If America’s homeland security policies were subject to truth-in-advertising laws, the "no-fly" list would be known around the world by its right and proper name: the "go-fly" list. As in: Go right ahead, jihadists, and fly our planes. All aboard, evil-doers.
While grandmas and grade-schoolers and war heroes patiently pass through a gauntlet of wands, checkpoints and screening obstacles, the nation’s safety watchdogs are asleep at the wheel. They’ve mentally checked out at the check-in counter. And they’re in over their heads at federal counterterrorism centers, where "watch list" means putting the names of dangerous operatives into massive databases — then idly watching potential bombers waltz through our airports and onto our tarmacs.
The federal no-fly scheme was bypassed or breached easily by both the Christmas Day bomb plotter and the Times Square bomb plotter. In the former case, Nigerian terror operative Umar Abdulmutallab had been on the counterterrorism radar screen for his radical jihadi threats (which had been reported by his father to U.S. embassy officials in London). But the young, single, rootless Muslim extremist with suspicious travel patterns — ding, ding, ding, ding, ding! — did not meet the standards for watch-listing and didn’t even make it onto the second-tier "selectee list" of potential threats who can fly only after additional screening.
By contrast, beleaguered 8-year-old Mikey Hicks of Clifton, N.J., still can’t get off the selectee list after years of ridiculous harassment while traveling on family vacations.
In the Times Square case, Team Obama immediately pointed fingers at the airline industry — and Emirates airlines, in particular — for failing to check no-fly list updates. The hindsight cops at the White House are now touting ex post facto rules mandating that the airlines check no-fly alerts every two hours instead of every 24 hours.
But law enforcement officials themselves neglected to contact all airlines directly and red-flag the addition of would-be Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad’s name to the government no-fly list. Moreover, despite paying cash for his trip to the Middle East and being listed on the Department of Homeland Security travel lookout list since 1999, Shahzad received no extra screening from the Transportation Security Administration (confirming once again the bureaucracy’s own inside joke that TSA stands for "Thousands Standing Around").
The tourism industry certainly shares blame for putting travel profits ahead of national security over the years. But in this case, it was only thanks to airline industry compliance with a post-9/11 procedure requiring plane officials to send passenger manifests to the Department of Homeland Security that the feds caught up with Shahzad (whom they had lost track of in Connecticut) before he jetted off to Dubai.
President Obama has had plenty of time to address the enforcement lapses, database loopholes and technological delays of his predecessor. After the Christmas Day bombing debacle, he pledged to be proactive: "We will not rest." But to this day, TSA still doesn’t check all domestic and international airline passenger manifests against the no-fly/go-fly list.
The data are only as good as the people entrusted to collect, process and use the information to protect national security. And without the ability to share and access the information across numerous agencies, the data are useless. Nearly nine years after Sept. 11, there is still no functional interoperability among an alphabet soup of national security and criminal databases — including NAILS, TECS, CLASS, VISAS VIPER, TUSCAN, TIPPIX, IBIS, CIS, APIS, SAVE, IDENT, DACS, AFIS, ENFORCE and the NCIC. The Senate raised questions about understaffed efforts to modernize some of these databases back in March. What are we waiting for? The next jihadi bombing attempt?
The warped priorities of the Obama White House imperil us all. A command-and-control government that squanders its time and our money taking over businesses it has no business running — health insurance, auto manufacturing, banking, student loans — is a government neglecting its most fundamental mandate: providing for the common defense.