By Edward Alden, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations
The TSA’s decision to begin intrusive screenings of every passenger boarding a U.S.-bound flight from so-called “countries of interest” is an ill-considered response to the failed Christmas bombing attempt, and one that will do more to discourage friends of the United States than to deter its enemies.
Al-Qaeda is an adaptable enemy, and patting down every grandmother arriving from Saudi Arabia or Pakistan is not likely to be much of a deterrent. Have we already forgotten that Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, carried a British passport and would not have been picked out under such a scheme?
The failure to identify Adbulmutallab before he boarded Northwest Airlines Flight 253 resulted from a breakdown in intelligence and targeting schemes that should have led to his visa being revoked and to his name being placed on the “no-fly” or “selectee” lists for special scrutiny by TSA. The administration needs to review what went wrong in this case and enhance its ability to target those who pose a terrorist threat.
Instead, these new measures are crude ones will simply give students and business travelers and tourists from these countries one more reason not to come to the United States. In a long struggle that requires winning friends as well as defeating enemies, such a response will do far more harm than good.
Edward Alden is the author of The Closing of the American Border: Terrorism, Immigration and Security Since 9/11, which tells the story of the development and impact of U.S. visa and border security measures since the 9/11 attacks.