Reliable Security Information

Intel Gaffes: Follow the Dropped Balls

Stung by intelligence failures that contributed to the Christmas Day airline terrorism attempt, the White House has called for tweaks (PDF) to the way intelligence on terror suspects is monitored, analyzed, and distributed. President Barack Obama has ordered stronger airport screening, streamlining intelligence sharing, and an overhaul to the way people are added to the government's various watch lists (AP), including its "no-fly list" (Wired).

Yet staying "one step ahead of a nimble adversary," as the president has vowed, will hinge on untangling bureaucratic failures that allowed Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to board a flight to Detroit with explosives sewn into his underpants. (He was indicted January 6 on charges of attempted murder). An underestimation of the threat (WashPost) posed by al-Qaeda in Yemen played a role in the gaffe, as did such administrative errors as an initial misspelling of Abdulmutallab's name by the State Department. Agencies were also ordered to follow leads more aggressively, something former White House counterterrorism director Richard Clarke says they should have been doing anyway (CBS).

Steven Simon, a CFR senior fellow and former senior National Security Council official, says altering how databases and watch lists are administrated is "where the biggest payoff is going to be in the intelligence area, apart from maybe speeding up the flow of information."

Analysts also believe adjustments are needed to the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), which was created after September 11 to force the government's sixteen intelligence agencies to share information on suspects and plots. Some intelligence experts believe the NCTC dropped the ball (WashPost) on uncovering the late-December attack plan. Rick Nelson, a former supervisor at the center, tells NPR key pieces of information...

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