The White House was poised to release a report yesterday that top aides said will shock Americans about security lapses that allowed a Nigerian man to come close to blowing up a Detroit-bound airliner on December 25.
President Barack Obama was to outline steps the US government is taking to try to shore up airline security, mindful of the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States involving hijacked airliners.
The White House was due to release a declassified review of what went wrong to allow the Christmas Day bombing attempt in which Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, is accused of trying to detonate explosives sewn into his underwear.
By releasing the review, Obama may be seeking to limit the political damage to his administration ahead of expected congressional committee reviews of the attempted attack. Obama already has acknowledged a security “screw-up.”
White House national security adviser James Jones told USA Today of the report: “Once people read it, I think, there’s a certain shock to it. The man in the street will be surprised that, you know, these correlations weren’t made.”
What was shocking, said another official, was the fact that various strands of intelligence were available that, if put together properly, would have made clear that the bombing suspect should have been put on a “no-fly” list preventing him from boarding.
Among the lapses was the fact that Abdulmutallab’s father had gone to the US Embassy in Nigeria and told officials that his son had taken up radical views. This information was never properly acted upon.
‘A few additional questions’
An administration official said on Thursday that Customs and Border Protection officers had planned to question Abdulmutallab upon arrival in Detroit, acknowledging that they had found a record about him in an intelligence database.
“They were going to ask him a few additional questions after he landed before allowing him admission into the country,” the official said, noting that no new information about Abdulmutallab had emerged while the plane was airborne.
The official said Abdulmutallab would not have been barred from boarding the plane in Amsterdam or selected for additional screening because he was not on any of the government’s watch lists.
“We had in our possession information that likely could have prevented or disrupted the incident on the 25th of December from happening,” said White House spokesperson Robert Gibbs.
Despite the security lapses and miscues, there has been no sign of any staff shake-up looming, although Obama has heavily criticized the “intelligence community” and said there must be accountability.
The Nigerian suspect was indicted earlier this week in Detroit on charges of attempted murder and trying to use a weapon of mass destruction to kill the 300 people on board the Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit.
A top Yemeni official said yesterday that Abdulmutallab was recruited by al Qaeda in London and met a radical American Muslim cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki, in Yemen.
Awlaki has been linked to the gunman who killed 13 people at the Fort Hood army base in Texas last month.