There is that old saying, “almost doesn’t count, except in horse shoes.” It certainly doesn’t count when trying to catch a terrorist with a bomb attached to his a private parts, designed to explode an airplane to smithereens over a major city. Today the LA Times discovered that the US learned some new intelligence about Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab right after his plane took off from Amsterdam. Government Officials were going to be interviewing the terrorist as soon as he landed in Detroit.
If the intelligence had been discovered sooner, it could have resulted in the interrogation and search of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab before he boarded the Amsterdam-to-Detroit flight, senior law enforcement officials said.
“The people in Detroit were prepared to look at him in secondary inspection,” said a senior law enforcement official who requested anonymity because the investigation is ongoing. “The decision had been made. The . . . database had picked up the State Department concern about this guy, that this guy may have been involved with extremist elements in Yemen. . . . They could have made a decision on whether to stop him from getting on the plane.”
…Even if U.S. border enforcement officials had learned of the Nigerian’s alleged extremist links in time, it is not clear the intelligence was strong enough to cause Dutch officials to search him or block him from flying, officials said. The threshold for requiring a foreign visitor to undergo special scrutiny upon arrival in the United States is considerably lower than criteria for preventing him from getting on the plane overseas, according to current and former law enforcement officials. That is why border enforcement officials rely heavily on terrorism watch lists, officials said.
That wasn’t the most uncomfortable information the Times found out:
“The public isn’t aware how many people are allowed to travel through the U.S. who are linked, who intersect with bad guys or alleged bad guys,” a national security official said. “It makes sense from an intelligence perspective. If they are not considered dangerous, it provides intelligence on where they go, who they meet with.“
Moreover, the window for identifying a passenger as a potential threat before boarding is limited, according to a senior homeland security official. Although U.S. border enforcement officials have access to passenger data based on reservation lists and use them for preliminary assessments, the in-depth vetting by Customs and Border Protection only begins once the flight manifest has been generated, just a few hours before takeoff, and focuses on potential actions to take at the U.S. border, the official said.
No more sleeping on planes, I’m flying paranoid.
As a result, the intelligence about Abdulmutallab was discovered in a database by Customs and Border Protection inspectors based at the National Targeting Center in Washington once the plane was airborne, the other law enforcement officials said. The administration’s review of screening now underway includes an effort to make more information accessible to U.S.inspectors further in advance of flights, the senior law enforcement official said.
Customs and Border Protection spokesmen declined to comment because the investigation is still open.
On one hand this information may make one feel a bit more comfortable, even with all of the screw ups, they almost stopped the terrorists. On the other hand, it is extremely maddening to know that better execution could have stopped the attack, but a few screw-ups allowed it to happen.And I guess this points out the final screw-up. No one called the pilot to say, “Hey You Got a Bad Guy on the plane.”
The people on Flight 253 were only saved by the Grace of God, and a lousy fuse.