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THE SITUATION ROOM
Anti-Terror Security Briefing
Aired January 7, 2010 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Moments from now, within the next minute or two, we're told, the Homeland Security secretary, Janet Napolitano, and top White House officials, will tell us how the government plans to keep us all safe in the future, how that will unfold. We're going to have live coverage coming up.
And we're also going live to Yemen, where CNN's Paula Newton has been retracing the footsteps of the airline bombing suspect. We're also going live to our senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson. He's been in Jordan investigating the radicalization of a medical doctor who killed CIA officers in Afghanistan.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: All of these agencies and their leaders are responsible for implementing these reforms and all will be held accountable if they don't. Moreover, I am less interested in passing out blame than I am in learning from and correcting these mistakes to make us safer, for ultimately, the buck stops with me. As president, I have a solemn responsibility to protect our nation and our people. And when the system fails, it is my responsibility.
Over the past two weeks, we've been reminded again of the challenge we face in protecting our country against a foe that is bent on our destruction. And while passions and politics can often obscure the hard work before us, let's be clear about what this moment demands. We are at war. We are at war against Al Qaeda.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The president of the United States.
Now we're told, within the next minimum or so, the president's Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, and the president's counter-terrorism and Homeland Security adviser, John Brennan, they'll be briefing reporters. You're looking at live pictures from the White House Briefing Room.
Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, will introduce them, we're told. And then they will make statements followed by the question and answer session. You'll see it and hear it live here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Our analysts have been going through this report that has also just been released as we await the start of this briefing -- Peter Bergen, you've had a chance to read some of this already.
Anything shock you yet?
PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, I mean, the two most important findings are, one, that they could have identified Mr. Abdulmutallab as a likely operative of al Qaeda, according to this report, and could have potentially prevented him from getting on the flight. And, two, that despite the Al Qaeda in Yemen and Saudi Arabia sort of larger ambitions, that the Intelligence Committee did not put more -- extra resources into looking at that threat.
And I think this is a very common story, because you're -- you're always preparing for the last attack, as it were. And so Al Qaeda and Yemen, Al Qaeda and Saudi Arabia hadn't previously seemed to be capable of doing out of air operations. They had attacked in Yemen, they had attacked in Saudi Arabia, but not in the United States or any -- or in the West, in general.
And so I think these are the two most important findings that come out of this.
BLITZER: As we await the start of this briefing over at the White House, Paula Newton is standing by.
She's in Yemen right now.
And Nic Robertson is in Amman, Jordan -- but, Paula Newton, first to you.
What more are we learning, if anything, on the connections between the suspected airline bomber in Detroit, this, Nigerian and this the American-born radical cleric in Yemen, where you are?
PAULA NEWTON, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, clearly, what intelligence officials are finding out here is that, as Peter just said, Abdulmutallab might have been one of the first people to present himself to Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula as that outside operator, the person who could maybe pull off an attack outside of their sphere in the Arabian Peninsula.
Awlaki is a very link right now to Abdulmutallab. They're trying to retrace Abdulmutallab's steps from when he went missing in Yemen toward the end of September. He was apparently still here that first week of December.
What they want to know, though, did he make casual contact with him on the Internet and then met him a few times or was it more -- was -- did it involve explosions, training, other contacts with top Al Qaeda officials?
BLITZER: Nic Robertson is in Jordan right now watching all this. Before you -- you headed off to Amman, Jordan, Nic, you were -- you -- in the United Kingdom. He had been a student at University College in London, got a degree in civil and -- or mechanical engineering, I believe -- or civil engineering, one of those.
What was British intelligence picking up on this Nigerian?
NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they were picking up that he was making contact with people that they were already watching -- people among the sort of 2,000 extremists that they -- MI5, the Britain -- Britain's internal security services and others were watching.
But what the British did was they made an assessment, because he came up on their radar a couple of times -- did he actually present the threat to the British government?
And the answer they came back with was no. So on any information that they would have shared generally at that time with the United States, they wouldn't have attached a huge importance to him because he didn't present a huge threat to Britain -- or at least that was the assessment. Perhaps there's room for expanding that sort of collaboration.
