With a meretricious display of self-blame, President Obama told the nation last week that the “system failed” and “the buck stops here” when it comes to the failure to detect the Nigerian underwear bomber before he paid cash and boarded his Detroit-bound plane on Christmas Day with no luggage and a bomb.
But rather than hold up a mirror to his own administration’s failings, the president now appears to have launched an exercise in scapegoating with the appointment of former Deputy CIA Director John McLaughlin to lead an investigation into what went wrong.
As I wrote in "Shadow Warriors: Traitors Saboteurs, and the Party of Surrender," McLaughlin is a former CIA analyst who passively watched as agency careerists in 2004 made a brazen effort to sabotage President Bush’s CIA director, Porter Goss.
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McLaughlin has been empowered to look into the various U.S. intelligence organizations involved in gathering and analyzing terrorist threat information, and will undoubtedly find much to criticize.
He will find a morass of bloated and competing bureaucracies that sometimes fail to communicate threat information before it is finalized because each agency wants to get credit for the final product.
He will find a Director of National Intelligence (DNI) bureaucracy that essentially duplicates everything done by CIA, DIA, the National Counter-Terrorism Center, and other agencies.
But will McLaughlin be allowed to look at how the White House handled the threat information it actually received?
According to multiple news reports, the “system” actually provided quite a lot of threat information that clearly should have gelled to prevent Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab from boarding a U.S. bound plane in Amsterdam carrying a bomb:
- Four months before the failed attack, the National Security Agency intercepted multiple conversations among al-Qaida leaders in Yemen describing a plan to use a Nigerian man for an imminent terrorist attack.
- In October, Obama’s counter-terror “czar” John Brennan received a personal briefing from Muhammad bin Nayef, the Saudi Prince who narrowly survived an al-Qaida assassination attempt in August. Prince Muhammad was wounded in an attack by an al-Qaida suicide bomber who made it through security guards by dissimulating PETN in condoms inside his body. The explosive was identical and the method remarkably similar to that used by Abdulmutallab.
- Then in November, Abdulmutallab’s father, a prominent Nigerian banker, warned the U.S. embassy in Nigeria that his son had taken up with al-Qaida in Yemen and recently told him he would never see his family again. The distraught father told U.S. diplomats he thought his son was going to be used in an imminent terror attack. In response, Umar Abdulmutallab was put on the terrorism watch list on Nov 20.
“That ought to be bingo,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who chairs the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
Brennan has been the administration’s point man for complaining that the White House had only “little snippets” of information, and that “there was nothing that brought it all together.”
But why didn’t Brennan himself make the connection? After all, he was a top career intelligence analyst, whose skills were much vaunted by President Obama when he appointed him.
Brennan has deep personal ties to the president. During the 2008 presidential election campaign, a contractor working for Brennan’s security company was caught breaking into the passport files of Barack Obama, John McCain, and Hillary Clinton at the State Department.
Sources who tracked the investigation told Newsmax that the main target of the breach was the Obama passport file, and that the contractor accessed the file in order to “cauterize” the records of potentially embarrassing information.
See “Obama's Intelligence Adviser Involved in Security Breach.”
In April 2008, Quarles Harris Jr., identified as a contract worker for Brennan’s company who was cooperating with authorities on the passport breach, was found shot to death in his car in Washington, D.C.
The Harris murder remains unexplained to this day.
On Dec. 26, Brennan approved a request by the head of the National Counterterrorism Center, Michael E. Leiter, to go on vacation, an inexplicable largesse granted a key bureaucrat the day after an attempted terrorist attack.
“I think the president was right when he said, ‘The buck stops with me,’” Republican Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona told Fox News Sunday over the weekend. “The problem is he can't be fired right now. And so what he's got to do is provide a sense of urgency with these people who work for him.”
So far, however, the White House has exhibited no sense of urgency and has stonewalled repeated congressional requests for information.
It has refused to provide the Nov. 30 assessment of the Fort Hood shooting and spurned appeals for the full assessment of the failures that led up to the Christmas bombing.
“We have not been receiving a level of cooperation from the White House that would allow us to conduct the thorough and effective oversight needed to prevent future attacks,” said Jamal Ware, a spokesman for the House Permanent Select Intelligence Committee.
Although the problems within the intelligence community run much deeper than the failures of one man, Brennan had the background to understand those problems and had unprecedented power to act on his insights.
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