Screw Up: Obama Calls Christmas Day Attack an Intelligence Failure

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Barack Obama said Tuesday that U.S. intelligence has had considerable success, but the botched Christmas Day attack shows "the system has failed" in a major way.

"When a suspected terrorist is able to board a plane with explosives on Christmas Day, the system has failed in a potentially disastrous way," Obama said in a statement to reporters.

The president used even stronger language in a private meeting in the Situation Room with top aides, a senior administration official said.

"This was a screw up that could have been disastrous," he said, according to a senior administration official. "We dodged a bullet but just barely."

Tragedy was averted "by brave individuals, not because the system worked, and that is not acceptable. While there will be a tendency for finger pointing, I will not tolerate it," the senior official quoted Obama as saying.

In his public comments, the president said that U.S. intelligence had uncovered numerous "red flags" prior to the attack.

"The U.S. government had sufficient information to have uncovered this plot and potentially disrupt the Christmas Day attack, but our intelligence community failed to connect those dots, which would have placed the suspect on the no-fly list," Obama said.

"In other words, this was not a failure to collect intelligence; it was a failure to integrate and understand the intelligence that we already had," the president said. "The information was there, agencies and analysts who needed it had access to it, and our professionals were trained to look for it and to bring it all together."

Obama said he could accept the imperfect nature of intelligence work, "but it is increasingly clear that intelligence was not fully analyzed or fully leveraged," he said, adding: "That's not acceptable, and I will not tolerate it."

The president listed steps so far to enhance security, including more airport screening and tighter monitoring of U.S. visa holders.

In addition, Obama said he ordered his national security team to complete preliminary reviews of the situation this week so that suggested reforms can be implemented right way.

"Time and again we've learned that quickly piecing together information and taking swift action is critical to staying one step ahead of a nimble adversary," Obama said. "So we have to do better, and we will do better, and we have to do it quickly. American lives are on the line."

At the same time, Obama reiterated his intention to close the detention facility for suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

"We will close Guantanamo prison, which has damaged our national security interests and become a tremendous recruiting tool for al Qaeda," Obama said. "In fact, that was an explicit rationale for the formation of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula."

Critics of the Guantanamo transfers have raised concerns over political instability in Yemen and the presence of al Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula, noting that some previous detainees released to Yemen by the Bush administration have renewed their terrorist ties.

Obama repeated an earlier statement by his spokesman that transferring Yemeni detainees at Guantanamo back to Yemen would be halted for now.

"Given the unsettled situation, I've spoken to the attorney general and we've agreed that we will not be transferring additional detainees back to Yemen at this time," Obama said.