Vice-President Biden stated during the campaign that President Obama would be tested just like President Bush was tested with 9/11. Now, we may have had our first real test of the Obama administration by Al Qaeda with this latest attempt to blow up NWA Airlines flight 253 on December 25th as it proceeded to make its final approach into Detroit. The NWA flight originated from Nigeria with a stop over in Amsterdam before departing for Detroit. On board NWA Flight 253 was a Nigerian man by the name of Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab. According to the New York Post and other news sources, Mutallab has ties to Al Qaeda. Apparently, Mutallab stated that he was instructed by Al Qaeda to blow up a U.S. Airliner.
Mutallab could have very easily blew up this aircraft or could have caused serious harm. Luckily, he was not able to detonate the bomb and only caused a small fire on board which was put out by the crew. The other passengers, particularly a Dutch man by the name of Jasper Schuringa, was able to restrain Mutallab until law enforcement authorities arrived.
This incident should serve as another wake up call for the U.S. to get their act together. We have already had the incidents on AirTran and United Airlines this year. (See my earlier posts on those incidents http://kauffmanscommentary.blogspot.com/search/label/AirTran%20Airways
http://kauffmanscommentary.blogspot.com/search/label/United%20Airlines ). How many wake up calls can you get before its too late? You're lucky if you get one wake up call. We've now had three wake up calls with little or no damage caused. The fourth wake up call will not be so innocuous. Do we have to have another major terrorist attack again on U.S. soil, God forbid, before the U.S. intelligence community and aviation industry learns to connect the dots and provide better security on our flights? The terrorists are professionally trained. They will take advantage of our inadequate security measures to our detriment.
We learned that the father of Mutallab warned the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria that his son could be dangerous. Unfortunately, Mutallab was not put on any "no fly list." Why not? He should have at least been subjected to stricter security checks at the airport when boarding the flight. Certainly, the information learned by the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria should have been conveyed to the FAA and the CIA and the FBI. And, if they knew about this information which they may or may not have been aware of until now, they should have immediately flagged Mutallab for greater surveillance.
I am sure in the coming days more information will be revealed about what the U.S. knew about Mutallab and when they knew it similarly to the investigation that occurred after 9/11. But, the aviation industry is missing the boat if security measures as they stand now will continue unchanged.
In the wake of this NWA incident, the government is requiring that passengers remain in their seats for the last hour of the flight. And, on international flights, passengers are only allowed once carry on bag. There certainly will be longer lines.But, these new restrictions are not sufficient. More needs to be done to protect U.S. Airliners from another terrorist attack.
While I am no security expert and do not purport to be one, the problem does not seem to be one of keeping passengers in their seats. A terrorist attack could still happen regardless of whether a passenger stays in his seat or not. Rather, the only way to really ensure that the aircraft is safe on the ground and in the air is to profile passengers before they board the aircraft to determine who appears to be a threat to the flight. This procedure has been done for years in Israel. Many have argued quite sensibly that this investigative questioning of passengers before they board flights, which is done by Israeli airlines and by the airport authority at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, could not be replicated in a massive capacity in the U.S. However, the time may have come where we do not have a choice but to do what the Israelis have been doing for years.
I would propose the following new security measures:
1) All U.S. Airliners must hire their own trained security to oversee the check-in procedures for all flights whether they are operating within the U.S or are originating from an overseas airport. It can no longer be sufficient for U.S. Airliners to rely on other airports to solely run the security for their flights. Nor can U.S. Airliners solely rely on TSA personnel who may not be trained in detecting a bomb or other explosive device.
2) All passengers going on a domestic or international flight must check in their bags at the ticket counter instead of curb side check in.
3) All passengers should expect that they may be subjected to questioning at the ticket counter by trained airport or airline-hired security. (The need for questioning of passengers will be greater on international flights) If there is a serious question as to whether a passenger may be a threat to a particular flight, that passenger will not be allowed to fly on that flight and will have to be rebooked on another flight once he or she is cleared to fly again.
4) All U.S. Airports should have the same security procedures. We are learning now that security procedures depends on which airport you are flying from. Uniformity is vital to prevent another terrorist attack. Every airport in the U.S. must provide comparable security. (Fort Lauderdale's airport must provide the same security that JFK or LAX provides. Now, its true that Fort Lauderdale does not have the same flight load as LAX or JFK. But, passengers departing from Fort Lauderdale's airport must be subjected to the same security procedures that they would experience at a more busy airport.)
5) If the FAA, CIA, or FBI learns of information pointing to an individual who may be a risk to a flight, that person should immediately be put on a "no fly list" or should be subjected to more stringent security checks at the airport by either airport or airline security.
I know that these proposed security measures would probably significantly raise airline prices and cause more hassle at the airports including more wait time.
Ultimately, this may be the price that we have to pay if we want to fly terror-free.