"Conspiracy or cock up?" White House reaction to ersatz bomber

Michael Collins

Also posted here and here

The underpants bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, is a curious terrorist. He became disillusioned with his privileged life as the son of a bank chairman and member of the Nigerian elite, it would seem. Rather than pursuing his studies in London, he retreated to Yemen to learn the ways of al Qaeda inspired terrorism.

Farouk was so indiscreet that his father reported him to the U.S. Embassy as a potential terrorist in November. A month later, he managed to get on a jumbo jet headed for Detroit to complete a terror mission. Despite his training in engineering at the prestigious London School of Economics, Farouk failed in his mission. He couldn't mix his explosives to achieve the desired effect. He apparently forgot to detonate the explosive device in mid flight, waiting until just before landing in Detroit to start his task. He retrieved and set off the chemicals to create the explosion in full view of passengers.

What kind of terrorist is this? He doesn't know when, how or where to conduct his criminal enterprise.

Is this the best al Qaeda can do?

Is this the justification to for a media manufactured scare-a-thon about the danger Farouk poses to our "freedoms?"

Or is this guy some sort of ringer in yet another moronic master plan ?

Pardon my cynicism about the perpetual power structure but there is a spectacular history of lying by those in power to further their own endeavors: Operation Northwoods; the Gulf of Tonkin incident; the perjured testimony about babies thrown out of incubators used to justify Gulf War I; the lies about WMD before Gulf War II; and so forth.

Few are willing to discuss deep conspiracies either as a real phenomena or as an influence on our nation's history. The inquiring mind that wanders into that minefield is labeled a "conspiracy theorist" and shoved to the sidelines of public discourse.

But Judith Miller changed all that. She was the ultimate bogus conspiracy theorist who was endorsed and headlined by the New York Times. Who could tell bigger lies better than Miller.

Game on- January 4th

On January 4, 2010, Keith Olbermann ran a segment on Countdown that featured our curious terrorist and the apparatus that somehow missed him despite his concerned father's pleadings. After the setup, current insider in chief and apparent White House spokesman, Richard Wolffe emerged. He provided some remarkable information from inside the White House deliberations.

"It's clear the president is still deeply concerned and troubled and even angry at the intelligence lapses. They see this more as an intelligence lapse more than a situation of airport security faults. Why didn't the centralized system of intelligence after 911, why didn't it work." Richard Wolffe, January 4

Wolffe then asked and answered this question:

"Is this conspiracy or cock up?"

"It seems that the president is leaning very much toward this as a systemic failure by individuals who maybe had an alternative agenda." Wolffe

"An alternative agenda"-- what could that mean?

On the 4th, the answer to the question, "why didn't it work" was clearly on the side of the "alternative agenda" explanation. This was extraordinary.

Olbermann was like a dog on point with this question.

"... you suggested in there that the administration is looking into perhaps mixed motives or misplaced priorities. ... Are people thought to have been deliberately withholding information so the dots cant' be connected?" Keith Olbermann

Wolffe didn't waiver and indicated that there was something seriously wrong with the intelligence process, particularly concerning the November intelligence gathered from Farouk's father. Watch the segment starting at 3:50 and decide for yourself.

January 4 Countdown Wolffe at 3:50

Were we on the verge of finally having someone or some faction held accountable for insulting the citizens of this country with ridiculous excuses to expand this or that war or surveillance program, deny yet more rights,and impose even greater surveillance? Not quite.

Game off (or is it) - January 5

By the very next day, Wolffe was back with Olbermann to revise the view from the White House.

"It's closer to the cock-up rather than the conspiracy I was talking about." Richard Wolffe

The president's view had changed after his all hands meeting on the 4th . It was really just a screw up (cock up). There was to be "no finger pointing" and the administration would be focus on preventing future such episodes.

January 5 Countdown Wolffe at 4:00

The denial of the original speculation by Wolffe lost credibility the more he expanded on his message, as I understand him. He says:

"I wasn't talking about, as some online commentators have interpreted it, a political plot to embarrass the president by allowing civilians to die. This really gets to the heart of intent versus pure accident. An intent can be non malicious, it can be … a failure to cooperate, it can be a lack of confidence in the system. Which the president has concluded that's where he's at. Richard Wolffe, January 5

It's difficult to understand how failing to report the father's warnings about his son, warnings that proved highly accurate, can be without malice. Even if we rule out malice, it is impossible to argue that this failure to inform was anything other than gross negligence.

