By Sam Youngman - 12/30/09 03:45 AM EST
The White House made clear Tuesday that the failed Christmas Day bombing of a Northwest Airlines flight could have been foiled in advance.
President Barack Obama blamed a "systemic failure" in intelligence and security practices that allowed a 23-year-old Nigerian national to board a flight headed for Detroit and allegedly attempt to set off an explosive device. He faulted agencies for not piecing together bits of information that could have foiled the attack, including the suspected attacker's father warning the U.S. embassy in Nigeria.
"Had this critical information been shared it could have been compiled with other intelligence and a fuller, clearer picture of the suspect would have emerged. The warning signs would have triggered red flags and the suspect would have never been allowed to board that plane for America," Obama said, breaking into his vacation in Hawaii for a second day in a row to discuss the attack.
Obama said Tuesday that key personnel will "diagnose the problems quickly" and he promised "more comprehensive reviews will be completed in the coming weeks." He set a Thursday deadline for officials to provide him with preliminary information on their review.
Obama lamented the failure to share the intelligence within the community, saying he considers it "totally unacceptable."
The president said the intelligence "should have and could have been pieced together."
Obama was briefed Tuesday morning by National Security Adviser Jim Jones and other advisers, who made it clear to Obama that the government was in possession of pieces of information in advance of the attempted Christmas Day attack that if properly assessed and correlated could have allowed the government to disrupt the attack, according to a senior administration official. The official said the information could have ensured that the suspected attacker was placed on a no-fly list.
The official said some of the information was incomplete and partial, but that the information was about the "individual in question and his plans." The government also had information about al Qaeda and its plans and about potential attacks during the holiday period.
"It was not obvious or readily apparent that all of it spoke to this attack, but in fact we believe it did," the official said.
The suspected terrorist, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, was able to board the Northwest flight from Amsterdam to Detroit even though his father had contacted U.S. embassy officials to warn that his son had cut off contact with his family. Abdulmutallab's father was worried that his son had become radicalized.
Abdulmutallab has been charged with trying to blow up a plane.
An al Qaeda group has claimed responsibility for the attack. The senior administration official said he could not say conclusively that al Qaeda planned the attack, but did say information developed overnight suggested a linkage.
The administration has faced 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. Congressional hearings are planned for January.
The withering assessment by Obama comes days after Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano came under criticism for initially stating the system had worked. On Monday, Napolitano said her words were taken out of context, and she acknowledged the system had not worked.
This story was originally posted at 5:06 and updated at 10:45 p.m.