For what seemed an endless series of weeks, DHS Secretary Napolitano was mercilessly mocked and derided for uttering three words following the failed Christmas Day bombing of Northwest Flight 253 – she stated, “The system worked.”  As debatable as those words may have been to describe the failed intelligence and cooperation efforts, they seem to be the only words that accurately describe the unfolding results of the capture of the suspected and failed Times Square bomber, Faisal Shahzad.

Between the discovery of the bomb early Saturday evening by an alert T-shirt vendor, we had:

  • The calm and orderly evacuation of Times Square by the NYPD’s finest;
  • The wide distribution of the collected Times Square video imagery of the suspected bomber;
  • The tracking of the vehicle’s identification number;
  • The interviewing of the vehicle’s original owner to determine its sale and new whereabouts;
  • The culling of e-mail records to review the sales transaction from Craigslist to verify suspects;
  • Working with local law enforcement in Connecticut to monitor Shahzad’s residence in Bridgeport; and
  • Apprehending him before midnight on an Emirates airliner bound for Dubai

The system worked.

Every dollar spent on the NYC advertising campaign of “See Something? Say Something;” on security cameras and first-responder training; and on all of the interagency cooperation between the NYPD, the FBI and other federal and regional law enforcement – it all showed the return on investment that our nation’s leaders have wanted and expected. In short, everything worked.

As much as there is to praise and applaud by all of the parties involved with this incident, there remains much for us to be vigilant.

The word “lucky” is a more than accurate description of the thwarted attempts onboard Flight 253 and in Times Square. It should also be noted that through the active involvement of people who were self-empowered to act, hundreds, if not thousands of lives were saved. The spirit of 9/11’s Flight 93 – taking action against those who would do any one of us harm – is part of the human spirit. We should not lose sight of it nor underestimate its resolve because it is one of the greatest tools we have in the fight against those who think murder is an appropriate means to an end.

The NYPD, the FBI, the Joint Terrorism Task Force, DHS personnel (TSA, CBP, I&A, etc.), as well as other federal, state and local law enforcement deserve tremendous praise for their work on this case. While we can all celebrate the apprehension of the bombing suspect, we must recognize that more work needs to be done on this case before a full and accurate picture is completed. There will also be lessons learned that need to be applied to citizens, communities, first-responders and intelligence agencies.

We can all breathe easier when luck is on our side, but luck will not always be there. That is why the signs of promise “the system” has yielded give me hope that we are slowly and surely maturing this new American adventure called homeland security.

Rich Cooper blogs primarily on emergency preparedness and response, management issues related to the Department of Homeland Security, and the private sector’s role in homeland security. Read More
  • keitherwood

    Hi Rich, as ou know I am a huge fan of Security Debrief however I must respectfully disagree with you on this one in one area.

    It is true the NYPD deserves praise for a job well done in tracking down the suspect, and the “If You See Something, Say Something” is a big part of keeping NYC safe. I wish other cities around the country would take that same initiative.

    However, we still got lucky on this one. Even though the T-shirt vendor did alert the police (he is still a hero in my book for taking action) the bomb was already in place and activated.

    The vendor was alerted to the smoke and their are reports of the pop's from the fireworks going off (not sure if that was the officer or the vendor) so once again it was another failed attempt, but all the effort was there and the bomber succeeded in building his bomb, getting it into place, and trying to set it off.

    We are still yet to find out if an intended target was elsewhere, and if he became spooked and decided to perform the act where it happened or if that was the intention. Most likely it was, and he was scared and made enough mistakes that people noticed and the bomb failed.

    The real problem is it was not stopped ahead of time or known about and this is where we have a problem.

    Now the NYPD has an excellent counter terrorism unit that rivals that of other federal agencies. This is important to point out but we still had failures, most of which I would say were federal in nature.

    First we had a Pakistani national traveling to terror training camps who applied for citizenship one year ago, and passed a background check.

    Second he carried out the act and was in contact with people in Pakistan.

    Third, he was on a no fly list (I believe due to the quick and rapid work of the NYPD) but he did make it onto a flight, after paying one way, in cash (both red flags).

    So I would once again say that we did get lucky again on this one, and while I don't mind that we keep getting lucky, we also need to do a better job.

    As for the If You See Something, Say Something campaign, I am a big believer, we should be informing our citizens to know when something is out of place and to say something when it is.

    If we do this, more people will be caught and we will be safer, rather than relying 100% on law enforcement to do a near impossible task without the aid of its citizens.

    Overall, the NYPD did an excellent job and I still love the work you do on this site.