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THE SITUATION ROOM
Terror Suspect's Father Met with CIA
Aired December 29, 2009 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: President Obama acknowledges airline security failures made a Christmas bombing attempt possible. This hour, he is making urgent new promises about the investigation.
So, what if the bombing suspect had undergone a full body scan, like this one? Well, we are going to show you how this technology can detect the most carefully hidden explosives.
An American missionary is believed to be held captive in North Korea right now. His family is clinging to hope and hanging on every word from the communist government.
Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Suzanne Malveaux. And you are in THE SITUATION ROOM.
MALVEAUX: President Obama says that the kind of mistakes that almost allowed an airline terror attack to happen are unacceptable. He spoke out just a short while ago only about 24 hours after his first public comments about this failed Christmas bombing.
Now, in remarks from Hawaii, the president set some new deadlines and sharpened his tone. Right now, let's listen to the entire statement.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Good morning. Yesterday, I updated the American people on the immediate steps we took, the increased screening and security of air travel to keep our country safe in the wake of the attempted terrorist attack on Christmas Day.
And I announced two reviews, a review of our terrorist watch list system and a review of our air travel screening so we can find out what went wrong, fix it, and prevent future attacks. Those reviews began on Sunday and are now underway.
Earlier today, I issued the former guidelines for those reviews and directed the preliminary findings be provided to the White House by this Thursday. It's essential that we diagnose the problems quickly and deal with them immediately.
Now, the more comprehensive formal reviews and recommendations for improvement will be completed in the coming weeks. And I'm committed to working with Congress and our intelligence, law enforcement, and homeland security communities to take all necessary steps to protect the country.
I wanted to speak to the American people again today, because some of this preliminary information that has surfaced in the last 24 hours raises some serious concerns. It's been widely reported that the father of the suspect in the Christmas incident warned U.S. officials in Africa about his son's extremist views.
It now appears that weeks ago this information was passed to a component of our intelligence community but was not effectively distributed so as to get the suspect's name on a no-fly list.
There appears to be other deficiencies, as well. Even without this one report, there were bits of information available within the intelligence community that could have and should have been pieced together.
We've achieved much since 9/11 in terms of collecting information that relates to terrorists and potential terrorist attacks, but it's becoming clear that the system that has been in place for years now is not sufficiently up to date to take full advantage of the information we collect and the knowledge we have.
Had this critical information been shared, it could have been compiled with other intelligence, and a fuller, clearer picture of the suspect would have emerged. The warning signs would have triggered red flags, and the suspect would have never been allowed to board that plane for America.
Now, the professionalism of the men and women in our intelligence, counterterrorism, and law enforcement, and homeland security communities is extraordinary. They are some of the most hard-working, most dedicated Americans that I have ever met. In pursuit of our security here at home, they risk their lives day in, day out in this country and around the world. Few Americans see their work, but all Americans are safer because of their successes.
They have targeted and taken out violent extremists. They have disrupted plots and saved countless American lives. They are making real and daily progress in our mission to disrupt, dismantle and defeat al Qaeda and other extremist networks around the world. And for this, every American owes them a profound and lasting debt of gratitude.
Moreover, as Secretary Napolitano has said, once the suspect attempted to take down Flight 253, after his attempt, it's clear that passengers and crew, our homeland security systems, and our aviation security took all appropriate actions.
But what's also clear is this: When our government has information on a known extremist and that information is not shared and acted upon as it should have been so that this extremist boards a plane with dangerous explosives that could have cost nearly 300 lives, a systemic failure has occurred, and I consider that totally unacceptable. The reviews I have ordered will surely tell us more, but what already is apparent is that there was a mix of human and systemic failures that contributed to this potential catastrophic breach of security. We need to learn from this episode and act quickly to fix the flaws in our system because our security is at stake and lives are at stake.
I fully understand that even when every person charged with ensuring our security does what they are trained to do, even when every system works exactly as intended, there's still no 100 percent guarantee of success. Yet this should only compel us to work even harder, to be even more innovative and relentless in our efforts.
As president, I will do everything in my power to support the men and women in intelligence, law enforcement, and homeland security to make sure they have got the tools and resources they need to keep America safe, but it's also my job to ensure that our intelligence, law enforcement, and homeland security systems and the people in them are working effectively and held accountable. I intend to fulfill that responsibility and insist on accountability at every level.
That's the spirit guiding our reviews into the attempted attack on Christmas Day. That's the spirit that will guide all our efforts in the days and years ahead. Thank you very much.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
I want to bring in our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry. He is with the president in Hawaii. And I also want to bring in our homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve, who is here.
