Rationalizing Incompetence

TPM touts (as does Kevin Drum, more to follow I am sure) this Spencer Ackerman piece as explaining "the potential trade-offs involved if you want the government to (over)react to every potential threat." I am loathe to draw conclusions without really knowing the facts, but even accepting the facts Ackerman assumes as true, his post reads like rather lame excuse making to me. Ackerman writes:

[I]s it really fair to point the finger at the intelligence community here? Abdulmutallab’s father told embassy officials in Abuja that he didn’t know where his son was, but might be in Yemen.

Um, yes it seems fair to me. Is it a usual occurrence that a father comes to the U.S. government reporting that his son has been radicalized and he suspects that his son is now with Al Qaida elements in Yemen? This seems highly UNUSUAL to me and should have raised a red flag regarding Abdulmutallab. More . . .

This is a specific and to me, very credible warning of a danger that could have been met. I'm not talking about putting Abdulmutallab in jail or targetting him for military action. Simply taking some precaution regarding him and his contacts with the United States and Americans. Is Ackerman arguing that this type of warning did not merit action? If he is, then he is absolutely wrong. Something went wrong. It is silly for anyone to argue otherwise.

Do you think if Richard Reid's father had made a similar warning, TPM and Ackerman would be looking to rationalize the failure to take action against him? Me neither.

Speaking for me only

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    At the very least, if I were (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by inclusiveheart on Thu Dec 31, 2009 at 11:00:30 AM EST
    the State Dept. official who received a visit from the kid's father, I would have looke to see if he had a visa and sought to do something about potentially revoking it - or at the very least flagging it.

    Always to the bureaucratic heart (5.00 / 1) (#4)
    by Militarytracy on Thu Dec 31, 2009 at 11:02:52 AM EST
    of things aren't you?  This was who dropped the ball.

    My daughter thinks anytime (none / 0) (#6)
    by oculus on Thu Dec 31, 2009 at 11:04:06 AM EST
    a father rats out an adult offspring--zappo.  No fly list.  Where might this lead?

    To a more effective system (5.00 / 1) (#9)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Thu Dec 31, 2009 at 11:08:44 AM EST
    Sort of my point. It is very unusual for a father to rat out their children.

    When they do, a red flag seems obligatory.

    Not being able to enter the US for a while is not the end of the world.


    Agree: (5.00 / 3) (#28)
    by oculus on Thu Dec 31, 2009 at 11:50:36 AM EST
    Not being able to enter the US for a while is not the end of the world.

    The U.S. denies or delays visas for so many people for so much less justification.


    Depends on what Dad told U.S. embassy (none / 0) (#11)
    by oculus on Thu Dec 31, 2009 at 11:12:33 AM EST
    in Nigeria, doesn't it?

    Seems like he told them enough (none / 0) (#14)
    by nycstray on Thu Dec 31, 2009 at 11:15:52 AM EST
    he suspected his son was radicalized and had lost contact with him. News just said that we knew about this guy in August when he was in Yemen.

    From what I've heard that he did say (none / 0) (#16)
    by Militarytracy on Thu Dec 31, 2009 at 11:16:43 AM EST
    What could he have said differently that would have caused someone to notice his son :)

    Seems C.I.A. is spinning Dad (5.00 / 1) (#17)
    by oculus on Thu Dec 31, 2009 at 11:19:22 AM EST
    wanted help finding his adult son, who wasn't in contact with his family in Nigeria.  (I kidded I would contact Interpol if my daughter living in Ireland didn't report in soon.)  

    There have to be many, many "radicalized" Muslims in the world.  I haven't heard Dad say he believed sone was associated with aQ in Yemen.  Did he?


    Remember, this wasn't just any Dad (5.00 / 2) (#19)
    by nycstray on Thu Dec 31, 2009 at 11:23:52 AM EST
    off the street. This was a well connected/well off Dad who couldn't find his kid.Is it reasonable to think that perhaps the Embassy wasn't his first stop for help?

