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The public is getting its clearest look at the government missteps that allowed a suspected terrorist to slip through post-Sept. 11 security and threaten lives on American soil.
The White House on Thursday planned to make public a declassified account of the near-catastrophe on a Detroit-bound flight on Christmas Day, and President Barack Obama was to address the nation about its findings and recommendations. Obama was also to reveal new steps intended to thwart terrorist attacks, as he promised earlier in the week.
No firings over the December security debacle are expected - for now, at least.
For an administration rocked by the breach of security, the day was meant to be a pivot point from an incident that has dominated attention.
"In many ways, this will be the close of this part of the investigation," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Wednesday.
In an interview published Thursday by USA Today, national security adviser Gen. James Jones said people who read the report will feel "a certain shock."
Elaborating, Jones said, "The man on the street ... will be surprised that these correlations weren't made" between clues pointing toward a threat from Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. Even though the 23-year-old Nigerian man was in a database of possible terrorists, he managed to fly from Nigeria through Amsterdam to Detroit with an explosive concealed on his body.
For nearly the last two weeks, Obama and his team have spent an enormous amount of time responding to the near-disaster. The White House is eager to start moving public attention back to its efforts to expand health care and boost the economy, while careful to say Obama will be monitoring security improvements.
Abdulmutallab was indicted Wednesday on charges of attempted murder and other crimes for trying to blow up an airliner.
His father had warned U.S. officials that Abdulmutallab had drifted into extremism in the al-Qaida hotbed of Yemen, but that threat was never identified fully by intelligence officials, a breakdown that has drawn intense, candid criticism from the president himself.
Still, even with whatever details and improvements are revealed Thursday, questions will remain. Senate committees plan hearings later this month.
And it remains unclear whether any top officials from Obama's not-quite-year-old administration will be fired over the debacle.
"I don't know what the final outcome in terms of hiring and firing will be," Gibbs said.
He said no personnel announcements were expected Thursday.
Two legislative officials familiar with intelligence matters, one in the House and one in the Senate, said Wednesday that it appeared unlikely that anyone in the Obama administration would be fired over the incident. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.
Obama's comments Thursday will be his sixth on the incident, encompassing two statements to reporters during his Hawaii vacation and two more from the White House, a written statement on New Year's Eve and his radio address last weekend.
The president blistered the intelligence community earlier this week, saying flatly that the government had enough information to uncover the plot and disrupt the attack. "It was a failure to integrate and understand the intelligence that we already had," Obama said.
Charlie Allen, the former head of collection at CIA, said the government suffers from a shortage of experienced intelligence analysts.
Analysts take pieces of information - like the disparate threads available before Christmas - look at them, correlate them, and then make a "very strong leap in order to reach a decision," Allen said. "It takes experience."
This program aired on January 7, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.
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