Jan 25 2010
Update: New fears of woman suicide bombers preparing to attack America:
At least two are thought to have been trained by the Yemen-based group behind syringe bomber Umar Abdulmutallab’s Christmas Day jet bomb plot. They are thought to have non-Arab appearance and be travelling on Western passports, making them difficult to trace.
Update: And because of some very questionable and risky decisions, we need to ask some hard questions of this administration.
It is no secret Attorney General Eric Holder and President Obama did not support the Bush administration’s changes to FISA after 9-11. Neither did Obama’s advisor on national security John Brennan. As I noted here, from an interview he gave during the campaign, Brennan was all for relaxing our defenses so we did not investigate every possible lead the NSA was turning up on Americans.
To me, I think the government does have the right and the obligation to ensure the security and safety of its citizens. If there is probable cause, reasonable suspicion, about the involvement of a U.S. person in something, the government needs to have the ability to understand what the nature of that involvement is. The threshold for that type of government access can be high or can be low, and it [the probable cause threshold] needs to be somewhere in the middle.
You donâ€™t want to just troll and with a large net just pull up everything. There are technologies available to pulse the data set and pull back only that which has some type of correlation to your predicate [the probable cause threshold].
I would argue the government needs to have access to only those nuggets of information that have some kind of predicate. That way the government can touch it and pull back only that which is related. Itâ€™s like a magnet, set to a certain calibration. Thatâ€™s what I think we need to go to.
In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the threshold, quite frankly, was low, because we didnâ€™t know the nature of the threat we faced here in the U.S.
[Post 9-11] Every effort was made by the government to try to get as much understanding and visibility into what else might be out there thatâ€™s going to hurt us again. Now that a number of years have passed, we need to make sure the calibration is important.
Emphasis mine. The man speaks with a silvery forked tongue, but it is clear what he is saying. When elected he and President Obama would not have a low threshold for concern about possible threats, they would raise the bar before reacting and investigation intelligence sourced leads.
Eric Holder is also on record when it comes to what the left has called ‘domestic spying’. He was of the opinion NSA leads alone would not be sufficient probable cause to listen in on someone and determine if they were a threat. This is the same ‘wall’ that allowed 9-11 to happen.
Prior to 9-11 we had been tracking all the key 9-11 suspects across the globe for months. But when they arrived in the US the wall between the NSA and FIS Court disallowed the NSA to tell the FBI about contacts between the mass murdering high jackers and al Qaeda organizations overseas. It was this horrible realization in the aftermath of 9-11 that led to the FIS Court changes, which in turn led Â liberal zealots to leak to the NY Times a completely false story (i.e., that the Bush administration was bypassing FIS Court, when in fact the opened the list of allowable probable cause evidence to include NSA intercepts involving Americans on ONE side of the conversation).
Eric Holder has made his views clear on this and has even been applauded by the liberal zealots for them:
As for Holderâ€™s views on FISA, heâ€™s on the record opposing President Bushâ€™s bypassing of the law, saying in June that he never thought he â€œwould see that a President would act in direct defiance of Federal law by authorizing warentless NSA surveillance of American citizens.â€
Let that last bit settle in your mind for a second to understand what Holder may have done. As Attorney General it is his responsibility, and his alone, to initiate requests to the FIS Court to investigate NSA leads. These investigations, which can include monitoring communications under FIS Court warrants, can only continue or be started by the AG. The President cannot make this decision – which was part of the checks and balances to protect law enforcement and national security from politics.
Except when you have a politically motivated AG, that is. Then the only recourse for the President is a very public and embarrassing firing of said AG. Because of the AG’s unique distance from the WH and the President, I can envision Holder running his own show and not really caring what the WH thinks or the political fallout. He is a man driven by the purity of his cause.
Anyway, suffice it to say Holder opposes monitoring US citizens based on low threshold evidence – such as being in contact with known terrorist sympathizers. It is evident from the Ft Hood Massacre aftermath and how his team spun the news then, specifically this when discussing Major Hasan’s communications with radical cleric and al Qaeda sympathizer Anwar al Aulaqi, who lives in Yemen:
A FORMAL INVESTIGATION WAS NEVER OPENED. WHY NOT?
â€œWhat we had was some contact and some communications that wasnâ€™t enough to get us into even the preliminary investigation box,â€ one official said. â€œWe didnâ€™t have enough for a preliminary investigation.â€
This could also be read to say, under the Obama-Holder thresholds, there wasn’t enough evidence to go to the FIS Court with for investigation and surveillance (or renewal of previous authorizations). Remember, we are dealing with a US citizen here, and Holder is clear about the fact the act of ‘talking’ Â (or free speech) cannot warrant monitoring a US citizen. Â The FBI officials continued their bizarre rationalizing:
â€œWe cannot predicate an investigation of a U.S. person â€¦ solely on First Amendment activity,â€ the official said. â€œSo if all you have is First Amendment activity â€” so itâ€™s protected speech, thereâ€™s nothing that suggests advocacy of violence, nothing that suggests incitement to violence, nothing about the connection between him and the [individual overseas FBI was investigating] â€¦ then what do you have? In order to open a preliminary investigation we need information or allegations that person is or may be, in this context, a national security threat. And that canâ€™t be based solely on protected First Amendment activity.â€
So if it is all in flowering and nice sounding code words (hint, hint AQ) then the Obama administration will turn its head away. How naive.
It is interesting here that we see the connection to al Aulaqi – that radical Islamist cleric in Yemen now connected to the Ft Hood Massacre & the Christmas Day Bomber. He is the person the FBI was investigating overseas. It is interesting because one thing I could never get my mind around after Ft Hood was why would anyone use a flimsy excuse to shutdown the Hasan investigations by Joint Terrorism Task Forces while he was still emailing al Aulaqi? What was the thinking (or lack thereof).
