Opinion: Inside the White House bomber briefing: How Brennan, Napolitano explain the security lapses
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In case you’re wondering how seriously the Obama White House is taking the Christmas Day Nigerian underwear security “screw-up” -- and, who knows, maybe the opportunity for Republicans to make some midterm election year talking points -- President Obama, as reported here earlier on The Ticket, gave his version of events, the lapses and what he’s ordered done about it.
Then his administration brought out Homeland Security Secy Janet Napolitano, counter-terrorism advisor John Brennan and press secy Robert Gibbs as media shepherd for an even longer man-caused disaster media briefing. As usual, The Ticket has the full White House transcript of that encounter below.
After reading it (every single word now!), let us know in the Comments below what other questions you would have asked. We’ll publish the best ones in a later post.
Through the give-and-take of reporters and officials, you can see where the media thinks it spots security or information gaps and how Napolitano and Brennan answer or deflect those queries. Standard public relations protocol for the aftermath of such messes is to cauterize the PR bleeding by flat-out admitting a mistake. And trying to move on.
The rumblings about which administration underlings get thrown under the bus won’t start for maybe a week, to try to lend at least some credibility when they profess a desire to spend more time with family.
-- Andrew Malcolm
MR. GIBBS: Good morning, guys. Good afternoon, or good early evening. I want to first apologize for the delay in the events that have occurred over the past couple hours. As you all know, declassifying a highly complex document takes some time, and we wanted to get that right.
You all should have either with you or in your inbox two separate documents that were emailed out. The first is a summary of the White House review, which is that declassified document that I....
... spoke of a second ago, and secondly, a memo, three-page memo, signed just a little while ago by the President on corrective actions that have been ordered.
We will hear momentarily from two individuals -- Secretary Napolitano from the Department of Homeland Security, and John Brennan, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism. After they speak, we will spend about half an hour or so taking your questions. I know many of you all have deadlines, so if you need to sneak out of here, that is certainly fine to do. And we will hear first from John.
MR. BRENNAN: Thank you, Robert. Good evening, everyone. As the President said today, following the attempted terrorist attack on Christmas Day, he directed me to conduct an immediate review of the watchlisting system that our nation uses to prevent known or suspected terrorists from entering our country. He also directed key departments and agencies to provide their input to this review, and I want to commend Secretary Napolitano, Director of National Intelligence Blair, and other leaders of the intelligence community for their cooperation, candor, and support.
Now, let me say that every department and organization provided the information that was needed. That speaks to the seriousness with which this administration takes what happened on Christmas. It also speaks to our urgency and determination to make sure that this does not happen again.
The review had three primary goals: to get the facts to find out what happened, to identify the failures and shortcomings of what went wrong, and to make recommendations on corrective action so we can fix the problems. And I want to address each of these areas.
First, the facts. As the President has described in his public remarks, in the weeks and months leading up to the Christmas attack, various components of our intelligence community had fragments of information about the strategic threat posed by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or AQAP, and the specific plot of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. It was known that AQAP not only sought to strike U.S. targets in Yemen, as they had when they attacked our embassy in San’a in 2008, but that it also sought to strike the U.S. homeland. Indeed, there was a threat stream of intelligence on this threat. It was known, thanks to the warnings of his father in November, that Abdulmutallab had developed extremist views, and his father feared he had joined unidentified extremists. And, as the summary points out, there was information about an individual now believed to be Mr. Abdulmutallab and his association with al Qaeda. These are among the fragments of intelligence that were available in the intelligence community on Christmas Eve, before Abdulmutallab ever boarded the aircraft in Amsterdam.
Of course, the central question is, given the fragments of intelligence we did know, why weren’t they integrated and pieced together in a way that would have uncovered and disrupted the plot? That leads to the second line of inquiry: What went wrong?
As the President described, this was not the failure of a single individual or a single organization. Yes, there were some human errors, but those errors were not the primary or fundamental cause of what happened on December 25th. Rather, this was a systemic failure across agencies and across organizations.
