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How an al-Qaida jihadi became an MI6 spy

Almost 20 years after American embassies in Africa were attacked by al-Qaida, a double agent who infiltrated the terror group is unmasking himself. Jonathan Rugman of Independent Television News reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Almost 20 years, American embassies in Africa were attacked by al-Qaida, making the terror group's leader, Osama bin Laden, an infamous household name, three years before the horror of September 11, 2001.

    During that period, MI6, which is the British foreign intelligence service, had an agent inside al-Qaida. He has now unmasked himself.

    And he spoke with Jonathan Rugman of Independent Television News.

  • Jonathan Rugman:

    He calls himself Aimen Dean.

    For eight years, he worked for MI6 as a double agent, mostly inside al-Qaida. And now one of the West's most important spies has broken cover to tell his story.

  • Aimen Dean:

    If you spend eight years under cover, at some point, basically, you will start to feel the effects.

  • Jonathan Rugman:

    In 1996, Aimen Dean underwent al-Qaida training in Afghanistan. The teenager from Bahrain already fought as a jihadi in Bosnia. Now he swore an oath of allegiance to Osama bin Laden.

    Did he impress you? You write that he was tall, he was softly spoken.

  • Aimen Dean:

    Absolutely, someone who was — who could have had a luxury life in Saudi Arabia, someone basically who could have had an easy life, and yet he gave all that up in order to serve a cause bigger than him.

  • Jonathan Rugman:

    Al-Qaida's bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania left hundreds dead and Aimen Dean outraged by the carnage. Then three years later, September the 11th, almost 3,000 people killed, and Dean had known one of the hijackers.

    By now, though, he'd moved to London, using the need for medical treatment as cover to become a British spy.

    Your job was to carry radios and phones into Afghanistan that enclosed MI6 bugging devices. Was that it?

  • Aimen Dean:

    Well, more than that. My job was basically to report on locations of camps, the new training methods, the individuals coming in and out, and also at the same time keeping up with al-Qaida's WMD program at the time.

  • Jonathan Rugman:

    But if you were doing all that, why did an attack like September the 11th happen?

  • Aimen Dean:

    If you wanted to stop 9/11, you have to have at least 12 spies inside al-Qaida, and each one inside one of the different departments. Only then, you could have stopped it.

  • Jonathan Rugman:

    What was your biggest intelligence coup, as far as you're concerned, in terms of what you managed to prevent?

  • Aimen Dean:

    Well, there were several.

    I mean, there was a plot to attack the New York subway with chemical weapons, a chemical device that was invented during my time actually in that specialist lab in Afghanistan.

    And I was reporting on it regularly to the U.K. secret services.

  • Jonathan Rugman:

    He never visited MI6 headquarters. Before any meeting, he would call his handlers from a series of phone boxes to be given a rendezvous and to allow spotters from MI5 to check he wasn't being followed.

    His spying career ending in 2006 during a boat ride on holiday in Paris. He was told the Americans had leaked details of his identity to a journalist. MI6 ordered him back to London.

    Do you have any lasting regret that you betrayed people whom you had become friends with?

  • Aimen Dean:

    No. I did not betray a state. I betrayed a bunch of criminals, as simple that.

  • Jonathan Rugman:

    Aimen Dean lives quietly somewhere in the British Isles, his code name, Lawrence, as in Lawrence of Arabia, an identity he left behind over a decade ago.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    That was Jonathan Rugman of Independent Television News.

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