Tonight on Countdown, Richard Wolffe dropped a bombshell (no pun intended) about the situation with the Flight 253 "underpants bomber," Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, by saying that there is a serious question about whether or not there was foul play, information intentionally withheld, and/or conspiracy.
Update 4: Link to Wolffe interview on MSNBC:
(and title change, adding "Wolfe:" to the beginning of the title.)
Update 5: Transcript added below.
Update 6: Noted below.
- As of this morning (12/5) this is still being reported on MSNBC, and so far, I have seen no White House official call in and refute the story that Wolffe broke last night. In the past, more than once, I have seen White House officials, usually Axelrod, call in and respond to and/or correct things being reported on MSNBC in the morning.
- Video link to segment on Rachel Maddow's show and transcript added below.
According to Wolffe, the White House is investigating whether or not the systemic failure was anything more than human error. The questions being asked are -- was this some kind of failure due to internal tensions between intelligence communities? Was information withheld intentionally in order to "make someone look bad?"
Wolffe says that the White House is in very early stages of this investigation.
Olbermann reported that the president will make a statement tomorrow around 4pm.
Update 6: The above statement is not related to Wolffe's reported investigation. It is a statement to be made after a meeting between the president and his senior advisers:
President Barack Obama and Vice-President Joe Biden will meet with senior advisors Tuesday to review an attempted terrorist attack on Northwest Flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day.
Immediately following the closed-door meeting, Obama will address the media from the Grand Foyer.
Detroit Free Press
During the interview with Wolffe on Countdown, he repeated the phrase "cock up or conspiracy?" more than once and made it clear that his information was coming from the White House.
Wolffe was later on Rachel Maddow's show by telephone. His words were a bit calmer this time, but again he said that there is an investigation and that there is a question about whether or not the withholding of information was intentional. He said that there is a lot of finger pointing going on in intelligence community, that the president is really "steamed" and that there is a line of inquiry that goes to the heart of why this wasn't shared. He and Rachel talked about how the intent may not necessarily be malicious, but may be more political.
I think we should expect to hear more about this, as it looks like the White House put this information out intentionally, even if anonymously.
Look for the repeat of the Countdown show if you missed it.
I want to get diary out but also want to add more information as it becomes available, so there should be one or more update soon.
Let's just say - stupid updates removed. I included, in Update 1, an article from a source that I should have vetted before touching anything associated with him. I had never heard of the guy, but apparently he's an infamous conspiracy theorist. Removed.
Update 4 is at the top of the diary (link to video)
Update 5 Transcript (done by me) of segment on Countdown with Richard Wolffe, and first part of interview with Arianna Huffington.
KO: Let's turn first to MSNBC political analyst Richard Wolffe, also author of "Renegade: The Making of a President." Good evening, Richard.
RW: Good evening, Keith.
KO: What is the focus here right now? Is it the push back, borders at other airports? Is it the indication that the intelligence such as what the NSA knew about Al Qaeda in Yemen using a Nigerian man for an attack was not maybe is not being utilized? Where is the focus right now?
RW: Well I was speaking to White House folks earlier today and it's clear the president is still deeply concerned and troubled even angry at the intelligence lapses but they see this more as an intelligence lapse more than as a situation of airport security faults. So the question is why didn't the centralized system of intelligence that was set up after 9/11, why didn't it work? Is it conspiracy or cock up? Is it a case of the agencies having so much rivalry between them that they were more determined to stymy each other or the centralized system rather than the terrorist threat or was it just that there were so many dots no one could connect them because it was just all too random to figure out. It seems that the president is leaning very much towards thinking this was a systemic failure by individuals who maybe had an alternative agenda.
KO: If airport security is the failsafe in that equation, what was behind the Bush adminstration's failure to establish the secondary checks overseas? Why are we suddenly rushing to this idea now? When did Mr. Bush and, I presume, Mr. Chertoff, drop that ball?
RW: Well there are more smart, more efficient ways to protect the country than to defend every airport because we know from our own airport system in this country that there are no failsafe methods, even with all the extra methods that you have out there -- people take off their shoes because of the shoe bomber, and then terrorists try and put the same explosives on another part of their body or another part of their clothing. The question here is why wasn't the intelligence directed at countries where Al Qaeda was reconstituting or establishing itself anew. That gets you to a strategic question which, unfortunately, the last administration failed to see because it was diverted, most classically, into Iraq.
KO: To your second point there, and we can sort of skip the Woody Allen joke, about how underwear will now be worn on the outside so we can check... your second point you suggested in there that the administration is looking into mixed, perhaps mixed motives, or misplaced priorities, I'm not sure exactly how you phrased that... in terms of what? Getting messages from A to B? Are people thought to have been deliberately withholding information so that the dots could not be connected?