I want to be very clear about this, because there’s been some confusion out there. In recent days, it’s been widely reported that we saw the same failures before 9/11 or the same failure to share information, and after eight years, why hasn’t this been fixed. Before 9/11, there was often reluctance or refusal to share information between departments and agencies. As a result, different agencies and analysts across agencies were at times denied access to the critical information that could have stopped the tragic 9/11 attacks. And over the past eight years, those issues have largely been resolved.
That is not what happened here. This was not a failure to share information. In fact, our review found the intelligence agencies and analysts had the information they needed. No agency or individual was denied access to that information.
So as the President has said, this was not a failure to collect or share intelligence. It was a failure to connect and integrate and understand the intelligence we had. We didn’t follow up and prioritize the stream of intelligence indicating that al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula sought to strike our homeland because no one intelligence entity or team or task force was assigned responsibility for doing that follow-up investigation. The intelligence fell through the cracks. This happened in more than one organization.
This contributed to the larger failure to connect the fragments of intelligence that could have revealed the plot, Abdulmutallab’s extremist views, AQAP’s involvement with a Nigerian, its desire to strike the U.S. homeland. This in turn fed into shortcomings in the watchlisting system, both human and technological, which resulted in Abdulmutallab not being placed on the watchlist, thereby allowing him to board a plane in Amsterdam for Detroit. And while the watchlisting system is not broken, how the intelligence community feeds information into that system clearly needs to be strengthened.
Which brings us to the recommendations: How do we fix the problem? Today the President is issuing a directive to all the relevant agencies on the corrective actions he has decided on. There are more than a dozen corrective steps altogether, and each is assigned to an agency that is now responsible for their implementation.
As the President said, they fall into four broad areas. First, he is directing that our intelligence community immediately begin assigning responsibility for investigating all leads on high-priority threats so that these leads are pursued and acted upon aggressively so that plots are destructed.
Second, he’s directing that intelligence reports, especially those involving potential threats to the United States, be distributed more rapidly and more widely.
Third, he’s directing that we strengthen the analytic process. Director of National Intelligence Blair will take the lead in improving day-to-day efforts. The President’s Intelligence Advisory Board will examine the longer-term challenge of identifying and analyzing intelligence among the increasingly vast universe of intelligence that we collect. That challenge dealing with the volumes of information is growing every day.
Finally, the President is ordering an immediate effort to strengthen the criteria used to add individuals to our terrorist watchlists, especially the “no fly” list, so that we do a better job keeping dangerous people off airplanes.
The President said he is going to hold all of us -- his staff, his national security team, their agencies -- accountable for implementing these reforms. The national security staff is going to monitor their progress.
And finally, I want to say that in every instance over the past year the intelligence community, the homeland security community, the law enforcement community has done an absolutely outstanding and stellar job in protecting this homeland and disrupting plots that have been directed against us. It was in this one instance that we did not rise to that same level of competence and success. And therefore, the President has told us that we must do better.
I told the President today I let him down. I am the President’s assistant for homeland security and counterterrorism. And I told him that I will do better and we will do better as a team. Thank you.
SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: Thank you. I want to update all of you on the actions the Department of Homeland Security took immediately following the failed Christmas Day attack and the longer-term recommendations that DHS made to the President in our preliminary report.
These recommendations lay out how we will move forward in a number of areas that are critical in our efforts to protect air travel from terrorism.
As many have already experienced, we have immediately strengthened screening requirements for individuals flying to the United States. Every individual flying to the United States from anywhere in the world who has an itinerary or passport from nations that are state sponsors of terrorism or countries of interest is required to go through enhanced screening. In addition, the majority of all other passengers on United States-bound international flights will go through random threat-based enhanced screening.
At airports throughout the United States, we have deployed additional airport law enforcement officials, behavior-detection officers, air marshals, and explosive-detection canine teams, among other security measures, both seen and unseen.
I want to express our thanks to the traveling public for their patience with these security measures. And I want to thank as well the Department of Homeland Security personnel who have been engaged on a day-in, day-out basis to implement them since Christmas.