    Yes his dad did say that according (5.00 / 4) (#27)
    by inclusiveheart on Thu Dec 31, 2009 at 11:43:26 AM EST
    to the early reports.  He told them he thought the kid was in Yemen with a radical cleric who is on all of our watch lists apparently.  No one around here is arguing that they should have gone to Yemen and taken the kid to Gitmo or Baghram.  Just saying that his visa should have been put on hold and that they should have determined whether or not he was a threat.  This is not hard.  In fact, it is a lot easier than sorting through millions of random phone calls - most of which are like the ones my mother and I have every day at least once a day - and trying to figure out if those folks are dangerous.  

    Um yes (none / 0) (#21)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Thu Dec 31, 2009 at 11:24:26 AM EST
    The Yemen reference was precisely about Al Qaida.

    Of course we are not privy to all the facts but let's face it, if the statement would exculpate some government folks, we would have it by now. It is probably damn bad for the government.


    We will still have to check things out (none / 0) (#22)
    by Militarytracy on Thu Dec 31, 2009 at 11:24:36 AM EST
    Nobody said this was going to be easy.

    I will do my own research later re (none / 0) (#23)
    by oculus on Thu Dec 31, 2009 at 11:25:58 AM EST
    Dad's actual words to U.S. embassy in Nigeria.  Not really big on speculation.

    I'm with ya (none / 0) (#29)
    by Militarytracy on Thu Dec 31, 2009 at 11:55:25 AM EST
    It is sort of nice that folks are looking for ways to go easier on the system that is supposed to keep you all safe.  Don't go TOO easy though :)  If this keeps up I don't know how I will ever get my husband to retire either.  With each passing day right now, I'm sort of giving up on that because I know the man and he will not leave the wall when he feels needed there.

    OK. Back to the point of the post. (none / 0) (#30)
    by oculus on Thu Dec 31, 2009 at 12:00:20 PM EST
    Should bloggers make excuses for U.S. government re this incident?  No.  Assuming all the information which was supposed to be shared and accumulated in one place wasn't, no excuses.  Not sure if all that was supposed to happen had happened the person's visa would have been cancelled, he would have made no fly list, or been picked up in Yemen or elsewhere as an enemy combatant.

    Hence my advocacy for full body scanners.  


    Puffers would have flagged him (5.00 / 1) (#31)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Thu Dec 31, 2009 at 12:11:57 PM EST

    OK Puffers and full body scan. (none / 0) (#32)
    by oculus on Thu Dec 31, 2009 at 12:13:09 PM EST
    So would have a canine :) (none / 0) (#33)
    by nycstray on Thu Dec 31, 2009 at 12:15:04 PM EST
    Maybe (5.00 / 1) (#38)
    by Militarytracy on Thu Dec 31, 2009 at 12:26:42 PM EST
    as much as I love my dogs, they are not all of this caliber.  It requires extensive constant training and extensive recerts and I think that talent does better in combat zones because it is ultra mobile.  I'll take a puffer in a civilized airport as being the better choice where costs come into play and constant 24/7 reliability needed in one location.  Dogs are like people too, they have good days and bad days.

    Heard on the news that they have (5.00 / 1) (#42)
    by nycstray on Thu Dec 31, 2009 at 12:47:45 PM EST
    increased the canine forces in airports and will continue. Also heard that there are malfunction probs with the puffer machines and that's why some are sitting unused in airports. Nothing is going to work alone, but I'll take any combo that keeps hands/scans off my body. Snuff n' Puff?

    And even if canines aren't 100%, they tend to calm me when I see them on the subway and other "popular" sites in NYC. The geared up dudes have the opposite effect on me. Nuttin' like fully armored and armed to make ya wonder what they know . . .  ;)


    FWIW (5.00 / 2) (#47)
    by CST on Thu Dec 31, 2009 at 01:10:03 PM EST
    I know some people (my sister for one) who are absolutely terrified of dogs.

    A lot of little kids are too.


    Yup (none / 0) (#50)
    by nycstray on Thu Dec 31, 2009 at 02:04:14 PM EST
    That's another reason to have more than one type of screening available. If we have 4 methods that could have detected that explosive, it would be nice if we could have a couple screening options that don't involve hands/scans on bodies :)

    The demand is huge (none / 0) (#43)
    by Militarytracy on Thu Dec 31, 2009 at 12:57:28 PM EST
    for viable dogs.  One of the places we are looking at relocating to is Texas. If we do so I will likely look into qualifying and becoming a Lackland AFB breeder.  They have the job of outfitting the whole military.  They rely on private breeders though.  Not the lines I wanted to work with, but I'm very good at raising puppies and getting their touch and neuro stimulation needs met when they are very tiny - then Lackland takes them the rest of the way through.

