White House: No smoking gun

2010-01-03 20:07

Washington - US agencies are scouring intelligence to learn more about the man suspected of trying to bomb a US airliner, but there was "no smoking gun" that signalled he was a would-be terrorist, a White House official said on Sunday.

President Barack Obama's counter-terrorism advisor John Brennan said there were several "bits and pieces" of intelligence gathered in the run-up to the botched Christmas Day bombing, and that any human or systemic failure lay in not putting together those pieces of a larger puzzle.

"There was no smoking gun. There was no piece of intelligence that said this guy is a terrorist and is going to get on a plane.... None whatsoever," Brennan told Fox News Sunday as part of a round of talk-show interviews.

"It was a failure to integrate the bits and pieces of information."

Security review

US authorities have charged Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, with boarding a US-bound Northwest Airlines flight out of Amsterdam on Christmas Day and trying to blow up the plane over Detroit with explosives he had smuggled aboard in his underwear.

The terror scare prompted Obama to order a review of intelligence and security operations to see where there were any breakdowns that may have allowed Abdulmutallab to get on the plane.

"The president is very determined to make sure we identify what the problems were and take corrective actions immediately," Brennan said.

Among the pieces of intelligence gathered, the official said, were statements from the suspect's father, Umar Mutallab, who recently went to US officials with concerns about his son's religious radicalisation.

Snippets of intelligence

It is believed that the information provided by Mutallab was instrumental in getting his son's name placed in a terrorist database with 550 000 other names.

Abdulmutallab's name was not however placed on a no-fly list, an element that has rankled Obama critics who say not enough is being done to thwart attacks.

"We also had... snippets of intelligence that came in, that didn't refer directly to Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, but had little bits and pieces of information that we now know in hindsight related to Mr Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab," Brennan said.

"We need as a system to make sure we can put the pieces together so we take every step possible to prevent the individuals from getting on the plane."