HONOLULU – U.S. security chiefs briefed President Barack Obama on Thursday about missteps in the lead-up to the attempted Detroit jetliner bombing as lawmakers joined the White House in racing to find out what went wrong.
The Senate Intelligence Committee announced Jan. 21 hearings as part of an investigation to begin sooner.
“We will be following the intelligence down the rabbit hole to see where the breakdown occurred and how to prevent this failure in the future,” said Sen. Kit Bond of Missouri, top Republican on the committee. “Somebody screwed up big time.”
Few questioned that judgment, even if Obama’s fellow Democrats rendered it in more measured tones. Vacationing in Hawaii, Obama received a preliminary assessment ahead of meetings he will hold in Washington next week on fixing the failures of the nation’s anti-terrorism policy. Administration officials said the system to protect the nation’s skies from terrorists was deeply flawed and, even then, the government failed to follow its own directives.
Obama spoke separately with counterterrorism adviser John Brennan and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, who announced she was dispatching senior department officials to international airports to review their security procedures.
Despite billions of dollars spent to sharpen America’s eye on dangerous malcontents abroad and at home, the creation of an intelligence-information overseer and countless declarations of intentions to cooperate, it was already clear that the country’s national security fiefdoms were still not operating in harmony before the attempted bombing Dec. 25.
The preliminary assessment is part of a continuing, urgent examination that officials said Thursday is highlighting signals that should not have been missed. One likely outcome, they said, was new requirements within the government to review a suspicious person’s visa status.
In the heat of hindsight, even Obama and some fellow Democrats are excoriating a system they thought was on the mend in the years after the 2001 terrorist attacks.
Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., said that when the government gets tipped to trouble as it did before a Nigerian man boarded a Detroit-bound jet with explosives, “someone’s hair should be on fire.”
Instead an anxious father’s pointed warning that 23-year-old Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had drifted into extremism in Yemen, an al-Qaida hotbed, was only partially digested by the U.S. security apparatus and not linked with a visa history showing the young man could fly to the U.S.