Monday, December 28, 2009

"The System Worked" - Napolitano and an Unscripted Interview

As I've written fairly often, this isn't a political blog. I'm not dedicated to the premise that one politico, or one party, is always right; and that everybody else is always wrong.

That's not the same as having no opinions, though.

I think that Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano goofed recently. Big time. It's the sort of thing that can happen to anybody - particularly when trying to think on your feet.

"And one thing I'd like to point out is that the system worked."

The New York Times was kind enough to point out Ms. Napolitano's take on what she said yesterday, on CNN. Yesterday, it sounded like she thought that the system handled the little incident on Northwest Flight 253 over the Christmas weekend very well.

Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano now says that her remark - "And one thing I'd like to point out is that the system worked." - was taken out of context.

Fair enough. That sentence comes from a much longer interview on CNN's "State of the Union With John King." Candy Crowley was the host for this interview. As of this afternoon (December 28, 2009), CNN has a transcript of the interview online. Before making up your own mind, I suggest reading the whole transcript. Here's an excerpt:
"...Joining us now from San Francisco is homeland security secretary, Janet Napolitano.


"CROWLEY: Secretary Napolitano, thank you so much for joining us. If I am about to get on a plane today in the U.S. or headed toward the U.S., I think my big question is, is this part of a larger plot, or do you think this is a lone wolf?

"NAPOLITANO: Well, right now, we have no indication that it's part of anything larger, but obviously the investigation continues. And we have instituted more screening and what we call mitigation measures at airports. So I would advise you during this heavy holiday season just to arrive a bit early, and to know that we are going to be doing different things at different airports. So don't expect to do the same thing at one airport when you transfer through to another airport.

"But the traveling public -- this is my message for you, Candy. The traveling public is very, very safe in this air environment. And while we continue to investigate the source of this incident, I think the traveling public should be confident in what we are doing now.

"CROWLEY: So, just to finish up on the question-- I do want to talk to you about security measures -- but do you think -- has there been any evidence of the Al Qaida ties that this suspect has been claiming?

"NAPOLITANO: Right now, that is part of the criminal justice investigation that is ongoing, and I think it would be inappropriate to speculate as to whether or not he has such ties.

"What we are focused on is making sure that the air environment remains safe, that people are confident when they travel. And one thing I'd like to point out is that the system worked. Everybody played an important role here. The passengers and crew of the flight took appropriate action. Within literally an hour to 90 minutes of the incident occurring, all 128 flights in the air had been notified to take some special measures in light of what had occurred on the Northwest Airlines flight. We instituted new measures on the ground and at screening areas, both here in the United States and in Europe, where this flight originated.

"So the whole process of making sure that we respond properly, correctly and effectively went very smoothly...."
(CNN) [emphasis mine]
Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano was rather clearly referring to actions of Flight 253's passengers and crew when Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's wearable bomb failed to detonate properly, when she said: "And one thing I'd like to point out is that the system worked." That, and the way that the official system took no more than an hour and a half to let 128 other flights know that someone had tried to bring down an airliner.

For a large bureaucracy, that's doing pretty well.

As I wrote yesterday, it would have been nice if Mr. Abdulmutallab hadn't been allowed on the Northewest Flight 253 in the first place.

But, as it turned out, the bomb sewn into Abdulmutallab's underwear didn't detonate properly. He survived - and is out of the hospital now, I read - and everybody else survived, too.

So, if the homeland security system consisted entirely of alert passengers and flight crews; relied on terrorists having defective weapons; a certain amount of luck; and letting other flights know, after an attack, that there might be a terrorist on their airliners, too - then yes, the system worked very well.

Assuming that there's a reason for maintaining comparatively massive databases on possible and known terrorists - not so much.

And, now that there's been some criticism of her statement on CNN, Secretary Napolitano has clarified what she meant:
"...Ms. Napolitano said Monday on NBC'S 'Today' that her remark the day before — “the system has worked really very, very smoothly over the course of the past several days” — had been taken out of context. 'Our system did not work in this instance,' she said. 'No one is happy or satisfied with that. An extensive review is under way.'..."
(The New York Times)
"An extensive review is under way." If that review includes identifying what went wrong, and fixing the problem: good news. Note, please: identifying what went wrong, not finding someone to blame; and fixing the problem, not condemning someone in an effort to make critics feel better.

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Note! Although I believe that these websites and blogs are useful resources for understanding the War on Terror, I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. 1 1 Given a recent misunderstanding of the phrase "useful resources," a clarification: I do not limit my reading to resources which support my views, or even to those which appear to be accurate. Reading opinions contrary to what I believed has been very useful at times: sometimes verifying my previous assumptions, sometimes encouraging me to change them.

Even resources which, in my opinion, are simply inaccurate are sometimes useful: these can give valuable insights into why some people or groups believe what they do.

In short, It is my opinion that some of the resources in this blogroll are neither accurate, nor unbiased. I do, however, believe that they are useful in understanding the War on Terror, the many versions of Islam, terrorism, and related topics.