During his update this morning, President Obama spoke of a systemic failure in sharing and piecing together information that allowed a terrorist to board and attempt to destroy Northwest Flight 253 on December 25:
There were bits of information available within the intelligence community that could have and should have been pieced together. Had this critical information been shared it could have been compiled with other intelligence and a fuller, clearer picture of the suspect would have emerged. The warning signs would have triggered red flags and the suspect would have never been allowed to board that plane for America.
According to the New York Times:
Some of the information at the time was partial or incomplete, and it was not obvious that it was connected, the official said, but in retrospect it now appears clear that had it all been examined together it would have pointed to the pending attack. The official said the administration was “increasingly confident” that Al Qaeda had a role in the attack, as the group’s Yemeni branch has publicly claimed.
Information sharing might be the best tool we have to identify and stop terrorists before they are in a position to carry out an attack. As Jeffrey Goldberg showed in a November 2008 article on security theater, airport security is still porous, and the airport itself – a soft target teeming with thousands of people on any given day – is really a very poor last-line of defense.
Better tools and techniques need to be put in place so that pieces of information – intelligence indicating that leaders of a Yemen-based branch of Al Qaeda were preparing “a Nigerian” for an attack, warnings from the suspect’s father to U.S. Embassy officials in Abuja, Nigeria that his son was expressing increasingly radical views and had disappeared, and the purchase of a plane ticket with cash – can be more quickly pieced together to form a clearer picture of an impending terror attack.