The Obama administration is ordering a review of the various airline lists designed to prevent suspected terrorists and others from boarding flights after a failed bombing attempt on an airliner from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs says the President wants to make sure the lists are kept up to date and are frequently reviewed.
"The President wants to review the information that we had and ensure that the procedures, some of which are several years old, for how information gets on lists- that that's reviewed properly," Gibbs told a group of reporters in Washington, D.C. "As well as the detection capabilities that would have allowed an individual like this to board a plane in Amsterdam with an explosive, uh, with explosive chemicals."
But, while President Obama has ordered the review, his Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Gibbs are left explaining why Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was not put on any of the smaller and more closely looked at "watch lists" prior to his flight even though his own father had raised concerns about Abdulmutallab in November. At that point, Abdulmutallab was placed on the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (TIDE) list. But, there are more than a half million people on that list and Abdulmutallab did not appear on any subset of that list and would not have been prohibited from flying.
"As a result of information that we gathered from our embassy overseas, he was put onto a watch list that contains about 550,000 names," Gibbs said. "There was not sufficient evidence, ah, derogatory information to move him higher up into a list of about 400,000 of which a selectee on a no-fly list are drawn from."
For her part, Napolitano says the latest incident is no reason for people to stop flying and that it appears this is a case of one person acting alone.
"Right now we have no indication that it is part of anything larger but obviously the investigation continues," Napolitano said on CNN.
But members of Congress say while it might be safe to fly, the bigger question is why wasn't any intelligence gathered on Abdulmutallab after his own father called the embassy about his son.
"What happened to that information? Did -- was there follow up in any way to try to determine where this suspect was? Secondly, it appears that he was recently put on a broad terrorism-screening list, a database. Why wasn't that database activated? Why isn't it activated every time somebody gets on a plane abroad to come to the United States?" Senator Joe Lieberman (D-CT) said on Fox News Sunday. "The only databases that are activated are -- are the much smaller no-fly and selectee list, which are less than 20,000 names. We ought to -- we ought to, in our age, be able to put 500,000 names on a computer and have everybody who's trying to come to the U.S. go through that list. That doesn't mean they're convicted of any wrongdoing, but it would be basis enough to take this guy out of the line in Amsterdam and do a full body check, and that would have determined that he was carrying explosives."
Congressman Pete Hoekstra (R-MI), the ranking member of the intelligence committee says the miscues on the incident falls on the shoulders of the Obama administration, for missing the importance of listing Abdulmutallab, but also for changing tactics on terrorism.
"The Obama administration came in and said, "We're not going to use the word 'terrorism' anymore. We're going to call is 'manmade disasters,"' trying to, you know, I think, downplay the threat from terrorism," Hoekstra told Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday. "In reality, it's getting much more complex. Radicalization is alive. It is well. They want to attack the United States. That threat is here in the United States. It is lone wolf individuals. It is people that have become radicalized that have had some contact with Al Qaida. And then it is the threats that come from Al Qaida central. Homegrown terrorism, the threat to the United States, is real. I think this administration has downplayed it. They need to recognize it, identify it. It is the only way we are going to defeat it."
President Obama has continued to receive regular briefings from his Homeland Security and Counterterrorism Advisor John Brennan and National Security Staff Chief of Staff Denis McDonough on the incident while vacationing in Hawaii. The President will continue to receive updates. He returns to Washington in 2010 and aides say there are no plans to cut his vacation short.