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President Obama Addresses Security Failures; Bombing Plot Suspect Heads to Court

Aired January 7, 2010 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: President Obama is set to take responsibility for the failed Christmas terror attack. We're standing by to bring you his remarks live. You will see them, you will hear them here in THE SITUATION ROOM, along with the new high- level briefings on the investigation. Our coverage will be live and extensive.

We are told the administration's mistake will be laid out, warts and all. Just ahead, in-depth analysis as only CNN can bring you from the best political team on television, our national security experts and our correspondents around the world.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in CNN's command center for breaking news, politics and extraordinary reports from around the world. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

President Obama has been promising accountability for mistakes that almost led to a terror attack on his watch. Just a short while from now, this hour, he's expected to say in so many words that the buck stops with him. Will that satisfy critics who say someone should be fired, or several people should be fired?

Let's go right to our White House correspondent, Dan Lothian.

All right, set the scene for us, Dan. He's supposed to come out in around a half-an-hour. Is that right?


And I'm told by a senior administration official that the president is putting in -- putting on -- the finishing touches on that speech. And, as you pointed out in the open of the show, Wolf, the president will, for the first time, take direct responsibility for his administration's mistakes.

This is something that we have heard from other administration officials. During that meeting on Tuesday around that table, we were told by the White House that they each took responsibility for the failings in their departments. But the president has not done that to this time, so the president expected to come out and say, here are the warts. I'm responsible.

The one thing that the president will not do, according to a senior administration official, is fire anyone. There will be no finger-pointing at all, the president believing that this is a time to lay out the facts, to figure out what went wrong, and to fix the problems.

So, there won't be anyone that will be fired. And this seems to go against what the president had said earlier, that people would be held responsible for these mistakes, that there would be full responsibility here, but this White House saying what the president is doing is holding accountable a system to make sure that it works and that these mistakes are not repeated -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Dan, the president was supposed to be delivering this speech at 1:00 p.m. Eastern. It is now scheduled for 4:30 p.m. Eastern. Do we know why the delay?

LOTHIAN: Well, a senior administration official told me that it takes time to work through this document, which, of course, as we pointed out, it is an unclassified document that we will be getting, but it's classified, it's highly classified. And, so, it takes time to go through -- through that document to move it to unclassified. And that's why, I'm told, there has been this delay.

BLITZER: And the former President of the United States Bill Clinton, take it, he has been spending some time with the president today at the White House. What do we know about this?

LOTHIAN: You know, it is interesting, because we did see him come here to the White House to have a meeting with the president. We asked about that when we saw him arrive here. And we were told that he came. He was simply in town and came here to just stop by and meet with the president and also meet with other officials here at the White House. We don't know if he's still here.

Beyond that, we don't know anything else about that meeting. But it does seem interesting, the timing of this, that, while this is all taking place, that the former President Bill Clinton did come by the White House for a visit.

BLITZER: I want you to stand by, Dan. We are going to be getting back to you.

Once again, we are awaiting the president. He's supposed to come out at around 4:30 p.m. Eastern, about 27 minutes or so from now.

Let's bring in our -- our panel, our national security contributor Fran Townsend. She's the former homeland security adviser to President Bush. Also with us, our national security analyst Peter Bergen, our senior political analyst Gloria Borger, and our homeland security correspondent Jeanne Meserve.

Guys, thanks very much for coming in.

Jeanne, this report that the head of the National Counterterrorism Center, Michael Leiter, that he went on vacation a day or two after this incident, this failed incident in Detroit, how much trouble are you hearing this -- this head of this National Counterterrorism Center might be in?

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, it is certainly going to draw some fire from critics on Capitol Hill, who feel, hey, he's one of the key players. He was supposed to be pull -- be pulling this intelligence together. What do you mean he left town?

Now, we are told he didn't leave until the day after Christmas. We are told that he had secure communications with the White House, with the NCTC, and with others while he was away, and that he kept in touch. But it is going to definitely draw some criticism.

The White House has said no firings, no heads will roll. He would appear to be safe, from that perspective, but I think the fallout on Capitol Hill is what you are going to want to watch.

BLITZER: He actually took office, Fran, during the Bush administration to take charge of this National Counterterrorism Center.

And just remind our viewers what this center is supposed to do, because it was created in the aftermath of the 9/11 Commission.


Mike Leiter is a former Navy pilot, Harvard University grad, I mean, very bright guy, very committed to the mission. But...

BLITZER: He went to Harvard Law School.

TOWNSEND: That's right.

BLITZER: Columbia undergraduate.



TOWNSEND: Thank you.

So, the -- the National Counterterrorism Center is really a product of the 9/11 Commission report. And the whole idea here was to bring access to all of the information across the entire government related to terrorism into one place, so that not only could you make sure you had the right dots, but that they could be connected.

And we have heard the president speak at length this was not the pre-9/11 problem of not sharing. This was not the pre-9/11 problem of not having enough dots. You actually have so many dots, it is a little overwhelming, I suspect.

This was a problem of connecting the dots. And, so, I think you are going to see the president very focused in terms of going forward on how do you make sure you connect them?

