Barack Obama is right. The ability of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to board a plane to Detroit represents a “catastrophic” failure. But he is also wrong. The system did not fail. He did. He sent signals which led the people working in the system to fail. These people no longer worked for an anti terrorist warrier called George W. Bush but a cool, imperturbable Barack Obama whose primary enemy was “over reaction.” This is the conclusion I reached reading that the warning received in Nigeria was not buried in Nigeria. The opposite is true. It triggered a multi-agency meeting, the kind of meeting designed to insure that the dots are connected. WSJ reports:
. . . the father of Mr. Abdulmutallab met with the Central Intelligence Agency at the U.S. embassy in Abuja, Nigeria, Nov. 19, and told of his son’s likely radicalization, U.S. officials say. That led to a broader gathering of agencies the next day, including the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the State Department, in which the information was shared, a U.S. official said.
The speed with which the meeting was organized bodes well for the system. Those present represented agency which were already in possession of bits of information which when pulled together should have enabled them to act precipitously.
So why didn’t they? Because in this administration bureaucrats came to believe that acting was more dangerous to their careers than not acting. The Obama administration message was that the War on Terror was over. 9/11 was an aberration and so was the new legal structure built in its aftermath. Normalcy was not fought but courted. In a circumspect manner, former Homeland Security chief, Michael Chertoff, says precisely that (emphasis and comments mine):
For eight (Bush) years we frustrated plots because we spared no effort to examine and address any lead about a potential threat.But (things changed under Obama) as time passed, more people began to suffer from battle fatigue or to fall prey to historical revisionism.
Critics expressed concern that American security was showing an unfriendly face to the world, discouraging travel and tourism.
The airline industry balked at any measure that might cost time, money, or effort in the air travel process.
Civil libertarians and others stridently campaigned against stricter identification-document requirements, more accurate scanning equipment, and intelligence-driven behavioral-pattern analysis.
Spending money on shoring up failing industries crowded out the necessary sustained investment in deploying technology, hiring more air marshals, and building secure infrastructure.
The speed with which Abdulmutallab was Mirandized proved beyond the shadow of a doubt where the administration believes their priorities of their President lay. Not did Obama’s response disabuse them of their belief until yesterday.
British Telegraph blogger Tony Harnden wrote that Barack Obama gets an ‘F’ for protecting Americans. If such a failure would make his strive for a better grade in the future, than the Christmas near disaster would end up being a cheap “teaching moment” indeed.