Never one to pass up sticking my nose in the middle of an argument I can’t resist commenting on fellow bloggers Stewart Baker’s, David Olive’s and Sam Rosenfeld’s posts. Continuing the “questions” theme, policy musing and debates, like Stewart and David’s, are necessary for oversight committees and policy staff.

My opinion is that most of these questions, in one form or another, have been asked. We’ve academically explored them for eight years.

What we haven’t solved are the less glamorous logistical problems, the unpopular questions about risk, and the truth about what technology can or can’t do for us. These are issues that need to be solved or answered before realizing a robust security system.

How can technology facilitate and encourage information sharing?
Intelligence analysts piece through thousands of pieces of information from hundreds of sources. Connecting the dots is much easier after an incident. But there is technology to help with this effort. For example a company called Kestrel Enterprises Inc created a software program used by several agencies to piece together information by perpetually vetting information against several hundred sources. Traders on Wall Street, cell phone companies, and credit card companies are able to track hundreds of thousands of transactions a day and detect anomalies.

Body scanning machines are being used in over a dozen airports in the US for secondary screening. But can every airport in the country accommodate these machines? Can foreign airports accommodate or afford these machines?

Their weight, size and electrical needs create logistical nightmares for airports. Current and past Administrations’ budgets and the spending bills passed by Congress have never provided enough money for the infrastructure changes needed for new equipment.

Is the concoction the Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab ignited an explosive?

If we are honest about a risk-based security system we have to ask this question. Dutch officials have been public in doubting this “bomb” could have done much more than creating hot pants.

What was the actual threat to the aircraft and its passengers?

The Salahis made it through White House security without an invite but the actual threat to the President was non-existent. They may not have had an invite but other security protocols were followed – ID check and physical screening. An analogy can be drawn to this incident depending on what is discovered about the amount of PETN used, the detonation device, the location on the plane and other variables. Politicians will avoid considering this dynamic of the attack, but it is essential to the functioning of a risk-based security program.

The point of these questions is to show how complicated solving these problems can be. The truth of the matter is that we have the technology and intelligence to stop these types of attacks. That is probably what angers the public and Congress. These hurdles aren’t meant to excuse the failure to nab the underware bomber. But we have to be honest that the concept of operations for these policies take time and an expertise to implement them successfully.

So instead of exploring the same policy questions, Congress and the Administration need to focus their efforts and money on finding solutions to the less obvious, least publicized problems.

Jeff Sural serves as counsel in the Legislative & Public Policy Group at Alston & Bird, LLP. He will focus his practice on homeland security and transportation matters on Capitol Hill and in federal government agencies. Read More