Wednesday, December 30

How many Dutch military police does it take to change a light bulb? The vexing case of terrorist Umar Abdulmutallab and attorney Kurt Haskell

UPDATE January 5
See today's Pundita post for more on Kurt Haskell's account and Pundita's theory about what really happened at Schiphol airport.
On Monday, December 28 at 11:23 GMT, the U.K. Guardian reported that a Dutch military police spokesman said they were checking out Kurt Haskell's story about seeing "a tall, well-dressed man aged about 50 with Abdulmutallab at Amsterdam's Schiphol airport before he boarded the plane.":
"At this moment we have no information on whether there was another guy. We are checking all clues and information we get."

The spokesman added that the military police and the Dutch counter-terrorism agency NCTb were reviewing CCTV recordings to check out the accomplice story.[...]
Today -- that would be Wednesday, December 30, which I emphasize is two days after the Guardian published the Dutch military police spokesperson's announcement -- the Detroit Free Press reported:
U.S. federal agents and Dutch counter-terrorism officials are investigating whether a second man helped the Nigerian bombing suspect get on the flight to Detroit on Friday without a passport, as a man from Newport, Mich., [Kurt Haskell] said he saw before he boarded the flight.
The Haskells were surely in full view of the CCTV monitor -- they were sitting on the floor of Schipol airport, right in front of the check-in counter at Northwest Airlines. They were playing cards when Kurt claimed to have seen the man he believes is Umar Abdulmutallab ("AM") accompanied by another man. The approximate time this little tableau occurred was surely reported by Kurt to authorities when he was first interviewed by the FBI, which was right after the plane landed.

So why is it taking so long to review the time- and date-stamped footage from the closed TV monitor in Schipol airport? It should have taken the Dutch military police 15 minutes, tops, to locate the appropriate place in the monitor tape and zero in on the Haskells to determine whether they were indeed within earshot and eyeball range of conversations at the check-in counter.

The same thought has clearly occurred to Kurt Haskell, who is getting irritated with what he considers to be stonewalling. Haskell is a lawyer and you know what lawyers are like; they get bent out of shape if they think they're getting the dodge from authorities -- particularly in the course of the kind of law Haskell specializes in, which is family law.

He appeared on the Alex Jones show yesterday to give listeners an earful about his second interview with the FBI. (Yes yes I know Jones is controversial but Haskell had already been interviewed or quoted by a number of mainstream media sources, including the Guardian.)

From Prison Planet's admittedly operatic summary of the interview ("Bombshell Eyewitness Revelations: Confirmed FBI Cover-Up Of Flight 253 Attack"), Haskell can't understand why Dutch authorities don't simply release the CCTV footage to back up or refute his story. That's not all he can't understand.

In Haskell's mind it's all very simple: He is a credible courtroom witness who has a story to tell that could have great bearing on the Christmas Day terrorist attack on NWA Flight 253. Ascertaining whether one part of his story -- what he claims he saw at Schipol -- should have been the work of minutes to verify or refute. As I noted, he has told his story many times by now to credible news outlets and twice to the FBI. And yet still he waits for verification from Amsterdam.

Could his story be wrong? Sure. It's possible the poorly dressed boyish-looking African male Kurt Haskell claims he saw at the check-in counter was not AM. It's also possible Kurt had one too many beers earlier at an airport restaurant. There are other reasons he could have been sincere in his recollection of events, but still wrong.

If he's right, then authorities need to move with blinding speed to investigate the other part of his story: what he claims he heard said to the check-in counter clerk by the tall, well-dressed man, who looked to Kurt like an Indian, and what Kurt claims the clerk said in response.

As to whether Kurt could be a hoaxer, that his wife told authorities she couldn't back up his story, which was brought out by today's Freep report, suggests we're probably not dealing with a version of the Hot Air Balloon husband and wife team:
[...] Lori Haskell said she was questioned for about 10 minutes and recognized a photo of the suspect from several that agents showed her. She said her husband was interviewed for at least an hour.

She said they were interviewed separately at their law offices in Taylor [Michigan].

By phone Saturday, Kurt Haskell, 38, told the Free Press he first noticed Abdulmutallab at the airline ticket counter in Amsterdam.

He and his wife, both lawyers returning from a two-week safari in Uganda, were sitting near the counter playing cards.

Haskell said he saw the suspect, "who looked like he was 16 or 17, short, really thin, looked like he was poor," wearing jeans and a T-shirt.

"He caught my eye because of who he was traveling with": a wealthy looking well-dressed Indian man in his 50s.

The Indian man, Haskell said, told the ticket agent that the younger man "needs to board the plane, but he doesn't have a passport. ... He's from Sudan. We do this all the time."

Abdulmutallab is actually from Nigeria and was traveling on a visa, American authorities confirmed Tuesday.

According to Kurt Haskell, the ticket agent told the older man he would have to speak with a manager, and was directed to another area to speak to one.

Lori Haskell said she did not witness the alleged exchange or see the people involved because she was too busy trying to beat her husband at the card game.[...]
So for a few moments I'm going to assume that Kurt's recollection was accurate and look at things from the angle of the story he told:

1. B. Raman stated at his blog that AM had a valid passport and U.S. tourist visa, and that according to a British news report a return ticket had been purchased in cash in AM's name in Accra, the capital of Ghana. So while a cash payment is a red flag for airports on the lookout for terrorists, this was offset by the other details about his travel papers.

2. Why, then, would al Qaeda arrange the kind of subterfuge that Kurt Haskell alludes to, which meant that AM did not give his real name at the Schipol check-in counter, or show his passport or the return ticket purchased in Ghana?

(If AM was posing as a refugee the actual ticket he used to get on the plane could have been bought for him at the airport, and he could have asked for the seat he knew would be unfilled -- the one booked under his real name.)

3. The answer is simple if AM's passport carried a Yemen stamp from his recent visit to that country, which is a big red flag: The return ticket was purchased in Ghana on December 16 -- four days before news broke that the City of London had gone on high alert in response to credible intelligence that a Mumbai-style terrorist attack was near. That would have led AQ to realize Schipol airport, already known as one of the toughest airports for security measures, would have been on elevated alert for even a hint of a red-flagged passport.

4. Another simple answer presents itself, if AM's prestigious and very worried father, in an effort to discourage his son from falling off the grid, had gotten a message to him that he had reported him to the U.S. embassy.

Alternate scenario: If AM had learned that his father was very worried and had spoken to the authorities or might do so. Either situation would have led al Qaeda planners to the concern that AM had gotten onto a no-fly watch list. Of course that turned out not to be the case, but AQ is a little more thorough in their precautions than Homeland Security.

5. I explored in my first post about Haskell's story why it's possible AM's passport didn't carry a Yemen stamp: there could have been an accomplice at Yemen customs who didn't stamp the passport.

But if there was a Yemen stamp and AQ was considering the worst-case scenario -- AM from a red-flag country (Nigeria), with a red-flag country stamp (Yemen), with a ticket paid for in cash (another red flag), who was on a no-fly watch list, trying to get past a notoriously 'tough' passport check, with an elevated terrorist alert for Europe -- I can see why they might have come up with a Plan B for getting AM onto NWA Flight 253.

6. AM posing as a Sudanese refugee would solve all the problems -- he wouldn't need to give his own name or show a passport -- provided AQ had knowledge that Schipol allowed such refugees onto flights. Then all they'd need do was prepare counterfeit refugee papers and hope he made it past a full body scan and a thorough pat down.

And here we arrive at the sticky part of the story. To return to the Freep report:
"Every passenger on that flight [NWA 235] was interviewed by authorities," U.S. Attorney Terrence Berg said Tuesday. "Certainly the statements of all the passengers are taken seriously." He declined to make further comment.

Susan Chana Elliott, a spokeswoman for Delta, would not comment on Kurt Haskell's account. Northwest is a subsidiary of Delta.

Elliott said Delta Air Lines staff followed procedure in fully reporting passenger information before the plane took off, and "Delta is in full compliance with all government regulations regarding passenger information transmission."

Elliott added that she could not confirm that a male Sudanese refugee was on Flight 253 on Friday.

Michael Wildes, a Manhattan-based immigration attorney and a former federal prosecutor out of Brooklyn, said the allegations of Abdulmutallab boarding without a passport are disturbing.

"The truth is that post 9/11, we are still shocked at some of the practices that flights and airlines permit," he said. "Clearly, if the airline wanted to bring him in without a passport, they would be accountable to the government."

Only U.S. citizens can board international flights to the United States without passports -- but only after the air carrier otherwise confirms their identity and citizenship, said Chief Ron Smith, spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Patrol in Detroit.

Smith added that a refugee trying to fly to the United States from another country would also have to have proof of an application for asylum or refugee status, proof of citizenship and identifying documents before the plane could take off.

Smith said that, had there been a Sudanese refugee on the plane, "We would be aware of it."
Here it is, five days out from Haskell's first public mention of what he saw and heard at Schipol, and we're still waiting for confirmation or denial of his story from Dutch authorities. However, it's now known that the second time the FBI interviewed Haskell, they questioned him for at least an hour. Might this indicate that the Dutch military police are actually very quick at reviewing CCTV tapes?

