Airline plot 'buck stops with me' : Obama

WASHINGTON, Stephen Collinson - US President Barack Obama declared Thursday "the buck stops with me" over huge intelligence flaws exposed by an Al-Qaeda attack on a US jet and vowed sweeping and costly new measures to fix them.
Obama, speaking before the publication of two first probes into the thwarted Christmas Day bombing, blamed US spy agencies for failing to properly connect and analyze signs an Al-Qaeda affiliate in Yemen was planning the attack.

US President Barack Obama speaking at the White House in Washington, DC (AFP/Jim Watson)
US President Barack Obama speaking at the White House in Washington, DC (AFP/Jim Watson)
But, trying to temper criticism that his administration is too soft on terror, he said the United States was "at war with Al-Qaeda" while promising that terrorists would not be able to redefine the American way of life.
"I am less interested in passing out blame than I am in learning from and correcting these mistakes to make us safer," Obama said in a televised statement in the State Dining Room of the White House.
"Ultimately the buck stops with me. As president, I have a solemn responsibility to protect our nation and our people, and when the system fails, it is my responsibility."
Obama also signaled that despite a gathering political witch hunt in Washington, there would not be immediate firings or resignations among top spy chiefs over the attempt to bring down the Northwest jet on Christmas Day.
"It appears that this incident was not the fault of a single individual or organization, but rather a systemic failure across organizations and agencies," he said.
Obama said the US homeland security system and intelligence community broke down in three main ways, allowing 23-year-old Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to board a jet bound for Detroit with hidden explosives.
He said that US spies failed to "aggressively" combat the Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula group that planned the attack, then failed to properly analyze intelligence. He also cited mistakes in the US terror watch list system.
"Rather than a failure to collect or share intelligence, this was a failure to connect and understand the intelligence that we already had," Obama said.
To remedy the failures, Obama directed that specific individuals or teams must be assigned to follow up on intelligence leads to ensure accountability and close attention to suspected threats.
He said intelligence reports on threats to US security must now be handed around the clandestine community more quickly and better analyzed, and he vowed improvements to watch listing procedures.
Though warning there were no "silver bullets," Obama also vowed "significant investments" in aviation security.
"We are at war," Obama said.
"We are at war against Al-Qaeda, a far-reaching network of violence and hatred that attacked us on 9/11, that killed nearly 3,000 innocent people, and that is plotting to strike us again.
"We will do whatever it takes to defeat them."
New details, meanwhile, began to emerge of the planning of the plot, blamed by the United States on Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen.
The Arab country's Deputy Prime Minister for Defense and Security Affairs Rashad al-Aleemi said Abdulmutallab had met Anwar al-Awlaqi, a US-Yemeni cleric also linked to the Fort Hood massacre.
The United States has accused Awlaqi of terrorist links and said Nidal Hasan, the US military officer accused in the November military base shootings in Texas that killed 13 people, had also been in contact with the cleric.
Aleemi said Abdulmutallab may also have been recruited by Al-Qaeda while at university in London.
Deepening the conundrum in a widening front on the US anti-terror fight, Aleemi also warned that American military intervention in Yemen could backfire and strengthen jihadists.
But the US military played down its role.
"Yemen is a sovereign government just like Pakistan is. We want to work with government officials in ways that are helpful to them," Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said.
Nigeria, smarting from US criticisms of its aviation security procedures, offered to provide Washington's investigators images of Adbulmutallab going through security checks at Lagos airport on December 24 before flying to Amsterdam.
Justice Minister Michael Aondoaaka told reporters the images would prove that security staff had done their job.
Nigeria has demanded it be removed from a US aviation watchlist of 14 countries, including Iran, Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, introduced after a security review ordered by Obama.
Abdulmutallab was indicted on six counts Wednesday by a US grand jury for attempted murder and trying to use a weapon of mass destruction aboard a US plane and could face life imprisonment.

Thursday, January 7th 2010
Stephen Collinson

New comment:

Opinion | Comment