And we certainly know that he applied go to a bogus college in May of last year. That's when he really flagged for British officials that there was something wrong, because they had seen other would-be terrorists -- terror plotters trying to get into Britain and go to bogus universities. So they turned down his application. And at that time, they flagged him as a problem and banning him from coming into the country in the future. So the British -- British intelligence really, over a period of time, managed to build a picture that he was a problem -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Nic, you're in Jordan right now. You've spent a lot of time in Pakistan, Afghanistan, throughout the Arab and Muslim world. You just heard the president of the United States deliver his remarks -- at the end, reaching out to the Muslim world, saying this is not a war against you, this is a war against Al Qaeda, which is trying to kill so many Muslims at the same time.
How will the president's remarks today play, do you believe, in the Arab and Muslim world?
ROBERTSON: I think for a lot of people in -- in this part of the world, they're going to look at what the president said, but they're also going to realize that he's looking at the U.S. national interests. And they're going to look at all those airports in Saudi Arabia, in Yemen and Nigeria where people are going to have to -- if they want to travel with the United States -- go through much tighter security checks than they would perhaps if they were coming from London or Amsterdam in the future.
And they're going to say that makes Muslims into second class citizens. So perhaps the more educated part of the population here, they'll say, OK, while we understand the president might want to reach out to us, this is going to work against them. And when you look at how Al Qaeda and other types of groups will use this information against the United States, you can really see how they will play on the minds of young people and say, look, the United States is clearly against Muslims, this is what they're doing, downgrading, essentially, the sort of quality of security at these airports and saying people need more checks.
So, you know, while the words are good, people are going to look at these actions more -- Wolf.
BLITZER: I want you to stand by, Nic.
A quick question to Paula Newton -- Paula, you're in Yemen right now. The U.S. government is trying to establish a working relationship with the Yemeni government to make sure that they are engaged in trying to fight Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
Actually, Paula Newton, hold on. Stand by for that thought, because we just see Robert Gibbs is about to introduce this briefing.
ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I want to first apologize for the delay in the events that have occurred over the past couple of 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 in box, two separate documents that were e-mailed 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 -- a 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 counter- terrorism.
After they speak, we will spend about a 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'll hear first from John.
JOHN BRENNAN, DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: 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 watch listing 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 thank, as well, 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 Sana'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 Christmas Eve before Abdulmutallab ever boarded that 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 a 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. And, 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 a 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 plots, 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 watch listing system, both human and technological, which resulted in Abdulmutallab not being placed on the watch list, thereby allowing him to board a plane in Amsterdam for Detroit. And while the watch listing 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 our intelligence community immediately to 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 disrupted.
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 watch list, 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 it's going to monitor their progress. The president has directed me to report back on the progress within 30 days and on a regular basis after that and I will do so.
Taken together, these reforms are going to improve the intelligence community's ability to do its job even better, to collect, share, integrate, analyze and act on intelligence swiftly and effectively to protect our country.
And, finally, I wanted 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 we must do better. I told the president today, I let him down. I am the president's assistant for homeland security and counter-terrorism. And I told him that I will do better and we will do better as a team.
JANET NAPOLITANO, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: 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 a 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 and 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 revaluation and modification of the criteria and process used to create the terrorist watch lists. 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 list 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 technology 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 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 -- 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.
QUESTION: Yes, ma'am?
QUESTION: 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 (INAUDIBLE)?
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 and increased use of canines. It's behavior detection officers. It's increased law enforcement presence, both uniformed and undercover. It's that series of lay -- of layers that we will be adding to the security we already have at our domestic airports in the wake of this incident.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, sir?
QUESTION: Following up on that, you said that 300 additional scanners will be deployed in 2010.
Was that planned before this event?
And you said more may be developed or more may be deployed on top of that.
How many more?
How much will that cost?
NAPOLITANO: The answer is it was planned before this. It was already in funding that the Congress had appropriated for -- for the TSA. With respect to how many more needs 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.
QUESTION: One follow-up, however, if I can. Both of you and the president also mentioned the word accountability and all three of you made a point it was several agencies and not just one person. But if there are several people and several agencies, who is being held accountable now?
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.
