Apparently the White House is about to bow to the inevitable and prosecute Khalid Sheik Mohammed by military tribunal:
President Obama’s advisers are nearing a recommendation that Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self-proclaimed mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, be prosecuted in a military tribunal, administration officials said, a step that would reverse Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.’s plan to try him in civilian court in New York City.
The president’s advisers feel increasingly hemmed in by bipartisan opposition to a federal trial in New York and demands, mainly from Republicans, that Mohammed and his accused co-conspirators remain under military jurisdiction, officials said. While Obama has favored trying some terrorism suspects in civilian courts as a symbol of U.S. commitment to the rule of law, critics have said military tribunals are the appropriate venue for those accused of attacking the United States.
I’ve never understood why only civilian courts were considered to be a symbol of the US commitment to the rule of law. The military tribunal system now in use was created by an act of Congress, signed into law by the president and vetted by the Supreme Court (which, as I recall, made Congress change a few things before it okayed the procedure). So how is its use somehow the abandonment of the rule of law?
Of course it’s not. What this is about is a petulant and mistaken insistence, at least in this case, that the previous administration preferred to operate outside the law.
What they’re about to admit, if indeed that’s the course of action they decide on, is the proper venue in which to try terrorists that have declared war on our nation is via military tribunal. That’s also a tacit admission that their’s isn’t a criminal conspiracy to be handled in civilian court, but instead an act of war to be handled in the appropriate military legal venue.
All this after 14 months of chasing their tail, trying to pound a square legal peg in a round hole. Wasn’t it Obama complaining about these people not receiving a speedy trial?
Heck of a job, Eric.
UPDATE: Andy McCarthy at NRO thinks this is all a compromise to finally get the backing (and funding) necessary to close GITMO. SLATE agrees, citing the story above:
If Obama accepts the likely recommendation of his advisers, the White House may be able to secure from Congress the funding and legal authority it needs to close the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and replace it with a facility within the United States.
Any guess as to who this is aimed at? Does the name Lindsey Graham ring a bell? Says McCarthy:
The real agenda here is to close Gitmo. That’s the ball to keep your eye on. The Post is trying to soften the opposition to shuttering the detention camp by portraying beleaguered, reasonable Obama as making a great compromise that will exasperate the Left. The idea is to strengthen Sen. Lindsey Graham’s hand in seeking reciprocal compromise from our side.
This, however, is a matter of national security, not horse-trading over a highway bill. You don’t agree to do a stupid thing that endangers the country just because your opposition has magnanimously come off its insistence that you do two stupid things that endanger the country.
Bold emphasis mine – they’re the two key points in what McCarthy says. So let’s make it clear – KSM should be tried by a military tribunal and those trials for him and others should be held at Gitmo. As originally planned.
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Fareed Zakaria provides the second installment in how terrorists win (the example of the Met deciding not to show art depicting the prophet Mohammed being the first):
In responding to the attempted bombing of an airliner on Christmas Day, Sen. Dianne Feinstein voiced the feelings of many when she said that to prevent such situations, “I’d rather overreact than underreact.” This appears to be the consensus view in Washington, but it is quite wrong. The purpose of terrorism is to provoke an overreaction. Its real aim is not to kill the hundreds of people directly targeted but to sow fear in the rest of the population. Terrorism is an unusual military tactic in that it depends on the response of the onlookers. If we are not terrorized, then the attack didn’t work. Alas, this one worked very well.
He is exactly right. Terrorism is all about effecting change through the threat of or use of violence. It is a tool of the weak that can be devastatingly effective if those at whom it is aimed overreact. The aim may be political change. The aim may be economic change. Or terrorists may be satisfied with any change they can effect through their actions which makes life miserable for those at whom it is aimed. As Zakaria points out, given our response, the latest terrorist failure is, in fact, a win. We’re jumping through our collective arses trying to react to the threat and pretty much settling on making air travel more miserable for everyone.
