Confidential files about U.S. intelligence operations were looted by Iranian-backed militiamen in Yemen, the Los Angeles Times reported.
According to the Times, the secret files had been held by Yemeni security forces and contained details about U.S. informants and plans for American-backed counter-terrorism strikes.
U.S. intelligence officials told the newspaper they believe Yemeni officials siding with Houthi rebels handed Iranian advisers additional files that had not been looted.
The Times described the damage to U.S. intelligence in Yemen as “severe.”
President Barack Obama in September has pointed to Yemen as a model for counterterrorism operations, an assertion repeated Wednesday by White House press secretary Josh Earnest.
“The White House does continue to believe that a successful counterterrorism strategy is one that will build up the capacity of the central government to have local fighters on the ground to take the fight to extremists in their own country,” Earnest said. “That is a template that has succeeded in mitigating the threat that we face from extremists in places like Yemen.”
Before the Houthi rebels launched their violent campaign to take over the country, the U.S. had coordinated with the Yemeni government to locate Al Qaeda militants.
The Los Angeles Times reported:
But the identities of local agents were considered compromised after Houthi leaders in Sana took over the offices of Yemen’s National Security Bureau, which had worked closely with the CIA and other intelligence agencies, according to two U.S. officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive operations.
According to the report, Yemeni intelligence officers could not burn all of their classified files before the rebels took over the bureau.
The Times reported that the compromised intelligence networks was one of the factors leading up to the Obama administration’s decision to stop drone strikes in Yemen for two months, evacuate the U.S. Embassy last month and to move U.S. special operations teams from a Yemen’s Al Anad airbase over the weekend.
On Wednesday, Saudi Arabia launched airstrikes against the Houthi rebels in Yemen in an effort to support the government.
Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif), the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, told the L.A. Times that the Iranian-backed Houthis may have captured a “significant portion” of military equipment the U.S. had given Yemen, including helicopters, humvees, rifles, night-vision goggles, body armor and hand-launched Raven drones.
“The news from Yemen is all bad,” Schiff told the Times. “I have to think that given the magnitude of the support we have given and the rapidity with which large portions of Yemen fell to Houthis, that a significant portion of military support is now in the hands of people who are not our friends.”
Before they evacuated along with U.S. Embassy staff from Sanaa last month, U.S. Marines destroyed their weapons by smashing them into pieces with sledgehammers.