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Napolitano had said yesterday, as she toured Sunday talk shows to reassure passengers that air travel was safe, that "one thing I'd like to point out is that the system worked," because the crew and passengers of the flight took "appropriate action," and that measures to alert other international flights in the air and security officials at airports on the ground were carried out quickly.
That statement drew sharp criticism from several lawmakers. But when Napolitano was asked on NBC's "Today" show this morning whether the system that designed to prevent terrorist incidents had "failed miserably," Napolitano answered, "It did."
Napolitano said her earlier remark had been taken out of context because she was trying to describe the steps taken after the incident to make sure the air travel system here and in Europe was secure.
"Once the incident occurred, moving forward, we were immediately able to notify the 128 flights in the air of protective measures to take, immediately able to notify law enforcement on the ground, airports both domestically and internationally, all carriers, all of that happening within 60 to 90 minutes," she said.
On Friday, 23-year-old Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who later told authorities he had received help from an al-Qaeda bomb expert, managed to get the highly explosive substance PETN on board Northwest flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit and unsuccessfully tried to ignite it. It was the same explosive that Richard Reid, the so-called "shoe bomber," tried to use on an international flight in 2001.
"What I would say is, is that our system did not work in this instance," Napolitano said. "No one is happy or satisfied with that. An extensive review is underway."
On CBS' "Early Show," Napolitano said: "This individual should not have gotten on this plane carrying that material. And we can explain all of the reasons, but they're not satisfactory."
And moving on to Fox News' "Fox and Friends," Napolitano said, "No secretary of homeland security would sit here and say that a system worked prior to this incident which allowed this individual to get on this plane."
Napolitano's initial remarks had been sharply criticized yesterday by Rep. Peter King, the ranking Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, who said: "The fact is the system did not work. . . . 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."
President Obama has ordered two reviews to be undertaken, one to look at the various watch-list databases and if they are being used effectively, and the other to review security technology at airports that are supposed to detect dangerous substances or devices. And as of Monday, the heads of three congressional committees had announced they would hold hearings in January on the security breaches.
Abdulmutallab was in a database called TIDE (Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment), which is a large collection of over 500,000 names of individuals who have been reported for some reason, but for whom there is not enough evidence of potential danger to move them to the list of 14,000 people who get more thorough searches at airports or to the 4,000-person no-fly list.
Abdulmutallab's name had been entered into TIDE because his father, a Nigerian banker, expressed concern to U.S. Embassy officials about his son's increasingly militant views.
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