muslims have to stand up and defend Muslim lands. And not only is the U.S. attacking us, but they're killing innocent women and children.

And so this surgical-strike approach, when it misses who it's after - and the U.S. has missed on more than one occasion - there was also an instance in the spring of this year where the U.S. killed a Yemeni government official instead of the al-Qaeda operative that it was targeting. So when the U.S. misses, these surgical strikes have a way of backfiring, and it's something that al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has been able to use to its advantage in recruiting more and more people.

CONAN: Yet - is the alternative to do nothing?

Mr. JOHNSEN: Well, the U.S. certainly can't do nothing, but I think that there's a way that the U.S. can intervene and prop up the Yemeni security forces and put a Yemeni face on this. Because we have to remember, the U.S. has been down this road before. It's militarily defeated al-Qaeda in Yemen once and the organization came back. And the lesson in that is that you really can't have your entire policy be based on military options. It has to be much deeper. It has to be much broader. And in countries like Yemen, it has to take a longer view of history than what the U.S. has traditionally done.

CONAN: We're talking with Gregory Johnsen, an expert on Yemen and on terrorist groups in that country. He's based at Princeton University. Also with us, NPR counterterrorism correspondent Dina Temple-Raston. And you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, which is coming to you from NPR News.

And let's go next to Ayad(ph). Ayad with us from San Francisco.

AYAD (Caller): Ayad.

CONAN: Ayad.

AYAD: San Francisco. Yeah.

CONAN: Go ahead.

AYAD: I want to ask you and your guest, if you are far more credit to these groups, which really a bunch of, you know, maybe hundreds of losers who have caused more damage to their own cause. Everything they do is counterproductive, not only to themselves but also to people of the Middle East, Arabs and even Muslims, because it makes it so - become a dirty name for a Muslim or an Arab in the United States and in a big part of the world. So really what we are giving far more credit. You're only talking about at most maybe hundreds. And all they do - they do nothing to help their own people. They do nothing to help other causes in the Middle East, and it gets in the hands of the new conservative, who uses them to do the real killing all over the world, including Iraq, Afghanistan, even everywhere. I just call these people to quit. You're not doing anything good for your own people. You are damaging the whole causes of Arab world, with the Palestinian cause, whether in Iraq, Afghanistan, in your own country. It is bunch of nonsense. And they get far more credit from the American media, especially Fox News and the rest of them, for their own hidden agenda.

CONAN: Well, let me ask - there's a couple of parts to that. Let me ask Dina Temple-Raston. Is this a case of making the enemy seem 10 feet tall? Is this a relatively powerless organization?

TEMPLE-RASTON: I wouldn't say powerless. I mean, it's sort of depends where you think power lies. If you think an organization that's able to attack the United States and come pretty close to getting a couple of plots or at least bombs on airplanes, I mean that's meaningful. I don't think anybody thinks that al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is 10 feet tall, but they do think that they're a menace. And what the caller said is true, and I think that there are a lot of Muslims who feel this way, that what groups like al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and other al-Qaeda affiliates are doing actually erodes the Muslim cause, and it does. But unfortunately if you go out and kill innocents or try to kill innocents, you're going to get a lot of media attention.

AYAD: One comment. What about, you know, can we walk the streets of Oakland in the Bay Area and feel safe? No, we don't. How about (unintelligible)? Even San Francisco. You know, you have to put value to things who are making a bigger, far bigger deal from these filthy losers, groups.

CONAN: Ayad, I think we also have to point out that there is enormous amount of attention when an engine on an airliner blew up in - off of Australia - a Qantas airliner. Today people pay attention when airliners are at risk, and this has just been something that's historically always been paid a great deal of attention to, perhaps, as you suggest, exaggerated. But I wanted to ask Gregory Johnsen about one of your other points. If indeed al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is counterproductive, do the tribes and the people in Yemen feel that way about them?

Mr. JOHNSEN: Right. I think Ayad makes a great point here, and this is a real problem that we have in Yemen, is that no one is really articulating and making the argument that he just made in any Yemeni context, in Arabic to the individuals in Yemen, showing how al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is actually bad for them. If you look at U.S. public diplomacy in Yemen - and it pains me to say this - but it really is a joke. I mean, the U.S. diplomats are really limited to a drive from a fortified housing compound in (unintelligible) to the fortified embassy across town. They're not allowed to get out. You don't see U.S. officials writing Arabic op-eds in (unintelligible), which would be discussed throughout the country. You very rarely see them on Yemeni TV. So we just - until that takes place, when the U.S. is completely dependent upon military options, then we're just going to have this repetitive cycle. And we need to be making the exact argument that Ayad made to the Yemeni people, but we just haven't found a way to articulate that yet.

CONAN: You would think the government would make that case.

Mr. JOHNSEN: Yeah. You would hope so. But unfortunately, what we've seen in the past few years is really what I would call an increasing militarization of U.S. policy towards Yemen that I think is incredibly worrisome. And you see fewer and fewer diplomats. And the diplomats that are going to Yemen are often our least experienced ones. So we're not really bringing to bear the full amount of institutional knowledge that the State Department has to bear on the Yemeni problem.

CONAN: Gregory Johnsen, thanks very much for your time today. Appreciate it.

Mr. JOHNSEN: Thanks so much.

CONAN: Gregory Johnsen, a Yemen specialist at Princeton University, joined us on the line from Cairo in Egypt. Dina Temple-Raston, as always, thank you for your time today.

TEMPLE-RASTON: You're very welcome.

CONAN: Dina Temple-Raston, NPR's counterterrorism correspondent. You can follow her coverage of the bomb plot at npr.org. And of course right here on the radio. She joined us from NPR's bureau in New York.

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