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Storm petrels

December 27th, 2009 - 4:09 am
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Rep Pete Hoekstra blinks out a message to the public by raising a series of loaded questions in a Fox News interview.

  • Has the al-Qaeda franchise in Yemen made a strategic decision to attack the United States?
  • The Ft Hood shooter was also connected to Yemen, “is there a pattern”?
  • Is US intelligence failing to connect the dots?
  • Is the White House stonewalling on inquiries by the House?
  • Is al-Qaeda evolving techniques to “get [weapons] into other environments where they can do significant damage”?


Byron York recently wrote that President Obama has responded to the NWA incident differently from the Hasan case at Fort Hood. For one, the President did not hesitate to call the aerial attack terrorism, unlike the Fort Hood incident, where despite the obvious Islamic extremism of Major Hassan and his connection to Yemen, the public was warned not to “jump to conclusions”. This time Obama was worried, but was keeping the reasons for concern to himself. Byron York writes:

The White House messaging on the Flight 253 affair stands in stark contrast to its handling of the massacre at Ft. Hood, Texas in which Obama, on the day after the killings, cautioned the public against “jumping to conclusions” about the murders of 13 people, and then, a day later, declared that “we cannot fully know” accused killer Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan’s motives. Now, the administration is openly using the T-word.

But it appears the White House’s press outreach has been more extensive than its outreach to actual officials in the government. “They’re keeping information very tight, in terms of not giving it to Congress,” says Republican Rep. Peter King, who has been on television frequently in the hours since the incident. “There are not too many details coming out.”

In his appearances, King, the ranking Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, has been described as having been “briefed” on the issue. It turns out he has been briefed, but not by the administration. “When I say ‘briefing,’ these are people on my staff who are in contact with people in the government agencies,” King says. So far, King has had just one contact with the administration: a phone call from Homeland Security deputy secretary Jane Holl Lute, who told him about airport security measures. Beyond that, nothing. “As far as all the other details I’ve gotten, they came from sources that we have in the government,” King says. “I understand the Democrats are getting the same treatment, so it’s not a partisan thing.”

King’s talking points, including his suggestion of an investigation, are too similar to Hoekstra’s to be coincidental. The obvious working theory to cover this narrative is that there’s a worry among some Republicans that something big is in the works and the President is either sitting on it because he doesn’t want to tip his hand to the enemy, panic the public or — if you’re a conspiracy theorist — let on that the intelligence apparatus is in a shambles. It may in fact be a combination of all three.

One possibility is that busy bees have been building information firewalls again. If that has happened, the databases and their schemas may have diverged and it will take time to sync them back again, provided someone wants to. The internal report on the Fort Hood incident may have scared the living daylights out of President Obama, and it may be the reason why he reacted more quickly to the NWA incident. If he knows there’s a window of relative vulnerability until the worst of the problems can be put right — assuming there’s anything wrong to start with — then until that time Obama will be as nervous as a long tailed cat in a roomful of rocking chairs

Probably the most worrying indication that the dots aren’t being connected are reports from Britain that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had been barred from Britain after the UK border agency determined he was re-entering to attend a diploma mill.

Abdulmutallab was from a privileged background. His father, Dr Alhaji Umaru Mutallab, was until recently the head of First Bank of Nigeria and had been a government minister during the 1970s.

Abdulmutallab studied engineering for three years at University College London. His father said yesterday that he had lost contact with his son after he left London in November last year.

He attempted to return to Britain for a six-month course in May this year but was refused by officials from the UK Border Agency.

“He was refused entry on grounds that he was applying to study at an educational establishment that we didn’t consider to be genuine,” a Whitehall official said.

Another hearing will be held on Monday in federal court in Detroit and bail will not be considered until a separate hearing on January 8.

But it would not be inconceivable that the British were worried about something else besides the unlikely possibility that this wealthy young student who roomed in a multi-million pound mansion wanted to overstay and live on the dole. Maybe the UK had access to the American databases naming Mutallab as a shady character or they had additional reasons of their own for keeping him out. Considering that Britain is home to many radical Islamists it would be interesting to speculate what reasons spurred the Brown government to close the door in his face and whether they communicated these concerns to the USA.

Only a week ago British authorities warned that a Mumbai-style attack was coming to London. Hoekstra’s warning that al-Qaeda may be seeking access “to other environments where they can do significant damage” was foreshadowed in this Online Times report:

Scotland Yard has warned businesses in London to expect a Mumbai-style attack on the capital.

In a briefing in the City of London 12 days ago, a senior detective from SO15, the Metropolitan police counter-terrorism command, said: “Mumbai is coming to London.”

The detective said companies should anticipate a shooting and hostage-taking raid “involving a small number of gunmen with handguns and improvised explosive devices”.

The warning — the bluntest issued by police — has underlined an assessment that a terrorist cell may be preparing an attack on London early next year.

Most of the casualties in a Mumbai style attack will be inflicted in the first half hour, before an effective police response can be mounted. The British were worried about the time it would take for the SAS to rush from their barracks to save an unarmed British public. Parts of the United States, especially areas designated “gun free zones” might be as vulnerable as London.

The Met is understood to be struggling to draw up effective plans to deal with the challenge of mass shootings followed by a prolonged siege with terrorists prepared to kill their hostages and themselves.

In Mumbai, many victims were killed in the first half hour of the attack. The Met is concerned that it will be much longer before the SAS, which has traditionally dealt with terrorist sieges in London, would arrive from its base at Regent’s Park barracks.

Patrick Mercer, chairman of the Commons counter-terrorism sub-committee, said the threat was “very real”.

The threat may indeed be very real. Sooner or later that harsh realization may come to those who thought the War on Terror was over.


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