"Conspiracy or cock up?" White House reaction to ersatz bomber

Michael Collins

The underpants bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, is a curious terrorist. He became disillusioned with his privileged life as the son of a bank chairman and member of the Nigerian elite, it would seem. Rather than pursuing his studies in London, he retreated to Yemen to learn the ways of al Qaeda inspired terrorism.

Farouk was so indiscreet that his father reported him to the U.S. Embassy as a potential terrorist in November. A month later, he managed to get on a jumbo jet headed for Detroit to complete a terror mission. Despite his training in engineering at the prestigious London School of Economics, Farouk failed in his mission. He couldn’t mix his explosives to achieve the desired effect. He apparently forgot to detonate the explosive device in mid flight, waiting until just before landing in Detroit to start his task. He retrieved and set off the chemicals to create the explosion in full view of passengers.

What kind of terrorist is this? He doesn’t know when, how or where to conduct his criminal enterprise.

Is this the best al Qaeda can do?

Is this the justification to for a media manufactured scare-a-thon about the danger Farouk poses to our “freedoms?”

Or is this guy some sort of ringer in yet another moronic master plan ?

Pardon my cynicism about the perpetual power structure but there is a spectacular history of lying by those in power to further their own endeavors: Operation Northwoods; the Gulf of Tonkin incident; the perjured testimony about babies thrown out of incubators used to justify Gulf War I; the lies about WMD before Gulf War II; and so forth.

Few are willing to discuss deep conspiracies either as a real phenomena or as an influence on our nation’s history. The inquiring mind that wanders into that minefield is labeled a “conspiracy theorist” and shoved to the sidelines of public discourse.

But Judith Miller changed all that. She was the ultimate bogus conspiracy theorist who was endorsed and headlined by the New York Times. Who could tell bigger lies better than Miller.

Game on- January 4th

On January 4, 2010, Keith Olbermann ran a segment on Countdown that featured our curious terrorist and the apparatus that somehow missed him despite his concerned father’s pleadings. After the setup, current insider in chief and apparent White House spokesman, Richard Wolffe emerged. He provided some remarkable information from inside the White House deliberations.

“It’s clear the president is still deeply concerned and troubled and even angry at the intelligence lapses. They see this more as an intelligence lapse more than a situation of airport security faults. Why didn’t the centralized system of intelligence after 911, why didn’t it work.” Richard Wolffe, January 4

Wolffe then asked and answered this question:

“Is this conspiracy or cock up?”

“It seems that the president is leaning very much toward this as a systemic failure by individuals who maybe had an alternative agenda.” Wolffe

“An alternative agenda”– what could that mean?

On the 4th, the answer to the question, “why didn’t it work” was clearly on the side of the “alternative agenda” explanation. This was extraordinary.

Olbermann was like a dog on point with this question.

“… you suggested in there that the administration is looking into perhaps mixed motives or misplaced priorities. … Are people thought to have been deliberately withholding information so the dots cant’ be connected?” Keith Olbermann

Wolffe didn’t waiver and indicated that there was something seriously wrong with the intelligence process, particularly concerning the November intelligence gathered from Farouk’s father. Watch the segment starting at 3:50 and decide for yourself.

January 4 Countdown Wolffe at 3:50

Were we on the verge of finally having someone or some faction held accountable for insulting the citizens of this country with ridiculous excuses to expand this or that war or surveillance program, deny yet more rights,and impose even greater surveillance? Not quite.

Game off (or is it) – January 5

By the very next day, Wolffe was back with Olbermann to revise the view from the White House.

“It’s closer to the cock-up rather than the conspiracy I was talking about.” Richard Wolffe

The president’s view had changed after his all hands meeting on the 4th . It was really just a screw up (cock up). There was to be “no finger pointing” and the administration would be focus on preventing future such episodes.

