WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration was on the defensive Monday over how a Nigerian man who tried to destroy Detroit-bound Northwest Flight 253 on Christmas Day held a valid U.S. visa, was allowed to board the plane in Amsterdam even though he was on a terrorist watch list, and was able to bring an explosive substance undetected on the aircraft.
Already, three committees in Congress announced hearings on the incident in January; the House and Senate Homeland Security committees and the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. It's not the posture the Obama White House wanted to be with Congress as Obama nears his first anniversary in office on Jan. 22 and with final negotiations over his signature health-care bill set for next month.
On Monday, Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and ranking member Susan Collins (R-Maine) say their hearing will ''examine the layers of security meant to protect airline passengers from terrorist attacks but which accused terrorist Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab successfully evaded.''
Obama himself addressed the incident for the first time, breaking from his Hawaii vacation to appear tieless before cameras to read a statement. He noted that Abdulmutallab was in a U.S. database of suspected terrorists, but not on the smaller no-fly list.
"I've ordered a thorough review not only of how information related to the subject was handled, but of the overall watch list system and how it can be strengthened," Obama said. Obama also said he ordered an examination of "all screening policies, technologies and procedures related to air travel."
He also directed his national security team "to keep up the pressure on those who would attack our country. . . . We will continue to use every element of our national power to disrupt, to dismantle, and defeat the violent extremists who threaten us -- whether they are from Afghanistan or Pakistan, Yemen or Somalia, or anywhere where they are plotting attacks against the U.S. homeland."
The incident has thrown Homeland Security Director Janet Napolitano in the spotlight; she was on six morning shows Monday and three on Sunday. But she got in a bit of a jam on the Sunday shows when she said ''one thing I'd like to point out is that the system worked," meaning no one was hurt seriously because the suspect was subdued by passengers and crew on the flight. But I bet most people start looking at the system failing -- not working -- when Abdulmutallab was allowed on a plane with explosive material hidden in his pants.
She was asked about it on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" and explained she was starting the clock on the system working once the crew notified authorities of the thwarted attempt to ignite an incendiary device -- that is, after the incident occurred.
On NBC's "Today" show Napolitano was pressed to concede the system "failed miserably."
Said Napolitano, "It did."