Secretary Napolitano says system worked – huh?

By: Steve Yuhas

As Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano was making the talk show rounds on Sunday to talk about the terrorist attack against the United States on Christmas she came out with a most curious tale: the “system worked” as it should have.

On Christmas Eve, 23-year-old Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, boarded Northwest Airlines Flight 253 in Amsterdam bound for Detroit, MI.  Stitched into his underwear was an explosive device that contained a powerful explosive – pentaerythritol (PETN).  He began his excursion in Nigeria with only a carry-on bag, no checked luggage, and without so much as secondary screening when he arrived in Amsterdam.

Napolitano went on to claim that investigators did not have sufficient information to keep the radical Islamist off of the U.S. bound aircraft.  The Secretary is apparently unaware that Abdulmutallab’s own father contacted the American embassy in Nigeria to report his own son’s radical views and the possible threat he posed to the United States.

If a father reporting on his son is not sufficient to raise red flags for flying in the United States one really has to wonder what it would take to keep a dangerous person off of an American flagged aircraft.

The only thing that worked on the flight was that after a 20-minute restroom visit and after passengers saw smoke and fire after hearing the pop pop pop coming from the terrorists seat was that passengers sprung into action to subdue the radicalized Nigerian.  Moreover it was luck – not luck that passengers acted; rather, lucky that the device, apparently the product of an al Qaeda bomb maker in Yemen, did not work the way it was intended.

Had the plan been successful we would have been looking at a Christmas Day tragedy and the first attack on U.S. soil since September 11, 2001.  There were 289 people on board the Detroit bound airplane and but for their courageous actions and a bomb that did not properly work they would not be here today.

Now come the questions.  Why wasn’t he stopped either in Nigeria or in Europe after his own father complained to the United States government that his own son was becoming radicalized?  Why did all of the terror watch lists that he appears on not automatically merge with the no-fly list?  Is the fact that aircraft still seem to be the target of choice for terrorists a fluke or is there something bigger planned and this was just another run-through?

So many questions and Congress will undoubtedly wade into the process of asking them.  Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) will hold hearings to find out what happened to the information after the initial report from the terrorists father in Nigeria.

What I would like to know is how can the Homeland Security Secretary say that the system worked when a bomb made it onto an American flagged airliner?

White House Press Secretary, Robert Gibbs, said that the terrorist was put on a 500,000-name watch list, but it did not make it onto the no fly list.  I suppose that will be another six month review, but in the meantime – how safe are we on U.S. airliners?

Now the airlines are beginning to act on their own: on some you will be prohibited from getting out of your seat the first and last hour of the flight.  Others are saying that you will not be permitted to have a blanket over yourself during that same period.  None of these things will stop a truly devoted terrorist from doing harm to a jetliner full of innocent people.

What needs to happen is something that we should have done a long time ago.  We need to adopt the Israeli method of security screening where highly trained personnel begin the screening process miles from the airport and everyone goes through screening that ranges from invasive personal interviews as well as using cutting edge technology to ensure the safety of the people flying on any aircraft out of or into Israel.

The politically correct screening process where random searches are done on the whim of the security agents in chare at the time at the airport are insufficient to detect a dedicated terrorist.  I cannot tell you how often I am subjected to secondary searches, but I sit and watch as a multitude of people who meet the description of terrorists simply remove their shoes and walk through the metal detector.

It takes longer for me to go through security in the United States than it ever did in Israel and yet I feel safer there than I do here.  It is time that we get it right and adopt a method of screening that targets the people who are more probable to be terrorists than those who are not.  Terrorists today are typically young Middle Eastern males.  They should all be subjected to increased scrutiny and the randomness kept for the rest of the people going through security.

Does that mean that only Arabs are terrorists?  Of course not, but we must do better than just searching random people or those whose name appears on the no-fly list.  As we saw this weekend you must have to do something pretty amazing to get on the no-fly list since not even a report from the father of a would-be terrorist was enough to keep Abdulmutallab off of a plane bound for the United States where dumb luck and the action of passengers are the only things that avoided catastrophe.

Steve Yuhas is a radio host in southern California on AM 600 KOGO (San Diego, Orange County, Los Angeles) and may be reached at or

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