Today I would like to describe to you five of the recommendations that are included in our report to the President. First, there needs to be a reevaluation and modification of the criteria and process used to create the terrorist watchlists. This will involve the Department of Homeland Security and other members of the intelligence community. Specifically the effort will include evaluating the process by which names are put on the “no fly” and selectee lists.
Let me pause here a moment to say that the Department of Homeland Security works day in and day out with the NCTC and with other members of the intelligence community. These are dedicated men and women. All of them are dedicated to the safety of the United States. Here, as John has indicated, we simply had a systemic failure.
Now, DHS, as you know, uses the lists as the cornerstone of our efforts to prevent suspected terrorists from boarding airplanes bound for the United States.
Second, we will establish a partnership on aviation screening technology between DHS and the Department of Energy and its national laboratories. This will allow government to use the expertise that the national labs have to develop new and more effective technologies, so that we can react not only to known threats, but also to proactively anticipate new ways by which terrorists could seek to board our aircraft.
Third, we should accelerate deployment of advanced imaging technologies, so that we have greater capabilities to detect explosives like the ones used in the Christmas Day attack. We currently have 40 machines deployed throughout the United States. In 2010, we are already scheduled to deploy 300 more. We may deploy more than that. But the TSA does not conduct screening overseas, and the Christmas Day incident underscored that the screening procedures at foreign airports are critical to our safety here in the United States.
Therefore, we have to do all that we can do to encourage foreign authorities to utilize the same enhanced technologies for aviation security. After all, there were passengers from 17 countries aboard Flight 253. This is an international issue, not just one about the United States.
Fourth, we have to strengthen the presence and capacity of aviation law enforcement on top of the measures we have already taken. This includes increasing the number of federal air marshals. And we will begin by deploying law enforcement officers from across the Department of Homeland Security to help fulfill this important role.
And, fifth, working with the Secretary of State, we need to strengthen international security measures and standards for aviation security. Security measures abroad affect our security here at home. The Deputy Secretary of DHS and other top officials from my department have for the last several days been on a multi-country, multi-continent mission meeting with top transportation and airport officials, discussing ways to increase cooperation and security.
Later this month, I’ll be traveling to Spain to meet with my European counterparts for what will be the first in a series of meetings with counterparts that I believe will lead to a broad consensus on new international aviation security standards and procedures.
These five recommendations that I have just described are important areas where DHS and other federal agencies are moving quickly to address concerns revealed by the attempted attack. Added to the intelligence review also underway that John Brennan just described, these are changes that will help us prevent another attack from ever advancing as far as the one did on Christmas Day. Thank you.
MR. GIBBS: Yes, ma’am.
Q The President talked about using enhanced screening technologies. Does he intend to deploy the body imaging systems as the primary method of screening for all airports across the country? Is that the goal?
SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: I think we look at security as a system of layers. It is advanced screening technology; it is the magnetometers with which people are so familiar; it’s explosive detection technology; it is canines, an increased use of canines; it’s behavior-detection officers; it’s increased law enforcement presence, both uniformed and undercover. It’s that series of layers that we will be adding to the security we already have at our domestic airports in the wake of this instance.
Q Following up on that, you said that 300 additional of these scanners will be deployed in 2010. Was that planned before this event? And you said more may be developed -- more may be deployed on top of that. How many more, and how much will that cost?
SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: The answer is it was planned before this -- it was already in funding that the Congress had appropriated for the TSA. With respect to how many more need to be done, we will be working on that as part of our ongoing review as to how many are needed. But again, I would caution you not to focus solely on that technology. As I just explained to Elaine, this is a series of layers that we deploy and will be enhancing their deployment of at domestic airports.
Q Just one follow-up, Robert, if I can. Both of you and the President also mentioned the word “accountability,” and all three of you have made a point that it was several agencies and not just one person. But if there are several people in several agencies, who’s being held accountable now?
