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December 29, 2009

On Second Thought . . .
Posted by Michael Cohen

Perhaps I was being a bit too fatalistic yesterday about the attempted terrorist attack on that Northwest flight next week. Comes word from across the pond that the Brits were well aware of Abdulmutallab.

The British government said Monday that it rejected an application by the Nigerian man accused in the failed Detroit airliner bombing plot for a renewed student visa in May, and that he was placed on an official watch list to prevent him from re-entering Britain.

Home Secretary Alan Johnson said Mr. Abdulmutallab’s application to renew his student visa was rejected in May after officials had determined that the academic course he gave as his reason for returning to Britain was fake. The secretary said the suspect was then placed on the watch list, a procedure that would normally involve informing American authorities of the action Britain had taken.

I got to say it's a bit hard to understand how if the British had banned Abdulmutallab from entering the country that information wasn't transmitted to US officials and acted on. It's one thing if the intelligence community picks up vague threats a mere few weeks ago. I understand that it can be difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff, but if an allied government is not letting this guy in the country how does that not set off alarm bells among US officials? Maybe he doesn't go on the no-fly list, but at the very least you'd think he would get an extra once-over before he boards a plane to the United States.

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Comments

Very true explanation here.I would say the fact that Mr. Abdulmutallab had been barred from entering Britain raised new questions about one of the most pressing issues stemming from the bombing attempt — the efficacy of systems in place on both sides of the Atlantic for guarding against terrorists planning attacks on airliners.

There's nothing to prevent the US government from asking to see the list of names that Britain has banned from entry to the UK, it could be a lack of initiative, have you considered this?
Conversely, there's nothing to prevent the British government from offering to show the US its list of banned people.
Keep in mind that some of the people on this list might be totally irrelevant for the US, they might be non-political criminals, deportees, etc. Although I suppose that information might be useful to the US.
My impression is that the US blew it. What would it have taken for the US to pass on the information it had about this guy to every US intelligence and immigration agency?
A couple of mouse clicks?

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Maybe he doesn't go on the no-fly list, but at the very least you'd think he would get an extra once-over before he boards a plane to the United States.

In Amsterdam? You seem to be imagining a system wherein perfect awareness of exquisite shades of information about the millions of potential daily flyers are acted upon in all attendant sensitivity by air security workers (oft employed by airlines not state security agencies) worldwide at the behest of the U.S. government with a failure rate of near-zero. Do you really think this world exists? It seems to me unlikely that in reality the U.S. security system in fact has reliable worldwide control over more than a binary screening process across basically two domains of information on travellers: valid U.S. visa honored/revoked (1), and, (2) placement on a hard no-fly list distributed daily to air security agencies worldwide. If there are more active domains of data or more sensitive categories of action that we reliably extend to all airports flying to the U.S. worldwide in place, I'd like to see some reporting to that effect. It seems highly unlikely from an organizational perspective to me.

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