In his weekly radio address, President Obama "declared for the first time on Saturday that a branch of Al Qaeda based in Yemen sponsored the attempted Christmas Day bombing of an American passenger jet, and he vowed that those behind the failed attack 'will be held to account,'" the New York Times reported.[1]  --  "Mr. Obama’s comments indicated that he and the government largely accepted the accounts offered by Mr. Abdulmutallab since he was taken into custody and by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in a statement on the Web," said Peter Baker.  --  Obama seemed particularly concerned with rebutting recent charges made by former Vice President Dick Cheney that he has been "trying to pretend we are not at war."  --  The president declared:  "[O]ur nation is at war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred."  --  The text of the radio address is reproduced below.[2]  --  Meanwhile, in an editorial on the NW 253 episode, the New York Times pronounced it "incredible" that "the government cannot do at least as good a job at swiftly updating and correlating information as Google."[3]  --  COMMENT: Despite its incredulity, the New York Times in both these pieces is merely serving as an echo chamber for U.S. national security state policy.  --  Specifically, it is paying no attention to an important challenge to the official lone-fanatical-bomber-who-slipped-through-the-system-after-being-trained-in-Yemen hypothesis:  it does not include two events reported by credible eyewitnesses who were passengers on the flight, one of whom, Detroit attorney Kurt Haskell, is now insisting that the U.S. government's account of what happened is untrue....


1.

U.S.

Politics

OBAMA TIES FAILED PLANE ATTACK TO AL QAEDA IN YEMEN

By Peter Baker

New York Times

January 2, 2010

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/03/us/politics/03address.html


HONOLULU -- President Obama declared for the first time on Saturday that a branch of Al Qaeda based in Yemen sponsored the attempted Christmas Day bombing of an American passenger jet, and he vowed that those behind the failed attack “will be held to account.”

In his first weekly Saturday address of the new year, Mr. Obama also rebutted attacks by former Vice President Dick Cheney and other Republicans who since the incident have accused him of not recognizing that the struggle against terrorists is a war.  Mr. Obama said he was well aware that “our nation is at war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred.”

The president’s speech, taped from Hawaii, where he is nearing the end of a 10-day vacation, was the third time he had publicly addressed the failed attack on Northwest Flight 253 bound for Detroit on Dec. 25.  Mr. Obama noted that he had received preliminary reports about the incident but gave no more details about how a Nigerian man with known radical views was allowed to board a flight to the United States with explosives in his underwear.

Mr. Obama’s comments about the involvement of Al Qaeda, however, were the most direct to date.  Administration officials and intelligence analysts previously had said they were increasingly confident that Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, as the Yemeni branch calls itself, was involved, as it claimed.

But the president until now had shied away from referencing that until analysts were further along in their assessment of the group’s activities and its ties to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the 23-year-old Nigerian charged with trying to blow up the airliner.

“We’re learning more about the suspect,” Mr. Obama said.  “We know that he traveled to Yemen, a country grappling with crushing poverty and deadly insurgencies.  It appears that he joined an affiliate of Al Qaeda and that this group, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, trained him, equipped him with those explosives and directed him to attack that plane headed for America.”

Mr. Obama’s comments indicated that he and the government largely accepted the accounts offered by Mr. Abdulmutallab since he was taken into custody and by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in a statement on the Web.  The National Security Agency had intercepted communications among Qaeda leaders months ago talking about an unnamed Nigerian preparing to attack, but the government never correlated that with information about Mr. Abdulmutallab’s radicalization collected by embassy officials in Nigeria from the suspect’s father.

Mr. Obama noted that this was not the first time the group had tried to attack America and its friends.  “In recent years, they have bombed Yemeni government facilities and Western hotels,” he said, adding, “So as president, I’ve made it a priority to strengthen our partnership with the Yemeni government.”

He said those efforts had already led to strikes against the group’s leaders and training camps.  “And all those involved in the attempted act of terrorism on Christmas must know, you, too, will be held to account,” he said.

The president also used the address to implicitly deflect Republicans who have blamed some of his policy changes for weakening the struggle against terrorism.  Although he did not name Mr. Cheney, Mr. Obama was clearly responding to the former vice president’s assertion that the president was “trying to pretend we are not at war.”

