FBI: We Should Have Known About Abdulmutallab, but Father’s Warning Wasn’t Enough to Search Him
Following up on my earlier post on the FBI’s longstanding problems with putting terror suspects on its terror watchlist, I just got off the phone with FBI spokesman William Carter, who clarified a few things.
Although Carter couldn’t talk specifically about the case of the failed Northwest Airlines Flight 253 bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, he explained that the National Counterterrorism Center, or NCTC, is an inter-agency center headed by the CIA. However, it includes members of the FBI. And it’s the NCTC that’s responsible for nominating someone to the terror watchlist. So the FBI should have at least known about the concerns about Abdulmutallab.
That doesn’t answer why Abdulmutallab wasn’t on the terrorism watchlist, but the rest of Carter’s explanation might. Although Carter couldn’t tell me anything about this case, he strongly suggested that just because someone’s father warns the U.S. embassy that his son is a radicalized Muslim who’s hanging around with terrorists in Yemen and sending scary text-messages, that doesn’t necessarily land him on any watchlists. Not even the low-level watchlist, called the Selectee list (as opposed to the No-Fly list), Carter explained — the one where security officials will simply question or search a person more than usual before letting him on the plane.
“They have to fit a certain criteria,” said Carter. “A reasonable suspicion that they will be involved in terrorist activity. The fact that a person has been radicalized or espoused radical views,”that’s exercising your constitutional rights. You have the right to not agree with the United States. You have the right to hate the United States. It’s only when they’ve committed an act of terrorism” that it becomes a crime.
He continued: “Reasonable suspicion requires an articulable fact when, taken with rational inferences” leads to the conclusion that the individual is “engaged in terrorist activity” or “preparing for terrorism.”
Apparently, the NCTC didn’t think that the specific warnings about radicalization and terrorist training from the suspect’s own father warranted asking him questions or searching him or his belongings before allowing him to board a plane for the United States.