This paper analyzes a summary of the White House review of the December 25, 2009 attempted terrorist attack. It highlights pertinent issues that led to the attack and highlights the failure by the government to stop the attempted attack. It views roles that were to be played by the Counterterrorism community and the National Counterterrorism Center.
A Nigerian national, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had attempted to detonate an explosive device while on board flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit on December 25, 2009. Luckily the device did not explode but ignited, injuring him and two other passengers. Mr. Abdulmutallab was restrained by the flight crew and the plane safely landed. He was then taken into custody by the Customs and Border protection (CBP) and later questioned by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Mr. Abdulmutallab was not on the U.S government’s terrorist watch list though he was known to the U.S. Intelligence Community (Whitehouse.gov, 2009).
America’s Counterterrorism Community (CT)
Since the September 11 terrorist attacks, The CT has had many successes in the protection of the U.S homeland against terrorist attacks. It has involved the thorough analysis of large volumes of information that has led to a variety of departments and agencies to take action in order to prevent attacks. The CT has worked day and night in order to track terrorists’ threats and run down possible leads to keep Americans safe. The challenge of obtaining disparate pieces of information about individuals, groups, and vague plots, so as to gather and form a clear picture about the intentions of adversaries, has increased with the growth in the amount of information (Whitehouse.gov, 2009).
According to Whitehouse.gov (2010), the attempted December 25 attack highlights the need to look for ways which will constantly improve and assist the CT analysis in providing accurate warnings of terrorist attacks and keep Americans safe. Prior to December 25 it had failed to identify, correlate and fuse into a coherent story, all of the discrete pieces of intelligence held by the U.S. Government related to a terrorist plot against the U.S. Homeland. Shortcomings of the watchlist system was highlighted, whereby the CT community failed to identify intelligence within U.S. government holdings that would have allowed Mr. Abdulmutallab to be watch listed, and potentially prevented from boarding an aircraft bound for the United States.
The National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC)
NCTC is the primary organization that provides situational awareness to the CT community of ongoing terrorist threats and events that would have led to a follow up and an action on leads as a particular threat situation develops. It was created by the intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 to be the primary organization in the U.S. Government pertaining to terrorism and counterterrorism. In conjunction with the CIA, it maintains the responsibility and resource capability to correlate and evaluate intelligence that is related to national security and provide appropriate dissemination of such intelligence. The intelligence is designed to provide senior government leaders with the necessary information to make key decisions (Best, 2010).
It is clear that the information related to December 25 Attack was available to all source analysts at the CIA and the NCTC prior to the attempted attack. This information which included Mr. Abdulmutallab and his association with a terrorist group had been obtained by several agencies but the dots had not been connected and this failure led to the attempted attack. The information was fragmentary and embedded in a large volume of other data. The failure to include Mr. Abdulmutallab in a watchlist is part of the overall systematic failure. NCTC consolidates all information on known and suspected international terrorists in the Terrorist Identities Data mart Environment, which makes these data available to the FBI-led Terrorist Screening Center that reviews nominations for inclusion in the master watchlist and relevant extracts are provided to each organization with a screening mission (Whitehouse.gov, 2009).
` According to various reports it was evident that the U.S. government had sufficient information to have uncovered and potentially disrupted the December 25 attack, but the failure was brought by the failure to connect the dots by the CT community. The attack also highlighted the evolving threat that AQAP- terrorist group, posed to the West, and the U.S. Homeland, some of the improvised explosive device tactics that terrorists might use were also highlighted.
In this case it was evident that a series of human errors occurred which included a delayed dissemination of a finished intelligence report, and what appears to be an incomplete database search on Mr. Abdulmutallab’s name and identifying information (Whitehouse.gov, 2009).
The incident led President Obama to direct the Director of National Intelligence to immediately reaffirm and clarify roles and responsibilities of the counterterrorism analytic components of the intelligence community in synchronizing, correlating, and analyzing all sources of intelligence related to terrorism. He was also to seek ways into which he could accelerate technology enhancements, so as to include knowledge discovery, database integration, cross-database searches, and the ability to correlate biographic information with terrorism-related intelligence. Initiatives had also to be taken in order to enhance the rigor and raise the standard of trade craft intelligence analysis, especially the analysis that is designed to uncover and prevent terrorists’ plots. Resources are to be aligned strategically and properly with issues highlighted in strategic warning analysis (Whitehouse 2010).
In conclusion, the attempted attack on December 25, 2009 led to increased concerns about the effectiveness of the laws, regulations, and organizational relationships which were created after the September 11 terrorist attacks. The attack demonstrated specific failures by the intelligence community to connect the dots, so as to bring together disparate pieces of information in order to provide clear warning of an impeding attack it was a failure to integrate and understand the intelligence that already existed (Best, 2010).
Best, R. A, (2010). The National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC)—Responsibilities and Potential Congressional Concerns. Retrieved, 7 May 2010 from, http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/intel/R41022.pdf
Whitehouse.gov, (2009). Summary of the White House Review of the December 25, 2009 Attempted Terrorist Attack. Retrieved 7 May 2010 from, http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/summary_of_wh_review_12-25-09.pdf
Whitehouse.gov, (2010). Attempted Terrorist Attack on December 25, 2009: Intelligence, Screening, and Watchlist System Corrective Actions. Retrieved 7 May 2010, from http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/potus_directive_corrective_actions_1-7-10.pdf