January 3rd, 2010
11:18 PM ET
13 years ago

Kean: Unsuccessful bomber 'probably did us a favor'

Washington (CNN) – The man who led the federal government’s inquiry into the intelligence lapses leading up to the September 11, 2001 terror attacks said Sunday that the Obama administration is plagued by the same problems the Bush administration had more than eight years ago.

Thomas Kean, the Republican who chaired the bipartisan 9/11 Commission, said Obama counter-terrorism adviser John Brennan had sounded “a bit defensive,” in an interview that had just aired on CNN’s State of the Union.

Kean said Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab, the 23-year-old Nigerian who failed in his attempt to set off an explosive on an airplane about to land in Detroit, “probably did us a favor.”

“We had an administration which was not focused, as it should be, on terrorism and that’s understandable,” Kean said. “They were focused on health care and global warming and the economy. That’s very understandable. Secondly, we weren’t really focused on Yemen and the terrible things that are happening there. Now we are and that’s a good thing. And, thirdly, there were holes obviously and the [intelligence gathering] system wasn’t working well. We found out it wasn’t working well and the president understands it’s not working well and now we’re focused on fixing it.”

Kean directly repudiated Brennan’s earlier assertion that the circumstances that allowed AbdulMutallab to board a U.S.-bound plane on Christmas Day were different from those that led up to the September 11, 2001 terror attacks.

"It's not like 9/11," Brennan had said earlier on State of the Union, adding that the "system didn't work as it should have" due to "lapses" and "human error."

"There wasn't an effort to try to conceal information," Brennan also said in reference to the well-chronicled competition and turf wars between security agencies prior to the 2001 attacks that was later blamed for the failure to prevent them.

Kean disagreed.

“He’s wrong when he says this wasn’t like 9/11,” Kean told CNN Senior Political Analyst Gloria Borger.

After pointing out that the 9/11 Commission concluded the U.S. intelligence community failed to piece together various bits of information it already possessed in the weeks and months prior to the 2001 terror attacks, Kean said “[AbdulMutallab’s foiled Christmas Day attack] is the same thing – a lot of pieces of information. If they had been shared by the intelligence agencies the way they should be . . . then this guy would’ve never have gotten on a plane.”

Filed under: Extra • Popular Posts • State of the Union • Terrorism
soundoff (311 Responses)

    I am trying to understand what any of this has to do with the United States aside letting this idiot get a visa, does the United States run the security at the gates at Amsterdam airports? Is the TSA in charge over there? How is this a hole in OUR security operations? We seem to be confused, just like the "liquid" scare they were coming FROM Europe but we here in the US were made to turn in our liquids before boarding the flight feeling like the opposite was true same as the moronic shoe bomber coming FROM Europe yet we here have to take our shoes off...hello!!! I truly believe the only reason our government does these things is not for security but more for comfort to keep the public flying and to show that something is being done, truth be told if someone wants to get something on board they'll find a way.

    January 3, 2010 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  2. db

    Self-serving BS. Kean says 'now' we're focused on Yemen? We've been battling AQ in Yemen for months, but the US media haven't been interested in reporting that. Too busy covering Tiger Woods and his wayward willy.

    January 3, 2010 11:40 am at 11:40 am |
  3. Hege

    Trick me once – shame on you. Trick me twice – shame on me.

    January 3, 2010 11:41 am at 11:41 am |
  4. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    It's disgraceful to the families and victims of 9/11 that Republicans are attempting to white wash the fact that Bush/Cheney failed the American people. Their failure caused the lives of 3,000 Americans and we still don't have an answered from Republicans as to why they can say bin Laden caused 9/11 but they never went after him.

    January 3, 2010 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  5. GeorgeVT

    Nice job Larry S... love the way you repeat Sean Hannity 101 lessons – keeping the country safe is not about being conservative or liberal – there are plenty of documented failed foreign terrorist attacks on US soil since 9/11 but before the current administration took office. I believe the number of known incidents is 19. Yes, they all failed... I do recall the last administration taking credit for all of these failures, even though in some cases they had little to do with the failure. So this one failed too. Good! This one failed due to stupidity (like the shoe bomber). However, by blaming a belief system for something that didn't happen is like blaming the butter for burnt toast. It doesn't make sense and therefore your comment is now completely idiotic and to be disregarded.

    January 3, 2010 11:42 am at 11:42 am |
  6. tonyb

    dec 17 and 19 2009 al qaida operatives were killed in yemen. U.S supplied intelligence and firepower. 70 million dollars in aid. That is focus and results. That's why the Christmas day plot was hatched.

