NYT: Obama administration missed more terror warning signs than acknowledged in report

posted at 12:55 pm on January 18, 2010 by Ed Morrissey

In his televised address to the nation almost two weeks ago, Barack Obama said “the buck stops with me” and took responsibility for the failure to prevent the EunuchBomber.  The report from Obama’s national-security team acknowledged a failure to connect the dots, blaming it on bureaucratic snarls and a lack of attention to mission guidelines.  However, the New York Times reports today that the Obama administration missed more red flags than it has acknowledged — and didn’t pay enough attention to the growing threat from Yemen:

Mr. Obama this month presented his government’s findings on how the plot went undetected. But a detailed review of the episode by The New York Times, including more than two dozen interviews with White House and American intelligence officials and with counterterrorism officials in Europe and Yemen, shows that there were far more warning signs than the administration has acknowledged.

The officials also cited lapses and misjudgments that were not disclosed in the declassified government report released Jan. 7 about what went wrong inside the nation’s counterterrorism network.

In September, for example, a United Nations expert on Al Qaeda warned policy makers in Washington that the type of explosive device used by a Yemeni militant in an assassination attempt in Saudi Arabia could be carried aboard an airliner.

In early November, American intelligence authorities say they learned from a communications intercept of Qaeda followers in Yemen that a man named “Umar Farouk” — the first two names of the jetliner suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab — had volunteered for a coming operation.

In late December, more intercepts of Qaeda operatives in Yemen, who had previously focused their attacks in the region, mentioned the date of Dec. 25, and suggested that they were “looking for ways to get somebody out” or “for ways to move people to the West,” one senior administration official said.

And the same day those White House meetings on terrorist activities took place, a Qaeda figure made ominous — and seemingly prescient — threats against the United States.

“We carry prayer beads, and with them we carry a bomb for the enemies of God,” a man describing himself as a Qaeda fighter from Yemen announced in a video released on Al Jazeera satellite television. “The issue is between us and America and its allies, and beware, those who stand in the ranks of America.”

Why didn’t the Christmas Day reference tighten security on flights to the US?  Counterterrorism officials just assumed that the Yemeni branch of AQ didn’t have the sophistication to get a terrorist onto a flight.  And worse, no one took command of any one particular threat thread.  The massive bureaucracy imposed by Congress in 2005 as the DNI/NCTC basically allowed everyone to assume that someone else would take charge of threat “dots,” and no one ever did.

The assumption of a lack of sophistication seems utterly inexplicable.  Just a few months earlier, a terrorist used the exact same device to detonate his underwear in an attempt to assassinate the Saudi head of counterterrorism operations.  He failed to kill his target, but the terrorist succeeded in getting the bomb past multiple layers of tight security.  That should have ended any assumptions about a lack of sophistication on the part of Yemeni AQ.

Now, the intelligence community is angry over the White House attempts to put the blame on its operations, claiming that political considerations impede their ability to do tasks like update the no-fly list and the TIDES database.  The Times report still makes a rather compelling case that the main problem with identifying and blocking Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was not political, though, but bureaucratic.  The structure of the DNI/NCTC has added to the problems identified by the 9/11 Commission rather than solving them — to the point where Rep. Brad Miller (D-NC), the chair of the House committee that oversees the no-fly/TIDES effort, says that “The program not only can’t connect the dots, it can’t find the dots.”

Barack Obama can legitimately say that he inherited these problems, although in part from himself, since he was part of that Congress that created the mess in 2005.  The question is whether he will end the mess and create a more flexible and responsive structure for intelligence that finds and connects the dots before Dutch filmmakers have to throw themselves onto terrorists bound for America.


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Barry’s eyes were on the basketballs.

bayview on January 18, 2010 at 12:56 PM

The question is whether he will end the mess and create a more flexible and responsive structure for intelligence that finds and connects the dots before Dutch filmmakers have to throw themselves onto terrorists bound for America.

Sadly, I have no confidence in Mr. Obama to warrant an answer of ‘yes’. What has he done other than campaign after all?

search4truth on January 18, 2010 at 12:57 PM

The Dems should get rid of the donkey as their symbol and replace it with an ostrich.

