Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab
ATLANTA — Delta Air Lines' chief is upset the 278 passengers and 11 crew members aboard Flight 253 were put at risk by a suspected terrorist despite the carrier's compliance with government security measures.
CEO Richard Anderson told employees in a recorded message that airlines have done everything the government has asked since 9/11 to follow advanced passenger notification requirements and heightened screening measures.
He said that should have brought a better result than the peril those aboard the Christmas flight from Amsterdam to Detroit faced. Delta will insist Washington do a better job.
"Having this occur again is disappointing to all of us," Anderson said. He added, "You can be certain we will make our points very clearly in Washington."
According to authorities, a Nigerian man who said he was an agent for al-Qaida tried and failed to blow up the Northwest Airlines flight as it prepared to land. Delta owns Northwest.
Anderson said the crew aboard the flight will receive commendations from the airline next week "for their diligence and the work they did to make sure everybody got to Detroit safely." He did not elaborate. Delta is offering travel credits to the passengers on the flight.
Meantime, President Barack Obama is reviewing reports from homeland security officials as his administration tries to determine what U.S. policy and personnel failures preceded the attempted Detroit jetliner bombing. And Democrats have joined a chorus led by Obama in declaring the government's intelligence procedures in need of repair. Among them, Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif., said that when the government gets tipped to trouble as it did before a 23-year-old Nigerian man boarded the Northwest Airlines jet with explosives, "someone's hair should be on fire."
One senior administration official told reporters traveling with the vacationing president: "The failure to share that information is not going to be tolerated."
The official, like others involved in the reviews, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence discussions.
The Senate Intelligence Committee announced Jan. 21 hearings as part of an investigation to begin sooner. "We will be following the intelligence down the rabbit hole to see where the breakdown occurred and how to prevent this failure in the future," said Sen. Kit Bond of Missouri, top Republican on the committee. "Somebody screwed up big time."
Few questioned that judgment, even if some Democrats rendered it in more measured tones.
Obama received a preliminary assessment ahead of meetings he will hold in Washington next week on fixing the failures of the nation's anti-terrorism policy. Administration officials said the system to protect the nation's skies from terrorists was deeply flawed and, even then, the government failed to follow its own directives.
The 23-year-old suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, arrived in Amsterdam on Dec. 25 from Lagos, Nigeria, on a KLM flight. Air France-KLM has a joint venture with Delta that involves sharing costs and revenue on trans-Atlantic flights.
After a layover of less than three hours in the international departure hall, Abdulmutallab passed through a security check at the gate in Amsterdam, including a hand baggage scan and a metal detector, and headed to the Northwest flight. He did not pass through a full-body scanner.
Officials said Abdulmutallab apparently assembled the explosive device, including 80 grams of Pentrite, or PETN, in the aircraft toilet, then planned to detonate it with a syringe of chemicals. Passengers intervened, and the plan failed.
Abdulmutallab's name was in one expansive database, but he never made it onto more restrictive lists that would have caught the attention of U.S. counterterrorist screeners, despite his father's warnings to U.S. Embassy officials in Nigeria last month. Those warnings also did not result in Abdulmutallab's U.S. visa being revoked.
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U.S. investigators said Abdulmutallab told them he received training and instructions from al-Qaida operatives in Yemen.
Abdulmutallab is charged with trying to destroy an aircraft.
Delta, which bought Northwest in October 2008, obtained government permission Thursday to operate the two carriers as one.
The single operating certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration allows Delta to put its code on Northwest flights and phase out the Northwest name. That process will be complete in the first quarter of 2010. For now, travelers won't notice anything different.