US intelligence and counterterrorism agencies missed chances to prevent the Christmas Day airline bomb plot because of human and technical errors, a US Senate report issued states.
The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence issued yesterday a scathing summary of a 55-page classified report detailing the failures by the intelligence agencies, FBI and State Department that allowed the attempted bombing by Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.
The report cited human error, technical problems, systemic obstacles, analytical misjudgments and competing priorities as the reasons Abdulmutallab was able to elude detection before boarding a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit with a bomb hidden in his underwear.
Abdulmutallab was thwarted by passengers and flight crew and he was subsequently charged in US court with the plot. The attempted attack led US authorities to tighten airline security once again and revamp intelligence operations.
“We cannot depend on dumb luck, incompetent terrorists and alert citizens to keep our families safe,” said Senator Kit Bond, the top Republican on the panel. “It is critical we make changes to prevent these types of intelligence failures in the future.”
The committee also issued a series of recommendations, including simplifying the US watchlists for terrorism suspects, improving intelligence dissemination and improving analysis of such intelligence.
“It’s vital that reforms be made quickly to prevent future attacks by al Qaeda, its affiliates and other terrorist group,” said Senator Dianne Feinstein, chairman of the committee.
The report said the National Security Agency, responsible for monitoring foreign communications, failed to pursue further information about Abdulmutallab.
Further, the National Counterrorism Center merely processed watchlist information and failed to conduct further analysis or research about Abdulmutallab that could have led to him being placed on a no-fly list, the report said.
Additionally, an FBI counterterrorism analyst could not access relevant intelligence reports in the FBI’s systems because her computer was not configured properly. Had she been able to see those reports, she may have identified the threat, the report said.
The summary also cited previously known problems, such as the failure by the State Department to revoke Abdulmutallab’s US visa and the failure by intelligence agencies to fully disseminate intelligence about him.
The report also noted the intelligence community was too narrowly focused on the potential threat to US interests in Yemen by an Al Qaeda affiliate rather than attacks on the US homeland.
The summary report did note that the investigation and recommendations benefited from hindsight and that the intelligence about Abdulmutallab was part of thousands of reports about threats the intelligence community reviewed.