ASKIAM and Richard Muhammad -Final Call Staffers-
U.S. focuses on Yemen
(FinalCall.com) – If the various neo-conservatives who doubled the country’s national debt in eight years prosecuting two bloody wars in Muslim countries are now to be believed, Yemen will become America’s “new” enemy for active, hostile military actions in the so-called “War on Terrorism …” after Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Somalia that is.
President Barack Obama ended his holiday vacation in Hawaii labeling Al-Qaeda as the driving force behind an attempt to bomb a U.S.-bound airliner on Christmas Day and promised to hold accountable those who launched the failed attack.
In his weekly radio and Internet address Jan. 2, the president said the man suspected of trying to bomb a plane flying to Detroit on Dec. 25 appeared to have been trained by an affiliate of the Islamic militant network operating from Yemen.
Mr. Obama had earlier called for an immediate study of what he termed “human and systemic failures” that allowed 23-year-old Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to get on a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit allegedly with explosives in his clothes. Authorities say the device failed to ignite properly, burning the young man who was restrained by passengers and crew and taken into custody when the plane landed.
“The investigation into the Christmas Day incident continues, and we’re learning more about the suspect,” Mr. Obama said in his Jan. 2 address. “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 continued.
How could this happen in 2009 given the horror of planes crashing into the World Trade Center Sept. 11, 2001 and all of the years of scrutiny and millions spent on enhanced security and planning? President Obama had scheduled a Jan. 5 meeting with top security personnel to find out at Final Call press time.
Questions about ‘security failures’
Senate hearings will convene Jan. 21 as part of the investigation. Efforts swiftly turned to increased screenings through promised use of body scanners in some international airports and other security measures were adopted.
The Transportation Security Administration announced Jan. 3 that travelers from 14 countries described as having terrorism problems will face additional scrutiny. The tougher screenings will target passengers from 10 “countries of interest”–listed as Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Yemen–and Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria, four nations that the U.S. has called state sponsors of terrorism.
The glaring failures to share intelligence when the accused bomber’s father reported concerns about possible radical action to CIA and State Dept. officials in Nigeria in November while the young man carried a U.S. visa and was on a watch list; Al-Qaeda internet chatter about a Nigerian prepared for an anti-U.S. mission; no apparent scrutiny despite his cash purchase of a one-way ticket with a single carry-on; and Britain’s refusal to allow the Nigerian national into their country have raised some serious questions.
Kurt Haskell, an attorney who was on the flight with his wife, has major questions. Mr. Haskell, in a Jan. 4 phone interview with The Final Call, described seeing the accused bomber escorted to an airline ticket counter in Amsterdam before the plane departed for Detroit. (See related story this page.)
The “young Black male” was accompanied by a well-dressed Indian, perhaps Pakistani older man, who told the counter agent the youth needed to board the flight, but didn’t have a passport, said Mr. Haskell.
The agent responded that a passport was needed and the older man replied, “We do this all the time,” and the young man was from Sudan, according to Mr. Haskell. The agent directed the youth and older gentleman to go down a hallway and see higher ups, Mr. Haskell continued.
He didn’t see the older man again and he didn’t see the young man until minutes from the landing in Detroit, after a flight attendant walked by, mumbled about smelling smoke, then a fire broke out. He saw the young man hustled down the aisle, not knowing whether the man was a victim of the fire or a terrorist. No other information was given, except the pilot saying emergency landing as the plane was brought to the ground, Mr. Haskell said.
‘I just want the truth’
The Michigan-based lawyer insists he could easily be proven wrong–authorities simply need to air the videotape from Amsterdam and either the man he saw was there or he wasn’t. And despite two interviews with the FBI, e-mails and outreach to airline and other federal security agencies, his questions haven’t been answered and he’s not happy. The government’s story has changed five times and a second man detained once passengers departed flight Northwest Airlines flight 253 hasn’t been seen or talked about, he added.
