Would-be Bomber’s Profile Rose Above ‘Noise’

The Obama administration’s response to the attempted bombing of the Christmas Day flight into the Detroit has been both weak and wrongheaded.

On the matter of first principles, I agree with my colleagues  Roger Pilon and Chris Edwards that among its limited and enumerated powers, the federal government has a duty to protect its citizens from people such as Umar Farouk Abdulmatullab. He’s the 23-year-old Nigerian Muslim who tried unsuccessfully to detonate a bomb sewn into his underwear with the help of al Qaeda operatives in Yemen. Thwarting attacks such as this is what should keep officials and lawmakers awake at night, not forcibly redesigning the private-sector health care system.

The government’s response has been weak in failing to acknowledge the real breakdown in the system: Abdulmatullab should never have been on that plane. His own father, one of the heroes in this story, reported his son’s radical beliefs and connections to the U.S. embassy in Nigeria. The report landed the son on a terrorist watch list but not on the no-fly list.

One news report characterized the information on Abdulmatullab as “noise” in the system. If this is noise, what does the government consider a signal? He posted his radical beliefs on his blog. He traveled twice to the terrorist hotbed of Yemen. His own family took the initiative and the risk to report him to U.S. authorities. Eight years after 9/11, what do the guardians of public safety require as a signal—arriving at the airport wearing an “I ♥ Osama Bin Laden” t-shirt?

This is no place for political correctness. The risk of denying entry to a twenty-something Muslim who is acting suspiciously but means us no harm is small compared to the human tragedy and economic cost of a plane loaded with innocent people being blown out of the sky.

The administration has, at the same time, overreacted by imposing new burdens on the traveling public. According to the New York Times, in the wake of the attempted bombing, “passengers at airports in the United States and around the world encountered stiff layers of extra security, with international travelers undergoing newly required bag inspections, body searches and questioning at security checkpoints and before they boarded planes.” Passenger visits to airplane restrooms will also be more closely monitored.

All this will needlessly inconvenience the flying the public, discourage tourists from visiting the United States, and create a false sense of security. The right response is not to give grandma an extra pat-down, but to lower the threshold for denying visas to the small but identifiable minority abroad who arouse any reasonable suspicions.