I should add that Kurt is also miffed that another part of his story is getting no attention from the mainstream media and hasn't received official comment. To return to Prison Planet's report on his interview with Alex Jones:
In addition to a detailed retelling of the story he gave the corporate media, Mr. Haskell addressed the unprofessional and lackadaisical behavior of the FBI and airport security after the plane landed at the Detroit Metro airport in Romulus, Michigan. He characterized their behavior as a “complete embarrassment. They actually put us in more jeopardy than we were already in.”

Passengers were told to remain seated in the aircraft for 20 minutes after landing despite the fact security did not know at that point if there was an explosive on the plane or if the fire started by the suspect Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab while on descent to the airport had spread under the floor in the cabin or to the fuel tanks in the wings.

After being allowed to disembark from the plane by officials, passengers were detained in customs with their carry-on luggage for six hours while they waited to be interrogated by the FBI, according to Haskell.

At this point a bomb-sniffing dog pointed at carry-on luggage in the possession of a man Haskell described as Indian around 30 years old. Officials led the man away to an interrogation room. Haskell said he was concerned because the bomb-sniffing dog had flagged the man, indicating he may have had explosives in his carry-on luggage. The Indian man was subsequently led away in handcuffs.

Following this incident the FBI moved the passengers to another location. “You’re being moved,” the FBI told them, “it is not safe here. I’m sure you all saw what happened and can read between the lines and why you’re being moved.”

Haskell said the corporate media refuses to cover this aspect of his story. He has repeated it to “countless” news agencies and they uniformly have not included it to his knowledge.
Kurt also told of his confrontation with FBI interrogators during the second interview:
The agents showed Haskell a photograph of the man flagged by the bomb-sniffing dog and taken into custody in customs. “Isn’t this the man who had the bomb in his carry-on bag that you arrested in customs who you refuse to admit exists?” Haskell asked the agents. “They really didn’t like that comment from me and had no comment back to me but I said it sure looks like the man you refuse to admit exists.”
And Kurt gave the interrogator an earful about his account of what he saw at Schipol; you can read all about it at Prison Planet or listen to the video they provide of the interview. One thing we can assume about Kurt Haskell: given the kind of law he practices, he wouldn't be intimidated by FBI questions.

Another point, which I mentioned in the earlier post on Haskell. How could he be certain that either man he tagged as Indian was indeed an Indian citizen? I say he couldn't be certain. So I'd say in his best estimation both men looked Indian, even though they could have been from a large geographic area covering several countries.
But one thing struck me today while I was mulling over Haskell's account and looking at his law firm's website. Haskell is a Crusader type -- protecting the downtrodden from predatory practices of all kinds. And given the speciality of his law practice, he would probably have some awareness of human trafficking issues. India is a major hub for international human trafficking. From a 2009 report:
[M]ore than 1.2 million children in India are caught up in human trafficking as child prostitutes. Worse, as many as 100 million people in India — soon to be the world’s most populous country — are involved in trafficking-related activities.

The shocking statistics confirm what many human rights activists long have contended: that if there’s a “ground zero” for contemporary slavery, it is the Indian subcontinent. Grinding poverty, ancient tradition, and a religious caste system that divides society into “haves” and “have nots,” are all contributing factors.[...]
That might be why Kurt Haskell immediately thought of an Indian when saw the older man with someone who looked like Umar Abdulmutallab. AM has 'pretty boy' looks and he's a very boyish-looking young man. He can easily pass for a 16-year old. And Haskell stressed that AM looked like a 'poor Black' -- he noted Mutallab's clothing and physical condition ("really skinny") and that AM was acting in passive fashion -- not speaking.

The USA is Amber Alert and "Most Wanted" Nation. An American doesn't have to be in family law to have an eye out for behavior that could indicate a kidnapping of a child, a pedophile preying on a child, or a runaway child caught up in the sex slave trade.

So while Kurt Haskell was idly waiting for his wife to make her move at poker or whatever, I can see how someone who looked like Abdulmutallab in the company of an older, well-dressed man, who didn't seem to be a relative, would have caused Kurt to zero in on the conversation at the check-in counter. It would have caused me to zero in, as I think would be the case for many Americans.

Once reasonably assured there was a legitimate story (Sudanese refugee), Kurt could turn his attention back to the card game. But I think the incident he claims to have witnessed would have stuck in his mind, and so would the faces of the two males.

If Haskell really did see AM at the check-in counter, AM sure fooled him. AM is rich. And that leads to the question of why he would dress down, way down, during a heightened terrorist alert while trying to get on an international flight. One would think he was wrongly dressed, if he wanted to present himself at the airline check-in counter as a well-off, upstanding traveler. But then he would have been perfectly dressed for the role of a refugee.

Monday, December 28

Did terrorist Abdulmutallab get past airport security by pretending to be a Sudanese refugee? And planning for the attack was done in Pakistan

See my December 30 post, How many Dutch military police does it take to change a light bulb? The vexing case of terrorist Umar Abdulmutallab and attorney Kurt Haskell for additional news on Kurt Haskell.
There's yet more news re Haskell's claims. One part of his eyewitness account has been verified, and that could mean there was a second terrorist on board NWA Flight 253. I'll be posting on that part of the story this evening.
UPDATE Jan 2, 5:00 AM ET
I haven't had time yet to finish work on the next post about the Haskell matter but here's the link to a Detroit News report, dated Jan 1, on latest developments, which fills in some of the blanks.
More on Kurt Haskell's account, and Pundita's theory about what really happened at Schiphol airport prior to takeoff of NWA Flight 253 on December 25.
The source for this report is a website called MLive "METRO DETROIT LOCAL NEWS & TALK: The Latest Community, Education, Crime & Government News" (H/T "Freedom Fairy").

Kurt Haskell's strange tale

A commenter at the MLive site with the screen name "Pug," who was on NWA Flight 235 with his wife, first posted his eyewitness account at the site sometime before 6:49 AM on December 26. He was interviewed later in the day by MLive reporter Sheena Harrison, who published the interview at 2:22 PM at MLive.

Pug turned out to be Michigan, USA resident Kurt Haskell. He and his wife Lori are attorneys with the Haskell Law Firm in Taylor, Michigan. "Their expertise includes bankruptcy, family law and estate planning," according to the Haskell law firm's website.

(See the MLive website for links.) From the MLive report:
A Michigan man who was aboard Northwest Airlines Flight 253 says he witnessed Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab [now known by the last name "Abdulmutallab"] trying to board the plane in Amsterdam without a passport.

Kurt Haskell of Newport, Mich., who posted an earlier comment about his experience, talked exclusively with and confirmed he was on the flight by sending a picture of his boarding pass. He and his wife, Lori, were returning from a safari in Uganda when they boarded the NWA flight on Friday.

Haskell said he and his wife were sitting on the ground near their boarding gate in Amsterdam, which is when they saw Mutallab approach the gate with an unidentified man.


While Mutallab was poorly dressed, his friend was dressed in an expensive suit, Haskell said. He says the suited man asked ticket agents whether Mutallab could board without a passport. “The guy said, 'He's from Sudan and we do this all the time.'”

Mutallab is Nigerian. Haskell believes the man may have been trying to garner sympathy for Mutallab's lack of documents by portraying him as a Sudanese refugee.

The ticket agent referred Mutallab and his companion to her manager down the hall, and Haskell didn't see Mutallab again until after he allegedly tried to detonate an explosive on the plane.


As Mutallab was being led out of the plane in handcuffs, Haskell said he realized that was the same man he saw trying to board the plane in Amsterdam.

Passengers had to wait about 20 minutes before they were allowed to exit the plane. Haskell said he and other passengers waited about six hours to be interviewed by the FBI.

About an hour after landing, Haskell said he saw another man being taken into custody. But a spokeswoman from the FBI in Detroit said Mutallab was the only person taken into custody.

Haskell's account is very interesting in one respect so I'm going to take some time with it.

There are a few slight discrepancies between the wording and facts presented in the MLive report and the original account posted by Kurt Haskell as Pug, although this doesn't necessarily negate his account. For example, in the Pug account, Haskell doesn't refer to the man who accompanied Abdulmutallab as a "friend" and of course Haskell had no way of knowing the relationship between the men -- even though he leaps to the conclusion that the man is a "terrorist." That is also presuming too much. If Haskell's account of what he observed is correct, the other man could have been a legitimate representative of a refugee aid organization or even an embassy, and who was duped by false papers that Abdulmutallab showed him.

And Haskell could easily have drawn the wrong conclusion about the other man's nationality unless he has a very good ear for accented English. Describing someone as an Indian on the basis of his looks is much like describing someone as a European. The man could have been from anywhere on the Indian subcontinent or even Iran or other parts of the Middle East.

Haskell's tale of a second bomber

Another question mark about Haskell's account, in the Pug version, is that he provides considerable detail about what he claims was a second terrorist taken into custody. And yet, from the MLive report, the FBI office in Detroit flatly contradicted the claim, which in Pug's version is strange indeed:
FBI also arrested a different Indian man while we were held in customs after a bomb sniffing dog detected a bomb in his carry on bag and he was searched after we landed. This was later confirmed while we were in customs when an FBI agent said to us "You are being moved to another area because this area is not safe. Read between the lines. Some of you saw what just happened." (The arrest of the other Indian man). I am not sure why this hasn't made it into any news story, but I stood about 15-20 feet away from the other Indian man when he was cuffed and arrested after his search.
Now here Haskell was outright lying, or the second man was quickly let go and it was all a mistake and no Milk Bones for the bomb-sniffing doggie, or the FBI representative in Detroit was lying or misinformed.

