The Problem With the 'NFL'

No, not the National Football League — the "no-fly list."

Here's what you need to know about it: It doesn't work. No matter what the Obama administration claims, putting a name on the "NFL roster" doesn't mean an Islamic terrorist can't buy an airline ticket and get on a commercial airline flight.

The "NFL" didn't work on Christmas Day to stop Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the underpants bomber, from getting aboard a flight to Detroit while wearing his defective, home-made bomb. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano initially said the attempt to bring down a commercial airliner had been "foiled" and described the Nigerian terrorist as a "lone wolf" who "slipped through" the security net. None of that was true. President Obama refused to call the botched bombing an act of Islamic terror, but eventually acknowledged a "systemic failure" in airline security procedures and pledged immediate "repairs." They haven't worked.

Four months on, the "fixes" to the NFL didn't stop Faisal Shahzad, the Times Square bombing suspect, from paying cash for a one-way ticket to Pakistan, getting a boarding pass and taking a seat on an Emirates Airways flight at John F. Kennedy Airport, two days after his car bomb failed to detonate. In Iraq and Afghanistan our troops call these kinds of merciless weapons VBIEDs — vehicular-borne improvised explosive devices. They call the people who make them terrorists.

The morning after the Times Square VBIED was hauled away by the NYPD Bomb Squad, Napolitano called the then un-named perpetrator a "one off." Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., described him as a "lone wolf." Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., postulated that the Pakistani-born, naturalized-American bomb-builder was motivated by a cartoon show on television. New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg suggested the bomber was "a mentally deranged person" who "doesn't like the health care bill or something."

They were all wrong.

The O-Team, distracted by accusations they were slow responding to the Gulf Coast oil spill and flooding in Tennessee that killed scores and cost billions in property damage, was caught flatfooted. On May 3, while NYPD officers and FBI agents were racing to find the Times Square bomber, Obama promised, "We will do what's necessary to protect the American people, to determine who is behind this potentially deadly act and see that justice is done." As we have come to expect from this president, there was no mention of the attempted bombing being Islamist terror.

The first administration official to describe Shahzad as a terrorist was Attorney General Eric Holder. He used the terms "act of terrorism," "terrorist," "terrorist attack," "terrorist plot" eight times in the May 4 press conference announcing that Shahzad had been arrested. In keeping with O-Team policy, he made no mention of an Islamist connection, only a reference to "a constant threat from those who wish to do us harm simply because of our way of life."

Holder did credit the NYPD, FBI and Customs and Border Protection (CBP) for "doggedly" tracking the evidence that led to Shahzad's arrest. He and Obama also commended the street vendor who first reported the bomb-laden SUV smoldering in Times Square. But we now know Shahzad's name had been placed on the "NFL" more than 14 hours before he boarded his escape flight and that he managed to give FBI agents who were tailing him "the slip" between his home in Connecticut and JFK. He was caught minutes before take-off only because an alert CBP agent "double checked" the passenger manifest just minutes before Emirates Air Flight 202 took off.

The O-Team officials who initially dismissed Abdulmutallab and Shahzad as isolated threats are the same ones who refuse to acknowledge their links to radical Islam. These same officials are no doubt grateful that Islamist tutors failed to teach either terror-student how to make an effective detonator for their homemade bombs. But these are also the very bureaucrats who assured us that "passenger screening problems" would be solved after the attempted Christmas Day bombing. Now they tell us that "new procedures" requiring airlines to check their manifests against the "NFL" within two hours of take-off will fix things.

Don't believe it.

Holding airlines accountable for keeping terrorists from flying into, out of, or around the U.S. is dangerous. U.S. intelligence services aren't about to share sensitive information about suspects like Abdulmutallab or Shahzad with airline ticket agents nor will airlines run the risk of being sued for "profiling" their customers to keep potential terrorists out of the air. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was created to fulfill this mission — not just to run metal detectors, X-ray machines and hassle passengers at airport "security checkpoints."

TSA must be made fully responsible for determining who gets aboard a flight originating in or landing in the U.S. That's a tall order for an administration unable to figure out who our enemies really are while it prosecutes Navy SEALs like Matthew McCabe for "roughing up" an Islamic terrorist who murdered Americans.

We can only hope the O-Team gets it right before radical Islamists start making detonators that work.

— Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of "War Stories" on Fox News Channel and the author of "American Heroes."

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