Browsing the blog archivesfor the day Monday, December 28th, 2009.

Rising Above the Noise Level

Obama Administration

Aftermath of the Pants Bomber — to be fair to Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, when she said the “system worked” she was referring to emergency systems, not airport security systems.

Obviously, somewhere, “the system” did not function. President Obama’s first reaction was to order an investigation into airport security gaps. This was sensible.

The other “system” that did not seem to function was intelligence. Sean Rayment of The Telegraph asks,

How can a Muslim student, whose name appears on a US law enforcement database, be granted a visa to travel to America, allegedly acquire an explosive device from Yemen, a country awash with al-Qaeda terrorists, and avoid detection from the world’s most sophisticated spy agencies?

The answer appears in an article in today’s Washington Post:

When Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s father in Nigeria reported concern over his son’s “radicalization” to the U.S. Embassy there last month, intelligence officials in the United States deemed the information insufficient to pursue. The young man’s name was added to the half-million entries in a computer database in McLean and largely forgotten.

The lack of attention was not unusual, according to U.S. intelligence officials, who said that thousands of similar bits of information flow into the National Counterterrorism Center each week from around the world. Only those that indicate a specific threat, or add to an existing body of knowledge about an individual, are passed along for further investigation and possible posting on airline and border watch lists.

“It’s got to be something that causes the information to sort of rise out of the noise level, because there is just so much out there,” one intelligence official said.

Later in the article —

“What happened after this man’s father called our embassy in Nigeria?” Lieberman asked. “What happened to that information? Was there follow-up to try to determine where this suspect was?”

White House officials struggled to explain the complicated system of centralized terrorist data and watch lists, stressing that they were put in place years ago by the Bush administration.

One suspects that system will need to be overhauled before it can be made useful. It would be just like the Bushies to concoct a system that brought together every shred of incriminating evidence on everybody on the planet, but fail to provide a way to sort, prioritize or use any of it.

I read somewhere that the type of explosive the Pants Bomber attempted to use would have been detected by a bomb-sniffing dog. More bomb-sniffing dogs, less war, say I. (All I want to know is — since the Shoe Bomber, we’ve had to take off our shoes to get through airport security. Now will we have to take off our pants?)

Update: See also “Crotch-Bomber Fails to Blow Up Plane, in Yet Another Disaster for Obama” in the Village Voice.

Update: OK, this is just stupid. A rightie blogger writes,

Citizens understand this. Thus when passengers smelled the smoke Abdulmutallab created while trying to carry out his attack, they jumped him, subdued him, and dragged him to the front of the plane. As Fox News reported on December 26, 2009:

Experts say an aggressive response from passengers has become the common response [to attempted terror attacks] since … 9/11.

But where is Obama’s “aggressive response”? What do average everyday citizens know that he doesn’t?

Um, the average everyday citizens were close enough to smell the smoke, and the President wasn’t? So the POTUS is supposed to put on his superhero tights and cape and fly to the plane to subdue the bad guy?

A lot of us didn’t notice with everything else going on, but a few days ago the United States launched cruise missile against alleged al Qaeda sites in Yemen, on President Obama’s orders. This ABC News story is from December 18:

On orders from President Barack Obama, the U.S. military launched cruise missiles early Thursday against two suspected al-Qaeda sites in Yemen, administration officials told ABC News in a report broadcast on ABC World News with Charles Gibson.

One of the targeted sites was a suspected al Qaeda training camp north of the capitol, Sanaa, and the second target was a location where officials said “an imminent attack against a U.S. asset was being planned.”

The Pants Bomb Plot originated in Yemen, I understand. Perhaps it was al Qaeda’s attempt at retaliation. So it appears the President knows something that average everyday citizens don’t. Of course, wingnuts won’t be satisfied with anything less than an invasion, especially one they can watch on the TeeVee.

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