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December 30, 2009

Things That Make You Go Hmm . . .
Posted by Michael Cohen

So perhaps I spoke a bit too soon a few days ago when I said that the dots on Abdulmutallab were not bright enough for the intelligence community to connect. When intel folks pick up leaders of an al Qaeda branch in Yemen talking about a "Nigerian" being prepared for a terrorist attack . . . how does that not affect aviation security screening?  At the very least if attention was being paid to Nigerian passengers the fact that Abdulmutallab paid for his ticket in cash and had no checked luggage would, one might think, lead to a more thorough search.

Frankly, I don't blame Obama for being pissed about this . . . or pissed about this report from CNN:

The father of terrorism suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab 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. 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.

Now I don't if this story is bulletproof, but if it's true it's far too reminiscent of the missed opportunities and lack of shared information that predated the 9/11 attack. How can this still be happening 8 years after September 11th? And how can Republicans with a straight face blame the Obama Administration exclusively for this failure?

In other news, it now appears that Abdulmutallab was recruited in London by al Qaeda and traveled to Yemen for training and to receive explosives. It's difficult to draw broad conclusions from this information, but a few things jump out to me. It's interesting that no one is talking about Afghanistan/Pakistan here, which bolsters the argument, oft heard during the Afghanistan policy debate, that al Qaeda has become a far more franchised organization. Certainly, the AQ training camps in the FATA should be of great concern (as the Zazi arrest showed), but clearly AQ can operate effectively elsewhere. 

Second, Abdulmutallab seems more like an easy recruit than necessarily an effective terrorist operative. As a Nigerian - and the scion of a wealthy family - he seems less likely to attract attention as a possible al Qaeda operative. I wonder if this speaks to AQ's recruiting challenges or perhaps that they are looking for potential operatives who are less likely to draw scrutiny from security officials.

On an unrelated note, it's interesting to me that al Qaeda continues to plot ways of outwitting one of the hardest possible US targets - aviation - while largely ignoring soft targets like trains, subways, shopping malls etc.  The arrest of Najibullah Zazi (who was a legal US resident) may have suggested that such a shift was in the offing, but one can't help but wonder if AQ's continued focus on aviation targets is a sign of a lack of capacity to hit other targets, rather than a lack of imagination.

Finally, it looks like Dick Cheney has slithered out of his cave long enough to comment on the latest doings:

“[W]e are at war and when President Obama pretends we aren’t, it makes us less safe,” Cheney said in a statement to POLITICO. “Why doesn’t he want to admit we’re at war? It doesn’t fit with the view of the world he brought with him to the Oval Office. It doesn’t fit with what seems to be the goal of his presidency — social transformation — the restructuring of American society.

I won't even bother to engage with Cheney's latest detritus, but here's the bigger question; why does Politico continue to reprint the ramblings of this decrepit old man? As Steve Benen accurately sums it up here - the man is a national disgrace.


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