Hmm, maybe it was meant as a pun.
In his first television interview since withdrawing as Obama's nominee to run the Transporation Security Administration, Erroll Southers make this puzzling observation to Rachel Maddow on her MSNBC show Thursday --
SOUTHERS (referring to Christmas Day airliner bombing attempt): One of the things that everybody must understand is that this attack was debriefed by the foreign terrorist organizations that sent Mr. Abdulmutallab over here. They learned a great deal. We need to reverse-engineer what happened and think about what we would do to counter the emerging threat instead of yesterday's attack and having policies that are then driven and being reactive instead of really being thought out and being comprehensive in their scope.
MADDOW: In looking into some of your record and what you've worked on in the past today ...
" ... this attack was debriefed by the foreign terrorist organizations ..." Anyone else scratching your head about this? How exactly does one "debrief" an attack?
Did Southers mean that the "attacker," Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, was debriefed by terrorists who plotted with him to bring down Northwest Flight 253? But this makes no sense either -- isn't a combatant "debriefed" after a mission?
Nearest I can tell, Southers must have been referring to media coverage spawned by the thwarted bombing, and that from this, Abdulmutallab's jihadist cohorts "learned a great deal." Yet if that's what he meant to say, why not just say it instead of resorting to securityspeak?
Had a journalist been listening on the other end, Southers would have been asked to clarify. Instead there was Maddow, who let the remark slip past.
Southers' remarks as described here were just the tip of the iceberg for an unintentionally illuminating interview (which can be viewed in its entirety here). Against a backdrop with a caption stating "Moment of Meek," Maddow introduced Southers and asked him this --
MADDOW: So why did you withdraw your name from consideration?
SOUTHERS: I withdrew my name because I had become a lightning rod for the administration. I was engaged in a political process far beyond what I thought it was going to be. As you were well aware, the union issue really took on its own life (a reference to Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., having placed hold on Southers' nomination based on his belief that Southers might unionize TSA) and quite frankly I was really concerned that had I been confirmed, that the attacks would not have stopped.
I was looking forward to taking the agency, a mature agency to the next level, and I don't believe I would have been able to do so moving forward and looking backward at people who were going to continue to dog me over the union issue.
MADDOW: Yesterday, I on this show called the circumstances surrounding your withdrawal, I think I used the phrase 'the embodiment of Democratic political weakness,' that there's no reason a Republican senator like Jim DeMint should have won a fight against you on an issue like this union issue. I can't imagine that it sounds good to hear that right now, but I wonder how you feel about the politics around your nomination. Do you feel that you were fought for adequately?
SOUTHERS: I felt like I was on my heels constantly. I would have preferred to be able to be more aggressive leaning forward. The union issue, quite frankly, was a no-win with Sen. DeMint. A yes response to unions, of course, would have resulted in a hold. A let me consider all of the aspects involved in unionization with the largest component of DHS would have resulted in a hold and that was, of course, my suggestion. And then a no unions would have gone against Sen. Obama's letter to Jim Gage (national president of American Federation of Government Employees), the head of the AFGE when he was running for the presidency, where he specifically in October 2008 said that collective bargaining rights for transportation security officers would be a priority in his administration if he were elected president. So yes, maybe and no result in a hold from Sen. DeMint.
In other words, Southers was painted in a corner by yet another campaign promise Obama is unlikely to keep. But here is an example of an infrequent occasion where I agree with Maddow. She is not far off the mark in describing Southers backing down as a "moment of meek" and "the embodiment of Democratic political weakness."
Surely the "attacks" by DeMint that Southers abhors pale in comparison to what al Qaeda is planning.