Commentary Magazine


RE: The No-Fly List Didn’t Work, Mr. Holder

After discovering that the federal no-fly list failed to keep Faisal Shahzad off a Dubai-bound commercial flight, there is only one thing to say: It’s becoming clear that the system that has been in place for years now is not sufficiently up to date to take full advantage of the information we collect and the knowledge we have.

Actually, that was said, word for word, by President Obama – back in December. He was talking about alleged Nigerian underwear bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who managed to board a Northwest flight bound for Detroit, despite intelligence agencies having long been aware of the threat he posed.

That “systemic failure” led to an immediate investigation of the no-fly-list system. That investigation led, four months later, to Faisal Shahzad seated in an upright position, cash-bought ticket in hand, and ready to take off after allegedly trying to set Times Square ablaze.

What did the December investigation produce? At the time, Bloomberg reported, “Obama directed intelligence agencies to collect all information in government files that could be related to the bombing attempt, the date it was collected and how it had been shared between different departments. He also requested the criteria used for placing people on terrorist watch lists.”

It sounds reassuringly presidential, doesn’t it? But somehow we’re still left with street vendors and New York City Police as our first line of defense. This administration is great with broad, visionary talk: the universal this, international that, and historic other. But the particulars are another story.  Whether it’s getting individual Gitmo detainees relocated, explaining health-care reform, or making sure that suspected terrorists don’t get on airplanes, Barack Obama, Eric Holder, and Janet Napolitano are hopelessly adrift. This is an administration so swept up in its own sense of destiny it’s simply not governing in the here and now.