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US media on intelligence failures

Host | 07:11 UK time, Friday, 8 January 2010

President ObamaUS President Barack Obama has announced the conclusions of a review into security failings in the attempted airliner bombing on Christmas Day, and outlined how he intends to improve national and international security. This is how the US media have reacted to the speech.

In an editorial, the New York Times welcomes Mr Obama's decision:

"It was a relief to hear him candidly acknowledge widespread failures in the vast and vastly expensive intelligence and homeland security system and insist that his administration do better."

Most of the failings were supposed to have been corrected in the years following the 11 September 2001 attacks, but clearly were not, the newspaper says:

"We would feel more reassured if these steps weren't so basic and self-evident: improve intelligence analysis; clarify the responsibilities of different agencies; upgrade computer technology; ensure faster distribution of intelligence reports; train National Security Agency personnel in watch list procedures; add more people to watch lists; enhance airport screening.

"More than eight years after 9/11, the United States has another chance to learn from its mistakes. So does al-Qaeda. President Obama has his work cut out for him."

The Boston Globe takes a similar line in its editorial, but also criticises Mr Obama for being "too vague about the actions that are needed to repair breaches in the nation's counterterrorism system":

"A key finding of the White House intelligence review ordered by Obama is that a reorganisation of the intelligence or broader counterterrorism community is not required to address problems that surface in the review.

"This assumes that the failure to properly interpret information about the failed Christmas attack was not caused by excessive layers of bureaucracy. It's a risky assumption, at best."

In the National Review's The Corner blog, Chris Harnisch and Charlie Szrom also complain that the White House has not yet described a coherent and detailed strategy:

"America cannot afford to fight terror only with x-ray machines and visas, as the president has suggested. The Obama administration needs to develop, articulate, and implement a comprehensive strategy for defeating those terrorists and denying them safe-havens."

Writing in Newsweek, Howard Fineman says the risk the president faces with voters is the perception that his administration is "dumb":

"The Christmas bomber's near success produced the picture of an administration that was as almost as deaf, dumb, and blind--in its own technocratic way--as the blunderbuss Bushies who preceded it."

He then suggests five new policies to counter the comparison:
1. Fire some people
2. Blame Bush
3. Reconfigure the bureaucracy
4. Profiling
5. Don't allow airlines to sell one-way, luggage-less cash tickets to anyone, from anywhere, ever again.

Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank notes a problem with the first change Mr Obama recommended:

"'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.'
"Um, you mean we weren't doing that already?
"'It just seems like that would be the basic premise of any intelligence system,' NBC's Savannah Guthrie pointed out. 'I'm sure people wonder: 'Really? That's the reform we need?'"

Andrew Sullivan, writing in The Daily Dish, says Mr Obama has responded as best he can to the plot, but wonders why "no-one will actually face consequences for this failure":

"The only difference with Bush is that Obama wants to take full responsibility on himself. Here's what that says to the men and women of the security and intelligence institutions of government who failed us: you will never be fired, and you will never face real consequences for failing to do your job competently."

Politico's Josh Gerstein says Obama's "buck-stops-here" message marks a change in tone from earlier statements:

"In the past, Obama White House officials have complained that President George W Bush and his team were too slow to acknowledge mistakes and rarely took responsibility for them. Obama and his advisers seem intent on taking a different tack, in the hopes that Americans won't hold the mistakes against the president if they're convinced he's moving quickly to fix them."

But James Richardson of complains that old habits die hard:

"As with each successive challenge to the Obama White House, when all else invariably fails, the president and his aides blame the former administration with graduating intensity.

"Defence-related issues - on which the president and his party are, largely, observed as out of their depth - are of course no exception to Obama's petty politics of blame."

Links in full

New York TimesNew York Times | Eight Years Later
Boston GlobeBoston Globe | Unheeded tip reveals flaws, but Obama is too vague on fixes
National ReviewChris Harnisch and Charlie Szrom | National Review | Where's the Strategy?
NewsweekHoward Fineman | Newsweek | Obama's Five Options to Turn the Tide on Terrorism
Washington PostDana Milbank | Washington Post | Administration says there was no smoking gun
AtlanticAndrew Sullivan | Atlantic | Big Government As Usual
PoliticoJosh Gerstein | Politico | President Obama: Security failure 'my responsibility'
Red StateJames Richardson | Red State | White House: Bush at Fault

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