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11 December 2023

White House to release first terror probe

The White House will Thursday release unclassified findings of a first probe into an Al-Qaeda attack on a US jet, which President Barack Obama has blamed on an intelligence "screw-up."

Obama, seeking to scotch criticism that he was slow to respond in the immediate aftermath of the thwarted Christmas Day strike, will meanwhile make another public statement on failings in the US homeland security system.

"I think you'll see... that this is a failure that touches across the full waterfront of our intelligence agencies," White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said on Wednesday.

"The review will simply identify and make recommendations as to what was lacking and what needs to be strengthened," Gibbs said.

A furious Obama ordered swift government reviews into the December 25 attack on a Northwest flight from Amsterdam to Detroit, on the existing terrorist watch list system and on airline security and screening.

On Tuesday, Obama said that the review into the terrorist watch-listing had revealed "human and systemic failures."

He said it showed that US intelligence agencies missed a series of red flags related to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, who is accused of trying to bring down the jet outside Detroit with explosives sewn into his underwear.

Abdulmutallab had known extremist links but was still able to get on the jet. Obama said US intelligence also knew that Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula wanted to strike not only US targets in Yemen but in the United States itself over the holiday season.

"The bottom line is this: the US government had sufficient information to have uncovered this plot and potentially disrupt the Christmas Day attack, but our intelligence community failed to connect those dots," Obama said.

"This was not a failure to collect intelligence, it was a failure to integrate and understand the intelligence that we already had."

In a highly unusual public rebuke of the US spy community on Tuesday, Obama said errors by intelligence agencies before the attack were "not acceptable."

In private, he was even more vociferous, telling spy chiefs in a meeting in the White House Situation Room: "this was a screw-up that could have been disastrous," an official said, on condition of anonymity.