BLITZER: And this uproar, at least some -- a little bit of an uproar that he went on vacation a day or two after the failed incident, what does that say to you? TOWNSEND: Well, look, he does -- I'm sure he had secure communications. I think you are going the see a lot of people inside the administration checking their attendance, time and attendance records, to see who was in town, who wasn't in town, who had communications.

After all, this is not a real concern of the president personally. The president was in Hawaii, but, of course, he takes all of his office with him practically. And he can do his job. The question is, can you actually lead an organization, whether it is the National Counterterrorism Center, the DNI, the CIA, can you actually lead an organization remotely?

And I -- I agree with Jeanne. I think there's going to be a lot of -- an awful lot of fire up on Capitol Hill about this.

BLITZER: Yes, I think you are probably right.

All right, guys, stand by.

We are awaiting the president of the United States. He's going to be making remarks shortly at the White House. It will be followed by a briefing from some of his top homeland security and counterterrorism specialists. Janet Napolitano will brief. John Brennan, the head of the counterterrorism -- the chief counterterrorism adviser to the president, he will be briefing reporters as well. You will hear it. You will see it all live here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And, even as we await the president, the suspect in that failed bombing is preparing for his day in court. We are going to have the latest on his hearing and the charges he faces.

And we also now have the first surveillance video from that security breach at the Newark, New Jersey, Airport on Sunday night. We are going to tell you what authorities have learned from the tape and what happens next.


BLITZER: We are awaiting the president. He's going to be in the state dining room, not eating. He's going to be speaking about counterterrorism and this failed airline attack on Christmas Day. Stand by. We are going to have live coverage of that.

Let's go to Jack Cafferty, though, in the meantime, for "The Cafferty File."

Another busy day here, Jack.


Man's father in Nigeria goes to the U.S. Embassy there and warns that his son has become radicalized, that he went to Yemen to be part of some kind of jihad, and that he's concerned that his son might want to do the United States harm. This is called a clue. The man's son subsequently buys a ticket, pays $3,000 cash, no coat, no luggage. These are more clues. But he's allowed to eventually board a flight for Detroit and then tries to blow it up.

The president now says U.S. intelligence officials had enough to stop the suspect before he ever got on that plane. But they didn't. They said they knew all along that al Qaeda in Yemen wanted to attack the U.S. homeland, but that they failed to connect the dots.

It turns out the top official in charge of analyzing terror threats for this country, Michael Leiter, he went on a skiing vacation a day or two after the attempted blowing up of that airliner going into Detroit. Then, a few days later, another man breaches security at Newark Airport, resulting in a version of a Keystone Cops movie, terminal locked down, thousands of people stranded, they all have to be rescreened.

But nobody could find the guy who breached security, because, you ask, among other things, the security cameras weren't working properly, and, in fact, hadn't been working for several days.

The upshot of all this, the Transportation Security Administration has taken responsibility for the security breach. That officer has been reassigned to non-screening duties. In other words, the guy who caused all of that chaos at Newark Airport still has his job. So do all the officials in charge of protecting the flying public.

And we, chumps as we are, pay their salaries. Here's the question: How safe do you feel when flying?

Go to and post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I love it, Jack, when you recap, as you always do.

A quick question to you, Jack, before I let you go. We are told the president is going to accept responsibility for this situation. Smart idea on his part?

CAFFERTY: Well, yes, I mean, that's fine. You know, I think he's a stand-up guy. But nobody's -- nobody has taken a bullet for this?

I mean, we had two major screwups in a matter of five or six days, and all of the people in charge of preventing this stuff are still drawing a paycheck. I don't think that would happen at CNN or General Motors or IBM, and it shouldn't happen where the safety of the flying public is concerned, in my humble opinion.

BLITZER: Yes. And, to go one step further, I think all those people responsible for failing to predict what Major Nidal Hasan did, allegedly, at Fort Hood, Texas, I believe all of them...


BLITZER: ... they are all still working, too, I think, getting their salaries.



BLITZER: ... we know there were -- there were plenty of warning signs there.

CAFFERTY: Yes. The handwriting was all over the wall in that case as well. And, yet, you know, we go blithely along. What is it, eight-plus years since 9/11?

I think we have made some progress. But, when something like this happens, there has to be some kind of message sent to the people who are doing this work: This is important. You have got to pay attention.

And I think the way you communicate that is, you put a paycheck or two in jeopardy, and that gets everybody's attention.

BLITZER: Yes. And one -- one link that's common between both of these incidents, Detroit and Fort Hood, this U.S.-born radical cleric in Yemen who apparently had ties with both of these men.

All right, Jack, stand by.

We are also, just want to remind our viewers, standing by for the president. He's going to be speaking in about 15 minutes, we are told, from now. He's expected to take responsibility for that failed airline terror attack on Christmas. He and his national team, his homeland security team, as well, they will be laying out in detail the mistakes that were made.

You're looking at these live pictures now coming in from the State Dining Room, where the president will be speaking. He will go to that microphone over there. We will hear what he has to say, followed up by briefings of his top advisers.

Right now, we are also tracking that terror connection in Yemen.

Our international security correspondent, Paula Newton, is there on the scene for us.

