- The Washington Times - Monday, January 4, 2010

Top Republicans said Sunday that President Obama has been distracted from the terrorism threat against the United States by his ambitious domestic agenda — health care, climate change, the economy — and one former Bush official said the president has let down the national intelligence community.

Meanwhile, Mr. Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser said there was “no smoking gun” in the attempted bombing of a U.S. airliner on Christmas Day, despite a slew of missed red flags, including the facts that the bomber paid cash for his ticket and checked in without luggage.

“In this one instance, the system didn’t work. There were some human errors. There were some lapses. We need to strengthen it. But day in and day out, the successes are there,” said John Brennan, the assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism.

Nine days after the failed bombing, Democrats and Republicans continued to stake out their political territory on terrorism, with each side keeping an eye on the midterm elections later this year. Republicans charged that Mr. Obama has given national security short shrift as he has focused on domestic issues.

“Heaven’s sake, if you’re in this huge health care fight and worried about the economy and global warming and all that sort of thing,” said Thomas Kean, a former Republican governor of New Jersey and former chairman of the Sept. 11 commission. “That’s what they were concentrating on. And I think they weren’t giving this enough attention. It’s understandable, but it’s not acceptable.”

Mr. Kean said the intelligence community is taking its cue from the president, and the whole system breaks down if Mr. Obama fails to support his team.

“They need support; they need coordination. The president needs to supply the leadership. And no matter what else is going on, this has always got to be No. 1,” he said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Frances Townsend, who served as homeland security adviser to President George W. Bush, said on the same CNN show that Mr. Obama received a briefing about a Christmas threat before departing for Hawaii, but did not spur his intelligence team to vigilance.

“The entire federal bureaucracy takes its cue from the White House in terms of priorities. The president has been very involved in his domestic policy agenda. And that can’t be helpful to the intelligence community, to the law enforcement community and those who really need to fight for his time and attention now,” she said.

Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican and ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said federal authorities failed twice to prevent the attempt to blow up a U.S. airliner over Detroit on Christmas Day.

Ms. Collins said authorities failed to act on a credible report from the suspect’s father that should have caused the State Department to revoke his visa.

But Mr. Brennan said, “There was no single piece of intelligence that said, ‘This guy is going to get on a plane.’”

Mr. Brennan said there were “a number of streams of information” and “little snippets” from intelligence channels.

“But there was nothing that brought it all together,” said Mr. Brennan, who made appearances on the Sunday TV news shows: ABC’s “This Week,” NBC’s “Meet the Press,” CNN’s “State of the Union” and “Fox News Sunday.”

Still, he said, much more should have been done.

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