Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab joins names that will go down in infamy both foreign and domestic; he joins the likes of shoe bomber Richard Reid, Mohamed Atta, 9/11 master mind, as he hid explosives in his underwear planning to take down a Delta airliner Christmas day. As more is uncovered about this terrorist and how he managed to get so close to his goal of bringing down a plane, the government seems to be on spin control. Homeland security secretary Janet Nipaulitano on multiple media outlets saying the system worked, while others declared this a victory, in that this young man did not succeed. At the same time security analysts everywhere call this an abject failure on every level, yet another failure to connect the dots, just like 9/11. This terrorist was not only able to board a plane with explosives but that occurred after his own father, a wealthy Nigerian, contacted the American embassy there to warn of his sons radical views, he was then put on a watch list, however not the no flay list. He kept his US visa, part of the reason he was allowed in Yemen, even after British authorities revoked his passport, thanks to their own watch lists. Other things that should have caught the airlines eye, he paid for his ticket with cash in the amount of $3,000 and had no luggage. Even with or without all this information he still managed to walk through airport security in not one place but three places worldwide with explosives.
President Obama has ordered a full review of both security and watch list procedures; simultaneously emergency rules were put into place for flyers including searching every carry on by hand, pat downs of every person not just those with red flags in their carry on. Some of the immediate restrictions now left up to the specific airline and pilot included no in flight map, the one hour rule for using the restroom and removing pillows and blankets from your lap. Most security experts think these latest measures will do little to prevent possible further attacks, as airports across the country lack the technology to detect terrorists’ attempts to smuggle things onboard. They point to the absence of explosive sniffing dogs and the somewhat controversial full body scanners, along with adequate screening of names on various watch lists. Too many think it is business as usual in the White House as far as handling homeland security.
Regardless of the failures in communication when it came to Mr. Mutallab’s background, regardless of whether he was on a watch list or the no fly list, that is not where the most serious of breakdowns occurred; the most serious of breakdowns was in the multiple airports themselves. Despite Yemen being a suspected safe haven for Al Qaeda, questions still remain; what happened in Amsterdam? Why weren’t the explosives detected before he ever reached US soil, and what happened when he attempted to board a US plane? Why didn’t the possible warning signs put at least US airport security on alert paying for his ticket in cash, no luggage, should have at least merited a pat down. However there are debates that it would not have detected the PETN explosive used nor would a medal detector. But he did not encounter anything, according to reports, other than a basic medal detector.
This latest terror plot leaving many wondering, where is the security? Some officials ponder if we will have to resort to ethnic, racial profiling to catch these people before they act. Yet it appears we don’t need that kind of profiling as much we need explosive sniffing dogs, that almost certainly would have found the small amount of explosive used in this case, and full body scanners; people need to know that the latter isn’t going to be a naked picture someone could post on You Tube, that airport security will not be able to connect your face with things unique to your body and the images will not be put in the public view while scanning. In the meantime we should be doing pat downs of every person before boarding a plane, we should be searching every carry on by hand or with some kind of scanning device; the puzzle is why we haven’t been in a post 9/11 world. Why weren’t airlines pushed to get both full body scanners and explosive sniffing dogs once it recovered its financial losses caused by the post 9/11 slump in ticket sales; why were they not persuaded or forced by law to use some of the profits in the intervening years between then and now to fortify safety?
What is truly appalling is how long various officials have known about major gaps in security. Not only have most of the 9/11 commissions recommendations not been followed, but a 60 Minutes special detailed an undercover investigation in which parts to explosives made it past security without raising so much as an eyebrow. An Al Qaeda video surfaces on the news in which one cell leader brags they have taken a trick from the American drug trade and had an operative hide explosives and a detonator in his rectum. And the whole time security remains the same; in fact, TSA guidelines were leaked onto the internet. What is particularly shocking is this rectal explosive was visible with only a simple X-ray; if we can’t get full body scanners maybe we should try for X- ray machines. Privacy concerns and a fear of dogs has been sited as reasons why the technology is not present; however if people are that self conscious about their breast implants and body piercings, then perhaps they shouldn’t get on a plane. Don’t get unorthodox body piercings or simply remove them before flying. Same thing if you are that afraid of dogs, don’t fly. Although people need to be made aware that these dogs are trained, they do not bite; depending on type of training, they may not bark upon finding something simply whimper and dance around.
The other astounding thing is Janet Nipaulitano cheering on the system when it failed so egregiously; she has since amended her statement saying she meant the system worked after the fact. But we don’t need the system to work after the fact; if it weren’t for some alert passengers and the quick thinking flight crew, there would have been a massacre of nearly 300 people. Apparently information provided by the father of the terrorist on his son sat on a desk and was not distributed; if officials were not going to revoke his visa, were not going to put him on the no fly list, his name and picture, or at least a description, should have been given to airports nation wide. Then when he came through airport security, having a picture or a description, he is looked for, monitored for suspicious behavior, he is subject to the same explosive sniffing dogs and/or body scanner everyone else is and one or the other detects the explosive, he goes off to jail. That’s how the system is supposed to work.
We don’t need to profile people by ethnicity, we don’t need to increase hostility by following the Israeli model and creating the “flying while Muslim” sentiment; we need to get real about security. That means officials and the public get used to full body scanners and explosive sniffing dogs; the upside of which is no overly touchy feely security personnel and time saved not having to remove your shoes, along with your keys and belt buckles. It means both the public and lawmakers are informed that the scans, while more detailed than an X ray, do not show facial features or other identifying bodily features; they are more like an MRI and are there to protect people from the dangers we see on the news. These measures only become an inconvenience to terrorists, and the line of ordinary people trying to simply go home, go on a business trip, or see family goes on. It means either linking the databases of watch lists so that when names are scanned, they are flagged as on a watch list and subject to further scrutiny, such as the linty of questions one passenger was asked about her destination and mother’s maiden name, or making all persons on a watch list unable to fly in the US. Security that has been recommended, should already be in place and if not put into action will only lead to more needless loss of life. How many near misses are we going to have before something tragic happens; how many people have to die before the lessons start to sink in?