In the five days since the abortive attempt by the 23-year-old Nigerian student Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to detonate an explosive device onboard Northwest Flight 253, information has surfaced that indicates an ostensible breakdown in US intelligence and security that is extraordinary in both its character and scale.
Among the facts now known are the following:
" Abdulmutallab's father, a prominent retired banker and ex-government minister, had visited the US Embassy in Abuja more than a month before the attempted bombing to warn CIA officials that his son had become involved with Al Qaeda elements in Yemen. He provided them with information with which the young man could have been located, and he followed up his visit with at least two phone calls.
" For at least four months, US intelligence had information from Yemen that Al Qaeda operatives there were preparing "a Nigerian" for a terrorist attack.
" The information from Yemen was further substantiated by the National Security Agency's interception of communications discussing preparations for an impending attack and the use of the "Nigerian."
Moreover, Abdulmutallab's $2,800 ticket was paid for with cash, apparently at the last minute, and he made the transatlantic trip having checked no luggage, carrying only a backpack.
Then there is the story told by a passenger on the plane, Kurt Haskell, a Michigan lawyer, who claims that he saw Abdulmutallab approach the airline ticket counter in Amsterdam accompanied by a well-dressed South Asian man, who told the Northwest ticket agent that the young Nigerian needed to fly without a passport.
"He's from Sudan, we do this all the time," the older man told the agent, Haskell recounted. He said that the agent then directed them to the office of the airline's local manager.
Normally, any one of these things would have triggered intense scrutiny before Abdulmutallab was allowed to board the plane.
Once again, as in the wake of September 11, 2001, the government and the media are peddling the explanation that all of these extraordinary lapses were the product of mere negligence or a "failure to connect the dots."
Eight years after 9/11, with all of the still unanswered questions surrounding the attacks that were used to justify an explosion of American militarism, the attempt to gloss over an event that nearly cost the lives of 300 people with this hackneyed metaphor does not hold water.
The general outlines of the Northwest bombing attempt and the 9/11 attacks are startlingly similar. One might even say that what is involved is a modus operandi. In both cases, those alleged to have carried out the actions had been the subject of US intelligence investigations and surveillance and had been allowed to enter the country and board flights under conditions that would normally have set off multiple security alarms.
Both then and now, the government and the media expect the public to accept that all that was involved was mistakes. But why should anyone assume that the failure to act on the extensive intelligence leading to Abdulmutallab involved merely "innocent" mistakes--and not something far more sinister?
If this episode is to be examined seriously, the question must be asked: What would have happened had Northwest Flight 253 been destroyed?
There is no question but that such a catastrophe would have had immense repercussions both internationally and within the United States. It would have seriously destabilized the Obama administration, politically strengthened the most extreme right-wing sections of the ruling class, and cleared the way for an even more massive expansion of military-intelligence operations overseas and a drastic curtailing of democratic rights at home.Even the failed attempt has touched off a firestorm of criticism by the Republican right of the Obama administration's supposed laxity in the face of terrorism.
This found its distilled expression in a statement released Wednesday by former Vice President Dick Cheney.