Congresswoman Jane Harman reflects on parcel bombs from Yemen

Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA) hears testimony from Obama Administration cabinet members during a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Capitol Hill April 22, 2009 in Washington, DC.
Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA) hears testimony from Obama Administration cabinet members during a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Capitol Hill April 22, 2009 in Washington, DC. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

American and British officials are downplaying a French official’s comment that a mail bomb was minutes away from blowing up the airliner on which it traveled. Agents last week intercepted a pair of package bombs that originated in the Middle Eastern country of Yemen. A local member of the US House Homeland Security Committee says she’s been concerned about Yemen for a long time.

This is the way Congresswoman Jane Harman sums up her trip to Yemen earlier this year: "Sana, Yemen," she says, "is a very populist, very, very poor capitol, which has no control over the rest of the country. A hundred and fifty thousand small villages outside of Sana and there’s one port that is not very successful. There’s no water, there’s no oil, and it’s teeming with people. And the population’s going to double in ten years. This is not a recipe for success."

The South Bay Democrat chairs the Intelligence Subcommittee on the Homeland Security Committee. Security officials believe Al Qaeda in Yemen was responsible for the parcel bombs designed to bring down planes bound for America. Congresswoman Harman says the United States has taken bold military and economic steps in its outreach to Yemen. "We are doing the right things with respect to counter terrorism," she says. "We are training the Yemenis to take the lead and go after terrorists in their country. We’re helping them. And the other thing that we’re doing, which I am strongly for, is we are helping them get economic aid from the IMF. They got 300 million dollars, which should help deliver better governance in these small villages and help provide resources to the people."

But Harman says the key is delivering that foreign aid to the people who need it most – in part to offer them an alternative to Al Qaeda. "The people have to want to support the government and the people have to see some future other than being a suicide bomber, and boy are they good at making – sadly – at making small parcel bombs."

One analyst says Al Qaeda has done a much better job at transcending “class, tribe, and regional identity” and meeting people’s needs than the Yemeni government.

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