Taking security seriously while ‘We are at war’

Think Big Brother has been watching you in the past? Get ready for a whole new level of personal scrutiny, at least if you travel by air.

Full-body scanners are coming soon to an airport near you, thanks to President Barack Obama’s directive last week. His decision to speed up funding for new security technology, including scanners, was in response to the Christmas Day attempt by a Nigerian man to detonate a bomb in his underwear while on a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit.

Some people will decry the body scans as an unwarranted intrusion of our privacy. But there is no constitutional right to fly on airplanes, while the government has an obligation to protect its citizens. If it means keeping some future would-be bomber from killing hundreds of innocents, then we’re willing to accept this latest inconvenience and intrusion upon our privacy.

Airport body scanners are just one very visible example of the government’s newfound seriousness about the terrorist threat.

As Obama so succintly put it Thursday, “We are at war.”

That’s a refreshing directness from an administration that, until recently, went out of its way to downplay the terrorist threat. Obama and his team even purged the term “terrorist attacks” from the official lexicon, preferring to call them “man-caused disasters.”

Obama and his team aren’t solely responsible for what nearly occurred on Christmas Day, or the CIA disaster in Afghanistan this month in which an informant hired by the intelligence agency blew himself up and killed seven CIA employees and contractors.

More than eight years after 9/11, it’s clear that some of the problems which existed then exist today. Intelligence agencies obtain information about a potential threat, but it is not shared with all the appropriate entities. In this case, multiple signs pointed to the fact that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab posed a danger to this country — not least of which were his own father’s efforts to warn officials at the U.S. embassy in Nigeria.

In response to these failures, Obama ordered more widespread distribution of intelligence reports regarding potential threats, and better technology to correlate and assess the massive number of threat reports. He also directed the State Department to review its policy for issuing and maintaining visas for foreign nationals.

That’s all fine, and it obviously needs to be done. But wasn’t that what was supposed to occur after 9/11? What’s been happening the past eight years?

If Obama and his team can’t be blamed for problems that long predated his administration, however, they have been guilty of a noticable lack of seriousness and urgency regarding the threat of terrorism and U.S. security, even after the Christmas Day attempt.

Homeland Security Director Janet Napolitano’s infamous comment that “the system worked,” to thwart Abdulmutallah’s attempted bombing is one symptom of that lackadasical attitude. So was the decision by Michael Leiter, director of the National Counter Terrorism Center, to proceed with a ski vacation in the days just after the Christmas Day attack. His vacation was approved by his boss, Obama’s counter terrrorism adviser, John Brennan.

It is admirable that President Obama took responsibility for the security failures that have occurred of late. He spoke Thursday as if he’d had an epiphany about the nature of the terrorists and the fact that cordial diplomatic meetings won’t prevent Islamic radicals from trying to kill U.S. citizens.

But if he wants to demonstrate to government officials, the American public and, most importantly to the terrorists, that he is, indeed, serious about confronting terrorism, then he needs to shake up his security team. Napolitano and Brennan would be good people to sack first, not those lower on the food chain.

And, as we prepare to run little old ladies from Des Moines past body scanners, we should also be having a public discussion about how we can constitutionally provide more scrutiny to those who pose the greatest threat — young to middle-age men with a radicalized Muslim agenda.


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