MR. GIBBS: Well, Jeff, I think as you heard the President now on a number of occasions, including today, take responsibility for the system that we have right now. That’s what led the President to ask these two individuals to conduct reviews, to seek where we fell down and how we can plug those holes.
Our focus right now and the President’s focus is on the timely completion of that review and to implement his directive for corrective action as quickly as possible. We don’t have any announcements other than that today. As you have heard the President say, the buck stops with him. But the team understands that what John started is a dynamic process -- and we talked about that in here I think yesterday -- that will continue over the course of the next 30 days, and then long after that, to ensure that what has been outlined by all these different agencies in acknowledging their responsibility for the attack -- they’ve acknowledged that they’ll take the corrective action that’s necessary.
I would also mention the billion dollars the President mentioned in his remarks about technology was contained in the Recovery Act. Dan.
Q To Mr. Brennan, the President kept referring to -- certainly at one point he referred to him as a “known terrorist.” It’s my understanding he was a known extremist. Was he a known terrorist?
And to both of you, what was the most shocking, stunning thing that you believe came out of the reviews?
MR. BRENNAN: As far as being a known terrorist, we knew that Mr. Abdulmutallab had departed from Nigeria and was in Yemen associating with extremists. This came directly from his father. So you’re right. We knew from that stream of information that he was extremist and had those radical tendencies. The rest of the intelligence indicated that this plot was underway. We did not map up the two, that intelligence about this individual who was a terrorist, who was in fact a Nigerian, with Mr. Abdulmutallab. So what we knew about him, the person -- an extremist -- what we knew about this other plot developing, and the individual involved in that was in fact a terrorist.
Q So he’s a known alleged terrorist now after the fact, a know extremist at the time?
MR. BRENNAN: He’s a terrorist now.
Q What was the most shocking, stunning thing that you found out of the review? And, Secretary, to you, as well.
MR. BRENNAN: Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is an extension of al Qaeda core coming out of Pakistan. And, in my view, it is one of the most lethal and one of the most concerning of it. The fact that they had moved forward to try to execute this attack against the homeland I think demonstrated to us -- and this is what the review sort of uncovered -- that we had a strategic sense of sort of where they were going, but we didn’t know they had progressed to the point of actually launching individuals here. And we have taken that lesson, and so now we’re full on top of it.
SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: I think, following up on that, not just the determination of al Qaeda and al Qaeda Arabian Peninsula, but the tactic of using an individual to foment an attack, as opposed to a large conspiracy or a multi-person conspiracy such as we saw in 9/11, that is something that affects intelligence. It really emphasizes now the renewed importance on how different intelligence is integrated and analyzed, and threat streams are followed through. And, again, it will impact how we continue to review the need to improve airport security around the world.
MR. GIBBS: Helen.
Q Was there an outside contractor used or security in Amsterdam? And also, what is really lacking always for us is you don’t give the motivation of why they want to do us harm.
MR. GIBBS: Why don’t you take the first part, and then, John, you can address the second.
SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: The screening at Schiphol Airport was done by Dutch authorities. And they did the screening that was described to you earlier this afternoon. The hand luggage was screened, the passport was checked, he went through a magnetometer. But it was done by Dutch authorities.
Q And what is the motivation? We never hear what you find out on why.
MR. BRENNAN: Al Qaeda is an organization that is dedicated to murder and wanton slaughter of innocents. What they have done over the past decade and a half, two decades, is to attract individuals like Mr. Abdulmutallab and use them for these types of attacks. He was motivated by a sense of religious sort of drive. Unfortunately, al Qaeda has perverted Islam, and has corrupted the concept of Islam, so that he’s able to attract these individuals. But al Qaeda has the agenda of destruction and death.
Q And you’re saying it’s because of religion?
MR. BRENNAN: I’m saying it’s because of an al Qaeda organization that uses the banner of religion in a very perverse and corrupt way.
MR. BRENNAN: I think this is a -- this is a long issue, but al Qaeda is just determined to carry out attacks here against the homeland.
Q But you haven’t explained why.
