What the Near-Tragedy in Detroit Revealed by Dr.Daniel Pipes
December 28, 2009
The near-success of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, to set off an explosive on Christmas Day should open the American public's eyes to the sad state of counterterrorism eight years after 9/11.
Subsequent investigations learned that the plot was organized and launched by Al-Qaeda leaders in Yemen, who arranged for 80 grams of PETN (pentaerythritol) to be sewn in Abdulmutallab's underwear. Investigators concluded that only a chance malfunction prevented the explosives from bringing down the Northwest plane.
Umar Farouk's father, Umaru Abdulmutallab, former chairman of the First Bank of Nigeria and one of his country's most prominent businessmen, recently went to the U.S. embassy in Abuja to warn about his son's "radicalization and associations," prompting American officialdom to place the son on a terror watch list of about 550,000 names, the Terrorist Screening Data Base.
Despite these multiple failures, Janet Napolitano, the Department of Homeland Security secretary, astonishingly claimed that the system "worked really very, very smoothly" in Detroit. This institutional myopia increases my worries about U.S. law enforcement. Of course, had the system worked, Abdulmutallab would never have entered the airplane, much less set off an explosive device.
Looking ahead, the Transportation Security Administration has issued an emergency order requiring travelers headed for the United States to undergo a "thorough pat-down" at the boarding gate, with a focus on the upper legs and torso and a secondary inspection of carry-on baggage. During the final hour on all U.S. flights, passengers must remain seated, may not access carry-on baggage or keep personal item in their laps.
More delights may follow, reports the New York Times: "Overseas passengers will be restricted to only one carry-on item aboard the plane. … On one flight, from Newark Airport, flight attendants kept cabin lights on for the entire trip instead of dimming them for takeoff and landing. … In effect, the restrictions mean that passengers on flights of 90 minutes or less would most likely not be able to leave their seats at all."
As Phyllis Chesler plaintively asks, "Are we all going to be subjected to underwear checks before boarding our flights? If so, Al-Qaeda will soon secrete explosives in body cavities. Will we all be searched there as well?"
In other words, because U.S. security agencies refuse to take the sensible precaution of concentrating their resources on the small target pool of suspects, namely Muslims, about 1 percent of the population, hundreds of millions of passengers must bear the burden of extra cost, inconvenience, and loss of privacy.
The Detroit episode renders invalid several aphorisms I honed over recent years:
The Northwest incident takes me back to 9/11 itself, when I wrote a bitter analysis how the U.S. government had "grievously failed in its topmost duty to protect American citizens from harm." That failure continues.
What size disaster must occur to inspire a serious approach to counterterrorism?