But if we set aside all these caveats I think Haskell would have to be a pretty sophisticated hoaxer to have thought up a tall tale that happens to answer a key question about the terror attack, and which only intelligence/ security professionals knew enough about to be asking in the wee hours of the 26th, when he first posted his story at MLive.

The question: How did the terrorist's trip to Yemen escape notice by Amsterdam airport authorities?

John Batchelor and B. Raman on the case

A Yemen stamp on a passport going through an international airport is a huge red flag and would call for extra scrutiny of a passenger, including a thorough pat down. Yet somehow Abdulmutallab got around the extra scrutiny. The question of how he managed the feat was the subject of much discussion between news talk radio host John Batchelor and ace intelligence analyst B. Raman during John's show on Sunday.

Ram also brought up the question in his latest post at his blog about the terror incident:
[...] 8. An intriguing question is whether his passport contained the immigration stamp of Yemen, which might have raised eyebrows at Schiphol [airport in Amsterdam]. If not, did he travel from Yemen to Ethiopia by a different passport to conceal the fact that his travel started from Yemen?
Ram mentioned other possibilities during his talk with John; e.g., an al Qaeda accomplice at Yemen customs simply didn't stamp the passport. But Kurt Haskell's account of what he witnessed at the Schipol airport check-in counter offers one solution to the mystery: Abdulmutallab posed as a Sudanese refugee without a passport and was walked through!

No passport, no worries about a Yemen stamp. Neat. And if Kurt's account pans out, it seems the man accompanying AM was aware that Schipol had made other concessions for Sudanese refugees.

AM passing himself off as a refugee would also explain for airport authorities the cash payment for the ticket and no return ticket: two other red flags. It would also solve the problem of another red flag: a Nigerian stamp on his passport. Indeed, the Sudanese refugee ploy might have avoided all the red flags.

The Pakistan Connection

Below I've republished Kurt's account in the original "Pug" version, which to my mind is clearer in some respects than the MLive report. But first, a few more words about John's discussion with Ram last night:

Their periodic conversations on John's show about terrorism-related issues are always important, but Sunday's stands out for me; it underscored that all the seemingly different highways and byways of international terrorist incidents converge in Pakistan. This would include AM's terrorist attack on the passengers of NWA Flight 235; this is very clear from Ram's discussion with John during the Sunday show.

From all I've learned since 9/11, I'd say there's no question in the mind of any intelligence professional who's specialized in al Qaeda-type attacks that the al Qaeda masterminds are in Pakistan. And I think few in the intelligence community would dispute that at least some elements of Pakistan's military/ISI:

  • have been directly involved in planning major terrorist attacks,

  • have had knowledge of planned attacks that they didn't share in timely manner with other governments,

  • and that they work closely with al Qaeda as well as elements of the Taliban who are attacking NATO troops in Afghanistan.

  • So it's past time for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security under Janet Napolitano to grow up and for the FBI, CIA, Pentagon, Obama Administration, and the U.S. Congress to stop playing ostrich about Pakistan.

    This morning ABC News reported:
    Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, charged with the attempted Christmas Day bombing of Northwest Airlines flight 253, told FBI agents there were more just like him in Yemen who would strike soon.

    And in a tape released four days before the attempted destruction of the Detroit-bound Northwest plane, the leader of al Qaeda in Yemen boasted of what was planned for Americans, saying, "We are carrying a bomb to hit the enemies of God."

    Yemen has become a principal al Qaeda training ground and the accused suicide bomber told the FBI he was trained for more than a month in Yemen, given 80 grams of a high explosive cleverly sewn into his underpants, undetected by standard security screening.[...]
    And yet John Batchelor's recent discussions with B. Raman and other experts on terrorism underscore that Yemen is just the training camp; the terrorist operations are run from Pakistan. So I'm strongly recommending that you listen to the Sunday discussion between John and Ram, which packs a great deal of information into the ten-minute segment. (It's the first interview in the 12 -1 AM hour of the show).

    The podcast for the Sunday show is not yet posted at the 77 WABC-AM website but here's the link to the show archives; the podcast should be available later today or tomorrow at latest.

    For readers outside the USA who're picky about clicking on links: 77 WABC-AM, which carries John's show and broadcasts from New York City, is one of the biggest radio stations in the USA if not the biggest. Its website is secure, so the link to the archives is perfectly respectable. (The same for the link to B. Raman's blog, which is posted at Google Blogger.) And you can choose to simply 'listen' to segments of John's four-hour nightly show or download them.

    The Milk Bone Brigade

    Before I turn the floor over to Pug, one point about his description of the incident involving what he claimed was a second terrorist. I've been seeing reports that only a full body scan could have caught the explosives AM had taped to his body, and that those scanners cost $250,000 each. This news has been accompanied by hand-wringing on the part of officials about the expense of installing the hi-tech scanners. But Kurt's mention of a bomb-sniffing dog is a reminder that there's a low tech full-body scanner on four paws that doesn't cost much in room, board, and flea powder. So maybe as a stopgap solution airports should make greater use of bomb-sniffing dogs.

    All right; here's Pug:
    Commenter says he was aboard NWA Flight 253, saw suspected terrorist board the plane
    By Sheena Harrison
    December 26, 2009, 6:49 AM

    Update: talked exclusively with Pug (a.k.a. Kurt Haskell), who confirmed he was aboard Flight 253. commenter, Pug, says he was aboard Northwest Airlines Flight 253 and saw suspected terrorist Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab board the plane in Amsterdam.

    It's unknown whether this story is true -- you're welcome to decide for yourself. But if Pug's story checks out, then it's certainly understandable he had trouble sleeping last night after returning home from the ordeal.

    "I was on this flight today and am thankful to be alive. My wife and I were returning from an African safari [in Uganda -- see the interview] and had this connecting flight through Amsterdam. I sat in row 27, which was 7 rows behind the terrorist. I got to see the whole thing take place and it was very scary. Thanks to a few quick acting people I am still alive today.

    For those of you talking about airline security in this thread, I was next to the terrorist when he checked in at the Amsterdam airport early on Christmas. My wife and I were playing cards directly in front of the check in counter. This is what I saw (and I relayed this to the FBI when we were held in customs):

    An Indian man in a nicely dressed suit around age 50 approached the check in counter with the terrorist and said "This man needs to get on this flight and he has no passport."

    The two of them were an odd pair as the terrorist is a short, black man that looked like he was very poor and looks around age 17 (Although I think he is 23 he doesn't look it). It did not cross my mind that they were terrorists, only that the two looked weird together. The ticket taker said "you can't board without a passport".
    The Indian man then replied, "He is from Sudan, we do this all the time".

    I can only take from this to mean that it is difficult to get passports from Sudan and this was some sort of sympathy ploy. The ticket taker then said "You will have to talk to my manager", and sent the two down a hallway.

    I never saw the Indian man again as he wasn't on the flight. It was also weird that the terrorist never said a word in this exchange. Anyway, somehow, the terrorist still made it onto the plane. I am not sure if it was a bribe or just sympathy from the security manager.

    FBI also arrested a different Indian man while we were held in customs after a bomb sniffing dog detected a bomb in his carry on bag and he was searched after we landed. This was later confirmed while we were in customs when an FBI agent said to us "You are being moved to another area because this area is not safe. Read between the lines. Some of you saw what just happened." (The arrest of the other Indian man). I am not sure why this hasn't made it into any news story, but I stood about 15-20 feet away from the other Indian man when he was cuffed and arrested after his search.

    What also didn't make the news is that we were held on the plane for 20 minutes AFTER IT LANDED!. A bomb could have gone off then. This wasn't too smart of security to not let us off the plane immediately.
    See the MLive report on Haskell for a chilling detail he provided about the fire on Flight 235: other accounts portray it as a small fire that was quickly put out; from Kurt's account the fire spread very quickly before it was extinguished.

    Sunday, December 27

    How much more information did Homeland want, Ms Napolitano, before bumping Mutallab from U.S. flights? (UPDATED)

    UPDATE 1:25 AM ET
    Re the statement from the following Telegraph report: "Embassy officials in Nigeria, who had been warned of Mutallab’s behaviour by his father, were accused of not wording their warning more strongly."

    From B. Raman's latest analysis at his blog about Mutallab's terror attack on Detroit-bound NWA Flight 235, the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria had also been warned about Mutallab:
    [...] 5. The first person to sound a wake-up call about Abdulmutallab was his father, who is a reputed banker of Nigeria. He reportedly came to know of his son going to Yemen from Dubai and unsuccessfully tried to persuade him to go back to Dubai and resume his studies. When he did not succeed, he is reported to have shared his concerns over his son with the US Embassy in Nigeria and with the Nigerian authorities. The suspicions or concerns of the father were conveyed by the US Embassy to the appropriate authorities in Washington DC, who rightly included his name in a data base of about 550000 names of persons, who have come to adverse notice, but the evidence against whom was not strong enough to deny them a visa or to prevent them from flying to the US.[...]
    Also, a few minutes ago "Freedom Fairy" sent me an interesting report on the Mutallab case, which I'll be posting later this morning.
    The (U.K.) Telegraph has additional details on the inexplicable behavior of security officials in the USA and the United Kingdom:
    Security sources believe that Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab, 23, may have developed links with other extremists during the three years he spent studying at University College London.

