- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 3, 2010

President Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser said Sunday that 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.

John Brennan, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, said that despite those numerous alerts, “There was no single piece of intelligence that said, ‘This guy is going to get on a plane.’”

But taking a different tack from Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano — who said “the system worked” — 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,” he said. “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.”

A 23-year-old Nigerian, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, is charged with assembling an explosive device, including 80 grams of Pentrite, or PETN, in the aircraft toilet of a Detroit-bound Northwest Airlines flight. He planned to detonate it with a syringe of chemicals, but passengers intervened and the plot to blow up the plane failed.

Mr. Abdulmutallab has been linked to a branch of al Qaeda in Yemen, and just last month his father went to the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria to report that his son had expressed radical views and that he was worried about his son’s plans. The embassy alerted Washington, and the son’s name was logged in to a database of more than 500,000 people, but he was not put on the “no-fly” list of 4,000 people or another list of nearly 15,000 people who are stopped for additional screening when they try to board a plane.

In addition, the U.S. visa held by the attempted bomber was not revoked.

Mr. Brennan is leading a White House review of the incident. Mr. Obama has said there was a “systemic failure” to prevent the attack, which he said was instigated by an affiliate in Yemen of the al Qaeda terrorist network.

Mr. Obama has ordered a thorough look at the shortcomings that permitted the plot, and he has summoned homeland security officials to meet with him at the White House on Tuesday.

Mr. Brennan and other top officials have come under fire because of the oversights. He stood by Ms. Napolitano, although he acknowledged she has “taken some hits” for saying that the airline security system had worked. It didn’t, and she clarified her remarks to show she meant that the system worked only after the attack was foiled, Mr. Brennan said.

He said the situation was not like before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when intelligence agencies failed to share tips and information that might have uncovered the plot. “There’s no evidence whatsoever that any agency or department was reluctant to share” information, he said.

Still, he added that much more should have been done.

“What we need to do as an intelligence community, as a government, is be able to bring those disparate bits and pieces of information together so we prevent Mr. Abdulmutallab from getting on the plane,” Mr. Brennan said.

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