Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Christmas Day Attack: Failure at the “Last Tactical Mile”

The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs has a hearing today on “Intelligence Reform: The Lessons and Implications of the Christmas Day Attack.The three witnesses are: Dennis C. Blair, Director of National Intelligence, Michael E. Leiter, Director of the National Counterterrorism Center and Janet A. Napolitano, the Secretary of Homeland Security.  Blair and Leiter had a joint statement for the record. No prepared statement from Secretary Napolitano has been posted online. Excerpts below from the Blair/Leiter statement:  

As I have noted, despite our successes in identifying the overall themes that described the plot we failed to make the final connections—the “last tactical mile”—linking Abdulmutallab’s identity to the plot. We had the information that came from his father that he was concerned about his son going to Yemen, coming under the influence of unknown religious extremists, and that he was not going to return home. We also had other streams of information coming from intelligence channels that provided pieces of the story. We had a partial name, an indication of a Nigerian, but there was nothing that brought it all together—nor did we do so in our analysis.
But without making excuses for what we did not do, I think it critical that we at least note the context in which this failure occurred: Each day NCTC receives literally thousands of pieces of intelligence information from around the world, reviews literally thousands of different names, and places more than 350 people a day on the watchlist—virtually all based on far more damning information than that associated with Mr. Abdulutallab prior to Christmas Day. Although we must and will do better, we must also recognize that not all of the pieces rise above the noise level.
We established the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), the government’s hub for all strategic level counterterrorism intelligence assessments, which draws on collected terrorist intelligence from agencies across the U.S. Government with access to more than 30 different networks carrying more than 80 unique data repositories to produce integrated analysis on terrorist plots against U.S. interests at home and abroad.
The Intelligence Community is an adaptive, learning organization. We can and must outthink, outwork, and defeat the enemy’s new ideas. Our Intelligence Community is now more collaborative than ever before, knows how to operate as a team, and can adjust to conditions on the ground. We can and will do better, but I cannot guarantee that we can stop all attacks indefinitely. The integrated Intelligence Community as directed in the Intelligence Reform Act is essential; the basic elements of the system are sound; but we must be more flexible and anticipatory.

The hearing is on right now, catch it here.  This is not the end of the story. Part II of the hearing is scheduled for January 26th at the Dirksen Senate Office Building (room 342).  No word yet on the expected witnesses.

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