Monday, January 4, 2010
Dozens of Names Shifted to No-Fly List
The Obama administration has transferred dozens of names from a broad terrorism database to watch lists that are more closely monitored in an effort to plug security holes revealed by the Christmas Day airline-bombing attempt.
President Barack Obama met Monday with Central Intelligence Agency officials and White House counterterrorism chief John Brennan ahead of a broader security team meeting Tuesday.
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European Pressphoto Agency
Yemenis walk past a blocked-off street leading to the U.S. embassy in the capital San'a on Monday. The U.S. and British embassies there extended their closure for a second day over terrorist threats.
That meeting will discuss assessments provided by intelligence agencies of how Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was able to allegedly smuggle explosives onto a Northwest Airlines flight, despite warnings about him and numerous signs a terrorism plot was in the works.
Mr. Obama has attributed the plot to the al Qaeda affiliate in Yemen, which also has claimed credit for sending Mr. Abdulmutallab on his alleged mission.
White House spokesman Bill Burton said counterterrorism officials have examined "thousands upon thousands" of names from the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment list, to which Mr. Abdulmutallab was added in November. Dozens of names were shifted to the Transportation Security Administration's no-fly list, or to the Secondary Security Screening Selection list, also known as the selectee list.
The Christmas Day bombing attempt and recriminations that followed have set in motion policy responses with global reverberations. Security forces in Yemen, following consultations with U.S. officials, killed two alleged al Qaeda militants on Monday in a village outside the capital of San'a, where the U.S. and British embassies remained closed due to terrorism threats.
France, Germany and Japan shuttered their embassies in San'a on Monday citing similar threats.
Intelligence, defense and law enforcement agencies forwarded reports to the White House Monday night on their assessments of what Mr. Obama called "systemic" failures that allowed the bombing plot to proceed. The White House is expected to lay out a set of policy responses this week.
U.S. officials already have identified multiple breakdowns. Many agencies are pointing fingers at one another, or claiming they followed procedures in place at the time.
"It's a lot of jockeying right now," said a U.S. counterterrorism official. "No one wants to be blamed for anything, obviously."
The earliest word about Mr. Abdulmutallab, much of which was piecemeal and unspecific, appears to have come via intercepts made by the National Security Agency, U.S. officials said. The agency is monitoring suspected extremists in Yemen, including radical U.S.-born cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who had contact with Mr. Abdulmutallab and with the suspect in the Fort Hood, Texas, shooting spree in November.
Some NSA intercepts date to late summer of 2009 when "chatter" suggested extremists groups in Yemen were preparing an attack employing a Nigerian. Officials said the information wasn't specific and that only in hindsight was its importance known.
Later, U.S. embassy consular officials and a CIA official met in Nigeria with the bombing suspect's father, who relayed concerns about Mr. Abdulmutallab's possible radicalization. The State Department says it made a report that was added to Mr. Abdulmutallab's file for future use in case he applied for a new visa.
The CIA official in Nigeria prepared a report and forwarded it to Washington, where Mr. Abdulmutallab was added to the nation's broadest terrorism database. The information, however, wasn't disseminated to other parts of the U.S. counterterrorism network.
Much of the data flowing into U.S. security agencies is supposed to be pulled together at the National Counterterrorism Center, which falls under the director of national intelligence. The counterterrorism center has said the CIA lacked specific information that would have allowed it to put Mr. Adbulmutallab on a no-fly list.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Monday defended the State Department's handling of the case. Based on the information that she has now, Ms. Clinton said, the department "fully complied with the requirements set forth in the interagency process" about what should be done when information is provided about a threat. But, she said, "We are not satisfied. We are conducting an internal review."