And our focus right now -- and the president's focus -- is on the 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 attacks, what 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, OK.
QUESTION: And to Mr. Brennan, the president kept referring to -- certainly, at one point, he referred to the 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?
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, in Nigeria, 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.
QUESTION: So he's a known alleged terrorist now, after the fact -- a known extremist at the time. BRENNAN: He is a terrorist now.
QUESTION: What was the most shocking, stunning thing that you found out at review and secretary. You, as well?
BRENNAN: Al Qaeda on 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 reviews have uncovered -- that we had a thank, as well, 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 on top of it.
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 on 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.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Helen?
HELEN THOMAS, UPI: Was there an outside contractor used for 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.
GIBBS: Why don't you take the first part and then, John, we can -- you can address the second part.
NAPOLITANO: Well, the screening was Schipol Airport was done by Dutch authorities. And they did the -- the screening that was described to you earlier this afternoon. The hand luggage was -- was screened. The passport was checked. He went through a magnetometer. But it was done by Dutch authorities.
THOMAS: And what is the motivation?
We never hear what you find out overall.
BRENNAN: Al Qaeda is a -- 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 been able to attract these individuals. But Al Qaeda has the agenda of destruction and death.
THOMAS: And you're saying it's because of religion?
BRENNAN: I'm saying it's because of an Al Qaeda -- al Qaeda organization that calls -- that uses the banner of religion in a very perverse and corrupt way.
BRENNAN: Well, this is a -- this is a long issue, but al Qaeda is just determined to carry out attacks here against the homeland.
THOMAS: But you haven't explained why.
QUESTION: Can we clear up a couple of things, either one of you?
First of all, what was learned while the flight was underway?
The 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.
NAPOLITANO: Why don't I answer that one?
NAPOLITANO: In Schipol, his name did not appear on any terrorist screening watch lists. 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, now that's the -- 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.
NAPOLITANO: But the terrorist watch list -- but the terrorist watch list -- the terrorist screening watch list did not have his name on it.
QUESTION: Another question is why was Director Leiter allowed to take a leave after the incident on December 23rd?
BRENNAN: I'll take that issue.
When the incident occurred on Christmas Day, a number of people came in to -- to the -- their offices and focused on it immediately. I was in constant contact with Mike Leitner throughout the afternoon and throughout the evening.
Mike Leitner raised with me that he was, in fact, scheduled to go on leave to -- to meet his -- 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 deputies were 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. I was the one who told him he should go out there. The events that took place December 25th, review looked at what transpired before then. Since then I think we have all sort of recognized that the government, intelligence community, homeland security community worked seamlessly well and in constant contact with one another throughout the period and week after the attack.
QUESTION: When did we first know that AQAP had intentions to strike the U.S. homeland? How early?
BRENNAN: In the intelligence we acquired over the last several years, it has been aspirational and said things and it has promoted a certain view as far as bringing the fight to us. But all of their actives, at least we were focused on, were happening in Yemen. They carried out attacks against Saudi targets, inside Yemen and against U.S. targets. So it was aspirational. We saw there was this mounting drumbeat of interest in trying to get individuals to carry out attacks. That was the fragment information. And so in hindsight, it always gives you much better doesn't the see it, we saw the plot was developing but at the time we did not know, in fact, they were talking about sending Abdulmutallab to the United States.
QUESTION: One followup. First recommendation is to assign responsibility on leads that are high priority. It just seems like that would be the basic premise of any intelligence. It seems so fundamental. I'm sure people wonder really that's a reform we need?
BRENNAN: What we have done so far since 9/11 is to really help to distribute information throughout the community and increased capability. There are a lot of different organizations involved. I think what we are trying do is make sure that as these threats develop and there are so many of them, it is clearly understood who has the lead on it. Because most times, CIA, DHS, FBI are working it. For keep one of the threats there is a lead and makes sure it goes forward.
QUESTION: You mentioned the problems of intelligence sharing before 9/11. After 9/11, 9/11 commission report came out. It was all about connecting the dots. At that time there was a pledge by the intelligence community to do better on connecting the dots. I am wondering why from that -- not the pre-9/11 but from post-9/11 commission standpoint why dots weren't connected and when you say you are going to improve analysis, how is it going to happen this time when it didn't happen that time?
