The Obama Administration Mishandled the Flight 253 Incident
Some critics may say that hindsight is always perfect and any forethought is impossibly unpredictable without knowing all the facts. For starter, the security of a nation and her people should be a concern for all Americans regardless of their political leanings and stripes.
A quick review of the attempted bomber on Flight 253 incident and the ensuing events has led to more troubling questions than answers. The Obama administration's silence is not a sound strategy to "calm" the public, but instead reflects another disconcerting missed opportunity in leadership. The Office of the US Presidency is 24/7 even if the President wants to have a relaxing vacation, however deserving.
Customarily, the nation turns to its president whenever there is a national incident, however benign, to hear the Commander in Chief's assessments. Since the President is on vacation, the task is left to his Department of Homeland Security Secretary, Janet Napolitano to be the voice and face of the Obama administration.
Over the weekend, countless Americans watched and listened in dismay, as Secretary Janet Napolitano declared in an oddly jubilant manner that “the system worked.” The “system” as Ms. Napolitano referred to, in fact, did not work because it took average citizens and a foreign visitor to subdue successfully, a would-be bomber in the Airbus 330 jet. None was working for the Department of Homeland Security at the time.
It was disturbing enough that the Secretary claimed credits for all the things that went right, but that she was steadfastly dismissive of the warning signs of the terror suspect. She stuck to her position even when challenged by journalists who asked her why her department did not put this terror suspect on a no-fly list?
At a glance, the signs were enough to be deduced by any person: Mr. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was traveling on a one-way ticket paid in cash, without any luggage, the British authority had already rejected his visa application, the suspect’s father, Dr. Alhaji Umaru Mutallab had expressed concerns to the US Embassy in Lagos, Nigeria about his son’s potential terrorist activities, and the suspect's name appears on the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment (TIDE).
The older Mutallab, as at the time of filing this report, had just left his Katsina hometown for Abuja to speak with security agencies, family sources say. According to the family members, Mutallab has been uncomfortable with the boy's extreme religious views and had six months ago reported his activities to United States' Embassy, Abuja and Nigerian security agencies.
In fairness, it took Secretary Napolitano a full day to realize her follies after the public railed against the nonsensical phrase, "the system worked." The President also came out of seclusion to talk to the public, which by then, had already read and heard from a plethora of domestic and international news available in prints, online, and television.
Evidently, the administration including Ms. Napolitano did not consider any of the above-mentioned signs as significant enough to warrant any meaningful concern or measure to stop Mr. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab from boarding the plane in Amsterdam.
Ms. Napolitano insisted that there weren't any valid reason to update the Terrorist Screening Data Base (TSDB) based on the TIDE list. In this advanced technological age, the process of data analysis and updating should take minimal manpower, time, and effort.
Further, it appeared that the US Embassy in Lagos did not communicate with its London colleagues since the latter issued a multiple-entry visa to Mr. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. A flagging or revocation of his US visa entry would have been helpful.
To date, neither the US Embassy in London nor US Embassy in Lagos has provided any explanation. The US State Department has not issued any statement concerning an investigation to this glaring lack of communication between its two embassies.
The public does not expect the US Homeland Security Secretary to be well versed in the ramifications of Al Qaeda's fluid international operations and favored locations such as Yemen, Somalia, and Sudan. The public, however, does expect the Homeland Security Secretary to be a well-informed representative of the US government in the absence of the President.
Further, the public does not need to hear the White House Press Secretary Gibbs saying that the President is "on top of things" and recounting the number of security briefs and video conference calls. That is to be expected as part of the job, just as the public also expects the office of the presidency and administrative branches to function without whining about the responsibilities and hard work.
It is hoped, with due respect, that once the President is reinvigorated from his vacation, he will be a tad more nimble to handle arising problem(s) and better prepared to reassure the American public on a timely manner.
Silence was not a satisfactory response to the public who voted the President into office.
Note: Some of other NP posts related to Flight 253 incident were hyperlinked in this Op-Ed.
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