President Obama said Thursday he expects top U.S. security agencies to submit by tonight their preliminary findings on the review he ordered on the attempted Christmas Day terrorist act.
The president said he spoke this morning with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and John Brennan, assistant to the president for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, about the “human and systemic failures” that allowed an alleged terrorist to purportedly attempt to blow up an international flight to Detroit.
Mr. Obama said he will review the assessments over the long, New Year’s weekend, then meet Tuesday with agency leaders to discuss ongoing reviews as well as security enhancements and intelligence-sharing improvements.
Authorities say that on Christmas Day a 23-year-old Nigerian named Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attempted to blow up Northwest Airlines flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit as the plane made its final landing approach.
Abdulmutallab allegedly used an explosive he stashed undetected in his underpants.
Mr. Obama said his called to Ms. Napolitano included discussions about what the agency has done since the incident to review detection capabilities and enhanced security measures.
Obama has demanded answers on why the U.S. intelligence community never pieced together information that could have prevented Abdulmutallab, charged with trying to destroy the plane, from getting on board. Obama called the situation “totally unacceptable” when he met with reporters Tuesday and put his top intelligence officials on notice that he wanted changes.
Administration officials have spent the last week poring over reams of data, looking for failings that allowed Abdulmutallab to board the flight that began in Nigeria. Officials have been sending details to Mr. Brennan, who has emerged at the center of the review.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, an offshoot of Osama bin Laden’s group, claimed it was behind the attempt to bomb the Northwest airliner.
Senior U.S. officials told the Associated Press that intelligence authorities are looking at conversations between the suspect in the failed attack and at least one al Qaeda member. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, said the conversations were vague or coded, but the intelligence community believes that, in hindsight, the communications may have been referring to the Detroit attack.
Officials said the link between the suspect’s planning and al Qaeda’s goals was becoming clearer as the review progressed.
The goal now, officials say, is to do everything the U.S. can to prevent a repeat. Even so, they acknowledge a perfect system is impossible to create and it will take weeks to complete a more comprehensive investigation.
Abdulmutallab had been placed in one expansive database, but he never made it onto more restrictive lists that would have caught the attention of U.S. counter-terrorist screeners, despite his father’s warnings to U.S. Embassy officials in Nigeria last month. Those warnings did not result in Abdulmutallab’s U.S. visa being revoked.
U.S. investigators said Abdulmutallab told them he received training and instructions from al-Qaida operatives in Yemen. Yemen’s government has said Abdulmutallab spent two periods in the country, from 2004 to 2005 and from August to December of this year, just before the attempted attack.
The U.S. has increasingly provided intelligence, surveillance and training to Yemeni forces during the past year, and has provided some firepower, according to a senior U.S. defense official, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the subject.
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• The Associated Press contributed to this report.