By Michael O’Brien and Ian Swanson - 12/28/09 09:00 PM EST
President Barack Obama pledged a "thorough review" of U.S. security procedures on Monday in the wake of the attempted bombing of a Delta Air Lines flight.
Speaking in Hawaii, where he is on vacation, Obama said his administration was doing everything it could to maintain airline safety, while pledging that the U.S. would pursue those responsible for organizing the Christmas Day offensive.
The remarks were the first public statement from the president in the face of mounting criticism from Republicans over how a Nigerian national was able to retain a visa and fly into the U.S. even after his name was included in a terrorism database.
Republicans have hammered the administration over the attempted bombing, and one lawmaker on Monday said the White House had been “stonewalling” Congress by not providing information. Congressional hearings on the matter are planned for January.
Alleged bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was able to board a U.S.-bound flight even though his father had reported concerns over his son’s “radicalization” to the U.S. embassy in Nigeria. Abdulmutallab’s name was added to a database at the National Counterterrorism Office, but he was not put on a no-fly list.
Abdulmutallab also was able to retain a visa to enter the U.S. even after his name was submitted to the counterterrorism office. He originally obtained the visa in 2008, according to a report in The Washington Post.
Obama said that he'd ordered a "thorough review" of security procedures and the use of terror watch lists in the wake of the attack, and that the government had already taken steps to bolster security in air travel.
Obama said he had ordered enhanced security and screening at airports as well as an increased deployment of U.S. air marshals to secure flights.
"The American people should be assured that we are doing everything in our power to keep your families safe and secure during this busy holiday season," he said.
Obama spoke shortly after a branch of al Qaeda claimed responsibility for the attempted bombing.
The administration has been increasingly defensive on the issue, and on Monday Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano reversed her earlier statement and said the system had failed in allowing the alleged bomber to enter the U.S.
“Our system did not work in this instance,” Napolitano told "The Today Show." “No one is happy or satisfied with that. An extensive review is under way.”
Napolitano initially had said the system worked in an interview with CNN that aired over the weekend. She said Monday that her earlier comment was taken out of context.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said the incident should be a nonpartisan issue. “This should not be a tug-of-war between the two political parties,” Gibbs said Sunday on NBC.
Republicans have said the incident suggests the Obama administration is not taking the risk of terrorism sufficiently seriously. They have tied the Obama administration’s response to the attempted attack in Detroit to its response earlier this year to the shootings at the Fort Hood Army base in Texas.
An Army psychiatrist in November allegedly killed 13 people at Fort Hood. Republicans have keyed in on the accused killer’s alleged communications with a Muslim cleric in Yemen.
Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.) said Friday that the White House must “connect the dots” and realize the attacks indicate al Qaeda is planning more widespread attack on the U.S. In arguing that it has downplayed the threat, Hoekstra also faulted the administration for not using the word "terrorism."
The new political fight over terror comes as politicians enter an election year in which Democrats are worried about losing seats in the House and Senate given the rocky economy and public worries over jobs and the national debt.
The president on Monday sounded a hawkish note in response to those criticisms, pledging to track down the persons and groups behind Friday's attempted attack.
"We do not yet have all the answers about this latest attempt, but those who would slaughter innocent men, women and children must know that the United States will do more than simply strengthen our defenses," he said. "We will continue to use every element of our national power to disrupt, to dismantle and defeat the violent extremists who threaten us, whether they are from Afghanistan or Pakistan, Yemen or Somalia, or anywhere where they are plotting attacks against the U.S. homeland."
This article was originally posted at 01:28 PM ET