BRENNAN: Second point first. Analysis has improved. Steadily. As I said, we have an amazing track record within the United States. Intelligence community across the board as far as identifying these plots early, disrupting them and preventing those types of attacks in every instance. So what we want to do is make sure we even raise that game even higher. As far as information sharing in those dots in the past before 9/11, you had dots in separate databases separated from one another and not connected from network standpoint. Had you a husbanding of the dots by individual agencies and departments. We don't have that anymore. There is better interoperability. More places have access to more of those dots that come in. So that's the challenges making sure that we can leverage the access to those dots so we can bring it up and identify all of these threats.
QUESTION: You mentioned - the president mentioned major investments forthcoming. There's billion dollars in stimulus. Can we expect more investments beyond that billion dollars? And how will that get paid for? Talk about raising airline security fees to cover some of the costs.
JANET NAPOLITANO, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: I think it is premature to make those statements right now. I think that's part of ongoing review we will undertake. As the -- in the coming days and coming weeks.
QUESTION: The major investments we -- more than a billion in the stimulus. More money that will likely be requested beyond.
NAPOLITANO: Like I said, I think it is premature to put a number on it. But I will say that it is part of our review we will be making ongoing recommendations and to the president about what needs to do with domestic airports. Don't lose sight of the fact he was screened at an international airport and it is the international environment we also need to work on. 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, terrorists don't discriminate when they get ready to take down a plane. So that's a very important part of the ongoing process as well.
QUESTION: Are you going to take nonterror related questions?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If there is time.
QUESTION: Mr. Brennan, I'd like to pick up on something that General Jones said in his interview with USA Today. He referred to the Ft. Hood massacre as strike one. I'm curious if you can explain to the American public why things have -- learned after Ft. Hood, Yemen, a cleric who has quite a visible role in advocating for terrorism. He didn't create within the intelligence community apparatus the higher sensitivity to the kinds of things also visible in Abdulmutallab case? How much does that disturb you? Were you personally briefed by the prince of counterterrorism in Saudi about the possibility of explosives being hidden in garments or clothing? Did that get communicated to the system as well?
BRENNAN: We were very concerned after the Ft. Hood shooting about what else he might be doing here. That's why there was a very concerted effort to take a look what he may be trying to accomplish in the homeland. Mr. Abdulmutallab was a much different story in terms of Nigerian that traveled to Yemen and then came over here. What it clearly indicates is that there is a seriousness of purpose in the point of al Qaeda to carry out attacks here in the United States. Whether they are reaching people through the internet or whether or not in fact they are sending people abroad.
QUESTION: Are you satisfied the intelligence community rose up and responded to what it learned about Ft. Hood in a way that worked or didn't work?
BRENNAN: Absolutely. I think we have already taken those corrective steps. That's one of the things you may want to pause and say president Obama directed several reviews of incidents. Ft. Hood as well as this. This one has been completed within two weeks time. Lightning speed. In my three decades within the government, as far as being able to bring an issue all the way through to have reports we can take corrective action as soon as possible. We have done that with the Ft. Hood report and instituting those changes. We are doing that here. This is going to be the start of a process. Within two weeks' time we have been able to identify, diagnose and now take corrective steps so we can assure this is not going to -- yes. I went to Saudi Arabia week after that attack and able on work with the prince. See the place where the room where the attack took place and talked about the explosives used and concerns about it and we had serious concerns about it. That was an assassination attempt. We are continuing to work with the Saudis and others about the types of techniques that are being used by al Qaeda. I think as Secretary Napolitano said, we are trying to stay a step ahead. Obviously they are looking at all these different types of techniques so they can defeat our security perimeter. What we need to do is continue to advance and evolve and that's what we are doing.
QUESTION: Mr. Brennan, do you have any concern that the national security apparatus is being -- information it takes in?
BRENNAN: It is superb. What this country able to do with the increasing amount of information and collection systems come in, in fact, I think you see that what happened last month in Yemen, with our very good 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. I think the national security establishment is well served by the changes that have taken place over the last half dozen years and as well as what we are trying to do here in this administration to make sure we are able to use the information exists within the different stay that sets to address national security priorities.