The passengers were subjected to unnecessary risk post flight, the crime scene on the plane wasn’t preserved so evidence might have been ruined and the Internet is full of people speaking negatively about him. “I don’t want anything; I just want the truth.”
“I feel extremely leery; I’m talking out against some of the most powerful people in the world. I don’t feel safe at all,” Mr. Haskell said. “If anyone wants to come harm me, take your shot. I’m not afraid to die; I shouldn’t even be here now. I’m not going to back down,” he said.
“The American people need to force the government to an open, honest and thorough investigation,” Mr. Haskell said. “And should insist on seeing the evidence to back up the file version. We need to see the evidence on our own to make a determination on what happened, who’s responsible and what should be done about it,” he argued.
His wife, Lori, is a staunch defender of her husband. “What is really unfair about this situation is some things I have been reading online about Kurt, or rather about both of us at times. Kurt wants nothing but a full investigation to be done into this. He saw things that nobody else is claiming to see, and wants to feel safe flying again. And people on message boards, comments on news articles, they are CRITICIZING him. Trying to say that we are using this to promote business, for our future political runs, or whatever. All of which are ridiculous,” she wrote on her blog, http://haskellfamily.blogspot.com.
“Those that ‘know’ Kurt and I in ‘real’ life know we are extremely private people, who spend a lot of time at home and have no desire, in any way, to be in the limelight. I keep this blog to update friends and family on my life, since I so rarely get to see them. My office is the busiest I know of in our area, and we do not need more business and would never use something as tragic as this to promote our business–that’s sick. And, since both of us HATE politics and refuse to even associate with a political party any longer, that claim is the most laughable.
“What’s funny is, I almost just died, and instead of sympathy, some out there are sooooo negative. I am guessing the negative people would not want to relive that day in my shoes, but people are always out there questioning others and wanting to doubt.”
Implications for U.S. foreign policy
British officials said the United Kingdom and the U.S. would jointly fund a counter-terrorism police unit in Yemen in the wake of the alleged bomb attack over Detroit. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Downing Street and White House officials had discussed “increased U.K.-U.S. working” in a series of phone calls since the alleged failed plot on Christmas Day, according to a BBC report.
Mr. Brown has called Yemen “both an incubator and potential safe haven for terrorism” and said it presented “a regional and global threat.”
But Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) was even more blunt, warning that Yemen is likely the site of the next American war, unless the U.S. takes steps to stop the spread of Al-Qaeda.
Mr. Lieberman, who chairs the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said on Fox News Sunday Dec. 27 that the U.S. will have to take an active approach in Yemen after multiple recent terrorist attacks on the U.S. were linked back to the Middle Eastern nation.
According to Sen. Lieberman a government official in the Yemeni capital told him that “Iraq was yesterday’s war; Afghanistan is today’s war. If we don’t act preemptively, Yemen will be tomorrow’s war.”
GOP plays politics with national security
Republican officials have abandoned the customary political solidarity with the commander-in-chief during a national security crisis, instead accusing the president of mishandling the Detroit incident, not doing enough to prevent attacks on this country, and painting Mr. Obama as weak on national security. Former Vice President Dick Cheney and Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), the senior Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, and Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) have led that charge.
Rep. Hoekstra shocked even some in his own party by sending out a fundraising email denouncing Mr. Obama and his officials over the failed bombing.
The political bickering is exceeded only by the inter-agency fingerpointing among government officials trying to escape blame for the failed attack–among them, the CIA, the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security.
The Senate Intelligence Committee announced Jan. 21 hearings as part of an investigation. “We will be following the intelligence down the rabbit hole to see where the breakdown occurred and how to prevent this failure in the future,” said Sen. Kit Bond of Missouri, top Republican on the committee according to a published report. “Somebody screwed up big time.”
Continued failures in domestic security
Despite billions of dollars spent on efforts to spy both abroad and at home, the creation of a national intelligence-information overseer and countless inter-agency promises to cooperate, the Detroit incident made it abundantly clear that the country’s national security apparatus was still not operating smoothly before the attempted bombing Dec. 25.