    Puffers would have flagged him (none / 0) (#36)
    by Militarytracy on Thu Dec 31, 2009 at 12:21:46 PM EST
    and bagged him.  Oh God, the easiest solution....no violation of your bod or the image of your bod....it works sooooo much better than anything we have, but nobody speaks of it seriously when we talk about this epic FAIL.  I think if you have to spend your day shocking the crap out of people with a puffer though, you should get a union.  I think they run the same long term psychological risks that dentists do :)

    Not the end of the world, no.. (none / 0) (#34)
    by kdog on Thu Dec 31, 2009 at 12:17:21 PM EST
    but little is the "end of the world"...I'd say denying the right of free men and women to travel freely is a fairly big deal though...I don't wanna live on prison planet even if it has less explosions than a free planet.

    Granted, we don't have much freedom of travel over borders now...just don't want it to get any more difficult to move around our little orb here.


    I'm saying that (5.00 / 2) (#35)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Thu Dec 31, 2009 at 12:19:42 PM EST
    if your dad is denouncing you, having to cleat that up is a reasonable step.

    Problems arise... (none / 0) (#37)
    by kdog on Thu Dec 31, 2009 at 12:25:41 PM EST
    there as well...its not unheard of for slimey people to use law enforcement as a weapon to settle personal scores, even family scores.

    I don't think a family member or acquaintance dropping a dime alone should be enough to keep somebody off a plane...must have actual evidence of wrong-doing.

    I keep coming back to better bomb-screening...if we screen for bombs efficiently we can let anybody and everybody on an explosive-free plane as long as the cockpit door is impenetrable...even some a-hole jihadi.  Without explosives or access to the controls what can they do, pray us to death?


    Of course (5.00 / 1) (#51)
    by Cream City on Thu Dec 31, 2009 at 02:31:27 PM EST
    which is why the government ought to have looked further for evidence.  That is the gist here.  

    Instead, the government did nothing.  What say you to that?


    A reasonable question. (5.00 / 2) (#10)
    by inclusiveheart on Thu Dec 31, 2009 at 11:10:45 AM EST
    But that doesn't mean that we can't and shouldn't take some time and review these visa applicants if someone raises questions about them.  It is the US's perogative to grant or deny entry into this country.  His visa was not a work visa.  It was a general all-purpose tourist visa.  His life wasn't going to be destroyed by delaying his trip while the facts were sorted out.

    Very well said (none / 0) (#13)
    by Militarytracy on Thu Dec 31, 2009 at 11:14:55 AM EST
    Thx n/t (none / 0) (#25)
    by inclusiveheart on Thu Dec 31, 2009 at 11:35:42 AM EST
    There is no excuse for the info (5.00 / 2) (#12)
    by Militarytracy on Thu Dec 31, 2009 at 11:13:55 AM EST
    not being passed onto the NCTC from the CIA, and I don't understand why Spencer wants to excuse that.

    Some U.S. official let slip his agency (none / 0) (#7)
    by oculus on Thu Dec 31, 2009 at 11:05:46 AM EST
    knew the person had a current, valid U.S. visa and the agency planned to investigate if the person asked for visa renewal or a new U.S. visa in the future.  

    Yes and visas can be reviewed and (5.00 / 2) (#15)
    by inclusiveheart on Thu Dec 31, 2009 at 11:16:11 AM EST
    revoked if necessary.  Leaving him with a valid visa is what led to this situation.  Meanwhile, the players who could have made a meaningful change in the story line seemed to think that relying on the Dutch equivalent of TSA - or the Nigerians for that matter - and a bunch of data analysts in Washington would pick up their slack.  Leaving terrorism prevention to airport employees is just wrong.