Overreacting to terrorist attacks plays into al-Qaeda’s hands. It also provokes responses that are likely to be large-scale, expensive, ineffective and possibly counterproductive. More screening for every passenger makes no sense. When searching for needles in haystacks, adding hay doesn’t help. What’s needed is a larger, more robust watch list that is instantly available to all relevant government agencies. Almost 2 million people travel on planes in the United States every day. We need to isolate the tiny percentage of suspicious characters and search them, not cause needless fear in everyone else.
We know, to this point the one common thread that links these “needles” and separates them from the “hay”. But we continue to resist using that as a discriminator as we refine our security searches because, apparently, discrimination (aka “profiling”) is a much worse political sin than getting airliners with 300 souls on board blown out of the sky.
It simply defies common sense.
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I’m troubled by the unfortunate killing of 7 members of the CIA in Khost province, Afghanistan. How in the world did a suicide bomber manage to get to that many CIA employees in a remote FOB?
Well it appears it was mostly a matter of bad tradecraft – a breakdown in procedures designed to ensure situations like that don’t develop.
First, this was an asset that the CIA had been using to get next to al Qaeda number two Zawahiri. He’d been to the FOB before and, apparently, was promising some information that enticed a number of CIA members to the FOB. That was a major mistake:
Said Bob Baer, a former CIA case officer, “It is sort of a grim calculation but normally when you meet an asset like this you have one, maybe two people. So I think people are going to point out inside the agency that they shouldn’t have 13 people there.”
“Why the officers would show a source all their faces, that alone was a terrible decision,” said one former senior CIA paramilitary operative who served in Afghanistan and requested anonymity when discussing sensitive and classified matters. “This is a sad, sad event, but it was a complete security breakdown.”
Why they felt it was necessary to flaunt security and tradecraft conventions remains a mystery, but frankly, that bit of stupidity didn’t have to be fatal. This bit of stupidity, however, almost ensured it:
Al-Balawi had been to Chapman previously and because of the information he was promising, CIA officers told Afghan guards to allow him past the first of three checkpoints without searching him. The bomber was actually escorted around the checkpoints, and the officers also told the guards to vacate the area, sources told ABC News.
So this combination of flaunting the rules of their tradecraft and security procedures cost them 7 CIA employees and 3 or 4 others associated with them.
In the line of business these people are engaged, complacency kills. Short cuts kill. There’s a reason for the existence of certain procedures, however time consuming and onerous they may seem. The fact that their tradecraft was so blatantly and obviously disregarded is disturbing. And, as you might imagine, the consequences, while devastating, aren’t unexpected.
When you’re dealing in life and death situations where anything is possible, you cannot assume anything. Your “asset” could be just what this guy was – a double agent. The poor assumptions made to put this guy in front of 13 CIA employees are mind boggling. And they make you wonder, given the situation, how well trained these people were in the tradecraft which should have prevented this from occurring, or at least minimized its effect.
Regardless, what you now have to hope is a new emphasis will be made on the tradecraft that should have prevented this situation from developing. But these deaths and why they occurred do not at all reflect well on the CIA – an organization which is supposed to be our finest and most proficient asset for gathering foreign intelligence.
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In recent testimony before Congress, Timothy Healy, the head of the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center, explained the unit’s “reasonable suspicion” standard in answer to a question from a member of Sen. Joe Lieberman’s Homeland Security Committee:
“Reasonable suspicion requires ‘articulable’ facts which, taken together with rational inferences, reasonably warrant a determination that an individual is known or suspected to be or has been engaged in conduct constituting, in preparation for, in aid of, or related to, terrorism and terrorist activities, and is based on the totality of the circumstances. Mere guesses or inarticulate ‘hunches’ are not enough to constitute reasonable suspicion.”
Uh, ok … in that swarm of legalese, I see “engaged in conduct constituting, in preparation for, in aid of, or related to, terrorism and terrorist activities…”. Got it.
