Information about failed airline bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was in a secret database but never made it to the FBI watch list and wasn't checked by federal agents until his Christmas Day flight had left Amsterdam, an intelligence official told Newsday.
The secret database, known as the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment - or TIDE - is a giant catch basin of 550,000 names related to terror intelligence and law enforcement. It is part of the National Counterterrorism Center.
Some of TIDE's information gets to the separate FBI watch list of about 440,000 names, but some doesn't, explained the official, who asked not to be identified.
On Thursday, President Barack Obama, in spelling out what reforms are needed after the failed Christmas bombing, said there had to be major improvements in the way information is added to the watch list.
In the case of Abdulmutallab, information received in late November from his father in Nigeria and other intelligence sources never went to the FBI database, which is the key index checked to screen airline passengers, the official said.
In a news briefing yesterday, Homeland Security Department Secretary Janet Napolitano confirmed that TIDE contained the information about Abdulmutallab.
Federal customs and border protection agents, not finding anything about Abdulmutallab on the watch list, accessed TIDE through a secure channel, and found information about him only after his Delta Air Lines flight had left Europe for Detroit, the official said.