    Especially when they can't even (5.00 / 3) (#18)
    by Militarytracy on Thu Dec 31, 2009 at 11:19:25 AM EST
    have a union :).  To hell with that job description and no benefits :)

    Demint sounds like an idiot on (5.00 / 3) (#20)
    by oculus on Thu Dec 31, 2009 at 11:24:09 AM EST
    this issue.

    Jim is a little (none / 0) (#49)
    by mollypitcher on Thu Dec 31, 2009 at 01:55:30 PM EST
    demented, according to this South Carolinian.  (Don't know how many times lobbying, etc., groups asked me to contact my senators about supporting health care reform.  Yeah--DeMint and Graham.)

    Let's see (5.00 / 1) (#8)
    by kidneystones on Thu Dec 31, 2009 at 11:08:31 AM EST
    Rachel Maddow and David Corn feel compelled to remind fans not to cheer the fact that Rush is in hospital and Ackerman posits that there's nothing that odd about a father reporting his son has joined Al Quaida.

    My only question is what happens when liberals figure out that the folks trying to kill us don't want to sit down and talk things over.

    To get a sense of the big picture, check out the Guardian piece on Iran and their kidnapping organizations.

    At some point Democrats are going to have to face up to the fact that these threats are going to persist irrespective of how many prizes and good grades Dems award themselves.

    Heck of a job, Janet!

    What an absurd comment (none / 0) (#26)
    by gyrfalcon on Thu Dec 31, 2009 at 11:39:07 AM EST
    Congratulations on decisively knocking down a straw man you invented for yourself.

    I blame (none / 0) (#52)
    by kidneystones on Thu Dec 31, 2009 at 06:26:43 PM EST
    George Bush, Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin and Jonah Goldberg for 'creating' a climate of anti-Americanism. You missed that part of the dialogue of the past decade.

    I can link to tens of thousands of posts that explicitly conflate Rush, Beck and Bush and blame "Buschco" for making OBL seem reasonable.

    I wrote some myself.

    We're seeing, however, venality in victory from the forces of 'hope and change'. Drone attacks and targeted assassination from a Dem WH validated by a Dem Congress. Maddow and Corn attack the administration, but the overwhelming sense we get from the left and from President Surf's Up is:

    "It ain't our fault. The bad guys have a point. Now, instead of building a rainbow-colored shining city on the hill as a beacon to the whole world, we have to clean up after Bush."

    Get it?

    There are many on the left who hate the America of George Bush almost as much as those training in Yemen do. The difference is those is Yemen aren't drawing any phony lines between Dems and the GOP. Given the Dem track record on war over the last six decades there's absolutely no reason anyone should.


    The Obama Administration must (5.00 / 1) (#24)
    by KeysDan on Thu Dec 31, 2009 at 11:30:00 AM EST
    surely appreciate all these apologists.  However, they would be well advised not to go too far out on the limb for these guys, because they will likely be sawn off.  

    Have the father's statements to (none / 0) (#1)
    by oculus on Thu Dec 31, 2009 at 10:58:45 AM EST
    U.S. embassy in Nigeria been made public?  

    I appreciate that he feels sorry (none / 0) (#3)
    by Militarytracy on Thu Dec 31, 2009 at 11:00:55 AM EST
    for those who are working in intel areas right now drinking from the current firehose of information.  The ball was dropped though Spence and we dropped it, and those drinking from the firehose are beating their heads against desks and walls all around the world.  Can we just chalk it up to the learning curve?

    Ya know (none / 0) (#5)
    by nycstray on Thu Dec 31, 2009 at 11:03:41 AM EST
    if the guy had been flying under the radar and had an unknown substance etc, I can see perhaps giving the gov some wiggle room. But in this instance? No.

    Spencer also writes: (none / 0) (#39)
    by Steve M on Thu Dec 31, 2009 at 12:30:22 PM EST
    So what's the standard for moving from TIDE to the Terrorist Screening Database? "Specific derogatory information leading to reasonable suspicion" that someone poses a terrorist threat. And what State got from Abdulmutallab's father -- and disseminated through the TIDE process -- didn't fit the bill, the U.S. intelligence official said. "Realistically, a lot of guys call every day and say their relative or former friend is dangerous," the official explained. To use that level of information to revoke someone's visa or stop someone from flying would be "unmanageable. We'd probably shut down air traffic."


