On Thursday the White House released a summary of a preliminary report on the attempted bombing of a Christmas flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit.
I was disappointed by the lack of a clear description of what happened. Indeed, the attempted bomber is barely mentioned. It reads like a document written by bureaucrats for bureaucrats — which presumably it is.
I don’t see how one can decide what we should do without first understanding what happened in this case. And some of what little is in the summary about the event seemed obscure or potentially misleading. For example, after stating that Abdulmutallab’s explosive device “did not explode, but instead ignited,” the summary states:
The flight crew restrained Mr. Abdulmutallab and the plane safely landed.
Am I to conclude that the accounts of passenger heroics are not true? Or is it just the reluctance of the administration or the intelligence community to give proper credit to anyone who is not paid to protect us?
Some accounts suggest that one or more passengers not only subdued the bomber, but prevented detonation. On the other hand, I seem to recall reading other (at least superficially persuasive) accounts suggesting that the bomb would not have exploded, just burned, because to be effective the components would have to be under pressure (which they weren’t). The summary is silent on this score, but I was hoping to learn the truth: Would the bomb have exploded without intervention?
If it would not have exploded as configured, is it likely that Abdulmutallab was incompetent, his handlers were incompetent, or the attack was meant to stoke terror rather than bring down a plane?
In a general way, I’d like to know more about Abdulmutallab’s training or contacts in Yemen, but this might be too sensitive to disclose to the public.
I would also like to know more about the story that Abdulmutallab tried to board the plane in Amsterdam without showing his passport.
So far, Dutch authorities (who have reviewed over 200 hours of tape) plausibly say that this story is not true, but I would like to know what testimony or pictures support the claim that Abdulmutallab actually showed his passport, as opposed to simply refrained from unusual or suspicious movements. Napolitano also stated that he indeed showed his passport. (One reason that a terrorist might not want to show a passport if he could board without showing it is to avoid revealing where he had visited using that passport.)
Were pages ripped out or did Abdulmutallab have an electronic passport (Nigerian passports issued in the last year or so are electronic) that might have disclosed whether he had visited terrorist training grounds?
According to Abdulmutallab’s passport seized in Detroit, which countries had he visited? Was Abdulmutallab’s passport scanned in Nigeria? What was recorded at that time?
If the passenger accounts about Abdulmutallab trying to board without showing a passport are false — as they appear to be — did these witnesses mistake Abdulmutallab for another passenger trying to board the plane? Was there another passenger that might have fit the witnesses’s description and could that passenger have been an accomplice who was not allowed to board?
In a press conference, Secretary Napolitano confirmed LA Times reports that US officials became suspicious of Abdulmutallab while he was on the flight and had planned to question him on his arrival in Detroit. Of course, by the time the plane landed, our government had decided that Abdulmutallab didn’t have to talk to them because he was not to be treated as an enemy combatant.
I understand that this is just the public summary of a secret report and is explicitly designed not to compromise any intelligence sources. Yet what was released does not inspire confidence. And anyone (like me) who was waiting for the government report to find out what happened on Christmas day was probably a tad disappointed.