has the Obama administration openly admitted failure and incompetence on this scale. That the president and his spokesmen would engage in such criticism of the government they run represents a significant event in itself.
HONOLULU—President Obama declared Tuesday that there had been a “systemic failure” of the nation’s security apparatus after being told about more missed signals and uncorrelated intelligence that should have prevented a would-be bomber from boarding a flight for the United States.
The president was told during a private briefing on Tuesday morning while vacationing here in Hawaii that the government had a variety of information in its possession before the thwarted bombing that would have been a clear warning sign had it been shared among agencies, a senior official said. [Hmm, and why wasn’t it shared? I know this sounds crazy, but could it perhaps be that in an administration and government that refuses as matter of principle to recognize that we have an enemy that seeks our harm, officials were not energetically on the lookout for enemies seeking to harm us?]
Two officials said the government had intelligence from Yemen before Friday that leaders of a branch of Al Qaeda there were talking about “a Nigerian” being prepared for a terrorist attack. While the information did not include a name, officials said it would have been evident had it been compared with information about Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the 23-year-old Nigerian charged with trying to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight to Detroit on Christmas Day. [That’s just stunning, that they had word that a Nigerian was being trained for an attack.]
The government also had more information about where Mr. Abdulmutallab had been and what some of his plans were.
Some of the information was partial or incomplete, and it was not obvious that it was connected, the official said, but in retrospect it now appears clear that had it all been examined together it would have pointed to the pending attack. The official said the administration was “increasingly confident” that Al Qaeda had a role in the attack, as the group’s Yemeni branch has publicly claimed. [But just a day earlier, Obama had called Abdul Mutallab an “isolated extremist.”]
Shortly after being briefed, Mr. Obama addressed reporters in his second public statement on the matter in two days, announcing that a review already had revealed a breakdown in the intelligence system that did not properly identify the suspect as a dangerous extremist who should have been prevented from flying to the United States.
“A systemic failure has occurred, and I consider that totally unacceptable,” Mr. Obama said. He said he had ordered government agencies to give him a preliminary report on Thursday about what happened and added that he would “insist on accountability at every level,” although he did not elaborate.
Mr. Obama alluded to the intelligence in his statement. “Had this critical information been shared, it could have been compiled with other intelligence and a fuller, clearer picture of the suspect would have emerged,” the president said. “The warning signs would have triggered red flags, and the suspect would have never been allowed to board that plane for America.”
The president’s withering assessment of the government’s performance could reshape the intensifying political debate over the thwarted terrorist attack. Instead of defending the system, Mr. Obama sided with critics who complained that it did not work and positioned himself as a reformer who will fix it. At the same time, the decision to speak a second time after remaining out of sight for three days underscores the administration’s concern over being outflanked on national security. [Yes, it’s remarkable. The alien in chief says nothing for three days after the attempted attack. Then he comes out on Monday with a bland, pro-forma statement which he read as if on automatic—meaning that the attack had made no particular impression on him and he regarded it as, and was seeking to treat it is as, a routine event. Then just one day later there is a total reversal of the indifference of the first four days and the AIC suddenly admits to catastrophic dysfunction in his own government. Which raises the question, what did they learn between Monday and Tuesday that they hadn’t learned between Friday and Monday? ]
The aftermath of the attempted bombing has been marked by an increasingly fierce partisan exchange over culpability heading into a midterm election year. With Republicans on the attack against the administration as not taking terrorism seriously enough, Democrats returned fire by accusing the opposition of standing in the way of needed personnel and money while exploiting public fears.
The debate has escalated since Mr. Obama’s secretary of homeland security, Janet Napolitano, said Sunday that “the system worked” after officials said the suspect tried to ignite explosive chemicals aboard a Northwest Airlines flight approaching Detroit. Ms. Napolitano made clear the next day that she had meant the system worked in its response to the attempted bombing, not before it happened.
Mr. Obama appeared to be trying to contain the damage on Tuesday, offering “systemic failure” as a substitute diagnosis for “system worked.” He framed Ms. Napolitano’s statement by saying she was right that “once the suspect attempted to take down Flight 253, after his attempt, it’s clear that passengers and crew, our homeland security systems and our aviation security took all appropriate actions.” [But of course Napolitano’s emphasis on the response to the attack rather than on the failure to prevent the attack was completely inappropriate and besides the point—or least to any person concerned with actually defending America from attack, which I kinda thought was the bug-eyed, short-haired, low-IQ Napolitano’s job.]
The president praised the professionalism of the nation’s intelligence, counterterrorism, homeland security and law enforcement officials. But he spared little in his sharp judgment about how a known extremist could be allowed to board a flight bound for the United States after his own father had warned that he had become radical.
