Obama Criticizes Intelligence Agencies Over Christmas Day Failed Airplane Attack

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President Barack Obama emerged from a major huddle with officials on national security, airline security and the failed Christmas day underwear bomber attack to issue a stern statement that didn’t mince words. He said there had been enough info behind the scenes on the attempted Christmas Day attack to stop it.

The bottom line, he said, is that the system “failed…to connect the dots” on Christmas Day. Intelligence was not shared — a flaw in the system that many Americans of all or no party assumed had been fixed after the 911 attacks were partially attributed to agencies in administrations of both parties not connecting the dots and not sharing information.


CNN reports:

President Obama said Tuesday that U.S. intelligence has had considerable success, but that the botched Christmas Day attack shows “the system has failed” in a major way.

“When a suspected terrorist is able to board a plane with explosives on Christmas Day, the system has failed in a potentially disastrous way,” Obama said at the White House in a statement to reporters.

U.S. intelligence had uncovered numerous “red flags” prior to the attack, Obama said at the White House, but failed to connect the dots.

“The U.S. government had sufficient information to have uncovered this plot and potentially disrupt the Christmas Day attack, but our intelligence community failed to connect those dots, which would have placed the suspect on the no-fly list,” Obama said.

“In other words, this was not a failure to collect intelligence; it was a failure to integrate and understand the intelligence that we already had,” the president said. “The information was there, agencies and analysts who needed it had access to it, and our professionals were trained to look for it and to bring it all together.”

Obama said he could accept the imperfect nature of intelligence work, “but it is increasingly clear that intelligence was not fully analyzed or fully leveraged,” he said, adding: “That’s not acceptable, and I will not tolerate it.”

The president listed steps so far to enhance security, including more airport screening and tighter monitoring of U.S. visa holders.

Obama said he wants some reviews on what occurred and failed to occur by this week so changes can be implemented right away.

Here’s Obama’s statement as carried on CNN:


The LA Times:

He said there was no failure to collect intelligence, but rather a failure to “integrate and understand” the available information in a way that would have prevented a would-be bomber from boarding the plane with explosives.

“That’s not acceptable, and I will not tolerate it,” Obama said. “We have to do better, and we will do better. And we have to do it quickly.”

The appearance followed meetings with intelligence and national security advisors convened today to explain how the suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, allegedly smuggled explosives onto the international flight from Amsterdam bound for Detroit.

Administration officials trace the plot to Yemen, where an Al Qaeda affiliate has claimed responsibility for dispatching Abdulmutallab.

But the focus of concern at the White House now is on intelligence failures that allowed Abdulmutallab to board the plane in Amsterdam despite warning signs that he might be part of a terrorist plot aimed at Americans.

In the wake of the failed plot, the president ordered reviews of both the screening of airline passengers and the federal watch-list system.

Today, chief intelligence officials met at the White House to brief the president on what went wrong in the run-up to the foiled Christmas Day attack.

Obama also repeated his pledge to close Guantanamo:

The president renewed his commitment to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but said the transfers of detainees to Yemen would be suspended immediately. He said the intelligence and law-enforcement reviews of the terror plot would be completed this week and additional security measures would be announced in the coming days.

“Every member of my team understands the urgency of getting this right,” Mr. Obama said in brief statement delivered from the Grand Foyer of the White House. His remarks suggested that he was standing by his top national security officials, including those whose agencies failed to communicate with one another.

CBS’s News web report characterizes Obama’s comments as “reverse spin.” Here’s part of the piece:

Speaking somberly and forcefully from the White House, Obama said the government had “sufficient information” to have potentially disrupted the attack, but that the intelligence community “failed to connect those dots.” He spoke of the “the human and systemic failures that almost cost nearly 300 lives,” and he vowed, “we will do better.”

He was more blunt in a private meeting with top advisers just before he spoke before the cameras: “This was a screw up that could have been disastrous. We dodged a bullet but just barely. It was averted by brave individuals, not because the system worked, and that is not acceptable.”

