By Sam Youngman - 01/07/10 09:52 PM EST
President Barack Obama on Thursday took responsibility for a "systemic failure" that allowed an alleged terrorist to board a flight to the U.S.
The president made the announcement at the White House after his national security team concluded the initial reviews Obama ordered after Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attempted to detonate a plastic explosive aboard a Detroit-bound plane.
Obama also directly answered critics, such as former Vice President Dick Cheney, who have accused the administration of being soft in the war on terror.
"Over the past two weeks, we've been reminded again of the challenge we
face in protecting our country against a foe that is bent on our
destruction. And while passions and politics can often obscure the hard
work before us, let's be clear about what this moment demands," he said.
"We are at war," Obama said. "We are at war with al-Qaeda."
The president said the intelligence community's call not to follow up on
important leads resulted in a "larger failure of analysis," which
ultimately kept Abdulmutallab off the crucial "no-fly" list. He said there was no single individual responsible for the lapse in security, but he said he has ordered all pertinent agencies to conduct "internal accountability reviews" and "all will be held accountable if they don't."
Obama said he has ordered Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to look for ways to expedite advanced explosives screening systems, and Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism John Brennan to find new ways to expedite names to terrorist watch lists.
"In the never-ending race to protect our country, we have to stay one step ahead of a nimble adversary," Obama said. "That's what these steps are designed to do, and we will continue to work with Congress to ensure that our intelligence, homeland security, and law enforcement communities have the resources they need to keep the American people safe."
Brennan said he "told the president I let him down."
"I told him I will do better, and we will do better as a team," Brennan said in a briefing with reporters.
Brennan said "there were some human errors" that led to the breakdown
in the system, but they were "not the primary or fundamental cause."
The U.S. should have been more aware of the alleged terrorist, but "the
intelligence fell through the cracks."
He added that the watch list system "is not broken."
Napolitano said DHS is working to expedite the deployment of advanced screening systems for airports. There are currently 40 machines deployed, she said, and they have 300 set to be sent to airports this year.
In his remarks, Obama listed a number of areas where he wants to see
the intelligence community improve the way it integrates data that is
The president said the intelligence failure is not the same as the one that allowed the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
This information was collected and shared, but it wasn't "integrated and pieced together in a way" that would have allowed for the plot to be disrupted, Brennan said.
Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) responded to Obama's speech by saying Republicans would offer "a list of things we can do right now" to strengthen homeland security.
"I think most Americans, especially most New Yorkers, don't want to see partisan bickering or finger-pointing or blame," Cantor said Thursday afternoon on a New York City radio program. "I'm glad to see the president stand up and say we're at war.
"...We cannot be politically correct and expect to get the kind of security we need in this country," Cantor added. "Right now let's call it how it is: We're at war with terrorists."
Tony Romm and Michael O'Brien contributed to this report
This story was updated at 5:28 p.m.