January 8, 2010 by Chip Wood
We now know for certain what many of us have long suspected—airline security is the biggest boondoggle since Franklin Delano Roosevelt created the Works Progress Administration (WPA).
Millions of air travelers wanted to believe that all of the hassle, inconvenience and indignities of Transportation Security Administration (TSA) “inspections” were somehow making us safer. But one nutty Nigerian, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, has exposed the whole horrible fraud.
There were several aspects of the Christmas Day almost-explosion on that Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit that are almost beyond belief. The first is that the suicidal jihadist was allowed on the plane in the first place. After all, consider just a few of the clues our so-called “intelligence experts” had before Abdulmutallab boarded Northwest Flight 253.
He was a known associate of Muslim extremists. In fact, his father—a respected banker in Nigeria—had actually gone to the United States Embassy there to tell authorities that his son had become a dangerous radical. That warning alone should have been enough to put Umar on the “no fly” list for the rest of his life. But no.
Then, he shows up at the Amsterdam airport with no luggage, pays cash for a one-way ticket, and manages to get himself assigned to a seat right over a fuel tank in one of the wings. Nothing suspicious about any of that, is there?
Oh, and did I mention that Abdulmutallab was waved through security with 80 grams of PETN—a compound related to nitroglycerin—and other bomb materials sewn into his underwear? We’ve been told that the new screening devices are so sophisticated they can see through your undergarments and even tell the last time you clipped your toenails. But they didn’t see anything wrong with Umar.
If there was ever a textbook example of a terrorist who should have been stopped long before he got anywhere near an airplane, it was Umar. Yet there he sat, waiting for his plane to approach Detroit before he put a blanket over his lap and tried to detonate his bomb.
Fortunately for the 278 passengers and crew on Northwest flight 253, Umar’s buddies in al-Qaida screwed up. The detonator didn’t work properly. And instead of a massive explosion that took the plane down, smoke and fire erupted from Umar’s underpants. A couple of brave passengers helped subdue the would-be bomber. And when the plane landed safely in Detroit he was led away in handcuffs.
So then what happened? Well, first, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano made a total fool out of herself and her agency by going on television and bragging that “the system worked.” No, Janet, the system didn’t come close to working—something Barack Obama finally acknowledged.
But at first, even our President was silent about what went wrong. It took three days and a rising chorus of anger and disbelief before Obama interrupted his vacation in Hawaii to admit that “there had been a ‘systemic failure’ of the nation’s security apparatus.”
Since then, I have to admit, the President has spoken out much more forcefully and emphatically. But we’re all still waiting to hear about what changes will be made to make our people and our country safer.
For starters, how about increasing the scrutiny of young Muslim males known to have ties to jihadist extremists? It’s time to stop patting down 80-year-old grandmothers and other obvious innocents. Let’s put the focus on the most likely threats to our safety and security, not the most unlikely.
As we learn more about what almost happened the news just gets worse for the reputation of our so-called security experts. Did you know that when Umar applied for a visa to visit Britain authorities there turned him down flat? Wouldn’t it have been nice if U.S. authorities acted as decisively?
“Information was not shared…. Analysis was not pooled…. Often, the handoffs of information were lost across the divide separating the foreign and domestic agencies of government.”
An accurate assessment of the mistakes that almost permitted the Christmas bombing to succeed? Not quite. That is part of the summary by the 9/11 commission of what went wrong eight years ago.
Eight years, billions of dollars and untold man-hours later, we’re still making the same mistakes. Let’s be honest here: Airport security is one gigantic boondoggle. Is there anyone anywhere who actually believes that the demeaning inconvenience of airport security is actually making us any safer?
Before you raise your hand in the affirmative, please consider this: No airline employee—not a single pilot, flight attendant or even a mechanic—has to endure the same security procedures that you and I do. In many airports they have their own private entrances where all they need do is to flash some ID and, presto, they pass through their own private portal. I’ve been told that they never even have to take off their shoes.
How difficult would it be for a potential terrorist to steal or forge some airline ID? They’d be waved through security in a second, while some 80-year-old grandmother has her denture-cream checked. (We can’t be guilty of “profiling,” don’t you know.)
The TSA has given jobs to tens of thousands of people who would barely qualify to flip burgers at McDonald’s. And don’t some of them just love the authority they’ve been given to boss us around? Talk about creating several thousand petty tyrants.
Another issue that really rankles me is the millions of productive man-hours that are being lost every year, as we shuffle shoeless through lines that are longer, slower and far more degrading than anything you have to endure at Disney World.
Is there anything worse than being herded like sheep by people you probably would never hire at your office—all the while knowing that none of this is really making you any safer?
Yes. Worse than all of the individual indignities is the effect on us as a people. We are being conditioned to be docile and obedient, to never question authority, no matter how unreasonable or abusive it becomes. And that’s what frightens me the most.
Until next time, keep some powder dry. (But don’t say that out loud at an airport.)