Learning From Mistakes
by J. R. Nyquist, Global Analyst. January 8, 2010
As Northwest Airlines Flight 253 approached Detriot, passengers heard what sounded like a firecracker. Then someone shouted "fire!" Passengers then noticed smoke coming from the crotch of a Nigerian man holding a device. Jasper Schuringa, a Dutch filmmaker, jumped across some seats and tore the device out of the Nigerian's hands. Allegedly tied to al Qaeda, Farouk Abdulmutallab has been charged with attempting to destroy an aircraft. Failing to ignite his incendiary device on Flight 253, he successfully ignited his underwear -- and thereby started a minor firestorm in Washington. Congressional hearings will begin this month, and President Barack Obama has made a statement on what he called "a systemic failure across organizations and agencies."
According to an Associated Press story, U.S. officials have known about Abdulmutallab's ties to terrorists for at least two years. Though security at the airport in the Netherlands was lax by American standards, some authorities feel that Abdulmutallab's name should have appeared on a no-fly list. Once again, it seems, U.S. agencies aren't sharing intelligence. What was wrong in 2001 is still wrong. Commissions may meet, and pundits may chatter, but America's intelligence bureaucracy is always a bureaucracy.
President Obama offered a firm, reassuring statement to the American people: "I have repeatedly made it clear ... that I will hold my staff, our agencies, and the people in them accountable when they fail to perform their responsibilities at the highest levels." The president further stated, "I am less interested in passing out blame than I am in learning from and correcting these mistakes to make us safer. For ultimately, the buck stops with me. As president I have a solemn responsibility to protect our nation and our people; and when the system fails it is my responsibility. We are at war. We are at war against al Qaeda, a far-reaching network of violence and hatred that attacked us on 9/11, that killed nearly three thousand innocent people and that is plotting to strike us again; and we will do whatever it takes to defeat them."
This is one of the strongest statements the president has made since taking office, replete with the U.S. president's favorite personal pronoun. But it is only a statement. Others have suggested that national security does not appear to be the president's area of strength. As President Bush failed to reform the so-called "intelligence community," there is no reason to suppose that President Obama will do any better. It is encouraging to hear the Chief Executive say the right thing. It remains to be seen whether he will do the right thing. It will not be easy to master a bureaucracy that has avoided accountability for so many years.
More significant than the attempt to bomb Flight 253 was a recent bombing that killed 7 CIA operatives and wounded six in Afghanistan. Protected by barriers, watch towers and barbed wire, the CIA operatives invited a terrorist to join them at a forward operating base in Khowst province near the Pakistan border. When he arrived at the base, the terrorist was not searched. They did not even suspect he was a terrorist. He was then admitted into the presence of his CIA victims where he detonated himself. According to the New York Times a double agent was responsible for the bombing. Recruited by the Jordanian intelligence service and sent to Afghanistan as an infiltrator, the agent turned on the CIA and his Jordanian handler. "The attack at the C.I.A. base dealt a devastating blow to the spy agency's operations against militants in the remote mountains of Afghanistan, eliminating an elite team using an informant with strong jihadi credentials."
Sometimes the credentials of a jihadist may be too strong, and it is always worthwhile to search a potential double-agent for wires or bombs. Such a person is less likely to light his underwear on fire, and more likely to detonate. The Taliban claimed credit for the bombing, and identified the bomber as Humam Khalil Mohammed, a Jordanian doctor.
Once again, ladies and gentlemen, we present the CIA. Please note: This is who they are, and this is what they do. Will they learn from their mistake? We may rest assured that whatever lessons are learned, they will be the wrong lessons.
© 2010 J. R. Nyquist