The Strange Case of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab

Despite some $40 billion dollars spent by the American people on airline security since 2001, allegedly to thwart attacks on the heimat, the botched attempt by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to bring down Northwest Airlines Flight 253 over Detroit on Christmas Day was foiled, not by a bloated counterterrorist bureaucracy, but by the passengers themselves.

Talk about validating that old Wobbly slogan: Direct action gets the goods!

And yet, the closer one looks at the available evidence surrounding the strange case of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the more sinister alleged “intelligence failures” become. As this story unfolds it is becoming abundantly clear that U.S. security officials had far more information on the would-be lap bomber than we’ve been told.

The Observer revealed January 3 that the British secret state had Abdulmutallab on their radar for several years and that he had become “politically involved” with “extremist networks” while a student at University College London, where he served as president of the Islamic Society.

Examining “e-mail and text traffic,” security officers claim to have belatedly discovered that “he has been in contact with jihadists from across the world since 2007.”

Indeed, The Sunday Times disclosed that the 23-year-old terrorism suspect was “‘reaching out’ to extremists whom MI5 had under surveillance.” The officials said that Abdulmutallab was “‘starting out on a journey’ in Britain” that culminated with last week’s attempt to destroy Flight 253.

It is claimed by unnamed “British officials” that “none of this information was passed” to their American counterparts; on the face of it, this appears to be a rank mendacity.

The Sunday Times further reported that security officials have “now passed a file” to American counterterrorism officers that show “his repeated contacts with MI5 targets who were subject to phone taps, email intercepts and other forms of surveillance.”

None of this should surprise anyone, however. In light of multiple prior warnings which preceded past terrorist atrocities, the selective leaking of information to the British media in its own way, buttresses the official story that the near-tragedy aboard Flight 253 was simply the result of ubiquitous “intelligence failures.”

But as we have seen with Mohamed Atta, Richard Reid and Mohammad Sidique Khan, Abdulmutallab’s “journey” was one undertaken by many before, often with a wink-and-a-nod by British and American security officials when it served the geostrategic ambitions of their political masters.

As security researcher and analyst Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed wrote in New Internationalist in October: “Islamist terrorism cannot be understood without acknowledging the extent to which its networks are being used by Western military intelligence services, both to control strategic energy resources and to counter their geopolitical rivals. Even now, nearly a decade after 9/11, covert sponsorship of al-Qaeda networks continues.”

Networks which Ahmed and other analysts such as Michel Chossudovsky, Peter Dale Scott and Richard Labévière have painstakingly documented, enjoy the closest ties with Western intelligence agencies stretching back decades.

That intelligence officers, including those at the highest levels of the secret state’s security apparat, did nothing to hamper an alleged al-Qaeda operative from getting on that plane–in a chilling echo of the 9/11 attacks–calls into question the thin tissue of lies outlined in the official narrative.

An Intelligence “Failure,” or a Wild “Success” for Security Corporations?

Charged December 26 with attempting to blow up a U.S. airliner, according to The Washington Post Abdulmutallab “was listed in a U.S. terrorism database.”

The Post reported that the suspect’s name “was added in November to the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment, or TIDE.” It is further described as a “catch-all list” which “contains about 550,000 individuals” and is maintained by “the Office of the Director of National Intelligence at the National Counterterrorism Center.”

However, The New York Times revealed December 31 that the “National Security Agency four months ago intercepted conversations among leaders of Al Qaeda in Yemen discussing a plot to use a Nigerian man for a coming terrorist attack.”

Times‘ reporters Mark Mazzetti and Eric Lipton, citing unnamed “government officials,” disclosed that “the electronic intercepts were translated and disseminated across classified computer networks” months before Abdulmutallab boarded Flight 253 in Amsterdam.

But when the NSA intercepts landed at the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), overseen by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), analysts there “did not synthesize the eavesdropping intelligence with information gathered in November” when Abdulmutallab’s father provided the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria crucial information on his son’s involvement with the Afghan-Arab database of disposable Western intelligence assets, also known as al-Qaeda.

Seeking comment from NCTC proved to be a daunting task. As the Times delicately put it, “officials at the counterterrorist center … maintained a stoic silence on Wednesday, noting that the review ordered by President Obama was still under way.”