RW: Right. The question is, was this information that was shared... remember, there was some sharing of information but it involves the father of this, in the end, terrorist, who walks in to see the CIA officials in a foreign embassy, this is an American embassy in a foreign country, and you know, that information wasn't shared fully. Why wasn't it shared fully? The question there is again, cock up or conspiracy. Was there a reason these agencies were at war with each other that prevented that intelligence from being shared?
KO: Is the implication there that there is at least a possibility that somebody understood how serious this could be and yet withheld information in order to make some other part of the counterterrorism system look bad?
RW: That has got to be an area that the White House is looking into and, you know, motives can be hard to assess because it's not clear that this person was easily identified as a terrorist. Even with the father coming forward saying they had concerns, was that more of a family concern or were there enough fingerprints here about the radicalization of this individual to suggest that it should have been taken to a different level -- at the very least a security level beyond more than a nominal sharing of information. That's where this inquiry, this internal inquiry, for the moment, has to go.
KO: Well, certainly, not to get too far ahead of what the information the White House doesn't have, and presumably you don't have and certainly I don't have, but that seems to me that what you're describing, at least in theory, is a far greater threat than a guy with explosives on an airplane, whether or not he succeeds in blowing them up.
RW: Well it's the most important line of defense. I don't know that it's a threat in itself. But you can defend every airport as much as you like, in the end though the most efficient, safest, border line for security has got to be human intelligence. There seems to have been plenty of human intelligence in this case.
KO: We're joined now by Arianna Huffington, cofounder, editor in chief of Huffington Post. Good evening.
AH: Good evening, Keith
KO: Ah, Richard's last point there, forgive me if I'm a little flustered, but that seemed a little startling to contemplate that in a day and age when presumably we're all, whatever we think of the threat of terror in this world, presumably we're all on the same side if we have something to do with this country, that somebody may be deliberately, in the counterterrorism system that we employ around the world, deliberately withholding information, no matter what the consequences might be. What do you think of that?
AH: I know, it was an astounding statement, especially since Richard said that he had talked to people in the White House who are leaning towards that conclusion in terms of a systemic failure in terms of how our intelligence system is operating...
Update 7: Transcript (done by me) of segment on The Rachel Maddow Show with Richard Wolffe and link to video.
Rachel Maddow Show 12/4
RM: We begin tonight with some breaking news on the White House investigation into exactly what happened with the Christmas day botched terror attempt. MSNBC political analyst, Richard Wolffe, will actually be joining us tonight by telephone with that. Richard, I know you shared some reporting on Countdown about a potentially very inflammatory development in the Christmas day terror plot investigation. What can you tell us about that reporting -- what else you've been able to learn?
RW: Well, Rachel, this investigation is still very much at a fact-finding stage where the White House is looking at, still, what happened. It's very preliminary. Obviously the president has just got back from vacation and just started prepping for his big session tomorrow, which, I'm told, is still going to focus on things like the screening processes that people face. But the question here, is whether or not the systemic failure that the president has talked about was anything more than human error. Was this some kind of failure because of the system's internal tensions or was there actually just a surplus of information that people didn't understand or report fully. So the question about how intelligence was shared is very much uppermost in the president's mind and he is still, I'm told, very steamed about this whole affair and the failings that led to such a serious breach of security. But it's still very early in the phase of where this investigation is going.
RM: Richard, I believe that the...I think the reason that your reporting tonight has such an exclamation point on it for so many of us who saw your interview on Countdown who were thinking about where this might lead, is the prospect not just that intelligence leads that should have been followed were not followed or that intelligence dots that should have been connected were not connected, that there isn't enough communication among the different parts of the American intelligence community -- that's important analysis but not new analysis. What's new and very worrying is the prospect that intelligence was deliberately withheld by one part of the American intelligence community from another -- either because of a grudge to make someone look bad or for any other reason that put petty politics above national security. Is that, in fact, the path that this White House inquiry is going down?
RW: I think you're ten steps ahead of where the White House is right now. I just checked in with White House people again and, look, there's lots of finger pointing going on the intelligence community where you have people who are in the center of it all who are tasked with pulling these things together who say the information was there and it wasn't flagged up or it wasn't shared adequately. So there is a line of inquiry that goes to the heart of, why wasn't this stuff shared adequately. I think the early suspicions inside the White House is that this comes down to human error more than this is some willful withholding but the questions are being asked and they're being asked because some people are saying this stuff wasn't shared adequately and they say it could have been.
RM: MSNBC analyst, Richard Wolffe, joining us, helping us sort out what's turning out to be both fascinating story a deeply troubling story about America's response to the terror alert or the terror incident on Christmas day and what we could have pieced together ahead of time. Thanks very much, Richard, for your time. We appreciate it.
RW: Thanks very much, Rachel.