Center for Strategic Communication

His story is absolutely wild, especially if it turns out to be true. A Danish man calling himself Morten Storm claims that he worked alongside the CIA and Danish intelligence to infiltrate al-Qaida’s Yemeni affiliate and played a crucial role in killing Anwar al-Awlaki, its most prominent propagandist.

Storm is perhaps the least likely al-Qaida mole ever. He’s so white he’s practically translucent. A ginger beard rings his baby face. That made Storm, a convert to Islam, an attractive recruit for al-Qaida to send inconspicuously to the West for attacks. But Storm was recruited by Dutch intelligence in 2006 and kept tabs on the Yemeni affiliate. If his story is correct, Awlaki trusted Storm enough to accept a flash drive from him — a flash drive that helped the CIA target Awlaki for a fatal strike last September.

The Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten first reported on Storm’s claims. To corroborate them, it provides a recording that the paper claims is of an October 2011 conversation between Storm, a Danish intelligence agent and a CIA operative called “Michael.” It apparently refers to the operation that killed Awlaki, barely a week before the conversation took place. (Interestingly, Danish intelligence made a public statement that they do not “engage in or support operations aimed at taking civilian lives.”)

Storm, a former Islamic extremist — he converted to Islam, and then blanched at al-Qaida’s murderous inclinations — expresses mixed feelings about killing Awlaki. “He was my sheikh, he was my teacher, he was a friend of mine,” Storm says in English, but Awlaki was “misguided” to the point of turning “evil.” Michael attempts to reassure him, and speaks of respecting Awlaki as part of a “warrior culture.”

The CIA declined to comment on Storm. And Danger Room cannot independently corroborate his claims. But the Associated Press reported in May that the CIA had placed a mole inside al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, as the group calls itself, who “disrupted” a bomb plot by posing as a suicide bomber and delivering his explosives to intelligence operatives before they could blow up an airliner. Accounts of the mole were among a series of prominent national-security leaks this spring that freaked out members of Congress.

To be very, very clear, we have no idea if Storm was that mole, or if he was a different one — or even if his story is true. Jyllands-Posten reported that Storm grew disillusioned with jihadis and wanted recognition for turning on them. And it provided what it claims is an e-mail from Awlaki to Strom.

“I did receive the flash you sent me,” Awlaki allegedly e-mailed Storm, apparently considering the flash drive a means of secure communication, similar to how Osama bin Laden sent out messages during his own years of hiding in Pakistan. “Please respond to this message with what you want to say and give it to the brother. We cannot have our brother travel with a laptop plus it is suspicious for you guys to type out a message in a public place.” Awlaki further indicates that he received e-mails forwarded from an account set up by Inspire, the English-language extremist Webzine al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula publishes.

If Storm’s claims are truthful, he’s the highest-level mole inside al-Qaida that the public has ever known about — and quite possibly the highest-level Western mole in al-Qaida that there has ever been. There are only a thimbleful of public accounts of Western penetration of al-Qaida, the most prominent of which — before now — concerned the triple agent who blew himself up on a secret installation in eastern Afghanistan. Maybe Storm is a liar. Or maybe this husky, red-bearded man really did mark for death one of America’s most visible opponents.