American “air-sterics” in wake of botched jet bombing
On Christmas Day, Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab, 23, allegedly attempted to blow up Detroit-bound Northwest Airlines flight 253 with explosives that had been stitched into his underwear. The bomb failed to explode, and passengers were able to subdue the perpetrator until he was detained by authorities on the ground.
The militant group Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has claimed responsibility for the plot.
Shortly after his arrest, AbdulMutallab, a Nigerian national, reportedly spilled the beans about the operation to US officials, who now fear there may be many more misguided martyrs waiting in the wings for their opportunity to bring down a US airliner.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) said that AbdulMutallab bragged that there were “many more like me” in Yemen waiting to attack American interests.
Meanwhile, ABC News, quoting an anonymous source, released a statement from AQAP, allegedly warning Americans, “we will strike you with what you have no previous knowledge of, for as you kill you shall be killed, our vengeance is near.”
Some analysts in Washington believe that Mr. AbdulMutallab represents the tip of an iceberg of foreign threats to US citizens, both at home and abroad. As a result, the United States has ordered enhanced screening of individuals who travel to the US through “state sponsors of terrorism or other countries of interest.”
According to a diplomat assigned to the US Embassy in Moscow, who spoke on condition of anonymity, the US State Department lists four countries as “sponsors of terror”: Cuba, Iran, Syria and Sudan. The other “countries of interest” are a collective who’s who of nations that hold a grudge of some sort against the US: Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Yemen.
Passengers flying into the United States from abroad will be subject to random screening or so-called "threat-based" screens, the Transport Security Administration (TSA) said in a statement.
“Every individual flying into the US from anywhere in the world,” the TSA said, “traveling from or through nations that are state sponsors of terrorism or other countries of interest will be required to go through enhanced screening.”
The US warning has prompted other nations to introduce new state-of-the-art screening technologies, which many civil rights groups deem invasive and a threat to personal privacy.
In the Netherlands, for example, officials have unveiled plans to put full-body "naked" scanners into operation within three weeks for passengers traveling to the US.
In the UK, Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Sunday that British airports were going to gradually introduce such airport technology.
“We have recognized that there are new forms of weapon that are being used by Al-Qaeda so we've got to respond accordingly,” Brown said.
Britain has called for a top conference on dealing with the terror threat from Yemen to be held in London on January 28.
How did AbdulMutullab get on that plane?
As US security agencies are scrambling to determine what went wrong with their screening procedures, others are wondering why their warnings went unheeded – again [in the days prior to 9/11, for example, when four US commercial jets were hijacked and used as weapons against American targets, repeated warnings from FBI intelligence-gathering centers in the US, specifically in Minneapolis, went ignored by the federal authorities].
AbdulMutallab, who is the son of a prominent Nigerian businessman, was on the US government's terrorist watch list, but not on its no-fly list, which would have prevented him from boarding Northwest Flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit. And despite appearing on Homeland Security’s black list, AbdulMutallab’s American visa was never revoked.
British authorities also placed AbdulMutallab on their national watch list after he was denied a student visa 14 months ago.
The most puzzling bit of information to date is that AbdulMutallab's family had warned US authorities that their son was being exposed to radical elements.
US media reported that the young man’s father went to the US Embassy in the capital city of Abuja on November 19 to report that his son was being “radicalized” by extremists in Yemen.
On November 20, the US embassy in Abuja sent out a cable to US embassies worldwide, as well as to the US intelligence community, alerting them to the information provided by AbdulMutallab's father.
Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab eventually appeared in the database of the US National Counterterrorism Center – but to no avail: the young man (despite being outed by his own father) was able to fork over $3,000 in hard cash for an airplane ticket and travel to American airspace with a bomb in his underpants.
In light of such a blatant transgression of national security, it is no wonder that the US Republicans are accusing the Obama administration of incompetence.
Partisan blame game intensifies
Washington’s real war is not happening in the mountains of Afghanistan, or the back streets of Baghdad, but in the vapid blogosphere, where liberals and conservatives are engaged in a bitter, shameless and petty mud fight.
Former US Vice President Dick Cheney, who has been a thorn in the side of the Obama administration since Day One, jumped on Washington’s mismanagement of the would-be airline martyr as proof that Obama “is trying to pretend we are not at war.”
“Why doesn't he want to admit we're at war?” Cheney grumbled to Politico, a political news blog. “It doesn't fit with the view of the world he brought with him to the Oval Office.”
The gravest failing of an American president, at least in the eyes of a neoconservative, is not to be on a “war footing,” which underscores a new way of thinking for the Republicans that completely clashes with the tenets of their "conservative" philosophy.
Cheney then took issue with the Obama administration’s audacious plans to shut down the Guantanamo Bay detention center, which houses over 200 enemy combatants, labelled "the gulag of our times" by one human rights group.
Obama thinks that “if he gives terrorists the rights of Americans, lets them lawyer up and read them their Miranda rights, we won't be at war,” Cheney pleaded.
The White House fired back at the Republican broadside with some fiery blogs of its own.
“It is telling that Vice President Cheney and others seem to be more focused on criticizing the Administration than condemning the attackers,” White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer wrote on the official White House blog. “Unfortunately too many are engaged in the typical Washington game of pointing fingers and making political hay, instead of working together to find solutions to make our country safer.”
Pfeiffer then accused the Republicans of ignoring the terrorist threat when it took the war to Iraq, which had no connection to Al-Qaeda.
“For seven years after 9/11, while our national security was overwhelmingly focused on Iraq – a country that had no Al-Qaeda presence before our invasion – Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda's leadership was able to set up camp in the border region of Pakistan and Afghanistan, where they continued to plot attacks against the United States,” Pfeiffer wrote.
Boy, times sure have changed. After all, it was a lack of communication that was at least partially responsible for toppling the Roman Empire; but for Pax Americana, which is clearly information-saturated, it very well may be an excess of idle communication and a poisonous atmosphere of hyper political messaging that will be its undoing.
Indeed, how can any US presidential administration focus on what the enemy is plotting when it must constantly deflect the latest partisan Twitter attack from the opposition's camp?
What helped “radicalize” Yemen?
On December 17, less than two weeks before the failed attack on Northwest flight 253, the United States was busy assisting the government of Yemen eliminate suspected Al-Qaeda hide-outs within its borders.
US warplanes bombed suspected Al-Qaeda positions in Yemen, and officials say at least 34 militants were killed.
Witnesses on the ground, however, put the number killed at over 60 and said the dead were mostly civilians, including women and children, The New York Times reported. They denied the target was an Al-Qaeda stronghold, and one provincial official said only 10 militant suspects died.
This week, France became the third Western nation to shut its Yemeni embassy, after threats from an Al-Qaeda offshoot group, the foreign ministry in Paris announced.
The US and UK missions, which closed on Sunday, remain shut.