Q Can we clear up a couple of things, either one of you? First of all, what was learned while the flight was underway? There have been a couple of stories suggesting that additional information came to light after the flight took off, and that Mr. Abdulmutallab was going to be questioned when he arrived. That’s one.
SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: Why don’t I answer that one? In Schiphol, his name did not appear on any terrorist screening watchlist. And so nothing pinged to keep him off of the plane. While in the air, Customs in Detroit has access to the entire TIDE database, and as we now all know that’s the large mega-database; it has 500,000-plus names in it. And they knew he had a ping there, and so they were ready, when he landed in Detroit, to question him about that -- that ping against the TIDE database.
Q Before the attack?
SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: But the terrorist watchlist -- but the terrorist watchlist, the terrorist screening watchlist did not have his name on it.
Q The other question is, why was Director Leiter allowed to take leave after the incident on December 22nd?
MR. BRENNAN: I’ll take that issue. When the incident occurred on Christmas Day, a number of people came in to their offices and focused on it immediately. I was in constant contact with Mike Leiter throughout the afternoon, throughout the evening. Mike Leiter raised with me that he was in fact scheduled to go on leave to meet his son, and he asked me whether or not he should cancel that trip. I asked Mike about whether or not he had a full complement of folks and his deputy was going to be in place. Mike said he did. And I said, Mike, no, you deserve this vacation, you need to be with your son, so I was the one who told him he should go out there.
The events that took place on December 25th -- our review has looked at what transpired before then. Since then I think we have all sort of recognized that the government, the intelligence community, the homeland security community, has worked seamlessly well. And we were in constant contact with one another throughout the period and the week after the attack.
Q First question, when did we first -- for Mr. Brennan -- when did we first know that AQAP had intentions to strike the U.S. homeland? How early?
MR. BRENNAN: In the intelligence that we have acquired, over the past several years it’s been rather aspirational. It has said things, it has promoted a certain view as far as bringing the fight to us, but all of their activities, at least that we were focused on, were happening in Yemen. They carried attacks against Prince Mohammed bin Nayef in Saudi Arabia, against Saudi targets, inside of Yemen, against Yemeni as well as against U.S. targets. So it was aspirational. We saw that there was this mounting sort of drumbeat of interest in trying to get individuals to carry out attacks. That was the fragmentary information.
And so in hindsight now -- and 20/20 hindsight always gives you much better opportunity to see it -- we saw the plot was developing, but at the time we did not know in fact that they were talking about sending Mr. Abdulmutallab to the United States.
Q Can I just ask you just one follow-up? I just -- your first recommendation is to assign responsibility on all leads that are high priority. And it just seems like that would be the basic premise of any intelligence system. It seems so fundamental. I’m sure people wonder, really, that’s the reform we need?
MR. BRENNAN: What we’ve done so far since 9/11 is to really help to distribute information throughout the community -- increase capability throughout. There are a lot of different organizations involved. I think what we’re trying to do is to make sure that as these threads develop -- and there are so many of them -- that it’s clearly understood who has the lead on it. Because most times, CIA, DHS, FBI, NTCT and others are working it. What we want to do is to make sure that for each one of these threads there’s a lead and they’re going to make sure that it moves forward.
Q Mr. Brennan, you mentioned the problems of intelligence-sharing before 9/11. But after 9/11, when the 9/11 Commission Report came out, it was all about connecting the dots. And at that time there was a pledge by the intelligence community to do better on connecting the dots. And I’m wondering why, from that -- not from the pre-9/11 but from the post-9/11 Commission standpoint -- why dots weren’t connected. And when you say you’re going to improve analysis, how is it going to happen this time when it didn’t happen that time?
MR. BRENNAN: Second point first. Analysis has, in fact, improved steadily. As I said, we have an amazing track record here within the United States, the intelligence community across the board, as far as identifying these plots early, disrupting them, thwarting them, and preventing those types of attacks -- in every instance. So what we want to do is to make sure that we even raise that game even higher.
