Obama loses Newsweek over the Pants Bomber
from Shadow Government by Peter Feaver
By Peter Feaver
Of all the reporting, commentary, and bombast on the Christmas Day terrorist incident that I have read in recent weeks, I have to think that the stream that is getting the most attention in the White House is trickling out of perhaps the least-likely place: reliably pro-Obama Newsweek. In recent days, Newsweek has posted two well-reported stories that provide an ominous answer to the perennial question: who knew what and when did they know it?
The first story had the alarming headline: "Exclusive: Obama Got Pre-Christmas Intelligence Briefing About Terror Threats to 'Homeland.'" Even partisan defenders of Obama could not help but notice the similarities to the warning President Bush received in August 2001 about al Qaeda's desire to strike U.S. targets. To be sure, if the Newsweek article is accurate, the warning President Obama received was maddeningly vague, certainly not specific enough to pinpoint the abortive underwear bombing. For that matter, the warning President Bush received was also not precise enough to pinpoint the 9/11 attacks, which is why the intelligence community was primarily focused on possible attacks on U.S. targets overseas (as in the Fall 2000 bombing of the USS Cole). But the August 2001 PDB was hard to explain, and put the Bush administration on the defensive when it was released. The December 2009 warning may similarly wrong-foot the Obama Administration, especially if it is the tip of an iceberg.
Which brings us to the second story, a report that White House counterterrorism czar John Brennan was briefed on the method allegedly used by the Nigerian would-be terrorist: the infamous underwear bomb. Again, this has echoes to the run-up to the 9/11 attacks and raises just the sort of questions that are awkward for any White House to answer: Who received this briefing? What did they do with that information? Why didn't you do more? What other warnings have you received? And so on.
If the rough treatment Brennan received on the Sunday shows is any indication (see, for instance, Brennan dance through the questions here), the media does not seem inclined to give the Obama administration a pass on this story.
Indeed, my hunch is that there will be more such leaks in the coming days. I base this hunch on no inside information beyond this: the knowledge that ever since 9/11 the warning stream coming out of the intelligence community has been much, much larger than most people realize. There are bound to be many vague warnings that now, with hindsight, seem more portentous than they seemed at the time. Just as assuredly, there were many vague warnings that now, with hindsight, proved to be mere noise. But it is the first set of warnings that reporters are so adept at wresting from the system, especially if they can be traced to the White House.
I will be following the Newsweek thread more closely in the coming days and I would bet that the Obama White House is, too.