The White House is pushing back on a report suggesting that the U.S. government learned details about the suspect in the botched X-mas Day terrorist attack while he was in the air.
The Los Angeles Times published a report Wednesday saying that U.S. border security officials became aware of the suspect’s alleged extremist ties while he was en route from Amsterdam, Netherlands, to Detroit, Michigan, and planned to question Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab once he landed.
“As we have indicated before, there were bits and pieces of information about AbdulMutallab available in a variety of areas in the system prior to December 25. There was no new information that emerged when the plane was in the air,” an administration official said.
The White House on Thursday plans to release an unclassified report by John Brennan, the assistant to the president on homeland security and counterterrorism, detailing what went wrong and also to reveal new steps intended to thwart future attacks. Obama will make a statement after the review is released, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said.
The administration source said Customs and Border Protection followed its normal procedures as it prepared for arriving passengers, and by doing so, it accessed the suspect’s record in the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment database.
Since the attempted attack, the intelligence community has scrubbed the database, which has more than 500,000 suspects, adding additional people to U.S. watch lists and no-fly lists as a result.
Officials would not have pulled AbdulMutallab aside for a secondary screening or prevented him from flying in Amsterdam because he was not on the no-fly or terror watch lists, the administration source said.
Obama has demanded to know why the suspect was allowed on the plane, given the information available.
“This was a screw-up that could have been disastrous,” Obama told his national security team Tuesday, according to a senior administration official. “We dodged a bullet, but just barely.”
Fran Townsend, a former homeland security official from President George W. Bush’s White House, told CNN Wednesday she heard from a senior Obama administration official that nobody would be fired as a consequence of the government’s failure to prevent the botched attack.