Security Adviser queries DG, NIA over Mutallab
Inquest reveals involvement of sons of two former justices
NIGERIA's intelligence/ Security machinery has kicked into overdrive in its bid to find what went wrong on its part, who knew what and when about the deeds or moves of Farouk Abdul muttallab, now facing charges of attempted terror attack in the United States of America (U.S.A).
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Piqued by the negative impact of the global discussion of the involvement of the Nigerian in the Christmas day's botched attempt to blow up a U.S.-bound plane that took off from Amsterdam, Holland and with the looming spectre of being tagged a haven of terrorists, Nigeria's presidency has launched a comprehensive probe of the tragic incident. The claims and counter- claims on who knew what, when and where, about Farouk Mutallab's suspected attempt are of course of special interest.
The probe, which promises to be far-reaching, began in earnest on Monday morning when the National Security Adviser Abdul Sarki Mukhtar, a retired Major-General, personally issued and signed a strongly-worded query to the Director-General of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) Ambassador E.O. Oladeji.
In the query entitled: "Alleged Involvement of Umar Farouk Mutallab in an Attempt to Bomb a U.S. Airliner" and dated December 28, the National Security Adviser indicated that the National Intelligence Agency had prior knowledge of a report said to have been deposited with it on the suspect. The words of the query:
"From all indications, it seemed that your Agency had prior knowledge of a report, said to have been made by Alhaji Umar Mutallab about the tendencies of his son, Umar Farouk, towards radicalisation, which was manifested in the incident leading to his arrest in the U.S."
The query goes further, "It is really unfortunate and sad that knowledge of such an important intelligence issue could not be brought to the attention of this office, or the weekly Intelligence Community Committee Meeting (ICCM). It was this failure that led to the unfortunate incident we are grappling with now".
"The report if circulated within the ICC would have alerted the Security Agencies at our Travel Control Points (TCPs) to take appropriate required action, that would have led to his arrest, before boarding the KLM flight from Nigeria, thereby pre-empting the sad incident", it added.
The NSA notes that "Failure to do so has not only led to this rather unfortunate international embarrassment to the Nigerian nation, but also depicted our country as a haven for terrorists. You are therefore to explain what led to this failure of intelligence, and the persons therein involved. Your explanation, should reach me on or before Tuesday December 29, 2009..."
According to sources close to the NIA, the National Security Adviser's letter has caused some "consternation" within the Agency coming on the heels of a recent crisis that led to the dramatic removal of the former DG NIA, Ambassador Imohe.
The Guardian gathered last night that even as the NIA chief executive faces the challenge of answering the query from the NSA, the presidency has been told that contrary to earlier reports that the lead and indeed activities of Umar Farouk (Jnr) were reported to Nigeria's security agencies, "the father only reported it to a former National Security official who served under President Obasanjo, who in turn reportedly informed one of the directors at the National Intelligence Agency (NIA). The director obviously did nothing about the lead until the current incident happened."
The report of how Mutallab (snr) reported his son is said to have also raised curiosity of the Intelligence and Security Community. One puzzle operatives are hoping to unravel is "what the former Managing Director of UBA knew and what compelled him to head for the American Embassy instead of, for instance, the British High Commission which had in May this year rejected his son's re-entry visa shortly after he completed his degree programme in a London university".
Besides, the Intelligence and Joint Security Services are said to be interested in questioning the eminent Mutallab, a former federal commissioner (minister) under General Obasanjo as military head of state (1976-1979) on "why he did not report the suspicious deeds of his son to the offices of current National Security Adviser or even the Directors-General of the State Services Department or the National Intelligence Agency
In the same vein, the presidency, still smarting from the embarrassment occasioned by the absence of the president for more than a month now, is now running with bursting adrenaline to get to the root of this crisis. As a result, so many questions are being asked: What are some of the relationships the older Mutallab has in the world of business, government and even religion? Being married to an Arab Yemeni himself, what could the older Mutallab know or say of his son's Yemeni connections? Yemen is now widely known as the base of radical islamic fundamentalists where attacks had previously been planned on American targets.
Could the attempted attack by Mutallab have been a culmination of an intricate web of local and transnational intrigues that may have implications for domestic and foreign policy direction of the current administration?"
Just as answers were being sought to these and other questions, last night, it was revealed by diplomatic sources that Umar Farouk may not have been alone in his suspected enterprise. Indeed, two sons of two former justices of Nigeria have also been fingered and are already under the scrutiny of security men.
British investigators are said to have also revealed that a Pakistani citizen who collaborated with a Yemeni citizen actually trained the three Nigerian suspects inside the United Kingdom.
In the meantime, The Guardian also confirmed yesterday from diplomatic sources that some U.S. security and intelligence chiefs visited the State Security Service Headquarters on Monday where they met with a Director of Operations of the Service.
It was understood that they actually discussed and harmonised positions on how to deal with what is now known as "the Mutallab Challenge".
Meanwhile, the Department of State Security Services (SSS) which called off a planned briefing two days ago is said to have clarified its own stance to the presidency especially on how the suspect pased through the airport. The SSS was said to have clarified its role this way: "The role of the Service at the airports is to maintain Watch-list Action and not to search intending travellers. Watch-list Action is a request from various agencies for the Service to take specific actions on suspected persons who contravened one law or another affecting the requesting agency".
"In this case, (Umar Farouk's), no Watch-list Action was demanded on Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab from any agency within or outside the country. Watch-list Action can be mounted to check those travelling with stolen passports. Accordingly, the Service may conduct Service may conduct searches on air travellers if such persons are on Watch-list".
It clarified further, "Meanwhile, it is on record that airlines employ private security companies, which carry out all forms of checks and searches even at the final point of boarding".