Despite revelations in the British press, the White House maintains that U.S. intelligence agencies “did not miss a ‘smoking gun'” that could have prevented the botched attack, the Associated Press reported January 3.

White House aide John Brennan, citing “lapses” and “errors” in sharing intelligence said, “There was no single piece of intelligence that said, ‘this guy is going to get on a plane.'”

As we will soon see, Mr. Brennan has every reason to hide behind such mendacities.

Investigative journalist Tim Shorrock, the author of the essential book Spies For Hire, reported in CorpWatch, that NCTC is an outsourced counterterrorist agency chock-a-block with security contractors in the heavily-leveraged homeland security market.

Indeed, The Analysis Corporation (TAC), a wholly-owned subsidiary of defense and intelligence contractor Global Strategies Group/North America, “specializes in providing counterterrorism analysis and watchlists to U.S. government agencies.”

“It is best known” according to Shorrock, “for its connection to John O. Brennan, its former CEO, a 35-year veteran of the CIA and currently President Obama’s chief counterterrorism adviser. Brennan, the first director of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), retired from government in November 2005 and immediately joined TAC.”

Shorrock reports that “much of TAC’s business is with the NCTC itself. In fact, the NCTC is one of the company’s largest customers, and TAC provides counterterrorism (CT) support to ‘most of the agencies within the intelligence community,’ according to a company press release. One of its biggest customers is the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which manages the NCTC.”

“During the 1990s” Shorrock relates, “TAC developed the U.S. government’s first terrorist database, ‘Tipoff,’ on behalf of the State Department.”

Shorrock chronicles how “the database was initially conceived as a tool to help U.S. consular officials and customs inspectors determine if foreigners trying to enter the United States were known or suspected terrorists.”

In the wake of the 9/11 attacks and subsequent reorganization of the U.S. security bureaucracy, the investigative journalist tells us that “in 2003, management of the database–which received information collected by a large number of agencies including the CIA, NSA, and FBI–was transferred to the CIA’s Terrorist Threat Integration Center (TTIC) and, later, to the National Counterterrorism Center.”

“In 2005” Shorrock discloses, “Tipoff was expanded and renamed the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment, or TIDE, and fingerprint and facial recognition software was added to help identify suspects as they crossed U.S. borders.”

Despite the utter worthlessness of a bloated database containing more than 1.3 million names according to the American Civil Liberties Union, and not the grossly undercounted figure of 550,000 cited by corporate media, TIDE has been a boon for TAC.

“In the five years after 9/11” Shorrock reveals, “its income quintupled, from less than $5 million in 2001 to $24 million in 2006. In 2006, TAC increased its visibility in the intelligence community by creating a ‘senior advisory board’ that included three heavy hitters from the CIA: former Director George J. Tenet, former Chief Information Officer Alan Wade, and former senior analyst John P. Young.”

And what have the American people gained from inflating the corporatist bottom line? In light of the Christmas Day bombing attempt, not much.

As investigative journalists Susan and Joseph Trento revealed in their overlooked but highly-disturbing 2006 book, Unsafe At Any Altitude, most of the 9/11 hijackers, including Mohamed Atta, Hani Hanjour, Khalid al-Mihdhar and Majed Moqed “were flagged by CAPPS (Computer-Assisted Passenger Prescreening System).”

But because of CIA and FBI monkey-business that rendered watch-list information useless to stop suspected terrorists from boarding an airliner, “the only thing that was done as a result was that the baggage of several members of the Al Qaeda team was held on the ground until the cabin crew confirmed they had boarded as passengers.”

And when you consider that Abdulmutallab didn’t even have any baggage to check, alleged security “lapses” are even more glaring.

According to the Trentos, “the FBI, CIA, NSA, and Department of Homeland Security refuse to give the airlines an accurate no fly list, thereby allowing the most threatening terrorists to continue to fly.” Is there a pattern here? You bet there is!

An unnamed “counterterrorist official” told The Wall Street Journal December 31: “‘If you look back to these audit reports, there are significant issues raised with the accuracy and omissions to the watchlisting process that haven’t been fixed, clearly,’ as of Dec. 25. ‘Essentially you’re screening blindly, and that’s not effective’.”

However, we can be sure there will be very little in the way of a hard-hitting investigation into this alleged security breach. The New York Times reported that TAC’s former CEO John O. Brennan, has been “granted a special ethics waiver … to conduct a review of the intelligence and screening breakdown that preceded the failed Christmas Day bombing attempt on an American passenger plane over Detroit.”

