Spy agencies failed to intercept chatter on plane attack: NYT

December 31st, 2009 - 1:15 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Dec 31 (IANS) American spy agencies failed to combine intercepts of conversations among leaders of Al Qaeda in Yemen discussing a plot to use a Nigerian man for a coming terrorist attack with other clues, according to the New York Times.
The exercise could have disrupted the attempted airline bombing on Christmas Day, the influential US daily reported Thursday noting the National Security Agency had intercepted the conversations four months ago. The electronic intercepts were translated and disseminated across classified computer networks, it said citing unnamed government officials.

But analysts at the National Counterterrorism Centre in Washington did not synthesise the eavesdropping intelligence with information gathered in November when the father of the would-be bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, visited the US embassy in Nigeria to express concerns about his son’s radicalisation.

The father, a wealthy businessman named Alhaji Umaru Mutallab, had urgently sought help from American and Nigerian security officials when cellphone text messages from his son revealed that he was in Yemen and had become a fervent radical.

The new details help fill in the portrait of an intelligence breakdown in the months before Abdulmutallab boarded a plane in Amsterdam with the intent of blowing it up before landing in Detroit, the Times said.

Some government officials blamed the National Counter-terrorism Centre, created in 2004 to foster intelligence sharing and to serve as a clearinghouse for terrorism threats, for failing to piece together information about an impending attack.

Others pointed the finger at the Central Intelligence Agency, which in November compiled biographical data about Abdulmutallab - including his plans to study Islamic law in Yemen - but did not broadly share the information with other security agencies, the daily said.

A White House review into the episode is finding that agencies were looking at information in silos without adequately checking other available databases - not because they were reluctant to share, as was the case before Sep 11, 2001 but out of oversight or human error, the Times said citing a senior administration official familiar with the review.

The Times said there were conflicting reports about whether counter-terrorism centre analysts had at their disposal all of the details of the National Security Agency communications intercepts in August.

What is clear, however, is that centre’s officials concluded that the information they had about Abdulmutallab was not worrisome enough to do anything more than add his name to the biggest - and least scrutinised - of four intelligence databases, the Times said.

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