January 5 Countdown Wolffe at 4:00

The denial of the original speculation by Wolffe lost credibility the more he expanded on his message, as I understand him. He says:

“I wasn’t talking about, as some online commentators have interpreted it, a political plot to embarrass the president by allowing civilians to die. This really gets to the heart of intent versus pure accident. An intent can be non malicious, it can be … a failure to cooperate, it can be a lack of confidence in the system. Which the president has concluded that’s where he’s at. Richard Wolffe, January 5

It’s difficult to understand how failing to report the father’s warnings about his son, warnings that proved highly accurate, can be without malice. Even if we rule out malice, it is impossible to argue that this failure to inform was anything other than gross negligence.

“And one thing the president didn’t refer to today, which is very revealing, which is what he picked out first in Hawaii. The story of Abdulmutallab’s father going to the CIA in Nigeria and telling them about the radicalization of his son and the fears about his son. That information was not shared in the early reports was not shared. “ Wolffe

Of interest, just after Wolffe moves the president back from the precipice of an historic accusation of a malicious shadow government, he reiterates the heart of the accusation of malice in the quotation above. It’s the “CIA” that received the information and failed to enter it into the terrorist information system(s).

After that explicit naming the agency guilty of “failure to cooperate,” it is classic Obama:

“He doesn’t want this blame game anymore. The president understands that can be corrosive. He want’s to look at the how things can be fixed rather than the why they were broken in this case.” Wolffe

What’s going on?

It’s important to understand that on January 4, a preferred spokesman for the White House, Richard Wolffe, told us that the president was leaning toward a conspiracy of malefactors who “maybe” let it happen, namely the Farouk mission. The motive for their “alternative agenda” was never explicated but it was clearly there, in living color commentary.

There has been little cogent speculation on what all this means. One unlikely source emerged in the president’s corner (and rightly so if he’s correct) was long time Obama critic Webster Tarpley. He noted:

“Wolffe offered two possible explanations cited by his White House sources for the intentional sabotage of security procedures, resulting in yet another egregious failure to connect the dots. The first was a ”œturf war” inside the intelligence community, with one agency seeking to hoard information and deny it to others. The second was the desire to ’embarrass’ some leading figures, presumably referring to partisan animus or other resentments against Obama and his top appointees.” Webster Tarpley, January 4

This is a clear and accurate summary of Wolffe’s “conspiracy or cock up” explanation on Monday’s Countdown.

Tarpley went on to provide a third possibility:

“But Obama and his advisors should be urged to consider a third explanation far more plausible than either of these. This third explanation would include the desire of a rogue network inside the US government to unleash a new wave of Islamophobic hysteria to rehabilitate the discredited ‘global war on terror’ strategy in a new and more sophisticated form, while imposing a new round of outrageous and degrading search procedures at airports (such as the full body scanners peddled by the venal Michael Chertoff) to soften up the American people for heightened totalitarian control and political repression. All of this, moreover, in ways that will be politically harmful to Obama.” Tarpley

This is a logical extrapolation if you accept the White House’s original belief that this was a “conspiracy” not a” cock up.” Admittedly, it comes from the source of some of the harshest invectives against President Obama. The fact that I disagree with many of these has little bearing on my interest in Tarpley’s clearly stated third alternative to a possible conspiracy masquerading as a screw up. Who else has said that?

For the purposes of raising questions and encouraging speculation, it really doesn’t matter what Tarpley’s political sympathies are. Simply consider the possibility that Obama was right on day one; that the initial Wolffe message was a warning shot across the bow to those suspected of this treachery; and, that the next day’s retraction was a means of seeming to keep things under control.

One might argue that this is a reprise of Bush blaming the CIA for the Iraq intelligence failures. There’s one important difference. It wasn’t the CIA, it was Bush, Cheney, and then CIA Director George Tenant fixing the intelligence and reports of honest analysts to justify a war. In this case, the CIA is explicitly blamed. Very curious.

