This country is on alert now in a way it has not been for almost nine years. Between the attempted Christmas Day terrorist attack, the bombing of the CIA headquarters in Yemen, and near-daily airport scares, we have been forcefully reminded that a real war against terror continues to be waged here at home and abroad.
And even as I applaud Americans for not letting recent events unduly disrupt their lives and thereby giving the terrorists a minor victory, I remain deeply concerned about the current state of our homeland security.
Shortly after the incident on Northwest Flight 253, Homeland Security Chief Janet Napolitano first insisted that “the system worked” regarding the Christmas Day attempt. This particularly blatant act of defensive self-protection was such an obvious falsehood that Counterterrorism Czar John Brennan has had to go from news show to news show offering a retraction. This bumbling effort is not exactly the type of first response that Americans should expect from those tasked with protecting our country.
Indeed, as the days progress, we are beginning to see just how great a retraction was needed. American authorities knew, before he ever boarded that plane, that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had extremist views and received training from Al Qaeda. In an act of tremendous courage, Abdulmutallab’s own father apparently had reported him as a person of concern to the U.S. embassy and CIA station chief. Abdulmutallab was on a government watch list. He had been spending time in a country with known terrorist activity.
With proper communication between security and counterterrorism agencies and proper scrutiny, this young man would have been put on a high-priority list. At the airport, he would have been flagged, he would have been searched, and he would have been caught. Instead, it is only through the grace of God and the courage of a passenger that the lives of over 200 were saved this Christmas.
In Afghanistan, we were not so fortunate, and seven American operatives were killed.
We do not have to live in fear in order to be smart about the dangers. We do not have to be an international bully to rightfully assert our position and interests around the world. The Obama administration, however, cannot seem to get a handle on the wide middle ground between “fear-mongering” and cowering in submission.
In many ways, this Christmas Day attempt is a great opportunity for the president. With no loss of life, systemic and human errors were revealed and can now be fixed. And they must be fixed.
We need to move forward with a comprehensive strategy to connect our intelligence dots. We can already see that tremendous strides have been made since the disastrous intelligence failure of 9/11, but we learned two weeks ago that we have not come far enough. Whatever motivation or resources are required, we need to improve our intelligence and make full use of it, rather than letting cases like Abdulmutallab’s fall through the cracks.
It would be all too easily to blame this on poor screening at airports here and overseas, and to reactively devote all our energies to bigger and better checkpoint technologies. To some measure, some of these recommended upgrades may be appropriate. But the greatest challenge will be for the president to take a step back and look at the entire system with all its moving parts and streamline the process. In doing, he must act with the conviction that the threat is imminent and real.
It’s time to step up to the plate, Mr. President. You signed up for this job, and we can’t afford any more of your on-the-job training.