Previous versions of this article misidentified the college that the suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, attended. He attended University College London.
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Uninvestigated terrorism warning about Detroit suspect called not unusual
A Justice Department official said Abdulmutallab was released Sunday from a Michigan hospital where he was treated for burns suffered in the failed bombing. He was in a federal prison in Milan, Mich., according to the Associated Press. He is scheduled to appear in federal court in Michigan on Jan. 8.
The youngest of 16 children of a prominent Nigerian bank executive, and the son of the second of his father's two wives, Abdulmutallab was raised at the family home in Kaduna, a city
in Nigeria's Muslim-dominated north, relatives there said. He graduated with an engineering degree from University College London. Later, his father sent him to Dubai to study for an advanced business degree.
In July, relatives said, his father agreed to his request to study Arabic in Yemen. The family became concerned in August when Abdulmutallab called to say he had dropped the course but would remain in Yemen for an undisclosed purpose. Several days later, they said, he sent a text message saying he was severing all ties with his family.
Relatives said that message provoked his father's visits to the U.S. Embassy in Abuja and to the Nigerian intelligence service. U.S. intelligence officials insisted Sunday that the visit did not occur until mid-November.
Abdulmutallab's movements after that are unclear, although a Nigerian official said Sunday that he "sneaked" into the country on the 24th. He paid cash for a ticket on a Dec. 24 KLM flight from Lagos to Amsterdam, connecting to Northwest 253 to Detroit on Christmas Day.
"The e-ticket was purchased from KLM airport office in Accra [Ghana] on 16th December 2009," Harold Demuren, a Nigerian aviation official, told a news conference in Lagos. "His passport was scanned, his U.S. visa was scanned, and the APIS [Advanced Passenger Information System] returned with no objection."
Abdulmutallab's name would have bounced back if he appeared on the U.S. "no-fly" or "selectee" watch lists. Although the size of the government's overall terrorist database has expanded since such information began to be systematically collected in 2003, the number of people prohibited from boarding a domestic or U.S.-bound aircraft, or subject to special scrutiny and notification of U.S. law enforcement, has shrunk, from an estimated 30,000 in early 2007 to 18,000 today.
Widespread complaints in the past tended to focus on lists seen as too long, rather than too short. Many came from members of Congress who objected to constituents and spouses being delayed or prevented from boarding flights because information about them or someone with a similar name had been listed.
The White House review will examine protocols for watch-listing individuals, currently based on a "reasonable suspicion" standard, according to the intelligence official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
"Do we as a country believe that the bar is too high in light of this one individual who didn't reach it? Do we want to lower the bar? If we do, what are the implications? We are going to have a lot more people on the list."
The existing system was established by the Intelligence Reform Act of 2004. It was designed to close gaps in intelligence-sharing that allowed a number of the Sept. 11, 2001, hijackers to enter the United States, although the CIA had identified them overseas as terrorism suspects.
The reforms set up the National Counterterrorism Center, which administers a huge database of terrorism information called the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment, or TIDE.
Each day, thousands of pieces of intelligence information from around the world -- field assessments, captured documents, news from foreign allies and the media, and reports from worried fathers -- pour into the NCTC computers in McLean. At 11 each night, selected information from TIDE is downloaded into the Terrorist Screening Database, or TSDB, administered by the FBI. Overnight entries are examined each morning by an interagency team drawn from across the government.
Under FBI direction, individuals assessed as significant risks are then "nominated" to specific watch lists, each of which has different criteria. In addition to the "no-fly" and "selectee" lists, the State Department maintains a list of people who should not be granted visas; other lists single out people who cross land borders and domestic fugitives.
In Abdulmutallab's case, a single, non-specific entry in TIDE was not enough to send his information to the TSDB, so he was never considered for a watch list. Among the gaps in the system already being addressed by computer technicians, officials said, is the absence of an "automatic feedback loop" that would have let TIDE know that the random report from Nigeria referred to a man who already had a valid U.S. entry visa, issued more than a year before.
Staff writers Carrie Johnson and Joby Warrick in Washington and Anne E. Kornblut in Kailua, Hawaii, and special correspondent Aminu Abubakar in Kano, Nigeria, contributed to this report.