Mr. Obama defended his policies as tough but reasonable, and called for an end to the sniping that both parties had engaged in since the Christmas episode.  “Instead of succumbing to partisanship and division, let’s summon the unity that this moment demands,” he said.  “Let’s work together, with a seriousness of purpose, to do what must be done to keep our country safe.”

2.

Weekly address

PRESIDENT OBAMA OUTLINES STEPS TAKEN TO PROTECT THE SAFTEY AND SECURITY OF THE AMERICAN PEOPLE

White House
January 2, 2010

http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/weekly-address-president-obama-outlines-steps-taken-protect-safety-and-security-ame


WASHINGTON -- In his weekly address, President Barack Obama discussed his solemn responsibility to protect the nation and the steps the administration has taken to that end.  From ordering reviews into the attempted act of terrorism in Detroit to a comprehensive strategy that has refocused our efforts on the fight against al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan and strengthened international partnerships to keep unrelenting pressure on extremists across the globe, the President will continue to do everything in his power to uphold the nation’s security.

The audio and video will be available online at www.whitehouse.gov.

REMARKS OF PRESIDENT OBAMA


Weekly Address
January 2, 2010

It has now been more than a week since the attempted act of terrorism aboard that flight to Detroit on Christmas Day.   On Thursday, I received the preliminary findings of the reviews that I ordered into our terrorist watchlist system and air travel screening.   I've directed my counterterrorism and homeland security advisor at the White House, John Brennan, to lead these reviews going forward and to present the final results and recommendations to me in the days to come.

As I said this week, I will do everything in my power to make sure our hard-working men and women in our intelligence, law enforcement, and homeland security communities have the tools and resources they need to keep America safe.  This includes making sure these communities -- and the people in them -- are coordinating effectively and are held accountable at every level.  And as President, that is what I will do.

Meanwhile, the investigation into the Christmas Day incident continues, and we're learning more about the suspect.  We know that he traveled to Yemen, a country grappling with crushing poverty and deadly insurgencies.  It appears that he joined an affiliate of al Qaeda, and that this group -- al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula -- trained him, equipped him with those explosives, and directed him to attack that plane headed for America.

This is not the first time this group has targeted us.  In recent years, they have bombed Yemeni government facilities and Western hotels, restaurants, and embassies -- including our embassy in 2008, killing one American.  So, as President, I've made it a priority to strengthen our partnership with the Yemeni government -- training and equipping their security forces, sharing intelligence and working with them to strike al Qaeda terrorists.

And even before Christmas Day, we had seen the results.  Training camps have been struck; leaders eliminated; plots disrupted.  And all those involved in the attempted act of terrorism on Christmas must know -- you too will be held to account.   

But these efforts are only part of a wider cause.  It's been nearly a year since I stood on the steps of the U.S. Capitol and took the oath of office as your President.  And with that oath came the solemn responsibility that I carry with me every moment of every day -- the responsibility to protect the safety and security of the American people.

On that day I also made it very clear -- our nation is at war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred, and that we will do whatever it takes to defeat them and defend our country, even as we uphold the values that have always distinguished America among nations.

And make no mistake, that's exactly what we've been doing.  It's why I refocused the fight -- bringing to a responsible end the war in Iraq, which had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks, and dramatically increasing our resources in the region where al Qaeda is actually based, in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  It's why I've set a clear and achievable mission -- to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaeda and its extremist allies and prevent their return to either country.

And it's why we've forged new partnerships, as in Yemen, and put unrelenting pressure on these extremists wherever they plot and train -- from East Africa to Southeast Asia, from Europe to the Persian Gulf.  And though often out of sight, our progress has been unmistakable.  Along with our partners, we've disrupted terrorist financing, cut off recruiting chains, inflicted major losses on al Qaeda's leadership, thwarted plots here in the United States, and saved countless American lives.

Yet as the Christmas Day attempt illustrates, and as we were reminded this week by the sacrifices of more brave Americans in Afghanistan -- including those seven dedicated men and women of the CIA -- the hard work of protecting our nation is never done.  So as our reviews continue, let us ask the questions that need to be asked.  Let us make the changes that need to be made.  Let us debate the best way to protect the country we all love.  That is the right and responsibility of every American and every elected official.

