Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

November 1, 2010

Yemeni package threat: Aggregating the reports

Filed under: Aviation Security,Terrorist Threats & Attacks — by Philip J. Palin on November 1, 2010

There are plenty of breaking news reports on the  packages found late Thursday, October 29.  Following are a few of the more detailed and helpful I have seen.  Many of these reports will be updated in the hours ahead.  (This post originated at 5:30 Eastern on Friday, October 30.)


September “dry run” confirmed (BBC)

Yemen launches manhunt for bomber (Reuters)

British special forces part of Yemen manhunt (Telegraph UK)  Chief of British Defence Staff says military intervention in Yemen “might be” necessary (Telegraph UK)

Yemen indicts al-Awlaki (AFP)


The BBC is claiming  official confirmation that the source of information on the Yemeni package plot is a a former Guantanamo detainee.

On October 15 AFP reported the man had reached out to Saudi authorities.

SUNDAY UPDATE (At the request of Bill Cumming I am continuing the thread, although at a reduced pace.)

Suspect arrested in Yemen (Telegraph UK) (Student is thought to have be source of packages)

Likely bombmaker identified (Telegraph UK) (Same technician suspected in Christmas Day and other attempted bombings)

Awlaki identified as likely “mastermind” (Guardian UK)  (Includes reporting on likely escalation of US operations originating in Yemen.)

Bomb points to Al Qaeda according to Dubai police (Khaleej Times Dubai)


PETN confirmed as explosive (BBC)

Detailed description of IED found at Dubai (Telegraph UK)

Yemen packages expose gaps in air cargo screening (National Journal)

Secretary Napolitano affirms apparent AQ connection (ABC News, Good Morning America)

In June the GAO updated its report on Air Cargo Screening

In June the Council on Foreign Relations provided a helpful update on the situation in Yemen: http://www.cfr.org/publication/9369/islamist_radicalism_in_yemen.html


Cargo plane bomb alert: explosive devices ‘designed to harm US synagogues’  (Telegraph UK)

Terror alert: how the hunt for the packages unfolded (Guardian UK)  (Nice overview of the timetable)

 Obama Says Explosives Were U.S. Bound (New York Times)

Gibbs and Brennan Brief on Terrorism Threat (Politico)

Video of the President’s statement on the Yemeni packages (Washington Post) (after an advertisement) and the complete Post story.  And now there’s a transcript of the President’s statement from the Post.

Packages bound for Chicago synagogues (Chicago Tribune) (One of the synagogues is across the street from the Obama’s southside home.)

Yemen Terror Alert (BBC) (Helpful side-bar pieces on the broader context in Yemen)

Statement from UPS on investigation (UPS)

Statement from Fedex on investigation (Fedex)

Reuters seems to have the best contacts on site in Dubai, where one of the suspicious devices was found.  So far not much is being reported but you might check the link for updates: Package found in Dubai at lab for tests.  The packages originated in Yemen where Reuters also seems to be the most likely candidate to tell us something, if something worth telling is found: Yemen investigating suspicious packages.

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Comment by William R. Cumming

October 29, 2010 @ 5:49 pm

Well despite statutory mandates US still does not have cargo screening ability so these problem packages must have been picked up by some kind of screening overseas. Will be interesting to see how that came about?

Comment by Dan O'Connor

October 29, 2010 @ 6:30 pm

Apparently the Saudi’s provided the tracking numbers. . .

Will be interesting how this unfolds.

Comment by William R. Cumming

October 31, 2010 @ 12:04 pm

Reread the GAO report cited in Phil’s comments. Maybe I missed something. Perhaps my earlier comment missed the point also. Seems the issue is foreign origin cargo planes not domestic origin. But neither the GAO report or Phil’s post addresses the difference or status of screening of foreign origin cargo planes cargo. I did find an OIG/DHS report quite old that addressed the situation although some redactions. Sent to Phil.

So could a CBRNE device now be planted on an aircraft without being screened if originating in a foreign nation-states airport? Most of African airspace has no air traffic controls for example, much less screening. Yet there are majority Islamic states with fundamentalist factions in Sub-Saharan Africa unless I am wrong. Believe this is in fact a bigger issue that the XMAS Bomber of a year ago. But maybe I am unclear–was this a cargo plane exclusively or a passenger plane with cargo?

Phil–request you keep up this thread for a while.