All right, Paula, I understand you have been learning more about Abdulmutallab's relationship with that American-born cleric, al- Awlaki, who also corresponded, as I just pointed out, with that Fort Hood shooter.

What have you learned?

PAULA NEWTON, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, the key thing is here now Yemeni officials can confirm that Abdulmutallab met with Awlaki. The point here, Wolf, did they just speak? Did they talk about some shared views? Or what else happened? Did he provide something more? The issue here is not so much as to whether they met. They have established that. But, here on the ground, both Yemeni officials and their American counterparts really want to know, has Awlaki really spread his roots to being something more for al Qaeda and the U.S. have its back turned, actually turned into more of an operative, who would be able to recruit people in and actually make them operational for al Qaeda?

BLITZER: Because he -- he was seen, al-Awlaki, as sort of a -- I guess, a motivator, an inspirational leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, as opposed to an operational figure, someone who would actually, for example, present the -- the explosives to a jihadist who was getting ready to try to kill some folks. Is that right?

NEWTON: Yes. And his inspiration was bad enough.

You're talking about somebody who speaks flawless English. He's from New Mexico. He speaks like someone who is from back home. He would then, they believe now, what they are trying to find evidence of is whether he spread that out to developing perhaps training camps that he runs, trying to get his hands on powerful explosives, testing those explosives, doing all this with the protection of his tribe here in Yemen in the south, his tribe having control. I mean, it's really a no-go area for the government. This is what they are trying to determine -- determine, Wolf. And it will take several more weeks.

BLITZER: I want to get back to Paula. She in Yemen for us. We are going to be speaking with her, obviously, throughout these hours.

Peter Bergen is here, and he knows a lot about this.

This connection between these two individuals, the Detroit -- the Detroit -- the Nigerian who tried to blow up this plane, allegedly, in Detroit, and Major Nidal Hasan at Fort Hood, and al-Awlaki, is it a coincidence? What is going on here, Peter?

PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Well, by al-Awlaki's own account to Al-Jazeera on December 23, he received an e-mail from Major Hasan in November of 2008 with the question, is it OK to kill fellow soldiers? That's a pretty direct question.

So, all this discussion about -- you know, you may recall that there was up to 20 e-mails that the FBI looked at. And they were regarded as being typical kind of professional questions that somebody in his role might have.

Well, that doesn't strike me as a typical professional question: Is it OK to kill my fellow soldiers?

So, not only were their mistakes made in the Umar Farouk case, but, I mean, there are emerging mistake in the Major Hasan case. And al-Awlaki is at the center of both of these cases to some degree.

BLITZER: It's -- and I suspect his name is going to surface in connection with some others as well. We are going pick up that thought, as we await the president of the United States. He's getting ready in about six, seven, eight minutes from now, we are told, to go to the White House State Dining Room and address the American people, indeed address the world, on the lessons learned so far in this case.

Our coverage will continue right after this.


BLITZER: We are awaiting the president of the United States. He is going to go into the White House State Dining Room there. You see the flags. You see the podium. He will be addressing the nation on this terror threat that has followed Detroit, the failed bomb plot in Detroit on Christmas Day. Our coverage will be extensive. Stand by for that.

In the meantime, let's check in with Fredricka Whitfield. She's monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Fred, what is going on?


Well, remember Sunday's security scare at Newark Airport? Well, take a look. This is what triggered all that frustration for travelers. Airport surveillance tapes show that, when a security guard briefly abandoned his post, a man struggling to say goodbye to his female companion slipped under the rope to the passengers-only part of that terminal. The guard has been placed on administrative leave, pending an investigation.

And authorities say the man suspected of opening fire at a Saint Louis factory today worked there and was suing the company. The early-morning shooting at the Swiss-based ABB Group manufacturing plant immediately killed at least three people and critically wounded others. The alleged shooter was part of a federal lawsuit over retirement losses. Authorities now say he's dead. That case went to trial Tuesday in Kansas City.

And en route to Pakistan today, Senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman are defending missile strikes there as critical in the war on terrorism. The U.S. military uses unmanned Predator drones to gather information and launch strikes on suspected terrorist targets in the region. Drone strikes killed at least 13 suspected militants in Pakistan yesterday, following last week's deadly suicide bomb attack on a CIA base in Afghanistan -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Fredricka Whitfield, thank you.

We are awaiting the president of the United States. He's getting ready to speak. We will have live coverage. That's coming up. You are seeing the live picture coming in from the White House right now.

And that suspect is set to make his first appearance in court. We are talking about the alleged Detroit bomber. His effort failed, but he's going to be in court, we're told, tomorrow. Deborah Feyerick is there already. She will have a preview.

That's coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: All right, let me reset what's going on. That's the White House, the exterior of the White House, as you can obviously see.

We are going to go inside to the White House State Dining Room. That's where the president of the United States, in about five minutes, we are told, will walk in, and he will deliver remarks on this report he's releasing on what happened Christmas Day, the lessons learned, the immediate terrorism threat facing the United States.