Officials are tracing a communications breakdown that would have resulted in a mid-air tragedy except for the alleged attacker’s fumbling failure to detonate explosives sewn in his underwear and the quick response of others on the flight. Now Mr. Obama, like George W. Bush before him, is struggling to get the nation’s disparate intelligence and security agencies operating on the same page.
Democrats pointed out that eight years ago, Dec. 22, 2002, a passenger–Richard Reid–attempted to blow up a trans-Atlantic airliner and was thwarted by other passengers only months after the Sept. 11 attacks. But President George W. Bush, then on vacation, made no public remarks for six days about the so-called “shoe bomber,” and there were virtually no complaints from the media or Democrats that Mr. Bush’s response was sluggish or inadequate.
Democrats are making the disparity a centerpiece of their efforts to counter GOP attacks on the White House. “This hypocrisy demonstrates Republicans are playing politics with issues of national security and terrorism,” Democratic National Committee spokesman Hari Sevugan said Dec. 30, according to published reports.
“That they would use this incident as an opportunity to fan partisan flames … tells you all you need to know about how far the Republican Party has fallen and how out of step with the American people they have become.”
Policy-wise, Democrats are declaring the government’s intelligence procedures in need of repair. House Intelligence Committee member Rep. Jane Harman, (D-Calif.) said that when the government gets tipped to trouble as it did before the Nigerian suspect boarded a Detroit-bound jet with explosives, “someone’s hair should be on fire.”
Instead, officials are targeting everyone in the flying public with more time consuming and draconian “security” measures, just as they have done in the past, rather than refining the unwieldy “terrorist watch list.” The terrorist watch list has been critiqued regularly since 2003. In March, Corey Nelson, then the deputy director at Terrorist Screening Center, said there were 400,000 names with 1.3 million records on the terrorist watch list, according to Federal News Radio.
Terror watch list has history of problems
The Government Accountability Office has issued several reports on the watch list, including one in 2008 that found that the government still lacked an up-to-date implementation and strategy to enhance the effectiveness of terrorist-related screening.
Ironically, five times in 2004 airport security tried blocking the late Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) from boarding flights because his name was on the terror watch list. The list has also included the names of a federal prosecutor and an airline pilot, as well as countless ordinary citizens with no criminal or otherwise suspicious records.
Congress needs to scrutinize the security system and determine where additional resources are needed, according to Asa Hutchinson, the former Undersecretary of Border and Transportation Security for the Department of Homeland Security.
“The wrong answer is to put more TSA (Transportation Security Administration) inspectors at airports to inspect the 2 million passengers who are not terrorists,” Mr. Hutchinson told Sphere.com. “It needs to be put into intelligence and the right intelligence. That’s where the resources need to go.”
The national political spectacle as well as the likely U.S. foreign policy response can be accurately compared to games. The partisan, high-wire, in-fighting resembles a “political fist fight on a tightrope suspended 20 feet above the ground,” The Washington Post editorialized Dec. 31.
On the other hand, the frenzy to launch retaliatory strikes against Yemen, resembles an incendiary version of the children’s arcade game “Whac-a-Mole,” where the object is to force randomly appearing moles back into their holes by hitting them on the head with the mallet.
Covert war underway in Yemen
Any dramatic, new attacks against Al-Qaeda in Yemen may be meant to have a greater impact on American public opinion than on the extremist group. The U.S. has been conducting covert assaults with drone attacks on Al-Qaeda bases for about a year, while CIA agents inside the country help direct ground operations, according to a Dec. 31 report by The Guardian/UK. American special forces have been training the Yemeni military and may have been involved in such raids, the report said.
“What this really is is it’s a covert war,” Glen Greenwald, a constitutional law attorney and political and legal blogger for Salon.com told Pacifica Radio’s “Democracy Now!” “The New York Times called it a ‘covert front’ in the terror war, whatever you want to call it, a front in the ongoing war or a new war. The reality is, is that we’re involved in a war in a new country that most Americans have never even thought about or heard of, let alone given thought to whether we should be involved in war there.
