Early reports about the failed Christmas bombing of NW 253 raise questions that need answers. Because, frankly, if the reports are true, al Qaeda never should have gotten this close to a successful attack.
1. According to early reports, the suspect is 23-year-old Abdul Farouk Abdulmutallab, and his name "appears to be included in the government's records of terrorist suspects, according to a preliminary review." The first question, then, is how he managed to get a visa to come to the United States.
2. One report suggested that the visa was granted to attend a religious meeting. Is there some political correctness problem that makes State reluctant to deny visas for such travel?
3. A visa might have been granted for a good reason (a chance to interrogate or arrest him) but only in circumstances where he was watched closely. At a minimum, data about him should have gone to DHS and FBI from State. Did it?
4. Even if it didn't, TSA and DHS should have identified him as a possible risk from his travel reservations. Did they? If not, why not?
5. If they did, was he screened specially at Schiphol? Did DHS put an air marshal on his flight?6. Sometimes travel reservation data is spotty and badly recorded, but that shouldn't be true for the passenger manifests that NW should have sent to DHS. Those should come straight off the passport. Did it? Should airlines be held liable for deaths caused by bad manifest information?
7. How good was the air travel screening in Nigeria?
8. If it wasn't that good, and I suspect it wasn't, in part because the plane was not bound for the US, did Schiphol fall down on the job by not properly rescreening Abdulmutallab?
9. Have we let European objections to US screening standards affect the security of flights with connecting passengers?
10. One passenger is said to have helped thwart the attack by climbing over several less active passengers to grapple with the terrorist, apparently suffering burns to his hands in the process. How long will it take Secretary Napolitano (at least) or President Obama (my preference) to visit this guy in the hospital if these facts turn out to be true? Passengers are the last and most effective line of defense in cases like this. But the incentives to sit tight are still great. We need to honor the heroes who react quickly to thwart attacks in the air.
Update: Many thanks to Instapundit, BigGovernment, and Volokh Conspiracy, among others, for the links. They've spurred some interesting comments, and one by hiscross about AQQ is important enough to generate an 11th question.
AQQ is a program in which passport downloads collected by the airline are supposed to be sent to DHS *before* the plane takes off. Under AQQ, the airline is also supposed to be able to receive a return message from DHS requiring that suspect passengers be removed from the plane.
(AQQ is also that most dreaded of government innovations, the recursive acronym, in which one acronym nestles comfortably inside another. Thus, AQQ stands for APIS Quick Query, which tells you nothing unless you know that APIS stands for Advance Passenger Information System. APIS was the earlier, slower, one-way version of AQQ.)
DHS made the AQQ requirement final more than a year ago, after a long testing period. But a number of US carriers have been stiffing DHS, refusing to comply with the regulation because, they say, they can't afford to upgrade their computer systems. They say they're waiting to see what upgrades they'll have to make for the TSA Secure Flight program, but I find it astonishing that a private regulated industry would simply declare that it won't comply with US law. When you do that, you have to expect consequences -- or be very lucky. As a result of airline noncompliance, it is hard for DHS to keep bad guys off planes, even if the bad guys have been identified from their passports. If Delta/NW falls into the carrier-scofflaw category, and that failure contributed to the incident, they are are, and should be, in trouble. In addition, I'm guessing, DHS will immediately begin fining the other carriers who have been rope-a-doping them.
So call it question 11: Was Delta/NW in compliance with US law when it boarded the Amsterdam flight?
I suspect we're going to find that this clown wasn't "with" Al Qaeda in any more than an fantasy sense. What's the govspeak phrase - "aspirational"?
Sure, getting an incendiary on the plane is no laughing matter, and there was a breakdown in the security somewhere. But the last thing we need is more freakouts over this, more theater, more pork to defend against the last attack.
Posted by: fishbane | Dec 26, 2009 at 12:10 AM
In general, they're all clowns -- until they succeed. The plot that hit the USS Cole started with a boat so loaded with explosives that it sank before it reached an American warship. While the clowns in charge of that operation went to get help, someone stole the outboard motor from their suicide vessel. What a bunch of bozos, we would all say if it had stopped there. A few months later, those bozos succeeded. The real threat from modern terrorism is that even clowns can kill dozens of people.