Cicero43 on January 18, 2010 at 1:00 PM

Monitoring terrorism never fed a poor fat child.

RBMN on January 18, 2010 at 1:01 PM

We will continue to have problems detecting terrorists unless health care reform is passed.

a capella on January 18, 2010 at 1:02 PM

‘The system worked.’

Good Lt on January 18, 2010 at 1:02 PM

I give the system a solid B+.

JammieWearingFool on January 18, 2010 at 1:02 PM

So the Mossad is working with President Barack Hussein Obama now too, undermining US security and attempting to foist their dream of Zionist Rule upon the entire globe.

Bishop on January 18, 2010 at 1:03 PM

We just need to give the Cairo speech more time to take effect.

/

Disturb the Universe on January 18, 2010 at 1:04 PM

9/11 was the system, the shoe bomber was the system, now the Christmas day bomber is the system. Will heads ever roll for these missteps? Will malicious intent or negligence ever be considered? No.

Because it’s way more comfortable to blame the system.

The Calibur on January 18, 2010 at 1:05 PM

Hmmm… I wonder why Obama can’t connect the dots…..

Maybe if he got his head out of his arse and stopped:
Meeting Andy Sterns of the SEIU every week, but not his top commanders
Pushing Obamacare Every 2 seconds
Appearing on TV every 1 second….

Maybe, just maybe… he might be able to see the freaking dots….

Razgriez on January 18, 2010 at 1:06 PM

He was too busy asskissing the Muslims that he loves with gushing speeches around the world about the “achievements” of Islam to pay any attention to Muslim terrorism here at home.

Gabe on January 18, 2010 at 1:08 PM

Massive FAIL.

This is the price of being too P.C.

We got LUCKY we didn’t pay with more dead Americans, this time.

Terrorists only have to get lucky once……….

Remember that every time you cast a vote.

RealMc on January 18, 2010 at 1:08 PM

He is a horrible man.

Knuterockne on January 18, 2010 at 1:09 PM

The Buck stops with Obama BUSH!!!!!.

portlandon on January 18, 2010 at 1:11 PM

Too busy checking on veterans and small government organizations.

Solid B+!

jukin on January 18, 2010 at 1:11 PM

We’re just lucky that al-Qaeda’s female chemist/underwear-seamstress, Janaant Najmaitano, was incompetent.

RBMN on January 18, 2010 at 1:11 PM

Mr. Precedent, when you use political correctness – a formula for playground politeness – to try and protect the American people, you’re going to get a lot of innocent people killed.

AubieJon on January 18, 2010 at 1:11 PM

Obviously, when you get on-board a US airliner, You’re on your own

J_Crater on January 18, 2010 at 1:12 PM

From the story…

The analysts are stymied, however, by computer systems that cannot easily search automatically — and repeatedly — for possible links, officials said. Even simple keyword searches are a challenge, according to a 2008 report by investigators for the House Committee on Science and Technology.

So the computers are less capable than Microsoft Explorer.
That’s comforting.

Jeff2161 on January 18, 2010 at 1:14 PM

Barack Obama can legitimately say that he inherited these problems,

But he asked to “inherit” these problems. If he didn’t want to deal with this nasty old terror stuff, he could have just stayed in the Senate.

Del Dolemonte on January 18, 2010 at 1:14 PM

Amazing that the Gov’t. can’t buy, for billions of dollars, a system used by my Public Library.

Jeff2161 on January 18, 2010 at 1:15 PM

Grrrr…keep it down would you…I’m trying to sink this putt.

winston on January 18, 2010 at 1:17 PM

All this assumes that Obama does not want another terrorist attack on US soil.

Crisis anyone? That would be huge power grab.

jukin on January 18, 2010 at 1:18 PM

Grrrr…keep it down would you…I’m trying to sink this putt.

winston on January 18, 2010 at 1:17 PM

(golf clap)

AubieJon on January 18, 2010 at 1:18 PM

Ed, you misspelled the word ‘ignored’ in the headline.

