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Obama Points to ‘Systemic Failure’

A "systemic failure" of the nation's intelligence gathering and analysis allowed a Nigerian man to board a flight to Detroit on Christmas Day in an alleged attempt to blow up an airliner, President Obama said Tuesday.

The suspect's father had warned U.S. officials weeks earlier about his son's extremist views, but an unnamed intelligence agency did not properly distribute the information, Obama said as he interrupted his Hawaiian vacation for the second day in a row to address growing criticism.

Though the president did not provide specifics, he said "there appears to be other deficiencies as well." Additional information about suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was available to intelligence agencies that should have used it to sniff out the plot, he said.

"There was a mix of human and systemic failures that contributed to this potential catastrophic breach of security," Obama said.

Abdulmutallab attempted to light an explosive device aboard a Northwest Airlines Airbus A340, according to a government indictment. The device caught fire but was extinguished as passengers subdued him.

Obama's remarks came amidst a flurry of intense criticism of the handling of the case.

"We are never going to have more tactical warning of an attack than we had in this case. We blew it," said Randall Larsen, director of the Institute for Homeland Security, a non-profit research institute.

Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., said the reports about the suspect should have at least triggered additional screening before he boarded the flight in Amsterdam and should have prompted the State Department to revoke his visa. The State Department did not respond to requests for comment.

DeFazio said the failures were "bureaucratic indifference at its worst."

Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., who led the fight after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to create the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), slammed the agency, asking "how in God's name" did Abdulmutallab not get put on a list for additional screening.

TSA spokeswoman Kristin Lee said the agency would defer to Obama's comments.

After Abdulmutallab's father warned U.S. Embassy officials in Nigeria last month that his son had disappeared and had become increasingly extremist, the son was placed on a watch list of more than 500,000 names. He was never put on smaller subsets of the list that bar people from flying or select them for additional pat downs and other security.

The Wall Street Journal, citing unnamed U.S. officials, reported that the father met with the CIA.

Several other clues could have triggered additional scrutiny. Abdulmutallab purchased his ticket with cash, bought a one-way fare and did not check a bag. Such passengers would have automatically triggered additional scrutiny under security rules in place this decade, said Stephen Luckey, a security consultant and former head of security for the Air Line Pilot's Association.

"He would have glowed in the dark," Luckey said.

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