At least three congressional committees will hold hearings in January about security breaches that allowed a Nigerian man to board a Detroit-bound aircraft with an explosive device on Christmas Day. The inquiries will focus on how suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab -- who was in a U.S. database of suspected terrorists but not on the much smaller no-fly list -- was allowed on the Northwest Airlines flight.
The hearings will look into why screening machines did not detect the explosive powder sewn into his pants and why Abdulmutallab was given a visa after his father, a wealthy Nigerian banker, warned the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria of his son's radical behavior.
On Monday, Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Sen. Joe Lieberman, (I-Conn.) and Ranking Member Susan Collins (R-Maine) announced hearings next month to "examine the layers of security meant to protect airline passengers from terrorist attacks but which accused terrorist Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab successfully evaded."
The hearing will ask, the committee said in a statement, "why the names of passengers boarding flights from abroad to the United States are not checked against our broadest database of known or suspected terrorists, rather than against a smaller screening database? And why aren't more passengers asked to pass through whole-body imagining scanners that might have detected the explosives Abdulmutallab was carrying?"
Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), whose panel oversees civil aviation, announced over the weekend he will hold hearings on the incident. And the House Homeland Security Committee, chaired by Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), also announced a hearing on security lapses that allowed the suspect to board the plane.
"I view Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab as a terrorist who evaded our homeland security defenses and who would have killed hundreds of people if the explosives he tried to detonate had worked," Lieberman said in a statement. "We were very lucky this time, but we may not be so lucky next time, which is why our defenses must be strengthened."
In a statement, Collins said: "We dodged a bullet on Christmas Day in the skies over Detroit. Nearly 300 lives were spared when this terrorist attack failed, but we cannot pin our nation's security on good fortune, the bravery of other passengers, or the mistakes of our enemies. Our security strategies must put data into the hands of those who can take action to detect and disrupt attacks before they occur. We cannot expect to be this lucky next time. Our committee's inquiry will focus on identifying information-sharing and analysis gaps as well as any other security breakdowns. Our committee will ask why the names of passengers boarding planes to the United States are not run against all the databases of suspected terrorists, so that individuals of concern can be subjected to more thorough questioning and inspections. In this specific case, if our security officials had intelligence on the radicalization of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, questions arise about why his visa was not canceled. We must carefully investigate why that apparently did not happen in this case."