Just how the suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab got through the American intelligence net is a question being asked at the highest levels in Washington, especially considering the amount of information that appeared on security radar in the weeks and months leading up to the bungled Christmas Day attack.
Several agencies had flagged the intentions of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to attack the US, and had also learned details about the young Nigerian up to four months before.
America’s National Security Agency had eavesdropped several phone calls between leaders of the al Qaeda branch, that spoke of the possibility of using an unidentified Nigerian for an assault.
The NSA passed the intercepts to the NCTC, the National Counter-Terrorism Centre, which collates intelligence from 16 agencies.
On September 19, the CIA learned that Abdulmutallab’s father had gone to the US embassy in Abuja, asking for help to find his son, who had disappeared. The CIA also sent biographical information on the suspect to the NCTC.
On November 20 the State Department, whose embassy staff had been at the meeting in Abuja, also sent Abdulmutallab’s details to the National Counter-Terrorism Centre.
But officials at the State Department did not consider it grounds enough to withdraw the US visa from the 23 year old.
Throughout the summer and autumn of 2009, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blair, had also been gathering pieces of information about al Qaeda’s plans.
And the explosive, PETN, that had been stitched into Abdulmutallab’s underwear was similar to that used in August in an attempt to assassinate Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, the head of Saudi Arabia’s anti-terrorism campaign.
The White House had been told that this new form of explosive was in the hands of al Qaeda.