I will start with you, Ed.
Obviously, the president has been under some pressure to speak. He did yesterday. He has spoken out again today. What is the sense that you are getting from talking to officials there in terms of updating the public? Why was that necessary today?
ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne, officially, White House aides are saying the president just wanted to give that update, reassure the American people, but you can't but wonder whether the Republican criticism about being slow to react fed into this at all, because I was really stuck by how aggressive the president was, much stronger than yesterday, for example, just in 24 hours, where he was talking about human and systemic failures, talking about flaws in the system, we have to move quickly to correct it.
That is a much different posture than we heard just two days ago. On Sunday, on CNN, we heard Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano say, the system worked. And she also claimed that things were going pretty well, basically. She walked that back on Monday, said, look, I meant that once the incident happened, that things worked well. And the president did repeat that today. But you have to wonder whether the administration hopes now that the statement that was made today about accountability, about what went wrong in getting this right had been made a couple of days ago, Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: Jeanne, I also want to ask you, the president, what did he mean when he said there were these bits of information available in the intelligence community that could have and should have been pieced together? What do we understand?
JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, it is interesting. We have been told repeatedly by people throughout the government that this individual was not on anybody's radar screen until his father went to the embassy. The father spoke to them. They passed the information on and so forth.
But we do know that the intelligence agencies have been going back. They have been combing through everything, trying to find out if there was anything they missed. And it would seem to me given the way the president was speaking, the specifics of what he was saying, they have clearly found something. There is something there that should have been pieced together and wasn't.
And he was preemptively getting out in front of a bus, I would speculate -- and I have to admit that is speculation -- that is about to hit.
MALVEAUX: Then, let's bring in Ed here, because do we expect that we are going to hear from the president in the coming days? Perhaps there is more information that is imminent?
HENRY: Well, Suzanne, what is interesting that is that just 24 hours ago White House aides were suggesting it was unlikely we would hear from the president any time soon, he was going back to vacation.
So, it is hard to speculate when he will come back, but I think Jeanne is right on the money with the fact that there is a lot going on behind the scenes, obviously, with this investigation, and the fact that the president also today said I have a deadline of Thursday. That's a pretty quick turnaround, 48 more hours for intelligence officials to come back to him with preliminary findings of what went wrong.
That does suggest, as Jeanne notes, that there is information kicking around and they want answers very quickly here, because they think something may be coming out that's going to suggest there's some serious flaws, as the president himself noted.
And in fairness to the president, he is saying he wants to get ahead of it and wants to correct it. And he is obviously taking a much more aggressive tone than we saw just two days ago, Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: Sure, ed. I think there are some fast-moving developments.
I want Jeanne to listen to what the spokesman from Yemen, the ambassador's office, told me earlier today in THE SITUATION ROOM about what the Yemeni government is doing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MOHAMMED ALBASHA, SPOKESMAN, YEMENI EMBASSY TO THE UNITED STATES: For the time being, what we know on the ground is, he was in Yemen. He attended that school.
One of the mosques that he was visiting in the old city of Sanaa, we have been surveilling. And we're questioning some of the people that are there to see whether he has links or not.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MALVEAUX: The people you are talking to, Jeanne, obviously, there seems to be a close connection between U.S. officials, Yemeni officials who are obviously involved in this investigation. How strong is their role here? Are we seeing a real close tie, a link here between these two governments working together?
MESERVE: That is a little hard to say. There is a cone of silence that has fallen over part of this investigation. And it has to do with the fact that they're trying to pull all the strings here. They're trying to figure out who he is connected to, and they don't want to give away to us or to anybody else exactly what they are finding.
I would say I think the ambassador was a little disingenuous when he was saying he didn't think there was any tie to al Qaeda in Yemen. We all know about that claim of responsibility yesterday. And U.S. officials said in response to that that they do believe that there is some kind of a link there. What they are trying to establish now is how tight that link is.
And that is what the ambassador is talking about. They are talking to people. They're doing surveillance. They're trying to put all those pieces together.
MALVEAUX: And, Jeanne, we will come back to you as soon as you have more information as this story unfolds. Thank you so much, Jeanne.
MESERVE: Great. Thanks.
Senator Jim DeMint is defending his move to place a confirmation vote on the nomination of Erroll Southers to head the Transportation Safety Administration on hold. I spoke with the South Carolina Republican and he says he wants time to debate the issue of possible unionization of TSA employees.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JIM DEMINT (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: Well, I think the American people should be aware that the priority of the administration is to submit our airport security to collective bargaining with the unions, even though that's been prohibited since the agency was formed. The reason it's prohibited is the same reason for the CIA, the Secret Service, the FBI, the Coast Guard, is there's a constant need to adjust and to be flexible, to use imagination to change things. We cannot ask a third-party union boss whether or not we can move a screener from one station to another.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MALVEAUX: A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid today told CNN that he intends to try to force a confirmation vote on Southers' nomination when senators return from the winter recess in January. Now, DeMint called Reid's announcement grandstanding.
