Page last updated at 23:35 GMT, Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Excerpts: Obama airline security speech

Excerpts from US President Barack Obama's speech, made after initial security reviews following an alleged plot to blow up a passenger plane over the US city of Detroit on 25 December.


I just concluded a meeting with members of my national security team, including those from our intelligence, homeland security and law enforcement agencies involved in the security reviews that I ordered after the failed attack on Christmas Day.

I called these leaders to the White House because we face a challenge of the utmost urgency. As we saw on Christmas, al-Qaeda and its extremist allies will stop at nothing in their efforts to kill Americans.

And we are determined not only to thwart those plans, but to disrupt, dismantle and defeat their networks, once and for all.


Indeed, over the past year, we've taken the fight to al-Qaeda and its allies wherever they plot and train, be it in Afghanistan and Pakistan, in Yemen, in Somalia, or in other countries around the world.

Here at home, our intelligence, homeland security and law enforcement agencies have worked together with considerable success, gathering intelligence, stitching it together and making arrests - from Denver to Texas, from Illinois to New York, disrupting plots and saving American lives.

And these successes have not come without a price, as we saw last week in the loss of our courageous CIA officers in Afghanistan.

But when a suspected terrorist is able to board a plane with explosives on Christmas Day, the system has failed in a potentially disastrous way. And it's my responsibility to find out why and to correct that failure so that we can prevent such attacks in the future.


And that's why, shortly after the attempted bombing over Detroit, I ordered two reviews.

It is increasingly clear that intelligence was not fully analysed or fully leveraged. That's not acceptable, and I will not tolerate it

I directed Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano to review aviation screening, technology and procedures. She briefed me on her initial findings today, and I'm pleased that this review is drawing on the best science and technology, including the expertise of Secretary of Energy Steven Chu and his department.

I also directed my counterterrorism and homeland security adviser, John Brennan, to lead a thorough review into our terrorist watch listing system, so we can fix what went wrong.

We will make a summary of this preliminary report public within the next few days, but let me share some of what we know so far.


As I described over the weekend, elements of our intelligence community knew that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had travelled to Yemen and joined up with extremists there.

It now turns out that our intelligence community knew of other red flags that al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula sought to strike not only American targets in Yemen, but the United States itself. And we had information that this group was working with an individual who was known - who we now know was in fact the individual involved in the Christmas attack.

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, which would have placed the suspect on the no-fly list.

In other words, this was not a failure to collect intelligence, it was a failure to integrate and understand the intelligence that we already had. The information was there, agencies and analysts who needed it had access to it, and our professionals were trained to look for it and to bring it all together.

I will accept that intelligence by its nature is imperfect, but it is increasingly clear that intelligence was not fully analysed or fully leveraged. That's not acceptable, and I will not tolerate it.


Time and again we've learned that quickly piecing together information and taking swift action is critical to staying one step ahead of a nimble adversary. So we have to do better, and we will do better, and we have to do it quickly. American lives are on the line.

So I made it clear today to my team I want our initial reviews completed this week. I want specific recommendations for corrective actions to fix what went wrong. I want those reforms implemented immediately so that this doesn't happen again and so we can prevent future attacks.

Immediately after the attack, I ordered concrete steps to protect the American people, new screening and security for all flights, domestic and international, more explosive detection teams at airports, more air marshals on flights and deepening co-operation with international partners.

In recent days, we've taken additional steps to improve security. Counterterrorism officials have reviewed and updated our terrorist watch list system, including adding more individuals to the no-fly list.

And while our review has found that our watch-listing system is not broken, the failure to add Abdulmutallab to the no-fly list shows that this system needs to be strengthened.


Finally, some have suggested that the events on Christmas Day should cause us to revisit the decision to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay. So let me be clear.

It was always our intent to transfer detainees to other countries only under conditions that provide assurances that our security is being protected.

With respect to Yemen in particular, there's an ongoing security situation which we have been confronting for some time, along with our Yemeni partner.

Given the unsettled situation, I've spoken to the attorney general and we've agreed that we will not be transferring additional detainees back to Yemen at this time.

But make no mistake. We will close Guantanamo prison, which has damaged our national security interests and become a tremendous recruiting tool for al-Qaeda. In fact, that was an explicit rationale for the formation of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

And as I've always said, we will do so - we will close the prison in a manner that keeps the American people safe and secure.

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