Larry Ribstein opines:
Abdulmutallab should have been on the no-fly list. Remember that he was not just somebody who fit a general suspect profile, but somebody who was suspected of being dangerous by his own father.
Whether or not I'm right about this specific person, there's a much more important principle at stake: what is the proper balance between the public's safety and individuals' right to fly? We are willing to inflict a lot of suffering on the general flying public for what seem to be minor increases in safety. Exactly how much have we gained by all those plastic bag rules and taking off our shoes that forces terrorists to sew explosives into their underwear and go to the bathroom to get it out? What do we gain by keeping people out of the bathrooms for the last hour of flight when the terrorists can get ready in the middle of the flight? Should we keep passengers out of the bathroom for the whole flight? Should we prevent people from covering themselves with blankets? We may not be telling ordinary people that they can't fly, but we're certainly making flying a much less viable form of transportation.
Meanwhile, liberal use of the no-fly list does accomplish something. There is only a limited supply of people who look, sound and act like everybody else and yet are willing to blow themselves up on planes. Often these people identify themselves by their prior history. Culling these people out further reduces the supply. At the same time, announcing that they will be allowed to fly sends an important signal to terrorist organizations: next time you know that you can use somebody like Abdulmutallab, only with a little more training. Next time he might get it right.
Putting Abdulmutallab on a no-fly list might have turned out to be unfair to him. Maybe he was just having a spat with his vindictive father. But at some point, as long as authorities are making good faith, fact-based determinations, the public's interest in safe and tolerable flying has got to be weighed against individuals' right to fly.
I don't understand Larry to be arguing for "profiling." Racial or religious profiling is morally wrong and likely to be counterproductive by radicalizing those subjected to it. But the evidence of intelligence failures is now quite clear, as the NYT reports:
The National Security Agency four months ago intercepted conversations among leaders of Al Qaeda in Yemen discussing a plot to use a Nigerian man for a coming terrorist attack, but American spy agencies later failed to combine the intercepts with other information that might have disrupted last week’s attempted airline bombing.Larry's point, I take it, is that the government seems to find it easier to make flying intolerable for everyone instead of getting its intelligence act together. Which strikes me as basically right. Consider that the NYT further reports that:
The electronic intercepts were translated and disseminated across classified computer networks, government officials said on Wednesday, but analysts at the National Counterterrorism Center in Washington did not synthesize the eavesdropping intelligence with information gathered in November when the father of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, now accused of the attempted bombing, visited the United States Embassy in Nigeria to express concerns about his son’s radicalization.
In some ways, the portrait bears a striking resemblance to the failures before the Sept. 11 attacks, despite the billions of dollars spent over the last eight years to improve the intelligence flow and secret communications across the United States’ national security apparatus.I've opined before that maybe what Al Qaeda really wants is to screw up our transportation system:
Has TSA ever considered the possibility that maybe the terrorists aren't really interested in blowing up a plane. Maybe the terrorists figure they win everytime we in the West spend millions of man-hours being hassled, inconvenienced, and generally put upon by a myriad of stupid security measures.If I'm right, a liberal use of intelligence data to screen passengers is precisely what Al Qaeda doesn't want. Instead, the government's response to the latest incident once again is doing exactly what Al Qaeda's wants. Which leads me to ask: Why do we keep playing the game by their rules?