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Obama accepts blame for security lapses

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama declared Thursday "the buck stops with me" for the nation's security, taking responsibility for failures that led to the near-disastrous Christmas attack on a Detroit-bound airliner and vowing the problems would be corrected.

He said the lapses were widespread but suggested no officials would be fired.

Obama didn't tell intelligence officials to dramatically change what they're doing. Instead, he told them to do it better and faster.

Clearly aware of the potential political fallout, Obama struck a tough tone toward the antiterror fight, taking the rare step — for him — of calling it a "war."

In one concrete change, the administration is adding more air marshals to flights. Hundreds of law enforcement officers from Homeland Security Department agencies are being trained and deployed to the federal Air Marshal Service, said a government official familiar with the strategy.

In the president's bleak assessment and a White House report about what went wrong, the country got an alarming picture of a post-Sept. 11 debacle: an intelligence community that failed to understand what it had.

U.S. intelligence officials had enough information to identify the suspect as an al-Qaida terrorist operative and keep him off a plane but still could not identify and disrupt the plot, and security measures didn't catch him.

Obama announced about a dozen changes designed to fix that, including new terror watch list guidelines, wider and quicker distribution of intelligence reports, stronger analysis of those reports, international partnerships and an interagency effort to develop next-generation airport screening technologies.

A report Obama had ordered from top officials on the security failures was released immediately after he spoke, as was Obama's three-page directive.

The unclassified summary stated that U.S. intelligence officials had received unspecified "discrete pieces of intelligence" to identify Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a 23-year-old Nigerian, as an al-Qaida operative and keep him off the flight from Amsterdam. Officials received fragments of information as early as October.

Earlier Thursday, the administration said Abdulmutallab was flagged for extra screening after he was already on the plane and headed for Detroit. The Department of Homeland Security said his potential ties to extremists came up in a routine check of passengers en route to the United States — and not because of any suddenly gathered intelligence during the flight.

Although intelligence officials knew an al-Qaida operative in Yemen posed a threat to U.S. security, they did not increase their focus on that threat and did not pull together fragments of data needed to foil the scheme.

Still, the report concludes, "The watch listing system is not broken" and a reorganization of the counterterrorism system is not necessary. The report, instead, calls for strengthening the process used to add suspected terrorists to watch lists.

Obama accepts blame for security lapses 01/07/10 [Last modified: Thursday, January 7, 2010 11:17pm]
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