Thursday, January 21, 2010

More “missed clues” in the Northwest Flight 253 bomb plot

By Barry Grey
19 January 2010

The New York Times on Monday published an extensive article based on its own investigation into the abortive plot to blow up Northwest Flight 253 as it made its approach to Detroit on Christmas Day.

The article reveals new information, beyond that released by President Obama January 7 in the unclassified version of a government review of the security “failure” that allowed Nigerian student Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to board the flight in Amsterdam with explosives sewn into his underwear.

Among the revelations in the article, headlined “Review of Jet Bomb Plot Shows More Missed Clues,” is the fact that US intelligence authorities say they learned in early November from a communications intercept of Al Qaeda followers in Yemen that a man named “Umar Farouk” had volunteered for a coming operation.

This staggering fact alone is sufficient to explode the official version of the plot—which the Times itself continues to promote in the article on its investigation—that the failure to take any measures to prevent Abdulmutallab from boarding the plane was the result of mistakes, inadvertent omissions and an inability to “connect the dots.”

The dots metaphor suggests a failure to relate obscure bits of information that, taken singly or not properly meshed, would not provoke an immediate response. What we are dealing with here, however, are neon warning signs that could hardly have been inadvertently missed.

The claim, universally accepted by the media, that mere incompetence, rather than deliberate decisions taken by elements within the intelligence/national security apparatus, accounts for the near destruction of a commercial jet and its nearly 300 passengers and crew, already strained credulity when it was revealed within hours of the abortive plot that the accused bomber’s father had informed CIA and US State Department officials in Nigeria more than a month earlier that his son had likely joined up with Islamist extremists in Yemen and constituted a security threat.

This revelation was followed by many others, showing that the US had a wealth of information both on Abdulmutallab and on terrorist threats emanating from Yemen, targeting the US, and timed for the Christmas holiday period. Such information rendered entirely non-credible the hackneyed metaphor about “connecting the dots”—carried over from the official whitewash of the role of US intelligence and police agencies in the 9/11 attacks.

The new information contained in the Times article further undermines the official story and makes clear that the American people are being lied to.

Among the new pieces of information contained in the article are the following:

• “Worried about possible terrorist attacks over the Christmas holiday,” Obama met December 22 with top officials of the CIA, FBI and Department of Homeland Security to review potential threats.

• In a separate White House meeting the same day, Obama’s homeland security adviser, John Brennan, held talks on Yemen, “where a stream of disturbing intelligence had suggested that Qaeda operatives were preparing for some action, perhaps a strike on an American target on Christmas Day.”

• In September, a United Nations expert on Al Qaeda warned Washington that “the type of explosive device used by a Yemeni militant in an assassination attempt in Saudi Arabia could be carried aboard an airliner.”

• In late December, more intercepts of Al Qaeda operatives in Yemen mentioned the date of December 25, and suggested that they were “looking for ways to get somebody out” or “move people to the West.”

The article further states that from the beginning of the Obama administration, US officials had focused on Yemen, and that after the failed attack by a Yemeni on the Saudi counterterrorism chief last August, Washington stepped up its electronic eavesdropping and “other spying” in Yemen.

Moreover, the government ordered a review of any contacts between possible extremists and Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical American-born cleric living in Yemen, after it was discovered that Major Nidal Malik Hasan, who killed 12 soldiers at Ford Hood in Texas in early November, had been in contact with al-Awlaki.

The intercept from November that spoke of “Umar Farouk” said he had “recently been in contact with Mr. Awlaki about volunteering for terrorist operations.”

The Times writes that in carrying out its inquiry, it conducted more than two dozen interviews with White House and US intelligence officials and with counterterrorism officials in Europe and Yemen. It cites as the sources for its revelations unnamed intelligence officials and senior Obama administration officials.

The article gives an indication of the vast apparatus of spying and intelligence gathering that somehow proved unable to “connect the dots” and order elementary measures to search and question the would-be bomber before he boarded the plane.

The National Counterterrorism Center, it notes, gathers “streams of information from more than 80 databases across the government.” Two teams of intelligence analysts are deployed there, with nearly 325 analysts working full-time to monitor information and draw up “watch lists” on potential terrorists.

