A headline about President Obama’s Speech on national security from the Philippine Inquirer notes:

Obama speech won’t bump ‘Lost’ premiere–White House 

Well, after a kerfuffle about the President “bumping” Charlie Brown’s Christmas Special, it’s nice to see that President Obama has his priorities intact. (I should note that Pope John Paul II rescheduled his installation ceremony so it wouldn’t interfere with a football match: so he is in good company).

Presumably, there will be a lot of finger pointing among the bureaucrats of Washington D.C.after Umar the Panty bomber was arrested, trying to pass the blame.

Alas, the result will probably be increased screening of little old ladies like comedienne Joan Rivers, whose passport stated that her married name as different from her stage name.  Must guard against Jewish grandmothers to prove you aren’t biased, you know.

Which is, of course, the problem.

The aim should be to stop potential terrorists from harming civilians.

Instead, if you are a bureaucrat, the aim is to obey the “rules” and protect yourself. In other words, the rules don’t mandate that you don’t use common sense. And since discrimination is a no-no, that means treating everyone as  a suspect. You aren’t supposed to profile  that nervous young man wearing a codpiece who has Yemen stamps on his passport and is on a “list of guys to watch out for because they hang around with terrorists” watch list, because profiling might go against his civil rights, and you might get reprimanded.

So who is responsible for saying “no”?

Not those who make terrorist watch lists.

An LATimes story showed that the Panty Bomber was indeed on a list of those connected with terrorism, but that the information didn’t get noticed in time to stop his boarding, so the border officials planned to question him on his arrival. The most chilling paragraph in the article:

“The public isn’t aware how many people are allowed to travel through the U.S., who are linked, who intersect with bad guys or alleged bad guys,” a national security official said.

Why not screen all those on the list? Well, with large extended families, a lot of us have connections with someone who is connected with terrorists, and might have met them. My connection is with FARC, via an adopted son’s half sister’s common law marriage. Am I on a list?  What about my son?

You see how complicated things can get.

What would be other reasons for extra careful screening? Travel history, for one.

Should a person whose passport has evidence of frequent travel to terror supporting countries be stopped, at least until he is extensively screened?

History of traveling to suspicious countries was probably the reason that war correspondent Michael Yon, just back from Afghanistan, got handcuffed and held when he arrived back in the US and refused to answer some personal questions.

Yet one wonders why Mr. Yon didn’t get a full screen and body check when he boarded the plane.

Didn’t anyone even bother to check Umar’s passport?  The VolockConspiracyBlog (a lawblog) asks:

Were pages ripped out or did Abdulmutallab have an electronic passport (Nigerian passports issued in the last year or so are electronic) that might have disclosed whether he had visited terrorist training grounds?

According to Abdulmutallab’s passport seized in Detroit, which countries had he visited? Was Abdulmutallab’s passport scanned in Nigeria? What was recorded at that time?

But that was not the only “red flag” that was missed.

No one questioned that he bought a one way ticket (which should have caused a “heads-up” since his visa was for visiting, and when my Filipino relatives visit the US, they have to show a round trip ticket).

Was this questioned by the one who sold the ticket, and was it questioned when he appeared at the gate? Did this action result in a “headsup” for more intensive scrutiny by airport security, or was it just overlooked?

Another missed “red flag”: he paid for the ticket in cash.

Why is that suspicious? False identity and credit card thefts are common, especially in the third world where fake ID’s and visas can be bought with a bribe. But high quality forgeries and stolen genuine passports are risky,  because they could be detected.In addition,  lot of those taking bribes to give out false ID’s also will be willing to make even more money by turning over the guy to the police for a reward. Then one wonders: Is someone is watching out for airplane tickets bought with stolen credit cards? Probably, which is why I suspect terrorists still use cash.

But are the ticket agents instructed on how to inspect passports of passengers who buy tickets for cash? Are such travelers routinely reported to airport security for full screening?

Are the very busy staff behind the ticket counter being held responsible for reporting about stamps on the passports, or do they figure the secondary checks at the gate will pick up irregularities? Or is that left to immigration control in countries that need exit visas?

When everyone is responsible, no one is responsible, especially if a false report leads to someone suing the company or reporting you to your superior. It’s easier to let the guy on the plane than to go against political correctness and cries that you are discriminating.

The final red flag  that was missed is obvious to cops but wouldn’t pass the PC test: Was he acting suspiciously?
Both the Millenium bomber and the Shoe bomber were picked up by ordinary security folks because they acted suspiciously. Unfortunately, despite extensive screening, the Shoe bomber was finally allowed to board a later flight, but the Millenium bomber was stopped.

Nowadays, both could sue for discrimination, as did the “Flying Imans”, whose suspicious behavior upset a lot of folks in Minneapolis.

So what would have happened if someone had decided that Mr. A needed a closer inspection?

The answer is that so far, airport security guards don’t pat down crotches, for obvious reasons.

Of course, a good “bomb sniffing” dog or machine would have caught him.

Ah, but call the ACLU: Dogs are “unclean” to Muslims, and then there is this problem:

“In America, it could be considered very intrusive to make you stand still while my dog went to your groin area and smelled it,” Beltz said.

The bad news is that crotch checking might not be enough. What about full body searches? One suicide bombing attempt on a Saudi prince tried putting explosives “in an area where the sun doesn’t shine” (to use a euphemism). Indeed, an episode last year at LAX, where wires were found hanging out an orifice may have been a “dry run” for a future bombing.

(Actually, there are technical reasons that make a Suppository bomb a probable dud. Think “falling on a granade” and you get the idea).

Luckily for the US, most of the “terrorists” used for suicide bombings are not top notch guys, but naive patsies used by Alqaeda to self destruct on cue, and even these brainwashed patsies tend to be so nervous that they can’t assemble the bombs correctly. There are exceptions, of course, such as that Jordanian double agent who killed several CIA agents last week.

So there you have it.

The Good News: The Rules Worked. Immigration people were informed he was on the watch list, so after he landed in Detroit tthey were planning to ask Umar what he planned to do in the US on vacation.

The Bad News: the watch lists are a joke, the red flags on ticketing were ignored, it is unclear if anyone is checking the passports for suspicious travel, and no one person in the many levels of passenger screening wanted to take the responsibility to say “no”.

When it is everyone’s responsibility, it ends up no one’s responsibility, especially if taking responsibility means you could lose your job or be sued.

As for simple profiling by race or religion won’t work: You need to connect the dots.

What is needed is a “cop” type way to figure out the bad guys, and then stop them. That means stopping the guys training these bozos.

There is a lot of anti terror work being done behind the scene. This includes dismantling their bank accounts, killing those who train them, making it impossible for the veterans to pass along their “combat” skills by chasing them out of the country, and eventually shutting down the (mainly Saudi funded) imans at mosques and their extremist schools by opening government run Islamic schools for poor kids.

But one important step that could stop future bombers is a small one: Encourage personnel at all levels of the airline business to report or even to stop suspicious passengers from flying, and pass a law that lets passengers, airline personnel, and airport employees to report suspicious behavior without fearing a lawsuit.

What about civil rights? Well, we docs can report all suspected cases of child abuse, and we can not be sued for doing so if we have a reason. Similarly, we need laws to protect airlines, their personnel and passengers from similar lawsuits.


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Her blog is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket.

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