QUESTION: Mr. Brennan, you said one of the most alarming things you found was strength of this al Qaeda cell in Yemen. What else is it capable did you find? Or do you believe?
BRENNAN: As I said, they have taken a number of different paths to care why out an attack. This attack against prince, suicide bomber, concealed, within his clothes, explosive device that was very similar to the up with that was used by Abdulmutallab. They are carrying out attacks against hard structures, the embassy in 2008. There's a diversity there. There's several hundred al Qaeda members within Yemen. What we need to do is continue to work closely with the Yemeni partners and other international partners to make sure we are able to drive al Qaeda down within Yemen because they do present a serious threat there but also abroad. QUESTION: Why should this be such a surprise? Why should this have been such a surprise?
BRENNAN: Where they were able to bring a person into that execution phase, and actually put them on an airport coming here to the United States. As I said, 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 we were able to identify whoever was going to be used to carry out that type of attack.
QUESTION: Have you learned anything that would suggest that this terror suspect specifically chose Detroit perhaps to send a message to large Arab American population there? When the president talked about I his concern about recruits of being attracted to al Qaeda and their messaging, talked about wanting to have some special efforts to break those kinds of -- that kind of appeal, is there anything that you will be doing specifically in an area like Michigan that has a very large Arab American and Muslim population?
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 a good communication between us. Even in the face of those that would distort a religion for terrorist purposes. We need to look strengthening those activities and also need to look at the whole issue of what is called counter radicalization. How to -- how do we identify someone before they become radicalized to the point where they are 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 UK on this. That's been a major topic of conversation between us and the UK over the prior months. You are right to point out there is a whole related issue here which is -- how do we get into the process before somebody becomes so radicalized that they are ready to committed this kind of an act.
QUESTION: 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?
NAPOLITANO: You know, I think that's within the perfect view of the criminal case and wouldn't be appropriate for comment now.
QUESTION: This goes to madam secretary and Mr. Brennan. Focusing on the international issue, Yemen as well as Africa, has -- since this attack has anyone from the Yemen embassy or Yemen ambassador come to the white house since the attack happened recently to talk to anyone about this? Do you know?
NAPOLITANO: I can't talk about communication with the white house.
BRENNAN: We have been in regular contact with the Yemeni government. The Yemeni foreign minister will be coming here. So there have been a number of interactions with our people as well as with the Yemeni official.
QUESTION: The issue of extradition, the way I understand it, there is no extradition from Yemen. Is that an issue particularly with the -- reading of terrorists there? And extremists, is that on the table with the Yemen government? Extraditing them --
BRENNAN: Back here to the United States? If in fact there is a reason to do that, we will do that.
QUESTION: Also on the Africa issues, some in the national security community are saying that the focus needs to be placed on the continent of Africa. The president talked about Somalia. There are breeding grounds in Africa where extremists from the Afghan and Pakistan are going to Africa and there are fears it will spread into northern Europe. Have you or anyone here talked to the African leaders and is it appropriate to handle this kind of situation right now after the Christmas attack?
NAPOLITANO: As I mentioned, we have 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's active engagement there.
BRENNAN: There are many different groups that have serious concern, Al Qaeda and east Africa. We had an ongoing and robust dialogue with African leaders and as well as other countries in the area. We see that as an area al Qaeda preys upon. That they particularly are looking in Africa for recruits. And this is something we are very concerned about following up.
BRENNAN: It is one of many elements of the U.S. government as far as the department of state and others who are engaging with African countries ask leaders in a way to address this issue from the standpoint of cooperations, security and assistance.
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 this is now fitting retrospectively into sort of explaining what had happened?
BRENNAN: There's a lot of information that's being reanalyzed and re-evaluated in light of this. Because any type of incident like this, it gives us new insight into methods and other types of things. So there's scouring going on right now of all the different data sets within the intelligence community to identify and we are pursuing a number of leads as a result of that.
QUESTION: Can you tell us about any of those?
QUESTION: Is what was released today to us a greatly redacted version of what is presented to the president and does that explain the delay?
