What is Big Think?  

We are Big Idea Hunters…

We live in a time of information abundance, which far too many of us see as information overload. With the sum total of human knowledge, past and present, at our fingertips, we’re faced with a crisis of attention: which ideas should we engage with, and why? Big Think is an evolving roadmap to the best thinking on the planet — the ideas that can help you think flexibly and act decisively in a multivariate world.

A word about Big Ideas and Themes — The architecture of Big Think

Big ideas are lenses for envisioning the future. Every article and video on bigthink.com and on our learning platforms is based on an emerging “big idea” that is significant, widely relevant, and actionable. We’re sifting the noise for the questions and insights that have the power to change all of our lives, for decades to come. For example, reverse-engineering is a big idea in that the concept is increasingly useful across multiple disciplines, from education to nanotechnology.

Themes are the seven broad umbrellas under which we organize the hundreds of big ideas that populate Big Think. They include New World Order, Earth and Beyond, 21st Century Living, Going Mental, Extreme Biology, Power and Influence, and Inventing the Future.

Big Think Features:

12,000+ Expert Videos


Browse videos featuring experts across a wide range of disciplines, from personal health to business leadership to neuroscience.

Watch videos

World Renowned Bloggers


Big Think’s contributors offer expert analysis of the big ideas behind the news.

Go to blogs

Big Think Edge


Big Think’s Edge learning platform for career mentorship and professional development provides engaging and actionable courses delivered by the people who are shaping our future.

Find out more

This round to Saudi Intelligence

May 8, 2012, 6:57 PM

For more than three years AQAP and Muhammad bin Nayif have been involved in a high-stakes intelligence duel, which has largely been fought in the shadows of Yemen's tribal territories. 

Shortly after AQAP formed in January 2009 one of the group's top leaders, Muhammad al-Awfi a former Guantanamo Bay detainee defected back to Saudi Arabia, surrendering to Saudi intelligence.  

Months later AQAP used that defeat to as a model for one of its suicide bombers, Abdullah Asiri, to gain access to Muhammad bin Nayif.  Posing as someone who wanted to surrender to Saudi intelligence like al-Awfi, Asiri arranged a meeting with bin Nayif.  At the meeting, Asiri's bomb was detonated when the prince was standing next to him.  Miraculously, bin Nayif escaped with only light injuries.

Then, in late 2009, AQAP managed to put a suicide bomber on a plane bound for the US.  The would-be bomber was a Nigerian student who had joined the group only months earlier.  The bomb malfunctioned and the Nigerian was arrested in Detroit.

Now, it appears Saudi intelligence has used that model to infiltrate a double agent into AQAP's ranks.  (See this amazing story from Scott Shane and Eric Shmitt of the New York Times.)  Again an outside member - presumably with a US visa or the possibility of acquiring one - approached AQAP just like Umar Farouk Abdu Mutallab the would-be Nigerian bomber, and convinced the group to give him AQAP's latest bomb, which some have described as the "Christmas bomb, the next generation." 

----- One concluding note, much of the reporting has focused on Fahd al-Qusa being named AQAP's head of foreign operations to replace Anwar al-Awlaki, who was widely believed to have held that role.  This is certainly possible, but since it is important to examine other possibilities I thought I would propose an alternative theory - a bit of red-teaming this, if you will.

What if instead of being the head of foreign operations, Qusa was simply the head of the cell that the double agent managed to infiltrate?  This would explain the US' apparent uncertainty about whether or not there might be more bombs.  It would also explain why Qusa was killed but Asiri was not - maybe the double agent never met Asiri.  He does, however, appear to have been in contact with Qusa, who was killed over the weekend in a drone strike. 

Not sure how likely this theory is, but it is one possible explanation. 


This round to Saudi Intelli...

Newsletter: Share: