We all breathed a sigh of relief when the ball fell in New York's Times Square and the holiday season this year ended without another terror attack, or attempted attack, on our homeland. You'll recall that on Christmas Day, 2009, the notorious "underwear" bomber tried to blow up his jet over Detroit. Young Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian citizen, wanted to take down his Northwest Airlines Flight 253 right over Detroit's airport. Had he succeeded in detonating his BVDs, his victims would not only have been the 288 passengers and crew he was flying with, but doubtless hundreds or thousands on the ground.
This year, thank goodness, no attacks. But that does not mean we didn't have cause for concern. The newly installed Director of National Intelligence (DNI), James Clapper, was interviewed by ABC TV's Diane Sawyer. In the company of homeland security secretary Janet Napolitano and the president's assistant for homeland security and counter-terrorism, John Brennan, Jim Clapper got the first question:
"London. How serious is it? Any implication that it was coming here? …Director Clapper?"
London? What about London? That's what Clapper's on-camera face seemed to be saying, but he remained mum. He's really good at keeping national security secrets, it seemed. Or, as we would soon find out, was London a secret to the Director?
It was. It turned out that everybody but Jim Clapper knew about the Britain's MI5 arresting a group of terror suspects ranging in age from 17-28. The ring hailed from the English cities of London, Birmingham and Stoke. Cardiff, in Wales, was also the target of the arrests. It was the largest mass arrest of would-be terrorists in recent memory.
Our director of national intelligence didn't have a clue. Well, that was London, after all. That's 3,500 miles away.
Presidential assistant Brennan went on TV to try to shovel up what the donkeys had left on the ABC set. "I know there was breathless attention by the media to these [London] arrests and it was constantly on the news networks. I am glad that Jim Clapper is not sitting in front of the TV 24 hours a day and monitoring what is coming out of the media."
You can't make this stuff up, folks. It seemed like a skit from Saturday Night Live. Is there anything more bizarre than the Keystone Cops show that was put on TV for Americans this holiday season?
This capital gang voluntarily sat down with a national television news anchor for a group interview. What would be more sensible than for someone who claims to be up on, well, intelligence, to have an aide quickly review the top stories in the world from the war on terror? We used to call a lot of our newpapers intelligencers. Isn't there an intelligencer somewhere in the bowels of the bureaucracy whose job it is not to let the Director go on TV and look like a fool?
We have created a huge bureaucracy to handle homeland security. The idea in establishing the post of Director of National Intelligence was to gather all the loose strands of intelligence, to weigh and sift them, and to let the relevant agencies know what everyone needs to know when they need to know it.
Is there anything in the world more embarrassing than a prime time demonstration that the Director of National Intelligence doesn't have a clue? And no, Mr. Brennan, we don't expect our Director of National Intelligence to sit in front of the tube 24/7. But is it asking too much that national intelligence czar be well-briefed on the latest… intelligence?
It's a short five hours from London to Washington. As we learned from Abdulmutallab's attempt, it wasn't that hard for a young man bearing a passport from an Islamist-afflicted country to get on a one-way flight to the U.S. -- with no luggage. Those arrested suspects in London might well have had cohorts who were headed here.
It is completely unacceptable for our Director of National Intelligence to be so woefully
unprepared, so evidently not up to speed. And to allow the world to see this unpreparedness is not just an appalling lapse; it is itself a major danger to our country.
Let's hope Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), the incoming chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, will hold hearings to determine how it was possible for the DNI to be so out of the loop. Doubtless Mr. King's committee will find out many other useful things about this unprofessional administration.
It's clear that on matters of homeland security, this administration is not ready for prime time. We were spared this time. Next time, we may not be so fortunate. And, like you, I'd rather spend next Saturday night alive.