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Obama Orders Security Upgrades

WASHINGTON - President Obama, declaring that the "buck stops with me" when it comes to protecting the nation from terrorists, ordered stepped up aviation security and released a declassified report on intelligence failures behind the near-catastrophic Christmas Day attack.

Under the directives issued Thursday, airline passengers will face more pat-downs and many will be put through body-scanning machines in coming months while counterterrorism officials revamp the government's terrorist watch lists and establish clearer lines of accountability to follow intelligence leads about plots.

Some of those reforms have been in the works since a Nigerian man allegedly tried to blow up a Detroit-bound plane carrying nearly 300 passengers and crew, Obama vowed to "strengthen our defenses" in the face of continuing threats from al-Qaeda.

At the same time, "we will not succumb to a siege mentality that sacrifices the open society and liberties and values that we cherish as Americans," Obama said in his second speech from the White House about the alleged attack on Northwest Flight 253. "Great and proud nations don't hunker down and hide behind walls of suspicion and mistrust."

The changes Obama ordered for the intelligence community steered clear of broad systemic changes, focusing instead on refining and strengthening existing programs. In a six-page report on the incident, the White House offered a stinging critique of the government's lapses leading up to the day alleged bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab boarded a flight from Amsterdam headed for Detroit.

The report said:

- The government "had sufficient information to have uncovered and potentially disrupted" the attack.

- Analysts failed to "connect the dots" between those plots and information given by Abdulmutallab's father to U.S. officials that his son had become radicalized and planned to travel to Yemen.

- Counterterrorism agencies knew that a potent branch of al-Qaeda in Yemen, where the Associated Press has reported that Abdulmutallab told authorities he received training and explosives, was plotting to attack the United States.

One of the most troubling results of the review was the realization that the branch known as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has grown into one of the group's "most lethal" affiliates, said John Brennan, the White House counterterrorism chief.

Although officials were aware that AQAP was a growing threat, the group was not recognized as being able to launch a major attack, Brennan added. "We have taken that lesson, and so now we're full on top of it."

The report was issued Thursday with remarkable speed despite a delay of several hours, which White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs attributed to the "highly complex" task of declassifying it. Most government reviews of its kind take months.

Frank Cilluffo, of George Washington University's Homeland Security Policy Institute, said the report on the alleged attack "compiles everything and puts it on one page which is obviously something they could not do on the 25th of December."

Addressing other lapses, Obama instructed the State Department to review its policies of issuing visas to make sure known terrorists or extremists aren't granted permission to enter the United States. He told the FBI to determine whether the government's database of terror suspects should be reconfigured. He ordered the CIA to make sure intelligence reports are distributed faster.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said hundreds of body-scanning machines will be set up at U.S. airports. Privacy advocates, including the American Civil Liberties Union, have raised concerns about the machines, but Obama says they're needed to detect explosives that can't be picked up by metal detectors.

Napolitano also plans to meet with her counterparts overseas about tightening security at their airports as well. "Don't lose sight of the fact, he (Abdulmutallab) was screened at an international airport," she said.

Members of Congress promised more reviews. "It is appalling that we have not learned from our mistakes, eight years after the worst terror attacks in our nation's history," said Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine.

Obama, who has not fired anyone for their failures, said he's not assigning blame. "When the system fails," he said, "it is my responsibility."

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