In a shocking revelation, a White House review has found that the government had sufficient information to disrupt an Al Qaeda plot to blow up a US airliner but failed to identify the suspect as a potential bomber.
In the end, it was an inability of the intelligence community to "connect the dots" in putting all the pieces of information and analysis together, said the six-page report on events leading up to the December 25 botched terror attack by 23-year-old Nigerian national Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab.
"The intelligence fell through the cracks. This happened in more than one organisation," Deputy National Security Adviser John Brennan told reporters after President Barck Obama spoke Thursday.
Information was gathered on a possible Al Qaeda plot, according to the report, between mid-October and late December 2009.
"Though all of the information was available to all-source analysts at the CIA and the NCTC (National Counter Terrorism Centre) prior to the attempted attack, the dots were never connected, and as a result, the problem appears to be more a component failure to 'connect the dots', rather than a lack of information sharing," the report said.
Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), a Yemen-based offshoot of the terrorist network that attacked New York and Washington in 2001, has claimed responsibility for the Dec 25 plot.
According to the report, US counterterrorism officials had information about AbdulMutallab, Al Qaeda threats to Americans "and information about an individual now believed to be Mr. AbdulMutallab and his association with AQAP and its attack planning."
But "the dots were never connected" - not because information wasn't shared among US agencies but because it was "fragmentary and embedded in a large volume of other data."
Once the threat was discovered, the intelligence community leadership failed to increase resources working on the "full AQAP threat."
The report said the counter-terrorism apparatus "failed before December 25 to identify, correlate, and fuse into a coherent story all of the discrete pieces of intelligence" that the US government had in hand about "the emerging terrorist plot."
Americans will feel "a certain shock" after reading Thursday's report, White House National Security Adviser James Jones told USA Today.
"We know what happened, we know what didn't happen, and we know how to fix it," Jones said. "That should be an encouraging aspect. We don't have to reinvent anything to make sure it doesn't happen again."
John Negroponte, former director of national intelligence, said it's always easier to piece things together in retrospect. But what interests him is whether the attempted attack is a part of a larger plot, he said on CNN's "American Morning" show.
"I think the important thing right now is that we get as much information from him as we can," he said.