WASHINGTON — President Obama on Tuesday acknowledged "deficiencies" and a "systemic failure" in the nation's security and anti-terrorism system.
He said U.S. intelligence officials were warned weeks ago about the Nigerian man alleged to have tried to blow up a U.S.-bound flight on Dec. 25, and the man should never have been permitted to board the plane.
Obama called the situation "totally unacceptable."
"It now appears that weeks ago this information was passed to a component of our intelligence community but was not effectively distributed so as to get the suspect's name on a no-fly list," he said.
A CIA spokesman said Tuesday the agency had "learned of" Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab in November, when his father approached the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria with his concerns. Spokesman Paul Gimigliano didn't address any specifics about interviews or prior intelligence other than to say in a prepared statement that "we did not have his name before then."
"This agency, like others in our government, is reviewing all data to which it had access — not just what we ourselves may have collected — to determine if more could have been done to stop Abdulmutallab," Gimigliano said.
Meanwhile, Senate Democrats, who were unable to get the president's nominee to lead the Transportation Security Administration confirmed before they recessed for winter break, were pledging to act quickly upon their return in three weeks.
In his second straight day of remarks from Hawaii, where his family is vacationing, Obama sought to put to rest early criticism that he wasn't responding forcefully enough or that he and top administration officials were trying to gloss over what could have been a catastrophic event had the explosive not failed and passengers not intervened. Obama reiterated that thorough reviews of the government's human and systemic errors are under way.
Had the system worked, Obama said, "a fuller, clearer picture of the suspect would have emerged. The warning signs would have triggered red flags, and the suspect would have never been allowed to board that plane for America."
White House aides declined to provide additional details behind the president's remarks, such as which component of the U.S. intelligence community dropped the ball related to the father's warning, and which other details should have been pieced together.
From his home state of Nevada, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Tuesday that, when the Senate returns from its recess, he would file a cloture motion to limit debate and move to a roll-call vote on the nomination of Erroll Southers, a California airport police official and former FBI special agent.
Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., had held up Southers' confirmation earlier this month when Democrats sought to approve him by consent. The cloture process can take several days if those opposing a nominee choose to engage in lengthy debate. Southers has cleared two Senate committees with bipartisan support, but DeMint objected to what he believes are Democrats' plans to unionize the TSA.
DeMint said Tuesday that Reid had "completely ignored this nominee for weeks until the recent terror attempt" and was now grandstanding. DeMint also indicated he was open to a compromise to limit debate.
Reid spokesman Jim Manley said DeMint was being "petty and vindictive" and that "he can't have his cake and eat it, too. The fact is he objected to us confirming this nominee. The one who's grandstanding is Senator DeMint."
Southers is the Los Angeles World Airports Police Department assistant chief for homeland security and intelligence. He also is the associate director of the University of Southern California's Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events, and he served as a deputy director of homeland security for California Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. An acting administrator is in place pending his confirmation.