In an effort to learn from the failures of the attempted Christmas Day bombing of Northwest Flight 253, the Senate held its first round of hearings this morning. Titled, Intelligence Reform: the Lessons and Implications of the Christmas Day Attack" the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs brought together a panel of leaders from the U.S. law enforcement and intelligence communities to discuss the attack and what can and will be done to prevent similar attempts in the future.
Today's hearing comes on the heels of a White House report detailing the intelligence failures leading to the Christmas Day attempt. The earlier report found a (i) failure of intelligence analysis; (ii) a failure to assign responsibility and accountability; and (iii) failing to identify intelligence. If the prepared testimony of Michael E. Leiter, Director of the National Counterterrorism Center and Dennis Blair, Director of National Intelligence, is any indication, today's hearing will be equally critical of U.S. national security efforts.
In a candid assessment of intelligence policies leading up to the Christmas day attack, Blair and Leiter explained:
"Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab should not have stepped on that plane. The counterterrorism system failed and I told the President we are determined to do better."
The testimony then goes on to describe in detail many of the failures that led to Abdulmutallab being allowed to board the Northwest flight. The intelligence community knew that al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) was planning attacks against U.S. targets, knew that AQAP was working with an individual who fit the description of Abdulmutallab, and knew that the organization might try to use the type of explosive device used. Among the conclusions of these officials is that unlike the pre-9/11 intelligence community,
"this was not a failure to collect or share intelligence; rather it was a failure to connect, integrate, and understand the intelligence we had…despite our successes in identifying the overall themes that described the plot, we failed to make the final connection—the 'last tactical mile'—linking Abdulmutallab's identity to the plot."
In addition to the prepared testimony of Blair and Leiter, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano is schedule to address the committee. Additionally, the next round of hearings, whose panelists have not yet been named, will be on Tuesday.