Intelligence and diplomatic officials have crouched into defense mode in the wake of the failed Christmas Day terror attack, as lawmakers start to point fingers and the administration bellows that the president demands "accountability."
The first congressional call for a head to roll came Tuesday from Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., who demanded the resignation of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, citing what he said was her "bizarre" claim Sunday that the "system worked." But Napolitano has survived calls for her ouster before, and an administration official said the president "absolutely" has confidence in her.
President Obama declared Tuesday that a "systemic failure" allowed the suspect in the failed attack to carry explosives onto a plane bound for Detroit, and he signaled that his review will dig deep into the many warning signs that were missed at multiple levels of the federal bureaucracy.
"The warning signs would have triggered red flags and the suspect would have never been allowed to board that plane for America," Obama said.
Within hours of his remarks, new information trickled out about who knew what, and when. And it didn't look good for some agencies.
An intelligence official told Fox News
that one piece of information appeared to be available that would have allowed the National Counterterrorism Center to potentially elevate the suspect's name on a terror database. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was in a terror database of more than a half-million people, but not on the smaller "no-fly" list or another list that requires secondary screening at airports.
Obama said Tuesday that Abdulmutallab should have been on a no-fly list in part because his father warned U.S. officials in Nigeria about his son in November. That information was passed on to U.S. intelligence, but it wasn't "effectively distributed," Obama said.
The CIA also was tracking someone before November called "The Nigerian," learned about through National Security Agency phone intercepts, and didn't realize that the individual was Abdulmutallab until after the bombing attempt.
One official bristled at the conjecture. The U.S. official told Fox News
that the suggestion that a "magic" piece of intelligence would have shot Abdulmutallab's name to the top of the no-fly list is absurd.
One source told Fox News
that the CIA, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the National Counterterrorism Center were all blind-sided by Obama's comments Tuesday.
CIA spokesman Paul Gimigliano also said the agency did not have the suspect's name until after his father met with U.S. embassy officials in Nigeria. He said the CIA worked with the embassy to ensure the suspect's name was in the terror database and forwarded "key biographical information" to the National Counterterrorism Center.
The State Department, too, deflected some attention on Monday, saying counterterrorism officials were the ones who decided not to revoke Abdulmutallab's visa. Spokesman Ian Kelly said that while the State Department has the authority to revoke a visa, it's not the department's responsibility. He said that after the suspect's father contacted the embassy, the warning was sent to the National Counterterrorism Center, which reviewed the case and determined there was "insufficient" evidence to take back the visa.
He said a review is nevertheless in order.
The preliminary results of an internal review are due to the president, who is on vacation in Hawaii, by Thursday.
A senior administration official, speaking with reporters on condition of anonymity, said enough had been known about the suspect to stop him, but the government didn't connect the dots.
"It is now clear to us that there were bits and pieces of information that were in the possession of the U.S. government in advance of the Christmas Day attack -- the attempted Christmas Day attack -- that had they been assessed and correlated could have led to a much broader picture and allowed us to disrupt the attack," the official said.
It's unclear how the White House intends to handle any glaring errors in the system. But Obama's remarks Tuesday were to an extent a correction to Napolitano's claim Sunday that the system worked. Napolitano clarified Monday that she was referring to agency coordination after the attempt, not before.
Napolitano's handling of the affair has made her an early target on editorial pages and from Republicans, who have long taken issue with the former Arizona governor.
"The fact that this security breach occurred in such a brazen way means that there was a level of significant incompetence involved, and I believe that rests solely on the shoulders of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano," Burton said in a written statement. "Her bizarre remarks on Sunday were the final straw in a series of embarrassing and incompetent comments this year."
' Catherine Herridge contributed to this report.