by J. F. Kelly, Jr. | Coronado

Millions of people have a fear of flying. Although it is, statistically, the safest method of travel mile for mile, the spectacular and catastrophic nature of major plane crashes causes many air travelers to tremble at every bump, vibration and unusual noise. Add to this general sense of disquiet, the tribulations of modern air travel including crowded flights, long lines, Spartan service, truly awful in-flight food, sparse legroom, cramped seating designed for 105-lb. fashion models, unbathed passengers clad in tank tops and flip-flops and an overburdened traffic control system that uses outdated equipment and technology in a desperate attempt to maintain order in the crowded airspace around major cities and the invitation to “sit back and enjoy your flight” sounds like a cruel joke.

In addition to all this, we now have to endure the risk that some radicalized, suicidal, religious maniac will blow the aircraft up in the name of Allah. Since that form of terrorism became fashionable, culminating in the 9/11 attacks, there have been multiple plots to blow up passenger aircraft, thwarted as much by luck and malfunction as by the effectiveness of our security organizations. We’ve had plenty of time in which to learn how to get things right but somehow we haven’t figured out yet how to keep commercial flights safe from terrorism. We are still handicapped by a lack of coordination between departments and an underlying political correctness that inhibits profiling or reporting suspicious behavior.

Probably we can never achieve 100% safety but where lives are on the line we should be trying much harder. The recent attempt by a 23-year-old Muslim fanatic from Nigeria to blow up an American airliner on approach to Detroit is the latest example of just how far we have to go to keep Americans safe from terrorism. Confidence in our ability to do so was not enhanced by the initial remarks of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano who reportedly said that the system worked.

One might fairly ask, “What system?” But beyond that, whatever passes for a system obviously did not work. Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was permitted to board an American aircraft in Nigeria with explosives sewn into his underwear. He had traveled to Yemen, fast emerging as a leading breeding ground and safe haven for terrorists. He admitted to ties to al Qaeda, ties that were promptly confirmed by that organization which took credit for the attempt and promised more to come. His own father had warned authorities of his radicalization. If we have equipment that can even determine the presence of ingredients in medicines that can be used in the manufacture of explosives, why were airport screeners unable to detect the presence of PETN on Mr. Abdulmutallab? Why was he even able to purchase a ticket to the United States (for cash) in the first place? Was political correctness a factor here again or was it just plain incompetence?

The only reason this attempt failed was that the explosive did not detonate. In other words, it was pure luck. Passenger and flight attendant heroics could not have prevented disaster if the material had exploded. According to a Rand Corporation researcher quoted in the Wall Street Journal, there were a dozen other terrorist incidents on U.S. soil in the past year. Sooner or later, our luck will run out.

Most troubling is the fact that Mr. Abdulmutallab was promptly indicted by civil authorities on criminal charges. That means Miranda warnings and limits on interrogation. He will, of course, be presumed innocent unless proven guilty. Any chance of learning more about similar ongoing plots will be subordinated to the lengthy and expensive process of bringing this suspect “to justice” which means providing this terrorist with all the protections afforded U.S. citizens. This continues the Obama-Holder policy of criminalizing what ought to be regarded as a war on America and turning it into a law enforcement campaign.

Meanwhile, authorities are reacting with the usual flailing and lack of coordination that seems to define our security policies today. We read that there may be new restrictions on carry-ons.  Passengers may be required to remain seated during the final hour of a flight. What exactly will that accomplish? Airliner captains, we read, may implement their own security arrangements. Passengers on one flight reported being required to sit with their hands in full view. What’s next? Requiring passengers to fly naked?

Once again, as in the Ft. Hood massacre, a dangerous, radicalized Muslim who provided plenty of advance clues, slipped through the yawning gaps in our security procedures and took or tried to take innocent lives. Will it take another major attack for us to realize that we are engaged in a war with radical jihadists who seek our destruction?

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copyright 2010 J.F. Kelly, Jr

J.F. Kelly, Jr. is a retired Navy Captain and bank executive who writes on current events and military subjects. He is a resident of Coronado, California.

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