“Inside their electronic files, which contain tips on tens of thousands of cases,” the Times reports, “the analysts at the counterterrorism center also had a draft CIA memorandum with biographical information about the man (Abdulmutallab).”

The article is accompanied by a timeline showing more than a dozen pieces of alarming information on Abdulmutallab that were known to US and international intelligence and police agencies in the months leading up to the Christmas Day attack. It begins with the fact that the British government in May of 2009 rejected his application to renew his student visa and placed him on a watch list to prevent him from reentering the UK.

Nevertheless, the newspaper attempts to put the most innocent possible face on the case, using words and phrases such as “lapse,” “misjudgment,” “never connected the links,” “failed to stitch together pieces of information” and “inability to pull the data together.”

Why however, in the face of a mass of evidence pointing in the opposite direction, should anyone assume that the failure to act on the evidence leading to Abdulmutallab involved merely “mistakes,” and not something far more sinister?

As the World Socialist Web Site wrote on December 31 (See “The Northwest Flight 253 intelligence failure: Negligence or conspiracy?”): “The key to this event may well lie in bitter struggles over policy taking place within the ruling establishment at the state. Despite all that Obama has done to continue the policies of the Bush administration, both in terms of aggressive war abroad and the buildup of police state powers at home, there are elements who want to go much further.”

The Times article, in fact, speaks of bitter divisions between different intelligence agencies and between the agencies and the Obama White House. It cites “one senior Obama official” as faulting Dennis Blair, the director of national intelligence, and adds, “For their part, some senior intelligence officials bristled at what they saw as a White House effort to place blame for the breakdown solely on American spy agencies.”

Ruling out in advance even the possibility of a deliberate decision by elements within the intelligence apparatus and the state to allow a terrorist incident, as the Times and the rest of the media do, is the prerequisite for a cover-up, not a serious investigation. It goes hand in hand with the efforts of the Obama administration to whitewash the intelligence agencies, naming no names of individuals who made decisions that allowed a near catastrophe to occur and holding no individuals or government agencies accountable.

There are many unanswered questions that are of vital import to the American people. Is the Obama administration in control of its own national security apparatus? Was the Christmas Day plot a deliberate attempt to destabilize the administration? Was it a deliberate attempt to provide a pretext for further US military action in the Middle East and further attacks on democratic rights at home?

Two things are certain: The American people are not being told the truth, and no confidence can be placed in any agency of the US government or in the media to provide and honest and serious account of what took place.

US Senate begins whitewash hearings on Northwest Flight 253 bomb plot

By Tom Eley
21 January 2010

The US Senate Homeland Security Committee on Wednesday held initial hearings with top Obama administration intelligence officials into the attempt of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a 23-year old alleged Al Qaeda member from Nigeria, to detonate explosives aboard Northwest Flight 253 from Amsterdam as it neared landing in Detroit on December 25.

Despite their declared intent of “getting to the bottom” of the massive security failure that very nearly cost 300 lives, the senators of the Homeland Security Committee did not challenge the intelligence heads—Dennis Blair, Director of National Intelligence (DNI), Michael E. Leiter, director of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCC), and Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security—regarding the official version of the event.

The entire hearing was based on the supposition that the US intelligence apparatus was honestly unable to “connect the dots” between various pieces of information at its disposal. This is particularly unbelievable, given that each piece of information was itself sufficient to alert the US government that Abdulmutallab posed a threat.

The intelligence chiefs acknowledged that they had learned in November through an intercept in Yemen that a man named Umar Farouk had volunteered to carry out an Al Qaeda mission. The information was revealed in a recent New York Times report, which also showed that the US intelligence had established a date—Christmas Day—when an attack was likely to happen. (See: “More ‘missed clues’ in the Northwest Flight 253 bomb plot”)

Leiter acknowledged that “we had a partial name, Umar Farouk, [but] didn’t put that together” with the fact that Farouk’s father had given his son’s full name to CIA and US embassy officials in Nigeria, together with a warning that his son might be involved in Islamist terrorism.

Nor did the spy agencies “put that together” with other information that they have previously admitted having: that Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula intended to attack the United States, that it had recruited a Nigerian for that purpose, and that Abdulmutallab had recently gone from Nigeria to Yemen to join an extremist organization.

