February 11, 2010

THE DECEMBER 25, 2009, ATTEMPTED BOMBING OF NORTHWEST FLIGHT 253, ANTI-TERRORISM TOOLS AND INFORMATION SHARING

Mr. CARDIN: Mr. President, I rise today to speak about the December 25, 2009, attempted bombing of Northwest flight 253, and the steps we must continue to take to improve the effectiveness of our nation's anti-terrorism tools and interagency information sharing and communication. On December 25, 2009, a Nigerian national, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, attempted to detonate an explosive device while onboard Northwest flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit. The device did not explode, but instead ignited, injuring Mr. Abdulmutallab and two other passengers. 
 
As a result of their heroic actions, the flight crew and passengers were able to restrain Mr. Abdulmutallab and the plane safely landed. Mr. Abdulmutallab was not on the U.S. Government's terrorist Watch List, but he was known to the U.S. Intelligence Community.
 
Following the December 25, 2009, attempted bombing, President Obama directed that a number of actions be taken and that government officials conduct a complete review of the terrorist watch listing system. The White House made public a summary of the preliminary report, and the President issued several Directives to the Director of National Intelligence and the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), as well as to a number of Departments and Agencies. 
 
Since the December 25, 2009, attempted bombing, the State Department, the Transportation Security Administration and the Customs and Border Patrol have also made a number of changes to their procedures, including the addition of new and enhanced screening procedures.
 
Information sharing and interagency communication have come a long way since the tragic events of September 11, 2001, and our ability as a government to share information and coordinate our actions to detect terrorist threats and protect the American people is better today than it was on September 11th. Our intelligence, law enforcement and homeland security communities have successfully disrupted and prevented numerous terrorist threats. 
 
But the attempted bombing of Northwest flight 253, the January 20 th full Judiciary Committee hearing, and the Terrorism and Homeland Subcommittee hearing I chaired in April 2009 on information sharing, prove that our ability to detect, disrupt and prevent terrorist threats still has gaps.  
 
As Chairman of the Terrorism and Homeland Security Subcommittee, my first hearing was on information sharing. I said at that time that I was concerned that the U.S. Government did not have in place "a comprehensive strategy to overcome bureaucratic hurdles to sharing of information that could prevent a terrorist attack." It is clear that terrorism-related information on Mr. Abdulmutallab was available, but no one acted on that information enough to challenge him before he boarded the airplane. 
 
We face evolving terrorist threats to our nation, and our enemies and their supporters are clever, resourceful, diverse and dangerous. We need to be able to detect tomorrow's plots whether they are in the air, on land or from the sea. 
 
As a result, I am going to continue to work to ensure that we remove the cultural, institutional and technological obstacles that impede our ability to prevent the next terrorist attack. Having access to the right information has little or no value if it is not pushed, on an ongoing basis, to the specific agencies that have the responsibility to both analyze it and take follow-up action, as necessary.  When new information is added to our databases, relevant data must be able to find other relevant data. We need to explore real-time connections that can constantly update analysts to ensure that information is sent and seen before terrorists are able to board airplanes.
 
During the January 20 th full Judiciary Committee hearing, I sought answers on who in our government is responsible for analyzing terrorism information and taking the necessary follow-up actions to protect the American people. The FBI Director indicated that NCTC was responsible for analyzing threat information and nominating known or suspected international terrorists to the Terrorist Screening Center for watch listing purposes. The Department of Homeland Security stated that it was a "consumer" of that information. But clearly, no one followed up to conduct further screening to prevent Mr. Abdulmutallab from boarding the plane. The President has ordered the Director of National Intelligence to "reaffirm and clarify roles and responsibilities," and he has directed that NCTC ensure that there is a process to "prioritize to pursue thoroughly and exhaustively terrorism threat threads," to include "follow-up action."
 
We must make sure that our law enforcement, intelligence, and homeland security professionals clearly know who is responsible for taking follow-up actions on terrorist threats to protect the American people, and that those officials have the authorities they need to act.
 
At the same time, as I have said previously, we must make sure that our government uses its scare resources wisely, and that it strikes an appropriate balance between national security and protecting civil liberties. We have now begun consideration of the Fiscal Year 2011 budget. We need to ensure that we have well-qualified and highly skilled airport screeners and security personnel, and that they have all the tools they need to do their jobs effectively. Mistaken profiling, however, that improperly relies on racial and ethnic factors, and not on a broad and valid set of behavioral indicators of potential terrorist activity, will waste resources, harm innocent individuals, and impede commerce.  
 
And while technology can play a crucial role in helping to prevent terrorists from bringing explosives onto our airplanes, the first priority must be to identify potential terrorists and keep them off our airplanes.
 
The memory of 9/11 has been seared in our hearts and our minds, but it does not blind us to the wisdom that we must fight our enemies while remaining true to the fundamental principles and values upon which this great nation was founded. The men and women of our armed forces and their families have sacrificed much to protect and preserve the American way of life and what this nation stands for. The ongoing threat from al Qaeda and other terrorists who intend to harm us is real. However, we do not need to choose between security and liberty. Legitimate debate will continue on how we should strike the balance between the two at this time in our nation's history. 
 
But we must reject what the 9/11 Commission described as the "false choice" between security and liberty. Whether the issue is information sharing, airport screening procedures, or the use of technology, we can protect the American people from harm while preserving civil rights and liberties.
 
Thank you.