President Barack Obama Monday assured Americans that his administration was reviewing security procedures that should have prevented alleged bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab from boarding a Northwest airlines flight he tried to blow up Christmas Day.
While applauding the reviews, some members of Congress continued to press for investigations into the matter, however.
Obama interrupted a family vacation in Hawaii to say that he had been discussing the attempted terrorist attack against Northwest Flight 253 with Attorney General Eric Holder, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, and White House counter-terrorism advisor John Brennan.
"A full investigation has been launched into this attempted act of terrorism, and we will not rest until we find all who were involved and hold them accountable," Obama said.
The President acknowledged that the stakes behind such a review were high, as Abdulmutallab would have killed almost 300 people onboard the plane if he had successfully detonated the powdery PETN that he carried on his person.
Obama revealed he ordered enhanced screening and security procedures for all US-bound flights and added air marshals to flights.
He also ordered to reviews–one of the US terrorist watch list system and another of screening policies and technologies.
The watch list review will examine how authorities handled information related to Abdulmutallab and how to strengthen the watch list system overall to ensure that subjects reported to the Terrorist Screening Database might also appropriately end up on the no-fly list managed by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).
The review of screening policies, procedures and technologies will produce recommendations on how to stop would-be terrorists from bringing explosives onto aircrafts through screening enhancements.
The United States also will continue the fight against extremists overseas in nations like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen–the latter being where Abdulmutallab allegedly received explosives training, Obama said.
Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, endorsed Obama’s security reviews but also called for the quick confirmation of a permanent TSA administrator in a statement Monday.
"Erroll Southers, an experienced, highly-qualified nominee, continues to be held up in the Senate by someone who obviously puts process ahead of progress," Thompson said of Sen. Jim DeMint’s hold on Southers’ confirmation. "If TSA is to become the kind of nimble, responsive organization the American people deserve in times like this, it will need a Senate-confirmed administrator. If nothing else, the events of last week highlighted this lack of leadership."
Thompson underscored that US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) also plays an important role in securing the United States against terrorists attempting to ship explosives into the country and that it, too, lacks a Senate-confirmed leader presently.
Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), ranking member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, slammed the security failures that permitted Abdulmutallab opportunities to attack his flight, which originated in Nigeria and stopped in the Netherlands on its way to Detroit, Mich.
Mica lamented not only the lack of a confirmation for the present TSA administrator but the entire process by which TSA administrators serve, noting that five TSA bosses in eight years had created "a revolving door" that made it too easy for the agency to fail.
TSA has swelled to include more than 60,000 federal employees but remains "top heavy" with 3,200 personnel in its headquarters staff and 8,700 field managers, Mica declared.
"Despite this massive federal workforce, TSA has failed to compile a reliable watch list after eight years, or put in place a biometric identification protocol after multiple directives in law. These failures are not only exasperating, they are mind-boggling," he said in a statement Monday.
"We could reduce the managerial and administrative staff in Washington and in the field by 25 percent, transferring these positions overseas and to high-risk locations, more in line with the Israeli model of aviation security," he added.
TSA also needs more explosives detection equipment to apply more sophisticated technologies to airport screening procedures, Mica said.
A senior member of the Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee indicated that Congress should provide more funding for advanced explosives screening equipment.
Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) applauded the White House security reviews and agreed with the call for more advanced explosives screening solutions.
"Regardless of on which watch list–if any–the suspected terrorist on board Northwest Flight 253 was listed, nobody should be able to board a commercial plane with explosives. We must invest in advanced screening technologies and a professional, highly trained transportation security workforce to prevent explosives and other dangerous materials from being smuggled on aircrafts. This is critical not only in domestic airports, but also in those where flights arriving in the United States originate," Lowey said in a statement.