Authorities say the National Security Agency (NSA) knew in August 2009 that a branch of al-Qaida in Yemen might try to use a Nigerian for a terrorist attack on Christmas Day. Had the information been examined together with information the State Department, the CIA, and the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) put together in October 2009 based on conversations with Abdulmutallab’s father, it may have provided what was needed to uncover the pending attack.
The terrorist’s father gave the US Embassy in Nigeria, including the CIA and the State Department, text messages from his son that indicated his radicalization. “Look at the texts he’s sending. He’s a security threat,” his cousin quoted him as saying. He never directly accused his son of planning to bomb a plane.
In November 2009 upon the warnings, the CIA alerted NCTC, who put his name on the half-million large terrorism watch list. The CIA also compiled biographical data on Abdulmutallab but did not share it with other security agencies. They also decided there was not enough information about him to pursue moving him to smaller, more refined lists of people who require extra scrutiny at airports.
Routine procedure also had an e-notice of Abdulmutallab’s purchase of a plane ticket sent to homeland security officials on December 16.
“The right information did not get to the right people—there’s no question about that,” a senior intelligence official said. “If all known information had been provided, we would have been down a different path.”
Some blame the NCTC for the failure, which was created in 2004 collate information from across the US’s national security system. Others blame the CIA.
Some officials feel information is being shared, and that isn’t the problem. It’s the volume of information collected. Setting thresholds of what’s pointing to impending violence amidst huge amounts of data can be tricky.
Obama calls it a systematic failure that is totally unacceptable.
Republicans are using the failure as ammunition against democrats, positioning Obama as a president who won’t take security seriously enough. Democrats are accusing Republicans of blocking needed resource increases while exploiting public fear.