Image: Barack Obama
Pete Souza  /  The White House via AP
In this image released by the White House, President Barack Obama meets with his national security team in the Situation Room of the White House Tuesday.
updated 1/6/2010 7:47:34 AM ET 2010-01-06T12:47:34

President Barack Obama asserted on Tuesday that the U.S. government had enough information to foil the attempted bombing on a Christmas Day airline flight but intelligence agencies "failed to connect the dots."

Obama called that unacceptable and said, "I will not tolerate it."

The accused attacker, 23-year-old Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, has claimed ties to al-Qaida. Witnesses said he ignited an explosive mixture but it failed to do serious damage to the Northwest jetliner or its passengers, and he was subdued by other passengers and airline crew members on the Detroit-bound Northwest Airlines flight.

The president, speaking after meeting with his Cabinet and national security team, declared, "We have to do better and we will do better. And we will do it quickly."

But while he expressed clear displeasure with the U.S. failure to prevent the suspect from boarding a U.S.-bound flight, Obama did not announce any firings or job reassignments.

Obama also said he was suspending the transfer of Guantanamo detainees to Yemen. The Christmas attack has raised concerns about Yemen, because the Nigerian man has claimed to have been acting on instructions from al-Qaida operatives in that country.

Nearly half of the 198 terror suspect detainees held at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba are from Yemen. But Obama reiterated his vow to eventually close the camp.

"Make no mistake, we will close Guantanamo prison," Obama said. The camp, he said, "was an explicit rationale for the formation of al-Qaida" operating in Yemen.

As for the Christmas attack, Obama said it exposed "a potentially disastrous" security failure.

'Red flags'
He spoke after a White House meeting with the officials charged with carrying out two reviews he has ordered. Obama spelled out recent changes in security protocols for airline flights and changes to the government's watchlist of suspected terrorists.

At the meeting in the Situation Room, the president told participants, according to the White House: "This was a screw-up that could have been disastrous. We dodged a bullet but just barely."

There was no finger-pointing at the meeting and the leaders of each agency and department took responsibility for failures at their respective organizations, officials said.

Obama told reporters the security lapse didn't have to do with the collection of information but with the failure to integrate and analyze what was there. The bottom line, he said was that the government had "sufficient information to uncover this plot and potentially disrupt the Christmas Day attack."

"Our intelligence community failed to connect those dots which would have placed the suspect on the no-fly list," he said. "This was not a failure to collect intelligence, it was a failure to integrate and understand the intelligence that we already have."

Obama said that it was clear the government knew that the suspect, Abdulmutallab, had traveled to Yemen and joined with extremists there.

"It now turns out that our intelligence community knew of other red flags that al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula sought to strike not only American targets in Yemen, but the United States itself. And we had information that this group was working with an individual ... who we now know was in fact the individual involved in the Christmas attack," he said.

New security procedures
Some of the tougher procedures Obama demanded have already been put in place.

The Transportation Security Administration directed airlines, beginning Monday, to give full-body, pat-down searches to U.S.-bound travelers from Yemen, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and 11 other countries.

Before Obama's comments, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the president still has full confidence in his three top national security officials: Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair, CIA Director Leon Panetta and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

They were among the 20 high-level officials who sat down with Obama in the White House for a meeting that lasted over 90 minutes.

Since the attempted attack, the government has added dozens of names to its lists of suspected terrorists and those barred from flights bound for the United States.

Video: Will security reforms thwart terrorists?

The additions came after U.S. officials scrutinized a larger database of suspected terrorists, an intelligence official said Monday.

People on the watch list are subject to additional scrutiny before they are allowed to enter this country, while anyone on the no-fly list is barred from boarding aircraft in or headed for the United States.

Abdulmutallab remained in federal custody, charged with trying to destroy the Northwest Airlines flight as it approached Detroit. He is alleged to have smuggled an explosive device onboard and set if off. The device sparked only a fire and not the intended explosion.


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Video: Obama: Security system ‘has failed’

  1. Closed captioning of: Obama: Security system ‘has failed’

    >> aut t present, there waslunt talk from psint obama o tuesday when it comes to t failed christmas day aack on a u.s. airliner. he called the entire performance of the intelligence communit t acceptable. nbc's savannah guthrie 's at the ite house with more on that. savannah, good moing.

    >> reporter: good morning, matt. aides inside the meeti say the president ga agency heads a ster rebuke, telling them point ank this is a screw-up that could have hadragic implications, but fornow, the presidenis standing by his team. no hea rolng yet. the present erged from the nearly two-hour meengnd put the blame squarely on t intellence communit

    >> when a suspected trorist is able to board a plane with explosives on cistmas day, the system has failed in a potentiall disastrouway.

    >> eporter: the president said point blank, the attempted tack would have been avoided if intelligence ancies had pieced together t information they already had in their ssession, including the red flag that al qaeda in the arabian peninla intded to strike targets in t u.s.

    >> ts was not a flure to collect intelligence it was a failure to integrate and undetand the intelligenc that we alrdy had. so, we have to d better and we ll do bette a we have to do it quicy. amican lives are on e line .

    >> reporter: inside the meeting, the president sd he wod tolerate no fingerointing, and aides saygency heads were quick t identify where their own deptments had fail. but are jobs on the line? while promising acuntality, the white house has signale suppt f homeland security cretary jan napolitano despite early misste.

    >> the system worked.

    >> rorter: a aides say the presidt is withholdg judgment on the fes of other top oicials unt the revw byount terror chief jn brnan is complete in a matter of days. the bakdo was information-sharg and lack of creativehinking whin the intelligence comnity. wh the psident has to do is assure tt situation doest happen inhe future.

    >> repter: already, the administtion has add mor explives dettion teams at airports and mor air marshal onflights. dozens ofames he been added the -fly list, hundred re to a list requing secondary ssenger screening. anthe stateepartmen will now require warningsbout potential terrorists t include current visa iormation.

    >> in shor we nd our intelligence,omeland serity an law enforcemt systems and the people in themo be accountable and to work as intended, not justost of the ti, but all of the tim

    >> reporter: well t president also announced he's suspendg transfers of yemen prisoners who were in guantanamo back to yen foth time being, b he says guantamo will close as planned,lthough as we kn, matt, the deadline, which was supposed to be laterhis nth, s slipped.

    >> ll right, savannah, thank very much. sannah guthrie at the white hoe. fox ws contributor

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