As far as information-sharing and those dots, in the past, before 9/11, you had dots in separate databases that were separated from one another and were not connected from a network standpoint. Also you had a husbanding of those dots by individual agencies and departments. We don’t have that anymore. There’s better interoperability. There’s better accesses. More places have access to more of those dots that come in.
And so that’s the challenge, is making sure that we can leverage the access to those dots so we can bring it up and identify all of these threats.
Q Madam Secretary, you mentioned -- the President mentioned major investments forthcoming. There’s already a billion dollars in the stimulus. Can we expect more investments beyond that billion dollars? And how will that be paid for? There are talks about raising airline security fees to cover some of these costs.
SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: Oh, I think it’s premature to make those statements right now. I think that’s part of the ongoing review that we’ll undertake as the -- in the coming days and the coming weeks.
Q But the major investment will be more than the billion in the stimulus? There’s more money that will likely be requested beyond?
SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: Like I said, I think it’s premature to put a number on it, but I will say that as part of our review we will be making ongoing recommendations to the President about what needs to do with domestic airports. But don’t lose sight of the fact, he was screened at an international airport and it’s the international air environment that we also need to work on. And that’s why we have undertaken this very rapid reach-out around the globe to say, look, this is an international issue; this affects the traveling public of people in countries around the world, their safety. These terrorists don’t discriminate when they get ready to take down a plane. And so that’s a very important part of the ongoing process as well.
Q Robert, might we be able to ask non-terror-related questions at the end of this time?
MR. GIBBS: If there’s time I’m sure we can get some.
Q Mr. Brennan, I want to pick up on something that General Jones said in his interview with USA Today. He referred to the Fort Hood massacre as strike one, and I’m curious if you can explain the to American public why things that were learned after Fort Hood -- Yemen, a cleric who has quite a visible role in advocating for terrorism -- didn’t create within the intelligence community and the larger apparatus a higher sensitivity to the kinds of things also visible in the Abdulmutallab case. And how much does that disturb you? And secondarily, were you personally briefed, sir, by the prince on counterterrorism in Saudi about the possibility of explosives being hidden in garments or clothing, and did that get communicated down the system as well?
MR. BRENNAN: On the issue of Mr. Awlaki, yes, we were very concerned after the Fort Hood shooting about what else he might be doing here. And that’s why there was a very determined and concerted effort after that to take a look at what else he might be trying to accomplish here in the homeland.
Now, remember, Mr. Abdulmutallab was a much different story in terms of a Nigerian who traveled to Yemen and then came over here. But what it clearly indicates is that there is a seriousness of purpose on the part of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to carry out attacks here in the United States -- whether they’re reaching people through the Internet, or whether or not, in fact, they are sending people abroad.
Q Are you satisfied that the intelligence community sort of rose up and responded to what it learned about Fort Hood in a way that worked or didn’t work --
MR. BRENNAN: Absolutely. I think we’ve already taken those corrective steps. That’s one of the things -- I might want to just pause here and say -- President Obama has directed several reviews of incidents, Fort Hood as well as this. This one has been completed -- a preliminary report -- within two weeks’ time. Lightning speed, in my three decades within the U.S. government, as far as being able to bring an issue all the way through to have reports so we can take corrective action as soon as possible. We’ve already done that with the Fort Hood report. We’re all -- instituting those changes. We’re doing that here. This is going to be the start of a process. But within two weeks’ time we’ve been able to identify, diagnose, and now take corrective steps so that we can ensure that this is not going to --
Q And the Saudi prince?
MR. BRENNAN: Yes, I was. I went out to Saudi Arabia a week after that attack, was able to work with the prince, see the place where -- the room where the attack took place; talked about the explosives that were used in that and the concerns about it -- and we had serious concerns about it. That was an assassination attempt. And we’re continuing to work with the Saudis and others about these types of techniques that are being used by al Qaeda.
And I think as Secretary Napolitano said, what we’re trying to do is to stay a step ahead. Obviously they are looking at all these different types of techniques so they can defeat our security perimeter, so what we need to do is continue to advance and evolve. And that’s what we’re doing.
