Tuesday, December 29, 2009

NW Airlines Bomb Flap Escalates

Two news stories released tonight have the potential to further heat up the already heated Washington flap over who-knew-what-and-when about Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab, the would-be Christmas bomber of Northwest Airlines Flight 253.

The first story is from the Washington Times, quoting an anonymous U.S. intelligence official who connects AbdulMutallab with the Muslim imam who was the religious adviser of the perpetrator of last month's Fort Hood massacre. If true, that could enhance the political fallout over the Flight 253 attack.

The Nigerian accused of trying to blow up a Detroit-bound airliner had his suicide mission personally blessed in Yemen by Anwar al-Awlaki, the same Muslim imam suspected of radicalizing the Fort Hood shooting suspect, a U.S. intelligence source has told The Washington Times.

The intelligence official, who is familiar with the FBI's interrogation of Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab, said the bombing suspect has boasted of his jihad training during interrogation by the FBI and has said it included final exhortations by Mr. al-Awlak.

The second story comes from the Wall Street Journal, likewise quotes anonymous U.S. government officials, and it blames both the CIA and NSA for either sitting on or failing to correctly interpret intelligence about AbdulMutallab. Our intelligence agencies are notoriously reluctant to share terrorist threat information, but they are more than eager to point the finger at each other when politically threatened themselves.

President Barack Obama said a "catastrophic breach" allowed the alleged Christmas Day bomber to set his attack into motion, as it emerged that multiple U.S. agencies met in mid-November to discuss a warning from the accused bomber's father.

The president said he made his comments because new information pointed to a serious breach of national security. He said a warning made by the suspect's father to U.S. officials in Nigeria "could have and should have" led to the suspect to be banned from flying. "A systemic failure has occurred, and I consider that totally unacceptable," he said.

He suggested other intelligence failures were also to blame. "There were bits of information available within the intelligence community that could have and should have been pieced together," he said. "It's becoming clear that the system that has been in place for years now is not sufficiently up to date to take full advantage of the information we collect and the knowledge we have."

This could spin up into a nasty little scandal.


Update: CNN has joined the fun with its own story (CIA failed to circulate report about bombing suspect) quoting multiple and contradictory anonymous officials:

AbdulMutallab [the elder one] talked about his son's extremist views with someone from the CIA and a report was prepared, but the report was not circulated outside the agency, a reliable source told CNN's Jeanne Meserve on Tuesday.

Had that information been shared, the 23-year-old Nigerian who is alleged to have bungled an attempt to blow up a jetliner as it was landing in Detroit, Michigan, on Christmas Day might have been denied passage on the Northwest Airlines flight, the source said.

U.S. officials said the father, a former Nigerian banker, expressed his concerns about his son's radicalization during at least one meeting and several calls with officials at the embassy in Nigeria.

The information on AbdulMutallab had been sent to CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, but it sat there for five weeks and was not disseminated, the source said.

-- snip --

An administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity said the federal government had information that should have been assessed and meshed with other information "that would have allowed us to disrupt the attempted terrorist attack" before the suspect boarded the jet.

"What we have here is a situation in which the failings were individual, organizational, systemic and technological," the official said. "We ended up in a situation where a single point of failure in the system put our security at risk, where human error was compounded by systemic deficiencies in a way that we cannot allow to continue."

But an [anonymous] intelligence official said that the son's name, passport number and possible connection to extremists were indeed disseminated. "I'm not aware of a magic piece of intelligence somehow withheld that would have put AbdulMutallab on the no-fly list," the official said.

State Department spokesman Ian Kelly [finally, a named official!] said department staff did what they were supposed to have done by sending a cable to the National Counterterrorism Center in Washington about the matter. Kelly said any decision to have revoked the suspect's visa would have been an interagency decision.

But [an anonymous] U.S. government official said the information in the cable offered nothing specific and was just one of hundreds of such reports that the center evaluates daily.

This is getting good.

No comments: