Put Brennan in Charge

"President Barack Obama ordered his top intelligence chiefs Thursday to patch gaps in the way terrorism intelligence is distributed, analyzed and checked against watch lists used to identify potential attackers bound for the U.S.

It was his strongest and most detailed response to the Christmas Day attempt to blow up an airliner bound for Detroit. "We are at war," the president said. "We are at war with al Qaeda."

The White House also released details on how the alleged suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, slipped through the intelligence net, used cash to purchase a one-way ticket and, carrying a bomb sewn into his underwear, boarded a Northwest Airlines flight with almost 300 passengers and crew.

A "series of human errors" included the "delayed dissemination of a finished intelligence report" that might have helped intelligence analysts connect the dots and prevent the attempted bombing, according to an unclassified version of the White House review of the attempted Christmas attack. The "finished report," prepared by the Central Intelligence Agency, contained background on Mr. Abdulmutallab, officials said.

WSJ's John Bussey joins Kelsey Hubbard on the News Hub to discuss President Obama's speech on national security. Although some might have expected an announcement on overhauling the system, John says, that's not the case.

misspelling of Mr. Abdulmutallab's name contributed to the State Department's failure to revoke his visa after his father, a Nigerian banker, told U.S. embassy officials in Nigeria of his concern over the radicalization and disappearance of his son, according to the review."  WSJ
I will say it again.  So long as these agencies are run by hypercompetitive bureaucratic politicians, they will never improve very much.
All these little "fixes" that the president wants are good things but they will not repair the basic problem of a lack of unty of command.
I think Brennan should have had the decency to resign after his admitted massive failure, but, no we don't do that among the elite.  OK.  Put him in charge of everything and hope that another airplane or other conveyance does not blow up somewhere before he receives the Medal of Freedom.
The misspelled name thing will be very hard to fix.  There are very few people in the government with any ability with written or typed Arabic.  The very structure of this Hausa or Fulani Nigerian's name is beyond the ability of most government people working this issue.  I am quite sure that Brennan has not a clue.  In addition to just understanding the name, (which I find a little odd in the existence of a passive participle in the term referring to God,) there is also the little fact that there really is no universally accepted system of transliteration in English of Arabic words.  One of you explain his name for the people.
Yemen.  We are now starting to worry Salih's government by pressing too much.  That may save us.  pl


This entry was posted in Current Affairs. Bookmark the permalink.

49 Responses to Put Brennan in Charge

  1. dws says:

    “The misspelled name thing will be very hard to fix…”
    I wonder if the government would hire Google to develop a version of their software for use on our databases. Google’s algorithms are sometimes uncanny in their ability to make connections between disparate databases, identify possible spelling errors, etc.

  2. N. M. Salamon says:

    As long as the USA leadership can tie AQ to any country there will be action and to h**l with the results: WE ARE AT WAR!
    That AQ can not be defeated by invading or using long distance armaments [Predator, Reaper, bombers, etc] is obvious to all, except the push and pull of neocons and related/unrelated bureucrats/politicians.
    There is no conceivable way that 16 different intellingence services, each with different drivers and different ambitious bureaucrats in command, can produce usable data – for all of them are vying for the first prize, and therefore the relations are always strained, for EMPIRE BUILDING IS THE AIM, rather than the security of the homeland [thus you constantly need new bodies, however green, to grow your own empire – even among departments such as Defence, Homeland, FBi, CIA, et al ad infinitum].
    You are correct in your previous suggestion that there should be an OGRE in charge of all, completely controlling top bureucrats and the related financing.
    Yet again, with respect to spelling, the short coming of USA’s [and related Anglo-Saxon cultures’] education philosophy comes to harm their own society, for we do not want to teach foreign languages to our citizens, for we believe that English is the univeral language [even as there are more Mandarin speakers than all with broken or correct English].
    To defeaqt AQ, in my opinion, will need two policial steps: 1 quit backing Israel; and, 2., the USA armed forces must leave all Muslim lands. This is not feasable under the present circumstances! might be in 2-3 years when the PEAK OIL and GLOBAL WARMING really shows its effects.
    Therefore, Colonel, the only thing you [and I among many others] can do is pray that sanity returns to the ruling elites!

  3. Bill Wade, NH says:

    This bothers me, you have
    Michigan attorney Kurt Haskell and his attorney wife Lori Haskell sitting on the floor next to the ticket agent and they overhear the conversation from the “Indian” looking well-dressed man trying to convince the agent to let on board, sans passport, a youngish looking and poorly dressed kid from Sudan. The Haskells get suspicious but that’s the end of their thinking till the deed on-board happens. Myself, I would never have boarded that plane if I had overheard that conversation until I was totally certain that the “kid” wasn’t getting on too.
    We have to rely on ourselves.

  4. Patrick Lang says:

    I suppose I should be more specific about the structure of the name.
    ‘abd al-mutallab” is a religious name. It is morphologically an “idafa,” that, is, a noun-noun construct in whch the first term “abd” (slave)is possessed by the second term “al-mutallab” to mean “slave of the —–.”
    Such a name usually refers to the Almighty or an attribute of the Almighty in the second term.
    “mutallib” is an active participle of a measure of the root TLB (ism fa’il). This root is often associated with searching or seeking. (or studying) The way I have seen this man’s name written in English is “mutallab” with an “a.” This should be a passive participle of the same verb.
    How can God be passive? Perhaps his name means “slave of the besought one.”
    Perhaps the press is simply recording his name incorrectly. pl

  5. Mad Dogs says:

    Apologies for the off-topic comment here Pat, but I thought the SST readers would appreciate another bombshell (like his last one) from our most senior intelligence officer in Afghanistan, Major General Michael T. Flynn.
    Via Noah Shachtman over at Wired, here’s General Flynn’s December 23rd presentation on the state of play in Afghanistan/Pakistan:
    “State of the Insurgency : Trends, Intentions and Objectives”

  6. Redhand says:

    FWIW I came away very uneasy with Obama’s response: it seemed to me little more than “Work faster, work smarter, use a bigger net.” The competing bureaucracy structure hasn’t changed and the intelligence clearinghouse agency still seems pretty toothless.
    I remain amazed that the father’s warning at the embassy didn’t set off major alarm bells.

  7. Byron Raum says:

    I don’t know Arabic, but speaking as a software engineer who has done work in linguistics, I am fairly certain that it is not that difficult to write a program that takes two random words and can tell you if they will sound similar to the human ear. The software industry solved this problem long ago. It is jawdropping to find out that this is not available to the people who are supposed to be guarding our lives and liberty.

  8. Patrick Lang says:

    There are many dialects and pronunciations.
    There are three “th” sounds, two “d”s, two “s”s, etc.
    An Egyptian street person pronounces the letter
    “j” as a “g” in English most other Arabs pronounce it as “j.”
    Similar is not good enough.
    What software is that? pl

  9. Wulf Losee says:

    Don’t know Arabic, but doesn’t Abdulmutallab roughly mean “servant who obeys god”? (from a list of online list of Arabic name meanings).
    Is that Abdulmutallab’s original name, or did he assume/adopt it?

  10. Nicollo says:

    To those with the background to answer:
    If you had the President’s ear, whom would you recommend now instead of Brennan (or the VP)?
    What marching orders, actually achievable in the real world, should the new person be given?
    And what would you have recommended the President say publicly that one could reasonably expect a politician to say?

  11. Roger says:

    I also have not formally studied Arabic. However, I am a computer scientist and it seems there is a fair amount of research being done on the romanization and transliteration of Arabic.
    Or the introduction of Arabic diacritics using unvoweled textual input.
    Here is one program for example:
    Jack Halpern of CJK Dictionary Institute also does a lot of work on Arabic translation.
    e.g. http://www.kanji.org/cjk/arabic/arannana.pdf
    and online resources of Arabic name databases:
    One important point to realize is that many of these methods are not exact pattern matching, but instead probabilistic models which don’t have to be exactly right. Will names always exactly match? Probably not, but if a putative match has a high enough score and same relative age and birth location, isn’t that enough to narrow down even someone with an Arabic name?
    I would think the Arabic speaking world has computer systems to maintain and track Arabic names. Why would this be hard for any other nation?

  12. batondor says:

    I had a question before I saw this report that is indirectly related to the problem you’ve treated in this post:
    White House Aides Said to Chafe at Slow Pace of Afghan Surge
    Who knows where this might lead? I was pleased that Joe Biden was on the “good” side of this list – Though sometimes a target of ridicule, with few exceptions I’ve always liked his manner, and you seemed to appreciate him for the effort to set the counterterrorism effort on a straighter path)…
    Here’s the original question I have been considering:
    Can you offer the names of two or three “known” individuals from the past who filled the profile that you are suggesting are absent or marginalized in agency (and uniformed) leadership; that is, the antithesis of the “hypercompetitive bureaucratic politician”?
    I know it’s terribly pessimistic and probably unrealistic to say this, but I wonder whether there is anyone left who might fit the bill…

  13. The Twisted Genius says:

    Colonel Lang
    I agree with Byron Raum. I have witnessed several demos of an artificial intelligence software package based on geometric algebra that can pull intentions from jargon filled, cryptic conversations in near real time. I am sure it could handle the dialect, pronunciation and transliteration challenges of names to produce a usable result. However this technology is not for the faint of heart. There are only a few score of mathemeticians/programmers that work in this particular field… and I am certainly not one of them.

  14. The Twisted Genius says:

    In spite of my last comment, better software is not the real answer to our intelligence problems. What we have now is a feudal system of near independent intelligence fiefdoms run by bureaucrats interested in defending and expanding their rice bowls. We need someone to tackle this monster in the spirit of General John Stark, “There they are boys! We beat them today or Molly Stark sleeps a widow tonight!” Brennan doesn’t strike me as the right type. Perhaps General Zinni?

  15. b says:

    Here is a blog post with a remarkable idea of how to better organize against transliteration problems: A Modest Proposal In The Interests of National Security

    what if we had all applicants fill out a bubble sheet [with their arabic written name], like unto that which Americans fill out for any standardized academic test (e.g., the SAT), possibly linked in with some sort of biometrics, and that gets translated into a standardized bar code that code be scanned, databased, and disseminated electronically.

  16. Rider says:

    Col. Lang
    I just wanted to recommend this piece by Glen Greenwald on terrorism as the price of our unquestioning support of Israel. As Greenwald says, to even discuss the possibility is taboo in American politics. There is no politician on any side who will even mention it.
    How bad does it have to get before we can talk about it?
    In my opinon 9/11 began the unconscious process of the “Israelization” of American domestic security. Our airports, our society, have become by necessity more like Israeli airports and institutions than American. Is this the direction we wish to continue going?

  17. Alba Etie says:

    Why can’t the different federal agencies have case officers that speak the local language ? It appears that the NYCPD stood up a very good number of native speakers by going to the first generation street cops .
    Many of these ‘white sheilds ‘ were then promoted into the counterterrorism intelligence unit that New York Police Comm Kelly put in place.
    Perhaps a good resource on how this was done would be “Securing the City’ by James Dickey.

  18. Mark Gaughan says:

    It has been established that Abdulmutallab purchased a round-trip ticket not a one-way.
    For a good look at the facts surrounding this incident, go here:

  19. Apropos of the problem of similar-sounding names, this had been addressed even pre-computer, with the Soundex system. There certainly have been refinements, but, in 1970, when I worked on the original automation of the Immigration and Naturalization Service database, a rough description of the method then in use. I don’t remember the actual tables, so I’ll approximate.
    1. Capture the best-guess of the first letter. This won’t be used for a total match, but it has some semantic significance.
    2. Strip out the vowel sounds.
    3. Take successive consonant-equivalents and encode them with numeric designation for similar sound.
    So, for a 1970 data base heavily weighted toward Hispanic names, the most common surnames of
    would all encode to the same Soundex. The problem we faced was not the nuances of pronunciation, but that INS was creating a new record for each passing of the border by a day worker. At one point, 25% of 63 million records were for Maria Rodriguez and variations, and 10% for Juan Gomez.

  20. N. M. Salamon says:

    An interesting analysis of the aims of AQ by an expatriate USA [rich] resident of Spain.
    I believe his analysis is worth reading, it seems plausible, and does not follow neocon notions.
    Please read and enjoy:
    top story of his [usually]weekly posting

  21. Arun says:

    Bill Wade:
    Please see
    “In the interest of obtaining the truth, which has always been my goal, I am posting the following account of Bo Taylor that differs from mine:
    “After we landed in Detroit I saw an older looking teenager who was African and looked NEARLY IDENTICAL to the terrorist bomber. Since he was a minor, and travelling alone, he was accompanied by an airport employee at all times. Kurt, this could have been the guy you saw in Amsterdam before we boarded.” I have no reason whatsoever to dispute the veracity of Bo’s statement. I also have no reason to not believe what I saw.”

  22. JP says:

    To all the geniuses, twisted and otherwise, who are prepared to make short work of the Arabic names conundrum, by use of a magic computer program, come on down! I am rather certain you will soon discover that your respective picks are broken.
    The name in question is one of those that has Arabic roots, but has morphed over many years. It is only one of the problems of “Arabic names.” Others include refusals by our agencies to adopt a single Romanization scheme even for the material we ourselves generate. Even if we could/would do it, there are scads of sources for Arabic names that use all sorts of other organized and disorganized schemes of Romanization.
    Geometric algebra, eh? What pray tell, is a “usable result?” Is it one that would allow perfect differentiation of one human being from another simply on the basis of a name? I would really love to see that, but since I have heard such blithe promises many, many times since 9/11, I guess I will not hold my breath.

  23. bubba says:

    Arabic transliteration software? Abdulmutallab may be an “arabic” name but his official documents are not in arabic script! We’re talking about a Nigerian here, latin script. So what does your transliteration algorithm do now? Also, what good is an arabic transliteration routine on chinese? Yeah, arabs are the principal threat, but not the only target of our interest. Any software we scare our selves into should have use beyond solving the last threat.
    No, what’s needed is a massive thesaurus. If you’re familiar with tagging on websites, it would work similarly. Similar names would be grouped and when a name in the group is entered the search is run using all names in the group. Ex, when “Mehmet” is entered it will see and also search by محمد, mohammed, muhamad, mohamat, etc.
    Problem with this is it takes more of an investment from humans, compiling a thesaurus takes more time than writing an algorithm. An advantage beyond soundex or transliteration only type schemes is that you could group concepts. Someone using the local Philippine dialect term for their adopted arabic name for example. 노태우 would be seen as all combinations of Roh Tae Wu and Noh Dae Woo and would also put out a search in chinese script databases for 盧泰愚.

  24. Arun says:

    In favor of drone attacks
    Quote: “The people of Waziristan are suffering a brutal kind of occupation under the Taliban and al Qaeda. It is in this context that they would welcome anyone, Americans, Israelis, Indians or even the devil, to rid them of the Taliban and al Qaeda. Therefore, they welcome the drone attacks.”

  25. Harper says:

    Col. Lang was not primarily talking about problems with Arabic name searches in his posting. The real issue is the bureaucratic paralysis that grips the intelligence community and prevents effective action on actionable intelligence. The bureaucratization is compounded by two other factors: So much of our government core functions have been outsourced to private for-profit contractors that many of the government employees are relegated to the role of project managers. You can’t expect private for-profite corporations to put national security needs above the balance sheet. This has increased the corruption factor into something that is so engrained and institutionalized, that it is almost beyond repair. I am now convinced that the whole idea of outsourcing, including combat support functions, is a way of avoiding a return to the draft, which would make it impossible to go running off on imperial adventures everytime someone sticks a firecracker in their underwear.
    The second problem, as I hear it, is that the caliber of the new generation coming into the intelligence community is poor, especially in terms of the kinds of people who are qualified to do real humint.
    So, I think that Col. Lang is right on the BIG PICTURE issue. All the computer tracking of Arabic names in the world won’t make us any safer if we don’t crack the big nut here.
    And yes, I understand that John Brennan is a part of the problem. Remember, he was George Tenet’s darling, and actually was Tenet’s chief of staff when all the Agency objections to the Iraq WMD lies were betrayed.

  26. Cold War Zoomie says:

    I will say it again. So long as these agencies are run by hypercompetitive bureaucratic politicians…
    Haven’t they always been? I’ve been reading some NSA history lately, concentrating on the 1950s through 1970s, and it sounds pretty similar to me…turf wars, budget wars, distrust of other agencies, you name it.
    Back then, though, a maverick would make rank and shake things up every decade or so. I don’t see that happening in this day and age. The infighting and bickering has always been there, but now it overpowers everyone.

  27. Bill Wade, NH says:

    N. M. Salamon, thanks for that link, interesting!

  28. Bill Wade, NH says:

    Arun, I tend to believe Haskell although I think he could have been a bit more pro-active at the beginning of the flight. He’s waiting for the authorities to release the ticket check-in videotape, lol, I’m still waiting to see the Logan Airport tapes from 911!!

  29. curious says:

    maybe I am asking the wrong question,
    but wouldn’t it be easy to create/steal identity to evade all these elaborate yet easily mislead database? Is not like the taliban in afghanistan didn’t know how to fight the soviet inteligence unit and principle of hiding identity.
    On top of that, a lot of country is corrupt, getting legit ID paper from random african countries, eastern european or latin american countries is not impossible. (hey, ever heard the idea of dual citienship of US/Israel and get yourself 3 or 4 different pasports all with different names? And these people are untouchable politically. Perfect disguise.)
    on top of that, finger prints are also some of the weakest biometric. It’s too easily faked.
    What’s next? invading Nauru or Latvia next?

  30. R says:

    related to b’s link to the “Modest Proposal…”
    Why not just use Unicode? unicode.org/charts/PDF/U0600.pdf
    Wouldn’t that clear up a lot of these problems?

  31. jan gleeson says:

    I hesitate to offer a viewpoint, because my actual knowledge of the situation is so minimal…
    but I liked your idea about Joe Biden being put in charge..
    Thanks for all you do at SST

  32. confusedponderer says:

    Seen from over the atlantic the US federal police and intelligence organisations are a veritable zoo.
    It is only justified by historical development that there are different entities responsible for alcohole, tobacco and firearms (ATF), drugs (DEA) and other crimes (FBI). I probably overlooked half a dozen more obscure agencies. Friction is inevitable. Instead of reorganising that and crating a new organisation with a sensible flow of information they created the DHS, a bureaucracy on top of existing bureaucracies – evading the actual problem of communication and excessive overhead.
    Other country’s police forces have a single body of federal police addressing the issues ATF, DEA and FBI deal with, and they’re doing a pretty good job. That ATF, DEA and FBI exist in their current form, doesn’t mean that they have to, and that it is a good arrangement. It doesn’t mean each agency is doing a bad job, just that their general organisation is questionable.
    Much the same must then be said for many of the many US intelligence agencies. Do the US need that many? How much redundancy is there? How many different information flows are there?
    I am not saying that a reform will be easy, just that it is IMO sensible.
    Now, there also is agency clout, PR and lobbying, institutional inertia, institutional esprit de corps, and the salient problem that these organisations can only be changed by law because they are federal agencies, which means that the reform will have to be passed as legislation, with the usual pork barrel politics (the DEA/ATF/FBI has a large HQ in my district, don’t close that!) …
    Coming to think of that, I doubt that the US political system right now is capable of meaningful reform. It appears to me to be a mature system where the players have mastered playing the system. Success in that relies on maintaining the status quo.

  33. confusedponderer says:

    Correction: DEA and FBI and ATF are not part of the DHS but of the Department of Justice.
    Still, much of what I wrote is valid for the DHS and their own zoo that consists of ICE and TSA, CBP and so forth.

  34. Byron Raum says:

    In answer to your question about the software to find similar-sounding names with different English language spellings: any modern word processor, these days, contains a spell-checker. The suggestions that the spell-checker offers on a mistake come from a dictionary. Since we now also have Arabic word processors, a lot of the foundational work for this technology has already been done.
    I am no longer an expert in the subject; my first job in 1990 was working for a linguistics software company, but I am fairly certain that given six months and access to an of Arab linguist, I can write a program that will catch 99.99% of these. People who work on Arabic word processors and the like can probably do it in a couple of weeks.
    I should emphasize that the 99.99% doesn’t mean that we would catch 9,999 innocents and the last 1/1000 would be this guy, but rather that there would be a 99.99% chance of catching this particular person. Only based on the fact that I don’t like making absolute statements about an uncertain world.
    You gave examples of different pronounciations such as “j” and “g”. I am sure that there’s only so many such differences, if these can be listed out, then they can be encoded in a computer program. That is what a computer essentially does – take rules and apply them for us. Even if there’s no rule that can possibly exist, but a human being can tell the difference there’s a way: you sit down a hundred Arab linguists for a couple of years and get them to examine all census data. There are endless possibilities. Any software engineer can discuss them for hours.
    Reflecting on the comments that others have made, and especially what JP said, I am going to offer some speculation: this software already exists and is in the hands of the relevant people. It is possible that the disparate databases, 9 years later, still haven’t been integrated, due to a combination of jealousy, incompetence and laziness. It’s difficult to spin that as an explanation, so we are getting technical mumbo jumbo.
    There’s a way to ascertain this. Take an independent software engineer into the room where the consoles for these computers are, and show him where the code ran that compared “abdulmOUtalab” and “abdulmUOtalab” and failed to find a match. Let him poke around and he will be able to tell you whether these people are blowing smoke or not. Failing that, I would like to just see an honest evaluation of the sophistication of their matching algorithms. If they aren’t lying about their difficulties, then I would like to know why they haven’t looked at 40 years of linguistic computing research. And if they are lying, then…well….

  35. Jon T says:

    Question 1: Ballpark, how many in Al Queda?
    Question 2: Are AQ cells small, 5 or less?
    #1 – Less than 10,000
    #2 – Yes
    Observation: A miniscule # of twisted fervent individuals is badly stressing a large armed force and vast civil society.
    (1) The “Gestalt”, the baseline thinking, about this entire thing, needs to change, somewhere, somehow.
    (2) People who can think creatively are needed.
    (3) ” We need people who can see and feel beyond themselves.”
    (4) “A Dearth of Tradecraft” (1.5. this blog) is egregious.
    Reference, Rick Rescorla in “Heart of a Soldier” for another approach.
    Thanks for a clear blog.

  36. VanD says:

    Did anyone think to call the concerned (and very responsible) father and ask him for common mistaken, mis-spelled or other versions of the family surname. I’m sure the father – a prominent banker, and an African(who probably can speak several languages) – would understand exactly what I mean…
    …or you could spend millions on software.
    Look at the bright side: No Chinese embassy was bombed.

  37. N. M. Salamon says:

    Cnada’s most noted foreign afffairs columnist has an interesting view on AQ. Please peruse and enjoy:

  38. Patrick Lang says:

    Jon T
    “(4) “A Dearth of Tradecraft” (1.5. this blog) is egregious.”
    Is this directed at my sainted self? pl

  39. Jon T says:

    “Dearth of Tradecraft” is directed at the ‘professionals’ who dropped the ball, not you Colonel. My writing needs improvement, not your insights.
    When I heard what happened at the CIA post I was aghast. How could anyone who is ostensibly highly trained and experienced be that easily fooled?
    Your comment that meetings such as that, no matter how much the asset is trusted, need be at a neutral locale rings true to me, a common citizen who is constantly being told that a lot of money is being spent to protect me. A loss like that is disheartening.
    As for the intelligence agencies not sharing and arguing, it sounds like 3rd grader stuff. Stop the bus and do not let them off until they stop the petty fighting. Jon T

  40. The Twisted Genius says:

    Byron Raum wrote: “I am going to offer some speculation: this software already exists and is in the hands of the relevant people. It is possible that the disparate databases, 9 years later, still haven’t been integrated, due to a combination of jealousy, incompetence and laziness.”
    You’re spot on with that comment. I’m certain the software exists although I’m not as certain that it is in the hands of the relevant people. The IC acquisition process is in the hands of the same “hypercompetitive bureaucratic politicians” that recently screwed the pooch with the BVD bomber. And they’re working with hypercompetitive, profit driven contractors to determine what software is actually purchased. This same process probably ensures that, as Byron said, “disparate databases, 9 years later, still haven’t been integrated, due to a combination of jealousy, incompetence and laziness.”
    When top DOD mathematicians, after months of evaluation, declare a technology is a ten year leap beyond anything in DOD and add that “entrenched interests” will make acceptance of this technology an uphill battle, you know the “hypercompetitive bureaucratic politicians” are definitely running the agencies.

  41. Sara says:

    Do people here remember the flap of a few years back about those looking up passport and visa info at State were looking up celebrity names and well known Politicians? At the time the problem was described as failure to supervise functions that had been outsourced.
    Now I wonder, was the person doing the visa search of the Nigerian a contractor, or sub-contractor? It sounds as if the problem was a clerical typing error.

  42. toto says:

    Mutallab (or mutallib) doesn’t mean anything, AFAICT.
    Mutaalab (مُطَالَب), however, means “curator , custodian , culpable , answerable , chief , liable , responsible , reproachable , trustee” (according to dictionary.sakhr.com). Apparently it’s not one of the official 99 attributes/names of Allah, but it does make sense.
    Mutaalib means “claimant, demander”. Another possibility, seems quite common as a name too. Or maybe one is a misspelling for the other.
    Notice the subtle difference in spellings. Another example of the main reason why computer transliteration can’t be trusted: human transliteration itself is already quite messy.
    Of course, as someone already pointed out, Nigerians actually use the latin alphabet for their official documents, so the whole thing is utterly irrelevant. If we can’t catch spelling variants (which Google seems to do quite well), there is a problem.

  43. Patrick Lang says:

    Sorry, but Nigerian Muslims use Arabic for liturgcal purposes like almost all other Muslims. what they write in their passports does not mean a thing with regard to the religious meaning of the name.
    You do not understand Arabic grammar. Explain to me the differences between the different parts of speech in Arabic. pl

  44. ryanwc says:

    One of the things we’ve discovered is that it often requires no subtlety to disrupt these plots. They are usually pretty simple and straightforward. You’ve got a father coming in and saying, my son is traveling to visit terrorists. He’s IN Nigeria. His son is Nigerian. There just aren’t that many American visas issued to Nigerians.
    I work with a voter registration system for more than 1 million voters. With much less riding on the outcome, we successfully match misspelled names. It’s just not that tough. We miss some. But then, we’re not exactly using the Foreign Service exam to screen our hires.
    This is an easy problem to solve. If you have no background experience in matching misspelled names, please don’t post as if your ignorance was helpful to the debate.

  45. A says:

    Col Lang,
    In reference to the name… Mutalleb is not a name of God, but rather the name of the Prophet’s grandfather, who in turn was referred to as the “slave of Muttalib” (he had been raised by his uncle Muttalib).
    It is my understanding that it is perhaps the only name that involves a connotation of servitude to other than Allah that has been allowed to persist in the Arabic language, contrary to the usual prohibition on such names. “Abd ar-rasool” and “abd-al nabi” are others, but there are numerous fatwa and the like outlining opposition to such names.

  46. Jackie says:

    Invade Nauru? They have mined all of their only exportable material and last I heard, they were selling diplomatic relations to the highest bidder.
    I guess Latvia will have to do.

  47. DE Teodoru says:

    It’s too late, all our Abu this and Abu that screwed up too bad for too long.
    Einstein used to say that a madman is one who repeats exactly the same thing and expects a different result. But what is a man that keeps starting new things the same way in new places, convinced that the more often in the more places he does the wrong thing, the more likely that he’ll succeed? That’s COIN intelligence!
    MILITARY COIN is lead, NOT GOLD. Flynn’s paper is a case in point. In the end the question is: where best to drop my mother load of boom, boom, boom?
    What’s sickest about that question is that built into its answer is a bigger problem, not an answer. Look at all the American firepower and how indiscriminately it has been used these last ten years. Yet the result is constantly a slow trickle of aluminum boxes coming home containing dead mom and dad soldiers and twice as many basket cases come home for the kids to grow up taking care of as “a grateful nation” forgets about them.
    We’re attacking Islam to show that we’re not afraid of it. But in truth we’re afraid of ourselves for whom can you have confidence in when we can’t stop a clumsy kid clumsily bumbling his way over Detroit to screw-up his moment of greatness not blowing up a plane.
    Bottom line is that Islam has a lot of college grads ready to kill themselves to kill us and we have a lot of country bumpkins intel blind, language deaf and culture dumb trying to figure out who’s “ours” and who’s “theirs” on a walk-through. The hubris of our leaders breeds the arrogance of our generals which breeds the insolence of our troops. Please watch this video:
    Ask yourself if you think these Marines in Helman are getting through or if they ever will get through. Americans speak of these people’s pride and how we should use it to our advantage? By humiliating it and invoking a desire for revenge. Isn’t our problem our insolent pride as we come in weighed down by cash and firepower? Guys who dreaded learning high schooled English are now expected to grasp the subtle nuances on which turn subtle signals developed over millennia of tribal interaction within a common bowl. Note how quickly the Marine officer gets down right impertinent with a local old enough to be his father—ah, but Americans don’t respect their fathers. Who’s got the advantage here, the guy who dies to kill or the guy who kills to live?
    No, you’ve never been occupied so you don’t know. As a result you insolently refuse to look at yourselves and what you do, judging others from your perch instead. It’s not courage that makes you cruel, it is fear and confusion hidden behind bravado. That’s what alQaeda convinced the world’s Muslims of: you are afraid and will kill senselessly out of fear. There’s no hope in dealing with you, they insist, because you don’t want peace, you want to rape their dignity. They compare you with the Israelis since the Nakba and they have seen how un-insolent Israelis became when they ran out of ordnance. Right now all Muslims seem to see that you are running out of bullets, just like the Israelis.
    All this could have been avoided if since Vietnam you had really believed in your way of life enough to bring Third World police officers-to-be and their families to live here in America for a couple of years while they train to become good cops at home. Training finished, the cops return to be COIN-police—not military– and the families stay here safe while their kids learn in our schools and universities why America is so much worth fighting for as a world system that all mankind deserves. That’s altruism. That’s letting the chips fall where they may. That’s an end to this stupid American bragging– by Americans who don’t even understand what America is because they didn’t want to study, English, history, geography, science, math and social sciences when young– so they don’t know America except as depicted on TV and videogames.
    America is a future for the world. Little people invest in that future for their children’s future by risking life and limb to bring information to police to stop or prevent a crime against the future. That’s COIN. The rest is Petreaus-type narcissism. As a soldier instead of a cop you’re just a killer running out of bullets in the heart of darkness. That’s why it’s best to go home, forget the pipeline passing through Afghanistan to the Indian Ocean. We can’t rule the world because we’re rotting at home. That’s where we should be focused: educating our kids so they don’t become dumb pompous American fools like us. Then, to our kids, “intel” will really mean something.

