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

“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?