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Rep. Clarke Releases Statement on President Obama’s Review of Foiled Terror Plot aboard Northwest Airline Flight 253

This week President Barack Obama called for two important reviews of the security measures surrounding the foiled terror plot aboard Northwest Airline flight 253. The first review will cover intelligence and information sharing procedures to find out why the suspect was allowed to board a plane for the U.S., so we can strengthen the overall watch list system. The second review will cover aviation security procedures to find out how the suspect was able to board with dangerous explosives, so we can improve air travel security screening. Rep Yvette D. Clarke released the following statement:

“I applaud President Obama’s decision to review the security measures surrounding the attempted terror attack that took place on December 25th aboard Northwest Airline Flight 253. The incident has highlighted several critical security and information sharing gaps that must be closed in order to protect Americans from further tragedy at the hands of terrorists.

“Yesterday, President Obama acknowledged the missteps that his administration took in respect to aviation security, noting that ‘…a systemic failure has occurred and I consider that totally unacceptable.’ Thankfully, the President and his team are now taking the necessary steps to fully understand how our security infrastructure was breached and how best to correct those vulnerabilities going forward.

“I am astounded that suspected terrorist Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was permitted to board flight 253 with the chemical explosive PETN and a catalyst agent which if accurately activated, could have caused a powerful explosion. We must employ reasonable security measures that would detect chemical and biological agents. I am also concerned that no air marshals were on the flight and thankful that the President immediately ordered more federal air marshals be placed on domestic and international flights. The President also called for immediate enhanced screening and security procedures for all domestic and international flights.

“While the breach highlighted inadequacies in our physical security systems, it also showed a break down in our intelligence information sharing system. Abdulmutallab’s own father reportedly informed the State Department through the US Embassy in Nigeria that he believed his son had been “radicalized” and went to Yemen for “jihad”, yet U.S. officials did not flag the young man’s visa, which was valid through mid 2010. This is extremely troubling given that Britain recently denied the young man’s student visa renewal request and Mr. Abdulmutallab was on that country’s watch list. This breach has made it absolutely clear that we must do more to synergize and streamline our national and international counterterrorism information sharing systems.

“Even more alarming, Mr. Abdulmutallab, who claims ties to Al-Qaeda, was in the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (TIDE) database, but was not on the Transportation Security Administration’s “no-fly” list. The database and related watch lists have long been plagued with systemic misidentification and information sharing problems. A terrorist suspect can be on the “no fly” list, but not on the list used by border patrol officers who control vehicle traffic coming into our country from our northern and southern border entry points. Likewise, the list is filled with names of innocent people that are repeated misidentified as terrorists. Since joining the Homeland Security Committee in 2007, I have worked on initiatives to rectify discrepancies within watch list system. This February, the House passed my bill H.R.559. “Fair, Accurate, Secure, and Timely Redress Act of 2009 or the FAST Redress Act of 2009.” Unfortunately, the Senate has not yet acted on the bill. The legislation would establish a redress process for those who feel they have been misidentified as a terrorist and establish a comprehensive “cleared” list. We must clean up the watch list system so that we can identify those like Mr. Abdulmutallab, who certainly should have been on the no fly list. Otherwise, identifying future terrorists will be as difficult as finding a needle in a haystack. I will continue to work on improving this important counterterrorism tool.

“We all must sober up to the fact that Al-Qaeda’s terrorist cells have a global influence. We must be vigilant and accurate in pinpointing suspected terrorists. Mr. Abdulmutallab should have raised numerous red flags to our federal and international intelligence partners from the day his British visa renewal was denied, to the moment his father reported concerns and the second he purchased a cash ticket for a two week international trip without checking a single bag. Information sharing and intergovernmental communication will be key in our defense against those who seek to bring terror and harm to our shores. I commend the President for taking full responsibility for the breach and committing all available resources to ensuring it never happens again. We also need clear leadership at the Transportation Security Administration and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency. These two key administration posts must be filled as soon as possible in order to fully address these issues.

“Lastly, I want to applaud the courageous passengers and crew on flight 253. Their quick action and bravery turned what could have been a very tragic incident into a call to action for DHS and our Intelligence community. I will be working with my colleagues on the Homeland Security Committee to ensure that Congress does our part to keep travelers safe during this Holiday season and year round.”