The failure to enter the information into usable intelligence systems would seem to have alternative explanations. It could have been the CIA as a unit that did it, as Wolffe stated as though it was fact. Or it could have been rogue elements within the intelligence community doing this, with malicious intent or deliberate negligence, to achieve the ends suggested by Tarpley or broader analysis.

By tagging the CIA, the president via Richard Wolffe, finessed the real question: Are there those in the government who deliberately allowed an obvious terrorist, an incompetent one at that, to slip through the system and, as a result, revive the entire apparatus of anti terrorism based on one obviously incompetent individual?

Maybe President Obama dropped his deliberative style and turned on a dime from Monday to Tuesday.

Maybe you can fail to enter the name of an obvious risk for terrorism without any malice.

Maybe the president caved after taking a bold stance in defense of sanity.

Or maybe he’s made his point for now and is regrouping to clean house.

Or maybe the huge error of failing to enter the name was just a “screw up.”

And maybe there really were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq as Judith Miller and the New York Times promised based on their stellar sources.

Before we march down the road to ratify the permanent loss of habeas corpus and other vital rights; before we spend even more money on making travel truly unbearable; and, before we finally lose the best elements of our society due to one incompetent terrorist, maybe we should get the entire truth behind the fascinating revelations of Richard Wolffe. One can only hope.


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Michael Collins

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  • How many dozens of intelligence services are there across the government? It only takes one to withhold important information for the whole intelligence-gathering effort to fail. Even if you assume withholding information was negligent, what faith can you have in the rest of the intelligence that reaches Washington and the White House?

    If it was deliberate, the large number of motives for such action is disheartening. Perhaps there are anti-Obama forces in the CIA willing to lose their jobs and be disgraced as incompetents for some deeper and malicious agenda. Maybe it is bureaucratic infighting, or maybe someone wants to gin up the fear index again for whatever authoritarian reason. How does the White House find out the truth? The CIA is already deep into the practice of leaking disinformation, as is the DOD, so when you come right down to it, is it at all possible for Obama or the nation to trust the “intelligence” it is receiving?

    I guess the government must take some satisfaction that the media trusts everything the government says, as long as they are given access to the prevaricators. The rest of us have learned to tune it out as just so much propaganda noise. Think about what this means for those within the government who have lost faith in the intelligence services as well. Things must be done in secret, and no one can be completely trusted. Obama must be feeling lost right about now, which could be why his spokesmen give out conflicting messages.

  • But it’s probably true. Looking back in what little govt. history I know, how many times from the 60s to date have the govt. — (just pick the 3 letters that fit) set up the sting with their own vendor. Yes, I have my tin foil hat on but more often than not the real story is very different than the one main stream liberal media carry:)

  • I could also voice another nagging doubt about Al Qaeda’s presumed intentions in their assignment of young Abdul Mutallab to this alleged suicide attack. Why? The boy is the son of one of the richest and most politically well connected men on the entire African continent. So the Al Qaeda boogey men decided to kill this kid? Does it make sense to obliterate the opportunity to, say, use him to extort money from his family or otherwise demand the acquisition of weapons and support, etc?

    “”If stupidity got us into this mess, then why can’t it get us out?” – Will Rogers (1879-1935)

  • I’d say no, unless you know who to trust with all the agencies involved. The structural problems are one thing, the game playing another.

    I want Obama to get the right information and, as the elected official, make the decisions based on that information. The failure to report the father’s contact is, according to Wolffe, what initially raised suspicion on Obama’s part. On the face of it, the non reporting is dreadful. There may be even more to that story that we’ll hear about, the type of thing that would set off even more alarm bells.

    Imagine the nightmare of having multiple sources for NYSE real time data each reporting slightly to very different data. It’s no way to run a government.

  • The media does a great job of dismissing anyone who is off of the official story line. They want history to play like a Frank Kapra movie and think it’s OK to “embed” with the government.

    There is some real explaining required on the January 4th message from the White House. I understand why the president wants things to calm down but that was quite a shot he fired at whomever he thought was free lancing with their own “agenda.”

