Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano finally admitted today what she should have said yesterday — that the “system” failed to prevent a 23-year-old Nigerian man from trying to blow up a Northwest Airlines jet as it prepared to land in Detroit on Christmas Day.
Napolitano’s remark Sunday on CNN that “the system worked” came off as another tin-ear moment in the still-short history of the Obama administration, given that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab reportedly received a U.S. visa and boarded the flight despite his being listed in a database of people suspected of having ties to terrorists.
As she backtracked, however, Napolitano invoked the ever-handy “taken out of context” excuse for her earlier comment. Well, let’s take a look at the context of her remark to CNN host Candy Crowley:
CROWLEY: So, just to finish up on the question– I do want to talk to you about security measures — but do you think — has there been any evidence of the Al Qaida ties that this suspect has been claiming?
NAPOLITANO: Right now, that is part of the criminal justice investigation that is ongoing, and I think it would be inappropriate to speculate as to whether or not he has such ties.
What we are focused on is making sure that the air environment remains safe, that people are confident when they travel. And one thing I’d like to point out is that the system worked. Everybody played an important role here. The passengers and crew of the flight took appropriate action. Within literally an hour to 90 minutes of the incident occurring, all 128 flights in the air had been notified to take some special measures in light of what had occurred on the Northwest Airlines flight. We instituted new measures on the ground and at screening areas, both here in the United States and in Europe, where this flight originated.
So the whole process of making sure that we respond properly, correctly and effectively went very smoothly.
So, Napolitano was responding to a question about Abdulmutallab’s ties to al Qaida when she tacked on the line about follow-up measures; you might say she went “out of the context” of the interview. In fact, there had been zero mention in the entire segment about follow-up measures, only reporting about the suspect, his past and how he came to be on that flight.
This isn’t surprising in an age where media handlers coach interviewees to emphasize the two or three points they really want to make, regardless of the questions they’re asked. But it is a pretty transparent attempt by Napolitano to spin the story away from the real system failures — suspicious guy gets a visa and boards an airplane with bomb materials in spite of security measures and doesn’t succeed only because, as in some other attempted terror attacks, the explosives didn’t work properly — to the comparatively less important follow-up measures once that breach of security had taken place.
Even as spin goes, it’s pretty shameless.