    The Security Service is concerned that the son of a respected Nigerian banker was "off the radar" while living in Britain from 2005 to 2008 on a student visa.

    Little more than a year later he went on to attempt a terrorist attack after being trained by al-Qaeda. Officers are trying to track his movements and activities while in the country amid suspicions that he may not have acted alone.


    They suspect that he had planned to launch the attack from Britain but was stopped after being refused a student visa earlier this year to study at a college that was judged to have been bogus.


    Concerns were raised about the student visa system that allowed Mutallab to stay in Britain for three years. Whitehall officials have expressed fears previously that extremists were exploiting lax rules.

    MI5 and the Metropolitan Police Counter Terrorism Command have drafted in extra staff to search for any links Mutallab may have to radicals. Sources said it was not Britain that supplied the information that led to Mutallab being put on the US "watch list".

    "We have not come up with anything but we are now going back through our work to see if he may have been on the periphery of another group or trying to contact radicals in this country," said one.

    "We need to know what he was doing in the UK and whether he was just a student. There may be some fragment that we come across that sheds some light on that."

    Mutallab’s attack raises questions about the operations of intelligence agencies on both sides of the Atlantic. British security officers will need to explain why they remained unaware of a would-be terrorist living in London for three years.

    Earlier this year, Jonathan Evans, the head of MI5, suggested that al-Qaeda cells in Britain were being forced to "keep their heads down" due to the success of the service’s operations.

    The attempted atrocity will also prompt concerns in the US that Britain is increasingly being used as a base by Islamic extremists planning attacks overseas.

    In Washington, US officials are already under pressure to explain why the threat posed by Mutallab was not taken more seriously and why alarm bells did not ring when he paid for his ticket in cash and did not check in any luggage.

    Embassy officials in Nigeria, who had been warned of Mutallab’s behaviour by his father, were accused of not wording their warning more strongly. Janet Napolitano, the head of the Department of Homeland Security, said "there had never been any additional information supplied that would move him to a secondary list" [Mutallab was put on the U.S. list of terror suspects in November.]


    [Mutallab] has told the FBI that al-Qaeda provided the bomb materials and training after he made contact with a cell in Yemen. He bought a ticket for almost $3,000 and, carrying a US visa issued in London last year, returned to Nigeria on Dec 24.

    He flew to Schipol airport in Amsterdam and transferred to the flight to Detroit.

    Mr Obama asked for a review of security and screening procedures after it emerged that Mutallab used explosive materials similar to those used in December, 2001, by Richard Reid, the so-called shoe bomber.

    His device included PETN, one of the ingredients of the plastic explosive Semtex, but got through security in Nigeria and Holland. He had allegedly hidden the powder in a condom strapped to his inner thigh along with a syringe of liquid to mix with it.

    It is thought that he assembled the device in the lavatory after complaining to fellow passengers about a stomach upset. It ignited but did not explode, merely causing a small fire that was extinguished by the crew as other passengers leapt on Mutallab.

    Mutallab lived with relatives in a West End apartment while studying at UCL but cut off ties with his family after he graduated. He moved to the Middle East and then to Yemen, sending a text message last August warning them that they may not see him for a number of years.

    There was another alert last night after a second plane was forced to make an emergency landing at Detroit. The pilot raised the alarm after a Nigerian on the flight from Amsterdam locked himself in the lavatory for up to an hour. He was eventually dragged out after crew broke down the door, but no explosives were found.
    Is it something in the water in the U.K. and U.S. that puts sleepwalkers in charge of internal security? Perhaps the most upsetting mealy-mouthed excuse is Homeland's complaint that the warning to the U.S. from the Nigerian embassy officials was not worded strongly enough. What did Homeland want from the embassy before they would place Mutallab on a no-fly list? Forensic evidence that he was planning a terrorist attack -- er, "man disaster attack?" The date and the flight plan?

    The mosque being built next door to 9/11 Ground Zero

    I just received the following from Uppity Woman. I don't how I missed the story when it broke. Uppity advised me to have a barf bag handy before I started reading; I pass on the advice if the story is also news to you.

    I should think the City of New York, if it can't scare up other options, could turn to the federal government for help in getting the property in question designated a national park; this, so that terrorists and their sympathizers don't have a place to congregate and gloat next door to Ground Zero.

    Yet from a quick check of the blogosphere, I see World Net Daily reported on December 17th that the mayor's office is fine with the idea of building a large mosque just steps from the World Trade Center. Maybe a century or so down the road it would be fine but today it's rubbing salt in an open wound and a desecration of a national shrine.

    This is particularly the case given the quotes from the mosque's iman that the WND report turned up; clearly he rationalizes the 9/11 attack and finds its greatest significance an opportunity to lecture about U.S. actions in World War Two.
    Mosque At the World Trade Center: Muslim Renewal Or Insult Near Ground Zero

    by Youssef M. Ibrahim
    for Hudson New York
    December 16, 2009

    An identified group with unknown sponsors has purchased building steps away from where the World Trade Center once stood -- to turn it into potentially one of the largest New York City mosques.

    At the moment the building, the old Burlington Coat Factory, already serves as a mini-mosque: an iron grill lifts every Friday afternoon for a little known Imam leading prayers a few yards away from where Osama Bin Laden’s airborne Islamist bombers killed nearly 3000 people back in 2001.

    The Imam, Feisal Abdul Rauf, told the New York Times -- which put the story on its front page Wednesday -- that he has assembled several million dollars to turn it into "an Islamic center near the city’s most hallowed piece of land that would stand as one of ground zero’s more unexpected and striking neighbors."

    The 61-year-old Imam said he paid $4.85 million for it -- in cash, records show. With 50,000 square feet of air rights and enough financing, he plans an ambitious project of $150 million, he said, akin to the Chautauqua Institution, the 92 Street Y or the Jewish Community Center.

    The origins of such monies are unexplained; neither are the countries or entity advancing such huge donations. Most US mosques, including many in Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx are funded directly or indirectly by Saudi Arabia -- the country to which 15 of the 19 hijackers who bombed the World Trade Center belonged. The UAE, Qatar and Iran are other major sponsors across the USA.

    The money trail is an important question that must be answered by the Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg with more than a bland comment by one of his spokesmen, Andrew Brent, who quipped to the Times, “If it’s legal, the building owners have a right to do what they want.”

    At the moment, the location is not designated a mosque, but rather an overflow prayer space for another mosque, Al Farah, at 245 West Broadway in TriBeCa, where Imam Feisal is the spiritual leader. Call this creeping annexation. On 9/11, the Burlington building, with 80 employees in its basement, is where a piece of a plane plunged through the roof, from either Flight 11 or Flight 175 crashing into the south tower at 9:03 a.m..

    One of the investors for future oncoming funds is listed as the Cordoba Initiative, defined as an "interfaith group" - and founded by Imam Feisal. Cordoba is the name militant Muslims often invoke when they recall the glory of Muslim empire in the centuries they occupied Spain.

    As a former New York Times and Wall Street Journal correspondent, and as a New York Sun columnist who covered Islamic Fundamentalism extensively overseas and in the USA, I find the facts oddly lacking. The story as reported fails to answer, and avoid asking, so many pertinent questions.

    The source of money matters as a significant part of the hundreds of mosques being built and already erected in this country double up as cultural Islamic centers for distributing literature -- Islamist propaganda in fact -- from Bay Ridge, Brooklyn to Detroit, and for schooling growing Muslim minorities. They house Imams of unknown origin and education, many of whom do not speak a word of English but preach in Arabic and Urdu -- radical messages, it often turns out.

    As a reporter familiar with the Arab communities of the USA, I doubt the faithful fork out all that money for mega mosques, and if they did, the mayor’s office should prove it, not merely accept someone’s say so.

    It is an established fact that a significant percentage of the mosques built in the USA in the past two decades are receiving a disproportionate amount of their funds not only from the Saudis, but also the UAE, Qatar and Iran -- all problematic Islamist activist nations.

    The government just discontinued work on a major Iranian-funded mosque and center in New York City, which had operated under the radar since the days of the good old Shah of Iran under the auspices of the Pahlavi Foundation, and has been owned since 1979 by the Mullahs of Iran.

    The context here is that 15 of the 19 perpetrators of the attacks -- on the very site where this new mosque shall rise -- came from Saudi Arabia.

    We saw how, in the case of Major Nidal Hasan of Ft. Hood, it turned out that three of the original participants in 9/11 had listened to the same preacher Major Hasan listened to: a man with a radical violent Islamic website now operating out of Yemen to radicalize American Muslims.

    In such a context, knowing more about the Imam overseeing a potential multimillion dollar mosque at the World Trade Center site is essential to the story. Nearly 3,000 people were deliberately killed there – and the New York Times is papering over what is about to be built on the site in a nice, beatific pseudo-profile of the Imam overseeing the mosque? Limiting access to this Imam to some nice quotes, showing him nattily dressed in a suit, and describing him merely as a Sufi, is vacuous, crafted and couched in public relations spin to obscure rather than explain.

    "What happened that day was not Islam" is all that the Times quotes the Imam saying -- a rather lame comment given the enormity of his ambition and the iconic status of where he wants to put his mosque.

    The mayor’s office should tell us more.

