Questions linger after Dem lawmakers get first briefing on Christmas attack

Democratic lawmakers emerged from their first in-person administration briefing on the failed Christmas Day bombing saying security questions remain.
 
Officials from the State Department, Office of the Director of National Intelligence and Transportation Security Administration provided a bicameral classified briefing on Capitol Hill on Wednesday afternoon about the intelligence breakdown that preceded the near-takedown of Northwest Flight 253.
 

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After the briefing, Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.) questioned the absence of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. Napolitano came under attack in the days following the bombing attempt for defending the intelligence community by saying “the system worked” because the attack was unsuccessful. She later amended her remarks.
 
But Dicks, who sits on the Appropriations Defense subcommittee, was impressed by the officials’ commitment to closing any intelligence loopholes that may have existed before the botched bombing. The administration is faced with an incredible task, he said.
 
“We’re doing a lot but we still have a ways to go — our goal is perfection,” he said.
 
House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said the officials provided a detailed account of the intelligence failures and acknowledged a need to be even more vigilant in the wake of the most recent attempted terrorist attack.
 
“There are still some dots that are not connected,” Thompson said. “Human error had a lot to do with what happened. There was enough information available. Some of what occurred would not have occurred.”
 
The briefing did not answer the many questions surrounding President Barack Obama’s commitment to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility this year. The president’s promise to close the prison as a way to improve international diplomatic relations and curtail al Qaeda recruiting has faced additional complications following the attempted attack on a passenger jet and news that Yemen has become a haven for al Qaeda.
 
The White House has suspended any detainee transfers to Yemen and recently said that no detainees will be transferred to Saudi Arabia either. An administration official said the decision about Saudi Arabia has nothing to do with the Christmas Day attempt or subsequent criticism from Congress about its policy of transferring detainees overseas.
 
Earlier Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) accused the Obama administration of creating a “state of confusion” in Afghanistan over U.S. detention policy.
 
McConnell, who just returned from a trip to Afghanistan and Pakistan with other lawmakers, said military officers expressed confusion about handling terrorist suspects.
 
"In fact, there are at least two standards of detention," he said, noting that NATO forces follow a different policy than the U.S. military.
 
“To not be allowed to properly interrogate and to detain without some of the concerns that you might have if you were an American citizen here in the United States who is under arrest for robbing a convenience store … strikes me as a pretty wrongheaded way to conduct the war,” he said. “I hope that the administration will move in the direction of clearing up this confusion because I found from top to bottom in Afghanistan concern among the military people about this state of confusion with regard to detention and detainment.”