A year before 9/11, al Qaeda shocked Americans by attacking the USS Cole in Yemen. Well, I'm going to ask the former commander of the warship about al Qaeda's growing strength there.
And North Korea says it is holding an American -- why the California parents of a missionary are very worried.
MALVEAUX: Concerns are being raised about an intelligence report saying that Iran is trying to import more than 1,300 tons of purified uranium from Kazakstan.
Now, according to the Associated Press, the report says that $450 million deal could be completed just in a matter of weeks. Now, the AP says that the deal was brokered by the Kazakh government employees acting on their own. Such a deal would be in violation, however, of the U.N. security sanctions. And Iran has not responded to this AP report.
There is disturbing video today of a government vehicle plowing into a crowd of anti-government protesters in Tehran on Sunday. In the wake of the increasingly violent demonstrations in Iran, parliament is calling for the harshest punishment against opposition leaders.
Some have been arrested. Now the movement of others is being restricted. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is downplaying the protest as a play ordered by Zionists and Americans. And he criticized the U.S. and Britain for supporting Iran's opposition movement. As many as eight people have died in the most recent violence in Iran.
An American missionary is believed to be held captive in North Korea right now. The communist government is announcing that it is holding a U.S. citizen for illegally entering the country. The man's description appears to match 28-year-old Robert Park of Arizona.
Our Mary Snow has more on the story.
Mary, what do we know?
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne, the family of Robert Park issued a statement just in the past couple of hours since they are convinced it is him. They say they received reports on Christmas Day claiming he crossed into North Korea.
SNOW (voice-over): North Korea's news agency did not identify the American citizen it is holding, but the family of 28-year-old Robert Park believes it is him and said in a statement they are now working with the State Department and members of Congress.
Park is a Christian missionary who had been working in South Korea. And friends say he was focused on the plight of people in North Korea. In recent days, his parents told San Diego's CNN affiliate KFMB their son had indicated he willing to risk his life for his missionary work.
PYONG PARK, FATHER OF ROBERT PARK: He said: "I am not afraid to die. As long as whole world, all -- every nation pay attention to North Korea's situation, my death is nothing." That is what he said.
SNOW: A South Korean Christian group reported that Park entered North Korea last week country with a letter to Kim Jong Il. The State Department has not confirmed that report.
Here in the U.S., some friends got e-mails from Park with copies of the letter to North Korea's leader. In it, he says he has a message of Christ's love and forgiveness and asks to please open up your borders and close down all concentration camps.
John Benson ordained Park in Tucson, Arizona, in 2007. He says he last spoke with Park six weeks ago.
JOHN BENSON, FRIEND OF ROBERT PARK : He also told me that there was something going on in the works, but he didn't get into any details, you know, and that there was a possibility is the way he said it, there was a possibility that he may go into North Korea. And, you know, of course, that is -- it's alarming.
SNOW: And while friends offer prayers, one expressed a bit of a relief that North Korea announced it was holding a U.S. citizen.
DOUG MARTIN, FRIEND OF ROBERT PARK: The fact that they have acknowledged that they have someone is a good thing, because I think generally they would not acknowledge someone if they were going to kill them. But what the North does with him, who knows.
SNOW: Earlier this year, two American journalists faced a sentence of 12 years of hard labor after being arrested along the North Korean-Chinese border. They said they accidentally strayed into North Korea, but were later released after former President Bill Clinton met with Kim Jong Il.
SNOW: As far as what the State Department is saying, it has not released a name, but a spokesman for the State Department says the U.S. will continue to work through the Swedish Embassy, which handles diplomatic issues for the U.S. with Pyongyang, to seek consular access to the American citizen it's holding.
But I spoke to several friends of Park, of Mr. Park, and they are very, very concerned tonight -- Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: I see some very tense moments right now. Thank you, Mary.
A young boy abducted to Brazil, he finally made it back to the United States last week, but his step-family in Brazil says they will fight to get him back.
And passenger privacy vs. national security -- how a controversial screening device might have intercepted the explosives smuggled into that airliner.
MALVEAUX: We are learning more about the Northwest Airlines bombing suspect's link to Yemen. Now, that country has been a front line in the war on terror dating back to the bombing of the USS Cole. Ahead, the former commander of that warship talks about the al Qaeda threat in Yemen right now.
