Obama Addresses Next Steps in Anti-Terror Battle

Posted January 7, 2010 at 5:12pm

Updated: 7:32 p.m.

President Barack Obama on Thursday took responsibility for the failure to prevent a terrorist from nearly blowing up an airliner Christmas Day, but he said the administration is moving aggressively to ensure it does not happen again.

“I have a solemn responsibility to protect our nation and our people, and when the system fails, it is my responsibility,— Obama said during remarks at the White House.

Amid some criticism from Republicans that the White House has not treated the fight against terrorism as a “war,— Obama made clear that this is what the United States is waging.

“We are at war,— Obama said. “We are at war against al-Qaida, a far-reaching network of violence and hatred that attacked us on 9/11, that killed nearly 3,000 innocent people, and that is plotting to strike us again. And we will do whatever it takes to defeat them.—

John Brennan, Obama’s White House homeland security adviser, also took responsibility for the failure, telling reporters at the White House he had let the president down and promising to do better in the future.

But Obama suggested he would not cast blame at any single individual or organization, describing the failure as a broad breakdown.

“At this stage in the review process, it appears that this incident was not the fault of a single individual or organization, but rather a systemic failure across organizations and agencies,— Obama said.

“That’s why, in addition to the corrective efforts that I’ve ordered, I’ve directed agency heads to establish internal accountability reviews and directed my national security staff to monitor their efforts.—

Obama said the intelligence was available, but the analysis was faulty.

“Rather than a failure to collect or share intelligence, this was a failure to connect and understand the intelligence that we already had,— he said. “The U.S. government had the information scattered throughout the system to potentially uncover this plot and disrupt the attack.—

The president said he was taking steps to expedite the prioritizing and processing of intelligence that suggests immediate threats.

Obama’s remarks drew praise from Congressional Democrats including Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), but were not enough to quell GOP criticism.

“While the president’s intentions are good, unfortunately, his response falls short of directing one of the needed actions we should take immediately to prevent foreign persons with known or suspected connections to terrorism from traveling to the United States,— said Sen. Susan Collins, ranking member on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee.

Collins added: “The Department of State should identify all individuals in the broadest terrorist database who possess U.S. visas and suspend their visas, pending further investigation. Moreover, the Department of Homeland Security should expand existing programs to confirm that all foreign citizens boarding flights to the United States have valid visas.—