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Obama Orders Review Of Watch List System

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

President Obama said today that the government is doing everything in its power to keep the traveling public safe. It was his first live public statement since a failed attempt to blow up a U.S. jetliner on Christmas Day.

NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY: President Obama has been getting regular updates on the attempted terror attack since the day after he arrived in Hawaii. Today, he said the U.S. will not rest until all those involved are found and held accountable.

President BARACK OBAMA: This was a serious reminder of the dangers that we face and the nature of those who threaten our homeland. Had the suspect succeeded in bringing down that plane, it could've killed nearly 300 passengers and crew, innocent civilians preparing to celebrate the holidays with their families and friends.

HORSLEY: A 23-year-old Nigerian man has been charged with trying to blow up the Northwest Airlines jet, as it was making its way to Detroit from Amsterdam.

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab allegedly smuggled liquid and powdered explosives onboard the plane, but was unable to detonate them before he was subdued by other passengers.

Today, the group calling itself al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula claimed responsibility for supplying Abdulmutallab with the explosives. Mr. Obama did not address that claim directly, but said he's ordered his national security team to stay on the offensive.

Pres. OBAMA: We will continue to use every element of our national power to disrupt, to dismantle and defeat the violent extremists who threaten us, whether they are from Afghanistan or Pakistan, Yemen or Somalia, or anywhere where they are plotting attacks against the U.S. homeland.

HORSLEY: The administration has ordered additional security measures for air travel, including more federal marshals aboard international flights.

Republicans had criticized Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano's comment over the weekend that the system worked in the Christmas Day incident. By the time she appeared this morning on NBC's "Today Show," Napolitano was acknowledging the system had broken down.

Secretary JANET NAPOLITANO (Department of Homeland Security): What I would say is that our system did not work in this instance. No one is happy or satisfied with that. An extensive review is underway.

HORSLEY: Abdulmutallab's name was included in a broad database of potential threats after his father raised concerns about his son's increasingly extremist religious views. But that alarm was not specific enough to put the young man on a much more restrictive no-fly list. Napolitano says officials are reviewing that process, along with security procedures at the airport.

Sec. NAPOLITANO: How did this individual get on the plane? Why wasn't the explosive material detected? What do we need to do to change, perhaps the rules that have been in place since 2006, for moving somebody from the generic tide database...

Unidentified Man: Right.

Sec. NAPOLITANO: ...to a more elevated status? All of that under review right now.

HORSLEY: Authorities are not offering a lot of detail about the extra security measures, saying they want to be unpredictable. But they do recommend travelers allow some extra time for check-in. With some 41 million Americans traveling by air this holiday season, Mr. Obama said people should be vigilant, but not frightened.

Pres. OBAMA: As Americans, we will never give in to fear or division. We will be guided by our hopes, our unity and our deeply-held values.

HORSLEY: Meanwhile, the top senators on the Homeland Security Committee are planning to hold hearings next month on the Northwest airliner attack.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.