“Flight 253 and Counterterror’s Epic Fail” by Robert Spencer

An attempted jihad attack on Christmas Day has revealed that Americans are much more vulnerable to such attacks than most have believed – while government officials whistle in the dark. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the 23-year-old son of a wealthy Nigerian banker, tried to blow up Northwest Airlines Flight 253 just before it landed in Detroit. In response, Barack Obama chose not to cut short his golfing vacation in Hawaii; the White House announced that he would “likely” have something to say about this latest attempted jihad attack on U.S. soil “in the next few days.” Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano was ebullient, maintaining that “the system worked” and “everything happened that should have.”

Unless the “system” was consisted of relying on passengers to tackle jihadists (as Jasper Schuringa, the Dutch passenger on Flight 253, subdued Abdulmutallab), and trusting that jihadis’ detonators will malfunction (as did Abdulmutallab’s), Napolitano’s statement couldn’t possibly be farther from the truth. In reality, nothing worked. Nothing at all, both in terms of security procedures for individual air passengers, and in terms of the larger strategy for dealing with jihad terrorism.

All the stupid and humiliating airport security procedures, all the little baggies for toothpaste and shampoo, all the padding through the security scanner in stocking feet, didn’t work. Abdulmutallab was able to board the plane with the makings of a bomb that would have destroyed the aircraft and killed everyone in it. The Transportation Security Administration has scrambled since Christmas Day to stiffen security procedures, but its effort is foredoomed: jihadis study these procedures carefully, always searching for ways to circumvent them. And such ways exist, even if every passenger were subjected to a full body cavity search – bomb ingredients can be separated and combined mid-flight, or spirited onboard in ways as yet unimagined by the most visionary TSA official.

Abdulmutallib was also on a terror watch list, although that fact, and the fact that he had been known to anti-terror officials for several years, did not prevent him from boarding Flight 253 – showing that such lists and even official scrutiny are as useless as taking off your shoes in the airport security line. What’s more, the jihadi’s father warned American officials about his son, who was being watched already. And still nothing was done to keep him from boarding the plane.

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