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US intelligence chief pledges to repair flaws

Bruised by a stinging rebuke from President Barack Obama, the top US intelligence chief has pledged to repair flaws in the security services to confront an evolving threat from terror groups. This is coming on the heels of Cuba’s formal protest over new US travel rules tightening security checks for airline passengers traveling from or through Cuba and 13 other countries.
According to reports from United States, a visibly angry President Obama demanded explanation from security heads during a meeting with them over the lapses that almost resulted in fatal bombing of an American airline. After the meeting, the Director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blair, said in a statement: “The intelligence community received the president’s message today — we got it, and we are moving forward to meet the new challenges. We can and we must outthink, outwork and defeat the enemy’s new ideas.

The intelligence community will do that as directed by the president, working closely with our nation’s entire national security team.”

An angry President Obama blasted US spy chiefs accusing them of an intelligence “screw-up” that left a US airliner carrying 290 people open to an Al-Qaeda attack on Christmas Day which was only narrowly averted.

In a highly unusual public rebuke of the US clandestine community, Obama made a terse televised statement about the thwarted bombing, after gathering agency chiefs and national security aides at a high-stakes White House meeting. President Obama said, “It is increasingly clear that intelligence was not fully analyzed or fully leveraged,” saying that missed “red flags” before the attack were more serious than originally thought. “That’s not acceptable, and I will not tolerate it.

We dodged a bullet but just barely. It was averted by brave individuals not because the system worked.”
According to an official, President Obama was even more explicit during the meeting in the secure White House Situation Room, calling for immediate repairs to the flawed US homeland security system.

Obama further  stressed that “we need to strengthen our ability to stop new tactics such as the efforts of individual suicide terrorists. The threat has evolved, and we need to anticipate new kinds of attacks and improve our ability to stay ahead of them and protect America.” He said probes into the botched plot to blow up the airliner showed US intelligence missed other “red flags” as well as the already revealed fact that Abdulmutallab was a Nigerian extremist who had traveled to Yemen.

The President went on to say US intelligence knew that Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula wanted to strike not only US targets in Yemen but in the United States itself over the holiday season. Obama was quoted as saying “The bottom line is this — the US government had sufficient information to have uncovered this plot and potentially disrupt the Christmas Day attack, but our intelligence community failed to connect those dots,This was not a failure to collect intelligence, it was a failure to integrate and understand the intelligence that we already had.When a suspected terrorist is able to board a plane with explosives on Christmas Day, the system has failed in a potentially disastrous way.”

As at press time  no heads have rolled over the incident, and White House spokesman Robert Gibbs dodged the issue when asked Tuesday by reporters if anyone would lose their jobs.

But a chagrined Blair admitted mistakes had been made. “The system did not catch Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab and prevent him from boarding an airliner and entering the United States. We must be able to stop such attempts,” he said.
Cuba lodged a formal protest

Meanwhile, Cuba has lodged a formal protest Tuesday against new US rules tightening security checks for airline passengers traveling from or through Cuba and 13 other countries.

Cuba’s foreign ministry said it summoned Jonathan Farrar, who heads the US Interest Section at the Swiss embassy in Havana, to hand him the objections.

“We categorically reject this new hostile action by the government of the United States that stems from the unfair inclusion of Cuba in the so-called list of countries supporting terrorism,” the message said. Cuba’s official newspaper Granma criticized the new US rules Monday as emanating from “anti-terrorist paranoia.”

The US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) said the new measures would include random “enhanced” checks on all international passengers flying into US airports, as well as compulsory stricter screenings of those coming from or via 14 countries. All but Cuba are Muslim-majority nations.

The countries targeted by the new measures include Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria, all US-designated state sponsors of terrorism. They also apply to passengers traveling from or via Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Yemen and Nigeria.

There are no regular flights between Cuba and the United States, but four daily charter flights connect Havana with three US cities, including Miami, where more than one million Cuban exiles and immigrants reside.

The charter flights were increased to eight per day in late December, after US President Barack Obama earlier lifted some travel and remittance restrictions to Cuba.

Washington broke off diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1961 and imposed an economic boycott on the communist island. Both governments recently resumed negotiations on migration and postal exchange issues, but efforts to end the boycott are stymied by US insistence that Cuba should change its policies, while Havana suggests the United States do the same.

January 6, 2010


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