Obama: systemic failure was unacceptable

By Administrator |

US President Barack Obama has moved quickly to blame 'systemic failure' in both intelligence and security for the bomb attempt incident on a US-bound aircraft on Christmas Day and he said it was 'totally unacceptable'

that information which was already known to security services was neither shared nor acted upon.

In a statement yesterday, Obama accepted that while there can never be any guarantee of a 100% success rate in terms of preventing would-be terrorists boarding an aircraft, he said that Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had been known to the security services and should have been added to the no-fly list, but was not.

Obama said that the well-documented attempt to blow up a US-bound Northwest/Delta A330 passenger aircraft carrying 289 passengers and crew could have been prevented if security services had listened to warnings from the would-be bomber's father, who had already warned US officials in Africa that his son had adopted extremist views.

At the same time, security experts have since confirmed that the aircraft and its occupants had a very lucky escape, since the bomber was carrying twice the amount of explosive material as that concealed by the failed shoe bomber Richard Reid on December 22 2001 and easily enough to blow a hole in the aircraft fuselage.

Just to add to the tension, US security officials have since confirmed that a Yemen-based group – claiming to be allied to al-Qaedia – has since claimed responsibility for the attempted bombing, blaming a faulty detonator for the device's failure to explode.

Quick thinking by passengers and crew also appeared to have played a key role as the bomber was restrained as he tried to pump a chemical detonator through a syringe into the explosive to detonate it. Passengers on the flight have since reported that this detonation attempt was enough to send flames several feet up the side of the cabin interior, although it miraculously failed to detonate the main body of explosive strapped to his body. Fire extinguishers were then used to kill the flames as the Nigerian was restrained.

The explosive material has since been confirmed as PETN [=pentaerythritol, a highly-explosive organic compound belonging to the same chemical family as nitroglycerin, but more stable in transit-Ed].

While Obama has now ordered that a major security review report be delivered to his desk by the end of this week, questions are also being asked about security procedures at Amsterdam Schiphol Airport – the European transit point from which the Nigerian passenger departed for Detroit Airport after arriving from Lagos.

According to reports, he was subjected to standard metal detection scanning at both airports, but this technology does not scan the whole body for other materials. Amsterdam has since indicated in the press that it will lobby the European Commission to make these body scanners – which see through clothing and can detect most unusual objects – mandatory. But the Commission has already said that there is no reason why airports need to ask its permission in the first place since this is a national sovereign issue. However, it should be said here that The European Parliament has expressed its strong opposition to total body scanning in the past.

Currently, Amsterdam, Manchester and some other airports already have this technology, but like airports in Germany, they have been loathe to use it because of human rights issues – i.e. the scanner reveals the naked bodies of the passengers on the screeners' monitor as they pass through.

Modesty aside, this seems like a positive and practical step forward – although there will surely be objections – and then there is the cost of these machines at between $100,000 to $150,000 each. Some airports will simply not be able to afford as many as they need, even though manufacturers tell TREND that they are confident that they could meet the demand.

But even if this offers a partial solution to more efficient scanning, it is only part of the problem, with the whole security issue seemingly politicized in the US. The recent bomb incident and the lack of coordinated security action to prevent the incident has already been seized upon by US Republican party which has already accused the Obama administration as being somehow weak on national security.

Some of the less intelligent members of this party – or those with convenient amnesia – have also forgotten that it is actually the Republicans who are a major part of any problem here. They have been opposing Obama's proposed appointment of Erroll Southers, a former FBI agent, to the position of head of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) since last September, leaving it without solid leadership for nearly four months.

While airline pilots, transport officials, airport managers, IATA and US airport associations have all been supportive of the appointment and critical that it has not been ratified, the Republican vote within Congress remains illusive.

The Republican line appears to be more concerned about Southers? perceived willingness to allow TSA screeners to join a union, rather than putting minor politics to one side for the good of the country and addressing this lesser 'issue' later.

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