    I agree with you on the highly significant but rarely mentioned history that is rarely acknowledge … with a couple of decades of the event in question.

  • The contradictions you listed in just a few lines can’t be reconciled in any sensible fashion, given the position and status of the father imho. On the 4th, Wolffe was specific about Obama’s suspicions peaking when he heard about the father reporting to the embassy. I just assumed it was about a deliberately spiked intel opportunity. But maybe it was that plus something even more important.

    We pay for all of this intrigue every quarter or every paycheck. They all work for us and need to report their activities so we can decide if their services are to be continued. Olbermann’s introduction to the Jan 4 segment about sum it up for me:

    …after an all to brief pause in their ceaseless efforts to turn a 23 year old losers failed attempt to detonate his underwear in to something just this side of the burning of the White House in 1812… Republicans have now resumed warning that the end is neigh and the US government has ordered new security efforts at airports around the globe … both efforts have hit a snag.” Keith Olbermann, Jan 4

  • Ciggy man is a filament of your very vivid imagination. I had to Google that since I never watched the show. Too much necrophilia, it appeared anyway from a quick glance;)


    Terror on Flight 253

    The inside story of the privileged student who embraced al-Qa’ida and tried to blow a transatlantic jet out of the sky – and the lessons for us.

    The revelation of Abdulmutallab’s background has confounded terror experts. Dr Magnus Ranstorp of the Center for Asymmetric Threat Studies at the Swedish National Defence College said that the attempted bombing “didn’t square”.

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

    “Why didn’t he go to the toilets to detonate the bomb? Why would he try to set it off 20 minutes before he’s going to land? It could probably have been successful had the person not been amateurish. I think this is a sign that it’s much more difficult now for al-Qa’ida to pull off something serious.”

    Chaim Koppel, a security consultant, added: “I think the explosive was supposed to go bang rather than just start a fire. The terrorists probably didn’t mix it well enough. Maybe they didn’t do enough practice runs, but the more the guy is trained, the more exposed he is to MI5, MI6, the FBI and other security agencies, so he probably didn’t receive enough training.”

  • …it’d probably be best if we don’t rely heavily on off the cuff comments coming a day after the attempt. Magnus is a very bright guy and has followed many, many files for a long, long time, but taking the benefit of two weeks worth of subsequent investigation away from him isn’t the best of approaches.

    “The absence of any US-Iran bilateral channel…may have the perverse effect of reinforcing Iranian interest in progressing in the nuclear realm so that the US will be forced to take it seriously and engage it directly.” ~ Richard Haass

  • Funny thing (and now worrisome) how the day just before I read this piece I watched a not very thrilling (by today’s standards) 1973 movie called “Executive Action” about the assassination of JFK. Rogue CIA? Rogue Capitalists? Black OPs? Shadow government? It’s just the way normal operations were and probably still are. People like to make fun of conspiracy theorists as they are called but as William Blake pointed out:

    “Every thing possible to be believ’d is an image of truth.”

    How much of what is going on now is true or real or some cooked up conspiracy? We’ll never know for sure. The only proof of anything will be the result. But from the vantage point of living 65 years it’s no longer deja vu when these speculations are presented but now vertigo.

  • I’m glad to hear your comment on his background, which adds to his preliminary comments. But in his case, Dr. Ranstorp was commenting on the contradiction noted in light of established policies. But we don’t know the whole story.

    My focus is almost entirely on the extraordinary Olbermann-Wolffe interview of Jan 4. That was serious. As to the validation of concern beyond that I’m hoping that. “There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known” in today’s environment. Tapes from the boarding would be an excellent start to validate or discount the narrative provided by the Haskells (the Michigan lawyers who allegedly witnessed the ‘sharp dressed man’ assisting Farouk). We’ll see.

