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.

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