Obama says 'dots' not connected in airline attack

Published: Tuesday, January 5, 2010 at 4:59 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, January 5, 2010 at 4:59 p.m.

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama asserted on Tuesday that the U.S. government had enough information to foil the attempted bombing on a Christmas Day airline flight but intelligence agencies "failed to connect the dots."

Obama called that unacceptable and said, "I will not tolerate it." The accused attacker, a Nigerian man who claimed ties to al-Qaida, was subdued by other passengers and airline crew members after he allegedly attempted to detonate explosives hidden under his clothes.

The president, speaking after meeting with his Cabinet and national security team, declared, "We have to do better and we will do better. And we will do it quickly."

Obama also said he was suspending the transfer of Guantanamo detainees from Yemen. The Christmas attack has raised concerns about Yemen, because the Nigerian man has claimed to have been acting on instructions from al-Qaida operatives in that country.

Nearly half of the 198 detainees held at Guantanamo are from Yemen. But Obama reiterated his vow to eventually close the prison camp in Cuba.

Obama said the foiled attack exposed "a potentially disastrous" security failure.

He spoke after a White House meeting with the high-ranking government officials charged with carrying out two reviews he has ordered . Obama spelled out recent changes in security protocols for airline flights and changes to the government's watchlist of suspected terrorists.

Obama told reporters the security lapse didn't have to do with the collection of information but with the failure to integrate and analyze what was there. The bottom line, he said was that the government had "sufficient information to uncover this plot and potentially disrupt the Christmas Day attack."

"Our intelligence community failed to connect those dots which would have placed the suspect on the no-fly list," he said. "This was not a failure to collect intelligence, it was a failure to integrate and understand the intelligence that we already have."

Obama said that it was clear the government knew that the suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, had traveled to Yemen and joined with extremists there.

"It now turns out that our intelligence community knew of other red flags that al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula sought to strike not only American targets in Yemen, but the United States itself. And we had information that this group was working with an individual ... who we now know was in fact the individual involved in the Christmas attack," he said.

As for the prison for terror suspects in Cuba, he said, "Make no mistake, we will close Guantanamo prison," Obama said. Guantanamo, he said, "was an explicit rationale for the formation of al-Qaida" operating in Yemen.

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