Actually, the CIA had very specific information that pointed directly to an imminent terrorist attack. Before reviewing the information I'll let Mr Brennan continue talking himself out on a limb. From the Market Watch report:
"We had the information that came from his father where he was concerned about his son going to Yemen, consorting with extremists, and that he was not going to go back. We also though had other streams of information coming from intelligence channels that were little snippets," Brennan said [...] "We may have had a partial name, we might have had an indication of a Nigerian, but there was nothing that brought it all together."You lie, sir, or maybe someone lied to you, or your assistants need to keep you better informed. Kudos to blogger Dan Riehl at Riehl World View for rescuing an important ABC News investigative report, dated December 31, from year-end news cycle oblivion.
He added that the government needs to do a better job of bringing that sort of information together, "so when a father comes in with information and we have intelligence, we can map that up so that we stop individuals like Abdulmutallab from getting on a plane."
ABC ferreted out the truth behind news reports that Umar Abdulmutallab's father alerted the U.S. Embassy about his concern that his son had gotten involved with radicals. The way such reports were worded conveyed the idea that the CIA didn't have a smoking gun to work with. Actually, the CIA had a smoking cannon handed to them.
ABC learned that what really happened is that Umar phoned his father to say he was calling for the last time because the people he was with in Yemen were going to destroy his SIM card. That would make his phone unusable. And that was as much telling his father he was entering the final phase of training for a terrorist suicide mission.
His father immediately alerted Nigerian intelligence officials that he was afraid his son was preparing for a terrorist mission in Yemen. The officials then brought him directly into the presence of the CIA station chief in Abuja on November 19.
So it's not as if some worried father wandered in off the street to unburden himself to a clerk at a U.S. embassy. And note that the Nigerian intelligence officials didn't run the risk of getting trapped in voice mail hell or hearing, 'I'm sorry your email got lost in the shuffle.' They made Double Dutch sure the station chief heard the father's statement and understood its import and urgency.
What happened after the station chief took in the father's account? Report, file, and forget:
The next day the embassy sent out a thin report to U.S. embassies around the world warning Adbulmutallab may be associating with extremists in Yemen. The CIA official compiled two more robust reports following the meeting with the suspect's father. One was sent back to CIA's Langley, VA [headquarters]; the other remained in draft form in Nigeria and was not circulated until after the attempted attack on Christmas Day, according to a U.S. official.[...]The ABC report also mentions that according to the Yemen government, the CIA station chief did not share the information with Yemeni intelligence officials. So unless Mr Brennan wants to dispute the Yemen government's statement, he also mis-spoke when he told ABC:
"All of the information was shared, except that there are millions upon millions of bits of data that come in on a regular basis," he said. "What we need to do is make sure the system is robust enough that we can bring that information to the surface that really is a threat concern."No, the information was not properly shared. Now I'm not sure this incident represents a system failure; it could be gross negligence or incompetence on the part of the CIA station chief, which then poisoned the entire communication chain. However, I'm hearing language creeping into intelligence work that properly belongs in science; I find that alarming. Intelligence work is not a scientific field; it's an art that depends on common sense and playing hunches derived from experience.
Common sense shouts to anyone familiar with shahid operations that Umar Abdulmutallab was having second thoughts about being a human bomb but by that time it was too late to back out. He told his father as much as he could with an al Qaeda handler standing there listening, waiting to destroy his SIM card. And Nigerian intelligence officials made damn sure the CIA knew how serious that phone call was, and they got in-person verification that the station chief heard every word of the father's account.