    BTD's underlying assumption is that the tip we received here was of a "highly unusual" sort.  It sounds like that may not be correct as an empirical matter.  If we really get as many credible tips as this intelligence official suggests, a blanket no-visa-for-you policy might be killing a fly with a sledgehammer.

    I do not believe them (none / 0) (#40)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Thu Dec 31, 2009 at 12:37:21 PM EST
    I think they are covering their ass.

    "Some relative" is like a father who apparently is a respected citizen in Nigeria? this is total BS.


    Let me add that spencer's guy (none / 0) (#41)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Thu Dec 31, 2009 at 12:41:30 PM EST
    contradicts THIS NYTimes source:

    "American officials contend that they took the father's account seriously [. . .]"

    Spencer is fluffing his sources is what this means.


    Difficult to verify any of this (none / 0) (#44)
    by andgarden on Thu Dec 31, 2009 at 01:00:23 PM EST
    And because no one died, I don't know that we're going to get much of a public inquiry.

    In any case, just through security at FLL and no huge production. Who know what they're doing about any of this!


    Difficult To Verify? (none / 0) (#54)
    by norris morris on Sat Jan 02, 2010 at 12:08:20 AM EST
    What intel bunny told you this?

    You are totally and irredeemably an idiot.

    If there are no verifiable systems in place regarding intel and national security then Obama and Co should be impeached.

    Whatever went wrong will be dicovered, but will we be told the truth?

    Verifying facts is at the heart of all systems that function correctly.  What is therefore  verifiable is: was there human failure to execute the system's steps?

    Without verification there would never have been proof of Einstein's theory.  And that was a lot harder than designing a decent intel system.


    But hang on (none / 0) (#45)
    by Steve M on Thu Dec 31, 2009 at 01:00:39 PM EST
    You assume that "taking it seriously" would mean revoking his visa or something comparable.  Spencer has already explained that the State Department doesn't have the authority to revoke a visa on that basis without going through the intelligence agencies.  It sounds like the failure was within the intelligence agencies, failing to put the pieces together to realize that they actually did have specific information regarding the threat posed by this individual.

    Let's say you're the President and you have complete authority to rewrite the instruction manual to prevent this from happening again.  I assume you're going to write something less specific than "whenever a U.S. diplomat receives a warning he considers credible from someone's father, yank the visa immediately," but what exactly do you propose?  Should the intelligence agencies really be cut out of the process of revoking a visa based upon threat potential?  Is there a smarter solution than adopting a blanket policy that serves only to prevent the last attack?


    Fair enough (none / 0) (#46)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Thu Dec 31, 2009 at 01:05:07 PM EST
    But Spencer is saying no one did anything wrong and that there is nothing we can do about this except impose a police state.

    This is sheer nonsense.


    Sure (5.00 / 1) (#48)
    by Steve M on Thu Dec 31, 2009 at 01:16:31 PM EST
    and I think you are obviously correct that a wide variety of interested parties are using Spencer as a mouthpiece in order to broadcast their theories that it was someone else's fault.

    Based on what I know at this point, I come out squarely on the side of trying to fix our intelligence-sharing systems rather than adopting a policy that would necessarily revoke thousands of visas or significantly inconvenience thousands of air travelers.  If these people were just showing up out of nowhere with bombs, I might feel like we don't have much of an alternative to the police-state stuff.  But it turns out that there seem to be very few actual surprises - we consistently get plenty of information on this stuff in advance, we just have a problem with A communicating the information to B.

    I will say, just to add a minor partisan postscript to all this, it is a scandal that we had to wait for a Democratic Congress in 2007 for the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission to be fully implemented in law.


    Sure ....You Don't Know What (none / 0) (#53)
    by norris morris on Sat Jan 02, 2010 at 12:00:06 AM EST
    you're talking about.

    Intel is a very complex business and if Obama and his outsourced cabinet haven't gotten it right, you no doubt have all the answers.
    At least one answer is really for sure.  Janet Napolitano is an incompetent clueless political hack. Brownie Napolitano is Chief of the free worlds Dept of homeland Security?  Really.

    The first step in getting security right is not to use the word 'draconian'.

    The second step in immediately improving national security is to replace Napolitano ASAP.