WASHINGTON — President Obama declined Thursday to fire anyone for the lapses that allowed a bombing suspect to board a U.S.-bound plane on Christmas Day, saying for the first time that he bears the ultimate responsibility for any breach that endangers Americans.
"I am less interested in passing out blame," he said at the White House as he prepared to release a detailed report on the failures by the government, including missed warning signs that the man reportedly was working with a branch of al-Qaida that was planning an attack on the United States.
"Ultimately, the buck stops with me," Obama said. "It is my responsibility."
The president appeared to signal his confidence in some of his top aides who are responsible for intelligence and airport screening. He noted that he'd be working with National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan.
"We are at war," Obama said. "We are at war against al-Qaida.... We will do whatever it takes to defeat them."
The wording apparently was chosen to answer complaints that he's treating the Christmas Day attempt and other threats as a criminal problem rather than a national security threat.
Rather than treating the accused as an enemy combatant and turning him over to the military, Obama's administration has charged Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a 23-year-old Nigerian, with attempting to blow up Northwest Airlines Flight 253 as it neared Detroit on Christmas. Abdulmutallab faces life in prison if he's convicted in federal court.
Obama also stressed the threat of lone Muslims being drawn to al-Qaida's terrorist cause.
"We must communicate clearly to Muslims around the world that al-Qaida offers nothing," he said.
The president said that intelligence agencies would improve their system of identifying and communicating suspected threats, and that new technologies — including full body scanners — would be used at airports.
He insisted, however, that the United States wouldn't turn its airports into war zones that would make flying untenable to the public.
"We will not succumb to siege mentality," he said.