- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 2, 2010

According to published re- ports in London, on Nov. 19, Alhaji Umaru Abdul Mutallab, Nigeria’s former minister of economic development, paid a private visit to two members of the American Central Intelligence Agency at the U.S. Embassy in Abuja, Nigeria. He told the Americans of his great concern for his youngest son, Umar, who holds “extreme religious views.” Umar’s mother is apparently from Yemen, and his father thought his son might be there.

Whether Mr. Mutallab precisely made his plea to the Americans in exactly these words is unknown, but the underlying message is clear: “Please discreetly find my son before he hurts someone.”

Mr. Mutallab had every reason to expect a positive response from the Americans. It was, after all, in our immediate interest to find the wayward son, since we are the most likely target if “extreme religious views” became an act of terrorism. Second, Mr. Mutallab is precisely the sort of person for whom the United States government should be doing small favors. He is highly respectable, one of the richest men in Africa and totally connected to the political and economic establishment in Nigeria, a major source of America’s daily energy needs.

Instead, the visit began Mr. Mutallab’s worst nightmare: The plea and warning were not taken seriously by the Americans, his son came within a hairsbreadth of murdering nearly 300 people and the father’s visit to the CIA station was leaked within 24 hours of the attack on Northwest Flight 253. His son will now have to spend the majority of his life in some sort of imprisonment. The family has been disgraced all around the world. Mr. Mutallab’s life is in danger because of his public association with the CIA and his large, extended family will also have to live in fear of assassination by al Qaeda and its imitators. Their basic freedoms will be highly restricted. Things they used to do, places they used to enjoy visiting are no longer possible because of personal security concerns.

Up to now, attention on the Christmas bombing has been downstream: What happened after Umar set off the plastic explosives hidden in his underwear?

But the upstream or ripple effects of this unhappy affair may not be getting the attention they deserve. Just for openers, the Uni -ted States owes Mr. Mutallab a sincere apology from the highest levels of our government. He did the best he could to control his son, and the baton was passed to us in Abuja. Instead of helping him, we were revealed to be totally feckless, irresponsible and, in the end, untrustworthy. Second, the American government needs to give Mr. Mutallab and his family a security guarantee. He deserves it, and it’s not in our interest for people who seek our help to be assassinated.

I have no doubt the House and Senate intelligence committees will get to the bottom of this affair and discover who blew off Mr. Mutallab. Given how these things usually work, CIA field agents A and B would have dutifully reported his visit, but their report obviously never reached “Column C,” which is the action column. Too often, the system becomes a “self-licking ice cream cone,” i.e., a self-perpetuating machine that exists simply to justify itself and not perform the function its creators intended: to ensure the safety and security of American citizens.

Parents around the world worry about their children, but within the past three decades, some parents have a new horror to contend with: “Will my son succumb to the siren’s call of religious madness, leading to his own destruction and the murder of innocents?”

The congressional committees need to ensure that worried parents with legitimate concerns in the area of security know they will be received by the Americans with courtesy, sincerity and discretion. Otherwise, American citizens will pay a heavy price. Next time, the detonators might not fail.

William C. Triplett II is a defense writer in Washington.