Coping with terrorist Brainiacs

Another would-be terrorist, this time  a young man from Nigeria, joins with a number of others who, since 911, have been apprehended either planning or carrying out actions they apparently hoped would result in deaths of innocent Americans.  Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab tried to start a fire or ignite explosive chemicals sewn into his underpants while in a coach seat on a Delta Airlines passenger jet en route from Amsterdam to Detroit.  All he succeeded in burning was his leg, his trousers, a blanket he was using to cover up his bush league attempt at terrorism, and some other nearby flammable materials.

This most recent member of the Terrorist Brainiac Hall of Fame joins earlier inductee Richard Reid, who tried to ignite a “shoe bomb” with a pack of matches on a flight to the United States back in late 2001.  Other infamous members of this growing fraternity of would-be terrorists, none of whom can claim membership in MENSA, include Iyman Faris, the idiot who planned to take down the Brooklyn Bridge with an acetylene torch in 2003; and Jose Padilla, who supposedly planned to personally construct a “dirty bomb” to wreck havoc on a US city back in 2002, but against whom the federal government had so little evidence it eventually was forced to drop that charge and settle for something far less serious.

A couple of things are obvious from this latest thwarted terrorist action.  First, these guys are not rocket scientists.  Trying to discreetly mix two volatile chemical together in your underwear in just the right amount to cause an explosion, all the while sitting in a cramped coach-class airline seat under a blanket so you can’t see what you’re doing, is not a process someone of even average intelligence would chose to undertake.  Yet young Mr. Abdulmutullab apparently went to Yemen to be trained in the ways of terrorists, and this Rube Goldberg attempt at exploding an airliner was all he got for his money.  If he hasn’t already demanded a refund of whatever he paid for this “training,” he might want to do so. 

Second, while these terrorist wannabes must be taken seriously because occasionally they get lucky (sometimes with truly tragic consequences such as on Septermber 11, 2001), we must do a far better job of focusing on the basics of the intelligence business, and do so consistently.  The “basics” start with gathering good, accurate intelligence information from various sources and methods.  The process should continue by funneling that intelligence through a network of analysis and evaluation , and then properly and timely disseminating it to those who need it to both set policy and act on it.  In the Abdulmutallab incident, our terrorism defensive system apparently stopped at the first step — gathering the intelligence.  It became clear shortly after Abdulmutallab’s arrest that his name already had been flagged as at least a potential terrorist to both US and British authorities.  The fact that his name never made it to the persons who could have stopped him from boarding the US-flagged aircraft in Amsterdam, reveals an obvious flaw, if not a series of flaws, in our database of known and suspected terrorists. 

It’s not as if we don’t have an awful lot of names in the database — in fact, at some one million names the  problem is that the list is too large and unwieldy.  The list needs to be refined, revised, and updated.  Furthermore — and this will be made easier once the first step of refining and updating the terrorist watch list database is accomplished — a simple, direct and secure system of making sure the names on the list are directed into the hands of the appropriate persons within and outside government, has to be put in place.  This includes proper intelligence-sharing with other governments with which we work to ensure commercial air travel safety.  We’ve been working at sharing foreign intelligence with our allies and other trustworthy governments since World War Two ended; but apparently we haven’t mastered it yet.  This is unforgiveable. 

If, as seems obvious. it is determined that mistakes were made in this instance, heads should roll (though they rarely do).  If tough and quick disciplinary steps are taken, this would do more to sharpen our capabilities to execute a sound terrorist intelligence database plan better and quicker than appropriating millions of new dollars on fancy equipment.

Finally, let’s stop the knee-jerk measures our government implements after each thwarted incident.  Nothing signals to other would-be terrorists that they are accomplishing at least part of their goal, than seeing everyone from the president on down run around like the sky is falling because someone, somewhere got something past our security system.  This hysteria is made worse when the government then mandates new restrictions on airline passengers – measures such as requiring passengers to have a flight attendant accompany them to the on-board lavatory.  So long as we focus on such silliness instead of improving our intelligence and information communications systems, we’ll continue to have to deal with the likes of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.

57 comments Add your comment


December 31st, 2009
11:12 am

RE: OK lets think 2:05 pm

On blog after blog, I read about “8 years of Bush” or “8 years of Republican control”. As if Pres. Bush and the Republican party in Congress had total control over the country. These statements often reflect either ignorance or complete denial of the facts.

First, we know that Pres. Bush did not have Congressional support in the final two years of his 2nd term, as the 110th Congress was controlled by Democrats (233-202 in the House, and 49-49-2 in the Senate with Leiberman and Sanders as “independents” who mostly joined Democrats when they voted). Any bill which passed the 110th Congress had to have Democratic support, and especially had to have the support of Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Indeed, they passed two bills that Pres. Bush vetoed and who’s vetoes were subsequently overridden. (Water Resources Development Act of 2007 and Food and Energy Security Act of 2007 (the 2007 Farm Bill)).

