Airline bomb plot security review finds key failings by CIA and terror agency

• Obama rules out sackings over three main blunders
• MI5 denies Abdulmutallab was recruited by al-Qaida in UK

Barack Obama ruled out any sackings over the botched Christmas Day airline bombing plot yesterday after publishing a White House review that singled out for criticism two of the country's leading intelligence agencies, the CIA and the National Counter-Terrorism Centre.

The review into the performance of the US intelligence community concluded that there had been three key failures: to take seriously the threat posed by al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula; to put all the known pieces together; and to place the alleged bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, on a US terrorist watch list that would have prevented him flying.

The six-page review concluded: "The US government had sufficient information to have uncovered and potentially disrupted the December 25 attack – including by placing Mr Abdulmutallab on the no-fly list – but analysts within the counter-terrorism community failed to connect the dots that could have identified and warned of the specific threat."

Obama, resisting political and media pressure for sackings, said he was less interested in heads rolling than in fixing the problem. "I am less interested in passing out blame than I am in learning from, and correcting, these mistakes, to make us safer." As commander in chief, he said, "ultimately, the buck stops with me".

Although he said it was not the fault of a single individual or organisation, the conclusions of the review were harsher. There are a dozen major US intelligence agencies, but the review focused almost exclusively on the CIA and National Counter-Terrorism Centre, which was set up in 2004 as part of a reform of the intelligence services after the September 11 attacks.

Much of the implicit criticism was directed at counter-intelligence analysts at headquarters in the US, rather than those gathering information on the ground abroad.

Speaking to reporters at the White House, John Brennan, Obama's counter-terrorism adviser, defended the head of the National Counter-Terrorism Centre, Michael Leiter, who left headquarters the day after the bomb attempt to go skiing. Brennan said he had given Leiter permission to go ahead with a planned holiday with his son.

As well as announcing the review's findings, Obama set out a series of limited reforms for the intelligence community, mainly improved co-ordination and expanding the criteria for adding individuals to the US terrorist list. He also promised to introduce more body scanners at America's airports and to step up research into better screening technology.

Abdulmutallab, a 23-year-old Nigerian student who studied in the UK and spent time in Yemen, is due to appear in court in Detroit today, charged with trying to blow up a US plane on a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit, after a journey that began in Ghana, with a stop in Nigeria.

Yemen, Britain and Nigeria were yesterday engaged in a furious bout of buck-passing over their roles in the bomb plot.

Yemen's deputy prime minster and security supremo, Rashad al-Alimi, sought to deflect criticism by insisting that Abdulmutallab was recruited and radicalised in London – an assessment flatly rejected by the British security service MI5.

Alimi also claimed that Abdulmutallab, who hid the explosives in his underwear, had obtained the explosives in Nigeria, not Yemen.

Abdulmutallab's father in Nigeria alerted the CIA to concerns about his son, and there were other warnings that were not acted on. Officials from the department of homeland security admitted yesterday that they became concerned about Abdulmutallab, but only when he was already in the air en route to Detroit.

The Yemen move to shift blame elsewhere comes after reports that the US was planning to seek retribution in the country for the failed bomb attempt. But Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, ruled this out, saying there would be no direct military intervention.

The US claims its involvement is confined to indirect aid to Yemen's armed forces in the fight against al-Qaida and other groups regarded as extremist. Yemen insisted yesterday that the fight against al-Qaida must be conducted by its own forces.

Senior British counter-terrorism officials dismissed the claim that Abdulmutallab was recruited in London. They described his radicalisation as a long journey which began at school in Togo and culminated in a decisive six-month period in Yemen before he tried to blow up an airliner over Detroit on Christmas Day.

He came to MI5's attention during the three years he studied at University College London, because of his contacts with extremist websites, security sources said. That information was passed to US intelligence agencies, but there was nothing to suggest that he was a terrorist, they said.


Ewen MacAskill in Washington, Ian Black and Richard Norton-Taylor

The GuardianTramp

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