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Anti-terror efforts botched

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The reason a terrorist failed to blow up a passenger plane as it approached Detroit on Christmas was that his underwear bomb failed to detonate.

If not for that malfunction, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab could have taken down Northwest Flight 253. His efforts were made easier by 14 human, technological and policy failures that enabled Abdulmutallab to evade U.S. defenses. The blunders included computer glitches, misspellings and poor analysis that occurred at every major intelligence agency. They enabled the 23-year-old Nigerian to board the flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day. Abdulmutallab's father had warned American diplomats that his son might have joined militants in Yemen, where the bombing was planned by a branch of al-Qaida.

Incredibly, Abdulmutallab was never placed on a no-fly list.

Earlier this week, Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Christopher Bond, R-Mo., released a 12-page unclassified summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee report.

The summary suggests that the United States dodged disaster with regard to the Christmas Day bombing attempt largely because of a terrorist's inept efforts to detonate the bomb concealed in his pants. As Bond, the committee's vice chairman, remarked, "We cannot depend on dumb luck, incompetent terrorists and alert citizens to keep our families safe."


The summary points to a disturbing inability on behalf of American intelligence agencies to connect vital pieces of intelligence. The report was particularly critical of the National Counterterrorism Center, the government agency created after the Sept. 11 attacks to combine threat information across the government.

Dennis C. Blair, director of national intelligence, said in a prepared statement that "institutional and technological barriers remain that prevent seamless sharing of information." Changes were made after the Christmas bombing attempt, he said.

It defies understanding how these agencies could fail in their mission. The attempted car bombing in Times Square demonstrates that the United States is under constant threat from multiple sources. Fortunately, that was another instance when the nation was spared from attack due to a botched bombing attempt.

The nation cannot rely on dumb luck. U.S. intelligence agencies must do more to stay one step ahead of terror threats.