Connecting the Dots on Obama's Intel Debrief

Prez takes responsibility, but will problems get fixed?

By Tamer El-Ghobashy
|  Friday, Apr 2, 2010  |  Updated 5:09 PM EDT
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Connecting the Dots on Obama's Intel Debrief

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U.S. President Barack Obama makes remarks in the State Dining Room on the attempted terror attack on Christmas Day January 7, 2010 at the White House in Washington, DC.

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President Obama took responsibility Thursday for the intelligence community's failure to “connect the dots” on information leading up to the botched Christmas Day attack on a Detroit-bound plane.

“The buck stops with me” Obama declared, stopping short of firing anyone. Later, a six-page report was released detailing what went wrong and when. The White House billed the report as “shocking” – but it underwhelmed. So what are we to take away from the speech and the dossier?

  • TalkingPointsMemo.com’s David Kurtz said the report “doesn’t offer much” but points to an embarrassing element. A misspelling in the suspect’s name “caused the State Department to miss the fact that the suspect did have a U.S. visa.” That in turn may have prevented the agency from reviewing and possibly revoking it.
  • The most “shocking” element of the report and Obama’s speech was that the president said he was ordering “specific responsibility for investigating all leads on high priority threats so that these leads are pursued and acted upon aggressively," said former Clinton and Bush counter-terrorism director Richard Clarke. “That is a shock because we had such a follow-up system when I was there,” Clarke told ABC News.
  • Matt A. Mayer, writing for the NationalReview.com, took the report as a chronicle of the failure of the very agencies established to prevent terrorism in the U.S. “Unless this problem is fixed, we can be confident more dots will go unconnected, which may lead to a successful terrorist attack in America,” he wrote.
  • Slate’s Christopher Beam concedes there are obvious intelligence failures that need fixing but argues Obama’s most valuable comments came at the end of this speech when the president spoke to the Muslim world. “We must communicate clearly to Muslims around the world that al Qaeda offers nothing except a bankrupt vision of misery and death—including the murder of fellow Muslims—while the United States stands with those who seek justice and progress," Obama said.
  • Writing for Salon.com, Joan Walsh was simply impressed that Obama spoke at all, not to mention took responsibility and addressed shortcomings. “I watched President Obama detail his administration's review of missed signals in the Christmas Day bomb attempt, and one thought was inescapable: Imagine President Bush doing the same thing after 9/11. I know, you can't. I couldn't either. In almost eight years, he never did,” she wrote.
     

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