Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano addressed questions from a variety of media outlets yesterday including ABC’s “This Week”, NBC’s “Meet the Press” and CNN’s “State of the Union,” on the government’s preparation for and response to the attempted bombing of Northwest Flight 253, a US passenger jet bound from Amsterdam to Detroit, on Christmas day.
The effective response of passengers, crew and the government to the actions of accused would-be bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab proved that the airline security system has worked smoothly, Napolitano asserted.
In terms of response “Everything went according to clockwork”, Napolitano told Jake Tapper, the moderator of ”This Week."
“What’s important for the public is to recognize that everyone reacted as they should have,” Napolitano said.
Napolitano said that all 128 flights that were in the air at time of the incident were contacted within 60 to 90 minutes to confirm the attempted bombing did not extend beyond the flight to Detroit.
While there are no signs that Abdulmutallab , a Nigerian man, was part of a larger plot, Napolitano explained , she acknowledged that the possibility of a larger plot was now the subject of investigation.
Asked about potential connections between the suspect and Al Qaeda Napolitano said “it would be inappropriate for me to say and inappropriate to speculate. So we will let the FBI and the criminal justice system now do their work."
US agencies, according to reports , are looking into whether Al Qaeda extremists in Yemen directed Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab and provided him with the explosives used in the failed bombing of Northwest Flight 253.
Napolitano also reacted to charges that the State Department and law enforcement had been lax in failing to prevent Abdumutallab from flying despite the fact that Abdulmutallab’s name had been added in November to the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment, or TIDE, maintained by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence at the National Counterterrorism Center.
“We are investigating, as always, going backwards to see what happened and when, who knew what and when,” Napolitano said. “But I think it’s important for the public to know, there are different types of databases. And there were simply, throughout the law enforcement community, never information that would put this individual on a no-fly list or a selectee list.”
Other news outlets this weekend reported that Nigerian banker Umaru Mutallab, the father of the accused man, had contacted officials at the American embassy in Lagos, Nigeria and expressed fears that his son had been "radicalized" during trips outside the West African country.
Although Mr. Mutallab’s information did not point to any imminent threat against the US, the information was shared with officials from the US government’s intelligence and counterterrorism bureaus, according to the reports.
Also appearing on a variety of TV news shows Sunday White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the White House was calling for investigations of the system for placing potential terrorists on travel security lists to determine whether procedures were adequately followed and what changes are needed to make them more effective.
“What the president has asked for as a result of this incident are two look-back reviews,” Gibbs told “This Week”. “First, on our watch-listing procedures, did the government do everything that it could have with the information that they had? Understanding these procedures are several years old. Did we do what we needed to with that information, and how can we revise watch listing procedures going forward to ensure that there is no clog in the bureaucratic plumbing of information that might be gathered somewhere going to the very highest levels of security in our government.”
Gibbs also said the White House was insisting on an immediate review of current detection capabilities and gaps.
“The president has asked the Department of Homeland Security to, quite frankly, answer the very real question about how somebody with something as dangerous as PETN could have gotten onto a plane in Amsterdam.”
The accused bomber Abdul Mutallab apparently smuggled PETN, known as pentaerythritol, aboard flight 253. The small amount of the chemical he apparently brought into the plane was not picked up by magnetometers, and he was not forced to undergo a full body scan. It is the same chemical used by the alleged “shoe bomber” Richard Reid in his attempt to destroy a trans-Atlantic flight in late 2001.
Napolitano said that the Transportation Security Administration was instituting additional screening or what she called “mitigation measures."
“We’re going to be doing different things at different airports,” she said, adding “Don’t think somebody at TSA is not on the job if they’re not doing exactly at one airport what you saw at another. There will be different things done in different places.”
Sunday night ABC News reported that, according to White House officials, President Obama, currently vacationing in Hawaii, is likely to address the issue of the thwarted terror plot in a public statement sometime in the next few days.