Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Obama Meets With Security Team

The Obama administration has suspended transfers of Yemeni detainees held at the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to their home country, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Tuesday.

Mr. Gibbs said dozens of Guantanamo Bay detainees once believed to be bound for Yemen will instead be sent to a prison in Thomson, Ill., once the all-but-empty prison is purchased and refurbished by the federal government.

"Any additional transfers to Yemen would not be a good idea," Mr. Gibbs said.

The decision marked another after effect of the failed plot to bomb a Northwest Airlines jet on Christmas Day.

About 45 of the more than 90 Yemeni detainees remaining at Guantanamo qualify for repatriation, U.S. officials say. If they were nationals of another country they would be sent home, officials say, but instead could end up being held at the Thomson, Ill., prison that Obama administration officials are preparing to house some Guantanamo detainees.

Mr. Obama is expected to announce new security measures after meetings Tuesday afternoon with his cabinet, national security team and members of Congress, following the failed Christmas Day bombing attempt. But White House officials said they don't expect prominent officials to lose their jobs, nor is the president expected to announce any dramatic reorganization of transportation security.

Mr. Obama is expected to speak at 4 p.m. EST. Mr. Obama had ordered two reviews after the botched attack—on screening for airline passengers and on the U.S. terror watch-list system.

The Obama administration said Monday it 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 bombing attempt.

Mr. Obama met Monday with White House counterterrorism chief John Brennan, National Security Adviser James Jones and Deputy National Security Adviser Tom Donilon ahead of the broader security team meeting Tuesday.

At that meeting, White House officials said, Federal Bureau of Investigation Director Robert Mueller is expected to detail the investigation into 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.

Attorney General Eric Holder will detail plans to prosecute Mr. Abdulmutallab in federal court, and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano will discuss detection capabilities that are being reviewed and bolstered. Mr. Brennan will lay out initial findings of a security review, and more than a half-dozen agency heads, from the Department of Energy to the Central Intelligence Agency, will present their internal reviews as well as changes they are implementing in the wake of the Christmas Day plot.

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 Monday in a village outside the capital of San'a.

The U.S. embassy reopened Tuesday, after a two-day closure, citing "successful counterterrorism operations" conducted by the government of Yemen the day before. The British embassy, which also closed Sunday, resumed operations except for its consular and visa sections. Other Western embassies maintained heightened security Tuesday.

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.

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 extremist 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."


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