Pentaerythritol tetranitrate (PETN), the explosive Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab tried to detonate aboard Northwest Airlines flight 253, is among the most powerful of explosives in the world and was widely used to blow up airplanes in the 1970s and 1980s. The only reason the passengers of Flight 253 are still alive today is because Mr. Abdulmutallab’s syringe detonator failed for still unknown reasons.
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Yet despite the facts that PETN is easily detected and Mr. Abdulmutallab’s father warned the U.S. embassy in Nigeria about his son this November, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano had the audacity to go on television yesterday and say “the system worked” and that the suspect was properly screened. The “system worked?” The 278 passengers on flight 253 could be dead today but for a faulty syringe and the Obama administration considers that a success? That is pure idiocy. Idiocy that is a direct threat to the security of this country and that goes to the heart of the Obama administration’s approach to the war on terror.
What on earth could Secretary Napolitano possibly mean when she said the “system worked?” The answer can be found at the University of Michigan Medical Center in Ann Arbor where on Saturday U.S. District Judge Paul Borman read Mr. Abdulmutallab the charges the Obama administration has filed against him for trying to blow up Flight 253. And the Obama administration probably will win a slam dunk conviction of Mr. Abdulmutallab. But his conviction will not make us any safer than the convictions of the 1993 World Trade Center bombers did during the Clinton administration. Prosecuting terrorists when we can is necessary to protect our country, but is in no way sufficient.
The Obama administration continues to demonstrate that they believe counterterrorism is a law enforcement problem to be managed, not a war to be won. Hence Attorney General Eric Holder’s insistence on sending Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other terrorists to New York for a civilian trial in federal court. The five defendants are already plotting how best to air their grievances and exploit their treatment while in detention. Worse, criminalizing the war on terror will force our government to give up the chance to interrogate terrorists like any enemy combatants and lose invaluable intelligence.
The Flight 253 incident was an intelligence failure. Instead of focusing on convictions, the Obama administration should be focusing on gathering the intelligence necessary to best protect the American people. This aborted attack provides a visceral reminder that terrorists remain committed to killing Americans. But it also illustrates the need to:
Work with international partners on countering terrorism;
Defend the domestic intelligence and law enforcement tools that disrupt plots inside the U.S.; and
Pursue foreign terrorist sanctuaries that serve as staging grounds for international operations.
Clearly, terrorists have not wavered in their resolve to strike America. The United States must be equally resolute in its response.