Barack Obama repaired some of the damage done to the confidence in his administration on terrorism with a sharp, no-nonsense statement that finally accepted responsibility for the systemic failure that allowed the EunuchBomber onto Northwest 253 on Christmas Day. Unfortunately, the people he appointed to run the effort did their best to undermine that confidence once again. Let’s start with the Director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blair, who apparently couldn’t be bothered to fact-check his statement to the media before releasing it, courtesy of Jake Tapper and Luis Martinez of ABC:
“That Mr. Abdulmutallab boarded Northwest Flight 153 for Detroit was a failure of the counterterrorism system,” the Director of National Intelligence, Admiral Dennis Blair (ret.), said in a statement last night.
Of course, it was Northwest Flight 253, not 153.
Does that seem nitpicky? Don’t forget that it was a misspelling of Umar Abdulmutallab’s name that kept the intelligence analysts from initially connecting the dots on his attack. As this failure demonstrates so amply, intelligence is about paying attention to the details. What does it say when the man in charge doesn’t get the basic details right in a prepared statement?
Still, the review lacked basic information that anyone with access to abcnews.com could have already known.
Except of course the detail, on page three of the review, that Abdulmutallab’s father visited the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria to warn the U.S. about his son’s extremist behavior on November 18.
That’s because that detail is wrong. That visit was on the 19th.
If they want us to feel like they’re taking this more seriously, it would help if they actually would take it more seriously. Yesterday morning, the administration was preparing everyone for the “shock” we would feel when we actually read the report, which they already had written … or so we thought. As Tapper reports in that link, they continued to rewrite it to take more information out, until all that was left was a rehash of media reports and the admissions of screwing up. And they managed to be less accurate than the media.
Unfortunately, Janet Napolitano oversold the serious approach during yesterday’s press conference by apparently admitting that she hadn’t paid much attention to AQ for the past eight years (transcript from Chicago Sun-Times and FR):
Question: What was the most shocking, stunning thing that you found out of the review? And, Secretary, to you, as well.
MR. BRENNAN: Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is an extension of al Qaeda core coming out of Pakistan. And, in my view, it is one of the most lethal and one of the most concerning of it. The fact that they had moved forward to try to execute this attack against the homeland I think demonstrated to us — and this is what the review sort of uncovered — that we had a strategic sense of sort of where they were going, but we didn’t know they had progressed to the point of actually launching individuals here. And we have taken that lesson, and so now we’re full on top of it.
SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: I think, following up on that, not just the determination of al Qaeda and al Qaeda Arabian Peninsula, but the tactic of using an individual to foment an attack, as opposed to a large conspiracy or a multi-person conspiracy such as we saw in 9/11, that is something that affects intelligence. It really emphasizes now the renewed importance on how different intelligence is integrated and analyzed, and threat streams are followed through. And, again, it will impact how we continue to review the need to improve airport security around the world.
Lady Logician says this deserves the Captain Louis Renault Award for Napolitano’s shock, shock! that AQ is determined to keep attacking the West … literal shock, in this case, by her admission. Did we really just start thinking about single-person attacks — if indeed, that’s what this was — in 2010? Was that concept really so shocking for our national security staff? That’s not exactly a confidence builder, is it?