Enter the CIA, Stage (Far) Right

What “other government agency” may have suppressed intelligence on the would-be bomber?

The CBS Evening News revealed December 29 that “as early as August of 2009,” tracking closely with the time-frame of NSA intercepts, “the Central Intelligence Agency was picking up information on a person of interest dubbed ‘The Nigerian,’ suspected of meeting with ‘terrorist elements’ in Yemen.”

Unnamed “intelligence sources” told CBS, “‘The Nigerian’ has now turned out to be Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.” But that connection “was not made when Abdulmutallab’s father went to the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria three months later, on November 19, 2009. It was then he expressed deep concerns to a CIA officer about his son’s ties to extremists in Yemen, a hotbed of al Qaeda activity.” CBS claims “this information was not connected until after the attempted Christmas Day bombing.”

Earlier reports have alleged that Umar’s father, a wealthy Nigerian banker and former high state official, Alhaji Umaru Mutallab, had only provided Embassy officials with a vague concern that his son’s estrangement “may have” something to do with his growing “religious fervor.” This too, turns out to be a lie.

The Times reported that a “family cousin quoted the father as warning officials from the State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency in Nigeria: ‘Look at the texts he’s sending. He’s a security threat’.”

Nothing vague in this disclosure, but rather more concrete evidence in the form of “texts” which we now know were shortstopped by British security and included “phone taps, email intercepts and other forms of surveillance” by MI5 that led an anguished father to express well-placed fears about his son to U.S officials.

But as the Times were told by their source, “They promised to look into it. They didn’t take him seriously.”

And here’s where things take a decidedly malevolent turn. According to the Times, “C.I.A. officials in Nigeria also prepared a separate report compiling biographical information about Mr. Abdulmutallab, including his educational background and the fact that he was considering pursuing academic studies in Islamic law in Yemen.”

“That cable was sent to C.I.A. headquarters in Langley, Va.,” Mark Mazzetti and Eric Lipton disclosed, “but not disseminated to other intelligence agencies, government officials said on Wednesday.”

Then again, perhaps they knew all-too-well of Abdulmutallab’s glide path and chose instead to turn a blind eye. Coming on the heels of disclosures in the British media, the evidence suggests that CIA intelligence provided by NSA intercepts, their own on-the-ground operatives in Yemen and MI5 surveillance reports were scrupulously ignored by factions within the secret state who sat on critical information that withheld, would disarm and paralyze normal security procedures in the face of an attack they knew was imminent.

We were told by corporate media, infamously serving as an echo chamber for grifting politicians, Bushist officials and the 9/11 Commission’s 2004 whitewash, that the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks resulted from “a failure of imagination” by counterterrorism officials to “connect the dots.”

Seems there were plenty of “dots” in Abdulmutallab’s case and yet, inexplicably, if you buy the official story, and sinisterly, if you don’t, not a single one was “connected” prior to the time he took his seat on Flight 253.

Despite the fact that Abdulmutallab was denied re-entry into Britain, paid $2,800 in cash for his “ticket to Paradise,” and had no luggage that normally would accompany a person holding a 2-year entry visa into the U.S., the erstwhile lap bomber scored a goal each time and eluded every intrusive “profile” presumably in place to keep us “safe.” Talk about a hat trick!

Available evidence suggests that Abdulmutallab should have landed on TSA’s hush-hush “Selectee list” for additional screening, or the agency’s “No-fly list.” And given NSA intercepts and a CIA biographical report on the suspect, this alone should have barred him from entering the country if “normal” security procedures were followed. They weren’t.

As The Independent on Sunday reported last week, “the revelation of Abdulmutallab’s background has confounded terror experts.” One such “expert,” Dr Magnus Ranstorp of the Center for Asymmetric Threat Studies at the Swedish National Defence College, told IoS that “the attempted bombing ‘didn’t square’.”

“On the one hand” Ranstorp said, “it seems he’s been on the terror watch list but not on the no-fly list.”

“That doesn’t square” Ranstorp elaborated, “because the American Department for Homeland Security has pretty stringent data-mining capability. I don’t understand how he had a valid visa if he was known on the terror watch list.”

Good question, Dr. Ranstorp. Perhaps because someone wanted him on that plane. The question is, who?