Vashta.Nerada on January 18, 2010 at 1:19 PM

Why wasn’t this divulged at the appropriate time, so that Barry could have taken full responsibility for the unthinkable lapses? To lessen the heat on The Amateur?

Also, I believe that Saudi bombing attempt was via a body cavity bomb, not in the underwear.

paul1149 on January 18, 2010 at 1:24 PM

Counterterrorism officials just assumed that the Yemeni branch of AQ didn’t have the sophistication to get a terrorist onto a flight.

Because, clearly, it takes SO MUCH sophistication to get onto a flight. Let’s go down the list:

Don’t pay cash, it looks suspicious.
Make sure you bring some luggage, like the other passengers.
Wear or carry clothing appopriate for the city you’re heading to.
Buy a round-trip ticket.
Bring some people who pose as your family, so you don’t look like a lone young Arab man.
Fake your visa so nobody can tell you’ve been to Yemen.
Change your name, so it sounds less Arabic.

Wow, that’s a lot of stuff to have to do in order to avoid detection. Except, Umar didn’t do ANY of that. “Sophistication” seems to mean being able to pull cash out of your pocket at the airline ticket counter. Or are they saying Qaeda in Yemen didn’t know enough about making and disguising bombs? That would be even MORE ridiculous.

hawksruleva on January 18, 2010 at 1:25 PM

Ed, you misspelled the word ‘ignored’ in the headline.

Vashta.Nerada on January 18, 2010 at 1:19 PM

Holiday news dump, anyone?

hawksruleva on January 18, 2010 at 1:26 PM

will this be the anchor around dear leader’s neck, just like the one the MSM and the rest of the (D)s placed around W’s neck re: the Aug ’01 PDB memo?

*crickets chirping*

cmsinaz on January 18, 2010 at 1:26 PM

although in part from himself, since he was part of that Congress that created the mess in 2005

*crickets chirping*

just infuriates me what he gets away with….

cmsinaz on January 18, 2010 at 1:28 PM

portlandon on January 18, 2010 at 1:11 PM

you’re not kidding…they will continue to blame W until he leaves office (hopefully sooner rather than later)

cmsinaz on January 18, 2010 at 1:29 PM

Nice, but keep strip searching those grannies because that’s what keeping you “safe”.
Why don’t you Americans demand competence from your government? For the billions and trillions of dollars that you and your descendants have and will pay, I don’t think you’re getting very good value for it.

G-man on January 18, 2010 at 1:30 PM

BO likes to have it both ways, dissing various organizations and bureaucracies to look good before his peeps while asking them behind the scene to fall in line with his agenda. Every time BO trashes these organizations publicly, he makes more enemies. Based solely on the amount of corruption us mere mortals see on the surface, I’m sure there is even more damaging information available under the hood and much of it is probably available to the intelligence community. Don’t be surprised if they get tired of it and start leaking very damaging information at some point.
 
Let’s hope that patriots within the intelligence community start singing about BO’s true intentions, corruption, and illegal activities.

ClanDerson on January 18, 2010 at 1:36 PM

Let me be clear about this unprecidented situation we have inherited:

Biden is starting to look like the smart one. At least he advises staying off the mass transit when the going gets rough.

Laura in Maryland on January 18, 2010 at 1:39 PM

Today’s “the adults are in charge” moment, courtesy of Sports Illustrated’s Peter King

Nine flight segments since the aborted terrorist on the plane in Detroit on Christmas. Zero difference in security that I’ve seen. Have I just missed it? Or is there just not the vigilance we should be seeing? Hard to tell, but I’ve not seen slower lines with more patdowns or anything I thought we’d see. I hope TSA knows what it’s doing.

Del Dolemonte on January 18, 2010 at 1:39 PM

dear leader: national security, what’s that?

cmsinaz on January 18, 2010 at 1:44 PM

In early November, American intelligence authorities say they learned from a communications intercept of Qaeda followers in Yemen that a man named “Umar Farouk”— the first two names of the jetliner suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab — had volunteered for a coming operation.

They had the bomber’s first two names! And then his father went to the embassy and gave them the 3rd!

