Terror Attempt a Referendum on Obama Security Policy?

Critics call attempted bombing a red flag on Obama's security policies.

ByABC News via logo
December 30, 2009, 5:44 PM

WASHINGTON, Dec. 31, 2009— -- Few dispute that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's attempted bombing of Northwest Flight 253 represents a major breach of U.S. security and intelligence systems. But assigning blame for the thwarted Christmas Day attack depends on whom you ask in the highly polarized political climate.

Former Republican House speaker Newt Gingrich laid blame for the Dec. 25 incident at the feet of Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on "Good Morning America" today, saying "there's a fundamental mismatch between the dangers we face and this administration's inability ... to confront how difficult this war is."

Gingrich, who insists the United States is "in a war situation," criticized the Obama administration's plans to close the Guantanamo Bay detention center, repatriate some detainees to Yemen and try others in U.S. criminal courts. "This is just not competent," he said.

But the former speaker also acknowledged that problems of miscommunication between intelligence agencies and an inability to maintain vigilance in the face of persistent threats are not limited to the Obama administration.

"The last administration underestimated how hard this war was going to be," he said. "This administration is underestimating how hard this war is going to be. The American people should demand that we are much more aggressive in seeking data and that we are much more aggressive in stopping people."

Gingrich had previously called for Napolitano's resignation after she initially defended her agency's handling of the terrorist attempt by saying "the system worked."

"I think that we need a secretary of homeland security who understands that this is a systems problem and her first response was totally wrong," Gingrich told ABC News Wednesday.

Napolitano has since retreated from her early remarks, admitting that the system put in place to prevent the attempted bombing clearly fell short. President Obama echoed that sentiment Tuesday, casting a wide net of blame by attributing the event to a "systemic failure."

Lee Hamilton, co-author of the 9/11 Commission report that issued recommendations for improving U.S. counterterrorism efforts, told ABC News the number of red flags missed by that system is unacceptable given the "very large sums" of money spent since 2001.

"[Abdulmutallab] boarded a plane. He paid cash, that's a danger signal," Hamilton said. "He didn't have any luggage, that's another danger signal. His father had contacted the embassy and said my son has been radicalized, that's a danger signal. ? What did not happen was these bits of information were not put in one place, analyzed and then acted upon."

Preliminary findings of a review of the terrorist watch list and of air travel screening protocols are expected to be submitted to Obama today.

Still, Republicans have leapt on the incident as a referendum on Obama's entire national security record, some going so far as to blame the president himself for the Christmas Day bombing attempt.