One would have thought, given the “special treatment” afforded antiwar activists by TSA at airports, that a warning about Abdulmutallab’s possible involvement with terrorists, by his own father no less, a former top official in a government friendly to Washington, numerous NSA intercepts, a CIA dossier and MI5 reports would have raised at least one red flag!

In the suspect’s case, there were so many red flags flying you’d have thought the Red Army was parading through Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport!

Then again, perhaps Abdulmutallab was on that plane because, as journalist Daniel Hopsicker was told by a former aviation executive during his investigation of the 9/11 attacks: “Sometimes when things don’t make business sense … its because they do make sense…just in some other way.”

As the World Socialist Web Site points out:

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? (Bill Van Auken, “The Northwest Flight 253 intelligence failure: Negligence or conspiracy?,” World Socialist Web Site, December 31, 2009)

And so dear readers with are left to ponder the question, cui bono? Who would benefit politically from a major terrorist incident on American soil, ready, willing and able to step into the breach and exploit the catastrophic loss of human life that would follow in its wake?

Who indeed.

Tom Burghardt is a researcher and activist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. His articles are published in many venues. He is the editor of Police State America: U.S. Military "Civil Disturbance" Planning, distributed by AK Press. Read other articles by Tom, or visit Tom's website.

6 comments on this article so far ...

Comments RSS feed

  1. jon s said on January 4th, 2010 at 2:42pm #

    See this, for a different take:

    My Classmate, the Plane Bomber
    by Venetia Thompson
    December 30, 2009 | 10:51pm

    Tim Ireland / PA Wire / AP Photo; U.S. Marshal’s Service / AP Photo The man who tried to blow up Flight 253 on Christmas allegedly turned toward al Qaeda at London University. Alum Venetia Thompson on going to school at terrorism’s Ivy League.

    When former University College London mechanical engineering student Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attempted to blow up a plane on Christmas Day, he became the fourth president of a student Islamic society to face terrorist charges in three years. Waheed Zaman, former president of the Islam Society at London Metropolitan University, is facing a retrial on charges that he was involved in the 2006 liquid-bomb plot to blow up trans-Atlantic airliners, and two others have been convicted of terrorist offenses since 2007. The government-funded Islam and Citizenship Education Project, which aims to encourage British citizenship to be taught in madrassahs, and even supplies teaching materials, clearly has a lot of work to do, as do British universities.

    “Everyone knows London universities are full of would-be nutters honing their engineering skills whilst simultaneously becoming increasingly religious. It’s one hell of a dangerous combo when you think about it.”

    When I was in my final year at UCL, the “Christmas undie bomber” would have been in his first year, a “fresher.” We may even have crossed paths in the library or Students’ Union. Like all freshers, he would have attended the annual Freshers’ Fair and signed up to various clubs and societies, probably ignoring the Ultimate Frisbee Society and the Wilderness Medicine Society and making a bee-line for the Islamic Society, which he would then go on to lead. Whilst I was getting drunk and becoming increasingly convinced I was going to fail my finals, somewhere nearby he was beginning to be radicalized.

    I had various encounters with the UCL Islamic Society, from the relatively innocent (constantly trying to get me to sign their anti-Israel or anti-Iraq war petitions, to wear one of their “Free Palestine” T-shirts, or to take one of their seemingly endless supply of leaflets promoting protests, sit-ins, and lectures by extremists) to the slightly more sinister (the friends I made in first year whom I gradually saw less and less of, and who even began dressing more conservatively as they became more involved with the society, or the girl I knew who told me she was warned against adopting “their”­as in our “Western”­culture by an older student she’d met during Freshers’ Week).

    One former UCL student even says he was told whilst enjoying a pint in the union that it was his “duty” as a Muslim to attend society meetings and that he was frequently invited to Islamic study groups. He jokes that he was “probably seen as a sitting duck­I was even studying ‘bomb-making,’ as we affectionately referred to the Department of Chemical Engineering.”…

  2. Maryb said on January 4th, 2010 at 3:36pm #

    I can’t imagine there are two Venetia Thompsons and if the author of the tripe above is the same one described in this piece
    I would say that she not a very credible source for some serious journalism.

    She also writes for the Spectator, a right wing magazine owned by the Barclay Brothers who own the Daily Telegraph also right wing. Amongst the Spectator’s authors is Martin Bright who was the editor of the New Statesman and who is now the political editor of the Jewish Chronicle.