So you’d need come “articulable facts” which could “reasonably warrant a determination” that the guy may be a terrorist based on his behavior. And one assumes his behavior would have to catch the attention of the authorities, correct?.
Well let’s see.
- His dad, a former minister in Nigeria, informed the US embassy there that his son had been radicalized (the dad obviously had a reason for concern).
- US intelligence had been following him for a while, dubbing him “the Nigerian” (one assumes there was a reason).
- He was on a watch list (one assumes there was a reason).
- He had been banned from Britain (yup, one assumes there was a reason).
- The British intelligence service had identified him to our intelligence agencies in 2008 as a potential threat (sigh, uh, yeah, reason).
- He’d just visited Yemen, an al Qaeda hotbed (given the first 5, one can reasonably guess at the reason).
- He bought a one-way ticket to the United States in Africa through Europe (red flag 1).
- He paid cash (red flag 2).
- He checked no luggage (red flag 3).
- Just wow.
OK, forget 10, but are those or are those not “articulable facts” which should have “reasonably warranted a determination” that this guy fit the profile of someone who is usually up too no good? No?
Well, let’s review – Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, bought a one-way ticket to the US, using cash and checked no luggage. 8 years ago. So, as Jon Stewart ask recently on the Daily Report, what other than the location of the explosives changed in those 8 years?
Nada. Our lack of security sure hasn’t changed, has it, when the same MO used 8 years before succeeds again. All that changed after Reid was we had to take our shoes off for screening. Is our underwear next?
Not one, but two systems broke down in this little debacle. The intelligence system which apparently still keeps its dots separate from each other (or simply doesn’t find them compelling enough to check out) and makes watch lists it doesn’t watch (it’s called complacency and incompetence, folks). It certainly was all there wasn’t it? Or at least a bunch of “articulable facts” that should have “reasonably warranted a determination” that this guy might be a bad guy worth tracking, no?
And the second system which failed was the airline security system which should have picked up on the fact that they had a guy traveling out of Nigeria on a one-way ticket paid for in cash and with no checked luggage. This is an automated system which shares info, no?
I mean how hard is it to design software to constantly peruse passenger info and when it gets a 3 category hit like that, alert someone? Sound a siren. Pop out in little red flags. Something. But apparently must be very hard to do, because the same problem exists now as when Richard Reid tried it lo those many years ago. This most recent bomber should never have made it out of Amsterdam. No, he should never have been allowed on the plane in Nigeria, given those three indicators alone, without a full body search.
So good job FBI – you’ve got your legalese down pat but couldn’t catch a crotch bomber if he wore a sign. And good work CIA and National Terrorism Center for connecting the dots and passing the info along. And good job airline security – nary a clue the guy was a possible threat even though information should have been available that would have draped him in red flags. Heck, the ticket agent should have picked up on this.
If you’re wondering, then, why people are angry about this, it’s because after all the money and all the assurances that security was better than before, we have “Richard Reid Jr.” using precisely the same MO used 8 years before and almost pulling it off again. You might be able to shrug this off as luck and happenstance if this guy had some entirely new way of getting on the plane (credit card, round trip ticket, checked bag – I mean how hard is it, really?), but he didn’t. That’s the problem. And that’s also why people are angry!
Meanwhile, the comedy we call “security” continues.
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A few days ago, David Brooks wrote an op-ed in the New York Times entitled “The God That Failed” which is still bubbling in various blogs. Here’s how Brooks began his piece:
During the middle third of the 20th century, Americans had impressive faith in their own institutions. It was not because these institutions always worked well. The Congress and the Federal Reserve exacerbated the Great Depression. The military made horrific mistakes during World War II, which led to American planes bombing American troops and American torpedoes sinking ships with American prisoners of war.
But there was a realistic sense that human institutions are necessarily flawed. History is not knowable or controllable. People should be grateful for whatever assistance that government can provide and had better do what they can to be responsible for their own fates.