But even when Republicans held majorities in Congress under Bush, as they did in the 107th-109th Congresses, the majorities were slim, and especially slim in the Senate (often an even split). Thus whenever a bill was approved in the Senate, it had to be done with support of something close to 20% of the Democrats in the Senate (assuming 100% Republican support, which was not at all guaranteed). In light of this, anything that passed the Congress did so with something of a bipartisan effort, since Democrats could block the Senate on any issue simply by withholding cloture votes as a bloc (or something remotely like a bloc). Instead we saw one of the most “Bushy” bills, the PATRIOT Act, passed 99-1 in the Senate and 357-66 in the House. On the other hand, another big Bush bill, the Medicare Modernization Act, passed 220-215 with 16 Democrats voting Yea in the House (and 25 Republicans voting Nay) and 54-44 in the Senate, with 11 Democrats supporting it and 9 Republicans opposed (i.e., nearly ¼ of the Democrats in the Senate voted for the bill). In perhaps the most telling vote, the Iraq war was started with strong Democratic support, according to Wikipedia: “Introduced in Congress on October 2, 2002 in conjunction with the Administration’s proposals, H.J.Res. 114 passed the House of Representatives on Thursday afternoon at 3:05 p.m. EDT on October 10, 2002 by a vote of 296-133, and passed the Senate after midnight early Friday morning at 12:50 a.m. EDT on October 11, 2002 by a vote of 77-23. It was signed into law as Pub.L. 107-243 by President Bush on October 16, 2002.” Eighty-two Democrats (40%) supported the action in the House and 29 Democrats (50%) in the Senate also supported the action. In fact, the Democrats+Jeffords(I-VT) as a bloc had a 51-49 majority in the Senate, yet they still passed the bill. Even the Bush tax cuts of 2003 could have been held up, but 2 Yeas from Democrats in the Senate counterbalanced 3 Nays by Republicans, leaving the final vote in Dick Cheney’s hands breaking the 50-50 tie.

It has been widely reported than Democrats in the Senate (esp. Barney Frank) blocked attempts by the Bush administration to reform and regulate the mortgage industry in the part of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Even though in the minority party, they could block items in committees and by withholding cloture, because the Senate was so evenly split.

In the end, nearly everything in the Bush years, other than executive orders and other policy matters (e.g. rules set by Cabinet Secs.) was done with some measure of Democratic support. In particular, since only Congress controls the purse strings, all the money spent under Bush was spent with Democratic votes in support. Had Democrats held their party line, the “Bush years” would have come out differently.


December 31st, 2009
11:27 am

RE: I know German December 30th, 2009 2:35pm

Millions vs. thousands…The 2008 election results were actually 66,882,230 to 58,343,671. So while true that’s not enough to win at the polls, when 3rd parties are included, more than 59 *million* people voted for someone other than Obama. Presumably a large portion of those people would still not vote for Obama, so your statement simply does not hold water.


December 31st, 2009
12:25 pm

Nothing will ever stop these terrorists until the US government stops killing their wives, children, relatives, fellow countrymen, and fellow muslims, just because they are not americans, have a leader that won’t bow down to our government, won’t cooperate with plans to steal their oil, or whatever the current motivation is behind our government’s criminal activities abroad.

You all refuse to read any real history of the US and its actions in the muslim world (and everywhere else too). We have been bloodthirsty war criminals since Teddy Roosevelt authorized the slaughter of innocent Phillipinos who just wanted independence back in the 1800’s. Maybe you think that we can do anything to anyone without consequences. How you can be so ignorant of something that should be totally obvious to you in your own personal life is beyond me (and tens of thousands who share my dismay). I certainly don’t agree that an eye for an eye is an appropriate response, but knowing what our government and our military, and our CIA have done in our name, it is certainly no shock to me that these events keep happening.

Just exactly what will it take to stop terrorism? Do we have to kill everyone in the middle east? Is that really what Jesus would suggest? Any what about everyone outside of the middle east that would find such action deplorable? Do we just kill everyone outside of North America? And what about those within our borders who would be outraged? Just snuff out the species? It should be obvious that this is the direction this argument takes us in.

If someone is angry at you for doing something you shouldn’t, doesn’t it make some sense to stop doing what you shouldn’t? Why can we not start there instead of coming up with new ways to violate the rights and freedoms of innocent travelers?

Ron Paul is called an isolationist because he wishes to see us pull our troops out of the middle east and every country around the globe and just carry out peaceful trade and travel with them. Yet the folks who support no arabs on planes, sactions against every nation we don’t like, trade restrictions, bans on travel, etc. are not called isolationists. Who is working to isolate the US from the rest of the world?

Are we talking about Utopia in bringing our troops home to defend america only? Of course not. But when every terrorist blames the unconstitutional, unlawful (by both american and international legal standards), and immoral actions of our government as their motivating factor for their attacks, we only show our arrogance and ignorance to believe that something else is their motivation.

Every government action benefits some company or individual financially. The purchase of all these expensive strip scanners will, just like all the monies that now flow to Hallibuton, Lockeed Martin, and everyone else in the Military-Industrial complex. We know what their motivation is in supporting more war and more violations of our individual liberties. What is your motivation – just fear as always?

Problem Solved....

December 31st, 2009
12:32 pm

Although it may be difficult for pansy PC liberals to deal with, if young muslim men from Africa and the Middle East were banned from flying, our terrorist troubles on American soil would be solved!


December 31st, 2009
1:54 pm

Problem Solved…Oh yes, and Timothy McVeigh flew into Oklahoma city. And there are no boats that come to our shores, and nobody can come to Canada and then cross the border, or the Mexican border, or come up from central america. Wake up man. Again, Ron Paul gets called an isolationist and then everyone else suggests surrounding us with a wall!

What is wrong with removing the motivation and see what happens? Lord knows we will have 10 times the number of troops in this country to provide defense. Just might work. Your plan is GUARANTEED to fail – but it makes a nice jingoistic sound bite so I am sure that plenty of folks reading these posts will get a stiffy from it.

Chris Broe

December 31st, 2009
3:05 pm

In case anyone is waiting for permission:



January 1st, 2010
6:38 pm

A good database server can find a name match in over a million names in less than one second. The search should be done not just when the ticket is sold but also when ID is presented for boarding. This would not inconveniece anyone, would have picked this person up and he would then be detained and searched. Another second we could have the entire history of this guy and his whole family.