Report: CIA knew about Abdulmuttalab in August; Update: More details; Update: CIA defends itself

posted at 7:58 pm on December 29, 2009 by Allahpundit

“The system worked.”

CBS News has learned that as early as August of 2009 the Central Intelligence Agency was picking up information on a person of interest dubbed “The Nigerian,” suspected of meeting with “terrorist elements” in Yemen.

Sources tell CBS News “The Nigerian” has now turned out to be Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. But that connection was not made when Abudulmutallab’s father went to the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria three months later, on November 19, 2009. It was then he expressed deep concerns to a CIA officer about his son’s ties to extremists in Yemen, a hotbed of al Qaeda activity.

In fact, CBS News has learned this information was not connected until after the attempted Christmas Day bombing

“We learned of him in November, when his father came to the U.S. embassy in Nigeria and sought help in finding him. We did not have his name before then,” said Paul Gimigliano, a CIA spokesman. “Also in November, we worked with the embassy to ensure he was in the government’s terrorist database – including mention of his possible extremist connections in Yemen. We also forwarded key biographical information about him to the National Counterterrorism Center. This agency, like others in our government, is reviewing all data to which it had access – not just what we ourselves may have collected – to determine if more could have been done to stop Abdulmutallab.”

CBS frames this as a failure to connect the dots, but unless I’m misreading it, they did connect them. The CIA had info on his terrorist links back in August and then they had his name in November, a month before he bought his ticket. And yet … he was still allowed to fly. Why wasn’t the background on him forwarded to State after they got the name so that they could revoke his visa? A State Department official told the Washington Independent this afternoon that the info on Abdulmutallab was “very thin,” but how thin could it have been if the CIA was already picking up chatter about him before they’d even ID’d him?

No worries, though. Napolitano’s promising to fix it all.

Update: Not enough missed red flags for you yet? Here’s former CIA agent Bob Baer discussing a security study he conducted three years ago, which concluded with him predicting that a Northwest flight from Amsterdam to Detroit would be a terror risk. Bingo.

Update: WaPo doesn’t name the CIA or the CBS report, but it sounds like they’re talking about the same thing.

The official said the president and his top advisers are “increasingly confident” that Al Qaeda was involved in the attempted attacker’s plans.

Obama, in his remarks to reporters earlier in the day, said that if intelligence about the suspect had been handled differently he would have been blocked from boarding a plane for the United States. Senior officials said that was among the new details that the president learned in a conference call with top national security officials – National Security Adviser Jim Jones, his top counterterrorism expert John Brennan, and deputy National Security adviser Tom Donilon – on Tuesday morning.

The new information “had to do with information that was in possession of the government…that spoke to both where the suspect ad been, what some of his thinking and plans were, what some of the plans of Al Qaeda were,” the senior official said. The official added that the details had not been correlated as effectively as they had been in earlier instances of thwarted attacks, especially preceding the arrest of a young Afghan, Najibullah Zazi, who sought to build bombs after visiting an Al Qaeda training camp.

Update: Time for the inevitable CIA pushback.

The CIA received a vague warning four months ago about the Nigerian suspect in the Christmas Day bombing attempt, although officers did not learn his name until last month, administration officials said Tuesday night…

A U.S. intelligence official defended the agency’s handling of the elliptical information, telling POLITICO: “Abdulmutallab’s father didn’t say his son was a terrorist, let alone planning an attack. Not at all. I’m not aware of some magic piece of intelligence that suddenly would have flagged this guy — whose name nobody even had until November — as a killer en route to America, let alone something that anybody withheld.”…

Sources tell POLITICO that the warning from the father is not that unusual — a reminder of the torrent of disturbing information that government officials confront on a daily basis.

Wasn’t the “magic piece of intelligence” in this case the fact that “the Nigerian” was suspected of meeting with terrorists in Yemen? What the hell do you have to do to get on the no-fly list?

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A look at this episode in the context of proposed government run health care:

Obama, in his remarks, said that if intelligence about the deceased patient had been handled differently he would have been given a place near the front of the line for the life saving heart procedure. But it was Christmas and all the healthcare insurance records offices were understaffed with decision makers.

A simple check of two government run databases would have shown that the patient was indeed insured and had a high probability of needing urgent attention. But there was no one available to connect the dots even though we had been promised something better.