    January 3, 2010 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  7. John in PA

    "..said Sunday that the Obama administration is plagued by the same problems the Bush administration had more than eight years ago"

    He's absolutely right. Its not a Republican or Democrat issue. The problem is that we are too sensitive about our rights being trampled when we walk through the security line at the airport. The terrorists will always be one step ahead of our security, as long as they know they can pad their bras or underwear with bomb material.

    ""It's not like 9/11," Brennan had said earlier on State of the Union, adding that the "system didn't work as it should have" due to "lapses" and "human error." "

    Really? The man who attempted to bomb the NW plane was on a list with 500,000 other people. The TSA (or Dutch equivalent) can't fondle the passenger's crotch. Face it, unless we take drastic, uncomfortable measures, a determined terrorist will always have the upper hand when it comes to defending an airplane. The latest rules for international flights – can't stand in the last hour, can't have items in your lap? The terrorist will do his/her job in the first hour, or go to the bathroom and unleash their weapon from the lav.

    This wasn't an "Obama-issue", any more than 9/11 was really a "Bush-issue". Yeah, it happened on his watch, but the wheels were put in motion for that exercise long before Bush was inaugerated.

    January 3, 2010 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  8. maureen

    Claiming that the would-be bomber 'did us a favor' is an example of the twisted ignorance and plain stupidity that is the hallmark of today's republican party. Way to go, GOP

    January 3, 2010 11:43 am at 11:43 am |
  9. Terry - Indiana

    As with FDR and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, history will prove that the Bush Administration had prior knowledge of the planned attack on 911. With that said, I believe we, as a country, need to take a completely different approach when it comes to the Middle East and Terrorism. When an attack occurs, and we can verify the country of origin, where these radical terrorists are permitted to operate free of local and international law, we attack the power grid infrastructure of that country. Locals, who find themselves without power, will quickly demand that their government arrest or drive-out these terrorists. If the government is not equipped to fight these terrorists, we will be given over-flight approval for our drones. The GOP better be careful when it comes to finger pointing. The Freedom of Information Act is now allowing computer experts to rebuild the millions of erased emails, which the Bush White House claimed was an oversight when a new system was installed. Wrong, it was a cover-up, just like the Nixon White House removing eighteen (18) minutes of video and audio tape. Bush and Cheney took this country into the abyss, and we may never find our way back.

    January 3, 2010 11:44 am at 11:44 am |
  10. GP

    Kean has gone rogue. The official GOP line is that the information was available, that the bombers father had reported his concerns to the US.

    This was not a failure to 'gather' information. It was a failure within the intelligence information system to forward the information to the appropriate agencies.

    Destroying our intelligence infrastructure in Iran for political/personal purposes is coming home to roost. And who ended up paying for treason?

    January 3, 2010 11:44 am at 11:44 am |
  11. SNAPPA

    hey Larry S, whats your idea I see you have none and only care about putting liberals down how does that help anything? FACTS sir give FACTS because if you go over the FACTS of the last 9 years you couldn't possibly defend the policies of the right wing party of this country who is responsible for more deaths then the 9/11 attacks and more to the point FOR NO REASON AT ALL!! FACTS not idiotic ranting please!!!

    January 3, 2010 11:44 am at 11:44 am |
  12. Doug

    President Obama must think 9-11 was a political act not terrorism. His team is not even working on these issues. Why are we surprized to find out that health care is more politically important? At least the air force will still let him bathroom on his plane.

    January 3, 2010 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  13. New Age Independent

    I have to completely agree. Security was one of the bright spots of the previous administration and was at the forefront of decision making. Now our country's security seems to be a secondary concern. This is made more evident by the placement of Napolitano. Clearly a political move, not a choice with any experience whatsoever, and we will suffer the consequences.

    January 3, 2010 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  14. Dave

    When is CNN or another news organization going to ask the obvious question: Airport security aside, how did this Guy get a visa to come to the US?

    January 3, 2010 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  15. Pragmatic

    ...of course we won't mention Condi Rice's hand-delivered memo that August about planes being flown into buildings ... and after making us all "safe" – the shoe-bomber happened on Bush's watch ... but the republicans are the party of "mistakes were made" and "I don't recall" not to mention 'mission accomplished" ...

    Fun to watch all the silly people who ignore the fact the man got on in a foreign country ... did not board in America? But of course, that's still Obama's fault – NOT!