Posted by: Stewart Baker | Dec 26, 2009 at 08:25 AM
When was the last terrorist attack inside the U.S. that got this far?
Posted by: Porkov | Dec 26, 2009 at 09:08 AM
FYI, everyone is screened at Schipol airport before getting on a plane. There are metal detectors and xray machines at every gate. When you go to board a plane, you go through the security checkpoint at the gate and you wait in a small walled off area at the gate itself.
Posted by: Xmass | Dec 26, 2009 at 09:11 AM
PORKOV asked "When was the last terrorist attack inside the U.S. that got this far?"
How about November 5th of this year (a few weeks ago) when Fort Hood, Texas was shot up?
Posted by: Neddy | Dec 26, 2009 at 09:19 AM
Re question 9. Apparently Stewart Baker has not been through the security screening at Amsterdam. It is the most extensive in the world except for Israeli airport security. First, they have armed army personnel throughout the airport. Secondly they have the normal x-ray and metal screening stations. Then when you go to the gate, you have to be there 2 hours early to go through an additional level of screening that not only includes an additional x-ray and metal screening, they do individual interviews with each passenger obviously looking for tells that they have been trained to spot. The two hour requirement is to allow them time to remove luggage if they find someone they do not want to let on the plane.
Posted by: David | Dec 26, 2009 at 09:20 AM
Umar Farouk Abdulmuttalab got through security with an incendiary device attached to his leg. He was reportedly on a "watch list".
On our last flight, my 81-year old wife (not on a "watch list") had to take off her shoes, remove all keys and coins from her purse, and was subjected to a wand search. A tube of toothpaste was confiscated. We were told it was "routine".
Posted by: Gerry | Dec 26, 2009 at 09:25 AM
"Sure, getting an incendiary on the plane is no laughing matter, and there was a breakdown in the security somewhere. But the last thing we need is more freakouts over this, more theater, more pork to defend against the last attack."
You are right. What we really need is to de-politicize our defense iniatives and turn them into a serious force for our protection. When the current arrangement was created under the Bush administration, the price charged by the democrats in congress to obtain their co-operation was the assurance that their unions would be in charge of operations. Last night's performance was the payoff.
Posted by: willis | Dec 26, 2009 at 09:26 AM
Posted by: Chris | Dec 26, 2009 at 09:30 AM
"How long will it take Secretary Napolitano (at least) or President Obama (my preference) to visit this guy in the hospital if these facts turn out to be true?"
You got it all wrong. The correct statement should be: "How long will it take C.A.I.R. or some other Islamic group to sue the guy for a vioaltion of Umar's civil rights?"
Posted by: freuchie | Dec 26, 2009 at 09:33 AM
A better question to ask is when will the US Govt bring criminal charges against the passenger who got out of his seat to interfere with the passenger just doing his political/religious thing (just trying to blow up an airliner)?
Will this become a hate crime?
No good deed goes unpunished.
Posted by: FS Tate | Dec 26, 2009 at 09:33 AM
"A few months later, those bozos succeeded. The real threat from modern terrorism is that even clowns can kill dozens of people."
On a different point, who's to say that the passenger who crawled over several others to deal with the situation wasn't an air marshal. They don't fly in uniform, from what I know. Perhaps there's more to that angle of the story, as well.
Posted by: kcom | Dec 26, 2009 at 09:39 AM
It's not the devil makes these flying machines go, but despoiled strippers, so we seek unspoiled strippers by blowing planes up. We kill people to get virgin sex in heaven. Really. That's really what drives us. Virginity. It sounds odd to YOU, but we take it very seriously, at the Islamic Nut Company.
Posted by: NikFromNYC | Dec 26, 2009 at 09:39 AM
So, in what clever way will Obama makes this attack the fault of (what's his name again?) ah.. George W. Bush?