"And one thing the president didn't refer to today, which is very revealing, which is what he picked out first in Hawaii. The story of Abdulmutallab's father going to the CIA in Nigeria and telling them about the radicalization of his son and the fears about his son. That information was not shared in the early reports was not shared. " Wolffe

Of interest, just after Wolffe moves the president back from the precipice of an historic accusation of a malicious shadow government, he reiterates the heart of the accusation of malice in the quotation above. It's the "CIA" that received the information and failed to enter it into the terrorist information system(s).

After that explicit naming the agency guilty of "failure to cooperate," it is classic Obama:

"He doesn't want this blame game anymore. The president understands that can be corrosive. He want's to look at the how things can be fixed rather than the why they were broken in this case." Wolffe

What's going on?

It's important to understand that on January 4, a preferred spokesman for the White House, Richard Wolffe, told us that the president was leaning toward a conspiracy of malefactors who "maybe" let it happen, namely the Farouk mission. The motive for their "alternative agenda" was never explicated but it was clearly there, in living color commentary.

There has been little cogent speculation on what all this means. One unlikely source emerged in the president's corner (and rightly so if he's correct) was long time Obama critic Webster Tarpley. He noted:

"Wolffe offered two possible explanations cited by his White House sources for the intentional sabotage of security procedures, resulting in yet another egregious failure to connect the dots. The first was a “turf war” inside the intelligence community, with one agency seeking to hoard information and deny it to others. The second was the desire to 'embarrass' some leading figures, presumably referring to partisan animus or other resentments against Obama and his top appointees." Webster Tarpley, January 4

This is a clear and accurate summary of Wolffe's "conspiracy or cock up" explanation on Monday's Countdown.

Tarpley went on to provide a third possibility:

"But Obama and his advisors should be urged to consider a third explanation far more plausible than either of these. This third explanation would include the desire of a rogue network inside the US government to unleash a new wave of Islamophobic hysteria to rehabilitate the discredited 'global war on terror' strategy in a new and more sophisticated form, while imposing a new round of outrageous and degrading search procedures at airports (such as the full body scanners peddled by the venal Michael Chertoff) to soften up the American people for heightened totalitarian control and political repression. All of this, moreover, in ways that will be politically harmful to Obama." Tarpley

This is a logical extrapolation if you accept the White House's original belief that this was a "conspiracy" not a" cock up." Admittedly, it comes from the source of some of the harshest invectives against President Obama. The fact that I disagree with many of these has little bearing on my interest in Tarpley's clearly stated third alternative to a possible conspiracy masquerading as a screw up. Who else has said that?

For the purposes of raising questions and encouraging speculation, it really doesn't matter what Tarpley's political sympathies are. Simply consider the possibility that Obama was right on day one; that the initial Wolffe message was a warning shot across the bow to those suspected of this treachery; and, that the next day's retraction was a means of seeming to keep things under control.

One might argue that this is a reprise of Bush blaming the CIA for the Iraq intelligence failures. There's one important difference. It wasn't the CIA, it was Bush, Cheney, and then CIA Director George Tenant fixing the intelligence and reports of honest analysts to justify a war. In this case, the CIA is explicitly blamed. Very curious.

The failure to enter the information into usable intelligence systems would seem to have alternative explanations. It could have been the CIA as a unit that did it, as Wolffe stated as though it was fact. Or it could have been rogue elements within the intelligence community doing this, with malicious intent or deliberate negligence, to achieve the ends suggested by Tarpley or broader analysis.

By tagging the CIA, the president via Richard Wolffe, finessed the real question: Are there those in the government who deliberately allowed an obvious terrorist, an incompetent one at that, to slip through the system and, as a result, revive the entire apparatus of anti terrorism based on one obviously incompetent individual?

Maybe President Obama dropped his deliberative style and turned on a dime from Monday to Tuesday.

Maybe you can fail to enter the name of an obvious risk for terrorism without any malice.

Maybe the president caved after taking a bold stance in defense of sanity.

Or maybe he's made his point for now and is regrouping to clean house.

Or maybe the huge error of failing to enter the name was just a "screw up."

And maybe there really were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq as Judith Miller and the New York Times promised based on their stellar sources.

Before we march down the road to ratify the permanent loss of habeas corpus and other vital rights; before we spend even more money on making travel truly unbearable; and, before we finally lose the best elements of our society due to one incompetent terrorist, maybe we should get the entire truth behind the fascinating revelations of Richard Wolffe. One can only hope.


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Obama infers: Terrorist incident Aided by US Intelligence.

Richard Wolffe is as close to the president, his inner circle and administration as they come. He covered the entire Obama campaign from its start to election day. He is now Newsweek's senior White House correspondent. Before Newsweek, Wolffe was a senior journalist at the Financial Times, serving as its deputy bureau chief and U.S. diplomatic correspondent in Washington.

