Early reports about the failed Christmas bombing of NW 253 raise questions that need answers.  Because, frankly, if the reports are true, al Qaeda never should have gotten this close to a successful attack.

1.  According to early reports, the suspect is 23-year-old Abdul Farouk Abdulmutallab, and his name “appears to be included in the government’s records of terrorist suspects, according to a preliminary review.”  The first question, then, is how he managed to get a visa to come to the United States.

2.  One report suggested that the visa was granted to attend a religious meeting. Is there some political correctness problem that makes State reluctant to deny visas for such travel?

3.  A visa might have been granted for a good reason (a chance to interrogate or arrest him) but only in circumstances where he was watched closely.  At a minimum, data about him should have gone to DHS and FBI from State.  Did it?

4.  Even if it didn’t, TSA and DHS should have identified him as a possible risk from his travel reservations.  Did they?  If not, why not?

5.  If they did, was he screened specially at Schiphol?  Did DHS put an air marshal on his flight?
6.  Sometimes travel reservation data is spotty and badly recorded, but that shouldn’t be true for the passenger manifests that NW should have sent to DHS.  Those should come straight off the passport.  Did it?  Should airlines be held liable for deaths caused by bad manifest information?

7.  How good was the air travel screening in Nigeria?

8.  If it wasn’t that good, and I suspect it wasn’t, in part because the plane was not bound for the US, did Schiphol fall down on the job by not properly rescreening Abdulmutallab?

9.  Have we let European objections to US screening standards affect the security of flights with connecting passengers?

10.  One passenger is said to have helped thwart the attack by climbing over several less active passengers to grapple with the terrorist, apparently suffering burns to his hands in the process.  How long will it take Secretary Napolitano (at least) or President Obama (my preference) to visit this guy in the hospital if these facts turn out to be true?  Passengers are the last and most effective line of defense in cases like this.  But the incentives to sit tight are still great.  We need to honor the heroes who react quickly to thwart attacks in the air.

Update:  Many thanks to Instapundit, BigGovernment, and Volokh Conspiracy, among others, for the links.  They’ve spurred some interesting comments, and one by hiscross about AQQ is important enough to generate an 11th question.

AQQ is a program in which passport downloads collected by the airline are supposed to be sent to DHS *before* the plane takes off. Under AQQ, the airline is also supposed to be able to receive a return message from DHS requiring that suspect passengers be removed from the plane.

(AQQ is also that most dreaded of government innovations, the recursive acronym, in which one acronym nestles comfortably inside another.  Thus, AQQ stands for APIS Quick Query, which tells you nothing unless you know that APIS stands for Advance Passenger Information System.  APIS was the earlier, slower, one-way version of AQQ.)

DHS made the AQQ requirement final more than a year ago, after a long testing period.  But a number of US carriers have been stiffing DHS, refusing to comply with the regulation because, they say, they can’t afford to upgrade their computer systems. They say they’re waiting to see what upgrades they’ll have to make for the TSA Secure Flight program, but I find it astonishing that a private regulated industry would simply declare that it won’t comply with US law. When you do that, you have to expect consequences — or be very lucky.  As a result of airline noncompliance, it is hard for DHS to keep bad guys off planes, even if the bad guys have been identified from their passports. If Delta/NW falls into the carrier-scofflaw category, and that failure contributed to the incident, they are are, and should be, in trouble. In addition, I’m guessing, DHS will immediately begin fining the other carriers who have been rope-a-doping them.

So call it question 11: Was Delta/NW in compliance with US law when it boarded the Amsterdam flight?

This piece was originally posted on Skating on Stilts.

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