WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A senior counterterrorism official said on Wednesday his agency lacks “Google-like” search capability that could have identified the suspect in the attempted Christmas Day airline bombing.
The National Counterterrorism Center, the agency charged with reviewing disparate data to protect against attacks, does not have a computer search engine that could have checked for various spellings of the alleged bomber’s name and his birthplace in Nigeria, the center’s chief told a Senate hearing on security reform.
“We do not have that exact capacity,” said Michael Leiter, adding that the agency is working on solutions that could be in place within weeks.
The State Department has acknowledged it misspelling attacker’s name, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, when sending an advisory out about him after his father warned the U.S. embassy in Nigeria his son had been attracted by militant ideology.
Google and other common Internet search engines routinely offer alternative spellings for searches, particularly with names. Abdulmutallab had been flagged beforehand by U.S. embassy staff in Nigeria, but not under his full name.
National Intelligence Director Dennis Blair acknowledged that current search tools used by U.S. spy and counterterror agencies have “blind spots that don’t allow the sort of Google-like” searches civilians can do on their personal computers.
Patrick Kennedy, Undersecretary of State for management, told a second hearing that because of the spelling mistake in his name, the State Department did not add information about Abdulmutallab’s latest U.S. visa to his file.
Senator Patrick Leahy asked why the State Department lacked the ability found in consumer search engines that automatically ask about different spellings of a name.
Kennedy said that kind of search software had not been installed on its database before the attempted attack, and would only have looked into visa applications, not visas that had already been granted.