That mature attitude seems to have largely vanished. Now we seem to expect perfection from government and then throw temper tantrums when it is not achieved. We seem to be in the position of young adolescents — who believe mommy and daddy can take care of everything, and then grow angry and cynical when it becomes clear they can’t.
Glenn Greenwald and a host of other lefty blogs are now assuring us that this “hysteria” over the crotch bomber is a result of our immaturity as a nation because of our concerns about terrorism:
This is what inevitably happens to a citizenry that is fed a steady diet of fear and terror for years. It regresses into pure childhood. The 5-year-old laying awake in bed, frightened by monsters in the closet, who then crawls into his parents’ bed to feel Protected and Safe, is the same as a citizenry planted in front of the television, petrified by endless imagery of scary Muslim monsters, who then collectively crawl to Government and demand that they take more power and control in order to keep them Protected and Safe. A citizenry drowning in fear and fixated on Safety to the exclusion of other competing values can only be degraded and depraved.
Nonsense. This outrage isn’t just about terrorism and our fear of it. In fact, this isn’t a regression. It is a reaction to the continuing failures of a government which has repeatedly claimed it is the answer to all problems and repeatedly fails to live up to its claim. It is also an indication of the growing citizen anger at its continued unchecked expansion.
In a mature nation, President Obama could go on TV and say, “Listen, we’re doing the best we can, but some terrorists are bound to get through.” But this is apparently a country that must be spoken to in childish ways. The original line out of the White House was that the system worked. Don’t worry, little Johnny.
Really? Well let’s think about that for a second, shall we? Prior to the complete takeover of airline security by the federal government, any president might certainly have been able to stand up and said that. And most of us would have likely agreed. Airlines, which were responsible for their own security screening at that time, would certainly have reacted appropriately and taken new measures designed to heighten safety. And naturally, airlines which didn’t would most likely see passengers vote with their feet since a heightened chance of having your planes routinely blown out of the sky, when compared with the competition, isn’t good for business, is it?
Instead –and it happened under a Republican administration- the Fed decided that only it can properly provide the security necessary to ensure airline safety. A huge and costly system with its attendant bureaucracy was put into place based on that premise. And the implicit promise of the premise was that while under the airlines, “some terrorists are bound to get through”, under government, it would be safer than that. That was the purpose of the takeover. And it is that which both Greenwald and Brooks miss.
In the case of this particular incident, you couple that with a little stupidity (Napolitano: “the system worked”), a dollop of denial (Obama: “an isolated extremist”) and typical non-responsive overreaction (TSA: stay in your seat the last hour with your hands in your lap) and you begin to understand why the president couldn’t go on TV and say something like Brooks claims he could say in a “mature nation”. This has nothing to do with the maturity or lack thereof of the nation. It has to do with an inept government unable to fulfill it’s promise and the righteous anger that causes.
This incident is just one of many which are awakening the public to the falsity of the pernicious myth that government is “the answer”. It was the financial crisis that began the process. As it developed, people were suddenly confronted with the realization that those who had assured us they were in control and knew what they were doing really didn’t have a clue. Add that with the rapid takeover of the financial sector and GM, TARP and the “stimulus”, extended trillion dollar deficits, health care “reform” and cap-and-trade legislation and now this airline security failure and you begin to understand both the rising alarm and the rising anger.
I’m sure there are those out there who still think the Tea Parties were about health care and/or Obama and the Democrats. In fact, they were an early outward manifestation of the phenomenon – the rapidly growing realization that a) government can’t fulfill its promises but b) despite that, it continues to attempt to accrue more power and c) really doesn’t care if the public wants it or not.
They also are beginning to realize the mammoth cost of the leviathan in place is bad enough (and it is only going to get worse). And they are terrified of the cost of what is being promised as the government takes over more and more of our lives.
You can begin to understand why the growing anger is directed at this administration and government in general is the result. The attempted bombing incident and the resultant anger is no more just another indicator of that general anger and dissatisfaction.
