U.S. Border Officials Discovered Christmas Bomber’s Extremist Ties While Plane in Air

January 7, 2010

(ChattahBox)—With an unclassified version of the review of intelligence failures that led to the attempted Christmas-day attack due to be released today, the LA Times reports that US border officials learned of the Nigerian’s extremist ties while the airline was in the air bound for Detroit. According to unnamed senior law enforcement officials, border security officials picked up intelligence from a State Department database linking Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to terrorists in Yemen. And they made the decision to subject Abdulmutallab to further screening and questioning as soon as he departed Northwest flight 253 in Detroit. The senior law enforcement officials say that it was unlikely that officials in Amsterdam had sufficient intelligence to detain Abdulmutallab, since he was not listed on either the selectee or the no-fly lists. The real intelligence failure say officials occurred long before the Nigerian would-be terrorist bomber boarded the airline, when security personnel failed to connect the dots with the information they had to place Abdulmutallab on the no-fly list.

“The people in Detroit were prepared to look at him in secondary inspection,” said a senior law enforcement official. “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.”

And according to the officials, if the various pieces of intelligence in various security databases had been properly shared and connected to Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian would have been detained in Amsterdam and prevented from boarding the plane bound for the United States. “They could have made the decision on whether to stop him from getting on the plane,” said the official.

But unless proper action had been taken, after connecting the dots in this case, to place the so called underwear bomber on the no-fly list, it’s unlikely US border officials in Amsterdam or Dutch police would have been able to stop him from boarding the plane.

According to the LA Times piece:

“The threshold for requiring a foreign visitor to undergo special scrutiny upon arrival in the United States is considerably lower than criteria for stopping a passenger’s departure overseas, according to current and former law enforcement officials. That is why border security agencies rely heavily on terrorism watch lists of suspects seen as urgent threats, officials said.”

Moreover, intelligence officials say that they allow passengers linked to extremists, whom are not on no-fly or selectee lists to frequently board airlines to keep tract of their movements. “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,” said a national security official. “It makes sense from an intelligence perspective. If they are not considered dangerous, it provides intelligence on where they go, who they meet with.”

And seeing the 23-year-old Nigerian on a low level watch list of about half a million names, there was no red flag alerting officials on either end of the Northwest flight that he was a dangerous terrorist.

The Obama administration plans to speak to the public today when the review on the Christmas-day plot is released. Counter-terrorism chief John Brennan and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, may also speak about the intelligence failures on Thursday.

See the LA Times for more on this story.


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