“There was a mix of human and systemic failures that contributed to this potential catastrophic breach of security,” Mr. Obama told reporters at the Marine Corps base at Kaneohe Bay outside Honolulu, near his vacation home in Kailua. “We need to learn from this episode and act quickly to fix the flaws in our system because our security is at stake and lives are at stake.” [And maybe Obama—the most ruthless liar in American history—really means it. And if he does mean it, it shows how he was not concerned about security before, and it was only seeing the real world results of his administration’s ideological indifference to protecting the nation from enemies that got him to be serious. Simply by a process of thought, he would not be drawn to protecting the country. But faced with an actual attack and the political heat he’s getting for failing to stop that attack, he starts to care about protecting the country. In other words, unpleasant real world experience is forcing him to make un unprincipled exception to his principled leftist indifference to defending America.]
Mr. Obama suggested that he would overhaul the watch-list system. “We’ve achieved much since 9/11 in terms of collecting information that relates to terrorists and potential terrorist attacks,” he said. “But it’s becoming clear that the system that has been in place for years now is not sufficiently up to date to take full advantage of the information we collect and the knowledge we have.”
Mr. Abdulmutallab, who has been linked to the Yemeni branch of Al Qaeda, came to the attention of the American authorities when his father went to the embassy last month to report that his son had expressed radical views before disappearing. The father, a respected retired banker, did not say his son planned to attack Americans but sought help locating him and bringing him home, United States officials said.
After Mr. Abdulmutallab’s father asked the embassy in Nigeria for help, embassy officials from several agencies, including the Central Intelligence Agency, met to discuss the case, officials said.
Paul Gimigliano, a C.I.A. spokesman, said that was the first time the agency had heard of the young Nigerian. “We did not have his name before then,” he said.
The embassy sent a cable to Washington, which resulted in Mr. Abdulmutallab’s name being entered in a database of 550,000 people with possible ties to terrorism. But he was not put on the much smaller no-fly list of 4,000 people or on a list of 14,000 people who are required to undergo additional screening before flying, nor was his multiple-entry visa to the United States revoked.
“It now appears that weeks ago this information was passed to a component of our intelligence community but was not effectively distributed so as to get the suspect’s name on a no-fly list,” Mr. Obama said of the father’s warning. “There appears to be other deficiencies as well. Even without this one report, there were bits of information available within the intelligence community that could have and should have been pieced together.”
Mr. Obama’s appearance came after another day of Republican criticism. On Tuesday, the National Republican Congressional Committee sought to inject the bombing attempt into next year’s midterm races. In a series of news releases, the committee sought to press vulnerable Democrats on whether they agreed with Ms. Napolitano’s initial assessment.
“All year long, we’ve asked the question: What is the administration’s overarching strategy to confront the terrorist threat and keep America safe?” Representative John A. Boehner of Ohio, the Republican leader, said in a statement Tuesday. “We haven’t gotten a satisfactory answer, and the secretary’s ‘the system worked’ response doesn’t inspire confidence.”
Democrats countered that Republicans had shown disregard for any terrorism risk by blocking the president’s nominee for head of the Transportation Security Administration and by voting this year against a measure providing $44 billion for Department of Homeland Security operations.
“They have essentially voted against and delayed providing the tools that are necessary to prevent these kinds of actions,” said Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
They also criticized Representative Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, the senior Republican on the intelligence committee and a leading critic of the White House, for tying the thwarted bombing to an appeal for money for his race for governor. In a letter first reported by The Grand Rapids Press, Mr. Hoekstra sought donations to help counter Democratic “efforts to weaken our security.”
A spokesman for Mr. Hoekstra’s campaign said the letter was appropriate and sought to inform potential donors of his leadership on national security issues.
Senator Harry Reid, the Nevada Democrat and majority leader, said on Tuesday that once the Senate returned on Jan. 19, he would move quickly to overcome Republicans’ objections to the nomination of Erroll G. Southers, a former F.B.I. agent, to lead the security agency. [The Senate’s not going back into session until January 19? Good, that pushes back health care even further.]
Senator Jim DeMint, Republican of South Carolina, has blocked the appointment, saying he was worried Mr. Southers might allow T.S.A. workers to join labor unions. “Republicans have decided to play politics with this nomination by blocking final confirmation,” Mr. Reid said.
Mr. DeMint said he was seeking an opportunity to debate the nomination rather than have it approved without discussion, and he accused Mr. Reid of grandstanding. “Senator Reid completely ignored this nominee until the recent terror attempt,” Mr. DeMint said, “and now he’s trying to show concern for airport security.”
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