No worries, though. The health czar is promising to fix it all.

b3026 on December 29, 2009 at 9:38 PM

b3026 on December 29, 2009 at 9:38 PM

*good point* from a letter sent to my 2 senators today.

Americans do not expect perfection in regards to international airline travel. We understand that inconveniences and delays are part of the game after 9/11. We do expect that the billions of dollars that have been invested in the TSA and the State Department eventually merge into action and prevent the issuance of travel visas, sales of airline tickets, and the carrying of a bomb onto a US airline.
Is this the same return on investment that we can expect from this healthcare reform the Senate voted for? Billions of dollars slushed into a federal health bureacracy and then failed diagnoses when there are clear warning signs, failed treatment plans, and evasive excuses like those made by DHS Napolitano? Furthermore, will our healthcare then become incumbent upon some unwitting hero to take care of when the systems that are “in place” fail dramatically as did those of the TSA and State Department on Christmas Day?

ted c on December 29, 2009 at 9:43 PM

But what do you mean by the CIA can’t act on its own? Do you mean the head of the CIA can’t send a memo to State to the effect “Here’s a name for the No Visa list” without getting an okay for the CinC?

Dusty on December 29, 2009 at 9:20 PM

I’m saying that the America-hating, micromanaging Obama Administration has all manner of straight jackets on all the agencies which have been effective at protecting this country.

baldilocks on December 29, 2009 at 9:52 PM

I give this Administration no slack whatsoever when it comes to the overall management of our intelligence assets and agencies.

coldwarrior on December 29, 2009 at 9:32 PM

All the rules are null and void with these people.

baldilocks on December 29, 2009 at 9:54 PM

baldilocks on December 29, 2009 at 9:52 PM

Well said! Sad but true.

indypat on December 29, 2009 at 9:58 PM

Wont Obamacare fix this?

the_nile on December 29, 2009 at 8:39 PM

Only if it includes colonoscopies for all nuns, WWII vets and 4-year olds at the boarding gates.

Yoop on December 29, 2009 at 10:01 PM

Are the people who elected this clown POTUS even the least bit embarrassed?

Anyone with one of his bumper stickers should be ticketed, unless driving a Prius which is grounds for tazing.

Hening on December 29, 2009 at 10:05 PM

Is Jamie Gorelick back in business?

cmsinaz on December 29, 2009 at 10:14 PM


What Would Bush Do?

ted c on December 29, 2009 at 10:19 PM

coldwarrior on December 29, 2009 at 9:32 PM

Thanks, as always, for the insight, CW.

OldEnglish on December 29, 2009 at 11:14 PM

Hening on December 29, 2009 at 10:05 PM

In truth, would many of them even be aware of this?

OldEnglish on December 29, 2009 at 11:17 PM

I dunno. Kind of feel sorry for Abdulmuttalab. I mean the dude lost his friggin junk to a bomb sniffing dog.

WarEagle01 on December 29, 2009 at 11:31 PM

What the hell do you have to do to get on the no-fly list?

It seemed like Napo was hinting that air travel is a right. So I guess you need an ACLU lawyer and a hearing before you get banned.

PattyJ on December 29, 2009 at 11:33 PM

What the hell do you have to do to get on the ‘no fly list’

I really don’t know. I work for an agency in DHS and ‘my’ name is ‘on’ the ‘no fly list’. I get hassled every time I fly.

I am a retired military officer and current civilian employee with a secret clearance. Yet, I cannot get an e-ticket until an airline employee validates me in person.
They will not accept my DHS ID.

I fly out of Reaqan National. I cannot help but notice that the majority of the people also being validated in person are people in military uniform. Normal Americans, like myself, with common American names.

I tried to have my name removed from the list. I get nothing but static from the ‘people with the power’. Their solution is for me to change my name on my travel documents.

I guess it is true, they believe the military is the greatest threat to the current system.

sirknob on December 30, 2009 at 12:08 AM

Obama has more red flags in his dossier than this guy and look at where he is…jus sayin.

elduende on December 30, 2009 at 12:59 AM

What could we expect, the CIA is led by a bureaucrat who in on Obama’s leash, did they expect he’d get things done?