What Brooks and Greenwald don’t seem to understand – and I’d think it is a safe bet to make the same claim about Republicans – is this isn’t anger just directed at this administration or Democrats alone. They’ve simply managed to bring it to a head with their over-reaching. It is anger, in general, at the depth, breadth, cost, intrusion and control government has and seeks to broaden. In a larger sense, what Greenwald and Brooks would like to write off as an immature tantrum about a security failure is just another manifestation of the growing anger and discontent directed at government in general and as result of the swiftness and scope of the recent expansion.
The culture of dependency that politicians have carefully engineered over the last 80 years is finally seeing a backlash. Ironically it is the financial crisis and the Democratic ascendancy, along with their attempts to broaden that dependency, which has suddenly alarmed and angered the public. As dependency was incrementally increased over the decades, the public’s alarm at government’s increased powers was muted. With the sudden power and control grabbed by the government, precipitated by the financial crisis, the alarm –and anger- is no longer muted.
That, by any measure, is a good thing. What it isn’t, however, is an immature reaction. It is, if anything, not strident enough.
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I don’t know about you, but the attempt to continue to blame Bush for every failure of the Obama administration is getting to be quite old. In fact, it has become sort of a game – how will they manage to turn this is such a way as they can overtly or through implication, blame Bush.
Of course the latest attempt is the NWA bomber. Two simultaneous tracks on this one. First is the usual implication that this is an “inherited mess” from the previous administration. While I’m willing to concede some inheritance of problems from any previous administration, this isn’t one of them. I might be inclined to give such a concession on Jan. 20th of this year. But it is Dec. 31st, almost a full year since this administration has been in office and in charge of our security. This is their baby, not the previous administration’s.
Secondly, the claim that Bush didn’t take the flack Obama has when Richard Reid tried to detonate his shoe bomb. A couple of points. That was within months of 9/11 and plans and strategies were still being implemented. Additionally, Bush had been talking about terrorism in general since 9/11. So speaking out on this particular act of terrorism wasn’t a particularly necessary thing.
We’ve been doing this for 9 years since then. Almost one full year of it has been on the Obama watch. When the Ft. Hood shootings went down, the administration tried to play it down as something other than an act of terrorism, and then, belatedly and grudgingly acknowledged the possibility of such. Now we have this occurrence and again, we have an administration that looks inept and incompetent (“the system worked”) and again engaged in trying to downplay the significance of the attempted bombing and security breech.
Amazingly, Maureen Dowd most succinctly characterizes why this is much more significant a failure than Richard Reed (an act that took place well before the TSA and all the procedures designed to protect us):
If we can’t catch a Nigerian with a powerful explosive powder in his oddly feminine-looking underpants and a syringe full of acid, a man whose own father had alerted the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria, a traveler whose ticket was paid for in cash and who didn’t check bags, whose visa renewal had been denied by the British, who had studied Arabic in Al Qaeda sanctuary Yemen, whose name was on a counterterrorism watch list, who can we catch?
This is a complete and utter failure of the system – and had it happened on the Bush watch, I’d say the same thing. But what I wouldn’t be doing, a year into the Bush administration, is blaming it on Clinton.
All the “dots” they love to talk about were there. What wasn’t there was any attempt to connect them. That says “FAIL” in big bold letters. And that “FAIL” falls squarely on the shoulders of the administration in charge at the time of the “FAIL”. That would be the Obama administration. And repeated attempts to pass it off to someone else are becoming both tiresome a bit worrying. It is time this President and his administration accept the fact that they are in charge and responsible for everything that does or doesn’t happen on their watch. For military officers that’s leadership 101. For this crew, it seems to be anathema as they continue to try to pass the “responsibility” buck on to others. It reminds me of children who try to avoid blame by pointing to their siblings and claiming it’s all their fault.
