Congress got its first behind-the-scenes look at the airline bombing Wednesday, and officials said the security failures were even worse than President Barack Obama outlined last week. It remains unclear, however, how those failures will be fixed.
"He was flying into Detroit without a coat. That's interesting if you've ever been in Detroit in December," New Jersey Democrat Rep. Bill Pascrell, a member of the House of Representatives' Homeland Security Committee, said after a briefing by presidential counterterror adviser John Brennan.
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National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair and National Counterterrorism Center Director Michael Leiter briefed the House Intelligence Committee in private, and Brennan took questions from the House in overlapping sessions Wednesday.
Congress wants to know how Obama plans to improve an intelligence system that failed to recognize the significance of repeated warning signs that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was planning an attack. The Nigerian also showed up at the Amsterdam airport without any luggage - another sign that officials acknowledge should have prompted more scrutiny.
Critical warning signs arrived even earlier, in mid-October, when a National Security Agency wiretap picked up discussion out of Yemen that referred to a Nigerian being trained for a special mission, according to a House official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private meeting.
Obama has ordered agencies to review and tighten their procedures but has left it mostly up to them to figure out how.
"There were more dots crying out to be connected than I realized," Democratic Rep. Rush Holt, a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said in an interview. "If any two of the dots were connected, it would have moved the organization to quickly connect the other dots. An improvement or good luck in any number of areas probably could have broken this wide open."
A month later, Abdulmutallab's father in Nigeria reported to the U.S. Embassy that his son had gone to Yemen and had fallen under the influence of radicals there.
Another point of failure, acknowledged last week by the White House, was that a misspelling of Abdulmutallab's name at the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria initially made the State Department believe he did not have a U.S. visa - and therefore was less of an immediate concern.
"A system shouldn't get stymied by a single misspelling," said Holt. "If you mistype something in Google, Google comes back and says maybe you want to look at this other spelling?"
Abdulmutallab got through security with a bomb in his pants, and Pascrell said terrorists would continue finding such weaknesses even if officials require full-body scans.
"If we think we're going to stop the terrorists from getting on planes and trains by technology we are dead wrong, and I don't want us to be dead," he said. "We need to understand that this is a human intervention situation and that we must spend more time at putting boots on the ground and people behind the lines who understand what's going on, who can know what the enemy is all about."
At least part of the administration's response involves lowering the threshold to get potential terrorists onto no-fly lists, an intelligence official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the plans. Blair outlined that measure in private briefings Wednesday.
Rep. Nita Lowey, another Democratic a member of the committee that allocates money for homeland security spending, is calling for Obama to ask the airlines to provide passenger lists to Customs and Border Protection 24 hours in advance; to deploy more behavior detection officers at airports to spot potential terrorists; and to expand the purchase of imaging body scanners at U.S. airports, among other measures.
Congress is planning a slew of hearings on the failed Detroit bombing attempt. Blair has at least two more on his immediate calendar in the next week, and the House Intelligence Committee will be scheduling another soon, said its Democratic chairman, Rep. Sylvestre Reyes.