The National Counterterrorism Center May Have Dropped The Ball
The New York Times, in reporting on the security failures responsible for failing to detect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab and his failed bomb attempt, focuses on the National Counterterrorism Center -- and discloses there was electronic surveillance:
That's the agency that supposed to act as a fusion center, connecting dots in information received from various agencies, so that the failures in intelligence gathering associated with 911 don't happen again.
The remedy, proposed by the Sept. 11 commission and passed by Congress in 2004, was to place a single director of intelligence over the nation’s 16 spy agencies. At the core would be the National Counterterrorism Center.
...Intelligence analysts from one agency now routinely serve for a time in another agency, to develop personal ties. Databases of suspected terrorists are far more complete and accessible. The ban on hoarding data is strictly enforced.
So what's the problem? Maybe we're wiretapping so much and accumulating so much information, much of which is useless, it's not possible to accommodate it all and isolate the information that matters. [More...]
...the flood of intelligence collected against a scattered and shadowy terrorist network continues to grow, threatening to overwhelm the system,
....The eavesdropping agency, tracking e-mail and cellphone traffic around the world, each day collects four times the volume of information stored in the Library of Congress...'To pluck out the important threats is an almost impossible task.'
On the eavesdropping, the article says:
In the case of Mr. Abdulmutallab, the N.S.A. appears to have captured critical intercepts...
...[T]wo critical pieces of information appear never to have been connected: National Security Agency intercepts of Qaeda operatives in Yemen talking about using a Nigerian man for an attack, and a warning from Mr. Abdulmutallab’s father to American diplomats in Nigeria about the son’s radicalization in Yemen.
So we've been wiretapping and/or seizing e-mails of Yemeni al Qaida members and we still missed the plot?
Then, of course, there's the 9/11 commission chief who sounds like he hasn't even read the reports. He says:
“Think of what it took for the father, one of the most respected bankers in Nigeria, to walk into the American Embassy and turn in his own son,” Mr. Kean said. “The father’s a hero. His visit by itself should have been enough to set off all kinds of alarms.”
The father was not trying to turn in his son. He didn't say he thought his son might be on a suicide bombing mission involving airplanes. He was looking for someone to help him find his son, and he said he thought his son had fallen in with religious extremists.
And maybe if they didn't have this glut of information, the unrelated report from intercepts of al Qaeda operatives in Yemen talking about using a Nigerian man for an attack would have been easier to connect to the father's report.
The intercepts, according to Reuters, were at least four months ago.
The intelligence trail began at least four months ago, when the U.S. National Security Agency intercepted communications between al Qaeda leaders in Yemen discussing the possibility of using a "Nigerian" bomber, according to one official briefed on the intelligence.
The father came in one month ago. How much useless information did the computers and people monitoring them have to sift through in that three month period?
This companion article in the Times has more on the electronic intercepts and reports:
Based on the father’s account, C.I.A. officials in Nigeria also prepared a separate report compiling biographical information about Mr. Abdulmutallab, including his educational background and the fact that he was considering pursuing academic studies in Islamic law in Yemen.
That cable was sent to C.I.A. headquarters in Langley, Va., but not disseminated to other intelligence agencies, government officials said on Wednesday.
So the CIA didn't share.
What to expect now: Lots of leaks and back-stabbing from the CIA that discredit the NCTCand its Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair. Why? Because Obama said heads will roll and the CIA is going to try to pass the blame -- and the NCTC is new and small and the CIA knows more about using dirty tricks.
The CIA may have a tough time though, considering it now has to account for its security failure in yesterday's Afghan attack that killed 8 CIA officers. The CIA failure sounds like a far more serious security breach:
The facility that was targeted -- Forward Operating Base Chapman -- is in the eastern Afghan province of Khost, which borders North Waziristan, the Pakistani tribal area that is believed to be al-Qaeda's home base.
...It is unclear exactly how the assailant managed to gain access to the heavily guarded U.S.-run post, which serves as an operations and surveillance center for the CIA. The bomber struck in what one U.S. official described as the base's fitness center.
For a suicide bomber to gain access to to a CIA operations and surveillance center is pretty incredible. Sounds like one of them had an informant that went south on them or one (or more) of their Afghan counterparts went rogue and helped the terrorists. Either way, that's a huge failure.
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