But as we go forward, let us remember this -- our adversaries are those who would attack our country, not our fellow Americans, not each other.  Let's never forget what has always carried us through times of trial, including those attacks eight Septembers ago.

Instead of giving in to fear and cynicism, let's renew that timeless American spirit of resolve and confidence and optimism.  Instead of succumbing to partisanship and division, let's summon the unity that this moment demands.  Let's work together, with a seriousness of purpose, to do what must be done to keep our country safe.  

As we begin this New Year, I cannot imagine a more fitting resolution to guide us -- as a people and as a nation.

3.

Opinion

Editorial

WHY DIDN'T THEY SEE IT?


New York Times

January 2, 2010 (posted Jan. 1)

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/02/opinion/02sat1.html


It will take some time before all the facts about the Christmas Day terrorism plot are known and analyzed.  One thing is already clear:  The government has to urgently improve its ability to use the reams of intelligence it receives every day on suspected terrorists and plots.  That was supposed to have been addressed after the infamous “failure to connect the dots” before the 9/11 attacks.  The echoes of the earlier disaster in this near-disaster are chilling.

There were plenty of clues about Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian man accused of trying to blow a hole in the side of Northwest Flight 253. But no one in the vast (and vastly expensive) intelligence and homeland security bureaucracy put them together.

In May, Britain refused to renew Mr. Abdulmutallab’s visa and put him on a watch list. In August, the National Security Agency overheard leaders of an Al Qaeda branch in Yemen discussing a plot involving a Nigerian man.  In November, Mr. Abdulmutallab’s father, a respected banker, warned the American Embassy in Abuja (he even met with an official of the Central Intelligence Agency) that his son was being radicalized and had disappeared in Yemen.

The son was put on the least-restrictive American watch list -- one that flagged him for future investigation.  His plane ticket to Detroit was bought with cash. He boarded the trans-Atlantic flight with no luggage.  Homeland security officials routinely receive lists of passengers before planes take off and the Transportation Security Administration can request that a plane return to its departure airport if a suspicious passenger is on board.  Still no one raised an alarm.

Following the recommendations of the 9/11 commission, Congress created the National Counterterrorism Center to unify the government’s data collection and ordered the welter of intelligence agencies to put aside their rivalries and share what they know and suspect.  Everyone insists that is happening; but still something went terribly wrong.

According to the Times, a preliminary review ordered by President Obama has found that because of human error, the agencies were still looking at discrete pieces of the puzzle without adequately checking other available databases -- and, in some cases, were not sharing what they knew.  The State Department says that it relayed the father’s warnings to the National Counterterrorism Center. C.I.A. officials in Nigeria prepared a separate report on Mr. Abdulmutallab that was sent to the C.I.A. headquarters but not to other agencies.  At this point, we don’t know who was told of the N.S.A. intercepts.

Either the National Counterterrorism Center didn’t get all of the information it was supposed to get -- or it utterly failed to do its job, which is to correlate data so any pattern emerges.  No doubt sorting through heaps of information and determining what is urgent or even worthy of follow-up is daunting.  Still, it is incredible, and frightening, that the government cannot do at least as good a job at swiftly updating and correlating information as Google.

Long before Mr. Abdulmutallab was allowed to board that flight to Detroit, some analyst should have punched “Nigerian, Abdulmutallab, Yemen, visa, plot” into the system. We are still waiting to find out whether Britain told Washington that it had revoked the suspect’s visa. Shouldn’t that have been on file?

We will reserve judgment about whether anyone should be fired for what President Obama has rightly called a “systemic failure.”

Janet Napolitano, the secretary of homeland security, didn’t help matters when she briefly asserted that the system worked. Her system clearly has serious flaws. So does the intelligence system. We are sure that the turf war between Leon Panetta, the C.I.A. director, and the director of national intelligence, Dennis Blair (his job was created after 9/11 to oversee all 16 spy agencies), is not helping. Neither are the Republicans, who predictably seized on the plot for political advantage by absurdly accusing Mr. Obama of being weak on national security.

What is needed now is what was needed after 9/11: a clearheaded, nonpoliticized assessment of what went wrong and nonhysterical remedies that work this time. The United States cannot be enclosed in an impermeable bubble. But Mr. Abdulmutallab never should have been allowed to board that plane.