Comment by John F. Morton

November 1, 2010 @ 8:17 am

I believe we should ascribe significance in John Brennan’s widely reported statement that “‘They’ are still at war with us, and we are very much at war with them.” I doubt he would have used the word unintentionally. Could his statement be preparing the ground for a policy shift? Is he speaking on behalf of some quarter of the administration or the administration itself? Either way it would suggest a shift from the idea that terrorism is a “law enforcement” issue to something approaching the GWOT, the term which the Obama administration had banished when it come to power. While GWOT was a rhetorical term, and in my view poorly chosen (It prompted the statement one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter, while failing to rally and engage fully the American people.), precise identification of an enemy or enemies with whom are at war is far better for drawing lines between “co-belligerents” and “neutrals.” Rather than a vague congressional vote in support of the president, should lawmakers vote for a declaration in response to an act of war, indeed a war declared? And would that engage and rally the American people—or not? Precision here makes for definable outcomes and the possibility of an end-state—at least against “that” enemy. So, should we “declare war” against AQAP, and if so can we make the case for and conduct a war against a “non-state actor?” I think we can. By acknowledging a state or war, as Brennan appears to be doing, then can we say to Yemen, hey, are you a co-belligerent or an ally? Same for Pakistan, who harbors another “enemy” who has declared war against us. And at the same time, we should be pulling the American people together with some leadership that tells them what the heck their representative national security leaders are doing. Maybe we all should be asking Brennan what does he mean when he says “we are very much at war with them.” We need to start a national dialogue that yields not just responses but leadership and direction.

Comment by William R. Cumming

November 1, 2010 @ 8:41 am

Seems to me that non-state actors can cause nation-states to spend billions and trillions based on the 1% problem. If my conclusion is accurate the current nation-state system already largely engaged in an open currency war, caused by the waste, fraud, and abuse of the FIRE sector domestically and internationally could be the tipping point into a new dark ages. Yet no one addresses the sense of proportionality or defective but very expensives systems that don’t deal with current analysis of INTEL and wondering what this bodes for the future? Do the bomb makers actually rule as opposed to the leaders of various nation-states? Descent into apocolypse?
Beware the well-meaning man without understanding?

Comment by Philip J. Palin

November 1, 2010 @ 9:39 am

Mr. Morton, Your comment deserves a substantive response. But before doing so, I will report an annoying side issue. Your quote of Mr. Brennan is referenced — twice — in a USA Today story (http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2010-10-31-whitehouse-mail-bombs_N.htm) and in several other media stories. The USA Today report indicates Mr. Brennan said, “They’re still at war with us, and we are very much at war with them,” on both Fox News Sunday and ABC’s This Week. This suggests an explicit talking point and reinforces your judgment that the war reference was intentional. But neither of the preliminary transcripts for either of these shows — so far (10AM Monday) — shows the quote. I would like to read the quote in its full context, but have not yet been able to do so.



Comment by John F. Morton

November 1, 2010 @ 10:35 am

Well, I really don’t have insight as to whether the Brennan choice of words was intentional or not or whether there was a lot of policy discussion around whether to phrase the statement as he did. But that too deserves substantive investigation. But my personal belief is that it had to be intentional. On the other hand, maybe he was using “war” in the same sense as the Bush administration used war in the GWOT, in which case we are wasting our time discussing this.

As to the earlier comment on currency war as being the real global issue, I emphatically agree, to the extent that we have a real continental-sized, geo-strategic adversary analogous to the Cold-War USSR who has much more subtle capabilities other than conventional/nuclear military that can bring this nation down, via blinding its military/naval/space-based sensors and generating cascading failures throughout its power grids, computer networks, financial system/financial trading system with a few key strokes. Or indeed by simply facilitating the end of the dollar-based international currency system through a variety of hand-shakes and strategic transactions, etc., etc. Since we really don’t have a competitive, borders-in techno-industrial base, the only hegemonic cards we have to play in this “Pax Americana” are our military (and we know how little we have and will to pay to keep that capability going) and the dollar. So yeah, and that’s another point which leads us back to leadership and direction vice responses to the media cycle, threats and such.

Comment by William R. Cumming

November 1, 2010 @ 1:47 pm

The US military has not been equipped or trained to deal with non-state actors. Attempts to do so have largely failed.

Comment by John F. Morton

November 1, 2010 @ 3:06 pm

True, as long as DoD and the defense industry lawmakers continue protect big platform programs and BMD to the degree we do. Re training, I think we are moving toward training for the Pentagon’s new map, and I can point to the communities that a rising proportion of USNA grads are entering these days, e.g., the USMC, SEAL and EOD communities, as evidence of this change.

Comment by William R. Cumming

November 3, 2010 @ 4:55 am

Men should not be measured solely by the size of their “toys’! Nor women either!

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