January 6th, 2010
04:18 PM ET
8 years ago

Initial report on failed plane attack coming out Thursday


President Obama met Tuesday with his national security team in the White House Situation Room. (PHOTO CREDIT: White House)

Washington (CNN) - The initial report ordered by President Barack Obama on the failed Christmas Day terror attack will be released Thursday, Obama's spokesman said.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters Wednesday that the unclassified version of the report by John Brennan, the assistant to the president on homeland security and counterterrorism, would be made public and that Obama also would make a statement.

The president ordered a review of security screening and other issues that allowed a Nigerian man to allegedly board a U.S.-bound flight with explosives. The bomb failed to detonate as the flight approached Detroit, Michigan, on December 25.

"The president will make a statement about this tomorrow. That review will be released," Gibbs said.

Also Wednesday, a federal grand jury indicted the suspect - 23-year-old Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab - on six counts including attempting to blow up an airplane and attempting to murder the other 289 people aboard.

"The charges that Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab faces could imprison him for life," Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement. "This investigation is fast-paced, global and ongoing, and it has already yielded valuable intelligence that we will follow wherever it leads. Anyone we find responsible for this alleged attack will be brought to justice using every tool - military or judicial - available to our government."

Obama said Tuesday he wanted immediate reforms to correct what he called systemic failures that allowed the near-miss terror attack to happen.

"This was a screw-up that could have been disastrous," Obama told his national security team, according to a senior administration official. "We dodged a bullet but just barely. It was averted by brave individuals not
because the system worked and that is not acceptable. While there will be a tendency for finger pointing, I will not tolerate it."

In a statement to reporters after meeting with the security team, Obama said U.S. officials had enough information in their possession before the failed bombing attack to have prevented the suspect from getting on the plane, but had been unable to "connect the dots."

"Time and again we've learned that quickly piecing together information and taking swift action is critical to staying one step ahead of a nimble adversary," Obama said. "So we have to do better, and we will do better, and we have to do it quickly. American lives are on the line."

According to authorities, AbdulMutallab tried to detonate explosives hidden in his underwear as a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam, Netherlands, made its final approach to Detroit. The device failed to fully detonate, instead setting off a fire at the man's seat.

AbdulMutallab is scheduled to make his first court appearance on Friday. The grand jury indictment included charges of attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction; attempted murder within the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States; willful attempt to destroy and wreck an aircraft within the
special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States; willfully placing a destructive device in, upon and in proximity to an aircraft within the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States; and two counts of possession of a
firearm/destructive in furtherance of a crime of violence.

The indictment offered no new details on the alleged bombing plot.

Some steps to increase airline security already have been taken. Senior State Department officials told CNN Tuesday that new criteria for information collected on possible terrorists would make it easier to ban them from U.S.-bound flights. Speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the material, the officials said the United States has lowered the threshold for information considered important enough to put suspicious individuals on a no-fly list or revoke their visas.

If the new criteria had been in place before Christmas, AbdulMutallab would have been added to the no-fly list, the officials said.

Mostly Republican critics have argued AbdulMutallab should have been treated as an enemy of war and subjected to military interrogation, rather than receiving the rights of a defendant in the U.S. criminal justice system.

Gibbs noted Tuesday that the FBI obtained "actionable intelligence" from AbdulMutallab in the first hours after his arrest. Gibbs declined to elaborate on the nature of the intelligence from AbdulMutallab, 23, who has been tied to the Yemen-based group al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

"AbdulMutallab spent a number of hours with FBI investigators in which we gleaned useable, actionable intelligence," Gibbs told reporters.

AbdulMutallab is being held at the Federal Correctional Institution in Milan, Michigan, where he's still being treated for the burn injuries he received in the failed bombing.

The suspect had a valid multiple-entry U.S. visa. His father, a leading banker in Nigeria, had warned U.S. authorities before the attack that his son might be involved with Islamic extremists, but the information failed to prompt a response such as canceling the visa.

Dutch prosecutors said Tuesday that AbdulMutallab apparently arrived in Amsterdam from Nigeria already carrying the explosives he planned to use.

To Obama, the suspect never should have been allowed on a U.S.-bound flight.

"The U.S. 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, which would have placed the suspect on the no-fly list," Obama said.

"In other words, this was not a failure to collect intelligence; it was a failure to integrate and understand the intelligence that we already had," the president said. "The information was there, agencies and analysts who needed it had access to it, and our professionals were trained to look for it and to bring it all together."

Obama said he could accept the imperfect nature of intelligence work, "but it is increasingly clear that intelligence was not fully analyzed or fully leveraged," he said, adding: "That's not acceptable, and I will not tolerate it."

