Surprise! London arrests did have US connection after all

When Director of National Intelligence James Clapper got stumped on national TV by a Diane Sawyer question regarding the arrest of a dozen terrorist suspects in the UK, the Obama administration attempted damage control by claiming that the arrests had nothing to do with “the homeland.” Janet Napolitano made the same argument on Sunday, trying to downplay Clapper’s lack of data (via Weasel Zippers):

NAPOLITANO: Well, let’s — let’s be fair. It — I knew. John Brennan knew. We also knew there was no connect that had been perceived to anything going on in the homeland and that we were in perfect connectivity with our — our colleagues in Britain.  So one of the things I think that should be very clear to the American people is that those of us in homeland security who needed to know, we knew.

There are two problems with that argument.  First, the DNI’s scope is not just the “homeland” — it’s global.  And the second problem is that the plot busted by the Brits included a threat against the American embassy in London:

The U.S. State Department confirms that the 12 terrorism suspects arrested in the United Kingdom last week had targeted the American Embassy in London. …

State Department spokesman Mark Toner confirmed to reporters today that U.S. Embassy officials in London “are aware of this, are working quite closely with British authorities and appreciate the high level of cooperation that we have with them, and are obviously taking suitable security precautions.”

When he was asked if the information had come first-hand from British authorities, he said, “I think you asked me if we were aware that we were on the targeting list? and I confirmed that.”

The State Department is also warning U.S. embassies around the world to review mail screening procedures after parcel bombs were presumably sent by an anarchist group to various embassies in Rome last week. Toner said, “We have notified all U.S. embassies worldwide to review current mail screening procedures and to continue vigilance when opening mail.”

Gee, doesn’t that appear to be something that the man in charge of American intelligence on a global scope should know right away?

This is not really an issue of Clapper’s competence, at least not directly.  It is, however, a matter of whether we have organized our intelligence community in a manner that facilitates rather than impedes communication, and whether the structure is manned by effective leaders.  Clapper hasn’t been around long enough to make a fair value judgment on the latter point with him specifically, but the entire DNI/NICC structure has been in place for several years.  In the past year or so, we have now seen two very public failures of communication at the highest levels of the organization, one just embarrassing (the Clapper interview) and one potentially deadly — leaving Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab free to board a plane to the US even after his own family warned American intelligence about the danger.

This has another similarity to the Christmas Day attack, too.  Immediately afterward, the Obama administration rushed to declare that “the system worked,” and in fact Janet Napolitano fronted that effort as well.  Instead, we found later just how much the system didn’t work, just as we have apparently discovered this week.  Congress should schedule hearings on the problems created by its own reorganization and revisit the issues of intelligence coordination and streamlining as one of its top priorities in the 112th Session.