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Obama: The Buck Stops Here. "Alarming" aviation security failure

US President, Barack Obama
US President, Barack Obama

President Barack Obama deflected critics and declared war on Al Queda outlining security reforms designed to strengthen the shield America needs in “a never ending war.” The security report, coming just 13 days after the Christmas Day bombing attempt by Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab, was called alarming by the President, who said that while he will seek accountability in the future, he will not now, as this was a systemic failure and because, ultimately, the buck stops with him.

“At this stage in the review process it appears that this incident was not the fault of a single individual or organization, but rather a systemic failure across organizations and agencies,” said Obama. “That's why I've directed agency heads to establish internal accountability reviews and directed my national security staff to monitor their efforts. We will measure progress, and John Brennan will report back to me within 30 days and on a regular basis after that.

What was shocking, he said, was the fact that the intelligence community had information in hand on Al Queda in the Arabian Peninsula and its work to do launch another attack against the US, but failed to “connect the dots.”

“In our ever-changing world, America's first line of defense is timely, accurate intelligence that is shared, integrated, analyzed and acted upon quickly and effectively,” he told gathered press at the White House. “That's what the intelligence reforms after the 9/11 attacks largely achieved. That's what our intelligence community does every day. But, unfortunately, that's not what happened in the lead-up to Christmas Day.

“The US government had the information scattered throughout the system to potentially uncover this plot and disrupt the attack,” he continued. “Rather than a failure to collect or share intelligence, this was a failure to connect and understand the intelligence that we already had.”

Obama outlined corrective steps across multiple agencies to the broad bush strokes he delivered earlier this week.

The four areas he covered included directing the intelligence community to assign specific responsibility for investigating all leads on high-priority information. He wants them pursued and acted upon “aggressively, not just most of the time, but all of the time.”

“We must follow the leads that we get, and we must pursue them until plots are disrupted. And that means assigning clear lines of responsibility,” he said. “Second, I'm directing that intelligence reports, especially those involving potential threats to the United States, be distributed more rapidly and more widely. We can't sit on information that could protect the American people. Third, I'm directing that we strengthen the analytical process, how our analysis – our analysts – process and integrate the intelligence that they receive.”

Director National Intelligence Denny Blair is taking the lead in improving day-to-day work while the Intelligence Advisory Board will “examine the longer term challenge of sifting through vast universes of intelligence and data in our information age.” He also directed the national security team to develop a strategy that addresses the unique challenges posed by lone recruits.

Obama also called for strengthening the criteria used to add people to terrorist watch and no-fly lists. “We must do better in keeping dangerous people off airplanes, while still facilitating air travel,” he said. “So taken together, these reforms will improve the intelligence community's ability to collect, share, integrate, analyze and act on intelligence swiftly and effectively.”

Obama also outlined the failures surrounding the Christmas Day attempt.

“It's now clear that shortcomings occurred in three broad and compounding ways,” he said, “First, although our intelligence community had learned a great deal about the al Qaeda affiliate in Yemen, called al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, that we knew that they sought to strike the United States and that they were recruiting operatives to do so, the intelligence community did not aggressively follow up on and prioritize particular streams of intelligence related to a possible attack against the homeland.”

He said there was a larger failure of analysis – a “failure to connect the dots of intelligence that existed across our intelligence community and, which together, could have revealed that AbdulMutallab was planning an attack.”

That failure “fed into shortcomings in the watch-listing system which resulted in this person not being placed on the no-fly list, allowing him to board that plane in Amsterdam for Detroit.”

Saying that intelligence was the first level of defense, he said the airport security is still needed and reiterated his earlier actions, including new screening for passengers coming from or traveling through certain countries as well as how visas to the US are handled across the government.

This “will require significant investments in many areas,” he said. “And that's why, even before the Christmas attack, we increased investments in homeland security and aviation security. This includes an additional USD1 billion in new systems and technologies that we need to protect our airports, more baggage screening, more passenger screening, and more advanced explosive detection capabilities, including those that can improve our ability to detect the kind of explosive used on Christmas.”

He also directed the Department of Homeland Security to strengthen international partnerships to improve aviation screening and security around the world. Obama also called DHS deploy  greater use of current advanced explosive detection technologies and cooperate with the Department of Energy and national labs to develop and deploy the next generation of screening technologies.

“In the never-ending race to protect our country, we have to stay one step ahead of a nimble adversary,” said the President. “That's what these steps are designed to do, and we will continue to work with Congress to ensure that our intelligence, homeland security, and law enforcement communities have the resources they need to keep the American people safe. In the weeks and months ahead, we will continue a sustained and intensive effort of analysis and assessment so we leave no stone unturned in seeking better ways to protect the American people.

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