  • In an interview with Scott Horton, passenger Kurt Haskell, a Detroit lawyer, claims a second man was arrested and all the passengers were told they were not safe and moved after a bomb-sniffing dog alerted on the man’s carry on luggage.

  • Haaretz – The Israeli firm, ICTS, and two of its subsidiaries are at the crux of an international investigation in recent days, as experts try to pinpoint the reasons for the security failure that enabled Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to board Northwest flight 253 and attempt to set alight explosives hidden in his underwear.

    A Haaretz investigation has learned that the security officers and their supervisor should have suspected the passenger, even without having early intelligence available to them.

    At this time, ICTS and the Dutch security firm G4S are hurling recriminations at each other, as are the authorities at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, the Federal Aviation Authority and U.S. intelligence officials.

    The failure was a twin flop: An intelligence failure, which U.S. President Barack Obama has already stated, in the poor handling of information that arrived at the State Department and probably also the CIA from both the father of the would-be bomber and the British security service; and a failure within the security system, including that of the Israeli firm ICTS.

    The ICTS daughter company, I-SEC, has another daughter company – called PI (Pro-Check International). The firms provide security services to airports: consultation, instruction, training, inspection and supervision.

    Two decades ago, ICTS adopted the system used in Israel, namely of profiling and assessing the degree to which a passenger is a potential threat on the basis of a number indicators (including age, name, origin and behavior during questioning). At the same time, a decade ago, the company developed a technological system called APS (Advanced Passenger Screening).

    This system is based on a computerized algorithm, and is fed passenger information from the airline company. The system was offered to the Israel Airports Authority and the Shin Bet in the past, but rejected. According to the company’s Web site, most of the large airlines in the United States use the system.

    However – in real time – the system of ICTS failed. Even if U.S. intelligence failed and the name of the Nigerian passenger was not pinpointed as a suspect for the airline, he should have stirred the suspicion of the security officers. His age, name, illogical travel route, high-priced ticket purchased at the last minute, his boarding without luggage (only a carry on) and many other signs should have been sufficient to alert the security officers and warrant further examination of the suspect.

    However, the security supervisor representing I-SEC and PI allowed him to get on the flight.

    ICTS was established in 1982 by former members of the Shin Bet and El Al security. Menachem Atzmon, who has been chairman of the board of directors since 2004, holds the controlling shares in the firm.

    The ICTS headquarters are in the Netherlands and the company is traded in the New York Stock Exchange. Some senior managers are Israeli, including the joint managing director Ran Langer.

    Another important figure is Doron Zicher, general manager of I-SEC. Zicher has been in charge of operations in the Netherlands for more than two decades and has served as adviser to the Dutch Justice Ministry, which is responsible for setting guidelines for airport security.

    The company prides itself on employing 1,300 persons and providing security services to airports in 11 countries including France, Britain, Spain, Hungary, Romania and Russia.

  • I’d checked the website initially, just after the incident, to see if the firm was actually at the Amsterdam network. There was a notice on the front page saying that they had nothing to do with the events at that airport. But with Haaretz saying they do, I’d say it’s a safe bet to believe the article. There’s nothing on the web page now.

    This is interesting (from their website – http://tinyurl.com/yf39yw9


    Matching passengers against any given watchlist. Our service is compliant with both the TSA’s No-Fly/Selectee lists screening requirements, Transport Canada’s Specified Persons List, and any airline-specific watchlist or VIP list.

    If you go back up to the terrorism expert quoted in this previous comment http://tinyurl.com/y943h22, it’s indicated that Farouk was on the watch list. Seems like that’s the job of this group or someone that they contract with.

    While this is part of the data trail in this case, the fact that it is an Israeli company is of minor or no significance for those who are suggesting elsewhere that this has something to do with Israeli policy or intelligence. This “cock up” was made in the USA.

  • You misunderstood our evil instructions completely. We said, “once you get on the airplane, god willing, and you receive our signal, you are to immediately ignite your bomb —- not ignite your bum!!!”

    Oy vey!

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