Rbastid on December 30, 2009 at 1:40 AM

Leon Panetta ?
Oh this Leon Panetta

macncheez on December 30, 2009 at 2:09 AM

It’s the same story as the recruitment center attack in Little Rock back in June. They were tracking that jihadi right up to the shooting of the soldiers. He was the first one that came from this same Yemeni cell. Instead of waterboarding that one and preventing Ft. Hood and Christmas flight, they were threatening to bring charges against the last administration for preventing a new ground zero in LA at the time.

Buddahpundit on December 29, 2009 at 8:42 PM

Yemeni link to airline plot complicates Gitmo plan

The alleged Yemeni roots of the attack on a Detroit-bound airliner threaten to complicate U.S. efforts to empty Guantanamo, where nearly half the remaining detainees are from Yemen.

Finding a home for them is key to President Barack Obama’s pledge to close the prison, but emerging details of the plot are renewing concerns about Yemen’s capacity to contain militants and growing al-Qaida safe havens.

While inmates of other nationalities have left Guantanamo in droves, roughly 90 Yemenis have been held at the U.S. military prison in Cuba for as long as seven years…

A task force created by Obama has been reviewing each Guantanamo detainee’s file to determine whether they should be prosecuted, detained or transferred. U.S. officials have declined to reveal details of any discussions with Yemen.

A senior administration official said authorities still see closing the facility as a national security priority.

Closing Gitmo is a “national security priority” but putting known Yemen-trained Islamic terrorists on a no-fly list is not.

Gitmo lawyer David Remes, of the firm Covington and Burling, is quoted in the AP article. C&B is Holder’s old firm…

It’s all about priorities, and the safety of American citizens is not on the top of the list.

Nichevo on December 30, 2009 at 6:02 AM

Obama inherited the CIA.

Could it be that with the threat of lawsuits by Obama against CIA members that maybe, just maybe, people at the CIA are not really motivated to go that extra step for fear of some type of lawsuit, charge of racism or bias?

Leon Panetta where are you?

albill on December 30, 2009 at 7:02 AM

sirknob on December 30, 2009 at 12:08 AM

Must be all that suspicious overseas travel you did :-)

DrSteve on December 30, 2009 at 8:27 AM

Where’s Hillary???? Why in the post-911 world are those with known terrorists connections allowed to hold a US Visa? This latest bomber did everything but arrest himself and he was still holding a valid Visa. His father made several trips to the US Embassy in Nigeria to report that his son had been radicalized. Why was this kid’s Visa not revoked within hours of his father reporting this information. Travelling to our country is a privelage for foreigners. It is not a right!!!Was Hillary using her Smart Power to protect us?

Nozzle on December 30, 2009 at 8:34 AM

Smart power. Do you feel safer yet?

petefrt on December 30, 2009 at 8:39 AM

Your WALL, IT’S BACK !!!

tarpon on December 30, 2009 at 8:50 AM

WHY WASN’T THE EXPERT IN THIS VIDEO INTERVIEWED BY THE WESTERN MEDIA??? Why do we have to turn to Al-Jihadi News Agency go find this type of information?

Dandapani on December 30, 2009 at 9:10 AM

so any second Ed will acknowledge it was NOT Hillary and States fault, right??

cricket cricket


yeah exactly.

ginaswo on December 30, 2009 at 9:56 AM


read the post?!! CIAS did NOT forward the info to State after State reported the dads concern to CIA!

Should Hill go by herself to pick the guy up?


ginaswo on December 30, 2009 at 9:57 AM

not State’s fault, CIA did NOT tell them to flag the guy

they called and had a CIA agent INTERVIEW the dad, what else could state do??

State does not do intelligence. This is beyond their ken, thus they called in the CIA to interview the dad.

enough blaming Hill, not her ball. God I wish she were the POTUS. She isnt afraid of hurting someones feelings or interrogating them.

ginaswo on December 30, 2009 at 10:32 AM

PS HRC came in most admired woman in America, expect lamestream Obama media to dump something on her any second now…

tick tock

ginaswo on December 30, 2009 at 10:33 AM

ginaswo on December 30, 2009 at 10:32 AM

Under the 9-11 Commission inspired reorganization and establishment of the ODNI, CIA is merely one of over 15 agencies involved in overseas intelligence collection.

