Napolitano backtracks, says system “failed”
Just one day after her laughable remark about how the system “worked” in the passenger/crew-thwarted terror attack attempt on a Detroit-bound airplane on Friday, Homeland Security Director Janet Napolitano has admitted that the system indeed failed:
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano conceded Monday that airline security failed in allowing a Nigerian on a terror watch list and allegedly armed with explosives onto a Detroit-bound flight, a turnaround from her declaration a day day earlier that “the system worked.”
The secretary’s comment Sunday was widely criticized, given that suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was foiled because his explosive mixture did not properly detonate and he was stopped in his tracks by vigilant passengers.
The suspect, who carried the explosive in his underwear, passed through security at two airports — in Nigeria and Amsterdam, Netherlands. Plus he was not on any “no-fly” list, even though he was on a massive federal database of people with suspected ties to terrorists and his father apparently had warned U.S. embassy officials in Nigeria about his son.
“Here, clearly, something went awry. We want to fix that problem,” Napolitano told Fox News on Monday.
She said officials are doing a complete review to determine what needs to change to prevent such a passenger from clearing security in the future.
“No secretary of homeland security would sit here and say that a system worked prior to this incident which allowed this individual to get on this plane,” Napolitano said.
Well, she did. But whatevs.
Just how bad did the system fail? Not only was Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab on massive terrorist watch list database, and not only did he get on the plane, but also the chemical he smuggled onto the plane could have been detected:
PETN, the explosive that nearly doomed Northwest Airlines Flight 253 in Detroit on Christmas Day, is a white powder that can deliver powerful blasts in quantities as small as tenths or hundredths of a pound.
But generally, it can’t be lit with a match or otherwise set off without using a detonator or mixing it with a chemical to cause an explosion.
“It’s a high explosive; it’s one of the more sensitive things to handle,” said Jimmie Carol Oxley, co-director of the Center of Excellence In Explosives Detection, Mitigation, Response and Characterization at the University of Rhode Island, Kingston. “But it doesn’t initiate with a flame.”
Her view, consistent with initial reports from investigators of the incident, is that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Nigerian accused of trying to blow up the plane, “was looking for a chemical reaction that would be hot enough to initiate” the PETN and cause it to explode. “It’s not impossible, but it’s not easy either and it obviously didn’t work for him,” Prof. Oxley said.
Mr. Abdulmutallab allegedly was carrying a syringe with liquid believed to be an agent he was mixing with PETN to cause it to explode. Unlike a detonator such as a blasting cap, a syringe and PETN are very difficult to detect with X-ray equipment commonly used at airport security checkpoints.
Residue from the powder, though, is easily detectable with swabs that security personnel often use to wipe off briefcases, luggage and other personal items taken through checkpoints. Prof. Oxley has done research indicating PETN residue can be detected in human hair.
[Colorado explosives expert James] Crippin and law enforcement officials said modern airport screening machines could have detected the chemical. Airport “puffer” machines — the devices that blow air onto a passenger to collect and analyze residues — would probably have detected the powder, as would bomb-sniffing dogs or a hands-on search using a swab.
However, most passengers in airports only go through magnetometers, which detect metal rather than explosives.
Hidden in Abdulmutallab’s clothing, the explosive might have also been detected by the full-body imaging scanners now making their way into airports.
But Abdulmutallab did not go through full-body imaging machines in Nigeria or Amsterdam, said U.S. Rep. Peter King, the top Republican on the Homeland Security Committee. King has been briefed on the investigation.
Both airports have body scanners. The Amsterdam airport has had a long reputation for good security, King said, while Nigeria’s airports have been more of a concern.
Had Abdulmutallab been able to pull off the attack, the explosion could have been “enormous.”
About Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s visa:
CBS News has learned the State Department system designed to keep track of active U.S. visas twice failed to reveal Nigerian terror suspect Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had been issued an active visa allowing him multiple entries into the United States.
According to a law enforcement source, the first failure came on Nov. 19, 2009, the very same day Abdulmutallab father’s, Dr. Umaru Mutallab, a prominent banking official in Nigeria, expressed deep concern to officials at the U.S. Embassy in Abjua, Nigeria, that his 23-year-old son had fallen under the influence of “religious extremists” in Yemen.
The second failure to flag an active visa belonging to Abdulmuttalab occurred the very next day in Washington, after Mutallab’s concerns were forwarded to officials there. It was only after the Christmas Day terror attack in Detroit that U.S. officials learned that Abdulmuttalab had been issued a visa by the U.S. Embassy in London valid from June 16, 2008, through June 12, 2010.
Heckuva job, Janet – and Hillary.
Is it time to push the “reset” button, yet?
Read many more reax to Napolitano’s admission via Memeorandum.