Homeland Security Security Janet Napolitano said officials so far have no indication that the attempt by a Nigerian man to ignite an explosive device aboard a Northwest Airlines plane Friday "is part of anything larger" and that investigations continue on how he got dangerous substances aboard the plane and whether security watch list systems need to be updated.
Speaking on CNN's State of the Union, Napolitano would not comment on the ongoing criminal investigations saying it would be "inappropriate to speculate as to whether or not he had such ties" to al Qaeda, as the man,Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, claimed he did.
"We have no indication that it's part of anything larger, but obviously the investigation continues," she said.
Asked the same question on CBS' Face the Nation, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said, "I don't want to get into classified intelligence matters. I wouldn't disagree with the secretary of homeland security."
"One thing I'd like to point out is that the system worked," Napolitano said. The passengers and crew of the flight took appropriate action. Within literally an hour to 90 minutes of the incident occurring all 128 flights in the air (from Europe) had been notified to take some special measures in light of the incident what had occurred on the Northwest airlines flight. We instituted new measures on the ground and at screening areas both here in the United States and in Europe where this flight originated, so the whole process of making sure ghat we respond properly, correctly and effectively went very smoothly."
That drew a sharp retort from Rep. Peter King, the top Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, who said on CBS, "Secretary Napolitano said the system worked. The fact is the system did not work. And we have to find a bipartisan way to fix it. He made it on the plane with explosives and he detonated the explosives. If that had been successful, the plane would have come down and we would have had a Christmas Day massacre with almost 300 people murdered. So this came within probably seconds or inches of working."
Sen. Joseph Lieberman, chairman of the Homeland Security Committee called Abdulmutallab's ability to get past security and on to the plane with explosive substances was "a breakdown" and likened it to two recent incidents: the shooting of an Army recruiter in Little Rock, Ark. last June by a man angry about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the shootings at Ford Hood, Texas in November by Nidal Malik Hassan that killed 13 people.
"Let's be honest," Lieberman said. "This guy, Abdulmutallab, got through the screening, and this would have been --- could have been an enormous disaster if not for our good fortune, a miracle on Christmas Day that this device did not explode."
One question that is being asked is whether there were enough warning signs to have flagged Abdulmutallab before he got on the plane, ranging from warnings to U.S. officials from Abdulmutallab's father about his son's increasingly militant views to the fact that his name was in a terrorist database.
Abdulmutallab's name had been added to the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment, known as TIDE, but not all names in TIDE, maintained by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, are transferred to the Terrorist Screening Data Base, maintained by the FBI, from which watch and no-fly lists are drawn.
On ABC's This Week, Gibbs said Obama has directed that there be two "look-back" reviews involving these databases.
"First, on our watch-listing procedures, did the government do everything that it could have with the information that they had, understanding these procedures are several years old," Gibbs said. "Did we do what we needed to with that information, and how can we revise watch listing procedures going forward to ensure that there is no clog in the bureaucratic plumbing of information that might be gathered somewhere going to the very highest levels of security in our government."
"Second, obviously we have to review our detection capabilities," he said ."The president has asked the Department of Homeland Security to, quite frankly, answer the very real question about how somebody with something
as dangerous as PETN could have gotten onto a plane in Amsterdam."
PETN is a highly explosive substance that was also used in 2001 when by Richard Reid, the "shoe bomber," who tried to blow up a transatlantic flight.
Napolitano said this was not a case of different agencies failing to share information. ""The issue was, was there enough information to move him to the more specific list which would require additional examination or, indeed, being on 'no fly' status. And, to date, it does not appear there was any such information to move him from that TIDE list, which was shared and everyone had it, but to a more specific list that would require different types of screening at the airport."
"He was on a general list (TIDE) of over half million people," she said. "Everybody had access to it but there was not the kind of credible information in the sense of derogatory information that would move him up that list."
Asked about the warnings give to U.S. Embassy officials by Abdulmutallab's father, a Nigerian banker, Napolitano said, "We need to ascertain who said what to whom and when. But also you have to understand you need information that is specific and credible if you're going to actually bar someone from air travel."
Napolitano said officials would be "looking at those watch list procedures in light of this occurring, and say 'Ok do those need to be changed?'" since they have been in place a number of years.
She also said that authorities were "looking at what happened in Amsterdam as he transferred flights to a flight that was U.S.-bound. We've already been working with the airport and airport authorities there to see what kind of screening equipment was used. We have no suggestion he was improperly screened but we want to go through and see."