Al Qaeda thugs upgraded underwear bombs while U.S. dumbed down airport scanners, counterterror officials say
By Alison Gendar AND Joseph Straw
Source says terrorists used time after failed Christmas bombing to make improvements
May 10, 2012
WASHINGTON — Al Qaeda’s mad scientists have upgraded their underwear bombs while the U.S. has deliberately dumbed down its airport scanners, counterterror officials said Wednesday.
After the bungled Christmas Day 2009 underwear bomb bid on a Detroit-bound airliner, the Transportation Security Administration rushed to field full-body scanners — giving fliers a virtual strip-search and in some cases an “enhanced pat-down.”
Complaints about the invasive scans led the TSA to switch naked images for generic
“gingerbread man” readouts, with suspect spots highlighted by computer software for focused pat-downs.
And a House committee investigating TSA waste and mismanagement found that some $184 million in airport screening equipment was gathering dust in a government warehouse.
“This Al Qaeda affiliate has been spending its money and ingenuity in finding new ways to sneak explosives past our security systems,” said an official briefed on the latest plot by Al Qaeda’s Yemeni affiliate to use an upgraded version of the underwear bomb.
“We’ve spent the past months finding ways not to offend or scare frequent fliers. What is wrong with this picture?
Another law enforcement source added: “Al Qaeda adjusted and used the time between the Christmas bombing and now to make improvements. We have used the same time to be, in some ways, less aggressive in airport screening.”
FBI experts are poring over the device seized in the intelligence coup that upended Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s plans to blow up a U.S.-bound airliner.
A Saudi undercover operative posing as a wanna-be suicide bomber convinced the terrorists to give him one of the improved bombs, sources confirmed.
The 2009 bomb failed because of a shoddy detonator, a problem AQAP bombmaker Ibrahim al-Asiri sought to remedy in the new device, while adjusting its fit to fool scanners, sources told the Daily News.
Last year, TSA Administrator John Pistole told lawmakers that existing technology would have caught the 2009 bomb.
But U.S. officials are unsure it would have nailed the new one.
“What I have heard — and it’s not definitive — is that it would have been difficult for this bomb to get by the whole-body imagers that we have at our major airports and others around the country,” Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee told MSNBC Wednesday.
Regardless, the feds should keep their mouths shut, said Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.
“The FBI test is still going on. And when we do find out, we shouldn’t be saying anything either way. No one in the government should be talking about it,” railed King, who fumed at the leaks that brought the case to light, calling them “absolutely disgusting.”
The select “Gang of Eight” senior lawmakers, who are briefed on most significant intelligence operations, weren’t aware of the operation until Monday’s Associated Press report.
“It was kept more secret than any operation I was aware of. Even more than the bin Laden operation,” King said.
That means the leak likely came from the intelligence community, the administration or a foreign government, King said.
A spokeswoman for Director of National Intelligence Gen. James Clapper said he has launched an inquiry into whether the information came from the U.S. intelligence community.
Intelligence officials fear Al Qaeda has more new underwear or body cavity bombs, but a U.S. official said the busted plot doesn’t mean they’ll panic and rush to field them.
“That’s not how they operate,” the official said.
Al-Asiri and his cronies are more likely to lay low, in particular after a recent U.S. drone strike in Yemen that killed AQAP commander and 2000 USS Cole bombing conspirator Fahd al-Quso.