    Ms Thompson’s articles include
    – Obama is an Othello for our times
    White men only pretend to admire the presidential contender,
    Beneath their supposed approval lurk primeval racist fears of the black ‘super-male’-
    – Lycra-clad assassins on wheels
    Just the idea of the Copenhagen summit is enough to fill me with dread. Not because I’m frightened of global warming or enforced vegetarianism, or because I’m worried that environmental…
    – The market is flooded with single City boys
    I’m back behind enemy lines in the Square Mile, thankfully nowhere near the trading floor I used to inhabit, but in a place nearly as terrifying

    ROTFLOL as they say.

  3. Rehmat said on January 4th, 2010 at 6:33pm #

    The New York Times quoted Barack Obama saying: “A full investigation has been launched in this attempted act of terrorism and we will not rest until we find all who were involved and hold them accountable….. This was a serious reminder of the danger we face and the nature of those who threaten our homeland.”

    And hold on to your hats – Al-Qaeda was more than glad to take the credit for this latest ’air terror’ – as expected!!

    According to the ‘official story’ – A Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdul Muttalab 23, on Christmas Day tried to blow-up a Trans-Atlantic Northwest Airlines plane over Detriot – using a sophisticated explosive device sewn into his underwear. However, its makeshift detonator allegedly failed to work due to Obama’s “heroic actions of passengers and crew”.

    Now cutting the numerous consipracy crap to blame Muslims for another act of ‘terrorism’ – I have just one question for the paranoid ‘Islamophobes’. How the heck Umar Farouk Abdul Muttalab was able to escape with his explosive device at Amsterdam Airport which uses ‘made in Israel’ the full body SEE YOUR NAKED BUTT scanners?

    The security at Amsterdam airport is run by Israeli ICTS, the very same company which ran security at every single airport from which the 9-11 terrorists departed, apparently, also bypassing security checks. According to the company’s website: “ICTS is the main security vendor for the European operations of Continental Airlines, Delta Airlines, and United Airlines. We are also the sole provider of security services at all of American Airlines and US Airways European stations”.

  4. Mulga Mumblebrain said on January 5th, 2010 at 12:54am #

    Well done, MaryB. Well researched. Abdulmuttalab sounds to me to have been a decent,humane human being, outraged by the murder of millions of Moslem innocents. These deaths are, in contrast, seen by the likes of Zionists as ‘mitzvahs’ or good deeds, religious offerings to the genocidal Judaic ‘God’, itself a projection of perverted Zionist psyches. Abdulmuttalab, it is increasingly plain, was a Lee Harvey Oswald type patsy,set up and cultivated by Western intelligence utilising their creation ‘al Qaeda’. That said, attempting to kill innocent Westerners is wicked, as is all murder of innocents (and support for such murders, jon) and foolish, as it plays into the hands of the Zionazi hatemongers. If the attack had succeeded (or indeed now that it has failed) it was designed to increase hatred for Moslems, to facilitate the spread of Zionists’s sacred slaughter to Yemen and to increase Western enthusiasm to complete Israel’s War of Terror to destroy the Islamic Middle East.

  5. Maryb said on January 5th, 2010 at 2:39am #

    I agree that there is a lot more to come out as the stink of rotten fish intensifies. I think they have messed up big time on this one and the cat will not stay in the bag to use another metaphor!

    Some more on a Mossad connection here written by an ex Marine who I assume is a reliable source.

    Subject: They So Desperately Want That Naval Base in Yemen.
    Date: Tuesday, 5 January, 2010, 5:21

    More “Coincidences” regard the Detroit Bomber

    Mutallab’s father is no ordinary ‘banker’ he ran the national arms industry (DICON) in partnership with Israel, in particular, the Mossad.

    The second comment on the article is aposite.

    There are also these important eye-witness statements on a CNN video.

    The case is

  6. Rehmat said on January 5th, 2010 at 11:31pm #

    “The truth is there is no Islamic army or terrorist group called Al-Qaeda. And any informed intelligence officer knows this. But, there is propaganda campaign to make the public believe in the presence of an identified entity representing the ‘devil’ only in order to drive TV watchers to accept a unified international leadership for a war against terrorism. The country behind this propaganda is the US….” Former British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook.

    Whose Al-Qaeda?