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President Obama said the attempted Northwest Airlines bombing was the result of a “systemic failure – an outright rebuke of Janet Napalitano’s “the system worked” remark. Almost 9 years after 9/11, we’re still having trouble seeing the “dots” much less connecting them. Everyone who should have known about this guy seems to have known about him yet he was issued a visa, allowed on an airplane to the US and almost killed over 200 people despite being on a watch list and having been reported as a potential terrorist by his father.
So yes, I’d agree with the “systemic failure” characterization. It sounds like there were plenty of dots and again no connecting. For instance, if he’s on a watch list, why is our State Department issuing him a visa? Shouldn’t they a) have checked that watch list or b) routinely run his name by the CIA and/or whoever maintains that watch list? Why have a watch list if no one is watching?
But, over and above that, you have to ask “why” after spending billions upon billions on aviation security wasn’t a fairly common explosive easily detected by bomb detection equipment detected by said bomb detecting equipment? After all, even if the CIA and State Department fumble the ball, couldn’t it be picked up technologically by the “system” at the airports designed to detect bombs?
Well, that brings us to the looting part of the title. Ask Sen. Chris Dodd where the money for that sort of equipment went. Apparently he managed to divert it to one of his pet projects which he figured had a higher priority than that of the lives of airline passengers. Here is the text of the amendment he introduced and was passed diverting funds for aviation security bomb detecting equipment to what the Washington Examiner calls a “notoriously ineffective program”:
Purpose: To provide additional funds for FIRE grants under section 33 of the Federal Fire Prevention and Control Act of 1974)
On page 77, between lines 16 and 17, insert the following:
SEC. X (a) The amount appropriated under the heading “firefighter assistance grants” under the heading “Federal Emergency Management Agency” under by title III for necessary expenses for programs authorized by the Federal Fire Prevention and Control Act of 1974 is increased by $10,000,000 for necessary expenses to carry out the programs authorized under section 33 of that Act (15 U.S.C. 2229).
(b) The total amount of appropriations under the heading “Aviation Security” under the heading “Transportation Security Administration” under title II, the amount for screening operations and the amount for explosives detection systems under the first proviso under that heading, and the amount for the purchase and installation of explosives detection systems under the second proviso under that heading are reduced by $4,500,000.
(c) From the unobligated balances of amounts appropriated before the date of enactment of this Act for the appropriations account under the heading “state and local programs” under the heading “Federal Emergency Management Agency” for “Trucking Industry Security Grants”, $5,500,000 are rescinded.
You can’t get anymore specific than that. This too should be considered a “systemic failure” that is all too common in Washington DC. Obviously we have no idea whether equipment that 4.5 million might have bought would have been in place in Amsterdam to catch that bomber, but we do know that pulling it ensured it wouldn’t be somewhere, to include Amsterdam. And Democrats wonder why people don’t take them seriously when it comes to national security?
Just another, in a long line of reasons, that politicians like Christopher Dodd are the problem, not the solution, to many of our security issues. They don’t take it seriously and engage in behind the scenes looting of the very security mechanisms we’ve given our politicians as a security priority for pet projects. My guess is, other than what is found in the Washington Examiner, the analysis of what went wrong won’t contain anything about this shameful and irresponsible action by Dodd and the Democrats. But it damn well should.
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Apparently what was clear to every other person in the land has just recently become obvious to our DHS Secretary:
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano conceded Monday that the aviation security system failed when a young man on a watchlist with a U.S. visa in his pocket and a powerful explosive hidden on his body was allowed to board a fight from Amsterdam to Detroit. The Obama administration has ordered investigations into the two areas of aviation security — how travelers are placed on watch lists and how passengers are screened — as critics questioned how the 23-year-old Nigerian man charged in the airliner attack was allowed to board the Dec. 25 flight. A day after saying the system worked, Napolitano backtracked, saying her words had been taken out of context. “Our system did not work in this instance,” she said on NBC’s “Today” show. “No one is happy or satisfied with that. An extensive review is under way.”
