Obama: Terror Watchlisting Standards to Change
Now this makes more sense. In remarks announcing the receipt of his preliminary reviews of the near-attack on Northwest Airlines Flight 253, President Obama reiterated that there was a “larger failure of analysis” across the intelligence community in the lead-up to the attack. But this time he emphasized not so much that the dots could have been connected to identify Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab as a terrorist prior to December 25. Instead, he said — and the preliminary review reads — that the intelligence community should have been seized with greater urgency about weighting the prospect of al-Qaeda’s Yemeni affiliate mounting a homeland attack. That “could have” cast the information obtained from Abdulmutallab’s father in a different light. Still something of a stretch, but not as much.
More significantly, for the first time, Obama said that there will be an “immediate effort to strengthen the criteria” for putting someone on the terrorist watchlists and “especially” the no-fly list. He did not give any specificity to what that means. Does it mean actually loosening the criteria from when someone goes from the 550,000 TIDE database to the no-fly list? Or loosening the criteria for putting someone on TIDE? Obama did say that State Department officials will review visa issuance and renewal information with a special eye toward counterterrorism concerns.
The documents released by the White House just say it’s the job of the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center to “develop recommendations” for changing the watchlisting system, though it holds out the prospect for making “biologic and derogatory criteria for inclusion.” That actually sounds like it could make the lists more restrictive. But for additional specificity, we’ll have to see if John Brennan, the White House counterterorism chief, and Janet Napolitano, the secretary of Homeland Security, have anything to say about watchlisting standards at their imminent press conference.
I would be remiss if I didn’t say that Obama said the U.S. needed to better communicate to the “vast majority” of peaceful Muslims that al-Qaeda offers nothing more than a “bankrupt ideology of murder and death.” Kind of hard to do that when you’re pulling them out for additional airport screening.