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'Red flags' missed, Obama says


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POSTED: Wednesday, December 30, 2009

President Barack Obama said yesterday that the intelligence community had bits of information that should have been pieced together and would have triggered “;red flags,”; possibly preventing the Christmas Day attempted terror attack on a Detroit-bound airliner.

“;There was a mix of human and systemic failures that contributed to this potential catastrophic breach of security,”; Obama told reporters at the Marine Corps base at Kaneohe.

Officials said Obama chose to make a second statement in as many days because a morning briefing offered him new information in the government's possession about the suspect's activities and thinking, along with al-Qaida's plans.

Senior U.S. officials said that intelligence authorities are now looking at conversations between the suspect in the failed attack and at least one al-Qaida member. They did not say how these communications with the suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, took place—by Internet, cell phone or another method.

The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, said the conversations were vague or coded, but the intelligence community believes that, in hindsight, the communications may have been referring to the Detroit attack. One official said a link between the suspect's planning and al-Qaida's goals was becoming more clear.

Intelligence officials would not confirm whether those conversations involved Yemeni-based radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, but other U.S. government officials said there were initial indications that he was involved. Al-Awlaki reportedly corresponded by e-mail with Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, who is charged with killing 13 people at Fort Hood, Texas, on Nov. 5.

“;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,”; Obama said. “;The warning signs would have triggered red flags, and the suspect would have never been allowed to board that plane for America.”;

An angered Obama called the shortcomings “;totally unacceptable”; and told reporters traveling with him on vacation on Oahu that he wanted a preliminary report by tomorrow on what went wrong on Christmas Day, when the suspect carried explosives onto a flight from Amsterdam, Netherlands, despite the fact the suspect had possible ties to al-Qaida.

It will take weeks for a more comprehensive investigation into what allowed the 23-year-old Nigerian to board the airplane he is accused of trying to blow up with more than 300 people aboard.