have stopped Christmas Day plot, Obama report says
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. officials had "sufficient information"
to have stopped the failed Christmas Day attack on a Michigan-bound
jetliner, but a variety of errors kept investigators from uncovering the
plot, the Obama administration's preliminary investigation found.
President Barack Obama released the declassified report
Thursday afternoon, along with orders for reviews of the agencies
involved. But he told reporters that, "Ultimately, the buck stops with
"As president, I have a solemn responsibility to protect our
nation and our people, and when the system fails, it is my
responsibility," he said.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a Yemen-based offshoot of
the terrorist network that attacked New York and Washington in 2001, has
claimed responsibility for the attempted bombing of Northwest Airlines
Flight 253 on December 25. The suspect in that plot, Umar Farouk
AbdulMutallab, has told investigators he met with Yemeni militants, and
his father tried to warn U.S. officials in his home country of Nigeria
that his son was becoming radicalized.
U.S. officials knew the al Qaeda operation in Yemen wanted to
attack the United States, but failed to uncover the actual Christmas Day
plot, said John Brennan, Obama's top homeland security and
counterterrorism adviser. Brennan said his biggest surprise in the
review was that the Yemeni affiliate's "aspirations" to attack the
United States had become a real and nearly successful plot.
The six-page report summary found that the U.S. government "had
sufficient information prior to the attempted December 25 attack to have
potentially disrupted the AQAP plot."
American officials could have identified AbdulMutallab as a
possible al Qaeda operative, the summary states, and kept him from
boarding Northwest Airlines Flight 253, where investigators say he
attempted to set off explosives concealed in his underwear.
According to the report, U.S. counterterrorism officials had
information about AbdulMutallab, al Qaeda threats to Americans "and
information about an individual now believed to be Mr. AbdulMutallab and
his association with AQAP and its attack planning."
But "the dots were never connected" -- not because information
wasn't shared among U.S. agencies, but because it was "fragmentary and
embedded in a large volume of other data."
"The intelligence fell through the cracks. This happened in
more than one organization," Brennan told reporters after Obama spoke.
The phrase "connect the dots" joined the American lexicon after
the 9/11 attacks, when U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies
were criticized for failing to share information that could have
uncovered the plot. But Brennan rejected any comparison to 9/11, telling
reporters, "That is not what happened here. This was not a failure to
Other factors, including the delayed dissemination of a
finished intelligence report, and apparently incomplete or faulty
database searches on the suspect's identifying information, insufficient
information technology and a misspelling of AdbulMutallab's name,
contributed to the failure, the report states.
Released along with the report was a three-page order from
Obama outlining what various agencies need to do to correct the
"inherent systemic weaknesses and human errors" the review found.
The departments of State and Homeland Security, the FBI, CIA,
National Security Agency, National Counterterrorism Center and the
office of the director of national intelligence, as well as the White
House national security staff, have been ordered to report back within
"All of these agencies and their leaders are responsible for
implementing these reforms, and all will be held accountable if they
don't," Obama said.
And Brennan said information already collected by U.S.
intelligence is "being reanalyzed and re-evaluated in light of this,"
and that process has already given investigators new leads to pursue. He
would not elaborate.
The State Department has been ordered to re-evaluate how visas
are issued, "with a special emphasis on counterterrorism concerns," the
order states. And the federal government will install 300 bodyscanners
at U.S. airports this year, speeding up additions to the 40 already in
place, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told reporters.
Other measures include more metal detectors and explosive
detection technology, more sniffer dogs, and more uniformed and
undercover agents, Napolitano said.
The order calls on the intelligence community to assign
responsibility to individuals to pursue leads on specific high-priority
threats, and distribute intelligence reports more widely and quickly.
Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair will overhaul existing
intelligence analytical efforts, and the government will strengthen the
criteria used to add people to no-fly list.
A federal grand jury in Michigan indicted AbdulMutallab on
Wednesday. The 23-year-old Nigerian national faces six federal charges,
including attempting to blow up an airplane and attempting to murder the
other 289 people aboard.
According to authorities, AbdulMutallab tried to detonate
explosives as the Northwest Airlines flight made its final approach to
Detroit. The device failed to fully detonate, instead setting off a fire
at the man's seat. Dutch prosecutors said Tuesday that AbdulMutallab
apparently arrived in Amsterdam from Nigeria already carrying the
explosives he planned to use.
Obama said the United States remains at war with al Qaeda, "and
we will do whatever it takes to defeat them." But he added, "We will not
succumb to a siege mentality that sacrifices the open society and
liberties and values that we cherish as Americans."
"That's what it means to be strong in the face of violent
extremism," he said. "That's how we will prevail in this fight, and
that's how we will protect our country and pass it, safer and stronger,
to the next generation," he said.
Obama has been criticized by several leading Republicans,
including former Vice President Dick Cheney, for downplaying the
military aspect of the battle against al Qaeda -- even though the
president flatly declared during his acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize
in December that "We are at war."
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