And President Obama's admission of failures that almost led to another airline terror attack -- why he felt he had to send a new, tougher message to anxious Americans.
MALVEAUX: The investigation of last week's botched attempt to blow up a U.S. airliner keeps heading back to Yemen. The government there has already engaged in a stepped-up battle against al Qaeda insurgents. And the U.S. is quietly involved in that fight. But is it ready to open up a new front in war against terrorism?
I want to go back to our CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.
And, Barbara, I spoke with the Yemeni spokesman to embassy here in the United States, and he said they are looking for help. They can do it on their own, but they're looking for U.S. assistance. What do we know?
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, that is exactly right, Suzanne. Look, this is far from over. U.S. military and intelligence officials clearly are preparing for the next round.
STARR (voice-over): What did President Obama mean when he said this about the failed Christmas Day attack?
OBAMA: We will not rest until we find all who were involved and hold them accountable.
STARR: A senior U.S. official tells CNN that military and intelligence experts, as part of an already existing effort against al Qaeda, are looking at possible targets to strike in Yemen if the president orders retaliation for the attempted bombing of Northwest Airlines Flight 253, an attack that al Qaeda in Yemen says it organized.
The U.S. official says -- quote -- "We would do it if we could tie it back to the right people."
Easier said than done. The first problem? Finding who is responsible. The U.S. believes al Qaeda members in Yemen scattered after recent airstrikes may have killed several members. Those airstrikes were aimed at hitting al Qaeda even before the Northwest Airlines attack. If there is retaliation now, would the U.S. or Yemen conduct the strikes?
The whole U.S.-Yemeni relationship is now under wraps. Officially, the U.S. won't say who carried out the recent strikes. There is a secret agreement with Yemen to keep it quiet, one American official says. But a growing number of U.S. military officials privately say the Yemeni military doesn't have the ability to do it on its own.
So, it may be that U.S. ship-launched cruise missiles, fighter jets or armed drones would be used in a retaliation strike, but it won't be made public. All of this underscores, the U.S. military is urgently trying to help Yemeni troops train to fight al Qaeda.
In 2006, the Pentagon spent less than $5 million on Yemeni counterterrorism unit -- this year, $67 million, more than a 1300 percent increase. The head of the U.S. intelligence earlier this year made clear why it is so important.
DENNIS BLAIR, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Yemen is reemerging as a jihadist battleground. The capability of terrorist groups in East Africa will increase in the next year.
STARR: Maybe 200 al Qaeda fighters now in Yemen and a number of training camps, that is just part of what is on the target list -- Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: Thank you, Barbara.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.
MALVEAUX: I want to bring in Jeanne Meserve right now for some breaking news on the investigation of the airline attack, alleged airline attack, and what the president might have been referring to when he said intelligence lapse.
What can you tell us? MESERVE: Yes, he was talking about shards of information that had not been shared -- information he felt could have been pieced together in time to put this individual on a no-fly list.
I have talked to a single source, Suzanne, but a very well-placed source, who tells me that the father of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab talked to someone from the CIA at the U.S. embassy in Nigeria and that there was a report done by CIA person at the embassy which was sent to CIA headquarters, but it was not disseminated within the wider intelligence community. And according to the source I'm speaking to, the feeling is that if that had been meshed with some other, not named specific information but other information that was being gathered by various intelligence agencies, perhaps, they would have put the pieces of this plot together sooner.
MALVEAUX: Jeanne, this seems like a much more serious flaw of intelligence than we had gathered before, because we just knew before, the father went to the State Department, went to consulate's office, we did not know that he directly spoke to a CIA officer about concern over his son.
MESERVE: Right. And I can't tell you whether this was a face- to-face meeting or something that happened over the telephone, I'm just told that there was a conversation between the CIA and the father, the CIA prepared the report. I will say we have not been able to get comment from the CIA. We've been trying for more than an hour to get a comment from the Obama White House, we have not been able to get a comment from the White House.
So, let me couch this very carefully, this from a single source, but a very well-placed source telling me this.
MALVEAUX: And so, we know that the intelligence -- intelligence had direct information coming from the father of the suspect about the father's concerns here. This was beyond the State Department. This was within the intelligence community that had direct information.
MESERVE: That's my understanding, that it must have been something a little bit more in-depth than the information that the State Department was aware of, something prepared by an intelligence agent for an intelligence usage, and it went to the CIA and did not go any further.
MALVEAUX: OK, Jeanne, thank you so much.