Once that briefing, once his remarks are over within the State Dining Room, some of his top national security and homeland advisers will go there, the White House Press Briefing Room. Janet Napolitano, the secretary of homeland security, she will brief reporters, as will John Brennan, the president's counterterrorism adviser. He will brief reporters. They -- we -- we will have extensive live coverage of both of these events, the president's remarks, followed by these briefings.

We have the best political team on television. All of our homeland security analysts and experts, they are all here as well. We are assessing what's going on.

Let me bring in David Gergen, our senior political analyst, right now.

David, we heard earlier in this interview with "USA Today" General Jim Jones, the president's national security advisers, saying the American public will be shocked by what they are about to release. You saw that interview.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I did, indeed. It certainly has given -- given all of us a heightened sense of anticipation to find out exactly what's in there.

You know, we have been speculating for days about exactly what happened (AUDIO GAP) the facts about what information was held and what went wrong and where the holes were. And, so, we will have a better sense of, it if heads should roll, whatever.

But I think it is also extremely important, Wolf, that the president seems to be taking personal responsibility for this. As you know, Paul Begala began raising this question on CNN a couple of days ago.

And, in important moments, presidents do take responsibility. President Reagan, with the Marine barracks being blown up in Lebanon, he came out and said, look, you know, we have got an investigation under way, but I want to make it clear, I'm the official who takes responsibility, I'm the top person, just as Kennedy did after the Bay of Pigs.

It is an important step for a president to make, put himself out in front of troops. It helps the morale inside. And it shows a certain kind of stand-up quality in a leader.

So, I think there are many elements of this statement that are going to be important for us to listen for.

BLITZER: Gloria Borger is here as well, our senior political analyst.

If the president does do that and says, you know what, I'm the commander in chief, I'm responsible for these failures, the breakdown, failure to connect the dots or whatever, how -- you agree with David...


BLITZER: ... that that will ultimately benefit him politically?

BORGER: Well, I do agree with David. I think, today, it will benefit him politically. But there is another -- there is another side to this, which is, the president United States has to say, this is how we are going to fix it. This is what went wrong. Maybe we are going to change the watch lists. Maybe we are going to change the visas. Maybe I'm going to make sure that we didn't know enough about al Qaeda in Yemen. And we should have known more about al Qaeda in Yemen. And this is what we are doing to fix it.

Accountability comes in there. If he's accountable, he's going to say he's accountable, then the question comes, who else is accountable? It doesn't necessarily mean that heads are going to roll today or tomorrow. But if there has to be a revamping of the National Counterterrorism Center, they are going to have do that.

So, I think there are two parts to this: I'm responsible. I'm the president. Buck stops here. But here's how we need to fix this or I have told my people we need to fix this.

BLITZER: Are you surprised, David Gergen, that no one, apparently, at least not yet, at least as of Tuesday, when I asked the chief of staff to the National Security Council, Denis McDonough, that no one has offered to resign, no one has offered a letter of resignation?

GERGEN: I am surprised by that, Wolf. I thought somebody would step forward.

But there are -- there are two surprises I have. One is a small surprise. I had heard high praise for Michael Leiter at the White House yesterday and was told he was safe. I -- I was -- I'm surprised, in retrospect, that he went on a ski vacation two days after the bomber was apprehended.

The other question, though, the big question for me, the big surprise -- and Fran, I think, could address this -- is, why in the devil has it taken so long to get this get this -- get these organizations straight at Homeland Security and now at the National Counterterrorism Center? We -- it has been over eight years since 9/11. Why is it so hard to get these organizations straightened out and settled down?


BLITZER: Well, let's let Fran Townsend, our homeland security adviser, who used to work in the Bush White House, explain.

TOWNSEND: Well, you know, Wolf, what you are hearing again and again from officials throughout the intelligence and law enforcement communities, and John Brennan himself, I think, on the Sunday shows, there have been many improvements, right?

We -- what the president has told us is, we collected the dots this time. They were shared. Those are both improvements from pre- 9/11. The problem this time is at a different point in the system, and that is, they weren't all put together.

There's a lot of information. You know, by enforcing information-sharing, what happens is that the NCTC, National Counterterrorism Center, becomes awash in information. So it becomes a question of, how do you prioritize what's important? And looking back, everything looks -- the important things are very obvious.

I will tell you that I think what you are going to see now is the president, as Gloria mentioned, he's going to say how we're going to fix it. One of the things they're going to have to say is, how do we prioritize this information? We do so that we know that we're connecting those most important dots and acting on them first.

BLITZER: You know, I want to bring in Jeanne Meserve.

You had a chance to speak with the homeland security secretary, Janet Napolitano, yesterday. And a lot of our viewers are wondering, how will this affect me, whatever recommendations, whatever changes, they announce today? How will this affect flying, for example, here in the United States and round the world?

MESERVE: It's going to be terrible. They're increasing the size of the no-fly list, the selectee list. That means there's going to be more confusion over names, people with similar names who get pulled aside. There is going to be intensive screening, there's no doubt about it, particularly if you're flying in from overseas.

Now, she told me yesterday they aren't going to change any of the basic rules. There aren't going to be restrictions on powders, for instance. They aren't going to ban liquids or anything like that, but they are going to be dotting every I and crossing every T. At least one hopes they will. When you see what happened at Newark, it raises questions.

