Peter Baker of the New York Times Caucus blog writes,
To the list of phrases it may be best for political leaders to avoid after a major security incident, add "the system worked" right after "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job."
Just as the public did not really share President George W. Bush's assessment of how things were going after Hurricane Katrina, so too was there a good deal of skepticism when President Obama's homeland security secretary declared faith in a system that failed to stop a guy who tried to blow up a passenger jet on Christmas Day.
According to Baker, Napolitano "does not think the system worked across the board, only that it worked in terms of the response after the attempted bombing took place." Understandably, some think our homeland security should work before someone lights himself on fire — and critics are now calling, literally, for Napolitano's head. Baker quotes Investor's Business Daily: "clearly, Napolitano's head must roll." The New York Post ran an article with the headline, "Homeland Chief An Airhead - Says Security System Worked," while the National Review went for the simpler "Fire Napolitano." Perhaps in response, Napolitano has backtracked, telling Matt Lauer that her "system worked" remark was "taken out of context" and that the security system in fact failed. She elaborated,
What I would say is that our system did not work in this instance. No one is happy or satisfied with that. An extensive review is under way.
Of would-be bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, Lauer asked Napolitano, "How is this guy not the perfect candidate for a strip search or a full body scan?" Napolitano said "I've asked the same questions, Matt" — and it's possible that in the coming days, we'll all become candidates for such searches. According to CBS, some flights yesterday were frisking all passengers — including babies. Some international flights banned reading, iPods, blankets, and/or inflight TV, or forced passengers to keep their hands visible — restrictions that seem ripe for an SNL parody (All-Nude Airlines! All body parts must be visible at all times!). But other flights have instituted no extra procedures at all. Says CBS of the inconsistency,
The Transportation Security Administration did little to explain the rules. And that inconsistency might well have been deliberate: What's confusing to passengers is also confusing to potential terrorists.
Some are less than impressed with the TSA's regulatory sleight-of-hand. CBS correspondent Peter Greenberg says,
The real problem here is that, tomorrow, if someone tried to detonate a bomb on a plane and, right before he detonated it, he sang, 'Mary Had a Little Lamb,' the TSA would issue a rule tomorrow saying, 'No singing on a plane.' It is a very bad camouflage attempt of not dealing with the real issue of how did this guy clear security in Nigeria and twice in Amsterdam, and still get on the plane?
"Fire Napolitano" is premature, but let's hope the Homeland Security Secretary's review turns up more new ideas than just banning blankets. As Baker says, "Hurricane Katrina was a crisis on a different order of magnitude" than the Christmas terrorism attempt. Luckily, no lives were lost on Friday, and "the system worked" isn't the new "you're doing a heck of a job" — yet. Let's hope it doesn't become the new "mission accomplished."