Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Welcome Back to the Bronze Age of Intelligence

Late last year, on Christmas day and the day before New Year's Eve, jihadists from both the Taliban and, allegedly, al Qaeda, embarrassed the United States. On Christmas a Nigerian citizen was allowed to get on a plane in Amsterdam with an incendiary device sewn into his underwear despite having been put on a terror watch list. Last Wednesday, a Taliban militant, a physician named Humam Khalil Mohammed, blew up himself and eight others at a CIA base in southeastern Afghanistan.

What makes these attacks and the successful infiltration of agents from two terrorist networks especially embarrassing is that a little bit of additional vetting would've turned up their true intentions. Farouk Abdulmutallab's own father had warned the US embassy in Nigeria that his son had been radicalized and Dr. Mohammed's dedication to jihad was well-documented in al Qaeda's online magazine (Yes, they have an online magazine just like Salon.com and Wired). The only thing that shielded Mohammed's identity was an online pseudonym. A nom de plume apparently is good enough to foil the most heavily-funded and technologically sophisticated intelligence-gathering network on earth.

Compare this to the recently publicized apprehension of a drug dealer when a small town Indiana deputy tracked him down in Canada through his activities on the online RPG game World of Warcraft (although it can be assumed Blizzard Entertainment's level of cooperation was higher than that which would've been offered by al Qaeda to CIA investigators).

There are several parallels and lessons we can take away from this, such as this being the second time in as many months that a trusted doctor had taken American lives. And, in spite of documented evidence proving their real loyalties, lax Homeland Security and TSA guidelines that govern all airports for flights inbound to the United States put Farouk Abdulmutallab on a plane to Detroit.

Five days later, the trusted Jordanian GID (General Intelligence Directorate) implanted on a secret CIA base in Afghanistan a double agent whose purported purpose was to root out al Qaeda terrorists. Not only did it expose our vulnerability it also embarrassed the Jordanian government that understandably didn't want it to be known they were working in such collusion with US intelligence. It also made a mockery of them criticizing the CIA for relying too much on technology and not enough on humint (human intelligence) such as when we got our cues for invading Iraq from an alcoholic named "Curveball", Jordanian-convicted criminal Ahmad Chalabi and a taxi driver.

In other words, we were punked by two Muslim Trojan horses within a week in spite of a $50 billion annual budget financing 16 intelligence agencies. Welcome back to the Bronze Age of intelligence gathering.

The sad thing in all this is that, unlike the Trojans, we didn't have a Laocoön to warn us of Greeks (or Jordanians) bearing gifts.

Laocoön was the priest who'd warned the Trojans that the Greeks' Trojan horse shouldn't be trusted. The anti-Trojan, pro-Greek Poseidon sent two serpents to strangle Laocoön before he could be believed in much the same manner that the anti-Iraqi, pro-American Bush administration killed off in a manner of speaking our next-to-last Laocoön. His name was Richard Clarke. The last was Joseph Wilson.

The problem is, we have too many Poseidons and not enough Trojan soldiers. Throughout the entire Bush administration, whistleblowers had suffered persecution (and, in the case of Susan Lindauer, prosecution as well) for simply doing their jobs and their patriotic duty. Joseph Wilson's wife was outed as a covert agent after he'd blown to smithereens the Bush administration's rationale for going to war with Iraq. FBI translator Sibel Edmonds had been slapped with a gag order. Clarke was ignored and became the male Cassandra, an irrelevant relic of the Clinton years. Bunny Greenhouse was fired for turning up inconvenient truths regarding defense contracts and Lindauer was tried, ironically, as a double agent for Iraqi intelligence.

And the US spy network is apparently so interested in proprietary intelligence that affects the security of the entire nation that they'd willingly keep rival agencies in the dark, making it all but impossible for analysts and case agents to connect the dots.

Blogger Alicia Morgan recently told me in a conversation that her son had been put on a terrorist watch list since he was eight years old. Why are we putting children, respected authors and even revered United States Senators on terrorist watch lists while gullibly rolling people like Dr. Nidal Hasan, Farouk Abdulmutallab and Dr. Humam Khalil Mohammed in our midst when they were certainly not shy about their true intentions?

Perhaps we should be looking more gift horses in the mouth.


At January 7, 2010 at 6:51 AM, Anonymous Realist said...

Excellent metaphor! We Who Are About To Fly Salute You!

Obama has been embarrassed by these revelations and is expressing anger, yet he still falls back upon his trite stance of looking forward and not back. He is indicating that he isn't going to remove anyone for playing this "information is proprietary" game from their positions. Maybe someone should remind Obama that being president isn't about riding around the world in Air Force One and picking up Nobel Peace Prizes on the way to increasing national military involvement in war. Sometimes, the president is called upon to make hard decisions - and them carry them out promptly. It's way past time that he got started on this task.


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