Boxers or briefs…but someone was briefed: that’s the gist of yet another investigative tidbit from Newsweek, this time via reporters Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball who have learned that White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan learned about Al Qaeda’s underwear explosive tactic in October:
White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan was briefed in October on an assassination attempt by Al Qaeda that investigators now believe used the same underwear bombing technique as the Nigerian suspect who tried to blow up Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on Christmas Day, U.S. intelligence and administration officials tell NEWSWEEK.
The briefing to Brennan was delivered at the White House by Muhammad bin Nayef, Saudi Arabia’s chief counterterrorism official. In late August, Nayef had survived an assassination attempt by an operative dispatched by the Yemeni branch of Al Qaeda who was pretending to turn himself in. The operative had tried to kill the Saudi prince by detonating a bomb on his body, but stumbled on his way into the prince’s palace and blew himself up
Saudi officials initially thought the bomb had been secreted in the operative’s anal cavity. But after investigating the matter more thoroughly, they concluded it had likely been sewn into his underwear, thereby allowing the operative to bypass security checks before his meeting with the prince. A main purpose of Nayef’s briefing for Brennan was to alert U.S. officials to the use of the underwear technique.
U.S. officials now suspect that Nayef’s attempted assassin and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian suspect aboard the Northwest flight, had the same bomb maker in Yemen, intelligence experts tell NEWSWEEK. At the briefing for Brennan, Nayef was concerned because “he didn’t think [U.S. officials] were paying enough attention” to the growing threat from Al Qaeda in Yemen, said a former U.S. intelligence official familiar with the briefing. (A senior Saudi official told NEWSWEEK Saturday that “we don’t have any concerns that the U.S. government isn’t sufficiently concerned about Yemen. In the latter part of the Bush administration and in this administration, the U.S. has been very focused on the dangers emanating from Yemen.”)
The briefing for Brennan could raise questions on Capitol Hill about how widely information was shared within the government about the apparently new technique used by Al Qaeda. A senior administration official said, however, that within a week after the assassination attempt on Nayef, President Obama had dispatched Brennan to Saudi Arabia to discuss the attack.
Even so, these latest reports from Newsweek — that President Barack Obama got a pre-Xmas terrorism briefing and that in October Brennan learned about the underwear bomb technique — will likely fuel the megapartisanships that is already swirling on both sides (condemn Obama and the administration before all the facts are in; defend Obama and the administration before all the facts are in) swirling around the terrorism/national security issue. It’s understandable since 2010 is
the silly season an election year.
See our earlier post HERE about how Newsweek’s earlier tidbit, and how this is likelyi to play out politically.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.