MESERVE: We're trying, of course, to get comment from all the parties involved and flesh this out further. But that's that we have now, Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: Obviously, we will come back to you as soon as those details become available. Jeanne, thank you so much.
We're going to have much more of this story right after the break.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) MALVEAUX: CNN's Jeanne Meserve has learned from a reliable source that when the father came to the embassy in Nigeria, he met with someone from the CIA. A report was prepared but not disseminated outside the CIA to wider intelligence community, the source telling CNN.
Now, Jeanne is going to be back with more information as soon as she gets it. And U.S. counterterrorism officials are investigation possible links between last week's attempted airliner bomber and two former Guantanamo Bay prisoners. Now, these two were released from the U.S. detention facility in Cuba back in 2007 and sent to Saudi Arabia. And they say they are now leaders of a Yemen-based group affiliated with al Qaeda.
A recent Pentagon report shows that of the more than 520 released Guantanamo detainees, 27 are confirmed to have engaged in terrorist activities since their release and 47 are suspected of participating in a terrorist attack. Yemen, of course, was the scene of al Qaeda's shocking attack on the USS Cole that happened nearly a decade go.
I am joined now by the warship's former commander, Kirk Lippold. He is now with Military Families United.
Thank you so much for joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
I want to start off with this breaking news that Jeanne had just reported. Does it surprise you that we are now learning that the father not only went to the State Department, to the consulate's office in Nigeria and said he had concerns about his son being radicalized, but he met with the CIA, the intelligence agency actually knew about his concerns?
CMDR. KIRK LIPPOLD, U.S. NAVY (RET.): It's not surprising and, in fact, it's disappointing. I think that the intelligence community is in a awkward position right now. I think, unfortunately, there has been a mindset created when the administration came in that they question how the intelligence community operated, how they work to secure our nation's borders outside throughout the world, and quite frankly, if you look at the CIA, they're very demoralized right now. They're walking around with long faces because their very actions have been questioned from the very manner that they were trying to keep our nation safe was being questioned by an administration that's even conducting a criminal investigation. So I think that they are erring on the side of caution right now and they're not as willing to pursue things maybe as aggressively as they use to for fear that it may not work out or that they may be questioned how they came about it and what they're doing with it.
MALVEAUX: We've heard those criticisms from many people about that. But one of the things that is interesting here is that the two detainees that were released from Gitmo back in 2007 who have now claimed a leadership role in al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, they were released under the Bush administration.
Do you hold the Bush administration as well accountable for these lapses? LIPPOLD: I think what you have to look at is the Bush administration had almost 800 detainees cycled through Guantanamo Bay. They made as best judgment as they could through an interagency process that is still in place today to determine once an individual down there no longer represented a threat to the U.S., our interests or our allies or there was no longer of intelligence value, could they be safely repatriated back to their home country or another country?
We most got through the low-hanging fruit and then we started getting down to the crunch. And the people that are remaining there now that the administration, currently, with the Obama administration is they've had to really try and parse out what they're going to do.
MALVEAUX: Well, there...
LIPPOLD: When the president came in, what he did is he raised the level of acceptable risk that we are willing to tolerate in order to try to close Guantanamo Bay on that one-year time line.
MALVEAUX: What do you think those 90 to 100 detainees who are Yemeni, who are now in Gitmo, should go?
LIPPOLD: Right now, I think they should stay in Guantanamo Bay. The facility itself is serving a purpose in the war on terror. It is not just the detention facility, it is also an intelligence collection center. It is where we brought high level al Qaeda and Taliban so that we can debrief them and learn how al Qaeda recruited, trained, equipped and conducted the operations. Because once you understand them, you can defeat them.
MALVEAUX: You understand al Qaeda in Yemen first hand with the bombing of the USS Cole, 17 of your own were lost. What is the situation now in Yemen? We know that there's unemployment, they are running out of water, they've got a secessionist movement, as well as a war that they're fighting -- what kind of situation is the United States dealing with when they look at al Qaeda in Yemen?
LIPPOLD: It's a very tenuous situation. Right now, the president is trying to hold a very fractious country together. He has tribal issues that he's trying to deal with. Clearly, the Saudi Arabian government has intervened on the northern border because they do not want to see al Qaeda leaving from Yemen and operating north. There was an attack on the prince who was in charge of the counterterrorism, Mabahith, for that country. similar to what was attempted on the Northwest 253 flight.
So, clearly, we're going to have to work much closer with the government. President Saleh of Yemen is going to have to be much more cooperative in how he allows us to work with his forces so that we can build them up and have a very solid counterterrorism force there so that they can, in fact, defend their own country.
