My initial take on President Obama's remarks on the Detroit terror incident in Hawaii was that his most poignant statement--that a "systemic failure" had occurred--was a direct rebuke of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano's statement two days after the incident occurred that "the system worked." This was not accurate.
Obama, as I failed to mention in that post, cast Napolitano's analysis as correct, saying 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's "systemic failure" spoke to a different part of the security process than what Napolitano had originally addressed. When Napolitano said that the "system worked," she was talking about the response to the incident, not the cause.
"Everybody played an important role here," Napolitano said on CNN's "State of the Union." "The passengers and crew of the flight took appropriate action, within literally an hour to 90 minutes of the incident occurring all 128 flights in the air had been notified to take some special measures in light of what had occurred on the Northwest Airlines flight."
When Obama said that the system failed, he was talking about a different system: the screening and warning system designed to keep would-be terrorists like Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab from getting on planes in the first place.
I still feel that Obama's remarks in Hawaii were, in part, a response to criticism of Napolitano--to the notion that the system didn't, in fact, work to prevent the attack from almost occurring--which is something Napolitano had already said. After the protestations against Napolitano's comment, whether or not they were merited, it became somewhat necessary for the president to come out and say that the system had failed.
But to call this a "rebuke" of Napolitano was misguided.
UPDATE: Another important factor here is that Obama was reacting to new information when he called a news conference to assert that the U.S. security system had failed, placing his statements in a new and different context.
As it came to light later on Tuesday, Abdulmutallab's father had met with someone from the CIA to report his son's radicalization.
"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," Obama said, a reference to the new information about the CIA meeting.
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