Chicago Sun-Times
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Obama team on defensive over Flight 253 terrorist threat


WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration was on the defensive Monday over how a Nigerian man who tried to destroy Detroit-bound Northwest Flight 253 on Christmas Day held a valid U.S. visa, was allowed to board the plane in Amsterdam even though he was on a terrorist watch list, and was able to bring an explosive substance undetected on the aircraft.

Already, three committees in Congress announced hearings on the incident in January; the House and Senate Homeland Security committees and the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. It's not the posture the Obama White House wanted to be with Congress as Obama nears his first anniversary in office on Jan. 22 and with final negotiations over his signature health-care bill set for next month.

On Monday, Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and ranking member Susan Collins (R-Maine) say their hearing will ''examine the layers of security meant to protect airline passengers from terrorist attacks but which accused terrorist Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab successfully evaded.''

Obama himself addressed the incident for the first time, breaking from his Hawaii vacation to appear tieless before cameras to read a statement. He noted that Abdulmutallab was in a U.S. database of suspected terrorists, but not on the smaller no-fly list.

"I've ordered a thorough review not only of how information related to the subject was handled, but of the overall watch list system and how it can be strengthened," Obama said. Obama also said he ordered an examination of "all screening policies, technologies and procedures related to air travel."

He also directed his national security team "to keep up the pressure on those who would attack our country. . . . We will continue to use every element of our national power to disrupt, to dismantle, and defeat the violent extremists who threaten us -- whether they are from Afghanistan or Pakistan, Yemen or Somalia, or anywhere where they are plotting attacks against the U.S. homeland."

The incident has thrown Homeland Security Director Janet Napolitano in the spotlight; she was on six morning shows Monday and three on Sunday. But she got in a bit of a jam on the Sunday shows when she said ''one thing I'd like to point out is that the system worked," meaning no one was hurt seriously because the suspect was subdued by passengers and crew on the flight. But I bet most people start looking at the system failing -- not working -- when Abdulmutallab was allowed on a plane with explosive material hidden in his pants.

She was asked about it on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" and explained she was starting the clock on the system working once the crew notified authorities of the thwarted attempt to ignite an incendiary device -- that is, after the incident occurred.

On NBC's "Today" show Napolitano was pressed to concede the system "failed miserably."

Said Napolitano, "It did."



On MSNBC you said Obama's nominee for TSA head was "stalled somehow in the Senate".

Lynn, why not explain the real reason? Sen. Jim ("Health care will be Obama's Waterloo") DeMint has a permanent hold on the nomination because he thinks the guy will let airline screeners join a union.

It's not that hard to explain. Politics and hatred for unions are keeping TSA without a top official, at a perilous time for airline travel. Maybe people need to know this. Why conceal this information into a mushy "stalled somehow" remark?

thanks for the comment. i just blanked on the senators name... not concealing anything

Obama just released hard core terrorists to yemen.

Who cares about the TSA head when Obama just released 6 hard core terrorists to yemen and has plans to release 90 more to yemen.

They are released and go free and yemen. Obama is creating a disaster.

This was missed by the state department, national security council and CIA. Has nothing to do with the TSA buerocrat. The current acting TSA head has more experience than a new one would have.

Typical liberals don't look at Obama releasing hard core terrorists to yemen which is an al queda hotspot but focus on buerocrats.

We need to take our country back from the far left.

Napolitano did not simply say the system worked. That is such a gross distortion of her original statement that it's difficult not to simply call it a lie.

What she said was, "AFTER THE INCIDENT OCCURED, the system worked." That is a very different statement. You should be ashamed for getting such an easily verifiable fact wrong. At no point did she suggest the system worked as it should. Merely that the distribution of information and security procedures following the attempted attack worked.

Are you really this incompetent?

Or, to get more directly to the point, you attempt to portray the situation as her backtracking later, when in fact, her original statement was clearly directed at the events that occurred after the attempted attack.

You are simply misrepresenting the reality of the situation here. This post is simply indefensible, unless you have no regard for the facts of the matter.


Either we have to try them or we have to let them go. We cannot simply hold people indefinitely. This is now and always has been a basic principle of the American justice system. And for the record, the founding fathers extended the right to a fair trial to anyone on American soil not merely citizens.

If you can't prove guilt in a court of law -- or even a military tribunal -- then you have no right to continue to hold those suspects. We already know that many detainees have been released after being cleared of any suspicion.

As Franklin said, "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." We are not cowards in America. We know danger exists in the world, and we are prepared to face it with the same civil liberties and indefatigable spirit which have always been the greatest qualities of the greatest nation.

If we wish to protect American, then we must protect the most basic principles of this great nation.

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on December 29, 2009 5:48 AM. finally acknowledges Flight 253 terror attack was the previous entry in this blog.

TSA's guidance for airline passengers in wake of Flight 253 attack is the next entry in this blog.

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