BLITZER: So when you say it's going to be terrible, I want you to explain what you mean by that. MESERVE: It's just going to be time-consuming. You're going on have to get to the airport earlier and take more time to get through that checkpoint.

And people were already getting an hour, hour and half, two hours early. You have to push that back even further now to make allowances for the increased scrutiny that you and your possessions are going to have.

BLITZER: Because Americans will say, people around the world will say, you know what? Whatever it takes to make sure me and my family, that we're secure, we'll do it.

MESERVE: Well, that's what they are saying now. But are they going to be saying that in six months when they are still going through this it at the airport?

BORGER: Right, but I think Americans are also saying, as David was saying earlier, we've spent so much money on trying to fix this system. And yet, what really saved us this time was the vigilance of the people on that airplane and not the system itself. And so they are going to go back to saying, what have we done since 9/11?

Now, I spoke with someone of the intelligence community today who said it wasn't information-sharing, as Fran points out. What they are saying now is that these dots didn't look like dots to them, because you had a missing child on one continent, you had an assassination attempt against a Saudi on another continent. You had a lack of information about al Qaeda in Yemen.

And so they weren't really aware they were looking at dots that should have been connected. I don't know how you fix that. You would know better.

BLITZER: We're told now the president is only a minute away or so from walking up to that microphone over there in the State Dining Room at the White House. This statement by the president, his remarks, they were originally supposed to be delivered at 1:00 p.m. Eastern. Now it's after 4:30 p.m. Eastern, here on the East Coast of the United States.

There's been a delay. I don't know if the president is going to explain why that delay occurred in his remarks, but he is going to go forward. And remember, as soon as the president is done with that statement, we will go to the White House briefing room. There will be a separate briefing from his top advisers there, his homeland security secretary, as well as his counterterrorism adviser from the White House.

All of this will be seen and heard live here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The president of the United States will be coming out momentarily, we're told only a few seconds away, to deliver this statement. And once again, we do anticipate -- we'll see how far he goes -- that he will take personal responsibility. In effect, saying the buck stops with him, as Harry Truman once famously said, and that he will accept that responsibility since this incident did occur on his watch.

He may have been on vacation in Hawaii with his family, as so many others were on vacation, but he was certainly on top of this, together with his national security at homeland security advisers who were on the scene either in Hawaii or were in the White House Situation Room briefing him on what was going on.

The president will walk in. The other day when we heard him, he was very somber, very serious.

We'll see his tone right now.


The immediate reviews I ordered after the failed Christmas terrorist attack are now complete. I was just briefed on the findings and recommendations for reform. And I believe it's important that the American people understand the new steps that we're taking to prevent attacks and keep our country safe.

This afternoon, my counterterrorism and homeland security adviser, John Brennan, will discuss his review into our terrorist watch list system, how our government failed to connect the dots in a way that would have prevented a known terrorist from boarding a plane for America, and the steps we're going to take to prevent that from happening again. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano will discuss her review of aviation screening, technology and procedures, how that terrorist boarded a plane with explosives that could have killed nearly 300 innocent people and how we'll strengthen aviation security going forward.

So, today I want to just briefly summarize their conclusions and the steps that I have ordered to address them.

In our ever-changing world, America's first line of defense is timely, accurate intelligence that is shared, integrated, analyzed and acted upon quickly and effectively. That's what the intelligence reforms after the 9/11 attacks largely achieved. That's what our intelligence community does every day.

But, unfortunately, that's not what happened in the lead-up to Christmas Day. It's now clear that shortcomings occurred in three broad and compounding ways.

First, although our intelligence community had learned a great deal about the al Qaeda affiliate in Yemen called al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, that we knew that they sought to strike the United States and that they were recruiting operatives to do so, the intelligence community did not aggressively follow up on and prioritize particular streams of intelligence related to a possible attack against the homeland. Second, this contributed to a larger failure of analysis, a failure to connect the dots of intelligence that existed across our intelligence community, and which together could have revealed that Abdulmutallab was planning an attack.

Third, this, in turn, fed into shortcomings in the watch-listing system which resulted in this person not being placed on the no-fly list, thereby allowing him to board that plane in Amsterdam for Detroit.

In summary, the U.S. government had the information scattered throughout the system to potentially uncover this plot and disrupt the attack. Rather than a failure to collect or share intelligence, this was a failure to connect and understand the intelligence that we already had.

Now, that's why we took swift action in the immediate days following Christmas, including reviewing and updating the terrorist watch list system and adding more individuals to the no-fly list, and directing our embassies and consulates to include current visa information in their warnings of individuals with terrorist or suspected terrorist ties.

Today I'm directing a series of additional corrective steps across multiple agencies. Broadly speaking, they fall into four areas.

First, I'm directing that our intelligence community immediately begin assigning specific responsibility for investigating all leads on high-priority threats so that these leads are pursued and acted upon aggressively not just most of the time, but all of the time. We must follow the leads that we get and we must pursue them until plots are disrupted. And that means assigning clear lines of responsibility.

Second, I'm directing that intelligence reports, especially those involving potential threats to the United States, be distributed more rapidly and more widely. We can't sit on information that could protect the American people.