Next Obama’s gomers are going to tell us “Umar Farouk” is like “Bob Smith” in Islamic countries.

jeanneb on January 18, 2010 at 1:46 PM

He thought that his name, his color, his speech in Cairo would matter with terrorists.

I bet he was SHOCKED to find out this attempt even happened at all with him in power.

bridgetown on January 18, 2010 at 1:46 PM

Ignoring an explicit warning from the guy’s father is not missing a warning sign. It’s being a bloody fool. And saying the system worked when those in the system acted like bloody fools should be a firing offense. And would be if Obama wasn’t grossly incompetent.

Basilsbest on January 18, 2010 at 1:48 PM

I miss George III.

And the news on the whitewash colour choice is in…matte camo.

BL@KBIRD on January 18, 2010 at 1:50 PM

When asked to comment, The White House today issued a statement blaming the Bush Administration’s policies of “overseas contingency operations” in failing to stop “man made disasters” of “isolated incidents” which kept us “less safe” during the Bush/Cheney years!!

Robbya on January 18, 2010 at 2:00 PM

Related Onion-style parody: Terrorists Evade Security Officials By Dressing as Giant Dots http://optoons.blogspot.com/2010/01/terrorists-evade-security-officials-by.html

Mervis Winter on January 18, 2010 at 2:02 PM

Obama may have inherited many things but he did not inherit his attitude of terrorism as an isolated criminal activity. An attitude that leads to reactionary police work. Viewed as criminal activity we respond after a crime has been committed, not before.

patrick neid on January 18, 2010 at 2:05 PM

In September, for example, a United Nations expert on Al Qaeda warned policy makers in Washington that the type of explosive device used by a Yemeni militant in an assassination attempt in Saudi Arabia could be carried aboard an airliner.

In early November, American intelligence authorities say they learned from a communications intercept of Qaeda followers in Yemen that a man named “Umar Farouk” — the first two names of the jetliner suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab — had volunteered for a coming operation.

In late December, more intercepts of Qaeda operatives in Yemen, who had previously focused their attacks in the region, mentioned the date of Dec. 25, and suggested that they were “looking for ways to get somebody out” or “for ways to move people to the West,” one senior administration official said.

And the same day those White House meetings on terrorist activities took place, a Qaeda figure made ominous — and seemingly prescient — threats against the United States.
We carry prayer beads, and with them we carry a bomb for the enemies of God,” a man describing himself as a Qaeda fighter from Yemen announced in a video released on Al Jazeera satellite television. “The issue is between us and America and its allies, and beware, those who stand in the ranks of America.”

Seems pretty clear— some guy named Umar Farouk was going to attack an American ally in the Persian Gulf!

Chris_Balsz on January 18, 2010 at 2:12 PM

We just need to give the Cairo Blame Bush speech more time to take effect.

/

Disturb the Universe on January 18, 2010 at 1:04 PM

FIFY

Sir Napsalot on January 18, 2010 at 2:13 PM

Well atleast Hussain’s TSA chief will make everything perfect, once he takes over

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=25w8xkdQNS0

macncheez on January 18, 2010 at 2:23 PM

And to think that with all of that intellegence (sic) they released 6 Yemens from GITMO to …. wait for it… Yemen.

Good move Barry.

kringeesmom on January 18, 2010 at 2:29 PM

Hey, don’t diss his homies, this is all part of the plan. Soon your wife won’t be able to walk to the corner store with a male family member escorting her.

Alden Pyle on January 18, 2010 at 2:32 PM

“Lone extremist”

drjohn on January 18, 2010 at 2:54 PM

Obooba: More incompetent than you imagined.

Akzed on January 18, 2010 at 3:11 PM

Obama can’t see past his own nose. Obama’s National Insecurity Doctrine is an extension of his unearned Nobel Prize for endorsing Gore’s false science. And Hollywood just can’t see any better than Obama does.

ELF has declared war on “greedy capitalist pigs” and “rich scum.” People like … James Cameron.

According to two online sources, our buddy James Cameron lives in an 8,272 square foot “cottage” in Malibu with 6 bedrooms and 7 baths, complete with the requisite pool, tennis court and inner courtyard fit for Hollywood royalty.

