In response to the Christmas “underpants bomber,” an outraged President Obama called his security and intelligence people together. The headline on the front page of the Los Angeles Times the next day read, “Obama gives his team earful over foiled plot.” Our intelligence and security measures failed and almost led to a disaster, and his response was to give the security people “an earful?” I guess he rejected the more severe punishment of giving them a timeout and making them sit in the corner. Mr. President, make it seem like you’re taking some kind of strong action. Fire somebody.
It doesn’t even matter to me which official he fires. I realize that might just be a symbolic act, but maybe we need that kind of symbolism now. Besides, we all know people who’ve gotten fired for doing far less than almost letting somebody blow up an airplane. Maybe we had a new boss who wanted to “clean house.” Maybe there was some kind of misunderstanding. Maybe the job just wasn’t right for us. But I doubt that we know anyone other than a government official who let someone on an airplane who had a bomb in his underwear.
When I was flying home from Chicago with my wife and son after Thanksgiving, we were stopped at the security conveyor belt and the screener confiscated something of ours. What was this dangerous item? It was a container of cream cheese. We had bought bagels and cream cheese to eat on the plane. So why did they take it from us? Was it a case of “possession of cream cheese with intent to schmeer?” Apparently it was in a container that they considered a couple of ounces too large. My point is, we couldn’t take cream cheese on a plane, but this guy could get through wearing a bomb? And the president’s response is just to give his people “an earful?” Fire somebody.
It just feels like a bad case of déjà vu. After 9/11, we were told that security was going to be beefed up, that the safety of the American people was the number one priority of the president, etc. Then we learned that our government had information prior to the 9/11 attacks that could have been used to possibly prevent the attacks. And now, after the almost-tragedy on Christmas, we’ve learned that governmental departments had enough information that could have — and should have — prevented the guy from getting on that plane.
The difference is that this time our president actually admitted that there was a failure in our “intelligence community.” I guess that kind of honesty, that “transparency,” is progress, but that doesn’t make us safer. Maybe firing and replacing some people wouldn’t really make us safer, either. But maybe it would.
Based on the past, what we’ll probably see are changes at airport security stations. There may be longer lines. Screeners will probably go through our luggage more thoroughly. They might install those machines that reveal vague images of our bodies to a screener. Maybe there will be something dramatic. It happened after the “shoe bomber.” Because of that one guy, everyone had to take off their shoes at the airport, and then the government could point to our shoelessness as proof that they were taking terrorism seriously. I’m sure you can imagine what they might make us take off because of the “underpants bomber.”
Obviously, I’m not against better screening at the airport. However, we need to stop terrorists before they get to the there, before they fill up their shoes or their underwear with explosives. And it’s possible for us to do that. The president agrees. He said, “The U.S. government had sufficient information to have uncovered the plot and potentially disrupt the Christmas Day attack, but our intelligence community failed to connect those dots.”
They didn’t “connect the dots?” So, fire somebody and get someone who’s better at connecting dots. I know that might not improve things, but it has a better chance of being effective than taking away our cream cheese.
Lloyd Garver has written for many television shows, ranging from “Sesame Street” to “Family Ties” to “Home Improvement” to “Frasier.” He has also read many books, some of them in hardcover. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out his Web site at lloydgarver.com and his podcasts on iTunes.