Aviation security failed to prevent Christmas Day attack

The Christmas Day attempt to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight over Detroit has shown exactly how ineffective most of the post-September 11 security measures have been in providing actual security, even as passengers flying in its aftermath experience even more stringent security theater.

“The system has worked really very, very smoothly over the course of the past several days,” Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano said Sunday in media interviews. “In many ways, this system has worked.”

Today she backed off of those assertions. “Our system did not work in this instance,” she told NBC. “No one is happy with that.”

Now that many of the details of what took place have emerged, we can see exactly how this so-called security failed.

Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab, 23, of Nigeria, attempted to detonate a powerful explosive sewn into his underwear while on Northwest Airlines flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit as the flight was preparing to land Christmas Day. His chemical detonator failed to set off the explosive, and the passengers and flight crew put out the fire and restrained him.

It is currently believed that AbdulMutallab was radicalized while at university in London. He is alleged to have traveled to Yemen earlier this year for terrorist training, and at the time told his family that he was cutting off all ties with them. In recent years Yemen has emerged as a terrorist hotbed which its government has been unable to control, leading the United States to lend military assistance.

At the time, his parents reported his behavior to the U.S. embassy in Lagos, Nigeria, and he was placed in the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment database, which contains pretty much everything the U.S. knows about known or suspected terrorists. Much of the information in the database is incomplete and inaccurate. Despite the fact that AbdulMutallab had a valid U.S. visa, which should have caused his information to be forwarded to the Terrorist Screening Center for possible inclusion in the selectee list or no-fly list, this did not take place.

Schiphol Plaza by Shirley de Jong; CC BY-SA 2.5

On Christmas Eve, AbdulMutallab returned to Lagos and bought a ticket to Detroit via Amsterdam. The Homeland Security database gave him the green light to fly.

It’s long been known that current airport security measures are woefully incapable of stopping a determined attacker from bringing explosives through security and onto a plane.

And the heightened security measures in effect for the last few days, while they might or might not have stopped this particular attack, are much like closing the barn door after the horse gets out.

The only two things that have actually improved aviation security, says security expert Bruce Schneier, are reinforced cockpit doors and passengers who resist attempted attacks. “This week, the second one worked over Detroit,” he wrote.

None of the security measures that actually work require the massive Homeland Security bureaucracy, the nearly irreversible loss of privacy and freedom, the misidentification of thousands of innocent Americans as potential terrorists, or even taking off your shoes.

The biggest failure of all, of course, is the one nobody is talking about: the U.S. foreign policy of interfering in the Middle East and manufacturing terrorists out of thin air by making enemies of ordinary people. Until the U.S. changes its foreign policy, expect more terrorist attacks.

Given the fact that most of the many layers of “security” the government provides are ineffective, useless, or just simple security theater, it’s going to be up to the rest of us to provide for our own security, as best we can.

[“Schiphol Plaza” photo by Shirley de Jong; CC BY-SA 2.5]

One thought on “Aviation security failed to prevent Christmas Day attack

  • January 14, 2010 at 6:59 pm

    Actually, Michael, the West has had an uneasy relationship with Muslims for a very long time.

    To illustrate this, you might pick up a copy of The Song of Roland.

    You might also do well to remember the Crusades.

    The United States might have had something of a pass for a while, but it was kind of a minor country until shortly after WWII.

    But, not all the blame belongs to western civilization. Muslims themselves have a terrible way of getting along with others. A good study of the practice of zoroastrianism in Iran’s history would show you exactly how Muslims would treat all religions given their preferences.

    I believe Islam is an invasion force masked as a religion.

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