"We learned of him [Abdulmutallab] in November, when his father came to the U.S. embassy in Nigeria and sought help in finding him. We did not have his name before then," CIA spokesman George Little said in a statement.
But the intelligence from the National Security Agency about the Nigerian being trained in Yemen apparently was never linked to the information from the father.
"One piece of information by itself may sound vague -- but when you link with a second piece and a third piece, the next thing you know, you have a terrorist plot," Kean said.
Abdulmutallab was on a U.S. terror-watch list but not on the main no-fly list. He had a two-year U.S. visa valid until July 2010, even though the United Kingdom denied him a visa last year and placed him on its watch list.
Abdulmutallab visited the United States twice, most recently in August 2008, to attend a program hosted by Al-Maghrib Institute in Houston.
The young Nigerian national was able to smuggle explosives past two screening checkpoints on two commercial airlines, one of which was a plane flying from Amsterdam to Detroit.
"There does appear to be a failure here at either the CIA or the new National Counterterrorism Center," said Richard Clarke, an ABC News consultant and former counterterrorism adviser to presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. "The intelligence community seems to have failed here. When they received information that someone was planning an attack, that should've become priority number one: Go out and find any shred of information related to 'a Nigerian' in Yemen."
The Senate has scheduled a hearing for January on the case. Today, senior staffers on Capitol Hill were briefed by officials from the Department of Homeland Security, National Counterterrorism Center and the State Department, a U.S. official tells ABC News.
Obama on Tuesday bluntly acknowledged such failures.
"A systemic failure has occurred, and I consider that totally unacceptable," the president said in Hawaii. "There were bits of information available within the intelligence community that could have and should have been pieced together."
Experts say there was not sufficient sharing of information seamlessly and quickly.
"The exchange of information is not as quick and effective as it should be," president of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, told ABC News. "We've got to be able to match these names quickly, promptly, seamlessly. We've got to be able to develop detectors."
Clarke, who worked on Obama's transition team, said counterterrorism agencies missed red flags and should have talked to the British, who refused to grant Abdulmutallab's visa and seemingly had more information about the Nigerian national who studied at a London university.
"There's a business-as-usual attitude in many of the agencies, particularly in the CIA," Clarke said on "Good Morning America." "The president's right. He deserves to be mad. ... We were lucky this time. Let's face it. Maybe we won't be lucky next time unless we clean house."
The president has ordered two reviews, one to assess terror watch list procedures and another to determine how the suspect allegedly was able to get explosives onto flight 253. The president said the preliminary information from the reviews he has ordered "raises some serious concerns," and he said intelligence agencies need to act quickly to fix those flaws.