MALVEAUX: You are a commander. Clearly, you know what it's like to lead. And President Obama has called for 30,000 additional American troops in Afghanistan...
MALVEAUX: ... to go after a potential threat for al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Is that appropriate direction for resources to go to Afghanistan instead of going to Yemen?
LIPPOLD: I think you have to focus initially where we are. Right now, we know that that border region between Afghanistan and Pakistan is going to be critical to getting stabilized and helping the Pakistanis to rout out al Qaeda there. I don't believe that, right now, we need to put troops on the ground in Yemen. But we clearly need to work to give them the capability to rout out al Qaeda in the peninsula there in Yemen.
MALVEAUX: Commander, thank you so much for joining us in THE SITUATION ROOM.
LIPPOLD: Thank you, Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: Appreciate it.
It is the technology that some believe could have prevented the botched terror attacker on the U.S. airliner. An up-close look at those full-body scanning screening machines, and why they are so controversial.
MALVEAUX: We are following breaking news at this hour. Word that the father of the Northwest Airline bombing suspect met with someone from the CIA. Our own Jeanne Meserve broke the story. She is digging for more. She is working the phones right now. We're going to have her come back for a quick update.
But the failed bombing is also renewing interest in adding a new layer of security for airline passengers -- and that is full body scans.
Our Brian Todd, he's in Arlington, Virginia. He's got that part of the story. He's at a company that actually makes those scanners. Hey, Brian.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Suzanne.
Investigators are clearly focusing now on how that suspect got on to that plane allegedly carrying that explosive. Some experts believe machines like this one could have prevented that.
New pictures of the evidence, the explosive itself, and how it was apparently hidden are only ratcheting up the concern.
TODD (voice-over): In stark detail, an FBI intelligence bulletin obtained by CNN shows pictures of the bomb allegedly carried onboard Northwest Flight 253 by suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. The main charge was sewn into his underwear, according to the FBI, quote, "anatomically congruent, possibly to avoid detection during screening."
I asked former TSA deputy administrator, Stephen McHale, how much of a problem is this concealment for security officials?
STEPHEN MCHALE, FORMER TSA DEPUTY ADMINISTRATOR: It's a huge concern that he managed to get on to the plane. You have to look at all of the systems, from the intelligence systems all the way up to the screening.
TODD: Whatever primary screening the suspect had in Amsterdam clearly didn't detect the explosive. Could secondary screening have picked it up?
Rapiscan Systems makes a body-scanning machine called the Secure 1000. The TSA has ordered 150 of them for U.S. airports. I go through one with a liquid container and a knife hidden on my person. This scan, using so-called backscatter technology can see right through my clothing. I've covered my private areas. The knife and liquid bottle are detected, then pinpointed on avatar figures. Those images are sent to screeners at the checkpoint and tell them which part of the body to search.
By phone we asked Peter Kant of Rapiscan, could this machine have detected the explosives in the Christmas Day incident.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
PETER KANT, RAPISCAN SYSTEMS, INC.: We certainly believe so. The system is designed to be able to detect the differences between human and non-human material. And therefore we do believe that even though it might have taken a certain shape, or a certain density, that the system is certainly designed to be able to pick up materials such as explosives as the ones that were allegedly used in this action.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
TODD: Another technology available, so called "millimeter wave machines." Microwave radiation technology, not as sensitive, but which some experts say could have detected this explosive.
TODD: Now, the Amsterdam airport, CNN has learned has millimeter wave machines, but we are told that facility is not using those right now on a widespread basis because of privacy concerns. They are waiting for European Commission officials to set rules for using them. Those privacy concerns in the U.S, Rapiscan says have been addressed with U.S. officials -- Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: Brian, thank you so much.
We are following this breaking news: the father of the suspected airline terrorist talked about his son with someone from the CIA, but according to the source, a report was never circulated. Our own Jeanne Meserve, she is working the phones right now. She's going to be back with more information on this breaking news. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.
MALVEAUX: To our viewers, I want to give you the latest on this breaking news. Our own Jeanne Meserve broke this news just moments ago. Essentially, the father of the suspect of that attempted airline attack, not only notified the State Department of his concerns that his son was radicalized, but also talked to somebody at the CIA, but that person did not relay or transmit a report to other intelligence officials. Clearly, there was some sort of disconnect in the communications. And so, this very much a breach of what the president talked about, the systemic as well as human error involved in all of this.
I want to bring our best political team on television to talk about this.
Senior political correspondent Candy Crowley, CNN contributor David Brody, White House correspondent for the Christian Broadcasting Network, Democratic strategist Mo Elleithee and Karen Tumulty of our sister publication "TIME" magazine.
