No Smoking Gun

With these words, Mr. John Brennan, the White House’s top counterterrorism official, sought to deflect criticism of the Administration’s performance surrounding the attempted bombing of Delta flight 253 on Christmas Day. This defense of their performance wasn’t in the same league as Janet Napolitano’s, “The System Worked” comment but, then again, it would be nigh on impossible to utter something as inane.

The fact is, except on TV or in the movies, it is rare to find a smoking gun before the event occurs. In a previous lifetime I was a credit officer in a large bank. We created reports that were formally produced quarterly but could be produced more often if so desired. These reports evaluated the credit portfolio in a variety of ways: loan size, type of loan, credit rating, industry, change in rating, etc. None of these measures, by themselves, would definitively predict that a loan was going to default. However, if a borrower showed up as an outlier in a number of these categories it was a safe bet that corrective action needed to be taken. By looking at a number of indicators we were able to be proactive in addressing potential problems.

Banks are able to process millions of transactions simultaneously to verify credit card transactions. Why can’t the U.S. government with all of the resources it can marshal do the same thing? One would think that, in this day and age of high-powered computers and sophisticated relational databases, it would be possible to aggregate information on these 500,000+ individuals and update it real-time, or close to it. By swiping a passport one should be able bring up enough information about an individual to determine if a more thorough inspection is required. If an individual shows up as one of the 500,000+ on the terrorist watch list that should result in special attention be given. This is when a full body scan would be called for, for instance.

Some ‘flags’, though, are so profoundly red that cross-checking a data base should be unnecessary. If he has had a visa revoked by another country that should increase the scrutiny he receives. If he wants to pay in cash, with no passport, comes from a failed state, has no luggage, and only wants a one-way ticket enough alarms should go off to refuse to board him without even checking a database. He should be interrogated by the police immediately.
Just as banks have all the information they need within their own four walls of to minimize losses, the U.S. government has the information to prevent potential catastrophes like almost occurred over Detroit. It requires doing the basic blocking and tackling to organize it, disseminate it, and act on it. This doesn’t require rocket scientists. It requires good old-fashioned common sense. If something looks amiss, it probably is and deserves a second look.

Americans assume that the government is taking the obvious precautions to protect us. The events on Christmas Day showed us that the system didn’t work; there were multiple failures. The Obama administration should give Jasper Schuringa, the man who prevented the explosion, the highest award he can. If it wasn’t for his heroism the Obama presidency would have been over. More importantly, our lives would have become less safe as the enemy was further emboldened.

Posted by Jim

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