WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama on Thursday declined to fire anyone for the lapses that allowed a suspected terrorist carrying explosives to board a plane for Detroit on Christmas Day, and said for the first time he bears the ultimate responsibility for any breach that endangers Americans.
“I am less interested in passing out blame than I am in learning from and correcting these mistakes to make us safer, for ultimately the buck stops with me,” Obama said. “As president, I have a solemn responsibility to protect our nation and our people, and when the system fails, it is my responsibility.”
The president said he had ordered steps to guard against a repeat, including making sure some agency is responsible for investigating all high-priority threats, directing that intelligence reports be distributed more quickly and to more people, strengthening analysis of raw intelligence reports and making it easier to add individuals to terrorist watch and no-fly lists.
Obama had a new tone Thursday, taking responsibility himself and adding his White House staff to the list of government offices and agencies that failed to stop 23-year-old Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab from boarding Northwest Airlines Flight 253 despite numerous warning signs.
In earlier statements, first from Hawaii and this week from the White House, Obama didn’t mention his own responsibility, and on Tuesday he called the failures by intelligence agencies a massive screw-up.
Obama spoke as the White House released a redacted summary of its internal review of the lapses that allowed Abdulmutallab onto the plane even though his father had told U.S. officials he was involved with Islamic militants. He had bought a one-way ticket with cash and he had no luggage.
Abdulmutallab has been charged in a federal indictment with trying to blow up the plane, and has told investigators he was working with the al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula terror network.
In an apparent effort to answer criticism he has treated the Christmas Day attempt and other threats as a criminal problem rather than a national security threat, Obama said again the United States is at war with the al-Qaida terrorist network and its branches.
“We are at war. We are at war against al-Qaida, a far-reaching network of violence and hatred that attacked us on 9/11, that killed nearly 3,000 innocent people and that is plotting to strike us again,” he said.
“And we will do whatever it takes to defeat them.”
At the same time, a White House report referred to Abdulmutallab as “the individual terrorist,” and Obama stressed the threat of lone Muslims such as Abdulmutallab being drawn to al-Qaida.
“That’s why we must communicate clearly to Muslims around the world that al-Qaida offers nothing except a bankrupt vision of misery and death, including the murder of fellow Muslims, while the United States stands with those who seek justice and progress,” he said.