    Just as importantly, who Is Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf? And what is his background? Given that much Islamist radicalism originated in mosques at the hands of imams in virtually all the terrorist attacks in America and Europe -- as we found over and over again -– the omission of this information is a glaring mishap.

    All we get learn about the Imam in the Times story about him is some anodyne, rather anemic, focus on a man of peace. No real searching. Mayor Bloomberg’s folks need to tell us what are the Imam’s origins, where he was schooled, whether he is an immigrant, a visitor, of which country is he a citizen, and what is his philosophy, among other relevant questions.

    Merely describing the man as a Sufi "who follows a path of Islam focused more on spiritual wisdom than on strict ritual," is far too little.

    After every terrorist atrocity, any number of Sufi and Muslim savants ritually come out with the hackneyed saying: "Islam is a religion of peace and brotherhood."

    Accumulated as they are, these statements are added to a heap of nothing for those tens of thousands of Muslims killed by other Muslims in suicide and other bombings from Pakistan to Iraq every day.

    One would hope for a follow-up story or stories, and that New York City and its residents at least ask harder questions, rather than submit to being misled in the interest of political correctness.

    Thursday, December 24

    Joy to the World

    Blogger colleague Brenda J. Elliot, the author of the indispensable RBO blog, has created a beautiful Christmas gift for her readers. Go there now and enjoy!

    Tuesday, December 22

    Merry Christmas, dammit

    Right at the top of the label on the 2 liter bottle, above the iconic Coca-Cola signature and the vintage picture of Santa holding a Coke glass bottle, are the words "Feliz Navidad." So has it come to the point in this country that the only politically correct way for Americans to wish each other Merry Christmas is if we say it in Spanish?

    But then if you turn the bottle around and look at the same smiling Santa on the other side of the label, Coke wishes its customers a terse "Holiday 2009."

    I wonder how long Coke's demographics and PR experts agonized over how to sit on the fence without offending America's Hispanic Coke drinkers, most of whom are Christian?

    Google went through similar agonies of decision this year, probably after hearing howls from Christians over last year's un-Christmas greeting, which over the course of Christmas week featured a grandfatherly man making a toy for a child. This year, Google made a literal attempt to thread the camel through the needle's eye:

    The first "Merry Christmas But We Can't Say It" greeting from Google's search engine was in the form of a postcard placed over the multi-color Google word. The postcard showed a painted scene that looked suspiciously as if were set in the Middle East -- palm tree in the foreground, sand in the background -- and with a few blobs on the distant horizon that might be construed by a devout Christian as three wise men on their camels.

    But, unencumbered by a budget for printed labels, and clearly in response to 100 billion emails from miffed atheists, agnostics, earth worshippers, CAIR, the ACLU, and those Christian evangelicals who consider Christmas a pagan holiday, Google chickened out with a few keystrokes:

    This morning's un-Christmas greeting from Google has a postcard of three snowmen placed artfully atop the Maybe in the Middle East postcard, and at such an angle as to cover up just enough of the blobs on the horizon so that imagination can no longer seize on the idea of Christmas.

    Will Google's un-Christmas greetings between now and December 25 continue their theme of three? Is there a rational employee in a closet somewhere in Google's PR department?

    Every Christmas season in the United States, any number of Jewish and Hindu charitable organizations cheerfully prepare holiday meals and Christmas presents for less fortunate Americans, and I'll bet there are Muslim charities that do the same.

    Every Christmas season a friend of mine, an Irish-American lapsed Catholic who took up Buddhism while serving in the Vietnam War, drapes his large Buddha statue with Christmas lights. I am quite sure the Buddha, an eminently rational man, would have taken no offense.

    I understand that the desire to get along and go along has prompted many Americans, particularly those who live in melting-pot cities, to substitute the generic "Happy Holiday" for the Christmas greeting. After all, one never knows whether the recipient of a Christmas greeting will snap, "I am member of the Nation of Islam."

    But what is the proper response, if one is rational? "Merry Christmas anyway."

    Not all America's founders considered themselves Christian -- some admitted to agnosticism and even atheism, if my memory serves. But the thinkers who hammered out America's charter documents were profoundly influenced by Enlightenment philosophers who were grounded as much in the Judeo-Christian outlook as the Hellenic one. So if Americans cannot find it in their hearts once a year to wish each other Merry Christmas, we are being more than mean-spirited; we're spurning our heritage.

    Merry Christmas to one and all. May the spirit of Christmas, the idea that a divine power loved humanity so much that he sacrificed his son to save us, infuse our daily lives and arm us with courage.

    Saturday, December 19

    Alden Pyle in Pakistan, Part 2: Once upon a time in Saigon and Mumbai

    (This post was actually published Sunday the 20th around 5 PM ET.)

    "The costs of open war are well known. But the price of endless, shadow conflicts is only improperly understood." -- Richard Fernandez, Belmont Club

    Is Afghanistan another Vietnam? No, Pakistan is.

    The American Left no more understood Indochina than the American Right, which is to say they understood nothing, and the U.S. military understood even less. Today, in Pakistan, we have recreated the wheel of our ignorance in Indochina, which saw the U.S. fund at least 80 percent of the French war against the native anti-feudalists (termed "communists") and indirectly fund the other 20 percent by propping up the French government in the wake of World War Two. This time, though, we won't be able to walk away from the consequences of our ignorance. From the December 20 (London) Sunday Times (H/T Brenda J. Elliott at RBO blog and Jihad Watch):
    Scotland Yard has warned businesses in London to expect a Mumbai-style attack on the capital. In a briefing in the City of London 12 days ago, a senior detective from SO15, the Metropolitan police counter-terrorism command, said: "Mumbai is coming to London."

    The detective said companies should anticipate a shooting and hostage-taking raid "involving a small number of gunmen with handguns and improvised explosive devices". [...]

    "Before, there has been speculation. Now we are getting what appears to be a definite plot to carry out a firearms attack on London," he said. [...]
    Why has the light switched to green for a Mumbai-style attack in London? Most likely because Pakistan's military has finished relocating important warlords to the relative safety of Pakistani cities, away from regions in Pakistan's tribal areas that see American UAV attacks.

    The first public word of the relocation effort came in a 'leak' to the Washington Times on November 20 that Mullah Omar had relocated to the large Pakistan city of Karachi. However, what use was it for Omar to relocate when he would need his support network with him? So while the Washington Times made no mention of this, it couldn't have been only Omar who headed for the bright lights of the big city. Word of this came in yesterday's Washington Post:
    ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN -- Militants forced to flee their havens in Pakistan's mountainous tribal areas are establishing new, smaller cells in the heart of the country and have begun carrying out attacks nationwide, U.S. and Pakistani officials say.

    The spread of fighters is an unintended consequence of a relatively successful effort by the United States and Pakistan to disrupt the insurgents' operations, through missile strikes launched by unmanned CIA aircraft and a ground offensive carried out this fall in South Waziristan by the Pakistani army.

    American and Pakistani officials say the militants' widening reach has added to the challenge for both nations' intelligence, which must now track an insurgent diaspora that can infiltrate Pakistan's teeming cities and blend seamlessly with the local population. A Pakistani intelligence official said the offensive had put militants "on the run" but added: "Now they're all over -- Afghanistan, North Waziristan and inside Pakistan."

    "They have scattered their network and structure," said Muhammad Amir Rana, director of the Pak Institute for Peace Studies, a security-oriented think tank. "It's easy for many of them to hide in Punjab or Karachi."

    Pakistani officials insist that they are doing as much as they can to counter the extremist threat and that they are paying the price.[...]
    I am afraid the insistence rings hollow in light of recent history and the fact that the relocation of major terrorists and their supporters to major Pakistani cities wouldn't have been possible without the knowledge and cooperation of the military.

    Washington has yet to confront that the insurgency in Afghanistan, to the extent it exists, is miniscule and can be handled largely by non-military means. The major part of the fighting against NATO troops in Afghanistan is directed by Pakistan's military and their intelligence service. As Rajeev Srinivasan explained earlier this month:
    [...] Pakistan has clearly articulated its pursuit of strategic depth which, for instance, involves having a Plan B even if its major cities such as Karachi, Lahore and Rawalpindi, close to the Indian border, are obliterated in a possible Indian nuclear second strike (after Pakistan has wiped out Delhi and Mumbai in a first strike). They want to regroup from Afghanistan and continue their jihad against India from there.

    The Taliban, of course, are Pakistani Army and ISI soldiers dressed in baggy pants and beards for the occasion. The fact that alleged seminary students (whom the Taliban are supposed to be) suddenly started driving tanks and flying planes is indirect evidence that they were trained soldiers.

    Therefore, Taliban rule in Kabul means Pakistan has achieved its strategic depth. Clearly, they have no desire to fight or eliminate the Taliban, despite the fact that some factions (such as the one from the Mehsud tribe) have begun to inconvenience Pakistan through a campaign of suicide bombings. Dead Pakistani civilians are considered acceptable collateral damage by the ISI, but their attacks on the military apparatus is a big no-no. They are clearly ‘bad Taliban’, and will not get any share of the spoils.[...]
    Got all that? As to what to do about it: For a few minutes set aside al Qaeda, the War on Terror, and Islamism. Get into the ballpark of what's actually going on in Pakistan. From there it's a hop and skip to working out a better war strategy in Afghanistan. Reaching the ballpark starts with realizing that we can't 'solve' Afghanistan until we confront what Pakistan is and what we've been supporting in Pakistan since (drum roll please) 1947: a form of feudalism that's supported by a caste system.

