I was dismayed by the Obama Administration’s claim that our security apparatus worked in terms of foiling the intended attack by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab on Detroit-bound Northwest Flight 253. To quote Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, “One thing I’d like to point out is that the system worked.”
The system most assuredly did not work.
I am disappointed to have to take this stance. As I have watched gotcha media stories over the years about how the Department of Homeland Security “failed” because a reporter or GAO analyst snuck through one layer of security, I have become increasingly frustrated by the media’s lack of awareness that the nation’s homeland security strategy is based upon multiple layers of security. Getting through one layer doesn’t mean you’ll get through the next. Getting through even two layers still doesn’t mean you’ll be so lucky to get through a third. There is no such thing as 100 percent protection, which is why we need multiple layers of security.
However, in this case the system failed repeatedly. It shattered the confidence that the public should have that a layered system of security is at play. And for the Administration to come out and say that the “system worked” is to deepen – not strengthen – our sense of insecurity because of the outright foolishness of such a claim.
Let us count the ways in which the system failed:
The father of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab reported to the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria that his son was becoming increasingly radicalized and might pose a threat to the United States, the information was entered into the system at the National Counterterrorism Center and then largely dismissed with no follow up.
Next the terrorist was given a visa by the State Department, despite his name now being on a terrorist watch list. How that is even possible is beyond me. We interrogate and delay students simply looking to come to the United States to study in graduate school, but we hand out visas to individuals actually on a terrorist watch list?
Next the terrorist breezed through airport security with incendiary materials stitched into his underwear. One wonders where all the privacy groups are now. Probably hanging thinly to the Administration’s claim that everything worked great and there is nothing to see here. Napolitano actually went so far as to say, “There is no suggestion that he [Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab] was improperly screened.”
Huh? There is every suggestion that he was improperly screened.
Finally, the Administration falls back upon its now-trite argument that this was somehow the Bush Administration’s fault. The Washington Post reports on White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs comment that “White House officials struggled to explain the complicated system of centralized terrorist data and watch lists, stressing that they were put in place years ago by the Bush administration.” Good grief. At some point, the Administration is going to have to take responsibility for its own government.
Perhaps Napolitano meant that the “system worked” because this idiot managed to set himself on fire and several passengers leaped on him. Is this what we have come to? The government will no longer protect us from terrorists but we will have to protect it? There’s a confidence builder.
What we have here is a monumental failure of “the system.” This Administration’s claim to the contrary assumes that the American public is remarkably ignorant or that it simply isn’t worried about another terrorist attack and will accept such lame explanations.
Either of these suppositions is a dangerous place for the Administration. Dangerous for our country, from a counterterrorism perspective, at a time when international terrorists still view the United States as their greatest enemy. And, frankly, dangerous for the Obama team, from a political perspective, to assume that citizens and voters are intellectual slobs, which may create a lack of confidence by the public in this Administration’s grip on the terrorist threat to America.
After all, as this particular failed terrorist boasted: “There are many more like me.”
Update: On December 28th, Secretary Napolitano took back her claim that the system. See NPR’s report: “Our System Did Not Work,” Napolitano Concedes.