Washington -- The Obama administration pledged Thursday to close gaps in the intelligence system that enabled a man carrying a bomb to board a U.S.-bound plane and to create a better system for analyzing the clues and tips flooding the intelligence community to give analysts a better chance of foiling future plots.
The White House based its assertions on the early findings of two separate inquiries into what it calls the "human and systemic failures" that took place before a Nigerian man's attempt to detonate a bomb aboard a plane flying from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day.
The White House would not release the conclusions but announced that President Barack Obama will hold meetings next week in Washington aimed at getting the tangle of government agencies responsible for fighting terrorism to more diligently assess and share information.
A better degree of coordination might have prevented the latest incident, White House officials have said.
Senior administration and intelligence officials said the inquiries' preliminary findings show that in some cases, systemic problems prevented key pieces of information from being shared or matched up.
But in other cases, intelligence analysts simply didn't connect the disparate pieces of information already in their computer databases that could have flagged Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab and stopped him from boarding Northwest Flight 253, according to officials familiar with the preliminary investigation.
The need for the White House review underscores one of the more troubling aspects of the Christmas incident: Despite spending billions to shore up the nation's defenses and intelligence networks after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the United States still struggles to digest and act upon all its anti-terror intelligence.
"It points to something fundamental," said Richard A. Clarke, a former top counterterrorism official in the Bush and Clinton adminstrations. "No matter how good your software is or how good your procedures are, at the end of the day it comes back to people. And if people think that this is a 9-5 job and they're not filled with a sense of urgency every day, then you'll get these kinds of mistakes."
In addition, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced Thursday that she is sending senior department officials to meet with leaders from major international airports in Africa, Asia, Europe, the Middle East and South America. The idea is to review security procedures and technology being used to screen passengers on flights bound for the U.S.
"As part of the ongoing review to determine exactly what went wrong leading up to Friday's attempted terrorist attack, we are looking not only at our own processes, but also beyond our borders to ensure effective aviation security measures are in place for U.S-bound flights that originate at international airports," Napolitano said.
Briefing reporters in Hawaii, where the president is vacationing with his family, a senior Obama administration official said the intelligence breakdowns identified so far are being fixed.
The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said, "When we do have information and when we have good information - as we often do, given how good our intelligence professionals are - the failure to share that information is not going to be tolerated."
The official added that the inquiry will also try to end the compartmentalization in which scraps of intelligence are hidden in separate government databases - not accessible to agents trying to build the most complete possible picture of looming threats.
The goal, he said, is a "systemic capability drawing on all the available technology to make sure that different pieces of information and different databases for information are matched up in such a way as to ensure that all this information ... is used in the most effective way."
According to intelligence and administration officials, the lack of communication and intelligence sharing is especially apparent in the Abdulmutallab case.
Last August, the National Security Agency intercepted some communications between senior members of al-Qaida's regional network in Yemen in which they discussed possible attacks involving an unidentified Nigerian.
But those intercepts were vague, did not refer in any way to potential attacks on the U.S. homeland, and were not highlighted as an urgent cause for concern for the nation's analysts at the CIA, the National Counterterrorism Center or elsewhere in the U.S. intelligence community, according to officials familiar with the communications.
Then, in November, Abdulmutallab's father told officials at the U.S. Embassy in Abuja, Nigeria, that his son had become radicalized, had fallen in with a group of extremists and might have traveled to Yemen.
Much of that information was sent back to Washington in classified cables, and while officials at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va., prepared a formal report on the father's information, it was not shared with the larger intelligence community until after the Christmas bombing attempt, according to one intelligence official familiar with the document.
Administration officials have said that report contained information that could have placed Abdulmutallab on federal lists that would have subjected him to additional screenings or barred him from flying.
Instead, his name was added to a general threat database of 550,000 names that is not cross-checked with other databases. And Abdulmutallab got on Northwest Flight 253 - apparently without having to show his passport, on a one-way ticket paid for in cash, and without checking baggage.