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December 28, 2009

The Less Said the Better . . .
Posted by Michael Cohen

To follow up on James smart point about not giving al Qaeda the media platform they desire, perhaps our elected officials could hold their tongue about the implication of last week's alleged al Qaeda attack on a Northwest flight until they have all the information . . . Ok, obviously I'm drunk, stoned or mentally incapacitated if I actually think that's going to happen. But you would think with how little we know about one Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab it might be better to withhold judgment.

For example, HHS Secretary Janet Napolitano is facing withering criticism for her department's failure to prevent this attempted attack. There has also been criticism that Abdulmutallab's name was not added to a no-fly list. After all, his father warned the US government of his radical views in November. But the father provided minimal information and there was little reason to believe that Abdulmutallab was a serious threat. I suppose there is a view that US intelligence agencies operate like they do in the movies but the fact is the USG simply lacks the resources to run down every possibly radicalized individual out there. As the Washington Post makes clear:

The lack of attention was not unusual, according to U.S. intelligence officials, who said that thousands of similar bits of information flow into the National Counterterrorism Center each week from around the world. Only those that indicate a specific threat, or add to an existing body of knowledge about an individual, are passed along for further investigation and possible posting on airline and border watch lists.

"It's got to be something that causes the information to sort of rise out of the noise level, because there is just so much out there," one intelligence official said.

I suppose some could argue that Abdulmutallab's name should have been added to the list as soon as his father showed up at the US Embassy in Abuja, but if we started doing that then we would begin to have a very long no-fly list. And as some may remember, the movement over the past few years has been to shrink, not expand the no-fly list.

Now of course, I fully recognize that this latest incident could be a giant screw-up (as I said earlier I don't know all the facts), but not to sound overly fatalistic, the United States is never going to be able to completely shut its doors to the world and prevent every lone bomber from wreaking havoc. It's the nature of terrorism and particularly suicide bombing. The fact that we haven't had a single airplane attack since 2001 suggests that we've been more successful than we think . . . or even that al Qaeda's capabilities are not quite what people would have us believe.  But above all it suggests that terrorism will remain a fact of life in this country for the foreseeable future. We should be vigilant, but realistic about the threat. In fact, it reminds me of some wise words spoken by a US politician five years ago:

''We have to get back to the place we were, where terrorists are not the focus of our lives, but they're a nuisance. We're never going to end prostitution. We're never going to end illegal gambling. But we're going to reduce it, organized crime, to a level where it isn't on the rise. It isn't threatening people's lives every day, and fundamentally, it's something that you continue to fight, but it's not threatening the fabric of your life.''

Or dominating the foreign policy of your country . . .


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