Northwest 253: Evidence of Missed Signals Mounts
CIA Met With Suspect's Father, But No Search for Abdulmutallab in Yemen
By BRIAN ROSS and KIRIT RADIA
Dec. 29, 2009
President Obama rendered a harsh verdict on the nation's intelligence community Tuesday. The bottom line said the President, is that U.S. intelligence and law enforcement had enough information to stop accused Northwest 253 bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab from boarding the flight on Christmas, but failed to piece the information together.
"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," said the President.
The president's speech came as the list of missed signals about Abdulmutallab continues to grow. U.S. authorities failed to put Abdulmutallab on the no-fly list or revoke his American visa even after being told by his father in November that the son was being radicalized in the al Qaeda hotbed of Yemen, officials in Washington told ABC News. Abdulmutallab's father met with a CIA official at the U.S. Embassy, and the meeting became the basis for a cable sent to all U.S. embassies the next day.
"We learned of him [Abdulmutallab] in November," said CIA spokesperson George Little in a statement, "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. Also in November, we worked with the embassy to ensure he was in the government's terrorist database -- including mention of his possible extremist connections in Yemen. We also forwarded key biographical information about him to the National Counterterrorism Center. 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."
Abdulmutallab's name was only added to a "catch-all" watch list that did not prevent him from boarding a U.S.-bound airplane. American authorities failed to put Abdulmutallab on the no-fly list or revoke his American visa because they determined that the information provided by his father was "insufficient" and non-specific, officials in Washington told ABC News.
After the father alerted U.S. authorities to his son's radicalization and presence in Yemen, the tip also apparently failed to trigger any kind of search of whether Abdulmutallab was in Yemen.
ABC News has learned that after he delivered his warning on November 19, and prior to the Christmas Day incident, there were several subsequent phone calls between the suspect's father, a prominent Nigerian banker and former government official, and the U.S. Embassy in Abuja. American officials say the calls were standard follow-up conversations to tell Abdulmutallab's father that they were unable to locate his son.
No Search for Abdulmutallab in Yemen
It appears, however, that no search was conducted. Yemeni officials said they were never approached by American authorities seeking information about Abdulmutallab, who was in their government computer lists of foreign visitors, according to the country's foreign minister. A spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Sana'a did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Other missed signals include:
--Abdulmutallab paid cash for his ticket and traveled with no luggage to Detroit
--Abdulmutallab had been denied a visa to the United Kingdom after using the name of a non-existent school and was prohibited from flying on U.K.-bound planes.
--Abdulmutallab did not go through any of the available body scan screening devices in Amsterdam because airport officials claimed they did not have approval from America authorities to use them on U.S.-bound passengers.
President Obama has ordered two reviews, one of air passenger screening procedures, the other of the terror watch list.He said his administration would learn from the episode and act quickly to fix the flaws "because our security is at stake and lives are at stake."