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It was a catastrophic breach of security: Obama

Last Updated: Wednesday, December 30, 2009 - 10:17

Washington: President Obama has said that a "mix of human and systemic failure" allowed a terror suspect to board a US airliner on Christmas Day even when the intelligence community had information that should have triggered "red flags".
Information on the Nigerian suspect, Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab, should have been sufficient to alert authorities to prevent him from getting on the Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit, he said in a brief statement Tuesday during his vacation in Hawaii.

"A systemic failure has occurred, and I consider that totally unacceptable," Obama said. "What already is apparent is that there was a mix of human and systemic failures that contributed to this potential catastrophic breach of security."

"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, he said.

Obama`s second statement in two days came after he was told during a private briefing Tuesday morning that the government had a variety of information in its possession before the thwarted bombing that would have been a clear warning sign had it been shared among agencies, the New York Times said.

Two unnamed officials cited by the influential US daily said the government had intelligence from Yemen before Friday that leaders of a branch of al Qaeda there were talking about "a Nigerian" being prepared for a terrorist attack.

While the information did not include a name, officials said it would have been evident had it been compared to information about Abdulmutallab. The government also had more information about where Abdulmutallab had been and what some of his plans were.

The daily quoted an official as saying the administration was "increasingly confident" that al Qaeda had a role in the attack, as the group`s Yemeni branch has publicly claimed.

Obama himself said US intelligence officials had received information signalling that AbdulMutallab might be a terrorism threat but failed to take steps to prevent the man from boarding the flight. "It`s been widely reported that the father of the suspect in the Christmas incident warned US officials in Africa about his son`s extremist views," Obama said.

"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 cited "other deficiencies," saying "there were bits of information available within the intelligence community that could have and should have been pieced together."

The screening system implemented after the Sep 11 terrorist attacks on the United States was "not sufficiently up to date to take full advantage of the information we collect and knowledge we have," he said.

"Had this critical information been shared, it could have been compiled with other intelligence, and a fuller, clearer picture of the suspect would have emerged," Obama said. "The warning signs would have triggered red flags, and the suspect would have never been allowed to board that plane for America."

It was his "job to ensure that our intelligence, law enforcement and homeland security systems and the people in them are working effectively and held accountable," Obama said. "I intend to fulfil that responsibility and insist on accountability at every level."


First Published: Wednesday, December 30, 2009 - 10:17
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