CBS News has learned it was only after Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab launched his terrorist attack aboard Flight 253 that the U.S. State Department discovered he had an active U.S. visa through June 2010, a shocking failure of an airport security system drawing ever-increasing fire.
As first reported by CBS News Monday, the U.S. government twice failed to find Abdulmutallab had an active multiple-entry U.S. visa issued on June 16, 2008 at the U.S. Embassy in London.
According to a law enforcement source, the first failure came on November 19, 2009, the same day Abdulmutallab's father warned officials at the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria about his son. Then again on November 20 in Washington, after Dr. Mutallab's concerns were forwarded there, officials failed for a second time to figure out the 23-year-old Nigerian national held an active U.S. visa.
"When you have a father reporting information about his son that he believes his son may be leaning towards extremists views, he doesn't know where his son is, that's enough for me to be able to say we need to find out what this individual is doing, where he's at, who he's involved with as soon as possible," said Pat D'Amuro, the former head of counterterrorism for the FBI.
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The Visa breakdown is one of a raft of potential red flags that were somehow missed, such as the fact that Abdulmutallab paid nearly $3,000 in cash for his plane ticket and checked no bags, carrying aboard only a small bag for a scheduled two-week trip. How did airport screening in two airports fail to detect an estimated 76 grams of the explosive PETN and a syringe packed with a chemical catalyst concealed in a special pouch sewn into Abdulmutallab's underwear.
Why don't the Dutch use these body scan machines that can detect explosives on U.S. bound passengers? Amsterdam's Schiphol Airport has 17 of them. The Dutch say the United States won't allow it. U.S. officials say that's just not true. Either way, experts say the suspect shouldn't have gotten through.
"If he would appear on the El Al flight he would be suspected and the chemical material on his body would have been found very easily," said Pini Schiff, the former director of security for the Israel Airport Authority.
Despite sharp criticism, Homeland Security Head Janet Napolitano took a most-positive approach on Sunday, saying that the "system worked."
Monday, however, that tune had changed.
"You said the system worked. Do you want to take that back or rephrase that?" asked CBS News anchor Harry Smith on "The Early Show".
"Well, I think taking that phrase out of context doesn't make much sense," Napolitano said. "Obviously, we are now going back and looking at what were the events that lead up to this individual getting on this plane."
Late Monday, a State Department spokesman said it was a "very near miss" and that a review of procedures was needed.