Taken together, the father's report, the visa and the intercepts might have been enough to flag Abdulmutallab for posting on a no-fly watch list or for further action. But within the existing terror database, under the current assessment guidelines, such correlations were not made; the father's concerns were given a low priority and were not pursued.
The first of two orders Obama issued Tuesday directed national security agencies to produce by Thursday a written report detailing "all intelligence or other information in U.S. government files" through last Friday "relevant or potentially relevant" to the bombing attempt and to Abdulmutallab, "the date on which the intelligence or other information was available" and how it was handled, as well as information on current watch-list "standards and processes." The second order directed a review of aviation screening.
More extensive reviews, led by John O. Brennan, the White House counterterrorism chief, and the Department of Homeland Security, will look at what changes need to be made in the watch list and airport detection systems that failed to flag Abdulmutallab as an imminent security risk and allowed him to board an aircraft with explosives.
The seriousness of the lapse, and Obama's reference to both "human and systemic" failures, appear to have revived resentments within the intelligence community, particularly between the CIA and the director of national intelligence. When the DNI's office was created, as part of the post-Sept. 11 intelligence reforms, it usurped the CIA's position as the head of the intelligence community, and the creation of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) under the DNI gave the counterterrorism center primary responsibility for integrating all information.
"The United States government set up NCTC to connect the dots on terrorism," the intelligence official said. "If somebody thinks it could have been done better in this case, they know where to go for answers."
This article offers an excellent summary of the current state of the administration's efforts to get to the bottom of the very serious security lapse this Christmas. It includes a video of President Obama's Tuesday statement from Hawaii. It also includes its predictable share of opinions from former Bush administration intelligence officials.
The article asserts that President Obama signaled that Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano's job is safe. That is as it should be. The secretary initially mishandled the administration's response to the attempted terrorist attack on the Delta international flight. But she correctly walked it back the following day. To be fair, Homeland Security/TSA did not have the key information it needed to have received from NCTC to do the job. It fell through the cracks for a long list of reasons.
So-called stove-piping is still a problem. The CIA remains jealous of its former prerogatives. The lists of persons who might pose a danger to the United States remain virtually unworkable. And accountability is diffused throughout the entire administration.
In my opinion, President Obama's focus will bring a number of necessary changes to the system that will actually make air travel safer. At least we hope so. It is unrealistic to assume 100% safety.