Hoekstra on Underwear Bomber: "We Missed Him at Every Step"

ABC News Kirit Radia: The leading Republican on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence today said blame for allowing an al Qaeda bomber to board a US-bound flight with deadly explosives on Christmas day lay with a number of foreign governments and US policy makers, but he pointed his finger at the Obama administration for taking its eye off the threat from terrorism abroad.

“I think there’s enough blame to go around here, the bottom line is we ended up with a bomb on a plane with a detonator ready to go off -- that’s totally unacceptable. There’s probably failures at every step of the way, in Nigeria, in the Netherlands, and in the overall procedures,” Ranking Member Peter Hoekstra (Mich.) said in an interview with ABC News.

“Early on in this administration I think that this administration sent a clear signal that they believed that the threat to the homeland was not as significant as what it really is. (Department of Homeland Security Secretary) Janet Napolitano said we’re not going to talk about terrorism we’re going to talk about manmade disasters. That was a mistake,” he added.

Hoekstra said the focus must now be on preparing for the next evolving threat, not ones that have already come to light.

“We need to clearly focus on airline security, but we also need to expand our surveillance in the areas we are going to protect because just as we focus on one area I expect al Qaeda will move and they will target another area. They are a flexible organization, they are a learning organization. As we change and adapt, so will they,” he said. “We’re now going to have to redouble our efforts to close the loopholes and to close the gaps that we’ve identified but we also need to be forward thinking.”

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a 23 year-old Nigerian, was detained by federal authorities Friday after allegedly attempting to detonate explosives concealed in his underwear shortly before his Amsterdam-Detroit flight was to land.

In November the suspect’s father went to the US Embassy in Abuja, the Nigerian capital, to warn that his son was being radicalized in Yemen. A day later the embassy warned counterterrorism officials in the US about the father’s tip, but ultimately it was determined there was insufficient information to revoke Abdulmutallab’s US visa or to place him on a no-fly list.

The suspect had been granted a standard two-year US tourist visa in 2008 when, as US officials have stressed, there were no signs he was connected to terrorism. Earlier this year, Great Britain placed him on a no-fly list after revoking his UK visa for lying on an application form.

On December 16 the suspect purchased a flight at the KLM office at the airport in Accra, Ghana with nearly $3,000 in cash. He boarded a flight from Lagos, Nigeria to Amsterdam on December 24 and then connected on his flight to Detroit. He checked in no luggage.

Neither the father’s warnings, nor the international ticket purchased in cash, nor the lack of luggage prevented Abdulmutallab from boarding the flight. Security screenings in Nigeria and before his connecting flight in the Netherlands failed to find the concealed explosives.

Hoekstra today said the incident exposed a cracks in the country’s homeland security system.

“There were a number of places in the process that would have signaled a clear red flag – this guy is a problem. His dad coming into the embassy, the Brits saying he’s not going to be allowed back into Great Britain and then the screening process at the airports not catching him. You would have hoped that at each one of these places we would have caught him. In reality we missed him at every step of the way,” he said.

“You would have thought that we would have at least considered revoking this individual’s two –year visa and waiting to re-issue it until we had an opportunity to interview him and have him go through the screening process one more time,” Hoekstra said of the red flags before Abdulmutallab boarded the flight.

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