A senior counterterrorism official told CBS News today the intelligence community knew al Qaeda was planning what he called a"Christmas Surprise" for months but was unable to come up with something credible, to connect the dots - until it was too late.
"We should have stopped an individual from coming into the country that fell through the cracks," said Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C.
The problem, reports CBS News chief investigative correspondent Armen Keteyian, is what the official termed within the intelligence community - compounded by information overload at the National Counterterrorism Center in McLean, Virginia. The center receives some 8,000 messages a day.
Special Report: The Christmas Day Terror Attack
"Quite simply what went wrong is the lack of communication between the State Department, the intelligence community and Department of Homeland Security," Sen. Burr said.
Adding to the system breakdown, says another source: confusion between the Counterterrorism Center and State Department over whether or not Abdulmutallab's name was in a national terrorist database. One agency thought the other was checking. And nobody did.
In fact, as early as 2009 the CIA had human intelligence and electronic intercepts on a man dubbed "the Nigerian," linked to "terrorist elements" in Yemen. But it was only after the Christmas Day attack that the agency figured out "the Nigerian" was, in fact, Abdulmutallab. And that was five weeks after Abdulmutallab's father raised concerns to the CIA.
Joseph Cuellar, a former CIA and military intelligence officer, says there's no excuse for this kind of failure.
"You know they had information that an analyst could have quickly put together and said 'something's wrong here' and it didn't get done," Cuellar said.
To make matters worse Abdulmutallab wasn't hard to find in Yemen. He regularly attended a local mosque and studied at an Arabic school, communicating with the American-born radical Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awalki, who is said to have influenced Major Nadal Hasan's massacre at Ft. Hood.
The intelligence review ordered by President Obama is due Thursday - one that will undoubtedly show eight years after 9/11, a lot of lessons about information sharing have yet to be learned.
More coverage from CBSNews.com:
CIA's Abdulmutallab Info Not High Priority
Official: We Knew Al Qaeda Planned "Christmas Surprise"
U.S. Intel Lapses Helped Abdulmutallab
Friend Says Abdulmutallab Was Not Extremist in London
Yemen, North Africa: Terrorism's New Home
Yemen Raids Al Qaeda Hide-Out; 1 Arrested
Opposition Grows to Transferring Gitmo Detainees to Yemen
Dick Cheney: Obama Stance "Makes Us Less Safe"
Democrats Say GOP Playing Politics on Bombing Attempt
Obama: "Systemic Failure" Allowed Attack
Roommate: Abdulmutallab Shunned Women
Abdulmutallab's Missing Months in Yemen
TSA Still Vexed by Explosives Screening
Tracing Bomb Suspect's Journey to Detroit