State does indeed do intelligence. State has the Office of Intelligence and Research. One of the co-equal members of the intel community.

A likely scenario is that CIA obtained this information from the bomber’s father, and noted that MI5 had obtained similar information. They passed it along to the ODNI…which weighed in and saw that one of fifteen-plus outfits had derogatory info on the Nigerian and the rest had nothing. Thus, a show of hands. Sorry, CIA, but we’ve no other supporting information on your intel. Can’t upset the apple cart once again on slim information.

State is involved. Visas are granted by State. REather than err to the side of caution…and put the Nigerian on the no-fly list and inform partner nations involved of our decision, no action on the part of State was taken.

CIA does not grant visas no chop off on their approval. They provide information, intel, at times slim, to the community.

I’d fault ODNI and State.

ODNI for not being concerned enough to ramp up things in the face of a growing threat and State for issuing visas as if they were a God-given right to any and just about all foreigners wanting to come to America. [As as a side note, perhaps even Commerce, as a hint of a visa crackdown would effect tourism, and that would be a “financial loss” for America.]

coldwarrior on December 30, 2009 at 10:55 AM

Want to get on the no-fly list? Donate to the Republicans.

wpw on December 30, 2009 at 11:56 AM

coldwarrior on December 30, 2009 at 10:55 AM

You are pretty spot-on, IMHO, about how this usually works.

As I don’t have access to exactly what happened when, I can just assess based on what I do know.

NCTC, as part of ODNI, is the one organization created to connect these dots…it’s not CIA’s, or anyone else’s, job…just NCTC, who provides the ‘universality’ of data and systems for all these folks to play in.

Some guy known as ‘The Nigerian’ connected to AQ, and a father mentioning his son as radicalized, is just NOT enough to equate the two disparate pieces of information to each other. If you think it does, then you could ID the EXACT 5 guys flying from Pakistan to the US (no departure or arrival city) between these 5 days (pick any 5), first names only, right? RIGHT?

And what if it some OTHER 23-y-o from Nigeria who’s 5’9′ with dark skin & eyes turns out to be the bomber? I don’t know his height or weight, but it looks like his biometrics fit almost every other young man from the region…can we say shred of hay in a haystack?

Once the father walked into the embassy, however, the State Department should have issued and cable on this guy (which they do as part of their participation in the Intel Community) and revoked his visa as a precaution.

But this kid would’ve still gotten on the flight, as whoever was manning the counter in Amsterdam ignored EVERY LAST red flag, such as paying in cash, O-W flight, and no bags (though he claimed he would be in Detroit for 2 weeks), to let him on the plane WITHOUT even a PASSPORT (let alone one under a forged name).

Please, someone, tell me how THIS is the failure of the CIA…I might grant you some leeway with State or ODNI, even though if they’d done what people claim they should’ve, it’s really up to the JUDGMENT of the airlines to allow or refuse someone on the flight.

And don’t get me started about the use of cables (since no agency or department shares a single system, and to do so would violate various laws and cost WAY too much $ to replace their old pre-9/11 tools) or emails (as no agency uses the same system, so emailing classified data only occurs when people use some networks, and THAT would violate certain laws or classification standards based on the type of Intel).

But if everyone believes these organizations should spend the money to use only ONE system, then I don’t want to hear ANY crap about data mining concerns, Privacy Act violations by DoD or CIA, or any other USCode violation that would inevitably arise from creating such a system.

Miss_Anthrope on December 30, 2009 at 12:43 PM

not State’s fault, CIA did NOT tell them to flag the guy

CIA station chiefs work out of US Embassies…If the bomber’s father walked into the US embassy in Nigeria and reported that his son had been radicalized, the Chief of Station would have known about it along with the State dept staff.

State issues visas…If there is not a mechanism for pulling visas for persons who are identified as threats then its an epic failure on the part of the State Department.

MSM reported yesterday that State dept procedures preclude pulling a visa until the individual in question is notified in writing and has a chance to appeal…Bull$hit!!!!!!!!!!!!! A known threat has to have their visa pulled immediately, period…Only a lawyer like Hillary would try to hide behind a statement like that…Hillary is a useless sack of $hit…

Nozzle on December 30, 2009 at 5:35 PM