The Washington Independent
The Washington Independent

Is This Really an Intelligence Failure? Real Talk on Abdulmutallab

In an appearance on Democracy Now! yesterday morning to discuss Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, I made the point that Abdulmutallab’s ability to board Northwest

Katya Ryder
News
Last updated: Jul 31, 2020 | Dec 31, 2009

In an appearance on “Democracy Now!” yesterday morning to discuss Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, I made the point that Abdulmutallab’s ability to board Northwest Airlines Flight 253 demonstrates a *policy *failure more than an intelligence failure. By that I meant that the threat information acquired on Abdulmutallab was insufficient to ground him, based on the bureaucracy’s process for placing someone on the no-fly list. And for seemingly good reason: the input on him leading to the conclusion that he was dangerous was his father’s Nov. 19 appeal to officials at the U.S. embassy in Abuja.

As investigation into the case continues, there’s some new information that complicates that picture. First, the CIA, after hearing his father’s concern, compiled a profile of Abdulmutallab consisting of non-specific information, but apparently declined to share it with the National Counterterrorism Center. And the National Security Agency picked up communications from al-Qaeda’s Yemeni affiliate indicating that the group was looking to use a “Nigerian” in an unspecified terrorist attack, according to The New York Times. That also didn’t go to the NCTC.

New information may surface. But based on this, is it really fair to point the finger at the intelligence community here? Abdulmutallab’s father told embassy officials in Abuja that he didn’t know where his son was, but might be in Yemen. The CIA had that information. NSA has information that a Nigerian might be used for an attack sponsored by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. If all of this had gone into the NCTC, would someone have put two and two together — setting off the process for pulling Abdulmutallab’s visa or putting him on the no-fly? Maybe. And the rationale for the all-source, multi-agency NCTC is all about intelligence sharing. But remember: the inputs are that the guy’s dad says he’s dangerous; he’s Nigerian; he might be in Yemen; and al-Qaeda in Yemen may be looking to use a Nigerian in a forthcoming attack. Is that really enough?

The answer to that question most certainly requires a policy decision, not an intelligence decision. The intelligence community is drinking from a fire hose of data, a lot of it much more specific than what was acquired on Abdulmutallab. If policymakers decide that these thin reeds will be the standard for stopping someone from entering the United States, then they need to change the process to enshrine that in the no-fly system. But it will make it much harder for people who aren’t threatening to enter, a move that will ripple out to effect diplomacy, security relationships (good luck entering the U.S. for a military-to-military contact program if, say, you’re a member of the Sunni Awakening in Iraq, since you had contacts with known extremists), international business and trade, and so on. Are we prepared for that?

Similarly, there’s a reasonable issue to investigate about intelligence-sharing processes even in the pre-specific-threat level. But remember: that just increases the firehose of data NCTC must process. Information is supposed to filter *up *to NCTC in strength and specificity from the component intelligence agencies so that NCTC isn’t overwhelmed. If we want to say that there should be a lower standard for sharing with NCTC, fine. But then either NCTC needs to be given more resources, or we risk missing the next Abdulmutallab because NCTC’s analysts will be drowning in nonspecific data and trying to rope it to flotillas of additional information. It’s reasonable to ask, however, what the CIA did post-Nov. 19 to investigate Abdulmutallab specifically. But it’s also important to remember that barely a month passed between his father’s warning and Flight 253.

None of this is to excuse any complacency. It’s to provide context for evaluating whatever complacency occurred.

Katya Ryder | School teacher, earned National Board Certification in 2013 I have a passion for science and majored in biology at Arizona State University, where I also earned teaching certificate and Master of Education

Related

Giffords shooting leads nation to introspection and political finger wagging

In the wake of the shooting in Arizona this weekend that critically injured Rep.

EPA Administrator Addresses Concerns About Oil Spill Waste Management

At a hearing of the national oil spill commission today, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson addressed concerns about waste disposal from

E-Verify Mandate Begins Today

The Obama administration today begins implementation of a new mandate to require all federal contractors to check the legal status of their employees to confirm

EPA administrator defends allowing Florida to write its own water pollution rules

The EPA seal (Pic via sentryjournal.com) The Environmental Protection Agency has come under fire for its decision to allow the state of Florida to write its own water pollution rules (known as “numeric nutrient criteria”). EPA Regional Administrator Gwendolyn Keyes Fleming is now firing back, writing that the Agency commends the state Department of Environmental Protection for its draft of a proposed standard. A host of environmental groups filed suit in 2008, seeking to compel the EPA to implement a strict set of water pollution standards in Florida, arguing that the state was in violation of the Clean Water Act.

EPA administrator fires back at critics in op-ed

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson (Pic by USACEpublicaffairs, via Flickr) EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson penned a new op-ed for the Los Angeles Times , criticizing House Republicans desperately seeking to undermine the authority of the agency they have dubbed a “job killer.” Arguing that the environment affects red states and blue states alike, Jackson writes that “it is time for House Republicans to stop politicizing our air and water.” As head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Jackson has faced harsh criticism from House Republicans and GOP presidential candidates who say the agency’s regulations are an undue burden on businesses that have to cut jobs simply to comply with clean water and air rules. Presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann  has pledged to end the EPA if she takes office. “Since the beginning of this year, Republicans in the House have averaged roughly a vote every day the chamber has been in session to undermine the Environmental Protection Agency and our nation’s environmental laws,” writes Jackson.

EPA administrator says federal nutrient criteria is a ‘myth’

In testimony given late last week, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said that false accusations about her agency’s numeric nutrient criteria to govern Florida waterways are proving to be a detriment to their implementation. # Testifying before the House Agriculture Committee, Jackson said her agency’s work was often “mischaracterized” and addressed several myths surrounding its work

EPA announces hold on nutrient standards if Florida can come up with own criteria

The EPA announced today that it is now prepared to withdraw a portion of its proposed numeric nutrient criteria (a set of standards governing water pollution in inland waters) and delay the portion related to estuarine waters, to allow the state Department of Environmental Protection to develop its own criteria. # From a statement released by the EPA earlier today: # EPA recognizes that states have the primary role in establishing and implementing water quality standards for their waters. Therefore, EPA is prepared to withdraw the federal inland standards and delay the estuarine standards if FDEP adopts, and EPA approves, their own protective and scientifically sound numeric standards

EPA Analysis Says Climate Bill’s Cost for Households Would Be ‘Modest’

All the attention on the energy front today is going to the BP spill, but the Environmental Protection Agency quietly released its long-anticipated analysis of

EPA and California Near Deal on Fuel Efficiency Standards

Two weeks ago, the Obama administration raised fuel efficiency standards by an average of two miles per gallon -- a modest change that disappointed some

© Copyright 2021 The Washington Independent All Rights Reserved

Terms & Privacy | twi.news@washingtonindependent.com