By PAMELA HESS and ANN SANNER, Associated Press Writers Pamela Hess And Ann Sanner, Associated Press Writers – Wed Jan 13, 6:56 pm ET
WASHINGTON – The would-be Christmas Day bomber boarded his flight in Amsterdam to frigid Detroit with no coat — perhaps the final warning sign that went unnoticed leading up to what could have been a catastrophic terrorist attack, lawmakers were told.
Congress got its first behind-the-scenes look Wednesday at the botched airline bombing and officials said the security failures were even worse than President Barack Obama outlined last week. It remains unclear, however, how those failures will be fixed.
“He was flying into Detroit without a coat. That’s interesting if you’ve ever been in Detroit in December,” New Jersey Democratic Rep. Bill Pascrell, a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, said after a briefing by presidential counterterrorism adviser John Brennan.
National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair and National Counterterrorism Center Director Michael Leiter briefed the House Intelligence Committee behind closed doors and Brennan took questions from the House in overlapping sessions Wednesday.
Congress wants to know how Obama plans to improve an intelligence system that failed to recognize the significance of repeated warning signs that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab allegedly was planning an attack. The Nigerian also showed up at the Amsterdam airport without any luggage — another sign that officials acknowledge should have prompted more scrutiny.
Critical warning signs arrived even earlier, in mid-October, when a National Security Agency wiretap picked up discussion out of Yemen that referred to a Nigerian being trained for a special mission, according to a House official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the closed-door meeting.
Obama has ordered agencies to review and tighten their procedures but has mostly left it up to them to figure out how.
“There were more dots crying out to be connected than I realized,” Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said in an interview. “If any two of the dots were connected, it would have moved the organization to quickly connect the other dots. An improvement or good luck in any number of areas probably could have broken this wide open.”
Another point of failure, acknowledged last week by the White House, was that a misspelling of Abdulmutallab’s name at the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria initially made the State Department believe he did not have a U.S. visa and therefore was less of an immediate concern.
“A system shouldn’t get stymied by a single misspelling,” Holt said. “If you mistype something in Google, Google comes back and says maybe you want to look at this other spelling.”
Authorities said Abdulmutallab got through security with a bomb in his pants, and Pascrell said terrorists would continue finding such weaknesses even if officials require full-body scans.
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