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Yesterday Newsweek revealed that on December 22nd, three days before the attempted underwear bombing, the President was warned that an attack might be imminent.

In a background briefing for reporters on December 29, also attributed in an official White House transcript to a “senior administration official”, that official asserted that in the wake of the attempted underpants attack, it had become clear to the President and top advisers that before Christmas, the US government was in possession of “bits and pieces” of information, which, if they had been properly knitted together, “could have…allowed us to disrupt the attack or certainly to know much more about the alleged attacker in such a way as to ensure that he was on, as the President suggested in his statement, a no-fly list.” 

Today there was a new revelation, the Obama administration had many more clues about the upcoming terrorist attack including the fact counterterrorism adviser John Brennan was briefed that al Qaeda was sending out terrorists with bombs in their briefs:

The briefing to Brennan was delivered at the White House by Muhammad bin Nayef, Saudi Arabia’s chief counterterrorism official. In late August, Nayef had survived an assassination attempt by an operative dispatched by the Yemeni branch of Al Qaeda who was pretending to turn himself in. The operative had tried to kill the Saudi prince by detonating a bomb on his body, but stumbled on his way into the prince’s palace and blew himself up.

Saudi officials initially thought the bomb had been secreted in the operative’s anal cavity. But after investigating the matter more thoroughly, they concluded it had likely been sewn into his underwear, thereby allowing the operative to bypass security checks before his meeting with the prince. A main purpose of Nayef’s briefing for Brennan was to alert U.S. officials to the use of the underwear technique.

The briefing for Brennan is among a series of pre-attack warnings suggesting the breakdown in the U.S. intelligence system prior to the Northwest attack may have been worse than has been publicly acknowledged.

If the knowledge was there I would have made sense for Airports to start using those x-ray machines back in October, and for the US to insist that foreign Airports to use similar technology.

U.S. officials now suspect that Nayef’s attempted assassin and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian suspect aboard the Northwest flight, had the same bomb maker in Yemen, intelligence experts tell NEWSWEEK. At the briefing for Brennan, Nayef was concerned because “he didn’t think [U.S. officials] were paying enough attention” to the growing threat from Al Qaeda in Yemen, said a former U.S. intelligence official familiar with the briefing. (A senior Saudi official told NEWSWEEK Saturday that “we don’t have any concerns that the U.S. government isn’t sufficiently concerned about Yemen. In the latter part of the Bush administration and in this administration, the U.S. has been very focused on the dangers emanating from Yemen.”)

The briefing for Brennan could raise questions on Capitol Hill about how widely information was shared within the government about the apparently new technique used by Al Qaeda. A senior administration official said, however, that within a week after the assassination attempt on Nayef, President Obama had dispatched Brennan to Saudi Arabia to discuss the attack. “The October visit by Prince Nayef to Washington was part of this ongoing cooperation, which included developing the forensics out of the attack,” the official said. “That forensics information was widely shared within the U.S. government, as is all information about the evolving threats and tactics employed by our enemies.”

…There were many warning signs coming out of Yemen. In early October, Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical cleric based in Yemen, posted a provocative message on his English-language Web site: “Could Yemen be the next surprise of the season?” Al-Awlaki hinted at an upcoming attack that would make Yemen “the single most important front of jihad in the world.”

Former U.S law-enforcement and intelligence officials are scathing about the U.S. government’s handling of pre-Christmas intelligence about Abdulmutallab and the prospect of a possible attack from Yemen. “The system should have been lighting up like a Christmas tree,” said Ali Soufan, a former senior FBI counterterrorism agent who spent years tracking Qaeda suspects in Yemen (and often battled with the CIA over information sharing).

The American people should be concerned that this Administration is not up to the task of protecting its citizens. 

When Abdulmutallab’s father visited the U.S. Embassy in Abuja, Nigeria, in November to report his concerns that his son might have been involved with Islamic extremists in Yemen, the FBI had no representative at the meeting; the FBI maintains an attaché only in Lagos on the southern coast, not in Abuja, the capital. But the CIA, which did have an officer present who wrote up a report on the meeting, never told the FBI about Abdulmutallab.

Much of the blame for the breakdown is being aimed at the National Counterterrorism Center, a unit of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which was created as part of a host of 9/11 reforms aimed at promoting better information sharing within the U.S. intelligence community. Frances Fragos Townsend, President Bush’s chief homeland-security adviser, says that analysts at the NCTC should have been pushing, or pinging, the system for more information on Abdulmutallab. “It was NCTC’s responsibility to connect the dots, and ask for additional dots if they don’t have enough,” she said. Instead, the original report about the visit of Abdulmutallab’s father appears to have been dropped in a “dead-letter file.”

Unfortunately until Northwest Airlines Flight 253 was almost scattered across Detroit, the President didn’t seem to take the threat of Islamic Terrorism seriously. Hopefully he will now, or else next time it wont be letters that will be dead.

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