Where are the Other Abdulmutallabs?

As Washington struggles to understand the intelligence and airport security failures behind the Christmas Day terrorist attack that almost destroyed a civilian airliner over Detroit, there is an issue that no one is talking about: the failure of the Obama administration to respond aggressively after the November 5, 2009 Fort Hood shooting.

The striking link between the two attacks is that Army Major Nidal Hassan, the Fort Hood shooter, and Christmas Day bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab both had contacts with Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical Islamic cleric.   It appears that both of them reached out to Awlaki or his associates. Awlaki has talked publicly about his communications with Hasan.  Abdulmutallab was in direct contact with jihadis and may have been in contact with Awlaki personally.

U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies have long been aware of Awalaki’s efforts to radicalize Muslims worldwide.  Awlaki, a Yemeni-American citizen who has lived in Yemen since 2004, has ties to al-Qaeda and is an “e-imam” who uses the Internet, Facebook, CDs and videos to spread his call for Muslims to commit violent jihad against the United States.  Two of the 9/11 hijackers attended his mosque in Virginia.  Awlaki also influenced the men who planned to attack Fort Dix in 2007 and the Toronto-18 group that was arrested in 2006 for planning to attack the Canadian parliament and assassinate Canada’s prime minister.

Given what we knew about Awlaki, Major Hasan’s contacts with him should have set off major alarm bells throughout U.S. intelligence, law enforcement and defense agencies.   This doesn’t appear to have happened, although the administration to date has refused to fully brief Congress on how it responded after Fort Hood.  It is clear we did not ratchet up our efforts against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula nor did we employ every effort to locate Awlaki in order to disrupt his activities and confront him on the battlefield.  

The Fort Hood shooting was dismissed by administration officials as an “isolated incident” and carried out by a “lone wolf.”   The Obama administration refused to believe Hasan’s e-mail communications with Awlaki was evidence that the Fort Hood shooting was a terrorist incident influenced by al-Qaeda.  Instead, Hasan’s case was treated as a criminal offense by a mentally deranged person.  Nothing was done about the Awlaki connection.  This was a serious mistake.  

The Obama administration should have taken seriously Hasan’s ties to Anwar al-Awlaki and employed all intelligence, military and diplomatic measures against Awlaki after the November Fort Hood shooting.  The recent ramp-up in counterterrorism efforts by the Obama administration in response to the Christmas Day attack comes weeks too late.

President Obama’s failure to appreciate the seriousness of the Fort Hood and Detroit attacks reflects fundamental problems in his approach to national security and terrorism.  His administration not only has had difficulty in using the word “terrorism,” it even tried to replace it with the incomprehensible term “man-caused disasters.”   The Obama administration says that we are at war with al-Qaeda but has tried to treat terrorism as a criminal matter, apparently in the belief that if we talk nicely to terrorists and grant them U.S. constitutional protections, they won’t attack us.  Obama officials have condemned tough Bush-era counterterrorism policies as “the politics of fear” and the president has apologized for America’s approach to the Muslim world.   

Time is short to prevent the next al-Qaeda attack.  We must assume there are other Umar Farouk Abdulmutallabs in the pipeline and that al-Qaeda has identified other vulnerabilities in our security systems that it plans to exploit.   It is crucial that the Obama administration fully understand the meaning of the second wake-up call it received with the Detroit terrorist attack: we are at war with radical jihadists.  Only the bravery of passengers and crew of Flight 253 and a lot of luck prevented a Christmas Day catastrophe over Detroit.   The Obama administration must put forward an aggressive and realistic strategy to protect our nation from the next radical Jihadist attack.  We can’t count on luck to keep our nation safe.