Security Official Responds To Failed Bombing Report Denis McDonough, the National Security Council's chief of staff, speaks with Melissa Block about the security review released by the White House on Thursday about the attempted bombing of a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day.

Security Official Responds To Failed Bombing Report

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MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

And now we're joined by the National Security Council Chief of Staff Denis McDonough. Mr. McDonough, welcome to the program.

DENIS MCDONOUGH: Thanks for having me.

BLOCK: And when we talk about an expansion of the terrorism watch and no-fly list, how much of an expansion are we talking about? What new criteria are you going to use?

MCDONOUGH: But the bottom line, I think, Melissa, is this - we had this information because we have very effective intelligence collection capacity, very experienced and talented intelligence professionals. What we have to do is just get that final five yards. And I think we've seen that happen before throughout the course of this year and, frankly, since 2001. And we're going to see an awful lot of more of it because of these reforms.

BLOCK: The president said that this was not a failure to share information, that the information was out there and one of the notes says that people who needed this information were not prevented from accessing it. It seems to me that depends on what you mean by share. If sharing information means dumping it into a database - or does it mean something more active than that?

MCDONOUGH: What we want to do is make sure that they have the targets, that they're informed by developments on the ground so that they can take all that information and direct against the kind of new threats like this one we saw on Christmas Day.

BLOCK: Now, we heard this, of course, after 9/11 too, that the databases weren't talking to each other. Are you saying that now, you know, eight plus years after 9/11, that's still the case?

MCDONOUGH: So, it's not a failure to share so much as it is to make sure that this vast amount of data that's pouring in every day is available, is consumable, is directed against the most pressing threats. And that's the issue that the president pointed out today. We saw an increased activity in Yemen. We have to make sure that when we see that kind of activity, we see a threat stream, we follow that thing, that threat stream until we knock it down.

BLOCK: And when it comes to analyzing those vast streams or universes of data that are coming in, would it be fair to say that there are not enough specialists at the National Counterterrorism Center to do that? Do you have enough, say, Middle East specialists, Arabic speakers, Urdu speakers, Pashto speakers?

MCDONOUGH: You know, we do. At the National Counterterrorism Center, at the Central Intelligence Agency, within all of the other intelligence agencies in the government, all 16 of them, we have a great depth of talent. We have a great depth of experience. What we want to make sure that we are doing is giving them up-to-date guidance, up-to-date rules and protocols informed by this threat, which is changing, which is adapting. We want to be as adaptable and as nimble, as the president said this afternoon, as these extremists and our enemies are trying to be.

BLOCK: I want to run by you a critique from Thomas Kean, who was one of the chairs of the 9/11 Commission. He calls this most recent intelligence failure an eerie echo of the failures that led to 9/11, and he says fundamental flaws that he saw then persists. Among them, he mentions turf battles among intelligence agencies. How big of a problem do you think that is?

MCDONOUGH: So, the fact is, this isn't a question of turf battles. This is not a question of not sharing. What it is is an example where we had bits and pieces available to the analysts, bits and pieces available to different agencies, where when you pull them all together, they paint a picture that should have set off alarms and, frankly, we'll make sure that when that happens in the future, it does set off alarms.

BLOCK: That report said the majority of employees at the DNI, including senior officials, were unable to articulate a clear understanding of their mission, roles and responsibilities. That sounds like a pretty damning assessment of the office in charge of all intelligence.

MCDONOUGH: And frankly, we saw that again on Tuesday, when the president sat down, heard an update on the investigation, in this case, from the FBI director. But he didn't just sit with the FBI director, but rather, with all of the relevant agency heads, so they could find out what are the tactics that al-Qaida is employing today? What does that tell me about the kind of threats that we have to be worried about tomorrow? And where should I be directing the kind of resources that the American people are investing in this fight - where should I be directing those resources to? That's exactly the kind of sharing, collaboration, cooperation that we believe is going to continue to be successful as it already has been for so long.

BLOCK: And briefly, Mr. McDonough, before we end, do you think we have fallen victim to complacency here? Is that one lesson learned?

MCDONOUGH: No, I don't think so. In fact, if you take a look at what happened on that flight, I think that you saw passengers who reacted with an amazing...

BLOCK: I don't mean passengers, I mean on the governmental level.

MCDONOUGH: Well, and I think the challenge here is what I wanted to get to, Melissa, is that we want to make sure that the government is as agile and as capable as those passengers were that day. We want to make sure that we see the threats when they develop and we stay on top of them as we address them.

BLOCK: Denis McDonough is the chief of staff of the National Security Council. Mr. McDonough, thanks very much.

MCDONOUGH: Thank you.

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