The most extraordinary admission is in this little exchange:

It’s clear the president is still deeply concerned and troubled and even angry at the intelligence lapses. They see this more as an intelligence lapse more than a situation of airport security faults. Why didn’t the centralized system of intelligence after 911, why didn’t it work.” Richard Wolffe, January 4

Wolffe then asked and answered this question:

“Is this conspiracy or cock up?”
“It seems that the president is leaning very much toward this as a systemic failure by individuals who maybe had an alternative agenda.”

This little gem can be seen in this youtube video, at around 4 minutes and 55 seconds into the clip:


So that's what the president is "leaning towards"?

What exactly is the president leaning towards? He is certainly not referring to "al Qaeda" here. He is inferring "elements (note plural) within the US intelligence services with an alternative agenda". Or, is "al Qaeda" part and parcel of the US intelligence community and they are using naive Islamic dupes and patsies to maintain the appearance of a foreign terror campaign against the US, in order to "justify" public support and taxpayer funding for the current seres of wars?

What he is definitely NOT leaning towards

is ending the wars or the false justifications for them.

(Incidentally, there's a common mistake in usage these days: What speakers and writers do is 'imply,' while it's their listeners and readers who 'infer.' In this instance, it was Wolffe who inferred, based on what Obama and/or his aides had implied.)

Yes but

the inference by Wolffe became in implication in behalf of Obama when Wolffe was on Countdown to deliver the message. It was and is up to the audience to make the inference.

I would suspect that Obama made it very clear to Wolffe what was to be conveyed, so inference, in that conversation was probably not necessary. This was to critical a message to allow for any ambiguity. Wolffe was very clear on January 4 about the direction of our inference, as the transcript indicates.

The wars

I agree with you on your point about more wars. The act of sending 30,000 troops to Afghanistan is simply irreconcilable with any legal or moral options. Even by real politic standards, it make no sense.

In this instance, Obama is the president, a part of the constitutional structure. If there are privateers intruding in foreign policy, regardless of Obama's other actions, this is an attack on that constitutional structure. The intrusion should be opposed, just as the presidents unconstitutional behavior should be opposed. The intrusions for whatever purpose in this case and over the past decades are fatally toxic to the public. Every time they get away with this, we're screwed. For just one moment, there was the appearance of a chance that these privateers might be exposed. Of course, they never are.

bloggulator, that is the question

What was the president "leaning towards." Survival The rogue elements in the government got a little sloppy and failed to inform the president of their latest ruse. I have no doubt that Obama was stunned. He's been more than cooperative with Wall Street and the war party 'So why are they embarrassing me?', he may have wondered in a big way.

Going public is a known tactic for those threatened by organized crime. It's much harder to take care of someone if that person is on the front page associated with the specific matter in question. It guarantees that if something goes wrong, that will be on the front page also.

Very few people are writing about this as though it's rogue elements versus the constitutional order. . There are a number of people asking questions about this being a plan to embarrass Obama. I think embarrassing Obama was a benefit that flowed from the operation, letting Farouk board the plane. But the real goal is to whip up the support for yet another war and to scare just enough people just enough to move the Patriot Act.

While the president shot back at the rogues initially, he ended up caving (or at least it seems that way). General Jones said that we'd be shocked by revelations in the report on the incident. When the report came out, it had little shock value. While the president started out looking for accountability, he ended up saying "the buck stops here" at his Thursday speech.

In a true democracy, the judicial, legislative and executive functions operate unmolested and uncontrolled by coalitions of outsiders. That's the principle at stake here, not anyone's political stance (striving to just get close to the principle; I don't believe that we're even close to this). It's time for the people to insist that the veil of secrecy be pulled back, for good, so we can understand this incident and the most important unresolved assault on the people, 911.

Good article, other than the Tarpley citation

good analysis, thanks for posting, Mr. Collins.

please see Tarpley's role in the Kennebunkport Warning:


Thanks and thanks again

I'll take a look. The silence on this incident is deafening. The message delivered by Wolffe and even the moderation of that should have attracted some attention to the obvious implications of all this.

I'll check out the link. Also, I'm a huge fan of historycommons.org.

That's first rate

We depend on the kindness of others to get our information sometimes. I would have missed that for now and it is very valuable information.

There are a few "utility" players, as they were called in baseball, who can go into a variety of situations and make things happen for those in charge or who are paying the freight. This gentleman is one of them. Long, long ago, before his current job, Frank Carlucci was one of them. The rewards are handsome but I suspect the burden of knowledge, etc. is a bit heavy (presuming the capacity to reflect).


Heart of darkness

andhowe, I replied in the wrong place (see above)

It's all good.