No 'Systemic Failure'

Holman Jenkins and Spencer Ackerman defend the U.S. government's national security policies

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On Tuesday, President Obama called the failed terror attempt on Northwest Airlines flight 253 a "systemic failure" on the part of security agencies and U.S. intelligence. The remarks came after the administration received intense criticism for its response to the near disaster. But an unlikely pair has come forward to say the security system in place is not the incompetent bureaucracy pundits are making it out to be. Holman Jenkins, The Wall Street Journal's voice of free-market fundamentalism and hawkish foreign policy, and Spencer Ackerman, The Washington Independent's liberal national-security blogger, are in agreement.

In today's WSJ, Jenkins gives "Two Cheers for Airport Security":

Silly are the outrage and accusations simply because Mr. Abdulmutallab was on a list (along with 550,000 others about whom suspicions have been raised) without keeping him off a flight. Critics really seem to be saying that, politically, security personnel can't maintain any lists that are bigger or different from the no-fly list--which is ridiculous.

Let's be realistic--efficient counterterrorism requires the setting of priorities. There has to be more than one list. Yet the reaction to Farouk Abdulmutallab may soon mean there will be one list and eventually everybody will be on it and nobody will be able to fly.


The fact that terrorists are reduced to smuggling explosive materials on-board in their underwear, without the casings and detonators that make for an efficient explosion, is proof of our success in deterring them from even trying to board with a capable bomb...

Meanwhile, Spencer Ackerman defends the U.S. government's policy decisions:

The 'systemic failures' President Obama described in Hawaii today concerning how Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab got on Northwest Airlines Flight 253 are not intelligence failures. They're not failures to connect any dots. They're policy decisions. And to make matters much more complicated, they're based on some rather sound decisions...The U.S. embassy in Abuja, last month, got information from Abdulmutallab's father that the young man was a potential threat. Embassy officials put that information into a very large database called TIDE. As they were supposed to. But that information was insufficient, according to an agreed-upon interagency standard of 'specific derogatory information leading to reasonable suspicion,' to either revoke Abdulmutallab's visa or place him on the much-narrower no-fly list. Those are policy decisions.
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