Last Friday, a young man from Nigeria attempted to set off a bomb on a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam shortly before it was due to arrive in Detroit. The effort failed because the explosive didn’t go off as intended: it just lit on fire, and the man was tackled at that point by another passenger.
It wasn’t as if this guy was a total surprise: he was on a terrorist watch list, and his father, a wealthy banker in Nigeria, contacted the American embassy to warn us about him. But somehow we didn’t recognize the problem in time, didn’t yank his visa, and didn’t stop him from boarding the flight.
The bomb itself was 50 grams of explosive powder packed into a condom and sewn into his underwear (this last resulting in a slew of really silly headlines: ‘Fruit of the Loon;’ ‘Pants on Fire’). There was nothing to show on a metal detector, and one would have to do a very thorough pat-down to find the package (insert appropriate off-color remark here).
The response from our leadership has been singularly inept: Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security, first asserted that ‘the system worked’ until confronted by overwhelming evidence that it hadn’t. And Our Fearless Leader took a few minutes out of his Hawaii vacation on Monday to tell us what we already knew, because, after all, the President should say something about such an event.
There is talk about using full-body scanners to detect packages that one might carry on one’s person. They’re effective, but they enable the viewer to look at the scanned person… naked. I guess that’s OK, just as long as I can’t hear them snicker.
I’ll take someone in a remote location looking at me naked and snickering over some of the rules that came out after the incident. For the last hour of a flight, passengers are to sit in their seats and do nothing. No laptops, or blankets, or pillows, or even a paperback novel. And no hints as to where the plane might be: the video with the map is out, as well as announcements from the pilot. (Meanwhile, the terrorist can still look out the window!)
I understand that some of these rules may have been rescinded, so perhaps things are a little saner now. And I’ll admit that I don’t know what the proper response to this event should be. But adding yet another layer of aviation-security theater does not reassure me.
At least I don’t have any business trips for the next few months….