Flight 253: The Failure of Counterterrorism

The chief lesson of the attempted jihad attack on Flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day is that our entire anti-terror strategy is a huge and abject failure. Of course, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano would beg to differ, as she has said that the stopping of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attempt to set off an explosive on the airplane showed that “the system worked” and “everything happened that should have.”

The “system worked”? So the “system” now involves hoping that other passengers will tackle the jihadist? After all, a passenger on Flight 253, Jasper Schuringa, subdued Abdulmutallab. The “system” now relies on all of the jihadis’ detonators failing, as did Abdulmutallab’s? Napolitano’s optimism was based on an appalling disconnect from reality that in saner times would result in her dismissal. Barack Obama, by contrast, would be more likely to issue her a commendation, if he weren’t too busy golfing and shooting hoops during his Hawaii vacation.

 

In contrast to Napolitano’s fantasies, Flight 253 revealed a massive failure not only of airline security procedures, but also of the larger strategy that America and the West has been pursuing against jihad terrorism.

As for airline security procedures, Abdulmutallab was able to get on the airplane without a passport, and with ingredients for an explosive that would have destroyed the plane and killed everyone in it. TSA officials are busy tightening security procedures with new Abdulmutallab-inspired rules such as forcing passengers to stay in their seats for the last hour of the flight, but these new measures will do nothing to prevent another attack. One thing we have seen over the years since 9/11 is that airport security is always one step behind the jihadists: after jihadist Richard Reid attempted to set off a bomb hidden in his shoes, we all have to take off our shoes and send them through security scanners. After a group of jihadists tried to sneak onto planes explosive chemicals hidden in drink bottles, we can’t carry drinks through airport security terminals. Because Abdulmutallab attempted his jihad attack just before the plane landed, now we can’t get up during the last hour of the flight. The one thing that the TSA should have learned, but hasn’t, is that next time the jihadists will do something else, not just repeat what they did before. And even if every passenger were given a full body cavity search, they will find some way to get around it. But attempt a new approach based on sensible profiling? The TSA would rather fold up shop altogether.

Flight 253 also shows that long-term anti-terror strategies have failed miserably. Abdulmutallab was a classic recipient of Western largesse designed to win over the loyalties of Muslims – he was educated at the British International School in Lome, Togo. Yet contact with solicitous and friendly non-Muslim Westerners obviously did nothing to quell his jihadist fervor. And the son of a rich man (who notified American authorities about his jihadist sentiments, to no avail), Abdulmutallab once again proves false the idea that poverty causes terrorism. The myriad aid programs that are based on this false assumption have done nothing to stop or even slow jihad terrorism, and they never will.

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab has told the FBI that there are more Muslims training in Yemen now for jihad attacks against American airplanes. British intelligence has confirmed that at least twenty-five Muslims from Britain are in Yemen for that purpose now. What will be the outcome if and when these men make their way onto an aircraft bound for the United States? If the DHS and Janet Napolitano were honest, they would admit that Flight 253 represents the crumbling of their entire anti-terror edifice, and set to work building a more effective model. For the failure of the existing strategy is colossal and far-reaching; until it is scrapped, nothing is more certain than that there will be many, many more incidents like the one on Flight 253. But instead of beginning the hard work that needs to be done now, Napolitano is congratulating herself – and the President is trying for a hole in one.