Q Mr. Brennan, do you have any concern that the nation’s national security apparatus is being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information it takes in? Are you confident that you can keep up with just the volume of stuff that you --
MR. BRENNAN: I think the national security record, particularly on the counterterrorism front, is superb -- what this country has been able to do, what the counterterrorism community has been able to do with the increasing amount of information and the collection systems that have come in.
In fact, I think you see that what happened last month in Yemen, with our very good counterterrorism partner in Yemen, was able to actually address the growing threat of al Qaeda there, because of the tremendous ability for us to be able to collect information and use it swiftly. So I think the national security establishment is well served by the changes that have taken place over the last half-dozen years, as well as what we’re trying to do here in this administration to make sure that we’re able to use the information that exists within the different datasets to address our national security priorities.
Q Mr. Brennan, you said that one of the most alarming things that you found was the strength of this al Qaeda cell in Yemen. What else is it capable of did your review find or do you believe?
MR. BRENNAN: Well, as I said, they have taken a number of different paths to try to carry out an attack. That attack against Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, a suicide bomber concealed within his clothes an explosive device that in fact was very similar to the one that was used by Mr. Abdulmutallab.
They’re also, though, carrying out attacks against hard structures like the embassy, our embassy in San’a in 2008. So there’s a diversity there, but there’s also several hundred al Qaeda members within Yemen. And what we need to do is continue to work very closely with our Yemeni partners and other international partners to make sure that we’re able to drive al Qaeda down within Yemen -- because they do present a serious threat there, but also abroad.
Q Why should this have been such a surprise, though, sir? Why should this have been such a surprise?
MR. BRENNAN: What I’m saying is that where they were able to bring a person into that execution phase and actually put them on an airport [sic] coming here to the United States -- I would say that was one of the failures, as far as we saw that this increased activity was taking place, but we were not focused enough on making sure that we were able to identify whoever was going to be used to carry out that type of attack.
Q Have you learned anything that would suggest that this terror suspect specifically chose Detroit perhaps to send a message to the large Arab American population there? And on that point, when the President today talked about his concern about lone recruits being attracted to al Qaeda and their messaging, he talked about wanting to have some special efforts to break those kinds of -- that kind of appeal. Is there anything that you’ll be doing specifically in an area like southeastern Michigan that has a very large Arab American and Muslim population?
SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: The Department of Homeland Security has had outreach efforts into different populations, Muslim American populations, Somali communities across the United States over the last years, trying to build bridges so that there’s good communication between us, even in the face of those who would distort a religion for terrorist purposes. We need to look at strengthening those activities.
We also need to look at the whole issue of what is called counter-radicalization: How do we identify someone before they become radicalized to the point where they’re ready to blow themselves up with others on a plane? And how do we communicate better American values and so forth in this country but also around the globe? How do we work with our allies like the U.K. on this? That’s been a major topic of conversation between us and the U.K. over the prior months.
So you are right to point out that there’s a whole kind of related issue here, which is, how do we get into the process before somebody becomes so radicalized that they’re ready to commit this kind of an act?
Q And did you find any reason to suspect that that particular flight was chosen because it was headed to Detroit, given the large Yemeni and Arab American population there?
SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: You know, I think that’s within the purview of the criminal case, so it wouldn’t be appropriate for comment right now.
MR. GIBBS: April.
Q This goes to Madam Secretary and Mr. Brennan. Focusing on the international issue, Yemen as well as Africa, since this attack, has anyone from the Yemen embassy, or the Yemen ambassador, come to the White House since the attack happened recently to talk to anyone about this? Do you know?
SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: I can’t talk to communication at the White House, but I suspect John can.
MR. BRENNAN: We’ve been in regular contact with the Yemeni government. I’ve spoken to President Salih, in fact, after this event took place, and the Yemeni Foreign Minister in fact is going to be coming here. So there have been a number of interactions with our people in San’a as well as with Yemeni officials.