On Face the Nation Sunday, Bob Schieffer took aim at the administration’s first response at spin. Interviewed on Sunday talk shows two days after the attempted bombing, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Press Secretary Robert Gibbs insisted that the “system worked” and the “system has worked.” They both said it with a straight face, but it didn’t pass the laugh test.

“Self-serving spin at the first sign of crisis does not help the situation; it makes it worse, because it makes it harder to believe anything the government says,” Bob said on Sunday. “Real security is built on trust in the government. That requires truth, which should be the beginning of government presentations, not the fallback position.”

Today, Obama seemed determined to push the reset button, as he detailed what pretty much every single American has known for the past week and a half: The system, in fact, had not worked.

This is an issue that is at play on several levels.

On the issue/implementation level, a Chief Executive is effect the CEO of the country. Clearly, the lessons taught in the blood and heartbreak of 911 were either not learned, learned poorly or forgotten by slme.

On the political level, Republicans are poised to retrieve the national security issue from Democrats, who had made headway in the 2008 election.

The big question now becomes: with Obama’s tough statementd in public and private, will there be a resignation of someone?

It’s less likely to be of someone who talk show hosts and internet partisans are clamoring to see ejected from the administration. And it’s likely — if it happens — to be more on Obama’s timetable. But a tough statement such as this — saying some people failed to do their vital jobs or did them poorly — suggests that someone or a few someones are likely to leave the administration in coming weeks to spend more time with their families.

Obama most likely realizes that if some officials didn’t do their jobs and don’t leave to spend more time with their families, then next time there could be grieving families and some Democratic members of Congress will have a lot more free time after the first week in November to be with their loved ones.

The cartoon by Mike Keefe, The Denver Post, is copyrighted and licensed to appear on TMV. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited. All rights reserved.

  

7 Comments

  1. How can we soar with eagles when we are just a bunch of dumb Ducks?

  2. You can't herd (ahem) ducks, they are too smart. Better to herd donkeys. If you have enough carrots it's easy.

  3. “The big question now becomes: with Obama’s tough statement[s] in public and private, will there be a resignation of someone?”

    Well, to look at it that way in and of itself only, is to overreact, which amounts to conceding credit to the likes of, say, Hannity in comparison.

    It's perhaps worth a quick quip, wondering aloud if someone will be set up and if there will be leaks to the press before any such resignation for “symbolic” reasons, mainly. Oh, and perhaps an aviation security or transportation security “czar” to be named at the same time, to appeal to the low-IQ crowd. (Do even they still respect such nonsense?)

    This was mainly the case of a guy who slipped past foreign security, not US security. That US security flaws also are revealed upon review, and can be remedied, is a bonus. Don't forget, that probably sooner or later our (US) defenses will be breached in some way, and if it happens, we just have to learn from it (as we are learning from a breach primarily of foreign defenses in this case).

  4. This is no time to point fingers, said Obama as he pointed the finger at the intelligence agencies (and a pinky at the State Department).

    And I'm all for holding people responsible for their shortcomings, but a resignation? No thank you. Biden would make an absolutely horrible President. Let's just hope Obama wakes up, realizes he is doing it wrong, and changes course. He at least appears to have reopened the embassy in Yemen and changed the absurd commitment made this week by his staff to send more Gitmo detainees there. Who knows, maybe he'll even wake up and realize this is a war, not an episode of Law and Order.

  5. Elephants.

    …nuf said.

  6. Obama has never treated the fight against jihadism as purely a law enforcement operation. That's one of the most dishonest canards from the neo-con right all along. We've already launched major aerial attacks in Yemen and Pakistan against Al Qaeda, in addition to a major escalation of the war in Afghanistan. If that doesn't signify “war” than I don't know what does at this point (other than a full-scale invasion of Yemen's interior).

    A resignation would be mostly symbolic – but possibly necessary.

  7. I give credit to Obama for recognizing the problem, but it's unfortunate his administration took so long to own up to it. As Schieffer notes Napolitano/Gibbs chose to lead with spin rather than honesty, and I can only assume as president that was OK'd with Obama first.

    Anyway recognition of the problem is the first step, hopefully now Obama will follow through and correct it.

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