Third, I'm directing that we strengthen the analytical process, how our analysis -- how our analysts processed and integrate the intelligence that they receive. My director of National Intelligence, Denny Blair, will take the lead in improving our day-to-day efforts. My Intelligence Advisory Board will examine the longer-term challenge of sifting through vast universes of intelligence and data in our information age.

And finally, I'm ordering an immediate effort to strengthen the criteria used to add individuals to our terrorist watch list, especially the no-fly list. We must do better in keeping dangerous people off airplanes while still facilitating air travel.

So, taken together, these reforms will improve the intelligence community's ability to collect, share, integrate, analyze and act on intelligence swiftly and effectively. In short, they will help our intelligence community do its job even better and protect American lives.

But even the best intelligence can't identify in advance every individual who would do us harm. So we need the security at our airports, ports and borders, and through our partnerships with other nations, to prevent terrorists from entering America.

At the Amsterdam airport, Abdulmutallab was subject to the same screening as other passengers. He was required to show his documents, including a valid U.S. visa. His carry-on bag was x-rayed. He passed through a metal detector. But a metal detector can't detect the kind of explosives that were sewn into his clothes.

As Secretary Napolitano will explain, the screening technologies that might have detected these explosives are in use at the Amsterdam airport, ,but not at the specific checkpoints that he passed through. Indeed, most airports in the world and in the United States do not yet have these technologies.

Now, there's no silver bullet to securing the thousands of flights into America each day, domestic and international. It will require significant investments in many areas.

And that's why even before the Christmas attack, we increased investments in homeland security and aviation security. This includes an additional $1 billion in new systems and technologies that we need to protect our airports -- more baggage screening, more passenger screening and more advanced explosive detection capabilities, including those that can improve our ability to detect the kind of explosive used on Christmas. These are major investments and they will make our skies safer and more secure.

As I announced this week, we have taken a whole range of steps to improve aviation screening and security since Christmas, including new rules for how we handle visas within the government and enhanced screening for passengers flying from or through certain countries. And today I'm directing that the Department of Homeland Security take additional steps, including strengthening our international partnerships to improve aviation screening and security around the world, greater use of the advanced explosive detection technologies that we already have, including imaging technology, and working aggressively, in cooperation with the Department of Energy and our national labs, to develop and deploy the next generation of screening technologies.

Now, there is, of course, no foolproof solution. As we develop new screening technologies and procedures, our adversaries will seek new ways to abate them, as was shown by the Christmas attack.

In the never-ending race to protect our country, we have to stay one step ahead of a nimble adversary. That's why what these steps are designed to do. And we will continue to work with Congress to ensure that our intelligence, homeland security and law enforcement communities have the resources they need to keep the American people safe.

I ordered these two immediate reviews so that we could take immediate action to secure our country. But in the weeks and months ahead, we will continue a sustained and intensive effort of analysis and assessment so that we leave no stone unturned in seeking better ways to protect American people.

I have repeatedly made it clear in public with the American people and in private with may national security team, that I will hold my staff, our agencies, and the people in them accountable when they fail to perform their responsibilities at the highest levels. Now, at this stage in the review process, it appears that this incident was not the fault of a single individual or organization, but rather a systemic failure across organizations and agencies.

That's why in addition to the corrective efforts that I have ordered, I've directed agency heads to establish internal accountability reviews and directed my national security staff to monitor their efforts. We will measure progress, and John Brennan will report back to me within 30 days and on a regular basis after that.

All of these agencies and their leaders are responsible for implementing these reforms. And all will be held accountable if they don't.

Moreover, I am less interested in passing out blame than I am in learning from and correcting these mistakes to make us safer, for, ultimately, the buck stops with me. As president, I have a solemn responsibility to protect our nation and our people. And when the system fails, it is my responsibility.

Over the past two weeks, we have been reminded again of the challenge we face in protecting our country against a foe that is bent on our disruption. And while passions and politics can often obscure the hard work before us, let's be clear about what this moment demands.

We are at war. We are at war against al Qaeda, a far-reaching network of violence and hatred that attacked us on 9/11, that killed nearly 3,000 innocent people, and that is plotting to strike us again. And we will do whatever it takes to defeat them.

And we've made progress. Al Qaeda's leadership has hunkered down. We have worked closely with partners, including Yemen, to inflict major blows against al Qaeda leaders. And we have disrupted plots at home and abroad and saved American lives.

And we know that the vast majority of Muslims reject al Qaeda. But it is clear that al Qaeda increasingly seeks to recruit individuals without known terrorist affiliations, not just in the Middle East, but in Africa and other places, to do their bidding.

That's why I've directed my national security team to develop a strategy that addresses the unique challenges posed by lone recruits. And that's why we must communicate clearly to Muslims around the world that al Qaeda offers nothing except a bankrupt vision of misery and debt, including the murder of fellow Muslims, while the United States stands with those who seek justice in progress. To advance that progress we have sought new beginnings with Muslim communities around the world, one in which we engage on the basis of mutual interest and mutual respect, and work together to fulfill the aspirations that all people share -- to get an education, to work with dignity, to live in peace and security. That's what America believes in. That's the vision that is far more powerful than the hatred of these violent extremists.