The Senators did not pursue this damning admission, accepting at face value, once again, the spy agencies’ supposed difficulty in “information management.” Nor did they ask why the Obama administration had not previously acknowledged that they had the alleged bomber’s name.

Leiter also acknowledged that, as a result of incriminating information, Abdulmutallab was considered a “known or suspected terrorist” and thus had been placed on the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (TIDE) list, but, inexplicably, not on a narrower list, the Terrorist Screening Database. Not being placed on that list, Abdulmutallab’s name was not forwarded to the Department of Homeland Security for increased airport screening (the “selectee list”) and to be placed on the “no-fly” list. Nor was the name sent to the State Department, which might have revoked his visa.

This stunning series of events has led to mounting behind-the-scenes tensions among the military, intelligence agencies and the State Department. The NCC and the State Department have traded barbs over who was responsible for not revoking Abdulmutallab’s visa. The Department of Homeland Security has implied that blame for the failure to put Abdulmutallab on the no-fly list rests with the non-domestic spy agencies. All of the aforementioned agencies have tacitly supported the Republican attack on the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for reading Abdulmutallab his Miranda rights and placing him in the domestic justice system.

In another bizarre lapse, the US State Department only declared Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the organization that allegedly sent Abdulmutallab onto Flight 253, to be a terrorist group on Tuesday. This is despite the fact that AQAP has operated for over a year, and was held responsible for terrorist attacks on South Korean tourists in Yemen in March 2009, high-ranking Saudi Prince Muhammad bin Nayif in August, and Flight 253 last month. One might also expect that the name of the organization itself would raise suspicions among anti-terrorism officials.

The implication of this announcement, however, was that until January 19, 2010, US officials were not legally required to “implement an asset freeze, travel ban, and arms embargo” against AQAP. This only raises more questions as to what connections US agencies might have had with the attackers.

The senators avoided dealing with these issues in Wednesday’s hearings, devoting much of their time instead to demanding further restrictions on democratic rights.

Republicans criticized the Obama administration over Abdulmutallab being read his rights and given civilian trial. Senator John McCain called the decision to try Abdulmutallab in civilian courts “a terrible, terrible mistake,” and said Americans are endangered as a result.

The ranking Republican on the committee, Susan Collins, and Republican Senator John Ensign strongly implied that Abdulmutallab should have been tortured. Collins asked, “how can we uncover plots” if suspects are allowed to “lawyer up and stop answering questions?” Ensign argued that the declared reversion of CIA interrogators to the methods laid out in the Army Field Manual allows terrorists to “train” in advance of interrogations.

None of the intelligence chiefs present defended the administration’s decision to proceed in civilian courts. Blair, Napolitano, and Leiter told the committee that they were not consulted over Abdulmutallab’s questioning. Blair went so far as to contradict the administration’s decision, saying he should have been interrogated by the new High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group, or HIG. “That unit was created exactly for this purpose,” Blair said. “We did not invoke the HIG in this case. We should have.”

Democrats were more effusive than Republicans in their praise of the intelligence agencies, and joined with Republicans in demanding that the intelligence apparatus be given more resources and greater powers.

In the course of his testimony, Blair twice asserted that the cause of the security failure was too much “pressure” from those concerned about democratic rights who had protested the no-fly list. Too many people felt “hassled” by screening processes at airports, he said, raising questions like “Why are you searching grandmothers?” Blair concluded, “I should not have given in to that pressure.” The no-fly list has been considerably expanded since December 25, Blair reassured the senators.

These comments were warmly praised by Senator Joseph Lieberman, the Democratic Independent who chairs the committee. Lieberman said that it was a mistake to treat alleged terrorists with a “legalistic” approach. “We’re at war with these people,” he declared.

The meeting might have been called pro forma, except that even forms were not well observed. Some senators did not bother to show up; others came late and left early. A promised “closed door” meeting with the intelligence chiefs after the meeting was suddenly scrapped, Lieberman citing time constraints.

The only serious question came from McCain, who demanded from Blair and Leiter to know if anyone had been held accountable for the evident security failures that allowed Abdulmutallab to board the flight. “Who has been held accountable?” McCain asked. “Has anybody been fired? Has anybody been transferred?” Blair and Leiter could not describe a single disciplinary action or consequence for what is purported to be, in the most innocent scenario, a massive security failure.

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