    However, we don't have enough time to become armchair anthropologists in the effort to help rectify a situation that goes back not to Pakistan's independence but to thousands of years into the past. As I noted in Part 1 of this essay, Pakistan has not so much a feudal system as the remnants of the Indian subcontinent's maharaja system, which in turn is based on a much older system of government in agrarian ages.

    So I will fall back on weaving an allegory from two struggles between good and evil that exposed a larger evil, and which intersect in the present war. This to warn that time is running out, as the news from London today indicates. How long have we got? Well, toward the end of the siege of Mumbai in 2008, one of the terrorist's handlers said that the carnage in Mumbai was just the film trailer and to wait for the film.

    (The First Indochina War was fought from 1946-1954. The Second Indochina War, also referred to simply as the Vietnam War, did not start until 1959.)

    The Photograph
    Reds' Time Bombs Rip Saigon Center blared a headline in The New York Times of January 10, 1952. Written by Tillman Durdin, a Times reporter in Saigon working in tight collaboration with the CIA, the story called the bombing "one of the most spectacular and destructive single incidents in the long history of revolutionary terrorism" carried out by "agents here of the Vietminh."

    A blood-chilling photograph of the carnage appeared as the Picture of the Week in the January 28 LIFE magazine, with a caption that asked people to focus on the most gruesome results of this terrorism by the "Viet Minh Communists":

    "The bomb blew the legs from under the man in the foreground and left him, bloody and dazed, propped up on the tile sidewalk."

    The bombing certainly came at a convenient time for the war hawks, including LIFE, whose previous week's lead editorial, Indo-China Is in Danger, was a near panicky call for major U.S. participation in the [First Indochina War] (which the French were still fighting, with U.S. assistance), because "It's all one war, and our war, whether the front be in Europe, Korea, or Indo-China."

    Graham Greene, who was then wintering in Saigon, wondered how LIFE happened to have a photographer on the scene, as he explained in his 1980 memoir, Ways of Escape:

    "The LIFE photographer at the moment of the explosion was so well placed that he was able to take an astonishing and horrifying photograph which showed the body of a trishaw driver still upright after his legs had been blown off.

    This photograph was reproduced in an American propaganda magazine published in Manila over the caption The work of Ho Chi Minh," Greene continued, despite the fact that General Trinh Minh Thé, a warlord masquerading as Vietnam's savior from colonialism and communism, "had promptly claimed the bomb as his own."

    "Who," Greene pondered, "had supplied the material" to this "bandit?"

    A few months after this bombing and a series of bicycle bombs set off later in January by Thé's agents, Greene began writing his answer in The Quiet American.

    When Greene, a veteran of British intelligence, used his contacts in French security services to investigate the Saigon bombings of January 1952, he discovered a U.S. campaign to create a "Third Force," opposed to both Communism and colonialism and designed to evolve into a U.S.-backed 'democracy' in Vietnam. [...]

    The hotbed of U.S. Third Force activities was the Economic Aid Mission, headed by someone French commanding General Jean De Lattre called "the most dangerous man in Indochina."

    Greene himself had been ardently sermonized about the wonders of Third Force democracy by a boyish, enthusiastic member of the Economic Aid Mission, a likeable young man who, according to Greene, was the original model for Alden Pyle.

    By the time The Quiet American was published in 1955, America's Third Force democracy had actually been institutionalized in Saigon in the person of the brutal puppet dictator Ngo Dinh Diem, a former New Jersey resident who claimed to be the legitimate ruler of the entire country of Vietnam.

    (No government in either Saigon or Hanoi ever recognized the U.S. invention of two separate countries called "South Vietnam" and "North Vietnam.")

    To prepare for Diem's insertion into Vietnam, CIA operative Colonel Edward Lansdale [photograph above] arrived on June 1, 1954, in the midst of the Geneva peace negotiations, to launch a systematic campaign of sabotage and terror in the north and to supply a military force for Diem to gain control of Saigon.

    Building on the CIA contacts that Greene had earlier discovered, Lansdale employed terrorist warlord General Trinh Minh Thé to secure the city [...] Thé was paid by the CIA. [...]

    Especially since Lansdale's covert activities were revealed in his top-secret reports included in the Pentagon Papers, most commentators on the novel have assumed that he must have been the model for the Quiet American, something denied repeatedly by Greene.


    Whether or not Greene wrote Lansdale into his novel, Lansdale wrote Greene into the next version of The Quiet American, the 1958 film directed by Joseph Mankiewicz. Just as the CIA in 1952 had orchestrated terrorist bombings in Saigon to incite a U.S. war in Vietnam, the CIA and several of its front organizations used the 1958 film to resurrect those bombings, blame the Communists once again, build support for Diem's dictatorship, and savage Greene personally as the archetypal 'intellectual' Communist dupe who menaced the democracy that America had built in Vietnam.

    In March 1956, shortly after Mankiewicz bought the film rights to The Quiet American, Lansdale wrote to the director from his Saigon operations headquarters and, showing his skills as a former advertising executive, explained how to turn the novel into an assault on Greene and an advertisement for Diem.

    Although Lansdale acknowledged that Trinh Minh Thé had done the bombing and claimed credit for it in a radio broadcast, he assured Mankiewicz that no "more than one or two Vietnamese now alive know the real truth of the matter, and they certainly aren't going to tell it to anyone," so he should "just go ahead and let it be finally revealed that the Communists did it after all, even to faking the radio broadcast."

    Mankiewicz cast Audie Murphy, the most decorated U.S. soldier of World War II, as "The American" (he has no other name in the film), got one of Diem's henchmen to organize the on-location shooting, dedicated the film to Diem, and arranged for the first screenings to be benefits for one of Diem's main sponsors, the International Rescue Committee.

    "The American" is completely innocent and thoroughly heroic. In the car bomb scene, it is not he but Fowler (Michael Redgrave) who is unmasked. The American arrives with medical equipment in a "United States Christian Mission" truck (the movie makes Murphy closely resemble Tom Dooley) to care for the wounded.

    When Fowler, who has been duped by the Communists, stands amid the carnage hysterically accusing him of involvement in the bombing, The American, fuming with righteous indignation, shouts, "For once in your life, why don't you just shut up and help somebody?"

    Later, The American tries one last time to convince Fowler of the righteous destiny of the democratic Third Force.

    "I met a very prominent Vietnamese living in exile in New Jersey," he earnestly explains. "If all goes well, if Vietnam becomes an independent republic, this man will be its leader."

    This was, of course, the man actually reigning in Saigon in 1958, five years before another covert U.S. plot arranged his murder.[1]
    Fast forward a half century:

    The Good Cop

    In a city famously corrupt the Mumbai police force has a well-deserved reputation for corruption. Money intended for upgrading weapons goes instead to buying fancy cars for officers, and bribe-taking officers routinely buy themselves higher ranks -- where they can collect even bigger bribes. That leaves Mumbai's honest and best police at or near the bottom of the rank and file; overworked and underpaid, more often armed with nothing more than a night stick or an antiquated rifle, they are the front lines against crime in one of the world's Alpha Cities.

    One such policeman was Assistant Sub-Inspector Tukaram Omble. (Picture above.) Officer Omble, an army veteran who served on the Mumbai police force for 34 years, was a cop's cop and the kind of cop you'd want answering your call for help. Omble Story: When Mumbai residents ignored warnings to keep off a jellyfish-infested beach he read up on jellyfish, then with his own money bought a bag of limes and applied lime juice to sting injuries.

    There are slightly different versions of how Officer Omble sacrificed his life to aid in the capture of the only terrorist to survive the November 2008 massacre in Mumbai. But the gist is that Officer Omble, armed only with a night stick, charged straight at the terrorist when he drew an AK-47. Officer Omble grabbed onto the gun barrel with both hands while the terrorist pulled the trigger and pumped by different accounts anywhere from five to nine bullets into him. Mortally wounded, Officer Omble still wouldn't let go of the gun, shielding other police officers and making it possible for them to wrest the weapon away and pin down the terrorist. Only then did Officer Omble collapse and die.

    The Indian commandos who later retook the city from the rest of the terrorists made no effort to take prisoners and it's unlikely they would have been successful if they'd tried. The terrorists had been drilled by their commanders to keep shooting until they were killed.

    The reason for the order is obvious: survivors could talk. I think the commanders knew they must make every effort to prevent the attack being traced with certainty to their organization because the heat was on. The Americans had become increasingly vocal about the Pakistan government's involvement with terrorist groups.

    So here's the part that gives me chills: While Officer Omble's struggle with the terrorist protected his fellow officers it also protected the terrorist from being shot dead, as happened to the terrorist's partner just before the encounter. With Omble in the range of fire the policeman who'd shot the other terrorist couldn't get a bead. That meant one terrorist survived; like a slow-spreading stain from a pool of blood that's having far-reaching consequences.

    The Joker Cards

    Within the first hours of the commando-style terrorist attack on Mumbai, India's R&AW ("Research and Analysis Wing") intelligence agency had learned many things with reasonable certainty about the attack; among them:

    1. The attackers were Pakistani members of Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), a terrorist organization that was the creation of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency, and which retained close ties to ISI and Pakistan's military.

