Wednesday, May 05, 2010
That No-Fly List and the Times Square Bomber
There's a lot of baloney being peddled today again about the "no fly list," which manifestly did not work when the flea-brained Times Square would-be bomber managed to get onto an airplane for Dubai the other day with the cops hot on his tail.
Again, it appears to me that the TSA, which has been operating without a permanent director for 16 months, has failed another major security test.
It's being dutifully reported that the TSA was not responsible here. Technically true. My question: Why not?
Yes, for international flights, the responsibility for enforcing the terrorist watch lists still rests with airlines, rather than with the TSA. Late last year, the TSA began taking responsibility for domestic enforcement of the lists from the airlines, in a move to reduce the number of infuriating false-positives on the so-called "selectee" portion of the lists.
Incidentally, reporters keep confusing the selectee portion of the lists with the no-fly portion. This is an egregious error.
The selectee list, the one that drives innocent people nuts, consists of hundreds of thousands of "identities" that correspond to about 30,000 actual people who are considered by various law-enforcement agencies to be worth having a second look at before they fly. The trouble with the selectee list is that airline enforcement cast a very wide net, and upstanding citizens whose names are even similar to someone on the list were routinely hassled at airports.
The TSA's new so-called Secure Flight program is supposed to be addressing that problem by taking the enforcement from the airlines to the TSA itself, and by requiring fliers to provide additional personal information on booking, allowing the TSA to more accurately check them off the selectee list.
The no-fly list is a whole other kettle of fish. If you're on it, you do not fly. Period. It is a deadly serious list. The Times Square would-be bomber, Faisal Shahzad, was placed on the no-fly list hours before he bought his ticket and boarded that plane.
TSA responsibility for enforcing the lists on international flights is scheduled to commence later this year. That includes the no-fly portion.
How come? How come after seven years and tens of billions of dollars spent by the TSA on security theater, on patting down infants, people in wheelchairs and -- I can personally attest -- parrots, some would-be terrorist whose name is on the no-fly list manages to 1. Buy a one-way ticket, for cash, for Pakistan from New York and 2. Get onto the airplane. His escape was averted only when the cops and FBI rushed onto the plane and hauled him off.
The New York Police Department did spectacular work, as usual, finding this bozo. The FBI did great work, too, although unaccountably the suspect slipped from surveillance for a couple of hours before turning back up on the radar.
The half-assed bomb he constructed failed to go off in Times Square. The perpetrator -- and this Faisal Shahzad looks to be a malcontent Islamist U.S. citizen who went looking for terrorist cred in Pakistan only after his American Dream went sour during the mortgage crisis in Connecticut -- is behind bars and singing like Sinatra. Nancy Sinatra.
But it ended without catastrophe.
That was no thanks to the TSA, which again drops the ball in a crisis.
Yes, the responsibility for red-flagging this nitwit was technically the airline's. The question is: Why? Where was the TSA?
And again, I need to point this out: The TSA has been operating without a permanent director for 16 months. The agency is still being run by Bush political appointees and Civil Service hires who have been on duty through every single TSA screw-up in the history of the agency.