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National security is in President Obama's court

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The cool detachment that was so attractive when political opponents were trying to rile Obama is suddenly becoming annoying. Preternaturally unflappable, his demeanor in these circumstances borders on inappropriate.

What does it take to get a rise out of Barack Obama? Not that we need bombast and flared nostrils. Calm in the face of potential disaster is laudable, but it's a fine line between executive tranquillity and passive nonchalance. Like a tone-deaf disc jockey, Obama plays elevator music when the crowd wants John Philip Sousa.

But action is being taken, we're told. Investigations are underway and reports are being tabulated. Soon decisions will be forthcoming as to whether we bomb al-Qaeda outposts in Yemen or insist that travelers liberate their inner Britneys and go panty-free through security checkpoints.

Full-cavity searches can't be far from the minds of bureaucrats looking for ways to create a faux sense of security rather than figuring out how to draw simple inferences from red flags, recently in numbers sufficient to spell out "Allahu Akbar" on a halftime football field.

The brightest among many was the perpetrator's own father's reports -- both in person (twice) and by phone to U.S. officials --that his son had become radicalized and might be dangerous. A CIA report describing those concerns apparently never made it through the Byzantine intelligence channels until after the foiled attack on Christmas Day.

Why? It was for just such coordination that the Bush administration four years ago created the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI), which in April came under fire by its then-inspector general, Edward Maguire, days before he was replaced. Maguire's report may provide the simplest answer to what went wrong.

In addition to criticizing the amount of time intelligence chiefs spend briefing the White House and Congress instead of managing the intelligence apparatus, Maguire blasted the ODNI for bureaucratic fat and financial mismanagement.

In fairness to Obama, Maguire's findings were completed before the president assumed office, but they were not released publicly until April. Even so, Obama has had plenty of time to tweak the system he now blames for the underwear bomber.

It's his ball now; time to stop dribbling.

kathleenparker@washpost.com


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