Here at home, we will strengthen our defenses, but we will not succumb to a siege mentality that sacrifices the open society and liberties and values that we cherish as Americans, because great and proud nations don't hunker down and hide behind walls of suspicion and mistrust. That is exactly what our adversaries, and so long as I am president, we will never hand them that victory.

We will define the character of our country, not some band of small men intent on killing innocent men, women and children. And in this cause, every one of us, every American, every elected official can do our part. Instead of giving in to cynicism and division, let's move forward with the confidence and optimism and unity that defines us as a people, for now is not a time for partnership, it's a time for citizenship, a time to come together and work together with the seriousness of purpose that our national security demands.

That's what it means to be strong in the face of violent extremism. That's how we will prevail in this fight. And that's how we will protect our country and pass it, safer and stronger, to the next generation.

Thanks very much.

BLITZER: The president of the United States speaking, what, for only about 12, 13 minutes? The president making the point that this is not a time, as just you heard him, for the United States to hunker down, not a time for partisanship. A time for citizenship. Also saying, ultimately, as we anticipated, "The buck stops with me."

Let me just recap what's going to happen now.

The White House is going to be releasing a formal report on the immediate lessons learned, what happened, where the U.S. goes from here in terms of homeland security, national security, fighting terrorism. There will be a briefing coming up, we anticipate, within a half hour or so from now at the White House briefing room.

The president's homeland security secretary, Janet Napolitano will brief reporters. And the president's top homeland security and counterterrorism adviser, John Brennan, will brief reporters as well.

You'll see that and hear it live here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Let me get some analysis, some reaction to what we just heard from the president of the United States.

David Gergen, who worked and served four presidents, Democrats and Republicans, what did you think, David? What did you think of what he said?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: It's going to take a while to digest this one, Wolf. It was complex.

I thought the president, taking personal responsibility, "the buck stops here," was forthright and good, welcomed. I think it was harder to understand the intelligence failures, and General Jones spoke that we would have a certain shock about what went wrong.

There was no shock presented in this. Maybe it's in the report.

I didn't think the president -- and I thought what he described about what happened and what went wrong in intelligence was -- had sort of a bureaucratic language to it that was hard to penetrate. What is he really saying here about what went wrong? And therefore, it's a little hard to understand what he's doing that's going to correct it, especially on the intelligence side. I thought he was unclear about the screening.

Two of the things is, I specifically disagree with the notion that the first line of defense against terrorism is intelligence. The first line against it is to go after al Qaeda, and he got to that at the end of the statement. And that, it seems to me, that's very critical.

But also, Wolf, in this was something very important about the notion of the Muslim al Qaeda engagement in the recruitment of loners. That's clearly something now in the Hasan case and in this case and others we're seeing that's very much got the attention of the administration, how they are using the Internet and then sort of these cult-like radicalization programs in Yemen, and perhaps elsewhere in the world, to turn this Nigerian into a human missile against the United States.

And that's something new that we're having to struggle with. And I was glad he singled that out and brought that to our attention.

BLITZER: And in fairness, General Jones, the president's national security adviser, what he said in that interview with "USA Today," he said once the American public reads the report in black and white, on printed pages, they will be shocked, in many respects, by the detail of those dots that were apparently not connected.

Fran Townsend, who served as President Bush's homeland security adviser, you were listening very carefully. What did you think?

TOWNSEND: Well, look, I don't think that there was much surprise in it, Wolf. Since the Christmas Day attempt, we have heard a lot about the fact that there was not sufficient dissemination, that wasn't fast enough. We've heard about we collected it and we shared, we just didn't understand it. We didn't connect it.

And so, the president talked about the broad areas that he outlined, that he wasn't on the no-fly list, the president wants to strengthen the watch list, these are all things that I think we expected to hear from him. It will be interesting -- I was struck by his notion -- when he got to accountability, he accepted responsibility. I think that's a good thing. And I do think that that's important for morale of those who are in the fight.

The interesting thing to me, though, was this notion of asking for internal accountability in the agencies. I can tell you, Wolf, from having served in the government as a career official for many decades, the career folks who are in the front lines, who serve in very dangerous places, not just here in Washington, who have heard that as what's going to happen inside to the career folks, if there is not going to be accountability at the political level, does this mean we're going to look for the career folks to hold accountable, and that will make people very nervous.

BLITZER: Tom Fuentes is here, former assistant FBI director.

Is that how you read or heard, understood what the president was saying?

TOM FUENTES, FMR. ASSISTANT FBI DIRECTOR: Yes. But I would also like to add he mentioned strengthening our international partnerships. I don't think enough has been made on this particular issue because aviation is a global industry.

Following World War II, there was a convention in Chicago where leaders from around the world came together, and it was decided how to set up the three-letter designator for aviation -- for airports around the world. It was decided that English would be the standard language used by all flight crews, pilots and ground crews around the world.

We need a new summit along those lines to determine, what security measures should be made, worldwide requirements? Which screening requirements should be made, ,worldwide requirements? And I think that that's where -- we're zeroing in on the intel community, and it sounded a little bit to me like upgrading your computer system. A new system is going to be quicker, bigger, faster.