“And when you count the number of countries, of Muslim countries where we’re actively engaged in some kind of warfare–Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and now Yemen–that’s five different Muslim countries where we are either occupying, invading or bombing. And that’s to say nothing of the conflicts that our primary client state in the Middle East, Israel, has with a whole bunch of other Muslim countries and the other Muslim countries that we’re threatening, such as Iran. So we are expanding the wars and aggression in the Muslim world,” Mr. Greenwald continued.
“If you talk to virtually any expert in that country–and I interviewed one at Princeton last week–across the political spectrum what they will say is that when we shoot missiles into various sites in Yemen and kill civilians, as we did eight days ago–and there’s no question that–although there’s some question about what exactly our involvement was, because it’s a covert war, there’s no question we were involved heavily and enabled the attack. When we kill civilians or shoot missiles or drop Hellfire missiles into that country, and when we prop up the dictatorial oppressive regime that runs that country, we are unquestionably doing exactly that which Al-Qaeda could wish for: we are helping Al-Qaeda convert the population and bringing greater and greater sympathy to the cause of Islamic radicalism,” he said.
Ironically, in Yemen, Lebanon, and the Palestinian territories, authorities have long accused Israel of allying with, infiltrating, fomenting, and even financing deadly attacks by so-called “Islamic extremists.”
Soon after a 1995 massacre, in which 21 Israeli soldiers were killed by two Islamic Jihad suicide bombers, Palestinian Authority chief Yasser Arafat told a group of visiting dignitaries that right-wing Israelis had collaborated with the killers. Otherwise, he said, the killers could not have passed through several Israeli Defense Force check posts without being stopped, according to an Aug. 25, 1995 Jerusalem Post report.
Later, one day after a bus bombing in Jerusalem, Mr. Arafat expressed his concerns publicly. He not only announced in Gaza that there was collaboration between what he called “Israeli and Palestinian extremists,” but that he had documents proving it, the reports stated.
In Beirut, in June 2006, the Lebanese army said it had captured members of a terrorist network allegedly working for the Israeli Mossad and that a suspect–Mahmoud Rafeh a retired police officer–confessed to his role in assassinating Hezbollah and Palestinian officials, and that he “had links to Israeli intelligence” according to a June 14, 2006 report by “YaLibnan.com.”
Such practices are easy for Israeli intelligence agencies. “With a cadre of well-trained, Arabic-speaking Israeli informants who are indistinguishable physically from the Palestinian population, Shabak has little problem gathering intelligence on a people whose every movement is regulated by hundreds of check points and by total Israeli control on their borders. These infiltrators prey on Arab innate hospitality and friendliness. The Palestinians call them ‘musta’ribeen’, i.e., ‘those who appear to be Arabs.’ According to a June 8, 2006 report by the “Electronic Intifada.”
In March 2009, a Yemeni court sentenced an Islamist to death and handed down jail sentences against two others after convicting them of seeking to work for Israeli intelligence services. This followed an announcement in Oct. 2008 by Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh who said his security forces had arrested a group of alleged Islamist militants linked to Israeli intelligence. Mr. Saleh did not say at the time what evidence had been found to show the group’s links with Israel.
The arrests were connected with an attack on the U.S. embassy in Sanaa in September 2008 which killed at least 18 people, official sources were quoted saying. “A terrorist cell was arrested and will be referred to the judicial authorities for its links with the Israeli intelligence services,” Mr. Saleh told a gathering at al-Mukalla University in Hadramawt province, according to a BBC report.
In each case Israel was accused of sponsoring militant Islamic violence, the Jewish state’s foreign ministry has rejected the accusation as “totally ridiculous.”
An Israeli foreign ministry spokesman said the Yemeni president’s claim was without foundation. “To believe that Israel would create Islamist cells in Yemen is really far-fetched. This is yet another victory for the proponents of conspiracy theories,” Igal Palmor said in remarks reported by AFP. Oct. 8, 2009.