Rush to Judgment
Adding on to Dr. Steven Taylor’s fine post highlighting some of the more irrational responses to Mark Hosenball’s Newsweek article about the intelligence briefing Pres. Obama received three days before the Christmas Day attempted airline bombing, here is a much more thoughtful and sensible piece by the always-worth- reading Spencer Ackerman:
Going off what Hosenball has reported, this isn’t like George W. Bush’s August 6, 2001 PDB, which discussed a staggering 70 FBI investigations into al-Qaeda; articulated al-Qaeda’s desire to use planes as missiles; and placed a forthcoming homeland attack within the context of escalating al-Qaeda threats. A possible parallel, unproven at this point — indeed, there’s no evidence for it, aside from the speculation that follows — is whether the Christmas briefing occurred in the context of earlier briefings in which the intelligence community and key White House aides expressed “hair on fire” concerns about “the system blinking red,” since that was the situation in the pre-9/11 summer of 2001. But, again: unless inquiries uncover such a thing, there isn’t any evidence suggesting that. To the contrary: as Hosenball reports, a “stream of information which alluded to a possible holiday-period plot” emanating from Pakistan turned out to be most likely “a washout.”But here’s the issue: it’s not simply what’s in the intelligence brief. It’s in what the response was. And in this case, it looks initially like the inputs were simply insufficient to prompt an all-hands Homeland Security/State response that would have yanked Abdulmutallab’s visa or placed him on the no-fly. The way to do that is to significantly lower the standards for keeping people out of the U.S., and that has significant consequences for all manner of other interests. If this is really the direction we want to go in the name of perfect security — for an al-Qaeda already lowering its sights from planes-as-missiles to on-board detonations — then let’s debate that. But let’s not pretend there’s a cost-free solution.