Honolulu – President Barack Obama said Tuesday “a systemic failure” allowed the attempted Christmas Day attack on a Detroit-bound flight from Amsterdam. He called it “totally unacceptable.” The president said he wants preliminary results by Thursday from two investigations he has ordered to examine the many lapses that occurred.
“There was a mix of human and systemic failures that contributed to this potential catastrophic breach of security,” Obama said.
It will take weeks for a more comprehensive investigation into what allowed a 23-year-old Nigerian carrying explosives onto the flight despite the fact the suspect had possible ties to al-Qaida, Obama said.
“It’s essential that we diagnose the problems quickly,” the president said, interrupting his vacation for a second consecutive day to address the incident, with more anger this time directed at the flaws in the U.S. system.
The suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, was on one advisory list, but never made it onto more restrictive lists that would have caught the attention of U.S. counterterrorist screeners, despite his father’s warnings to U.S. Embassy officials in Nigeria last month. Those warnings also did not result in Abdulmutallab’s U.S. visa being revoked.
On top of that, airport security equipment did not detect the bomb-making devices and materials he allegedly carried on board the Northwest Airlines flight carrying nearly 300 people.
Obama said many things went right after the incident, with passengers and the flight crew subduing the man and government officials working quickly to increase security. He singled out his homeland security secretary, Janet Napolitano, backing her much-criticized comments that the attempted terror attack showed the aviation security system worked.
“As Secretary Napolitano has said, once the suspect attempted to take down Flight 253, after his attempt, it’s clear that passengers and crew, our homeland security systems, and our aviation security took all appropriate actions,” Obama said.
Napolitano received so much criticism for her Sunday talk show remarks that she did another round of interviews the following day to say the system did not work in preventing Abdulmutallab from getting on the plane with a bomb. But, she said, the response system did work after the man was subdued. She contends her remarks were taken out of context.
Republicans are questioning her judgment and a few have called for her resignation. The White House says her job is safe.
However, Obama said: “What’s also clear is this: When our government has information on a known extremist and that information is not shared and acted upon as it should have been … a systemic failure has occurred. And I consider that totally unacceptable.”
The two reviews, which Obama said got under way on Sunday, are looking at airport security procedures and the U.S. system of terror watchlists.
“It now appears that weeks ago this information was passed to a component of our intelligence community but was not effectively distributed so as to get the suspect’s name on a no-fly list,” Obama said. “Even without this one report, there were bits of information available within the intelligence community that could have and should have been pieced together.”
Had that happened, he said, “the warning signs would have triggered red flags, and the suspect would have never been allowed to board that plane for America.”