Obama Discusses Airline Attack With Intelligence Officials


Kent Klein

U.S. President Barack Obama has been briefed on early reports about last week's aborted airline terror attack.  The president has received a report on how a Nigerian man suspected of terrorist links boarded a U.S.-bound jetliner and allegedly tried to bomb it.

President Obama is not saying what is in the preliminary report from John Brennan, his assistant for homeland security and counterterrorism.  But a written statement from the president says he has talked with Brennan and will discuss the issue with other U.S. intelligence advisers over the next few days.

The president ordered a review of intelligence and travel policies after 23-year-old Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab apparently smuggled explosives onto a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on December 25.  He allegedly tried and failed to set off the explosives, which were concealed on his body.

Mr. Obama says he also spoke with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on Thursday to hear about her agency's review.

The president is on vacation in his home state of Hawaii, and says he will meet with the heads of several homeland security agencies on Tuesday, after he returns to Washington.

Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, which is affiliated with Osama bin Laden's organization, claims it was behind the attempted bombing.

The father of the suspect had warned U.S. officials in Nigeria about his son's extremist views.  The suspect's name was placed in a U.S. government database, but not on the list that would have prevented him from boarding the plane.

President Obama said on Tuesday that such lapses cannot be allowed.

"When our government has information on a known extremist and that information is not shared and acted upon as it should have been and this extremist boards a plane with dangerous explosives that could cost nearly 300 lives, a systemic failure has occurred," said President Obama. "And I consider that totally unacceptable."

The president has demanded to know why the U.S. intelligence community did not piece together the information that could have kept the suspect off the plane.  Reports say questions are being aimed at the National Counterterrorism Center, the CIA and the State Department, among other agencies.

Mr. Obama told reporters Tuesday the nation's intelligence practices need to be reformed immediately. 

"We need to learn from this episode and act quickly to fix the flaws in our system because our security is at stake and lives are at stake," said Mr. Obama.

The president has also ordered an investigation of security screening practices at U.S. airports.  Officials in Nigeria and the Netherlands announced Wednesday they will begin using full-body scanners on some flights.

Republicans have criticized Mr. Obama for waiting several days after the incident to make his first statement.  Former Vice President Dick Cheney accused the president of trying to pretend the U.S. is not at war with terrorists.

White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer responded that Cheney was injecting politics into what the administration is treating as a terrorist attack. 

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