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CIA, Counterterrorism Execs Managed Bomb Crisis from Afar

It could be said that the U.S. government can run by remote control. On the day that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attempted to blow up a Northwest airline flight headed for Detroit, several key government players were on holiday and didn't immediately return to their posts in Washington, D.C.

President Obama was on vacation in Hawaii, golfing and enjoying time with his family. He returned to the White House on Jan. 4.

A source told CBS News that Leon Panetta, director of the CIA, was on holiday in Monterey, Calif. when Abdulmutallab was apprehended, and didn't return to CIA headquarters in Langley, Va. until the weekend following Jan. 1.

The CIA maintained that Panetta's absence from Langley was not a problem. "While we don't comment on the Director's whereabouts, wherever he is—and at every moment of every day—he has the ability to communicate instantly and securely with anyone he needs to be in touch with," a CIA spokesman said.

In addition, Stephen Kappes, CIA deputy director, reportedly didn't see the need to return to CIA headquarters from his vacation despite the major intelligence community failure. He returned to Washington, D.C. just after the Khost bombing on Dec. 30 that killed seven CIA officers.

And, the White House has been busy today putting its support behind National Counterterrorism Director Michael Leiter, who decided it would be acceptable to go on a six-day vacation with his 7-year-old son the day after Abdulmutallab's attempted bombing.

Special Report: The Christmas Day Terror Attack

John Brennan, the president's chief counterterrorism adviser, said he authorized Leiter to take the vacation time after concluding that Leiter had a "full complement" of people and deputies to deal with the situation and that he "deserved" the vacation.

Denis McDonough, National Security Staff Chief of Staff, chimed in that Leiter's vacation "did not affect in any way his ability to remain engaged with all elements of the United States Government."

Clearly, high-tech communications makes it possible to deal with a crisis situation from remote locations.

Brennan, speaking during a press conference following President Obama's remarks on the failure to detect Adulmutallab, said the situation following the attack was managed "seamlessly well" by government, intelligence and homeland security communities.

But, the procedures and systems deployed by the intelligence community prior to the attack broke down and didn't work "seamlessly well." The president said that it was a "failure to connect and understand the intelligence that we already had."

Whether working in the same room or remotely via secure communications, the intelligence community and the Obama administration have a long way to go before the phrase "seamless well" legitimately describes their work.

More on Obama's Remarks and the Report:

Obama Commands Intel Community to Do Better
Obama: "We Are at War"
John Brennan: I Told Leiter to Take Leave
Brennan: Yemen's Al Qaeda Is "Lethal" and "Concerning"
Transcript: Obama on Intelligence Failures
Will Obama Fire Anyone Over Intel Failures?
Full Obama Video
Analysis from CBS News' Bob Schieffer and Bob Orr
Summary of White House Review
Directive from President Obama

Daniel Farber is editor-in-chief of CBS News investigative producer Pat Milton contributed to this story.