    2. Throughout the entire 60 hour siege of Mumbai the attack was micro-managed, almost minute-by-minute, in textbook military fashion by Pakistani handlers who were most probably situated in Pakistan, thus making it unnecessary to use highly trained operatives for the attack and making it likely that the handlers were current or former Pakistan military or ISI officers.

    By the time an Indian interrogator had finished questioning Mohammed Ajmal Amīr Kasab, the captured member of the terrorist commando team, R&AW had reasonable confirmation of points 1 and 2. (The questioning began even before the siege was ended, while Kasab was still in the hospital.)

    How did R&AW learn so much at such an early stage, even before the attack on Mumbai ended? At the outset of the attack the Mumbai police, paralyzed with confusion about what seemed a large-scale invasion, took a shot in the dark and began monitoring cell phone conversations in the city. They did this even though there were so many conversations that any chance of intercepting an exchange among the terrorists, if they were even communicating by phone, would be very remote. But to their wonder the police locked quickly into conversations between terrorists and their commanders.

    It turned out Indian defense operatives had done good groundwork. Earlier they'd seeded cell phone stores with SIM cards that were locked into the police frequency. Miraculously, three of the cards turned up in phones used by the terrorists. So the police were able to follow in real time more than 200 conversations between the commander/handlers and three of the five two-man teams while they carried out the massacre.

    Then another Joker card turned face up: the terrorists, all of them green at playing commando, had not thought to sink the rubber dinghy they disembarked from when they arrived at the Mumbai shore, and they'd left various supplies on board that could be traced to Pakistan -- oversights considered serious by the terrorists' handlers and discussed in one of the intercepted conversations.

    The intercepts also made it clear that the terrorists had been prepped for a shahid operation; i.e., they were to kill as many people as possible but under no circumstances were they to be taken alive. The Mumbai police monitoring the intercepts learned that the issue was considered so critical that when the handlers realized from watching television coverage of the attack that a terrorist had been captured they tied down one of the teams at Nariman House in an effort at a hostage exchange negotiation with the Indian government.

    The surviving terrorist, Kasab, was also a Joker card in LeT's deck. Kasab was not exactly what you'd call good Fedayeen material -- Fedayeen being those warriors for Islam who refuse to leave the battlefield alive. He was run to ground while trying to flee in a hijacked car. And during his interrogation he threw LeT and militant Islam under the bus in the course of his heart-tugging account of how he'd gotten involved with terrorism.

    If you've seen the video of that part of the interrogation you know that even the interrogator was having a hard time sitting on his sympathy for the kid, even though he gruffly told him to stop crying. Kasab blurted out enough to convey that as a poor village boy he'd been brainwashed by LeT and he explained that his father had sold him to the terror organization.

    "I do not sell my sons," said his father when he was finally located.

    It turned out Kasab was a punk. He got angry when his father couldn't afford to buy him new clothes for the Eid Muslim holiday, left home, took up petty crime, then turned to armed robbery. Then he thought he'd try terrorism.

    He was a mighty scared punk without his AK-47. Stripped of his blood-stained clothing, clothing stained with Officer Omble's blood, lying naked under a wool blanket on a gurney with a video camera running, he sang like a bird. He named every name he could think of connected with LeT, blurted every detail of the attack he was privy to, told where to locate a satphone and other items the commandos left on a trawler. And, when he said that the attack was originally planned for September, unknowingly confirmed information that the FBI had passed to R&AW earlier in the year.
    Update Dec 21 8:30 PM ET
    The information that the FBI had alerted R&AW of a pending Sept. 2008 attack on Mumbai came from Gerald Posner's Dec. 8, 2009 report for the Daily Beast, which I mention below, and which broke the news in the USA that the Indian government had been alerted by the US about a planned Sept. 2008 attack. Today's edition of The Hindu (Dec. 22) reports unnamed Indian government sources giving the CIA as the source for the alert.

    Because the Posner report does not state when the alert was given to R&AW or the exact date of the planned Sept. 2008 attack, I simply reported above that the alert came "earlier in the year." According to the Hindu, which quotes Kasab's statement under interrogation that the date of the planned attack was Sept. 27, 2008, the Indian government received the alert from the CIA on Sept. 24, 2008 -- only three days before the planned attack.

    The Hindu report contains a number of other disturbing revelations so I'm appending it to this post.(2) The Headley Affair is turning into a major scandal for the U.S. government, although I doubt it will make headlines in the USA. Now to continue (I am not revising the following text to take the Hindu report into account):
    In light of Kasab's revelation, the FBI warning, which was detailed -- even to naming the two hotels that were to be struck in the attack -- now gave fresh urgency to the question of how the U.S. had obtained the information. Was it from 'signals intelligence' -- phone or internet intercepts and the like? Or was it obtained from human intelligence -- a U.S.-sponsored mole at LeT? Or from a combination of the two?

    If the source had been HUMINT, had the FBI reeled in the mole or would it do so now, while the carnage from the Mumbai attack was airing on international television?

    The Dossier

    Here I must fall back on speculation but I'd say it's a fair guess that as soon as the Indian goverment got confirmation that the attack had been originally planned for September, it urgently asked the FBI to provide more information about how they learned of the attack. If indeed such a request was made it seems in light of unfolding events that the Indian government got stonewalling in reply.

    In any event, 40 days later, on January 5, 2009, the Indian government officially presented Pakistan's government with a 69-page dossier. The document contained forensic evidence about the massacre, which included a transcript of several of the intercepted conversations between the terrorists and their handlers. India's government also released the dossier to several 'friendly' governments, including the U.S. one. And within two days Indian officials released a PDF copy of the dossier to the national Indian newspaper, The Hindu.

    The evidence presented in the dossier is damning. And while it doesn't directly point at the U.S. government, any U.S. official who read the dossier and knew of the FBI warning to India's government would have realized India was asking whether the U.S. had withheld vital information that could have saved lives.

    On Monday, January 7 The New York Times published a report on the dossier with a link to The Hindu's copy of the dossier. The Times report speculated on the reason for the dossier's release:
    The compilation seems intended to achieve at least two objectives for India: demonstrate that the attackers were sent from Pakistan, and rally international support for India’s efforts to press Pakistan on its handling of terrorism suspects.
    After providing a short list of the dossier's evidence the reporter adds:
    [T]he dossier chronicles India’s efforts in recent years to persuade Pakistan to investigate suspects involved in terrorist attacks in India and to close terrorist training camps inside Pakistani territory. In the final pages, India demands that Pakistan hand over “conspirators” to face trial in India and comply with its promise to stop terrorist groups from functioning inside its territory.


    Although the dossier takes pains not to blame current or former officials in Pakistan’s army or spy agency, Indian officials have consistently hinted at their complicity, at least in training the commando-style fighters who carried out the attack.

    On Tuesday, the Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, upped the ante, but stopped short of naming any specific entities or individuals. “There is enough evidence to show that, given the sophistication and military precision of the attack, it must have had the support of some official agencies in Pakistan,” he said.

    Pakistan on Tuesday rejected the Indian allegation. “Scoring points like this will only move us further away from focusing on the very real and present danger of regional and global terrorism,” Sherry Rehman, Pakistan’s information minister, said in a statement, according to Reuters. “It is our firm resolve to ensure that nonstate actors do not use Pakistani soil to launch terrorist attacks anywhere in the world.”
    Oddly for the Times, a favored conduit for CIA leaks, and which can always be counted on to scare up comments from an unnamed U.S. official or two, the report contained nary a word of comment about the dossier from any U.S. official, named or unnamed.

    From what is known today it's a fair guess that any U.S. officials knowledgeable enough at the time to comment on the dossier were too busy doing CYA to spare a moment for a reporter's question. What is known today is that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) had been knowingly using an informant with terrorist ties and, at the least, not been keeping close track of him.

    That, in one sentence, is the still-murky back story to the arrest on October 3 of one David Coleman Headley aka Daood Sayed Gilani -- an American citizen with a Pakistani father whose European looks inherited from his American mother made him very useful to the LeT as a scout for planned terrorist operations.

    The original U.S. complaint mentioned only the accusation that Headley had traveled to Denmark to scout the building of the Jyllands-Posten newspaper (home of the famous Mohammed cartoon) and a nearby synagogue.

    It wasn't until December 8 that the FBI added to the complaint the accusation that Headley had been an integral part of the "26/11" plot -- the November 2008 LeT terrorist attack on Mumbai.

    Since then the unwinding ball of yarn continues to roll across the floor. Perhaps because rumors were flying that Headley had been working for the CIA, unnamed officials in Washington finally found their tongue. They confirmed for investigative reporter Gerald Posner on December 7 that Headley was the DEA's mess. However, Posner's December 8 report for the Daily Beast on the Headley affair didn't do much to quash the rumors:
    It was shortly before the Mumbai attacks that the FBI evidently first put Headley under its surveillance, leading to his arrest this past October. The FBI has rejected the requests of Indian investigators to talk to Headley or his co-conspirator, Tahawwur Hussain Rana, a 48-year-old Pakistani native with Canadian citizenship.

    U.S. officials blamed “bureaucratic” and “procedural” hurdles for denying Indian investigators access to Headley. But keeping Headley locked up and away from other investigators isn’t stopping the questions posed by some foreign governments about whether an American informant turned on his handlers and might have helped pull off India’s 9/11.
    Those are the least of the questions. B. Raman, one of the best counterterrorism experts writing for the general public, was initially willing to give the U.S. government the benefit of the doubt. Earlier in the investigation he pointed out on his blog that the details the FBI provided to India's government about the planned September attack didn't include the Nariman House as a target, even though Headley had scouted the building for LeT. Raman speculated that the omission could have meant the FBI obtained information about the attack from signals intelligence.

