After Failed Attack, What Next on Security and Terror?

After the foiled Christmas flight bombing, gauging the threat and finding the next steps for airport security and anti-terrorism

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The failed bombing of Northwest Airlines flight 253 by 23-year-old Nigerian Abdul Farouk Umar Abdulmutallab has drawn wide agreement on one thing: it was an attempted act of terrorism. Reports on the details vary, but an ABC News story is drawing particularly wide attention. ABC's Brian Ross reports that Abdulmutallab, formerly a college student in London, met with al-Qaeda officials in Yemen, who provided him with explosives similar to those used by 2001 "shoe bomber" Richard Reid. The attempt failed due to the explosives failing and a quick reaction from fellow passengers. But now, looking beyond this incident, what does it mean for terrorism and security in the U.S.? What are our next steps?

  • Emulate El Al's Airport Security  Hot Air's Ed Morrissey looks to the Israeli airline. "Once again, the reaction to a terrorist attack has been to penalize everyone else instead of getting serious about the actual threat.  The US should have started emulating El Al after 9/11, whose security screening uses expert analysis and questioning, as well as heightened scrutiny where it belongs." Morrissey dismisses TSA's approach -- "the multiplying of regulations for everyone just means that terrorists will get more creative" -- but praises El Al's strategy of questioning passengers.
  • Ignore AQ's 'Desperate Bid for Relevance'  Spencer Ackerman argues that the incident proves "its inability to inspire the Muslim world to rally under its banner." He notes that al-Qaeda has always used multiple, redundant attackers before but that this one acted alone. "The inescapable if preliminary conclusion: al-Qaeda can’t get enough dudes to join Abdulmutallab." He concludes, "[T]he most salient facts about this recent slew of attempted terrorist attacks is that they either failed outright or they didn’t kill many people. Combine that, as I did in that piece, with the growth in capability of U.S. intelligence and law enforcement since 9/11 and we have… a manageable threat."
  • Overhaul The 'No-Fly List'  Larisa Alexandrovna laments that the attacker wasn't on the "no-fly list," which she says has become ineffective and politicized. "Experts have long warned that by expanding the 'no-fly' list - which ballooned to over a million names under the Bush administration - to include highly unlikely suspects (such as journalists, babies, US Senators, etc.) undermines the very purpose of having such a list to begin with. Perhaps if Jim Moore could have been removed from the list (which Karl Rove is alleged to have put him on to begin with) a slot would have been available for Abdulmutallab."
  • Don't Add Useless Security Layers  James Joyner rolls his eyes. "We’re simply going to make people miserable for no apparent reason. There have been precisely three attempts over the last eight years to commit acts of terrorism aboard commercial aircraft. All of them clownishly inept and easily thwarted by the passengers. How many tens of thousands of flights have been incident free? And, yet, we’re going to make hundreds of thousands of people endure transcontinental flights without reading materials or the ability to use the restroom?"
  • Accept The Security Illusion  The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder writes, "In the U.S., we've chosen to emphasize the theatrical aspect of airline security -- screening areas, air marshals, lots of beeping noises, regular procedures, talk about 'random' searches and 'hidden' procedures -- over perfect target hardening. That's reasonable, because target hardening is beyond current technology, beyond current funding levels, and beyond our tolerance for inconvenience." He asks, "if secondary screening in Amsterdam and a validated watch list hit can't keep someone from trying to blow up an airplane, what can?"
  • Neither 'Panic' Nor 'Complaisance'  Juan Cole evaluates. "The incident points to lax security at airports like Abuja and Lagos as a problem for the international system. But it also underlines how difficult it has become for terrorists successfully to attack passenger airliners. Despite [Rep. Peter] King's characterization of Abd al-Mutallib's kit as 'sophisticated,' in fact the scheme strikes me as hare-brained and likely doomed from the beginning. No cause for complaisance here, but contrary to what rightwing politicians are saying, no cause for panic, either."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.