The case of the alleged Christmas bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, is being called a massive intelligence failure. And the evidence thus far does suggest a possible lapse in the government’s management of terrorist watch lists.
But if so, the blame doesn’t lie wholly with government agencies charged with maintaining the lists. Some share of responsibility lies with civil libertarian extremists who have ceaselessly lambasted the entire no-fly system.
Maintaining a terrorist watch list is a highly complex task. The problem includes not only assembling a list of potential suspects but distributing the information on the list to visa offices, border checkpoints, cargo facilities and the like in a timely fashion. The correct spelling of foreign names, with all the variants arising from translation, is in itself a highly complicated endeavor. Criteria for inclusion of a subject on a watch list must be established. And then there is the difficulty of training agents, many of them with little understanding of the nuances of places such as Yemen and Nigeria, to operate the system.
News reports suggest that Abdulmutallab’s name was added to a government list of people with suspected ties to terrorism in November, after his father warned the American embassy in Lagos, Nigeria, that he had embraced Islamic extremism.