The Transportation Security Administration already announced strengthened security steps including enhanced screening for travelers heading to the United States from 14 countries - Cuba, Sudan, Syria, Iran, Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Yemen.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the nation's largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy group have protested the move as religious and ethnic profiling. On Tuesday, the Cuban government summoned the top U.S. diplomat in Havana to formally protest the enhanced screening for travelers from Cuba, said Josefina Vidal of Cuba's Foreign Ministry.

Also Tuesday, British officials announced that London's Heathrow Airport will introduce more bodyscanners within weeks, and that all British airports must have equipment to detect explosives by the end of the year. Canadian authorities also said bodyscanners would be in place at major airports in coming weeks.

Despite the close call, Obama reiterated his intention to close the detention facility for suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. However, he said transferring Yemeni detainees at Guantanamo back to Yemen would be halted for now.

Lawyers for some of the Yemeni detainees at Guantanamo Bay told CNN they were disappointed by the decision.

"These men have come to expect setbacks and many don't think they'll ever be set free," said David Remes, who represents 15 Yemeni detainees. "Some had hoped the ice would be melting, but that hope's dead for the time being."

Updated: 4:18 p.m.

–CNN's Dan Lothian, Suzanne Malveaux, Elise Labott and Tom Cohen in Washington, Per Nyberg in London, England, Christian Purefoy in Lagos, Nigeria, contributed to this report.

soundoff (39 Responses)
  1. Enough

    What's with all the speeches and reports.................They blew it, end of discussion. Obamas team couldn't connect the dots if they tried.

    January 6, 2010 01:43 pm at 1:43 pm |
  2. Obama's Homeland Security Joke

    Obama has no clue what he is doing on national security and he has no control over the turf protecting antics of the CIA FBI TSA State Dept and NSA -– and the result is that this country is wide open to terrorist attacks.

    Obama and the Dems are a joke. Pelosi's concept of air travekl security is to buy herself a bigger private militaru jet. Reid's concept of Homeland security is to allow as many illegals into the country as possible.

    The Democrats are destroying thei great country from within.

    January 6, 2010 01:49 pm at 1:49 pm |
  3. GailJohn

    I guess some senators are tired of being blackmailed by Obama. He insists they vote HIS way or else. Maybe the senators realized the PEOPLE voted them in, not obama. obama wants to pass a health care bill so he can say he passed a health care bill. He doesn't have to live with the results. obama is not good for this country and in my opinion he is not a true American.

    January 6, 2010 01:51 pm at 1:51 pm |
  4. Tia Lively

    What is the paragraph number in the report that will blame it all on Bush?

    January 6, 2010 01:59 pm at 1:59 pm |
  5. The Other Michael in Houston

    Great! What will the report tell me that I don't already know. Once again, our lame brain so called security messed up... again, just like 9/11, the shoe bomber incident etc. I am a natural born American, I have traveled alot, I practically get stripped searched flying from one American city to another. You mean to tell me that this guy was flew into this country, and was on the terror watch list, and no one knew about him. Yeah right. And before some of you start calling me a racist, I am African American.

    January 6, 2010 02:01 pm at 2:01 pm |
  6. aware

    We need a wise adult POTUS not a philosophical adolescent!

    The jihadists laugh while a growing number of Americans and other world leaders cringe at the weak, naive, arrogant demagoguery of this administration! 😦

    January 6, 2010 02:08 pm at 2:08 pm |
  7. Fair is Fair

    Sources tell CNN that the "inital" report is comprised of 2100 pages. Sources also tell CNN that the "final" report will be produced behind closed doors, is expected to contain an additional 630 pages, and will have 62,567 veiled and unveiled references to the Bush adminiatration.

    January 6, 2010 02:13 pm at 2:13 pm |
  8. Paul from Phoenix

    Napolitano is completely incompetent and should be fired. She has failed in her current role as head of Homeland Security, and as an executive she left Arizona in a terrible debt.

    January 6, 2010 02:14 pm at 2:14 pm |
  9. Hammerer

    Great, where is the report on the Fort Hood terroist act?
    Hiding something?

    January 6, 2010 02:33 pm at 2:33 pm |
  10. Sue

    Here is the Obama Admin's interrogation policy to get more information from the "underwear terrorist"............

    "Now that we know that you have been read your rights, you like the lawyer provided to you by US tax payers, your cable and internet is working fine and you are comfortable.......

    Tell us what we want/need to know....Or, we will tickle your feet.

    Come on now........We do not want to resort to these drastic tactics....But, we will definitely tickle your feet and take away your internet priviledges, if you do not give us information".

    January 6, 2010 02:58 pm at 2:58 pm |
  11. obama the liar

    the libs are trying to word it so it's Bushs' fault.

