Obama says 'systemic failure' led to bombing attempt
Published Thursday, January 7, 2010 10:09PM EST
U.S. President Barack Obama says security lapses and a "systemic failure" among intelligence protocols allowed a suspected terrorist to board a U.S.-bound plane strapped with explosives, even though intelligence officials had evidence of the plot.
"This was a failure to connect and understand the intelligence we already had," Obama said Thursday afternoon in Washington as he unveiled a scathing report into the incident.
"We must follow the leads that we get and we must pursue them until plots are disrupted," he said, adding that "we can't sit on info that could protect the American people."
Still, while the probe into the incident finds shortcomings among intelligence operatives, Obama also took personal responsibility, saying that "ultimately the buck stops with me."
While the president said "there is no silver bullet" in the fight against terror, he noted that bolstering intelligence analysis, adding better screening technology at airports and casting a wider net on suspects will decrease the likelihood of successful attacks in the future.
"We are at war," he said. "In the never-ending race to protect our country, we have to stay one step ahead of a nimble adversary."
Already, the U.S. Transportation Security Administration has ordered airlines to give full-body, pat-down searches to U.S. bound travellers from 14 countries including, Yemen, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia.
Washington has also added dozens of names to its lists of suspected terrorists and those barred from U.S.-bound flights.
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a 23-year-old Nigerian man, is accused of attempting to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight as it descended into Detroit after departing from Amsterdam.
There were 278 passengers onboard the flight, which landed on Christmas Day.
Authorities allege he injected chemicals into a package of pentrite explosives that were concealed in his underwear. Though the attempt caused a small fire, other passengers and crew were able to extinguish the blaze and subdue Abdulmutallab before any major damage was done.
According to the U.S. intelligence report, security staff had received "discrete pieces of intelligence" as early as October suggesting that Abdulmutallab was an al Qaeda operative.
Officials were also told that a person working for the terror network in Yemen would eventually pose a threat to U.S. security.
Despite this evidence, however, none of the data was pulled together and the bomb plot remained unidentified until the last moment.
Still, the report states that "the watch listing system is not broken" and that a total overhaul of the terror detection system is not necessary.
Instead, the report blames "a series of human errors" and a failure to dig into all of the available information on the suspect.
"Now at this stage in the review process, it appears that this incident was not the fault of a single individual or organization, but rather a systemic failure across organizations and agencies," Obama said.