Retracing Terror Suspect's Steps
by Steven Emerson
Interview on MSNBC
December 31, 2009
Multimedia for this item
CHRIS JANSING: Officials in four countries; the U.S., Britain, Yemen, Nigeria, all working to retrace the steps of would be terrorist Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, but as the President seeks answers about how the Nigerian man slipped through the intelligence cracks, there will be increased scrutiny on how well those countries work together before the Christmas Day plot. Steve Emerson is a terrorism expert and serves as Executive Director of the Investigative Project, and let me you ask you about those four, the United States and the three others. On paper should all of them work well together?
STEVE EMERSON: Theoretically, just one of them should work well together. That is, the agencies in the U.S. government that are responsible for maintaining the watchlist, collecting the intelligence, making decisions about visas, about who gets onto an airplane, who gets secondary screening. That should work, but it didn't work, obviously, and the President is going to get a report today about how much moreso, in terms of the catastrophic failure of the inability to integrate the intelligence from Nigeria, from Yemen, from the CIA, from Britain. Chris, so, I think there is, as the President said, there was a systemic failure. He is going to get a report today and I understand its going to be devastating in its indictment of the agencies in the U.S. government.
JANSING: I was talking to another terrorism expert in our last hour, Steve, our friend Charles Pena. He said, look this is a huge bureaucracy and there is still a lot of engrained reluctance to share information. Do you think that's so?
EMERSON: I think that's one of the reasons, absolutely. Every agency basically gets a budget based on what it does in terms of the intelligence it generates or its own proprietary information, so there is a certain inherent selfishness that is going to occur. There is no reward for sharing information in the bureaucracy unfortunately. So that imbalance there has to change. There has to be an incentive for someone to take the intelligence, integrate it and then make the hard decisions about who gets onto an airplane, who gets a visa, who gets a boarding pass and who gets a secondary inspection. All four of those decisions were not made.
JANSING: How important is this relationship between the United States and the UK. Obviously, the UK denied Abdulmutallab a visa. We've known about some of the problems with students, with young activists there for years. Certainly since 9/11 we've been watching it fairly closely. What do we need to know about the things that are going on right now in the UK in terms of radical extremists?
EMERSON: Well, there have been some extraordinary reports over the past week, ever since the Christmas Day plot, about the background of the Islamic groups that Abdulmutallab was associated with and what they show was that the Islamic society at the University he studied at, portrayed the, quote, the narrative that is worldwide history, the narrative as a U.S. war against Islam, that the United States was engaged in war crimes, that the United States was the most evil country in the world. That narrative radicalizes young Muslims. Not everyone, but a certain percentage of them and we didn't take note of that. But the Brits did and when he applied for a renewal of his visa, they realized that he was lying about something and that he was a danger to British society. So they denied him a renewal. We didn't make the same decision. We should have because we had even more intelligence. We had intelligence from June of this past year where U.S. signal intelligence, or electronic intelligence, picked up a report saying a Nigerian would commit an attack, and, then of course, his father walked into the embassy in Aden on November 19th, Chris.
JANSING: And he bought that ticket in cash, and he didn't have any luggage and so the list goes on. Steve, thank you.
EMERSON: You're welcome.
JANSING: It's always good to talk to you and I hope that you have a great New Year.
EMERSON: Thank you.