We told you about this at the time of Obama’s inauguration, but this week the AP has reported more details on how things went down in the situation room at the White House just as the transition of power from Bush to Obama was occuring. According to AP, it seems there was much scrambling going on. Just how serious was the threat from Somali terrorists that some action would go down that day?
As people crowded into the capital for Barack Obama’s inaugural celebration, senior counterterrorism officials huddled in the White House situation room, frantically trying to unravel intelligence about a possible attack on Washington.
By Tuesday afternoon, as Obama took the oath of office, the threat of a terror plot by the Somalia-based al-Shabab organization had been debunked, but the flurry of activity underscored growing worries about this Islamic militant group.
“I think they are a serious problem, and I don’t think that we should be glib and take it lightly,” said Theresa Whelan, deputy assistant secretary of Defense for African Affairs. “Are they the ones that are going to plan the next major terrorist attack in the United States and carry it out? Probably not. But could they provide some of the foot soldiers for it? Yes.”
Only foot soldiers? Ms. Whelan, you underestimate the Somalis at your peril.
U.S. counterterrorism officials say they detect a disturbing pattern, one that mirrors al-Qaida methods and could spawn homegrown insurgents and suicide bombers in the U.S.
Counterterrorism officials suspect that al-Shabab is recruiting young men from Somali communities in Minnesota and other Midwestern states, luring them back to their home country for terror training and creating cells of fighters who could travel to other countries, including the United States, to launch attacks.
Officials don’t know if Somalis who have left the country are returning. Homeland Security has the intelligence framework in place to know that and I suspect they do. I suppose the larger question is, will they tell the public if these men do return?
And, darn, it just occured to me that since the FBI is in AG Eric Holder’s Justice Department and they are running the investigation in cities with significant Somali populations, are they sharing their information with agencies like the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) in Homeland Security?
U.S. officials aren’t sure who is recruiting for al-Shabab, or whether recruits trained in Somalia have been returning to the United States. That uncertainty increased the concerns about the inaugural weekend intelligence reports. Counterterrorism officials described the time as tense as they faced a threat that appeared to grow in credibility as the hours passed.
Furthermore, Ms Whelan who is quoted extensively here is in yet another department—the Defense Department. I hope this isn’t evolving into a government terrorist investigation (like how 9/11 happened) where walls between agencies with knowledge of the Somalis in the US are firmly in place. Indeed yet another agency knows a whole bunch about who is and who isn’t in the US, and that is the US State Department. I sure hope they have some interagency working groups on the subject.
Whelan, who has been a senior policy adviser on African issues at the Pentagon for 14 years, said the al-Shabab threat is complex and evolving, potentially becoming more serious as al-Qaida or other Islamic ideologues try to make inroads into the Somali communities in the U.S.
“There has been a lot of movement back and forth (to Somalia) for a long time, and that leaves us open to the potential that weaknesses will be exploited by those that have jihadist aims,” she said. “We need to be very careful because we have seen that we are internally vulnerable because of the Somali Diaspora.”
And how did we get this large Somali Diaspora in the US? Ask the State Department and the volags busy lobbying for more Africans to resettle in your town!
Lets see how much of this story Senate hearings might reveal!
The al-Shabab threat also has attracted attention in Congress, where the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee is planning to hold a hearing on the rise of al-Shabab.