    There are a few other ways of looking at the same data: For example, it could be that Headley was indeed the source but that Nariman House was added as a target after he informed his U.S. handlers about the September attack; i.e., Nariman House was chosen as a target only after the September attack was scrubbed and replaced with the November one, and Headley wasn't informed of this.

    That last line of speculation takes on a little weight in light of unfolding events. On November 14, 2009 the Wall Street Journal reported that, in the year since 26/11, India's government has disrupted at least six more plots by Lashkar-e-Taiba to launch terror attacks in Mumbai. So the fact that Headley scouted Nariman House as a target doesn't necessarily mean LeT was going to include it in the planned September 2008 attack. LeT was scouting a range of targets for a series of attacks.

    In any case Raman is now less willing to be charitable in assessing the Headley Affair. In his December 15 post, titled Headly: A Quadruple Agent (the ball of yarn has many skeins) he observed:
    [...] The communications between Headley and his LeT handler intercepted by the FBI in July and August also indicated that he was planning to visit India in October to prepare the ground for another terrorist strike. The FBI had two options: either allow him to go to India, alert the Indian intelligence and keep him under surveillance -- or arrest him before he left for Pakistan and India. If he had been allowed to go to India, watched there and arrested by the Indian intelligence, his past contacts with the US agencies and his role in 26/11 would have come to the notice of the Indian authorities. [...]
    Yes. And that would have been unwelcome in Washington because it could have turned up the famous smoking gun that a U.S. official told the Los Angeles Times this November didn't exist:
    A report distributed in late 2007 by the [U.S.] National Intelligence Council was characteristically conflicted on the question of the ISI's ties to the Afghan Taliban, a relationship that traces back to Pakistan's support for Islamic militants fighting to oust the Soviets from Afghanistan.

    "Ultimately, the report said what all the other reports said -- that it was inconclusive," said a former senior U.S. national security official.

    "You definitely can find ISI officers doing things we don't like, but on the other hand you've got no smoking gun from command and control that links them to the activities of the insurgents."
    I wonder how many more smoking guns U.S. officials will identify as a bag of potato chips? Never mind; that's just me blowing off steam.

    Kasab tries his hand at blackmail

    For a Fedayeen Kasab is trying his darndest to avoid the hangman's noose. His latest move, yesterday in an Indian court, was to recant his videotaped confession and his July courtroom confession on the grounds that he was tortured into incriminating himself.

    As for the famous photographs of Kasab showing him shooting unarmed civilians, he now claims he's not that man. It's a complicated story but moving right along, it seems that either he or his attorney decided to play Monkey See, Monkey Do: If Headley was able to get a reduced jail sentence for cooperating with the U.S. government, and if Headley might avoid the death penalty if he knew anything of substance about a U.S. agency getting too cozy or negligent with LeT, the tack was worth a shot for Kasab. So he announced in court that while he was in jail in Mumbai he received a visit from "four white men," including David Coleman Headley.

    According to the AP reporter who filed the story, the judge then told Kasab "not to reveal any more details on Headley."

    He didn't need to reveal any more details, if he even had any. All he needed to do was drop the name "Headley."

    And that's the way it's going to be from now on, with every terrorist on the planet who thinks he can do on a small scale what Pakistan's government has been doing on a grand scale: blackmailing the government of the United States of America. Any terrorist who has information pointing to U.S. complicity with Pakistan's sponsorship of terrorism, or who's even good at telling a whopper, has gotten the idea he might pick up a few million dollars in hush money and even get the U.S. to studiously overlook his gang's terrorist activities.

    We're not in 1946 anymore, Toto, but then did we ever leave it?

    There's no need to ask, 'How did it come to this?' We just need to look back down the yellow brick road. What started with a photograph in LIFE ended up with many American troops murdered in Afghanistan by agents of a U.S. client state -- and with Washington's only protest to engage in butterknife rattling at the client state. And, perhaps in the hope that two clattering butterknives would equal the sound of one rattling saber, London joined Washington in telling Pakistan's military and ISI that if they didn't stop blowing up ISAF troops in Afghanistan, well, they needed to stop. This tough line was followed by Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown fobbing hush money on Pakistan's government to the tune of £60m, "which will include funds for education and clean drinking water for children, to be delivered before the end of the financial year."

    "None Dare Call it a Rogue State"

    On December 9 a sharp American military/foreign policy analyst by the name of Mark Safransksi, who blogs at Zenpundit, came right out and called a spade a spade:
    [...] The horns of our dilemma is that our long time “ally” whom we have hitched ourselves to in a grand war effort against revolutionary Islamist terrorism is not our ally at all, but a co-belligerent with our enemy. By every policy measure that matters that causes the United States -- justifiably in my view -- to take a tough stance against North Korea and Iran, applies in spades to Islamabad. Yet none dare call Pakistan a rogue state.


    We play a bizarre game, our leaders being more concerned about Pakistan’s “stability” than Pakistan’s own generals and politicians who egg on, fund and train the very militant Islamist groups spreading death and chaos inside Pakistan and beyond its borders.


    Until America’s bipartisan foreign policy elite grapple with the fact -- and it is an easily verifiable, empirical, fact -- that Pakistan’s government is in chronic pursuit of policies that destabilize Central Asia, menace all of Pakistan’s neighbors, generate legions of terrorists and risk nuclear war with India, no solutions will present themselves.

    A strategy will only have a chance of success when it is grounded in reality.
    True, true, all true. However, getting grounded in reality in this case means we untangle our contradictory policy toward Pakistan and understand what the country is like. Only then can we deal intelligently with Pakistan's rogue regime.

    In the next post I'll fall back on the insights of Pakistani intellectuals to examine whether the country is truly a feudal society. I think that will help Americans understand more about the country we've poured so many billions of dollars into for almost a half century, either through direct aid or indirectly through international organizations such as the World Bank.

    The Documentary

    On November 26, 2009, the date of the one-year anniversary of the first night of the 60-hour siege of Mumbai, the American cable TV channel HBO aired a 64 minute documentary titled "Terror in Mumbai."

    From HBO's interview with the director, HBO had not at that point found a television station in India that was willing to broadcast the documentary and one shouldn't wonder why. The film represents the most harrowing footage I've ever seen aired on American television because it juxtaposes scenes of the carnage, and interviews with survivors, with real-time phone conversations between teams of terrorists and the commander who was micro-managing their murder rampage.

    Those are the conversations I mentioned earlier in this post but I gave no hint of how rough they are to listen to for anyone with a conscience. The documentary also features part of Kasab's interrogation in the hospital, and which I also mentioned.

    I warn that Americans of conscience who know a great deal about U.S. sponsorship of Pakistan's terrorist regime will find the film almost unbearable to watch. This said, I think it's very important for as many American voters as possible to see the documentary. We must confront what we have done by blindly allowing our tax dollars to go to financial assistance to Pakistan's government -- and by not criticizing our government's pandering to Pakistan's military and ISI in the name of fighting terrorism. Watch the documentary to see the kind of terrorism we have helped finance; that this happened unwittingly does not change what we did.

    "Terror in Mumbai" will air next at these times:

    Mon 12/21 08:00 AM - HBO2 - EAST
    Mon 12/21 11:00 AM - HBO2 - WEST
    Sat 12/26 10:00 AM - HBO2 - EAST
    Sat 12/26 01:00 PM - HBO2 - WEST

    Here is the link to HBO's interview with Daniel Reed, the award-winning director. Perhaps only a director of Reed's caliber could have persuaded the Indian government to agree to release excerpts of the phone conversations -- the worst of which do not show up in the film; in other words you won't hear the terrorists torturing people before they murdered them.

    Graham Greene and Tukaram Omble

    On the surface you could not find two men who were more different. Officer Omble, a tower of strength for others, never giving into illness, never missing a day's work, a man who believed that if punctuality was abandoned everything else fell apart. Greene, a train wreck of a man -- suffering from bipolar disorder, always on the verge of suicide, a man of poor morals in many areas and whose political views were hopelessly contradictory.

    Yet when you sweep away the differences you find two people of great spiritual strength. Both stumbled across real evil and fought it, each in his own way, and both got in the last word. That, I should think, is a fact to keep in mind when you watch "Terror in Mumbai."

    This entry, as with all Pundita essays, is crossposted at RBO. Many thanks to Brenda for helping me with the illustrations and proofreading, as she's done do many times before.

    1) From H. Bruce Franklin's review of the 2003 remake of Mankiewicz's version of the Greene novel. The review was originally published in January 2003 in the leftist magazine The Nation, which introduced Franklin as the John Cotton Dana Professor of English and American Studies at Rutgers University in Newark, New Jersey and the author or editor of 18 books, including the "just published" Vietnam and Other American Fantasies.

    If the 1958 film took too many liberties in favor of the war hawks, the 2002 version got even. Made at the height of the controversy about the U.S. entry into Iraq and with the benefit of hindsight about the Cold War that Greene didn't have in 1952, it does double duty as a polemic against Bush's war policy.

    Someday, somebody's going to make a film about the damn novel that just tells the story Greene put down on paper.