WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama suggested Thursday he would not fire anyone for the attempted Christmas Day airline attack, saying it appears the security lapses that led to the near-disaster were not the fault of a single individual or institution. The commander in chief said ultimately he is responsible for national security.
He declared anew that the government had the information to prevent the botched attack but failed to piece it together. He announced a range of changes designed to fix that, including wider and quicker distribution of intelligence reports, stronger analysis of them and new terror watch list rules.
But, added Obama, "When the system fails, it is my responsibility."
His remarks were delayed twice as officials scrambled to declassify a report on the failures. That report was released immediately after he spoke.
The White House is anxious to resolve and move beyond the issue, which threatens to damage the president politically in an election year and distract further from his agenda.
The unclassified six-page summary of the report given to Obama stated that U.S. intelligence officials had received unspecified "discrete pieces of intelligence" to identify 23-year-old Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab as an al-Qaida operative and keep him off the plane. Officials received fragments of information as early as October, according to the report.
Although intelligence officials knew that an al-Qaida operative in Yemen posed a threat to U.S. security, officials did not increase their focus on that threat and did not pull together fragments of data needed to foil the scheme, said the summary.
While the administration's report notes problems in pursuing separate pieces of intelligence gathered before the attempted attack, it concludes "the watch listing system is not broken" and a reorganization of the nation's counterterrorism system is not necessary. The report, instead, calls for strengthening the process used to add suspected terrorists to watch lists.
According to the report, "a series of human errors" occurred, including a delay in the dissemination of a completed intelligence report and the failure of CIA and counterterrorism officers to search all available databases for information that could have been tied to Abdulmutallab.
Unlike the run-up to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, intelligence officials shared information. But authorities did not understand what they had. (AP)