Follow the link to see Cameron’s personal carbon footprint spread. The disconnect, Cameron not recognizing his hypocrisy, is the same problem Obama has not recognizing his own fraud and mistakes as bad, but instead as part of his convoluted “strength” for people to admire. After all, who are we to believe; Marxists or our lying eyes?

maverick muse on January 18, 2010 at 3:36 PM

PC is Marxist indoctrination.

maverick muse on January 18, 2010 at 3:38 PM

Disturbing that some people think we are safer under Obama than under Bush.

PappaMac on January 18, 2010 at 3:40 PM

The question is whether he will end the mess and create a more flexible and responsive structure

You looking to the guy with all that ‘vast executive experience’? Hell, he couldn’t work his way out of a wet paper bag, even if you gave him instructions and a knife.

American’s first Affirmative Action President is a dud.

GarandFan on January 18, 2010 at 3:46 PM

Obama probably wants a successful terrorist attack in the US so he can jump in and community organize the situation. He’s hoping his poll numbers would go up like George Bush’s after 9/11.

behiker on January 18, 2010 at 3:50 PM

“The program not only can’t connect the dots, it can’t find the dots.”

This comment should convince every thinking person that they should be doing the planning necessary to fend for themselves that day, in the future, when the system really, really, big time, doesn’t work. Depending on this administration to take care of immediate situations is not wise.

Everyone should be asking themselves; what have I done today to prepare, and what do I need to do tomorrow, in the event of a disaster when this administration fails to connect the dots. Dialing 911 probably won’t be an option.

Yoop on January 18, 2010 at 3:51 PM

HE DOES NOT CARE!!

LarryG on January 18, 2010 at 4:41 PM

Wow, that’s a lot of stuff to have to do in order to avoid detection. Except, Umar didn’t do ANY of that. “Sophistication” seems to mean being able to pull cash out of your pocket at the airline ticket counter. Or are they saying Qaeda in Yemen didn’t know enough about making and disguising bombs? That would be even MORE ridiculous.
hawksruleva on January 18

But But But Jack Bauer was able to figure it out on Christmas Day!

That’s why

U.S. learned intelligence on airline attack suspect while he was en route
U.S. border enforcement officials discovered alleged extremist links in a database while the suspect was headed to Detroit on Christmas Day, new disclosures show.

Reporting from Washington – U.S. border security officials learned of the alleged extremist links of the suspect in the Christmas Day jetliner bombing attempt as he was airborne from Amsterdam to Detroit and had decided to question him when he landed, officials disclosed Wednesday.

Right, high level U.S. border security officials were at work on Christmas Day?
Why do I find that so hard to believe?

DSchoen on January 18, 2010 at 4:42 PM

Intelligence is like putting together a puzzle without being allowed to see the picture on the cover. We can collect pieces of the puzzle through many means – intercepted phone calls and emails, sources we recruit inside al Qaeda. But only captured terrorists like KSM – who know the full scope their plans to attack America – can explain to us how the pieces all fit together, and show us the picture on the cover of the box.

The reason we have not suffered another attack like the one we experienced on 9/11 captured and questioned KSM and other top al Qaeda leaders and got them to share their plans. But today, thanks to Obama, we are no longer trying to capture the leaders of al Qaeda alive, and bring them in for interrogation so they can tell us what the cover of the box looks like.

And in his first forty-eight hours in office, President Barack Obama shut the program down.

Quotes above from http://www.powerlineblog.com/archives/2010/01/025413.php here

jbinnout on January 18, 2010 at 4:56 PM

But he asked to “inherit” these problems. If he didn’t want to deal with this nasty old terror stuff, he could have just stayed in the Senate.

Del Dolemonte on January 18, 2010 at 1:14 PM

There’s a great saying- If ya can’t run with the big dogs, stay on the porch- BO shoulda stayed on the porch!

huskerdiva on January 18, 2010 at 6:06 PM

Another SOLID B+.

TheAlamos on January 18, 2010 at 7:25 PM