US intelligence chief vows action after Obama rebuke

Last Updated: Wednesday, January 6, 2010 - 22:27

Washington: Bruised by a stinging rebuke from President Barack Obama, the top US intelligence chief has pledged to repair flaws in the security services to confront an evolving threat from terror groups.

"The intelligence community received the president`s message today -- we got it, and we are moving forward to meet the new challenges," Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair said in a statement.
"We can and we must outthink, outwork and defeat the enemy`s new ideas. The intelligence community will do that as directed by the president, working closely with our nation`s entire national security team."

An angry Obama Tuesday blasted US spy chiefs accusing them of an intelligence "screw-up" that left a US airliner carrying 290 people open to a Al-Qaeda attack on Christmas Day which was only narrowly averted.

In a highly unusual public rebuke of the US clandestine community, Obama made a terse televised statement about the thwarted bombing, after gathering agency chiefs and national security aides at a high-stakes White House meeting.

"It is increasingly clear that intelligence was not fully analyzed or fully leveraged," Obama said, saying that missed "red flags" before the attack were more serious than originally thought.

"That`s not acceptable, and I will not tolerate it."

Obama was even more explicit during the meeting in the secure White House Situation Room, an official said, calling for immediate repairs to the flawed US homeland security system.
"This was a screw-up that could have been disastrous," the official, speaking on condition of anonymity, quoted Obama as saying in the meeting. Related article: Obama raged at intel `screw up`

"We dodged a bullet but just barely. It was averted by brave individuals not because the system worked," the president said, according to the official.

Nigerian suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, is accused of trying to bring down the Northwest jet outside Detroit with explosives sewn into his underwear.

The device failed to explode as the plane approached Detroit setting off a fire, and passengers and crew sprung into action, thwarting his attempted attack.

As yet no heads have rolled over the incident, and White House spokesman Robert Gibbs dodged the issue when asked Tuesday by reporters if anyone would lose their jobs.

But a chagrined Blair admitted mistakes had been made. "The system did not catch Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab and prevent him from boarding an airliner and entering the United States. We must be able to stop such attempts," he said.

In the statement released just hours after Obama`s very public dressing-down, Blair said progress had been made "in developing collection and analysis capabilities and improving collaboration."

But he stressed "we need to strengthen our ability to stop new tactics such as the efforts of individual suicide terrorists.

"The threat has evolved, and we need to anticipate new kinds of attacks and improve our ability to stay ahead of them and protect America."

Obama said probes into the botched plot to blow up the airliner showed US intelligence missed other "red flags" as well as the already revealed fact that Abdulmutallab was a Nigerian extremist who had traveled to Yemen.

He said US intelligence knew that Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula wanted to strike not only US targets in Yemen but in the United States itself over the holiday season.

"The bottom line is this -- the US government had sufficient information to have uncovered this plot and potentially disrupt the Christmas Day attack, but our intelligence community failed to connect those dots," Obama said.

"This was not a failure to collect intelligence, it was a failure to integrate and understand the intelligence that we already had.

"When a suspected terrorist is able to board a plane with explosives on Christmas Day, the system has failed in a potentially disastrous way."

Obama promised that he would lay out further steps to safeguard aviation security in the coming weeks, including better integration of information and enhanced passenger screening.

US agencies have already moved to boost security measures at airports and moved dozens of names onto no-fly lists.

Bureau Report



First Published: Wednesday, January 6, 2010 - 22:27

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