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January 07, 2010

Administration Seems to Be Settling on Fall Guy for Christmas Bombing Lapse, and, Shocker of Shockers, It's a Bush Appointee

Perfect! Give the illusion that corrective action is being taken, and blame Bush.

But whatever you do, don't play politics with terror. Right?

Rozen and Ambinder both see NCTC chief Michael Leiter being set up for a fall, which began with an odd, unsolicited statement from him to the press last week, and continues with a leak to the New York Daily News that he didn't return from vacation to manage the crisis. (That angle, obviously, is a slightly tricky one for the White House to use.)

Because, of course, Obama didn't return either.

"Knives out."

Michael Leiter, director of the National Counterterrorism Center since 2007, decided not to return to his agency's "bat cave" nerve center in McLean, Va., until several days after Christmas, two U.S. officials said.

"People have been grumbling that he didn't let a little terrorism interrupt his vacation," said one of the sources. ...

Leiter's spokesman declined to say when the terror-center chief returned to Washington and fully retook the helm of his analysis agency, which is near CIA headquarters just outside the nation's capital.

"It is our policy to not make our director's schedule available to the public," center spokesman Carl Kropf said in an e-mail.

Leiter has long been well-regarded, and he was not the only official in the homeland security orbit to skip town for vacation during the holidays. President Obama himself stayed in Hawaii until Jan. 4.

But Leiter's decision to stay close to the ski slopes instead of his headquarters - ground zero for defending the nation against terror - has raised eyebrows among intelligence officials, who have been scrambling since Dec. 25 to figure out what went wrong and plug the holes. ...

Without mentioning Leiter or the NCTC by name, Obama made it plain in a Tuesday speech that there was intelligence in the center's hands that should have been "fully analyzed and fully leveraged" to stop Abdulmutallab from boarding Northwest Flight 253.

Actually, this whole "he didn't interrupt his vacation" narrative isn't quite true.

(Update: the NCTC says Leiter was there on Christmas, and took six days leave after -- and the White House is backing him up.)

But it does seem he went on leave directly after the incident (or that is the word being leaked), and that's insufficient; people with positions of responsibility can't go on vacation when they're in a red-ball situation. That's just the way it is.

I don't mind this guy being fired. I object to the Obama Administration attempting to sweep its own problems and its own failures under the carpet with a high-profile but mostly empty and worthless firing.

I also am curious as to whether this guy stayed "in the loop" while outside DC -- as Captain Wonderful assures us he did.

Thanks to AHFF Geoff.

More: Tapper:

The story says that Leiter “remained on ski slopes” after Christmas, but Denis McDonough, National Security Staff Chief of Staff, refutes that, saying that “Leiter was -- throughout the events of December 25, 2009 -- indeed at the National Counterterrorism Center in McLean, Virginia, and intimately involved in all aspects of the nation’s response to the attempted terrorist attack -- to include coordinating intelligence, examining terrorist watch-listing, and briefing Members of Congress.”

Leiter stayed late at the NCTC on December 25, an intelligence official tells ABC News, and the next morning he held secure communications working the issue with many in the U.S. government.

He did go on vacation the day after the attempted attack, but a close associate of Leiter says that the leave was quite different than the carefree “ski trip” being depicted.

Leiter is divorced, and the purpose of the ski trip was to take “his seven-year-old son for his birthday to meet his grandparents,” both of whom are in their late 70s, the close associate tells ABC News.

He did so only “after explicit consultations with both the White House and the Director of National Intelligence,” McDonough said, adding it “did not affect in any way his ability to remain engaged with all elements of the United States Government. “

I get why he felt he had to go -- probably the only window for a while where he had custody of his child -- but still, job comes first.

Seems the White House gave its blessing to the trip, though.

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posted by Ace at 02:09 PM

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