Merge the 'Terror' Lists to Prevent the Next Attack

It would be satisfying — and manifestly just — for President Obama to fire Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.  She abjures the “politics of fear,” and prefers the term “man-caused disasters” to the word “terrorism.” And it was her risible reaction to the failed Christmas Day attack (“the system worked”) that redundantly proved her unfit for her job.  

And it would be satisfying — and equally justified — for Obama to remove Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair from his bureaucratic aerie.  Blair’s job — a layer of dysfunctional supervision over the entire intelligence community — is to ensure intelligence is gathered, analyzed and applied.  Which is obviously not being done.

But the problem is not just Napolitano or Blair. It’s their boss, and the costly bureaucratic maze that’s been created around airline security.  Obama wants to treat terrorists as civilian criminals. And we’ve burdened ourselves too much since 9-11.  It’s time to shift the burden.

On December 29, four days after Abdulmutallab’s attack, Obama labeled him an “isolated extremist.” And four days after that, Obama said that Abdulmutallab’s attack was, in reality, an al-Qaeda attack mounted from Yemen.  

The Obama administration is continuing on a path that will place more burdens on US air commerce rather than on those such as Abdulmutallab who will kill if they can and — even without conducting another attack — burden our economy with what is, in effect, a huge “al Queda tax.”

Since 9-11, we’ve degraded al-Qaeda’s ability to attack us, but not eliminated it.  Military action in many nations — and CIA paramilitary action — has reduced bin Laden’s personal abilities to command and control, and deprived his organization of the ability to move and communicate as it did before 9-11.  But as our protections evolve, so does the threat.  And we’ve managed to impose on ourselves a tax in cost and inconvenience that we pay every time we book an airline flight.

Billions have been spent on pass-through search machines, bag sniffers both electronic and four-legged, and the people to use them.  We have established “watch lists”, “no-fly lists” and other databases that supposedly enable our protectors to screen passengers more effectively.

We surrender our nail clippers and cigar cutters, take our shoes off and don’t carry liquids of more than three ounces — thanks to shoe bomber Richard Reid.  We remove our laptops from their cases and submit to pat-downs and searches of our carry-ons.  And for every blue-haired Norwegian grandma who gets a pat-down, a potential Richard Reid passes through security with no more than a worried glance.


There are huge problems behind the nearly-successful attack on Northwest flight 253.  Many of them are caused by the so-called “fixes” recommended by the 9-11 Commission, whose recommendations were taken as gospel despite their foreseeably negative consequences.  

Those problems can’t be fixed quickly.  As I have written many times since August 2004, there is a desperate need to repair the damage that has been done to the intelligence community ranging from the imposition of Blair’s bureaucracy (rather than forcing “jointness” on intelligence agencies like the Goldwater-Nichols bill forced on defense agencies) to the Obama-Pelosi-Holder war against it, which continues to this day.  

There will be decisions taken by Napolitano, Blair and the rest of the Obama administration in reaction to the Abdulmutallab attack.  They will promise better passenger screening, more airport searches and such, and spend billions more to accomplish it. Former Homeland Security Secretary Mike Chertoff (now a consultant to a body-screen manufacturer) is out flakking for billions more to be spent on imaging machines that can see through your clothing.

We can act more effectively and quickly without great disturbance to our air commerce, without adding to the nuisance and cost of air travel, to stop this sort of attack.  I’d be as enthusiastic as Chertoff about body-screening if it would give us a 90+% chance of stopping the next attack.  But it won’t.  The terrorists will simply change their methods to outwit the machines.  (In one memorable terrorist attack in Saudi Arabia, the bomber bore a large explosive suppository, causing his own and other’s deaths.)

We have to ask: why — more than eight years after 9-11 — can someone buy a one-way ticket for cash, check no luggage, be complained of possible “extremist” connections by his father and still climb aboard an airliner bound for America?  

Let’s stop burdening ourselves.  Let’s shift the burden — the costs as well as the inconvenience — to the bad guys.  We can do this with a series of trip-wire mechanisms that will deny anyone who fails any test the privilege of flying on an aircraft bound for the US from abroad, or on an American domestic flight.

We have the State Department’s “visa waiver” program which enables citizens from certain countries (UK, Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark and others) to travel to the US without a visa.  

The first thing to do is to end the visa waiver program.  The populations of many “waiver” nations — especially the UK, the Netherlands and Denmark — contain too many radical Muslims who pose a risk.  

(Is that statement a violation of Ireland’s new “anti-blasphemy” law, which prohibits statements that are “…insulting in relation to matters held sacred by any religion, thereby causing outrage among a substantial number of adherents of that religion”? If so, it merely proves the need to eliminate the “visa waiver” program. Political correctness can be deadly.)

We have the so-called “TIDE” list — the “Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment” — which gathers information about people who may be connected to terrorism.  It now reportedly has over 435,000 names on it, both US citizens and foreigners, and some information about why they may be dangerous.  And we have the “no-fly” list which supposedly lists those barred from US flights.

As one terrorism expert told me last weekend, “Terror lists, no-fly lists, suspect lists have simply got to be automated, merged, reviewed, and shared among local law enforcement, the intelligence community, and airlines.”

If Janet Napolitano or her boss were serious about protecting air travel, they’d set up a trip-wire mechanism that promotes people automatically from the “TIDE” list to the “no-fly list.”  

Anyone on the TIDE list who meets any one of these criteria should be – automatically and instantly – promoted to the “no-fly” list.  If you: (1) buy a ticket for cash; (2) check no luggage; (3) buy a one-way ticket; (4) have on your passport visits to nations in which terrorism is based  – Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and such; or (5) there is any report that you are connected to Islamic extremism – even one that is totally unsubstantiated such as Abdulmutallab’s father’s report – you should immediately be promoted to the “no-fly” list.  

Certainly, some innocent people will be inconvenienced, but attacks will be interdicted.  

Cancel the visa waiver program and set up the “promotion” mechanism using the suspect lists forthwith.  It will be far more effective, and cost billions less, than anything else we can do quickly.