    January 6, 2010 02:59 pm at 2:59 pm |
  12. sensible Cape Coral FL

    It's so refreshing to have a President who gets the facts BEFORE making announcements. It's also called intelligent thinking.

    January 6, 2010 03:10 pm at 3:10 pm |
  13. Well Done Mr. President

    The president ordered this report and he is on the job and on top of things, as usual. Anyone who has a problem with that, was never supportive of this president anyway.

    I can't wait to re-elect this man. He has taken on an overwhelming job, thanks to the misguided, right winged Bush administration. George-Daddy's-Boy-Bush, who happens to be the 7th Worst President EVER.

    I fully support President Obama, and I know that we are safer today with an adult at the helm, not a daddy's boy brat.

    January 6, 2010 03:11 pm at 3:11 pm |
  14. Obama = WORST president EVER

    Enough with the stupid reports!!!

    We all know who is causing the problem but the government won't tell the truth about it.

    Instead of making all of us wait in line after line at the airport so we can take off our shoes and belts and go through a MRI to get on a plane – which does absolutely nothing to stop the problem – we need to focus on stopping these Islamist bastards before they get to the airport!

    January 6, 2010 03:13 pm at 3:13 pm |
  15. Comment

    Terrorist confidence tally:

    Republican under control
    – 3000 + dead on 9/11
    – shoe bomber attempt foiled, no dead

    Democrat under control
    – underwear bomber attempt foiled, no dead

    Winner – you guessed it!

    January 6, 2010 03:19 pm at 3:19 pm |
  16. Pat F

    Fire. Napolitano. Now.

    The Secret Service and the TSA are under her command, and both have failed in their duties.

    Buh Bye Janet!

    January 6, 2010 03:25 pm at 3:25 pm |
  17. Robin

    It was not a "failed" attempt.

    He did not fail to attack the airplane. He failed to commit murder.

    January 6, 2010 03:32 pm at 3:32 pm |
  18. michael armstrong sr. TX.

    The screw up is that favoritism towards the Muslim faith during a time of war with Muslim radical's that our Muslim president may come into question to handle this crises .

    January 6, 2010 03:35 pm at 3:35 pm |
  19. capnmike

    So if they screwed up, why aren´t they being fired????

    January 6, 2010 03:39 pm at 3:39 pm |
  20. Lee

    the SCREW-UP in the WH has not a clue, way over his pay grade.

    January 6, 2010 03:44 pm at 3:44 pm |
  21. Dean

    The Transportation Security Administration already announced strengthened security steps including enhanced screening for travelers heading to the United States from 14 countries – Cuba, Sudan, Syria, Iran, Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Yemen.
    The American Civil Liberties Union and the nation's largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy group have protested the move as religious and ethnic profiling. On Tuesday, the Cuban government summoned the top U.S. diplomat in Havana to formally protest the enhanced screening for travelers from Cuba, said Josefina Vidal of Cuba's Foreign Ministry.

    I don't think it is little old German speaking grandmothers who are blowing up planes and restaurants around the world.

    How about issuing a statement to all would be terrorists.....You perform an act of terror agaist the U.S. today and your country will be nuked tomorrow.

    January 6, 2010 03:56 pm at 3:56 pm |
  22. RNC = DNC = politics as usual

    What this really shows is that terroists hate the US just as much under Obama as they did under Bush. Have you seen the images of Obama being burned around the world?

    I thought the world would love us now and there would be no more hate. That was the message during the campaign.

    January 6, 2010 04:05 pm at 4:05 pm |
  23. Mike Mundy, Houston, TX

    TRANSPARENCY, CNN!! Obama PROMISED this, while repeadedly stated during his campaign, that the Healthcare debate should be aired on C-SPAN. Your network has YET to cover this story!!

    January 6, 2010 04:27 pm at 4:27 pm |
  24. chaser

    What..obama just learned that releasing detainees back to yemen was a bad idea after christmas??? i say a day late and a dollar short considering that the president knew that Yemen was a hot bed for al queda for a year now. my question is....what posessed the president to continued his policy of releasing gitmo detainees back to Yemen up until now? not like he did not know that some has already rejoined al queda to plan attacks against the US.

    The idea that the president and his cabinet are just realizing this is a bad idea NOW... and decided NOW to ceased sending the gitmo detainees back to yemen is a scary thought. i guess a clear sign of an inexperience president.

    January 6, 2010 04:31 pm at 4:31 pm |
  25. Mike Syracuse, NY

    Will Obama actually hold someone accountable and fire them? How about his social secretary who was attending the party instead of checking guests against invites like every other social secretary has done? Will she be fired? Is anyone home at 1600 Penn. Ave.?

    January 6, 2010 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
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