Q Now the issue of extradition, the way I understand it there’s no extradition from Yemen. Is that an issue, particularly with the breeding of terrorists there and extremists? Is that on the table with the Yemen government, extraditing them --
MR. BRENNAN: Back here to the United States? If in fact there is a reason to do that, we will do that, if they have someone.
Q Okay. And also, on the Africa issue, some in the national security community are saying that the focus needs to be placed on the continent of Africa. You talked -- the President has talked about Somalia. And there are breeding grounds in Africa where extremists from the Pakistan-Afghanistan border are going to Somalia. And there’s a fear that the tentacles will spread from there into Northern Africa, into Europe. Have you or anyone here talked to any of the African leaders? And is AFRICOM appropriate to handle this kind of situation right now after the Christmas attack?
SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: Let me just say that as I mentioned, we’ve already deployed high officials from our department around the globe, and indeed, they will be going to Africa as well. They need to be part of the solution. This is a global travel issue, not just, as I said before, the United States. So, indeed, there is active engagement there.
MR. BRENNAN: There are many different groups in Africa that are of serious concern, from a terrorist perspective -- al Qaeda in East Africa, al-Shabaab, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. We have had a ongoing and robust dialogue with African countries and leaders, as well as with other countries in the area. But we see that it is an area in fact that al Qaeda preys upon, that they particularly are looking in Africa for recruits, and this is something that we’re very concerned about and following.
Q So why not do more of a focus instead of just having AFRICOM particularly just handle this right now?
MR. BRENNAN: AFRICOM is just one of many elements of the U.S. government, as far as the Department of State and others, who are engaging with African countries and leaders in a way to address this issue from the standpoint of both cooperation, security training, and assistance.
MR. GIBBS: Margaret.
Q Thank you. John, is there -- to follow up on Michael’s question, is there any information that the government has been able to analyze now that you had prior to Christmas but hadn’t gotten to analyze yet, that is now fitting retrospectively into sort of explaining what had happened?
MR. BRENNAN: There’s a lot of information that’s being reanalyzed and reevaluated in light of this, because any type of incident like this, it gives us new insight into methods, modus operandi and other types of things. So there’s scouring going on right now of all the different datasets within the intelligence community to identify. And we are pursuing a number of leads as a result of that review.
Q Could you tell us about any of those -- presumably the report today was scrubbed. Is what was released today to us a greatly redacted version of what’s been presented to the President, and does that explain the delay this afternoon?
MR. GIBBS: As I said earlier, part of the delay is in declassifying a very complex document, and we apologize for the delay. Lynn.
Q Is the system already in place -- meaning, if the father would have gone into -- went to the embassy, could be a similar situation today, would a ping immediately happen; would the crosstab come up with the fact that the person had a visa, for example? And that’s -- isn’t that one of the things that you’re talking about? So I’m wondering if the fix is already installed.
And to Secretary Napolitano, since there aren’t body-imaging machines all over the world, I take it that pat-downs might be used. What do you say to people who are just squeamish about personal privacy being invaded and body searches?
SECRETARY NAPOLITANO: Well, obviously, as we move to strengthen security we always have this balance to be struck with issues about personal privacy. Here in the United States we train officers on how to properly conduct a pat-down. They do it in other countries around the world as well. Part of the initiative that we are undertaking is to make sure that that kind of training and capacity is built in continents around the globe. But you are right -- it is likely, in addition to the things that I listed, that there will increases of pat-downs as well.
MR. BRENNAN: On the first question, I’m confident that we have taken a variety of corrective measures that would have allowed us, had we taken them before, to identify Mr. Abdulmutallab as somebody of concern. He was identified as an extremist by his father -- not a terrorist, not somebody who was planning to carry out a violent act.
But particularly the National Counterterrorism Center has been working day and night for -- since this December 25th attempted attack, has been scouring all of the databases -- identities databases as well as all-source databases -- to make those correlations. And I’m confident that they have done that very thoroughly.
MR. GIBBS: Thank you, guys.
Q: Thank you. ###