Obama's Reverse Spin: "This Was A Screw Up"


Two days after the attempted Christmas day bombing of a Northwest airliner bound for Detroit, the message from the Obama Administration was "the system worked." This afternoon, the President delivered a dramatic reversal of that narrative.

Speaking somberly and forcefully from the White House, Obama said the government had "sufficient information" to have potentially disrupted the attack, but that the intelligence community "failed to connect those dots." He spoke of the "the human and systemic failures that almost cost nearly 300 lives," and he vowed, "we will do better."

He was more blunt in a private meeting with top advisers just before he spoke before the cameras: "This was a screw up that could have been disastrous. We dodged a bullet but just barely. It was averted by brave individuals, not because the system worked, and that is not acceptable."

On Face the Nation Sunday, Bob Schieffer took aim at the administration's first response at spin. Interviewed on Sunday talk shows two days after the attempted bombing, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Press Secretary Robert Gibbs insisted that the "system worked" and the "system has worked." They both said it with a straight face, but it didn't pass the laugh test.

"Self-serving spin at the first sign of crisis does not help the situation; it makes it worse, because it makes it harder to believe anything the government says," Bob said on Sunday. "Real security is built on trust in the government. That requires truth, which should be the beginning of government presentations, not the fallback position."

Today, Obama seemed determined to push the reset button, as he detailed what pretty much every single American has known for the past week and a half: The system, in fact, had not worked.

"It was a failure to integrate and understand the intelligence that we already had. The information was there, agencies and analysts who needed it had access to it, and our professionals were trained to look for it and to bring it all together," Obama said.

"I will accept that intelligence by its nature is imperfect, but it is increasingly clear that intelligence was not fully analyzed or fully leveraged," he said. "That's not acceptable, and I will not tolerate it."

Obama spoke after meeting with his Cabinet and national security team. He described plans already put in place since the attempted attack—more screening, better coordination, expansion of the "no-fly" list. And he said more changes were ahead.

"We have to do better, and we will do better, and we have to do it quickly," he said. "American lives are on the line."

The President also said the administration would not return some 90 Yemeni detainees now held at Guantanamo back to their home country at this time. But he said he was committed to closing Guantanamo.

He didn't say how he was going to do that--or where the 198 detainees who are there now are going to go. He has asked Congress for $150 million to house Guantanamo terror suspects at a prison in Illinois. That fight will get underway in the spring.

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    Jan Crawford is CBS News Chief Political and Legal Correspondent. She is from "Crossroads," Alabama.