There's a lot that's going on here, obviously, that we've learned just within the last 30 minutes or so -- Jeanne breaking much of this information.
I want to first go back to President Obama out of Hawaii earlier today, which seemed to hint and suggest that this was much larger than what we had initially suspected. Let's listen.
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OBAMA: The reviews I've ordered will surely tell us more. But what already is apparent is that there was a mix of human and systemic failures that contributed to this potential catastrophic breach of security. We need to learn from this episode and act quickly to fix the flaws in our system, because our security is at stake and lives are at stake.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MALVEAUX: Any jump in. How serious is this a problem for President Obama if it looks like the intelligence, a CIA agent had some information that was not passed on to other intelligence agencies about the potential threat of this suspect?
CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I would suspect this is actually harder on the CIA than it's going to be on President Obama at this point. I don't think people are going to hold him responsible for someone in an embassy, a CIA agent in an embassy, not passing along a report. It sounds like the agency itself didn't put this report outside the agency.
So, here we are, eight years after 9/11, when the whole problem was that no one talked to anyone else and now, it appears that, you know, people still aren't talking to each other or they didn't take this seriously. One of those two things happened.
KAREN TUMULTY, TIME MAGAZINE: Yes, I'm struck by the same thing. After 9/11, how many times did we hear the phrase connecting the dots? And eight years later, we're still finding out we don't know how to connect the dots. The whole point of establishing a Department of Homeland Security, in fact, was to create some place where all of this could come together. And, you know, I don't know if it's that the system hasn't been designed right or if the system is just not capable of this.
DAVID BRODY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think this -- yes, well, I agree. I think this is an opportunity for the president here, and a real good one. It's kind of in his wheelhouse. You know, it's bureaucratic in nature in the sense that he can get in there and say, look, we've got systems in place. We're going to work on this.
I mean, this is what he does best typically. You know, he's kind of methodical in nature, if you will. But I think the danger here is if he looks back too much to the Bush administration, starts to lay blame, you know, to look back at the eight years or so, you know, I think, politically, he has to watch out in that regard.
MO ELLEITHEE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Yes, and I think that's right. And I was going to say the same thing. This really is an opportunity for this administration to say -- and the president began to say that in his remarks yesterday, that, "You know what? There are some problems here. Intelligence organizations are not talking to one another. We've got to fix this problem." And if he comes across as strong and decisive, it is a real good opportunity for him.
CROWLEY: And a little bit -- a little bit angry today. I mean, a little -- I mean, it was more than just forceful. So you saw the president that could, on occasion, kind of get -- you know, Mr. Cool could kind of get a little angry. So, I think that's what the American people would actually like to see, like, if this is yet...
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.
MALVEUAX: Let's go to Jeanne Meserve for more breaking news.
Jeanne, what do you have for us?
MESERVE: You know, I told you earlier, Suzanne, about hearing from a well-placed source that the CIA had a report done after it talked to the father of this young Nigerian, and that this report went to CIA headquarters at Langley but was not disseminated to the wider intelligence community. I've now been told by a source that this is indeed what the president was referring to in his speech this afternoon when he talked about shards of information not being put together.
I asked the White House for comment, and I got this back from an administration official.
"As the president's statement made clear, there was information held by the U.S. government in various places and in various forms that could have and should have been assessed, analyzed and correlated with other information in a way that would have allowed us to disrupt the attempted terror attack before the suspect boarded an aircraft bound for the U.S. What we have here is a situation in which the failings were individual, organizational, systemic and technological. We ended up in a situation where a single point of failure in the system put our security at risk" -- and goes on to say that the president is doing everything possible to correct this.
Now, what we understand is that this report from the CIA in Nigeria that was held at Langley, that what was needed, according to our source, was for that to be disseminated more widely so it could be pieced together with other intelligence that had been picked up by United States and perhaps other intelligence services, that was not name a specific source of intelligence, but perhaps if they had this information about this kid, it could have been pieced together.
But the intelligence community is pushing back a bit. We have a comment from an intelligence official saying, "The guy's father gave the son's name and passport number -- that was disseminated. He said his kid might have connections to extremists in Yemen -- that, too, was disseminated. I'm not aware of a magic piece of intelligence somehow withheld that would have put Abdulmutallab on the no-fly list."
This intelligence official goes on to say, "Have any of the people who have supposedly seen this report put" -- that meaning the report done by the CIA in Nigeria -- "pointed out the bit of information that would have gotten Abdulmutallab on the selectee or no-fly list, can they explain how that would have worked even after the fact."