Until I remembered something about Anwar al Aulaqi I dismissed as irrelevant previously – he too is a US citizen!
The reason this fact suddenly came to the forefront was my reading ofÂ this NY Times Report highlighting all the additional warning signs the Obama administration missed or misread. I was disturbed about how flat footed these people were given the fact that bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab (or someone just like him) was being picked up on all these various radar screens. How could we miss this one and not all the others in the Bush years on much less data?
Until I reached this part of the article:
The American intelligence network was clearly listening in Yemen and sharing that information, a sign of progress since the 2001 terrorist attacks. Yet the inability to pull the data together or correctly interpret it produced the â€œsystemic failureâ€ that Mr. Obama has vowed to fix and that Congress will examine in hearings this week.
A second alarm came in early November, when Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan killed 12 soldiers at Fort Hood in Texas. Over the previous year, American investigators said, Major Hasan had sent more than a dozen e-mail messages to Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical, American-born cleric living in Yemen. After ordering a review of any contacts between other possible extremists and Mr. Awlaki, American authorities began collecting more intelligence, officials said.
Now this really seems bizarre – ‘after’? We have the Ft Hood Massacre in November, and THEN these buffoons order a review of other contacts with Anwar al Aulaqi? Why weren’t al Aulaqi’s ‘contacts’ in the database already?
Was the NSA still monitoring him as had been the case when President Bush left office? Aftert all it was the monitoring of al Aulaqi which turned up Hasan in December 2008, which in turned kicked off investigations by two Joint Terrorism Task Forces (first in San Diego, then in DC). But it was in May-June of 2009 when the JTTF investigation into Hasan was suspiciously terminated. So I began to wonder, was that all that was terminated?
I had assumed all along that the Hasan investigation was shutdown because he was a US citizen, which may have only been partially right. The fact is, the monitoring of al Aulaqi was just as dicey if you follow the liberal fantasy about NSA-FISA. In fact, when we were monitoring al Aulaqi and Hasan we were monitoring to US citizens, one overseas in Yemen and one here in Washington DC. That was considered a big no-no on the far left fringes of thinking.
Was this just too much for Holder to deal with? Did he actually shutdown the monitoring of Al Aulaqi because the current data did not rise to the level of proof he and the Obama administration set for their new threshold? I put together Â crude timeline of events from all the stories I have been tracking on these two incidents (see here and here) (click to enlarge).
It shows how the 90 day renewal period for FIS Court investigations could have played out between the Bush and the Obama administrations. It shows how the 2nd 90 day period might have ended coincidentally around the time of the suspected decision to suspend the Hasan investigations. It dovetails well withÂ the reported fact that the Â last of the emails between Hasan and al Aulaqi had not been analyzed by the task forces.
This is not proof that the Obama administration took their eyes off al Aulaqi. It is only a coincidence of timing in the context of previous statements by key administration players regarding their views of the FISA-NSA changes implemented by Bush and codified by Congress (twice). But it does make you wonder.
The NY Times story seems to indicate two incidents caused new interest in Yemen, the first being an attack on Saudi Arabia in August. But what concerns me is the fact that early signs of problems in Yemen, involving a young Nigerian named Umar Farouk, happened prior to the Ft Hood Massacre, and were only ‘rediscovered’ months later when time was rapidly running out:
And some of the tips were increasingly alarming. Qaeda operatives in Yemen were caught discussing an â€œUmar Faroukâ€ who had recently been in contact with Mr. Awlaki about volunteering for terrorist operations, one official said. American intelligence officials learned of the conversation in November, although it had been intercepted by a foreign intelligence service in August, an administration official said.
Ft Hood was a wake up call. It shattered the liberal myth there was no value in investigating Americans in contact with known AQ sympathizers and groups. Yes, most tips turn out to be nothing, but it is those rare few that are a plot to kill Americans that require the vigilance to check them all. This is why we kept our thresholds so low for so many years. It was not to be voyeurs on Americans – it was to protect them.
It would explain a lot about how the rush to understand Â what may have been missed from May (when the Hasan investigation was shut down) to November, when the Ft Hood Massacre woke the zealots up. If you read all the dots missed from November to December you see a group of people playing catch up, trying to sift mountains of data after the fact and with time running out (the snippet below is in chronological order versus the NY Times order):
In early November, American intelligence authorities say they learned from a communications intercept of Qaeda followers in Yemen that a man named â€œUmar Faroukâ€ â€” the first two names of the jetliner suspect,Â Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab â€” had volunteered for a coming operation.
In late December, more intercepts of Qaeda operatives in Yemen, who had previously focused their attacks in the region, mentioned the date of Dec. 25, and suggested that they were â€œlooking for ways to get somebody outâ€ or â€œfor ways to move people to the West,â€ one senior administration official said.
Worried about possible terrorist attacks over the Christmas holiday,Â President Obama met on Dec. 22 with top officials of theÂ C.I.A.,Â F.B.I. andÂ Department of Homeland Security, who ticked off a list of possible plots against the United States and how their agencies were working to disrupt them.
In a separate White House meeting that day, Mr. Obamaâ€™s homeland security adviser, John O. Brennan, led talks onÂ Yemen, where a stream of disturbing intelligence had suggested that Qaeda operatives were preparing for some action, perhaps a strike on an American target, on Christmas Day.
As I said up front, we know team Obama felt Bush had abused the constitution when he and Congress implemented FISA-NSA fixes. And we see in the knee-jerk reactions to both terrorist attacks the administration’s underlying theory that terrorism is a crime, not act of illegal warfare. Someone knows what happened and why the Hasan investigation was shut down prematurely. What no one is openly assessing is the general fallout of that decision and how it could have led to the near success of the Christmas Day Bomber.