White House: Intel chief wasn’t briefed on arrests
WASHINGTON — Even as the White House sought to reassure Americans that it has fixed mistakes that nearly allowed al-Qaida to take down a U.S.-bound airliner last Christmas, it acknowledged today another security misstep: The nation’s top intelligence official was never briefed about a terrorist plot and numerous arrests this week in Britain.
The past year has been the most challenging yet for President Barack Obama on the terrorism front. After the failed attack last Christmas, the administration has dealt with an attempted car bombing in Times Square, a nearly successful attack on U.S.-bound cargo planes and several nascent plots disrupted by the FBI.
Security officials have been on edge for days because of an increase in intelligence “chatter” about a possible holiday-season attack. Officials have said there is no specific, credible threat and White House homeland security adviser John Brennan said Wednesday that authorities are working around the clock.
But Obama’s security team was forced to defend itself amid questions about why Director National Intelligence James Clapper was not in the loop about a roundup of terror suspects in London. Clapper, appearing with Brennan on ABC News on Tuesday night, appeared stumped when asked whether the plot in London could have threatened the U.S.
“London?” Clapper asked, looking at Brennan.
Brennan vigorously defended Clapper during a news conference on Wednesday, saying Clapper was focused on escalating tensions on the Korean peninsula and a nuclear weapons treaty with Russia. But Brennan acknowledged that Clapper should have been briefed.
It was an embarrassing moment not just for Obama but for the embattled position of director of national intelligence. The job, created after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, has failed to live up to its billing as a central, strong figure leading the nation’s intelligence infrastructure. And it reinforced the impression by many in the intelligence community that Brennan functions as the de facto intelligence director.
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