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News Wrap: Intel Chief Accepts Blame for Flight 253 Bomb Attempt

January 20, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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In other news, the nation's intelligence chief admitted to making mistakes that led to the attempted bombing of a flight on Christmas Day, and a suspect in Tuesday's mass Virginia shootings turned himself in Wednesday.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Wall Street took a hit today as China announced tighter rules on bank lending. The news raised fears that the worldwide recovery might be slowed. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 122 points to close at 10,603. The Nasdaq fell 29 points to close at 2,291.

The nation’s intelligence chief acknowledged today he made mistakes leading up to the airliner bombing plot. Dennis Blair conceded that, once the plane landed in Detroit, the suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, should have been treated as a terror suspect and questioned by special interrogators. Blair also said he should have been more aggressive about adding names to the no-fly list, instead of focusing on complaints about the list.

DENNIS BLAIR: Shame on us for giving into that pressure. We have now greatly expanded the no-fly list from what it was on December 24 and have done a lot more of I — what is prudent, is put names on it, just in case, and then — and then take them off as we don’t — need to. But the pressure was quite the other — other direction.

HARI SREENIVASAN: In a separate hearing, Republican Senator Jeff Sessions charged, the decision to treat Abdulmutallab as a conventional criminal was a costly mistake.

SEN. JEFF SESSIONS, R-Ala.: And one of the things we learned from the 9/11 Commission is, intelligence is what saves lives — intelligence. And we need to gather intelligence. That’s not the motive of criminal justice system generally in America. It’s to prosecute criminals.

HARI SREENIVASAN: FBI Director Robert Mueller said the decision to arrest the Nigerian suspect was the right move. He said the FBI needed to know immediately if other threats were out there.

President Obama’s nominee to lead the Transportation Security Administration has withdrawn. Erroll Southers is a top official with the Los Angeles Police Department, but he said today opponents had politicized his career. Republican Senator Jim DeMint had blocked action on Southers over concerns he would grant collective bargaining rights to TSA employees.

The suspect in a mass killing in Virginia turned himself in early today, after an all-night manhunt. Christopher Speight allegedly gunned down eight people on Tuesday, then fired at a police helicopter as he ran into the woods to hide. The scene unfolded just outside Appomattox, Virginia. Police found three bodies inside Speight’s home and four outside. An eighth victim was found barely alive near the house, but died later at a hospital. State police said today they’re still looking for a motive and a weapon.

CORINNE GELLER, spokeswoman, Virginia State Police: We are in process of searching for a high-powered rifle which we know he had based on investigation into the shots that were fired and struck the helicopter Tuesday afternoon. He walked out of the woods, didn’t have a weapon in his possession, and — and turned himself in to SWAT team members that were assigned to that particular location.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Police and bomb teams searched Speight’s home today, fearing it might be rigged with explosives.

In Nigeria, soldiers patrolled a city in the central part of the country today after religious violence that has claimed more than 200 lives. Clashes between Christians and Muslims broke out Sunday in Jos. Witnesses described rioters attacking passersby and security forces with knives and guns. Buildings and vehicles were also set on fire. There were conflicting accounts as to what caused the trouble.

A powerful storm barreled across Southern California today and forced mandatory evacuations to escape mudslides and flooding. It was the third big storm in recent days, and forecasters said it could dump 1.5 inches of rain an hour. Communities northeast of Los Angeles were threatened. Mountain areas there were burned bare by a wildfire last summer. Today, Los Angeles county sheriff’s deputies went door-to-door ordering residents to leave about 600 homes.

The Virginia couple known as the White House gate crashers have balked at talking to a congressional committee. At a House hearing today, Tareq and Michaele Salahi invoked their rights against self-incrimination, and declined to answer questions. A federal grand jury is investigating how the pair got past Secret Service checkpoints at a White House state dinner last November without invitations. Members of a House committee tried in vain today to shed light on what happened.

REP. SHEILA JACKSON LEE, D-Texas: You dressed the part with the intent of attending a state dinner. You did not receive an official invite. Your backgrounds were not checked by the Secret Service. Your names didn’t appear on a guest list, and your request for an invitation from Michele Jones was denied and rebuffed.

Can you tell me, what more did you need in order to understand that you were not invited?

TAREQ SALAHI: On the advice of counsel, I respectfully reserve my right to remain silent and decline to answer your question.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The Salahis did say they would be willing to testify later, once the criminal investigation is over.

The White House social secretary, Desiree Rogers, was in charge of the state dinner. Administration officials have refused to let her appear before the committee.