Posted by: Fderfler | Dec 26, 2009 at 09:48 AM
Let's get this straight...It is said this guy was travelling to US to attend a regigious event. Perhaps a Billy Graham retrospective rally at Madison Square Garden? No....Just another phoney Muslim holiday plucked from the Islamic calendar that is literally peppered with a plethora of phony holidays dreamed up by a phoney religion that is really a cult not a true religion. Meanwhile, little old American ladies have to endure humiliating searches of their medications and prosthetic devices. This creature apparently walked on the plane wired up like a Roman candle! Thanks Janet Napolitano for keeping us safe during Christmas....an actual religious holiday with real significance. Go back to your previous day job with the rest of this administration of criminals!
Posted by: S. Clinehens | Dec 26, 2009 at 10:08 AM
NikFromNYC - what's really going to piss them off is when they realize it's "Virginians" not Virgins...
As for Schipol, I don't think those boys fall down on anything where security is concerned - there is more to this story than we see now.
Posted by: TCNC | Dec 26, 2009 at 10:13 AM
At which London mosque did he worship?
It's time for America, Britain and Europe to start departing all radical Muslim clerics.
Posted by: PeterM | Dec 26, 2009 at 10:17 AM
The guy who climbed over several passengers should be charged with assault on his fellow passengers, interfering with the operation of an aircraft and a violation of the rights of the 'supposed' terrorist. It is common sense that if you are attacked that you give the attacker whatever they want because anything else could result in violence. Also, how quick were the various right wing blogs to label this guy a terrorist. For all we know he was making a political statement - so because the guy has a Muslim sounding name, he is a terrorist? Shame!
Also, why are people going all vigilante? Why didn't they leave this to the proper authorities to deal with? Everyone knows that if you don't call the police or appropriate government authorities, it can only go horribly, tragically wrong.
In case your sarcasmometers are set too low...
Some real advice for the collectivists, Obamists, touchy feely liberals from the greatest poet ever, Rudyard Kipling
We never pay any-one Dane-geld,
No matter how trifling the cost;
For the end of that game is oppression and shame,
And the nation that pays it is lost!"
Posted by: GW Crawford | Dec 26, 2009 at 10:20 AM
"The real threat from modern terrorism is that even clowns can kill dozens of people."
That's always been the threat. If you want to study clowns, there's no end of candidates among the leaders of the Third Reich and the Empire of Japan. Not to mention Stalin's regime.
The current lot differ only in that they don't have an industrial base.
Posted by: Texpatriate | Dec 26, 2009 at 10:30 AM
To paraphrase a saying I've seen elsewhere... "We have all the watches, but they have all the time." The price of appeasing fundamentalist Islam is eternal vigilance. What a world indeed.
Posted by: plane | Dec 26, 2009 at 10:35 AM
The problem started with SecTrans under Bush that wanted the screening to focus what got on airplanes and not who. This is the mistake. We need to reverse this and have a forced opt-in. If you want to fly we need to know who you are and where you have been and who you associate with.
Posted by: EconRob | Dec 26, 2009 at 10:37 AM
A better quesiton would be:
When will the US government realize that Hillary Clinton's State Department has been infiltrated by al Queda?
This man got a VISA because al Queda is on the inside.
Posted by: someguy | Dec 26, 2009 at 10:53 AM
So, this guy wasn't on the No-Fly List but he was on a terrorist watch list?
So, let me get this straight: You can be on a terrorist watch list and yet the US State Department will still give you a visa to travel to the United States to commit mayhem?
Is that what we're to make of this?
Fire these fucking bumbling idiots.
Posted by: wonderingjuvi | Dec 26, 2009 at 11:03 AM
So.. do I have to take my pants off to go through security now?
Posted by: sickofit | Dec 26, 2009 at 11:12 AM
The price of eternal vigilance is that we must get it right every time while they only need to get it right once.
Question: If this person went through the awesome security in Amsterdam how did the X-rays miss the materials taped to his inner thigh? The answer should be obvious.
Posted by: chemman | Dec 26, 2009 at 11:20 AM