GIBBS: As I said earlier, part of the delay is classifying complex document and we apologize for the delay.
QUESTION: Is the system or ready in place if the father would have -- went to the embassy, similar situation today, would a ping immediately happen? Would the cross tap come up with the fact that a person had a visa? Isn't that one of the things you are talking about? I'm wondering if the fix is already installed and to secretary in tan owe, since there aren't body imaging prints all over the world, I take it that pat-downs might be used. What do you say to people squeamish about personal privacy being invaded and body searches?
NAPOLITANO: Well, obviously, as we move to strengthen security, we also 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 other countries around the world as well. Part of the initiative that we are undertake sing to make sure that that kind of training and capacity is built in continents around the globe. You are right. It is likely in addition to the things I listed that there will be increased use of pat-downs as well.
BRENNAN: 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 an extremist. Particular there national counterterrorism center has been working day and night since this December 25th attempted attack has been scouring all of the databases, to make those correlations. I'm confident that they have done that very thoroughly.
UNNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.
UNNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.
BLITZER: There it is. Briefing from the president's homeland security secretary Janet Napolitano and counterterrorism and homeland security adviser John Brennan, making several important points trying to go into more specifics. Earlier we heard from the president on a systemic failure to connect the dots that could have prevented that attempted terrorist attack over Detroit on Christmas day. And now we get more specifics from the two adviser. One thing very interesting, we have our panel of national security and homeland security experts, best political team on television.
Peter Bergen, what struck me and I'm sure struck you as well in read thing summary, this declassified report that the white house has just released, is that before the attempted bomb plot on Christmas day, they had information, the U.S. government, that Abdulmutallab was, in their words, a likely operative of al Qaeda and Arabian peninsula and that al Qaeda and Arabian peninsula was a part of the core al Qaeda which is either in Afghanistan or Pakistan or along the border. Where is Osama Bin Laden is hiding out? That sort of jumped out at me as new information.
BERGEN: That jumped out at me as well. John Brennan also said in his discussion right now that Abdulmutallab was a known associate of al Qaeda. I mean, that's pretty -- General Jones' statement about shock when he read the document, we are seeing declassified version, that's pretty surprising. It is also very interesting John Brennan said he went to Saudi Arabia and got a brief on precisely the same kind of bomb that was used in the Northwest attack used on August 27th in the attack.
BLITZER: What also struck me John Brennan kept saying that the U.S. government knew that al Qaeda and Arabian Peninsula had aspirational goals to attack the United States but no direct ability to do so until the failed attempt Christmas day. That raises the question of what happened with Major Nidal Hasan who was in connection -- who was also in contact with al Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula in the version of that U.S.-born radical cleric.
FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, FORMER BUSH HOMELAND SECURITY ADVISER: That is right, Wolf. Two points here. One, we get the impression from John that they didn't realize that John, AQAP in the Arabian peninsula had moved from the business stage to the operational stage to deploy, and the question is, what did they miss in there which leads us back to point about Major Nidal Hasan and the Ft. Hood shooting and we know there were connections with al Awlaki before December 25th. So certainly, intelligence should have gone back the look at all of the communications al Awlaki was having with others for leads frankly, Wolf, to see if they could identify other operatives. John carefully did not answer that question.
BLITZER: John Brennan.
TOWNSEND: Yes, he carefully did not answer that question about al Awlaki and Nidal Hasan and that will be left to be seen whether the intelligence community did go back and do that.
BLITZER: Peter jus to be precise, there was not one or two attempted terror attacks in the United States involving Yemen, but there was a third incident as well.
BERGEN: Right. Which I would be scrubbing heavily which is the attack on the Little Rock, Arkansas, military recruiting --
BLITZER: Yes, and remind us about that.
BERGEN: An African-American convert to Islam and traveled to Yemen and came back into the country in January of last year and on the FBI's radar and managed to pick up weapons and then kill an American soldier and seriously wound another. Obviously the ball was dropped on that as well. What was he doing on Yemen? He was not there on some conventional vacation.