  48. Thomas says:

    Marc De Teodoru,
    In regards to 1/13/2010 proclamation:
    As for America, when God blesses America it goes from the Arctic to the conjunction of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
    The United States of America is a liberal democracy, a flexible system that can bend in erroneous ways depending on the actions of its leaders and society. It can also fail which should help generations to focus on the issues and concerns of their time.
    “It’s not courage that makes you cruel; it is fear and confusion hidden behind bravado. That’s what alQaeda convinced the world’s Muslims of; you are afraid and will kill senselessly out of fear.”
    This partially true statement desribes a Faction of our people, not everyone. If that faction can strongly influence communications a distorted picture arises requiring individuals to sort through the pieces to see the real situation. This is why many of us are here.
    As for alQadea, do you believe their killing is sensible? If so, to what end? As for Islam, are they one united monolith?
    “Who’s got the advantage here, the guy who dies to kill or the guy who kills to live?”
    The man who kills to live, he has a future in the morning.
    Yes, we have been occupied, see the War of Independence.
    While education for children in the US can always improve, do not underestimate their ability to learn. The kids are all right.
    You have used you (implying an outsider) and us (insider) to describe the United States. Which side do you stand with?

  49. markf says:

    I don’t want to disagree with either the Col’s diagnosis of bureaucratic ills or with those who clearly know more than I about Arabic name search software.
    I do worry that we are following down the path of searching for a high-tech solution to what is a really rather standard management problem. Ten thousand times a day customer service reps talk to callers about the all manner of accounts, tax returns, etc. While doing so they search for the relevant entry in a database. Yes, everybody tries to use account numbers, SSN, etc, but things are sometimes messy inside the database and also often there are issues with the personal accent of the caller, and/or with the quality of the telephone connection. Name search software helps but such searches seldom return only a single entry even with relatively standard American names. The solution is that you don’t search only with name. You narrow the search with all available relevant data.
    People ask: What’s the middle name; What’s the street address; etc.! If at the point of contact when the father came in and reported his concerns to the embassy, a serious attempt had been made to pull up Umar’s record out of the State Department’s global visa database. I just don’t see how the search could possibly have been unsuccessful. (What’s your son’s data of birth, height, weight, eye color? Where did he get the visa? When did he last travel to the US?)
    Is there no such global database? Does the embassy in Nigeria not have access to it? Is it that it’s nobody’s responsibility to mine the primary contact for standard search criteria and then flag the visa for additional attention?

Comments are closed.