"Fewer than 5 percent of the screening posts at airports have the technology necessary to find this sort of thing. The technology exists, but it costs a lot of money, and it's very intrusive and some people think that it invades their privacy," ABC News consultant and former counterterrorism official Richard Clarke said on "GMA." "If we had this expensive, intrusive equipment at all screening posts, we might have been able to stop this."
Abdulmutallab's family had warned U.S. authorities of the increased radicalization of their son, a student at a London university until 2008. His father, a former Nigerian banker, had become concerned about his son's disappearance and lack of communication while studying abroad. He first contacted Nigerian security agencies about two months ago, and then some foreign security agencies about a month and a half ago, to seek assistance in finding and returning him home.
"It was while we were waiting for the outcome of their investigation that we arose to the shocking news of that day," the family said in a statement. "The disappearance and cessation of communication which got his mother and father concerned to report to the security agencies are completely out of character and a very recent development, as before then, from very early childhood, Farouk, to the best of parental monitoring, had never shown any attitude, conduct or association that would give concern. As soon as concern arose, very recently, his parents reported it and sought help."
Experts say men such as Abdulmutallab, who live seemingly normal lives, are hard to identify and target.
"This is the truly disturbing part," Clarke said. "They are normal one day and then after a few weeks of watching the Internet and watching al Qaeda videotapes on the Internet, they become radicalized. They reach out in the real world for al Qaeda connections. They get trained.
"It's very hard to see these self-initiating terrorists become terrorists, very hard for U.S. intelligence to pick them up," Clarke added.
The United States needs to move quickly on identifying to whom Abdulmutallab was connected, and address the flaws in the security system that caused this to happen, experts said.
"It's clearly a wake-up call, and it's just like any other crime or criminal behavior. People are always trying to figure out ways around the system and al Qaeda or terrorists or people who want to blow things up are no different," Former FBI agent Brad Garrett told ABC News. "But, the key is: You want to sort that out as quickly as you can because if he is connected to someone else, what other bad acts might be out there waiting to happen?"
Clarke said the Obama administration needs to work more closely with the government of Yemen, which some say has emerged as the new front in terrorism.
"I think we do two things. Long term we work with our Arab friends in the area to address their economic problems and their political instability problems," Clarke said. "Short term, we work with CIA and Defense Department assets and the government of Yemen to go in and find these al Qaeda cells.
"And the untold story here is that the Obama administration is ahead of the curve. The Obama administration has been in Yemen working top CIA officials, top White House officials for over nine months now, working there trying to find these al Qaeda cells and they've done a good job of finding them and attacking them," Clarke said.