President Obama ordered Thursday immediate changes to the way intelligence is handled on “high priority threats” in the wake of the failed Christmas Day plot to blow up a US-bound airliner.
In laying out directives in four areas, the president spoke of “assigning clear lines of responsibility.” Specifically, he underscored the need to:
• Act aggressively when leads arise.
• Distribute intelligence reports more rapidly and widely when threats become known.
• Strengthen the analytical process to allow security agencies to “connect the dots” of possible threats.
• Strengthen of the criteria used to add individuals to terror watchlists, especially no-fly lists.
“These reforms will improve the intelligence community’s ability to collect, share, integrate, analyze, and act on intelligence swiftly and effectively,” Mr. Obama said in remarks from the State Dining Room in the White House. “In short, they will help our intelligence community do its job even better and protect American lives.”
No blame game
Obama did not blame any one agency or individual for the security and intelligence failures that allowed Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to board a Northwest Flight 253 in Amsterdam on Dec. 25 and allegedly attempt to detonate plastic explosives he had hidden in his clothing.
“Ultimately, the buck stops with me,” Obama said. “As president, I have a solemn responsibility to protect our nation and our people.”
But the president also made clear that the vast web of intelligence and security agencies must address the systemic weaknesses and human errors that nearly led to tragedy on Christmas Day. The administration put out two memoranda immediately after Obama’s remarks, one summarizing the White House review of the attack, and the other laying out the actions, department by department, required going forward.
'We are at war'
Obama also sent a political message to critics who have accused the president of not taking seriously the threat of Al Qaeda, the Yemeni branch of which claimed responsibility for the Dec. 25 attack.
“We are at war against Al Qaeda….,” Obama said. “And we will do whatever it takes to defeat them."
Obama also sought to provide assurance that, as security measures are enhanced and techniques for screening airline passengers are improved, privacy rights and civil liberties will be considered.
"Here at home, we will strengthen our defenses, but we will not succumb to a siege mentality that sacrifices the open society and liberties and values that we cherish as Americans, because great and proud nations don't hunker down and hide behind walls of suspicion and mistrust,” Obama said.
“That is exactly what our adversaries want, and so long as I am president, we will never hand them that victory. We will define the character of our country, not some band of small men intent on killing innocent men, women, and children.”
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