Obama slams intelligence failings in US plane plot
WASHINGTON: US President Barack Obama Tuesday lashed US intelligence Tuesday for missing “red flags” in the Arabian peninsula that could have disrupted a plot to blow up a US-bound plane and vowed to stop future lapses.
“It is increasingly clear that intelligence was not fully analyzed or fully leveraged,” Obama said in a terse televised statement. “That’s not acceptable, and I will not tolerate it.” He was speaking after meeting US spy chiefs and top national security aides at the White House to discuss two probes into the attempt to blow up a Northwest airliner as it approached Detroit on December 25.
“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.
“When a suspected terrorist is able to board a plane with explosives on Christmas Day, the system has failed in a potentially disastrous way,” he said.
“It’s my responsibility to find out why, and to correct that failure so that we can prevent such attacks in the future.” The findings showed US intelligence missed other “red flags” in the Arabian peninsula as well as the already revealed fact that the top suspect, 23-year-old Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, was an extremist who had traveled to Yemen, Obama said.
Sanaa has been under increasing pressure in recent days to deal with an Al-Qaeda cell in the country which has claimed to be behind the plot to blow up the plane mid-air. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has also urged attacks on Western interests in Yemen.
The US embassy in Yemen reopened Tuesday after a two-day closure prompted by fears of an attack as US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned unrest in the Arab country was a threat to global stability.
The US embassy said on its website that Yemeni security forces had addressed a “specific area of concern” in the north of the capital Sanaa on Monday, paving the way for the reopening.But full services at the British, French and Japanese embassies have yet to resume.
Investigations spanning from west Africa to Europe to the Middle East have been trying to piece together the would-be bomber’s whereabouts and actions leading up to the Christmas Day attack, foiled when the explosives failed to detonate properly.
Dutch prosecutors said Tuesday Abdulmutallab had probably obtained the explosives, which were stitched into his underwear, before he arrived at Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport where he boarded the US-bound flight.
White House said earlier he had been providing useful leads during his interrogations by the FBI as he awaits his arraignment on Friday in Detroit.
“Abdulmutallab spent a number of hours with FBI investigators in which we gleaned usable, actionable intelligence,” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.
The United States has unleashed a barrage of measures to stop would-be attackers riding planes into the country, overhauling its terror watchlists and adding dozens more suspects to “no-fly” lists.
Further boosting security measures, all travelers coming from or via 14 “terror linked” countries will have to undergo compulsory enhanced screening.
US officials also revealed that “additional visas” had been revoked since the Christmas Day, but gave no details of how many or which countries the applicants were from.
“Additional visas have been revoked for people that we believe have suspected ties to terrorism,” US State Department spokesman PJ Crowley told reporters.
Nigeria, one of the 14 countries on the security list, on Tuesday protested the new rules. “I made it clear, through the US ambassador, to the US government that this is unacceptable to Nigeria,” Foreign Minister Ojo Maduekwe told journalists.
EU security experts will meet in Brussels on Thursday to discuss the US emergency travel measures, amid privacy and health concerns over broader use of full body scanners.
Obama said, meanwhile, it had been decided not to transfer any more Guantanamo Bay prisoners to Yemen for now due to the “unsettled situation”there.
“But make no mistake. We will close Guantanamo prison, which has damaged our national security interests and become a tremendous recruiting tool for Al-Qaeda,” Obama said.
The Obama administration has been under intense pressure from domestic critics and some friendly lawmakers not to send any more inmates back to Yemen, because of fears they will slip into extremism. — AFP