- The Washington Times - Friday, January 8, 2010

The White House is defending Michael Leiter, the Bush appointee who heads the agency charged with integrating terrorist threat information, as Congress prepares its own oversight hearings into the failed airline terrorist attack on Christmas Day.

In the coming weeks, Congress will begin its probe into what went wrong when a Nigerian national trained in Yemen by al Qaeda nearly blew up a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit.

A preliminary report on the incident released Thursday by the White House found that the intelligence community collected enough information to at least cancel Abdul Farouk Abdulmutallab’s visa to enter the country.

Despite those mistakes, President Obama has not fired any senior executives in the intelligence community. In particular, the White House defended Mr. Leiter after newspapers reported that he went on a ski vacation after the Christmas attack.

John Brennan, the deputy national security adviser for counterterrorism and homeland security, defended his decision to grant Mr. Leiter’s request to leave for a ski vacation starting Dec. 26.

AP INTERACTIVE: Key events leading up to the attempted attack on a Detroit-bound flight

“I said, ‘Mike, no, you deserve this vacation. You need to be with your son.’ So I was the one who told him he should go out there,” Mr. Brennan said Thursday at a White House news briefing.

Denis McDonough, the chief of staff of the National Security Council, issued a statement saying Mr. Leiter spent Christmas Day and evening at the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) in McLean, Va.

As NCTC director, one of Mr. Leiter’s top tasks is connecting the disparate pieces of threat reporting and disseminating those pieces of information to the rest of the intelligence community.

Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent and chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, will hold a hearing Jan. 20 at which Mr. Leiter, Director of National Intelligence (DNI) Dennis C. Blair and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano are scheduled to testify.

Leslie Phillips, communications director for the committee, said the hearings would “be a broad look at the intelligence reforms passed in 2004 through the prism of the Dec. 25 attempted attack.”

Mr. Lieberman said in a statement, “As the president noted, while enforcement and intelligence communities have worked successfully together to disrupt several plots against our country, the intelligence to discover and disrupt the plot masterminded by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula was available to our government. But it was not pieced together.”

The senator’s statement promised a focus on the structure of the intelligence agencies and whether Mr. Leiter and Mr. Blair have been given impossible jobs.

“We will ask Admiral Blair and Director Leiter why the intelligence community was unable to bring together pieces of intelligence held by various agencies to detect this plot and whether the DNI and NCTC have the authority to integrate the intelligence community into a single, integrated enterprise,” Mr. Lieberman said.

Rick “Ozzie” Nelson, a recently retired senior executive at NCTC and National Security Council official, said Mr. Leiter “is a consummate professional who has enhanced and improved NCTC’s effectiveness over the last years.”

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