BLITZER: He wasn't studying Arabic. Go ahead, Gloria Borger.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: We have a picture of huge information, and dots we are calling them, that was out, there and this report is very, very tough on the analysis, and says that those things were not analyzed, and says that the analysis, the information that was available was what this report calls fragmentary and embedded in a large volume of other data. So you can see that the analysts are saying how are we supposed to pick this needle out of the haystack and that needle out of the haystack? But in fact, they were not needles, and Abdulmutallab's father going to the embassy was larger than.
BLITZER: And the assistant FBI director Tom Fuentes, this briefing by the two homeland security adviser, and will it ensure the American public that the government is on top of the terror threats?
BERGEN: That is a good question. One thing I would like to add is that the issue in reading the memo is about the watch-listing procedures of information already in U.S. databases or U.S. systems. Not enough emphasis has been made on what did other Intel services around the world have. Now, as Nic Robertson reported, MI5 had investigated Abdulmutallab, also, and determined he was a threat to UK and should not be allowed in. So my question is that that could have been the final trip wire to get him on the no-fly list if that had been shared.
BLITZER: And quickly, David Gergen, same question to you, what we heard from the administration and the president on down, will that reassure the American public that they are on top of the nation's terror threats?
DAVID GERGEN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: Well, John Brennan's briefing helped some, but not entirely reassuring. If customs officials in Detroit could access this information and knew right away that they might have a problem, why aren't there customs officials in place in places like Amsterdam who could access the information and stopped him from getting on the plane and that is one of several big questions that arise out of the briefing and this presentation.
BLITZER: All right. We will continue to assess what is going on in an important day here in Washington. We will go the Detroit by the way, and this suspect in this failed attack, he is going to be arraigned tomorrow. He is going to go before a judge, and presumably plead one way or another, and we will go to assess what is going on. That is coming up. Take a quick break and continue our coverage. Jack Cafferty is coming up as well. Much more right here in THE SITUATION ROOM right after this.
BLITZER: Lots of information to digest and we are covering the breaking news and lots going on here in Washington, but right now we are also watching what is about to happen in Detroit. A lot of people say he is the newest face of terrorists bent on killing Americans. The attempted bombing suspect is scheduled to make the first court appearance tomorrow. We go to CNN's Deborah Feyerick to set the scene for us. What do we know?
DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we know, Wolf, he will be here for an arraignment and a detention hearing. He is charged with using a bomb as a weapon of mass destruction and attempting to blow up a U.S. jetliner and attempting to kill all 198 people on board. He will be in court tomorrow, and a very heavy police presence around this area expected at that time. Now, we are also learning from a source briefed on the investigation that in Detroit on Christmas day, federal agents had actually flagged Abdulmutallab's name in a routine database analysis and then agents from the customs and border protection were actually able to meet and interview Abdulmutallab when he got off of the plane, and clearly that did not happen, because he detonated the device on approach into the airport. We are also learning that under investigation is hue he became radicalized and one of the ingredients used in the device is TATP which is an ingredient known by known terrorists who have been radicalized or acting individually. We are told by a top Yemeni official that in fact Abdulmutallab did meet with a radical American- born cleric Anwar Awlaki who is rock star of the internet to radicalize young Muslims, and they did meet outside of the capital and not clear when the meeting took place, and we know that Abdulmutallab was there from august to December of 2009. We are also told that al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, when they took credit for this plane attack that they cited an attack that had been carried out by Yemeni forces with U.S. support, and it was believed that during that attack Anwar Awlaki was killed, but again, that is unclear. He will be here in court tomorrow, Abdulmutallab. Wolf?
BLITZER: Well, Abdulmutallab, his health as far as the burns he sustain and what other injuries he sustained, is he okay to make that appearance?
FEYERICK: He is being treated. He did receive second and third degree burns and he was in the hospital for a while. His lawyers said he may require skin grafts, but right now, no recent update on the medical condition.
BLITZER: Deborah Feyerick, and we will check back with you, thank you very much.
Happening now the breaking news we are following. President Obama declares that the buck stops with me, and says it and spells out ways that the United States can better track and stop terrorists. This hour, we will have in depth coverage of the president's new response to the failed Christmas bombing, and his demand for accountability. We are continuing our coverage of the breaking news.