Official: We Knew Al Qaeda Planned "Christmas Surprise"

(AP Photo/J.P. Karas)
A high-ranking counterterrorism official told CBS News correspondent Kimberly Dozier Wednesday that U.S. intelligence agencies "knew Al Qaeda was promising a Christmas surprise" but weren't able to piece together the details in time to prevent the attempted bombing of a Northwest Airlines flight arriving in Detroit.

"We'd been tracking this stuff for months, without being able to connect the dots of what was happening, and what was going to happen," said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "The problem is they get 8,000 messages a day at the [National Counter Terrorism Center]. But we couldn't come up with something that was credible … so we assumed al Qaeda was still in the planning stages."

Special Report: The Christmas Day Terror Attack

Al Qaeda's recruiting of Nigerian national Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab – the son of a prominent banker there – is "case in point of how smart our enemy is," the official said. "It's becoming more and more that you can't profile anymore … because Al Qaeda is recruiting across a wide spectrum. We're now looking for any young Arab Muslim men between 21 and 40, but they know that as well, so they're actively recruiting folks outside that spectrum."