Washington, D.C. – Thank God for wardrobe malfunctions.
On December 22, 2001, Richard Reid, failed in an attempt to blow up American Airlines Flight 63 using 50 grams of the explosive PETN and became known as "the shoe-bomber." Since then we have all had to remove our footwear prior to boarding commercial aircraft bound for U.S. airports.
On Christmas Day, eight years later, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, wearing a bomb made from 80 grams of the same explosive, attempted to bring down Northwest Flight 253 enroute from Amsterdam to Detroit. Had this 23-year old Nigerian-born, Yemini-trained, Al Qaeda terrorist succeeded, he might have revived Detroit's economy through casket sales alone. He hid the device in his crotch and is now infamous as "the underpants bomber." One can only imagine what items of clothing we will have to remove in order to fly in the future.
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A day after the attempted murder of 288 passengers and crewmembers in the skies over Michigan, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano claimed Mr. Abdulmutallab failed because "when it came right down to it, the system worked." Two days later, Napolitano apparently received new "guidance" from the vacation White House in Hawaii.
On December 28, Napolitano reversed course and said, "Our system did not work in this instance" and added, "an extensive review is underway." She has yet to recant her bald assertion that there is "no indication" the incident is connected to a "larger plot." This is of course the same secretary of homeland security who warned us in April last year that the "greatest threat to U.S. security" is from "right-wing extremists" and "disgruntled military veterans."
After three days of silence and scores of finger-pointing leaks about how an individual known to U.S. intelligence services and already on a "terror watch list" could board a commercial airliner with a bomb in his pants, President Obama roused himself to comment on the matter. Though his administration previously barred using the term "War on Terror," the president referred to the incident as an "attempted act of terrorism" and claimed, "The United States will do more than simply strengthen our defenses." He also acknowledged that "there was a mix of human and systemic failures that contributed to this potential catastrophic breach of security."
Unfortunately, neither President Obama's nor Secretary Napolitano's words are particularly reassuring. Both refer to "systems" as though they can "fix it." But the "system" for securing commercial aviation isn't broken; it doesn't exist and radical Islamic terrorists know it.
U.S. civil aviation has been the Islamic radical/jihadist weapon of choice since the 1980s. Efforts by successive administrations to put defensive security measures in place — from air marshals to government-employee airport screeners to high-tech passenger and baggage scanning equipment — have been marginally effective at best. Changes in intelligence policies and procedures and the creation of whole new bureaucracies ostensibly devoted to sharing "threat-warnings," have proven to be anything but fool-proof. Inevitably, solutions to the problem come down to "how much does it cost?" and "is it too intrusive?"
The technology to detect explosive residue has been around for decades. A safe apparatus that can see through clothing has been available for nearly as long. Trained operators using either of these devices could have prevented Abdulmutallab from boarding Flight 253. On December 30, Dutch authorities announced that such equipment will be used to screen all passengers heading for U.S. airports. Apparently, objections raised by the American Civil Liberties Union don't carry as much weight in The Hague as they do in Washington.
The Obama administration — wedded to "Rule One: Never allow a crisis to go to waste" — will undoubtedly find a way to undertake major "reforms" in the "system." These "repairs" will most certainly be expensive. But there is one "fix" that that will actually save money and very likely American lives: Halt transfers of Guantanamo detainees to Yemen, where Abdulmutallab was apparently trained by Al Qaeda operatives on how to use the bomb he carried aboard Flight 253.
The day after the abortive attack, Abu Bakr al-Qirbi, Yemen's foreign minister said Al Qaeda in his country may be planning more "attacks like the one we have just had in Detroit" and pleaded for help "to expand our counterterrorism units." Instead, the Obama administration has been sending Gitmo detainees to Yemen.
Since October 1, 2009, Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., has written six official letters to the White House, demanding that the administration cease sending detainees from Guantanamo to Yemen. In his December 29 missive, Congressman Wolf notes the connections among known Al Qaeda operatives; terrorist detainees released in Yemen; the accused Ford Hood killer, Major Nidal Hasan; and now, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. Wolf concludes his letter, "Please stop these releases."
It's smart, timely advice, far better than Obama receives from Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano. She should be sent to Yemen.
— Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of "War Stories" on Fox News Channel and the author of "American Heroes."