Calling the Kettle Black

Sarah Beth Costello
January 16, 2010

On Christmas day, 2009,  the world came close to observing an airborne tragedy when Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab allegedly attempted to detonate a

The Nigerian bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who attempted to blow up Northwest Flight 253.

bomb while aboard a Northwest airliner en route to Detroit. The Nigerian claimed to have been trained in Yemen under the instruction of al Qaida. Had he succeeded in igniting the explosives he had harbored in his underwear; he would have obliterated the lives of himself and those on the aircraft in seconds.

Following the near attack, airports worldwide amped their security, delaying passengers and creating general chaos for people traveling during one of the busiest months of the year. Airport security doubled, and metropolitan airports, including Chicago’s O’Hare and Amsterdam’s Schiphol, made plans to install both human and computer screened full body scanners, which many claimed could have prevented the Nigerian from boarding Northwest flight 253.

The scanners are high-tech x-ray machines, capable of exposing areas beneath a passenger’s clothing and produce a detailed image of every scanned individual. The use of these scanners has ignited controversy from many who claim the x-ray images violate privacy. The high cost of these machines is also a concern. According to a Dec. 29 Reuter’s article, the scanners are 10 times more expensive than traditional metal detectors, which run for about $15,000.

Despite the push for body scanners, emerging evidence suggests the existence of intelligence that could have prevented the Abdulmutallab incident, had the U.S. intelligence community heeded the previous warnings.

“Two officials said the government had intelligence from Yemen before Friday that leaders of a branch of Al Qaeda were talking about ‘a Nigerian’ being prepared for a terrorist attack,” wrote Peter Baker and Carl Hulse of the New York Times in a Dec. 29 article.

In November, the Nigerian’s father contacted officials at the U.S. embassy in Abuja, Nigeria, voicing concerns for his son’s radicalism. Though a file existed with Abdulmutallab’s name, officials said they did not possess the evidence necessary for placing the Nigerian on the “no-fly” list.

Despite many signals, the Homeland Security threat level was not raised. The Nigerian flew from Lagos to Amsterdam. Though the Nigerian police force is riddled with corruption and counter terrorism methods are unstable at best, Abdulmutallab should never have been allowed to board Northwest Flight 253 when he arrived in Amsterdam, but he did and came disconcertingly close  to succeeding with heinous plot.

Adding to the frustration of many Americans was the claim made by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano’s that “the system worked,” despite the clear breach of security. The statement had many  anxious Americans questioning the Obama administration, and the actions taken toward countering terrorism.

The Nigerian hid a syringe detonator, explosives and powder in his underwear and was able to pass through security undetected.

Several days after the failed attack, Obama made a speech acknowledging that the incident could have been prevented had “critical information been shared.”

No amount of blame or what-ifs can change the past, and even expensive equipment will not always thwart the missions of our enemies. In the past few months, Americans have witnessed actions of violence from the brutal Fort Hood massacre to the Nigerian bombing incident. The question remains: what are we going to do about it?

Increasing security and spending millions of dollars might work in the short term, but the answer lies in intelligence and identification of our enemies. Obama has recently taken steps to improve intelligence operations and correct “systematic failures” that contributed to the Dec. 25 attack attempt. But “fixing” security methods will not obliterate the problem. In fact, sole dependence on intelligence and high tech gizmos could ignite a fire of trouble we cannot even imagine.

These are not just radicals or random trouble seekers; these attacks are conducted by terrorists. It is time to start calling the kettle black. Forget about political correctness and a fear of “jumping to conclusions.” Future protection of America will require Obama to step outside his comfort zone and take a stand against the enemy. Our safety depends on it.


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