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Correction to This Article
Previous versions of this article misidentified the college that the suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, attended. He attended University College London.

Uninvestigated terrorism warning about Detroit suspect called not unusual

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By Karen DeYoung and Michael Leahy
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, December 28, 2009

When Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's father in Nigeria reported concern over his son's "radicalization" to the U.S. Embassy there last month, intelligence officials in the United States deemed the information insufficient to pursue. The young man's name was added to the half-million entries in a computer database in McLean and largely forgotten.

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The lack of attention was not unusual, according to U.S. intelligence officials, who said that thousands of similar bits of information flow into the National Counterterrorism Center each week from around the world. Only those that indicate a specific threat, or add to an existing body of knowledge about an individual, are passed along for further investigation and possible posting on airline and border watch lists.

"It's got to be something that causes the information to sort of rise out of the noise level, because there is just so much out there," one intelligence official said.

The report entered on Abdulmutallab, 23, after his father's Nov. 19 visit to the embassy was "very, very thin, with minimal information," said a second U.S. official familiar with its contents.

Abdulmutallab's alleged attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound commercial airliner on Christmas Day has put the information in a new light, however. It has unleashed sharp criticism of the watch-list procedures and the explosive-detection systems that apparently allowed him to board Northwest Airlines Flight 253 with materials for a bomb.

On Sunday, the air travel system responded to another alert when a second Nigerian man locked himself in the bathroom on the same Northwest Airlines flight into Detroit. Officials said he was belligerent but genuinely sick and not a threat, according to the Associated Press.

Republican leaders placed responsibility for what they called lapses in preparedness squarely on the Obama administration Sunday, and questioned whether the president appreciates terrorist threats. "I think there's much to investigate here," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said on ABC's "This Week."

Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) joined GOP critics in asking how the suspect was able to retain a U.S. visa -- issued by the U.S. Embassy in London in 2008 -- after his name appeared in the terrorist database.

"What happened after this man's father called our embassy in Nigeria?" Lieberman asked on FOX News Sunday. "What happened to that information? Was there follow-up to try to determine where this suspect was?"

White House officials struggled to explain the complicated system of centralized terrorist data and watch lists, stressing that they were put in place years ago by the Bush administration. Spokesman Robert Gibbs said President Obama has ordered reviews of the watch-list system and the airport explosives screening.

"The president is very confident that this government is taking the steps that are necessary to take -- to take our fight to those that seek to do us harm," Gibbs said, emphasizing stepped-up military activity against al-Qaeda in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told CNN's "State of the Union" that Abdulmutallab's assertions of al-Qaeda contacts and training in Yemen were being investigated, but that "right now, we have no indication" his actions were "part of anything larger."


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