|Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab (AFP file photo)|
WASHINGTON, Jan 8, 2010 (AFP) - The Nigerian terror suspect accused of trying to bomb a US airliner was to make his first court appearance Friday as President Barack Obama orderd a sweeping overhaul of flawed intelligence.
The arraignment in Detroit follows the grand jury indictment of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, on six counts -- including attempted murder and trying to use a weapon of mass destruction aboard a US plane -- arising from the botched Al-Qaeda plot to blow up Northwest Airlines Flight 253 with 290 people aboard.
Obama on Thursday declared that "the buck stops with me" over intelligence shortcomings which led to the thwarted attack, and he unveiled measures including strengthening US watchlists and boosting airport screening as part of broad orders to close US security gaps.
Releasing two reports on the Christmas Day bomb attempt, Obama said spy agencies did not properly "connect and understand" disparate data that could have detected the plot as it was planned by an Al-Qaeda affiliate in Yemen.
He said the probes revealed that US analysts knew Abdulmutallab was an extremist and knew Al-Qaeda in Yemen was plotting an attack -- but could not connect the two strands of intelligence.
And as critics charged that his administration has been too soft on terror and slow to act after the attack, Obama said the United States was "at war with Al-Qaeda" but promised terrorists would not force Americans to adopt a "siege" mentality.
"I am less interested in passing out blame than I am in learning from and correcting these mistakes to make us safer," Obama said, signaling there would be no immediate firings of top spy chiefs over the security breakdown.
"Ultimately the buck stops with me. As president, I have a solemn responsibility to protect our nation and our people, and when the system fails, it is my responsibility."
Obama's top anti-terror official John Brennan, however, delivered a personal mea culpa.
"I told the president today, I let him down... I told him that I will do better."
Obama said the plot was "not the fault of a single individual or organization, but rather a systemic failure across organizations and agencies."
He said the US homeland security system and intelligence community broke down in three ways, allowing Abdulmutallab to board a Northwest jet from Amsterdam to Detroit with explosives hidden in his underwear.
He blamed US spies for not "aggressively" chasing down the Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) group that planned the attack, and then not properly analyzing intelligence.
Then, the intelligence that was known was not properly filtered through the US terror watchlist system -- allowing Abdulmutallab onto the plane.
To remedy the failures, Obama said he ordered more careful follow-ups on intelligence leads, quicker sharing and better analysis of reports among the clandestine community, and improvements to watchlist procedures.
Though warning there were no "silver bullets," Obama also vowed "significant investments" in aviation security.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano promised a new and "layered" approach, and called on other nations to do their part to safeguard their own citizens as well as US security.
Napolitano promised to speed up the deployment of 300 body imaging machines at airports and said the government would aggressively seek to develop new detection technology.
More canine security teams will comb airports, and additional uniformed and undercover detection officers will be deployed, including more federal air marshals on planes.
Obama's Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair said Thursday in a letter to employees of the 16 US intelligence agencies that he would push for a "fresh and penetrating look at strengthening both human and technical performance" in the field.
The Central Intelligence Agency said it planned to increase the number of analysts looking at Yemen and Africa.
Obama has faced a barrage of criticism since the attack. But in his speech, he attempted to address his critics.
"We are at war against Al-Qaeda, a far-reaching network of violence and hatred that attacked us on 9/11, that killed nearly 3,000 innocent people, and that is plotting to strike us again," he said.
"We will do whatever it takes to defeat them."