The failure of U.S. officials at several levels to connect the dots leading to Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the so-called underwear bomber, was alarming. But the close call at least provides an incentive and an opportunity to review airport security procedures from top to bottom.
"This was a screw-up that could have been disastrous," President Obama reportedly told a gathering of top administration officials Tuesday. "We dodged a bullet, but just barely. It was averted by brave individuals, not because the system worked — and that is not acceptable."
Later, the president outlined reviews he has ordered of airline screening procedures and U.S. intelligence. He added that new security measures would be announced in coming days.
Obama also conceded that even more "red flags" regarding Abdulmutallab had been reported than initially acknowledged but that "it is increasingly clear that intelligence was not fully analyzed or fully leveraged." The president said he could not tolerate that.
It is reassuring, at least, that the red flags went up. The failure to tag Abdulmutallab as an aspiring terrorist was more the result of human error than a systemic breakdown of the intelligence apparatus. The intelligence was there, according to the administration, but people in key positions failed to utilize it.
In any case, it is chilling to consider how close Abdulmutallab came to bringing down an airliner over Detroit with 300 people aboard. In the end, luck and fast-acting passengers saved the day.
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