Taken out of context? The fallback claim of every yahoo caught saying something stupid or inane. In fact, there were any number of signals which should have had this guy shunted off to the side for a more thorough check – like the warning his father had given the US embassy.
Officials said he came to the attention of U.S. intelligence last month when his father, Alhaji Umar Mutallab, a prominent Nigerian banker, reported to the American Embassy in Nigeria about his son’s increasingly extremist religious views. In a statement released Monday morning, Abdulmutallab’s family in Nigeria said that after his “disappearance and stoppage of communications while schooling abroad,” his father reached out to Nigerian security agencies two months ago. The statement says the father then approached foreign security agencies for “their assistance to find and return him home.”
The family says: “It was while we were waiting for the outcome of their investigation that we arose to the shocking news of that day.”
How can a Muslim student, whose name appears on a US law enforcement database, be granted a visa to travel to America, allegedly acquire an explosive device from Yemen, a country awash with al-Qaeda terrorists, and avoid detection from the world’s most sophisticated spy agencies?
Every intelligence agency across the world is fully aware that the targets of choice for al-Qaeda and its numerous affiliates and sympathisers are airliners – preferably those flying to the US. Yet Abdulmutallab seems to have avoided detection in both Nigeria and Holland when he passed through the various security checks at Lagos and Schiphol airports respectively. [How? -ed.]
Embarrassingly for the Washington, Lagos airport had recently been given the “all clear” by the US’s Transportation Security Administration [Why? -ed.], an agency established in the wake of the 9/11 attacks which was supposed to improve the security on American airliners.
Bottom line – if you want to make security more effective without increasing the hassle factor for everyone, there is a solution: start profiling.
Yeah, that’s right – if you’re warring against the Mongols, you don’t go looking for Latvians. It’s time we started pulling the “Mongols” out of line and checking them thoroughly. For instance, had this guy undergone a check for explosives, they’d have gotten him early:
Security experts said airport “puffer” machines that blow air on a passenger to collect and analyze residues would probably have detected the powder, as would bomb-sniffing dogs or a hands-on search using a swab. Most passengers in airports only go through magnetometers, which detect metal rather than explosives.
If, as a matter of routine, such travelers were sent through such devices or checks, do you think it might further diminish the threat of such attacks and cause them to look for different venue for their attacks? Might it also put pressure on Muslims everywhere, when singled out as a threat because of their common link to the terrorists, to clean up their radical elements?
Instead, you can count on the Obama administration, via the TSA, to make the new and reactive rules both draconian and applicable to everyone and pretend the 800 lb. gorilla in the room doesn’t e. But real security doesn’t play “political correctness”. It identifies the threat as specifically as possible, details characteristics of those who comprise that threat and then focuses its limited resources on them. That isn’t what we do, and we know why. And that’s why guys like Abdulmutallab and Richard Reid find ways to get on aircraft with explosive devices.
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I think we many times become overwrought about things without ever really taking the time to put the threat into perspective. Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight throws some numbers out there for us to consider as we assess the latest terrorist attempt. Taking the decade of October 1999 to September 2009 (stats for this month and others following September are not available yet) and even including the 9/11 attacks (TSA didn’t appear until after those) there have been six terrorist acts or attempted terrorist acts involving aircraft. Silver breaks down the numbers:
Over the past decade, according to BTS, there have been 99,320,309 commercial airline departures that either originated or landed within the United States. Dividing by six, we get one terrorist incident per 16,553,385 departures.
These departures flew a collective 69,415,786,000 miles. That means there has been one terrorist incident per 11,569,297,667 mles flown.
Wow. Not a huge threat. I take many more chances with my life in Atlanta traffic every day. But, to put it in even better contrast, how about the old stand-by: How do my chances compare to being struck by lightning?
