Jan. 5, 2010— -- As U.S. officials step up airline security and attempt to retrace the steps of the Christmas day terror suspect, President Obama met with his top national security advisers today to determine what went wrong, and how it can be prevented in the future.
In the situation room this afternoon, the president was joined by top officials in charge of protecting Americans, among them the heads of CIA, National Security Agency, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
"This is a big meeting but it's not a meeting at which heads will roll," said Richard Clarke, ABC News consultant and former counterterrorism adviser to Presidents Clinton and Bush.
As for speculation that someone will get fired, "That's not likely to happen, at least not today," Clarke said on "Good Morning America" today. "What he [Obama] is going to hear instead is work that has already been done over the course of the last week to increase the number of people being screened, deny more visas, make it more difficult for this kind of event to happen again."
The president, White House officials said prior to the meeting, planned to present concrete reforms. One component of that deals with examining and updating the assumptions of the intelligence community and making those assumptions more flexible.
For example, in 2002 a Nigerian traveling to Yemen might not have meant much to the intelligence community. But now with considerable al Qaeda presence in West Africa and Yemen, such an event may have more meaning. The intelligence community's ability to change its assumptions needs to be more subtle, the president believes.
All agencies in charge of U.S. security -- from the State Department to the National Counterterrorism Center -- are reviewing what went wrong in the case of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who boarded Northwest Flight 253 bound for Detroit on Christmas day with the high-explosive PETN strapped to his underwear. His father in Nigeria alerted the U.S. embassy in November of the increasing radicalization of his son and was even paid a visit by a CIA officer. Separately, the U.S. had intelligence that "a Nigerian" was being trained in Yemen for a suicide attack, but the dots were never connected.