GOP is wait-and-see on Obama’s terrorist intelligence plan

Republicans generally approve of Obama’s plan to improve terrorist intelligence after the Christmas Day airliner bombing attempt. But they suggest more should be done, and hearings will give them a chance to say so.

Damian Dovarganes/AP/file
Los Angeles International Airport Enforcement Special Unit police officers use a bomb-sniffing dog to check baggage. Security experts have floated several new ideas to enhance airport security in the weeks since authorities say a Nigerian man on a Detroit-bound jetliner tried to ignite explosives hidden in his clothing.

President Obama’s moves to try to improve US airline security are well and good – but it took him too long to make them, and there is more he could do to try to protect the American homeland.

That’s the initial reaction from some key Republicans to Mr. Obama’s Thursday speech on the administration’s review of the Christmas Day attempted bombing of a Detroit-bound airliner.

“I … couldn’t really object to anything he said. You could object to the fact that he’s waited two weeks to say it,” said former New York City mayor and GOP presidential candidate Rudolph Giuliani during a Friday appearance on MSNBC.

On Thursday, Obama said he has ordered US intelligence agencies to do a better job of sorting out serious terrorist threats from the vast amount of information they gather.

The president did not fire anyone, although his administration’s review of the incident harshly criticized both the CIA and the Counterterrorism Center for failing to recognize that alleged terrorist Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab posed an imminent danger to the US.

Obama also said bluntly that the US is “at war against Al Qaeda … and we will do whatever it takes to defeat them.”

Does Obama mean it?

Some GOP lawmakers said they approved of this rhetoric, but will now wait to see if Obama means it.

“The president says we’re going to have smart, sensible screening at airports. Well, you know what? I hope so. It’s about time,” said House minority whip Eric Cantor of Virginia.

Meanwhile, Sen. Kit Bond (R) of Missouri, vice chairman and ranking minority member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he found “puzzling” the fact that the administration has announced that it has identified all the problems that led up to the failed attack, and already knows how to fix them.

The administration review failed to assign adequate responsibility to the State Department, which gave Mr. Abdulmutallab a visa to enter the US, said Senator Bond.

“While there are still many facts to learn, we do know that Abdulmutallab would never have been on that plane if his visa had been revoked,” Bond said in a written response to Obama’s speech.

Senate hearings will look for answers

The Senate Intelligence Committee will hold hearings on the attempted attack beginning Jan. 21. Sen. Olympia Snow (R) of Maine, a panel member, said she would use the hearings to push for further systemic change in the US intelligence community, including the establishment of an inspector general with oversight powers over all intelligence agencies.

“We have an obligation to transform the bureaucracy that still afflicts our intelligence apparatus,” said Senator Snowe in a written statement.

Sen. Susan Collins (R) of Maine, ranking minority member of the Senate Homeland Security committee, added a call for the US to cancel all US visas for people whose names are listed in the broadest database of potential terrorists. This database, the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment, is overseen by the National Counterterrorism Center and contains well over 500,000 entries.

“Moreover, the Department of Homeland Security should expand existing programs to confirm that all foreign citizens boarding flights to the United States have valid visas,” said Senator Collins in a written statement.


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