Lawmakers press forward with reviews of intel failures after Christmas attack

Lawmakers are still looking for answers from the White House and the Pentagon nearly a month after the failed Christmas Day airplane bombing and more than two months after the Ft. Hood shooting rampage that left 13 dead.

The lack of answers has prompted further levels of committee hearings with some members proposing to launch congressional investigations of their own.

A large degree of the congressional criticism has focused on the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) and its failure to “connect the dots” of analysis in such a way that it could forge the information into actionable intelligence to prevent such attacks.

A recently released report by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) suggests that Congress “may act to review the statutory framework that created the NCTC in 2004 and how the Center has functioned in the years since” in light of the two recent terrorist attacks.

Lawmakers are held to task in the report, which says that members of Congress have a role in regularly reviewing the various agencies involved in intelligence gathering to make sure their analytical efforts are “properly prepared and fully used.”

The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee is planning to hold a hearing Tuesday to examine the attempted Christmas Day bombing and what measures the intelligence community may have to implement as a result.

And on Wednesday, the House Homeland Security Committee is planning to hold a similar hearing with the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, the director of National Intelligence, and officials from DHS and the State Department set to testify.

The 9/11 Commission developed the idea of the NCTC to act as a central hub of all terrorist-related intelligence. The NCTC would then assign specific responsibilities that it developed from analysis to other agencies.

But in the case of Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, who killed 13 people as he went on a rampage in Ft. Hood, Texas, in November, the NCTC failed to flag the Army psychiatrist’s relationship with a radical Muslim imam now based out of Yemen – a link that officials believed may have contributed to his attacks.

The Pentagon recently completed its own two-month-long review of Hasan’s military and psychiatric history, which admitted to several failures on behalf of the Department of Defense to identify the red flags in Hasan’s behavior. The report has not been released to the public because, officials say, it would compromise ongoing investigations.

Lawmakers expressed their outrage at the report’s secrecy this past week at a House Armed Services Committee hearing, saying that the only reason that it was not made public is because it was “politically embarrassing.”

“It was just merely a finding of facts prior to the event,” said Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) of the report at the hearing. “It ought to be available to the American public.”

The freshman lawmaker is considering whether to launch a congressional investigation into Hasan’s background or whether he is able to require the Pentagon report be made public, according to his office.

The NCTC and the State Department also came under fire this week at two Senate hearings. Due to a misspelling in his name, the alleged Christmas Day bomber was able to obtain a visa and fly under the watch list radar of both groups.

During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, the State Department’s undersecretary of management, Patrick Kennedy, was pressed as to why the suspected bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, was not placed on the no-fly list when the correct spelling of was eventually sent.

“We slipped up,” Kennedy said. “I have no statement other than that, sir.”

During a Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee hearing this week, Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) asked NCTC director Michael Lieter if the organization could do something similar to a Google search of all available intelligence on a suspect’s birthplace or various spellings of their name and aliases.

“We do not have that exact capacity,” said Leiter. “And frankly, we were surprised at the extent to which other agency searches weren’t hitting against very critical data sets that might have uncovered this, and then highlighted them for NCTC and others.”

Lieter said that the NCTC has “some potential technological solutions on the very, very near-term horizon that we’re attempting to implement within weeks.”

The recent CRS report, titled “The National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC): Responsibilities and Potential Congressional Concerns,” details that these technological modifications would have little, if any, budgetary implications.

With regard to the human error, the report said that “simply replacing current officials with those with greater education, or paying them more or giving them more (or less) supervision will not guarantee better results.”

“Analysis is an intellectual exercise that incorporates education and training, experience, insight, determination and occasionally elements of luck.”