Commentary Magazine


Topic: senior-ranking counterterrorism officer

She’s Not the Real Problem

Janet Napolitano’s the “system worked” remark is going to go down as one of those memorably idiotic statements that for better or worse become forever associated with an official’s name. It will be up there with Dan Quayle’s spelling “potatoe” and Al Haig’s assertion that “I am in control here” (following the shooting of President Ronald Reagan). But of course, hers is worse, because it is more than a personal gaffe. It reveals a fundamental policy cluelessness and sense of denial that we have learned, unfortunately, permeates the entire Obama administration. (She subsequently has tried to say that her words were taken out of context and that, of course, the administration isn’t pleased with how the system worked, but as Tom Bevan rightly points out “Again, the DHS Secretary appears to believe the American public are a bunch of morons.”)

The notion that the “system worked” is being widely ridiculed. This report provides a sample:

“Security failed,” said Doron Bergerbest-Eilon, Israel’s senior-ranking counterterrorism officer from 1997 to 2000 and a former national regulator for aviation security. It is of little comfort that Abdulmutallab was stopped only after he allegedly failed to properly detonate the bomb, instead igniting a fire that alerted fellow passengers, Bergerbest-Eilon said.”The system repeatedly fails to prevent attacks and protect passengers when challenged,” he said, adding that, in the minds of security experts, “for all intents and purposes, Northwest Flight 253 exploded in midair.”

A Georgetown University terrorism  expert added, “This incident was a compound failure of both intelligence and physical security, leaving prevention to the last line of defense — the passengers themselves.” But the smartest observation comes from Ken Dunlap, security director of the International Air Transport Association: ”We’ve spent eight years looking for little scissors and toenail clippers. . . Perhaps the emphasis should be looking for bad people.” But that would entail being candid about who the “bad people” are. I would venture a guess that 90 percent of the public would agree with this sentiment:

Jacques Duchesneau, head of Canada’s Air Transport Security Authority from 2002 to 2008, and Bergerbest-Eilon said that instead of trying to push virtually all travelers through similar screening processes, authorities should improve and expand the use of intelligence and behavioral assessments to cull out those deemed to pose the greatest risk, and target improved technology to find them.

While such methods have been “wrongly perceived as racial profiling,” Bergerbest-Eilon said, “past events have taught us that we cannot rely on intelligence alone to thwart major terror attacks.”

Some are calling for Napolitano to resign. Granted that a randomly picked name from the phone book would probably be an improvement, but she is not the problem. The problem comes from the president and the perspective he has instilled in his entire administration. The Obami refuse to adopt a war mentality in the midst of a war on western civilization, and they eschew common-sense efforts to raise the alert on “bad people.” They insist that we treat those we catch after the fact as common criminals and that intelligence operatives behave like cops on the beat, ever-conscious of the legal peril they face if they ruffle the feathers of terrorists who may possess life-saving information. Unless Obama changes his perception and approach to terrorism, the American people may well demand, as Max points out, a more capable commander in chief to conduct the war against Islamic fanatics.

Janet Napolitano’s the “system worked” remark is going to go down as one of those memorably idiotic statements that for better or worse become forever associated with an official’s name. It will be up there with Dan Quayle’s spelling “potatoe” and Al Haig’s assertion that “I am in control here” (following the shooting of President Ronald Reagan). But of course, hers is worse, because it is more than a personal gaffe. It reveals a fundamental policy cluelessness and sense of denial that we have learned, unfortunately, permeates the entire Obama administration. (She subsequently has tried to say that her words were taken out of context and that, of course, the administration isn’t pleased with how the system worked, but as Tom Bevan rightly points out “Again, the DHS Secretary appears to believe the American public are a bunch of morons.”)

The notion that the “system worked” is being widely ridiculed. This report provides a sample:

“Security failed,” said Doron Bergerbest-Eilon, Israel’s senior-ranking counterterrorism officer from 1997 to 2000 and a former national regulator for aviation security. It is of little comfort that Abdulmutallab was stopped only after he allegedly failed to properly detonate the bomb, instead igniting a fire that alerted fellow passengers, Bergerbest-Eilon said.”The system repeatedly fails to prevent attacks and protect passengers when challenged,” he said, adding that, in the minds of security experts, “for all intents and purposes, Northwest Flight 253 exploded in midair.”

A Georgetown University terrorism  expert added, “This incident was a compound failure of both intelligence and physical security, leaving prevention to the last line of defense — the passengers themselves.” But the smartest observation comes from Ken Dunlap, security director of the International Air Transport Association: ”We’ve spent eight years looking for little scissors and toenail clippers. . . Perhaps the emphasis should be looking for bad people.” But that would entail being candid about who the “bad people” are. I would venture a guess that 90 percent of the public would agree with this sentiment:

Jacques Duchesneau, head of Canada’s Air Transport Security Authority from 2002 to 2008, and Bergerbest-Eilon said that instead of trying to push virtually all travelers through similar screening processes, authorities should improve and expand the use of intelligence and behavioral assessments to cull out those deemed to pose the greatest risk, and target improved technology to find them.

While such methods have been “wrongly perceived as racial profiling,” Bergerbest-Eilon said, “past events have taught us that we cannot rely on intelligence alone to thwart major terror attacks.”

Some are calling for Napolitano to resign. Granted that a randomly picked name from the phone book would probably be an improvement, but she is not the problem. The problem comes from the president and the perspective he has instilled in his entire administration. The Obami refuse to adopt a war mentality in the midst of a war on western civilization, and they eschew common-sense efforts to raise the alert on “bad people.” They insist that we treat those we catch after the fact as common criminals and that intelligence operatives behave like cops on the beat, ever-conscious of the legal peril they face if they ruffle the feathers of terrorists who may possess life-saving information. Unless Obama changes his perception and approach to terrorism, the American people may well demand, as Max points out, a more capable commander in chief to conduct the war against Islamic fanatics.

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