It concluded on a plea note: "In the light of the current development, the Service wishes to reiterate that security is a collective responsibility. Therefore, all citizens are urged to be more sensitive to their environment and collaborate with relevant agencies to timely identify such tendencies and other issues that impact on our collective security".
It has been disclosed, by a law enforcement official that part of an explosive device that failed to take down a plane last week was sewn into AbdulMutallab's underwear.
According to foreign media, Abdulmutallab, 23, the privately-educated son of one of Nigeria's most prominent bankers, managed to smuggle his bomb aboard the aircraft by strapping a condom filled with the high explosive PETN to the inside of his leg and then attempting to detonate it using a syringe filled with a liquid chemical. The PETN powder caught fire but did not explode.
Investigators are worried that AQAP has developed what is effectively an "undetectable bomb" involving PETN that can only be found by using expensive and intrusive full body scanners at airports, with huge implications for airport security.
A preliminary FBI analysis found that the device AbdulMutallab was said to have carried aboard the flight from Amsterdam, Netherlands, to Detroit, Michigan, contained pentaerythritol tetranitrate, an explosive also known as PETN. The amount of explosive was sufficient to blow a hole in the aircraft, a source with knowledge of the investigation told CNN on Sunday.
U.S. investigators have not determined whether the al Qaeda claim of responsibility was true, but one U.S. counterterrorism official told CNN on Monday that the group might have some involvement.
CNN National Security Analyst Peter Bergen said that if al Qaeda operatives in Yemen were behind the Christmas plot, that would represent a significant advance for the group.
"Most of the attacks we have seen in the past have been in Yemen or Saudi Arabia, and the (al Qaeda) affiliate there has not been able to do out-of-the-area operation," Bergen said.
A federal security bulletin obtained by CNN said AbdulMutallab claimed the explosive device used Friday "was acquired in Yemen along with instructions as to when it should be used."
Meanwhile, a very influential U.S. Congressman representing New York is advocating that Mutallab be tried under martial law over his attempt on Christmas day to blow up a U.S. airliner.
Congressman, Peter King, a Republican legislator who is also the ranking Republican on the U.S. House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee said yesterday that Umar Farouk should face a military court instead of civil courts.
King spoke as Nigerian diplomats completed a "consular visit" to the Nigerian terror suspect on Monday in Milan, Michigan
, where he is being held in a federal detention centre.
Nigeria's Acting Ambassador to the U.S., Mr. Baba Gana Wakili, confirmed that Nigerian Embassy officials completed their first meeting with Umar Farouk.
However, the Acting Ambassador declined to talk about the legal options of the suspect, except to say the embassy and the Nigerian government "are cooperating with the U.S. investigating authorities at a government to government level, we are in constant touch with the State Department."
Under the administration of former U.S. President George W. Bush, the chances of a military trial would have been more likely, but the Obama White House has clearly shifted towards open civil trials, where defendants are allowed the basic rights, unlike a military court where the proceedings are secret and the defendant is deemed a combatant.
According to diplomats, the consular visit is to ensure that the Nigerian suspect is being held under the right conditions and that his rights under the Geneva Convention are not violated.
"There was no suggestion he was about to carry out a terrorist act," the official said.
The official said the father, Umaru AbdulMutallab, came to the embassy in Abuja, Nigeria, on November 19 over the safety of his son.
"He was concerned about his son's safety and whereabouts and wondered if the U.S. government could help," the official said.
The next day, November 20, the U.S. embassy in Abuja sent what is called a "Visas Viper cable" to the State Department detailing the father's concerns, according to an official account by State Department spokesman Ian Kelley.
The information was passed on to the National Counter-Terrorism Center in Washington, which ruled that the information in the cable was "insufficient for this interagency review process to make a determination that this individual's visa should be revoked."
The secretary of state can unilaterally revoke a visa but usually does that for foreign policy and diplomatic, not national security reasons, Kelley said. "This has to be done in consultation with other agencies," Kelley said.
The Christmas Day airline terror alert has brought focus on PETN, a substance till now largely unknown to the public.
The white powder is said to be central to the alleged plot by Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab to bring down a passenger aircraft, carrying 300 passengers, as it prepared to land in Detroit. But just what is PETN?
What does PETN look like?
Pentaerythritol tetranitrate, PETN is a fine white powder that resembles sugar or salt. It does not compress down very well.
Although it is an explosive, it needs to be hammered it or ignited to it go off. And since it is not volatile, it is perfect for a terrorist on a long haul flight.
UK explosives expert, Sidney Alford, explained to CNN's senior international correspondent Nic Robertson: "It wouldn't go off accidentally. If I was carrying a pocketful of just neat powder in my pocket, it blowing up would be the last of my worries."
Sources familiar with the investigation tell CNN that the working assumption is that AbdulMutallab may have had some 80 grammes of PETN. Alford said that this would be enough to blow a hole in an aircraft.
Alford conducted a controlled explosion of a sample of PETN for CNN. Video
Six grams of PETN - less than a tenth of what AbdulMutallab is alleged to have had in his possession - punched a large circular dent into a metal plate twice the thickness of an aircraft fuselage.
Canada is immediately limiting carry-on items for flights to the United States in the aftermath of a failed terror attack on a Northwest Airlines flight.
"Effective immediately, U.S.-bound passengers are not allowed to bring carry-on bags into the cabin of the aircraft, with some exceptions," said a statement from Transport Canada.
According to the agency, carry-ons will be limited to medication or medical devices, small purses, cameras, coats, infant-care items, laptop computers, containers carrying life-sustaining or special-needs items, musical instruments, or diplomatic or consular bags. Crutches, canes and walkers also are permitted.
"These measures are expected to be in place at least for several days," Transport Canada said.