Thursday, December 31, 2009

Pressure Rises on CIA After Delta Airline Incident in Detroit

Pressure rises on CIA after bomb plot

By Anna Fifield in Washington, Pilita Clark in London and Michael Steen in Amsterdam
Published: December 30 2009 21:42 | Last updated: December 30 2009 23:42

US intelligence agencies were on the back foot on Wednesday, defending their information sharing practices after being accused of multiple lapses that allowed a Nigerian man to board a Detroit-bound flight allegedly with explosives on Christmas Day.

Both the Central Intelligence Agency and the State Department said they had passed on warnings about the suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, after President Barack Obama said “there were bits of information available within the intelligence community that could have – and should have – been pieced together”.

Washington swung into blame mode after reports that agencies had been warned in August of a plot being planned from Yemen that involved a Nigerian man, possibly learning parts of his name. Mr Abdulmutallab’s father later reported concerns about his son to the US embassy in Nigeria on November 19.

Mr Obama suggested that this information was not passed on to the National Counterterrorism Center, a database of suspicious individuals created on the recommendation of the 9/11 Commission.

The CIA defended its actions.

“In November, we worked with the embassy to ensure [Mr Abdulmutallab] was in the government’s terrorist database – including mention of his possible extremist connections in Yemen,” the CIA said. “We also forwarded key biographical information about him to the NCTC.”

Describing the intelligence failures, a senior administration official said the information “was incomplete or partial in nature” and “it was not obvious or readily apparent that all of it spoke to this attack” although in hindsight it appears it did.

Republicans have called for the resignation of Janet Napolitano, the homeland security secretary, and blame has also been levelled at Dennis Blair, the director of national intelligence who oversees the NCTC.

Meanwhile in Amsterdam, where Mr Abdulmutallab boarded the aircraft with 80 grammes of explosives in his undergarments, Schiphol airport made full body scanners mandatory for US-bound passengers, in a decision that will put pressure on other airports to adopt similar security measures.

Guusje ter Horst, Dutch interior minister, said the scanners would be used within three weeks for passengers flying to the US after Mr Abdulmutallab boarded a Northwest Airlines flight to Detroit with 80 grammes of explosive in his undergarmetns.

Schiphol is one of several airports in Europe and the US, including Manchester and London’s Heathrow, that have carried out trials of full body scanners, which can detect anything hidden beneath clothing.

Ms ter Horst said the scanners had not previously been used for US flights because Washington did not want them to be the sole security check, preferring a combination with frisking, but an agreement had now been reached for their use.

She said rolling out the technology to cover all flights would need consent from the European parliament, which has raised privacy concerns. BAA, operator of Heathrow, said the issue was likely to be considered soon.

However, privacy campaigners’ concerns about the revealing black-and-white images the equipment produces have been an obstacle to their widespread introduction.

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