News / USA

Christmas Day Attack Highlights US Intelligence Gaps

Multimedia

Audio
TEXT SIZE - +
Gary Thomas

The 2001 attacks, in which terrorists hijacked airliners to use as guided missiles, sparked a major overhaul of the U.S. intelligence community. 

Yet on Christmas Day, a would-be suicide bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, nearly blew up an airliner in flight from Amsterdam to Detroit.  President Obama said Abdulmutallab was acting on orders from al-Qaida's branch in Yemen.  Not only did he manage to get explosives on the aircraft, but he got on the U.S.-bound flight even after his own father had warned the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria of his son's growing radical Islamist sympathies.

Professor Amy Zegart, who teaches on intelligence issues at UCLA, says the Christmas Day attack was clearly a major intelligence failure.

"I think it's hard to conclude that it's an intelligence success when somebody who is a foreign national, and there's a tip by NSA [National Security Agency] six months before - or however many months before, from August - whose father actually warns American officials that he's become an extremist, gets on an airplane and tries to blow it up, and the pieces were in the system and nobody thought to raise the alarm," she said.  "How can you conclude that it's anything but a failure?"

In the post 9/11 intelligence reorganization, a new Office of National Intelligence was created to oversee the 16 disparate agencies dealing in intelligence.  The Department of Homeland Security was born to pull together domestic intelligence efforts, including airport security.  And, perhaps most significantly, the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), was set up so all the intelligence agencies could pool information related to terrorism.

Current and former intelligence officials argue that the information on Abdulmutallab was in fact shared.  But, as former CIA director General Michael Hayden tells VOA, it was never properly analyzed - connecting the dots, as intelligence officers like to call it - to raise warning signals.

"These dots look very powerful and connected in retrospect," he said.  "But given the vast ocean of dots that analysts have to work with prospect, this is very daunting task every day, and for the most part they get it right.  Here they didn't.  They didn't connect the dots, or at least didn't connect them in time to take action."

Amy Zegart says the system works better than it used to, particularly with regard to the National Counterterrorism Center.  But, she adds, the intelligence bureaucracy has become more cumbersome than ever.

"By most accounts NCTC has been a dramatic improvement over the fragmented system we had before," she said.  "But we seem to be so bureaucratized with all these reforms, with so many watchlists and so many fusion centers and so many procedures that the system can't work.  The bureaucracy is strangling itself.

But General Hayden says errors will occur because intelligence agencies are not infallible, especially when confronted with a tsunami of information from a wide range of human and electronic sources.

"The real challenge here is the analysis that puts the information together.  These young folks get it right most all the time, but it is unreasonable to expect they will get it right all the time in every instance," he noted.

Zegart warns against another rush to overhaul of the intelligence system in the wake of the Christmas Day incident.

"I hope what we will not see is yet more reorganization because as you know, whenever there's an intelligence failure, our immediate reaction is, let's create another agency, or let's reorganize the ones we have," he added.  "That's not what we need to be doing here. We need to make the system we have work better, not create a new system."

Former CIA director Hayden agrees.

"What you have is a very difficult task that seems to have worked quite well over the past eight years," he explained.  "In this instance it didn't.  But given the reality that you can never be 100 percent successful, when you have a failure, the initial instinct to go back and condemn the entire structure and the entire system is actually counterproductive and, frankly, quite destructive.

Nevertheless, what Amy Zegart calls the finger-pointing of blame has already begun, with the State Department and the National Counterterrorism Center as particular targets.  At least two congressional committees have already planned investigative hearings on the Christmas Day plot.

You May Like

Algerians Vote in Presidential Election

There were few media reports of protests and clashes around the country, but so far no significant violence More

Sharks More Evolved than Previously Thought

The discovery could “profoundly affect our understanding of evolutionary history” More

Pakistan Military Asked to Protect Polio Workers

Request comes as authorities say a Taliban ban on vaccinations in 2012 and deadly attacks on anti-polio teams have prevented thousands of children from getting inoculated More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Google Buys Drone Companyi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X
George Putic
April 15, 2014
In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ray Bonneville Sings the Blues and More on New CD

Singer/songwriter Ray Bonneville has released a new CD called “Easy Gone” with music that reflects his musical and personal journey from French-speaking Canada to his current home in Austin,Texas. The eclectic artist’s fan base extends from Texas to various parts of North America and Europe. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin.
Video

Video Millions Labor in Pakistan's Informal Economy

The World Bank says that in Pakistan, roughly 70 percent work in the so-called informal sector, a part of the economy that is unregulated and untaxed. VOA's Sharon Behn reports from Islamabad on how the informal sector impact's the Pakistani economy.
Video

Video Passover Celebrates Liberation from Bondage

Jewish people around the world are celebrating Passover, a commemoration of their liberation from slavery in Egypt more than 3,300 years ago. According to scripture, God helped the Jews, led by Moses, escape bondage in Egypt and cross the Red Sea into the desert. Zlatica Hoke reports that the story of the Jewish Exodus resonates with other people trying to escape slave-like conditions.
Video

Video Police Pursue Hate Crime Charges Against Kansas Shooting Suspect

Prosecutors are sifting through the evidence in the wake of Sunday’s shootings in a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri that left three people dead. A suspect in the shootings taken into custody is a white supremacist. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, he was well-known to law enforcement agencies and human rights groups alike.
Video

Video In Eastern Ukraine, Pro-unity Activists Emerge from Shadows

Amid the pro-Russian uprisings in eastern Ukraine, there is a large body of activists who support Ukrainian unity and reject Russian intervention. Their activities have remained largely underground, but they are preparing to take on their pro-Moscow opponents, as Henry Ridgwell reports from the eastern city of Donetsk.
Video

Video Basket Maker’s Skills Have World Reach

A prestigious craft show in the U.S. capital offers one-of-a-kind creations by more than 120 artists working in a variety of media. As VOA’s Julie Taboh reports from Washington, one artist lucky enough to be selected says sharing her skills with women overseas is just as significant.
Video

Video UN Report Urges Speedier Action to Avoid Climate Disaster

A new United Nations report says the world must switch from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources to control the effects of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the report (Sunday) following a meeting of scientists and government representatives in Berlin. The comprehensive review follows two recent IPCC reports that detail the certainty of climate change, its impacts and in this most recent report what to do about it. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble has the details.
AppleAndroid