    January 3, 2010 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  16. Bob Bee

    Thomas Keen, What a jerk. Why would anyone make this political?! Let's take these things serious and not use it to score political points.

    Politics suck and that's why we can't focus on doing the right things in this country.

    January 3, 2010 11:45 am at 11:45 am |
  17. john

    Its true. The US is reactive, not proactive. It will take the loss of lives before we act. Luckily this bomber was not successful and HOPEFULLY we learn from it. Probably not though.

    January 3, 2010 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  18. Sage Nia

    Hey Larry S, I'll make an idiotic comment too like you. All republicans are ignorant and narrow minded. Now I'll make an intelligent comment. All republicans are "statistically" ignorant and narrow minded.

    January 3, 2010 11:46 am at 11:46 am |
  19. American Joe

    Let's put things in perspective.

    There was a failed terrorist attack despite the advanced warnings. During the Bush administration, 9/11 was a successful terrorist attack despite advanced warnings. It proved the intelligence gathering system needed to be improved. Was it perfect then? No. Is it perfect now? No and it never will be. We cannot stop crime in our own country. How can be prevent EVERY terrorist attack when we can't prevent EVERY crime in this country? We cannot prevent drugs from being smuggled into this country.

    Any system relies on human intervention and is subject to lapses in judgment or technology. Terrorist attacks can happen anywhere and anytime. It can even be "home-grown" (Remember Timothy McVeigh?).

    Republicans AND Democrats MUST work together to help prevent further terrorist attacks on this country.

    Additionally, America MUST work together with OTHER countries to help prevent terrorists from attacking ANYWHERE in the world. We can't act alone since the departure point is not totally controlled by the United States.

    January 3, 2010 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  20. killbucket

    Terrorism is nothing without a human's MOUTH to keep it alive. The GOP has done MORE of this to suit their needs than any group in history. Shame, shame, shame.

    January 3, 2010 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  21. D.

    He only did us a favor if this administration finally acknowledges we are "at war;" if they don't and they continue their smiley approach to terrorists facing them then no this terrorist nor the one that killed CIA agents will help us winning...

    January 3, 2010 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  22. K. Wright

    I think the repubs will latch on to anything to try and make our Commander and Chief look bad..pity they don't have any real issues, even with the incident on that plane, it originated in another country. The guy did not board a US plane in a US state at a US checkpoint, so what is the repub gripe? Shut up and help with planning how to avoid any other incidents. We are in trouble here and the more they the terrorists see a divided democracy, the better they think they can plot. You are not helping by diverting attention to rhetoric, we need a plan and action. The man is trying to lead, help lead, follow or get the heck out of the way, the useless gripping is just that . The terrorist was checked in at a boarding point in another country.

    What could we have done but what we did, the Americans stepped up to the plate and foiled this plot, we need more of that and less name calling.

    Anyone that wants to see can see what Mr. Obama is doing he is doing a great job even with your deceitful practices repubs. Get over it you men lost this one and a lean, black man is running this country.
    That is not to be prejudiced I love people of all colors but that is really what this is about and in 2010 that is simply backwoods and very sad.

    There is a lesson to be learned and the problem is being looked at more aggressively, that is all Mr. Obama could do...I for one love the President and love the job he is doing...get on board and help or get out of the way the name calling is very immature and certainly not enough to win a race in the upcoming election.

    January 3, 2010 11:47 am at 11:47 am |
  23. New Age Independent

    @maureen, Nellyjames, jesse, rachel

    Seriously, he's right. He did us a favor by showing us the failings that exist in the system. Or are you fools too much a partisan liberal whacks to realize that? Is your political hatred too great that you care so little for our security? Shame on you.

    January 3, 2010 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  24. Eric-31m

    I was afraid the adminstration would take their off the ball with healthcare and global warming. I also felt the economy had been put on the back burner by this administration. It's too bad that it takes an incident like this to wake them up. It's too bad this administration is no better than the Bush administration. I think we are all realizing that Hillary Clinton would have been a better president. Too bad.

    January 3, 2010 11:48 am at 11:48 am |
  25. Tom in Va

    Kean needs to get focused and stop the blame-game.

    It's laughable how the GOP wanted to blame 9-11 on Clinton but now wants to blame Obama for Detroit. The GOP is one screwed-up organization.

    EVERYONE: Bush and Cheney had 5 YEARS after the 9-11 Commission report to set up the infrastructure to get agencies talking to one another. While the Detroit incident has blame to go around, it represents a catastrophic failure of the BUSH administration!

    January 3, 2010 11:49 am at 11:49 am |
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