So, a little push back there from intelligence. This official is saying that they did share the name and passport number, but my source is telling me that there was more information that had been put together that was held by the CIA that was not disseminated, so the pieces could not be put together, and this attack could not be stopped. And the White House statement certainly isn't pushing back on the facts of that.
MALVEAUX: And, Jeanne, I just want to make sure I'm clear on this, that that report was at the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia.
MESERVE: That's my understanding.
MALVEAUX: It did make it there.
MESERVE: That's my understanding.
MESERVE: That it got to the CIA, but it was not -- it sat there for five weeks and didn't come to light until after the events of Christmas Day. MALVEAUX: OK. Jeanne, thank you so much. Excellent reporting.
I want to throw it back to our panel here.
We know that this information made it to the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. Does that notch this up a level?
CROWLEY: Well, sure, because John Podesta's sitting over there as CIA director now. Did it get to him? Who decided not to disseminate it? It seems to me -- I'm sorry.
TUMULTY: Leon Panetta.
CROWLEY: Leon Panetta, I'm sorry, it's late.
You know, I think the other problem here is that it misses the point that this particular information would not have put him on the watch list.
CROWLEY: The question is, could you have added this information to something someone else knew? And that's where perhaps there was a failing.
TUMULTY: Well, I was also struck by the president's language. He kept referring to this person as a known extremist and not a potential terrorist. And I'm wondering if there is also some clue there as to just what exactly this information was pointing to.
BRODY: Well, I think you he may need to clarify that, because I think that also can be taken as somewhat of a weakness when it comes to some of the language. You know, why wasn't he called a terrorist? And goes back to his statement the first day the president when he said allegedly this guy allegedly try to set off a device inside a plane, where does "allegedly" come from? I think this was his law constitutional professor persona coming to a little bit.
So, I think -- I think he needs to be careful here a little bit about how he presents this in the future.
MALVEAUX: Go ahead.
ELLEITHEE: But the point was already made that the president did show a little bit of anger, a little bit that he was upset with these events as they're unfolding, and I think he's absolutely right to feel that way. I think most Americans feel that way.
The fact is, we've seen already some intelligence officials, unnamed intelligence officials, over the past couple of days, say things like, "Hey, look we've got lots of these tips every single day. We -- you know, we can't follow up on absolutely every single one." And the president came out and said, "You know what? That's not good enough. We need to follow up on all of this. We need to be able to connect these dots and put all these pieces together."
MALVEAUX: And he set a deadline.
ELLEITHEE: That's right.
MALVEAUX: In covering President Bush, obviously, President Bush talked a lot about the intelligence failures, that there was a lot of concern about that.
Do you think that this rises to the level where we may see someone have to leave the administration?
BRODY: Yes, I don't see that.
CROWLEY: Yes, I don't see it either. But we still don't know kind of what we're dealing with, whether this was some glaring mistake by someone high up or it just was, again, a mixture of human error, bureaucracy, you know, that sort of thing. You just, you know, you just have no idea.
BRODY: And not to make it too political, but the White House correspondent cap is coming on here and I'm thinking to myself, in January, we're going to see a whole lot of congressional hearings about this system failure.
What does that mean politically for this White House? It is a good thing politically because if you roll in health care -- health care, I'm not going to say is going to take a back seat, but it will share the spotlight and that may be a good thing for this administration as it relates to the conference committee on health care.
CROWLEY: One other thing that I find interesting is that Sunday, when Janet Napolitano did an interview on "STATE OF THE UNION," I asked her, "So, you know, here's a father and he goes to the embassy." And she said, "Well, we don't know what the father said or exactly who he spoke to."
Well, this was Sunday. The incident happened Friday. It's taken until Tuesday for the president to come out and say, "OK, you know, something -- there's some systemic problems here."
I'm not really sure why it took from Friday to Tuesday for the president of the United States to not be able to find out, "OK, who in this embassy -- we knew it was the embassy in Nigeria, talked to this guy?" Are there billions of people in the embassy? I'm just not sure why that took so look and whether that points to something.
MALVEAUX: And who do we direct the questions to -- and perhaps Republican fire to, homeland security or is it intelligence? Real quick.
TUMULTY: It sounds like it's more on the intelligence community at this point. MALVEAUX: Mo, your last words?
ELLEITHEE: Yes, I mean, I think that -- I think that's probably right. I think there's going to be a lot of questions. I think the president was right to call for immediate reviews on how this guy got on the plane and how he was able to get some explosives on the plane. So, we got a while to go.
MALVEAUX: OK. Thank you so much for joining us in THE SITUATION ROOM. We appreciate it.
I'm Suzanne Malveaux in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Up next: "CNN TONIGHT."