Obama demands change, slams intelligence after Detroit plot (Roundup)
By Chris Cermak Jan 6, 2010, 0:24 GMT
Washington - US President Barack Obama issued a sharp condemnation of his intelligence agencies on Tuesday and promised major changes that would prevent more security failures after last month's attempt to blow up an airliner over Detroit.
After a meeting with cabinet members and top security officials, obama said it was clear that the US could have stopped the 23-year- old Nigerian, who boarded a plane in Amsterdam and allegedly tried to detonate explosives just before landing in Detroit.
'The bottom line is this: the US government had sufficient information to have uncovered this plot and potentially disrupted the Christmas Day attack, but our intelligence community failed to connect those dots,' Obama said after the White House meeting.
'When a suspected terrorist is able to board a plane with explosives on Christmas Day, the system has failed in a potentially disastrous way.'
In the coming days, Obama said he would announce more steps to improve US intelligence gathering and release the results of major security reviews that he ordered soon after the December 25 attack.
Obama said he had halted the transfer of inmates from the Guantanamo Bay detention facility back to Yemen, where an al-Qaeda arm claimed responsibility for the failed Christmas plot.
About half of the nearly 200 remaining prisoners at Guantanamo are Yemeni citizens, making them a key component of the administration's pledge to close the controversial facility in Cuba.
Obama insisted he still intends to close Guantanamo. But the 'unsettled situation' in Yemen, which has been striking al-Qaeda strongholds with US help, forced the transfers to be stopped.
Other security changes will be primarily aimed at improving coordination between intelligence agencies, which Obama highlighted as a chief cause of the US failure to stop the plot.
'This was not a failure to collect intelligence. It was a failure to integrate and understand the intelligence that we already had,' Obama said.
He noted that agencies knew for months that the Yemeni-based al- Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula was plotting an attack on the United States.
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the 23-year-old Nigerian charged with attempting to blow up the Delta-Northwest Airlines flight, was on a generic terrorism watch list of some 550,000 names. Obama said it was clear the suspect should have been placed on a more restrictive no- fly list.
'I will accept that intelligence by its nature is imperfect, but it is increasingly clear that intelligence was not fully analyzed or fully leveraged. That's not acceptable, and I will not tolerate it,' Obama said.
Coming one day after Obama returned from a two-week holiday in Hawaii, the White House meeting was attended by more than a dozen top administration officials including Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Defence Secretary Robert Gates and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director Leon Panetta.
Critics have argued that the Christmas plot exposed weaknesses in the US intelligence system that should have been dealt with in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Obama has promised 'accountability' for the failures, but it did not appear that any resignations were planned. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Obama had full confidence in his top officials, including Panetta and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.
Some security changes already took effect this week. The White House said Monday that thousands of names had been added or removed from terrorism watch lists held by the United States to guard against further attacks.
The State Department said Tuesday that additional US visas had been revoked from people suspected of terrorism ties in light of the attack. Abdulmutallab had a US visa when he boarded the Detroit-bound plane.
Airport screening procedures have been tightened. US-bound flight passengers from more than a dozen countries will automatically face tougher security measures, including travellers from Yemen, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia.
Security scares led to the partial evacuation of two US airports on Tuesday.
A small California airport was shut down after some luggage emitted fumes, while sections of an international airport in Minnesota were evacuated and sealed off because of a suspicious bag. No dangerous materials were found.