[Corrected] "Systemic Failure": A Full Rebuke Of "The System Worked"

President Obama struck a harsher tone today on the attempted terrorist bombing over Detroit, telling reporters in Hawaii that "a systemic failure has occurred, and I consider that totally unacceptable," adding that he would "insist on accountability at every level."

The no-fly-list system is "not sufficiently up to date to take full advantage of the information we collect and the knowledge we have," Obama said, according to reports from Hawaii.

About news that the father of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian man who tried to carry out the bombing, had contacted the U.S. embassy in Nigeria about his son's radicalization last month, Obama said, "It now appears that weeks ago this information was passed to a component of our intelligence community but was not effectively distributed so as to get the suspect's name on a no-fly list," according to the NY Times. "There appears to be other deficiencies as well. Even without this one report, there were bits of information available within the intelligence community that could have and should have been pieced together."

Obama had played it cool on the attempted plot when it happened, then yesterday spoke about the reviews he had ordered of terrorist watch-lists, but today's statement was much harsher.

It was also a complete 180 from what Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said on CNN's "State of the Union" two days after the attempted attack was foiled--that "the system worked"--a direct and total rebuke of that initial assertion.

[This is not really an accurate analysis, and I've run a correction here. Obama said that Napolitano was right in her initial response, asserting that "once the suspect attempted to take down Flight 253, after his attempt, it's clear that passengers and crew, our homeland security systems and our aviation security took all appropriate actions." Obama and Napolitano were talking about two different things: Obama meant that prevention systems intended to keep terrorists off planes had failed; Napolitano meant that, once the incident occurred, the system responded properly.

Obama was also reacting to new information that would come to light later yesterday on CNN: that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's father had med with someone from the CIA, not just the U.S. embassy. CNN reported Tuesday night that Obama was, indeed, referencing this when he talked about information about Abdulmutallab having been passed to the U.S. intelligence community.]

Criticism of Napolitano's statement was swift--since, after all, it was the combination of the bomb's failure and the actions of passengers, not the U.S. no-fly-list system, that stopped the attack--and she walked it back soon after.

"Our system did not work in this instance," Napolitano said the next day, Monday, on NBC's "Today" show.

If there's one thing Hurricane Katrina taught us, it's that inadequate responses to crises can be devastating. "Heckuva job, Brownie," as much as the botched Katrina response itself, on local, state, and federal levels, was a nail in the public-opinion coffin for President Bush.

Lest any of that criticism fester, Obama sought to squash it Tuesday.

Presented by

Chris Good is a political reporter for ABC News. He was previously an associate editor at The Atlantic and a reporter for The Hill.

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