President Obama took responsibility Thursday for the government’s failure to head off a Christmas Day bomber, saying “ultimately the buck stops with me,” and he released a report that showed eight years after the Sept. 11 attacks the government still is not properly analyzing and acting on intelligence.
The report points to “a series of human errors” that kept the government from stopping the attempted bombing, including one involving someone in the government apparently misspelling the suspected bomber’s name in a database search. But Mr. Obama and his team repeatedly blamed the system rather than any individuals.
“As president, I have a solemn responsibility to protect our nation and our people, and when the system fails, it is my responsibility,” Mr. Obama said.
The six-page report summary, a declassified version of a longer report given to Mr. Obama, details numerous lapses in intelligence analysis. One such lapse was when the intelligence community failed to add the suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, to various terrorist watch lists or the no-fly list after his father warned U.S. officials in Nigeria of his son’s radicalization. Also, intelligence analysts failed to weave a series of leads “into a coherent story” that could have led to the disruption of the plot.
Mr. Obama said the failure to piece together information on Mr. Abdulmutallab, who officials say attempted to detonate a bomb during a flight to Detroit, was not the result of a breakdown at any one agency but rather an overall systemic failure. He said he would hold himself and his staff accountable, but the White House did not say whether it would fire anyone over the incident.
Several Republicans have said that’s exactly what should happen, even demanding the ouster of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.
“The Obama administration’s homeland security system failed miserably,” said Rep. Todd Tiahrt, Kansas Republican. “Were it not for an act of God, hundreds of lives would have been lost and our nation paralyzed. The time has come for Secretary Napolitano to immediately resign her position at the Department of Homeland Security.”
Mr. Obama said the country remains at war with terrorists and he ordered security agencies to strengthen their analyzing practices so that information that could prevent an attack would not fall through the cracks. He also called on intelligence officials to re-evaluate the process of placing suspected terrorists on the no-fly list.
“We are at war against al Qaeda, 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. And we will do whatever it takes to defeat them,” he said.
Mr. Obama said he also wants security agencies to develop a strategy that “addresses the unique challenges posed by lone recruits.” Authorities say Mr. Abdulmutallab is thought to have acted alone in the botched attack after receiving training and instructions from members of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
Mr. Obama reversed course earlier this week when he announced that detainee transfers from the prison at U.S. Naval Base Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to Yemen would be halted, citing an ongoing security situation. In a letter to Mr. Obama on Thursday, Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, urged the president to go further by stopping transfers to any country with a significant al Qaeda presence, including Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Algeria and Sudan.
“We are profoundly troubled by the questionable nature of the assurances the administration has received from some countries to detain or monitor released detainees,” they wrote. “The number of detainees who have been released or transferred and returned to fight for al Qaeda or an affiliated Islamist terrorist organization has been steadily increasing.”
Sen. Olympia J. Snowe, Maine Republican, said it is appalling that the government has not learned from mistakes leading up to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.