The Los Angeles Times reports that U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials identified the Christmas Day underwear bomber while he was enroute from Amsterdam to Detroit. According to the article, the National Targeting Center in Washington came across the intelligence about Abdulmutallab “during an in-depth review of the [passenger] manifest after the plane was en route to Detroit.”
The State Department has not yet explained why Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab still had a valid U.S. visa after being listed in the agency’s own terror watch database. Despite his known association with extremist elements in Yemen, and his own father’s warnings to U.S. embassy officials that he had been radicalized by Islamic jihadists, Abdulmutallab was somehow still allowed to board the plane.
"There was enough information in the system to make the guy a selectee or a no-fly without hoping for Customs and Border Protection to detect it at the last minute," one official told the LA Times. So the first – and most important – line of security was breached.
Then screeners at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport – which allows the presence of U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents in an advisory capacity - failed to detect the presence of plastic explosives in his pants. So the second chance at preventing a terror attack was missed.
Once Abdulmutallab was on the plane, a federal air marshal could have subdued him in the air and foiled the plot. But the Transportation Security Administration didn’t have a federal air marshal on the flight, forfeiting a third opportunity to stop him.
Because there was no federal air marshal aboard the nine-hour flight, border officials decided to question Abdulmutallab when the plane landed. But that would have been way too late. Had the explosives ignited, Northwest Flight 253 would never have landed.
Nothing has changed since Richard Reid’s fumbling attempts to light the fuse on his shoe bomb aboard American Airlines Flight 63 from Paris to Miami in 2002. Hundreds of innocent people are alive today not because federal officials protected them, but because the weapons smuggled aboard the aircraft malfunctioned.
But relying on Al Qaeda’s bungling to save us from our own is not a confidence-inspiring strategy. Sooner or later, the terrorists will figure out how to make better bombs.