January 6th, 2010
04:18 PM ET
13 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. WeThePeopleofVirginia

    All this report should say is we got LUCKY and dodged a bullet.

    January 6, 2010 04:35 pm at 4:35 pm |
  2. Brian from NJ

    "While there will be a tendency for finger pointing, I will not tolerate it."

    Unless it is his administration pointing fingers at the Reps or Bush or the Bankers... then it is perfectly OK...

    One of the main reason for this "screw up" is because CIA Director Leon Panetta and National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair have been having a pissing match since May about who staffs overseas intel offices (this argument happened under Bush, too). Obama finally decided in November that the CIA would continue to staff these offices... maybe these guys needed to pay more attention to their jobs and quit worrying about who had more authority.

    So at the end of the day it is Obama's responsibility and he can stop acting all outraged that this happened on his watch. His indecision and hiring inexperienced people to run the nation's security is the real cause of the "screw up"... the system would have worked if his people talked to each other like they are supposed to.

    January 6, 2010 04:40 pm at 4:40 pm |
  3. anonymous

    This is a table of dunces led by an inept idiot.

    January 6, 2010 04:44 pm at 4:44 pm |
  4. B

    I am convinced that a catastrophe like 9-11 is still possible as we can still see the- inter service agendas- being exercised as usual..

    You wonder if this country will ever be able to come together on anything again. Politics and turf wars abound and the country continues to suffer !

    January 6, 2010 04:46 pm at 4:46 pm |
  5. VON BISMARK -Vienna

    I hope this time around they will not attack Iran for it sounds very much like Iraq.
    Thank God McCain is not President!

    January 6, 2010 04:48 pm at 4:48 pm |
  6. TCM

    What a collection of idiots at one table! Why so many reviews? Why so many discussions? It's radical Islam (like there's any other?) just attacking us....again....Obama hates it because of his muslim ties...the liberals hate it because they think they can reform muslims into happy-go-lucky flower children like themselves.....non-believers...
    Well, you numb-nut liberals; muslims are TRUE believers, and are highly commited to their cause, which is to kill us. Stop endangering the country with your stupidity.

    January 6, 2010 04:53 pm at 4:53 pm |
  7. http://twitter.com/whybs

    Like Timothy McVeigh, this dude went over the edge in going after the innocent!

    Extract as much intelligence as possible & let our judicial process (including the possibility of a death penalty) run its course!

    January 6, 2010 04:54 pm at 4:54 pm |
  8. TOTUS 4 President

    Thank god that the boxer bomber was as incompetent as Obama and Jant Napolitano, otherwise we would be marching on Washington right now, which is a good idea for this and many, many other reasons...

    January 6, 2010 04:58 pm at 4:58 pm |
  9. Joel

    Watch Washington completely overreact to this, as the politicos try to outdo one another making hay over the incident. Flying is STILL safer than driving down the street to get a burger.

    January 6, 2010 05:00 pm at 5:00 pm |
  10. Sniffit

    Let's here it GOPers. Explain to us all how Obama is to blame for the CIA, FBI and the rest of our national security infrastructure following the plicies and standards put in place by the Bush administration. The man can't do everything and, in case you haven't noticed, he's doing a heck of a lot more than Bush ever tried to handle at once...and dealing with an opposing party hellbent on making sure NOTHING happens for 4 years to destroy their holy of holies: the status quo. Actually, on second thought, there's no point in asking you guys for explanations for why you believe things...you just hear what you want to hear, believe what you're told to believe and regurgitate in wildly conclusory statements in the hopes that you'll reach all the other blank slates out there who are just like you.

    January 6, 2010 05:14 pm at 5:14 pm |
  11. Sue

    This 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 05:16 pm at 5:16 pm |
  12. Mike in MN

    Obama will blame this on anyone and everyone he can. He will take zero responsiblity even though it is job to keep us safe, has been for almost a year now. Obama falls all over himself taking credit for any thing that he can make up that will make him look good and when something bad happens he throws blame all over the place except at himself. Total jerk!

    January 6, 2010 05:17 pm at 5:17 pm |
  13. Sheena1a

    That this terrorist did not directly get turned over to the military, is unspeakable, and that he was allowed a lawyer, what is this country coming to under Obama's watch?????
    This was blantent terrorism, this person should have NO RIGHTS at all, he almost killed 300 plus innocent people!

    January 6, 2010 05:22 pm at 5:22 pm |
  14. gg

    The man in charge is doing a great job. thank you mr. President.

    January 6, 2010 05:45 pm at 5:45 pm |
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