There were a total of 674 passengers, not counting crew or the terrorists themselves, on the flights on which these incidents occurred. By contrast, there have been 7,015,630,000 passenger enplanements over the past decade. Therefore, the odds of being on given departure which is the subject of a terrorist incident have been 1 in 10,408,947 over the past decade. By contrast, the odds of being struck by lightning in a given year are about 1 in 500,000. This means that you could board 20 flights per year and still be less likely to be the subject of an attempted terrorist attack than to be struck by lightning.
So in answer to the title is an unqualified “yes”. That’s not to say we shouldn’t maintain an awarness on flights of idiots like this last one and do precisely what the passengers did to thwart his attack. But then we know not to stand on a hilltop in a lightning storm wrapped in copper wire too. We take proper precautions, but we don’t obsess over it.
Given these stats and what we have to go through to fly now, I’d say we’re past the obsessive stage and into the downright parnoid stage.
We do this alot anymore. Maybe it is the proliferation of mass communication which seems to magnify the significance of the story without providing any context like Silver has. Guys like this latest wannabe bomber are not a great threat to us.
We average 50 commercial crashes a decade and have since the 1950s. Yet for all those decades we happily climbed on board understanding that our real chances of being in an airline crash were really very small. And as you can see, given those numbers, your chances of being in a non-terrorist caused crash are significantly higher than those caused by terrorism. Yet it is the “terrorist” attack over which we obsess.
Life’s a risk. We know that and risk ours everyday. We do so because we know that in reality the risk we take is very low and not doing so would limit how we lived our lives to a very mundane and boring routine. We’d hate it. And we normally pride ourselves in understanding that we must take risks to live life to the fullest.
I can’t help but think that every attempted or failed attack like this one that drives the neurotic over-reaction that follows is considered a victory by our enemies. We need to quit enabling that.
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Or am I?
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Sunday that the thwarting of the attempt to blow up an Amsterdam-Detroit airline flight Christmas Day demonstrated that “the system worked.”
Asked by CNN’s Candy Crowley on “State of the Union” how that could be possible when the young Nigerian who has been charged with trying to set off the bomb was able to smuggle explosive liquid onto the jet, Napolitano responded: “We’re asking the same questions.”
Napolitano added that there was “no suggestion that [the suspect] was improperly screened.”
Apparently he was screened exactly as he should have been according to TSA guidelines. Yet he got on the aircraft with explosive underwear.
The only reason the flight wasn’t blown out of the sky is he had a faulty detonator. And, as with the shoe bomber, Richard Reid, it took other passengers to subdue him.
So what part of the system worked?
Oh yeah, the “let’s overreact and make stupid new rules” part:
Among other steps being imposed, passengers on international flights coming to the United States will apparently have to remain in their seats for the last hour of a flight without any personal items on their laps. Overseas passengers will be restricted to only one carry-on item aboard the plane, and domestic passengers will probably face longer security lines.
The restrictions will again change the routine of air travel, which has undergone an upheaval since the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington in September 2001 and three attempts at air terrorism since then.
As James Joyner notes, since 2001 there have been 3 attempts in tens of thousands of flights and our reaction is to make flight even more miserable than it already is for little if any security gain. Radley Balko points out:
In addition to keeping with its usually tradition of making policy on a reactionary basis, this one wouldn’t even have done anything to prevent the attempt over the weekend. The guy was in his seat when he tried to light the explosive device. And the passenger who confronted him got out of his seat to do it.
Ah, but that doesn’t matter. Our new rules will “ensure” that no aircraft inbound to the US will be blown out of the sky in the last hour. No word on what might happen the preceding 2 to 14 hours (depending on the origination of the filght) prior to that.
The last word from Balko:
For all the crap they put us through, this guy still got some sort of explosive material on the plane from Amsterdam. He was stopped by law-abiding passengers. So TSA responds to all of this by . . . announcing plans to hassle law-abiding U.S. passengers even more.
That is all that has “worked” in “the system”.
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