BLITZER: Because what the president said at one point, he said, this was not the fault -- this mistake, not the fault of a single individual or a single organization within the U.S. government, but it went across the board. There were a lot of mistakes that were made. Sort of -- no one specifically is to blame but a lot of people are to blame.

FUENTES: But separate from that, we're still going to need a system that operates on a global basis. We're going to need the other countries to agree to do the security measures, share flight lists, do reporting on suspects that should be checked out. All of those things are going to require essentially a worldwide training ground.

BLITZER: He said -- Gloria Borger, he said he's not interested in laying blame right now. He's -- and he pointed out, "Ultimately, the buck will stop," he says, "with me, and when the system fails, it will be my responsibility."

He was under pressure, I think, to say that.

BORGER: Yes, I think he was. And I think he's president of the United States, and I think, you know, the buck does stop with him.

I think what was also very interesting to me about what he said was not only that we didn't connect the dots, but he also said we didn't understand the dots. So it seems to me that we gather so much intelligence now, we gather so much, that the amount of information we gather is so large.

The question is, do we know how to manage that amount of information that we have? And do we know that something is important when we see it? Do we know the right way to analyze it?

BLITZER: At the end of the speech, Peter Bergen, he reached out to the Muslim community around the world and said, you know what? This is not a fight the U.S. is having with you, we want to work with you.

Is that going to really make much of a difference?

BERGEN: Well, I think the Muslim world community is making its own decisions about al Qaeda. I mean, support for suicide bombing in country after country is just creating support for al Qaeda, support for bin Laden personally.

So, this is a war that, in the end, it's going to be decided by Muslims, and Muslims are making their own decisions, partly because of the extraordinary barbarity of al Qaeda in Iraq. And we've seen in Pakistan -- support in Pakistan, the last several years, the suicide bombings dropped from 33 percent to five percent because the Taliban have inflicted this terrible campaign on Pakistan domestically.

BLITZER: In other words, all the victims in Pakistan are fellow Muslims.

BERGEN: Right, thousands of civilians, Pakistani civilians, have died.

But I just want to make one point about 9/11. No official in the Bush administration apologized, took responsibility, resigned or was fired for the biggest national security problem we have ever had. And that's merely an observation.

BLITZER: I want everybody to stand by. We're awaiting the briefing over at the White House Press Briefing Room. The secretary of homeland security, Janet Napolitano, the president's counterterrorism and homeland security adviser, John Brennan, they'll be walking in, filling in the blanks, I guess you could say, on what the president said in broad strokes. They're going to go into specifics, how will this impact all of us who like to fly, for example, what are going to be the changes that we will shortly see and feel as we go on our travels?

Our coverage will continue. Jack Cafferty is standing by with "The Cafferty File" right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Now that the president has spoken, we're awaiting a briefing from his top homeland security and counterterrorism advisers, Janet Napolitano and John Brennan. They're getting ready to walk into the White House Press Briefing Room.

They will be briefing reporters on the specific details. They have also just released the summary of the president's report. We're going through that right now. We are digesting it.

Earlier in the day, General Jim Jones, the president's national security adviser, said we would be shocked when we read it. We're going to see if we are, in fact, shocked.

But let's go to Jack Cafferty right now for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question we asked this hour is: How safe do you feel when flying? In light of the little glitches that we have seen happen here in the last several weeks.

Shawn writes, "I fly all the time for work. Statistically, still much, much safer than driving a car. I'm tired of the fear in the media and the government about this one guy's failed attempt to blow up one flight out of 28,000 daily flights. I don't fear flying any more or any less because of this incident."

Matt in Arizona says, "I feel safer flying now than I did before 9/11. What concerns me is the intelligence community's ability to connect the dots. The system is overwhelmed. It needs streamlining."

Amanda writes, "I don't feel safe at all anymore. If TSA can't keep the security cameras function properly, who's to say they will able to detect something hidden in someone's bag?"

Russell in Utah, "I feel perfectly safe still flying in the United States. Yes, there were steps that were missed and things that should have been done. But all in all, air travel is still much safer than all other forms of transportation."

Joshua says, "I don't feel safe flying. These people are paid to protect us. They failed a couple of times in a matter of weeks. I'd rather spend my time taking the train."

Daniel says, "I fly weekly, 60 percent of the year, and honestly, I feel very safe. I'm more scared of drunk drivers than of terrorists. The odds of me dying at the hands of a former are far greater than the hands of the latter."

And Peter in Georgia writes, "Get a grip, Jack. It's still a hell of a lot safer to fly than it is to drive."

If you want the read more on the subject -- got a lot of mail on this -- you can go to my blog, -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jack. Thank you.

And to our viewers, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, breaking news. President Obama says U.S. agencies across the board failed to connect the dots that could have kept an alleged bomber off a U.S. airliner.

Moments from now, within the next minute on two, we're told, the homeland security secretary, Janet Napolitano, and top White House officials will tell us how the government's plans to keep us all safe in the future, how that will unfold. We're going to have live coverage coming up.

And we're also going live to Yemen, where CNN's Paula Newton has been retracing the footsteps of the airline bombing suspect.