How Hard Can You Try To Get it Wrong?

A man attempted to set ablaze if not blow up a flight headed from Amsterdam to Detroit. The flight originated in Nigeria, and the alleged perpetrator (not so “alleged” as he put himself on fire!) was on a terrorist watch list.

Why was he allowed to get on a plane, particularly one headed to the US? The inanity is mind-boggling. We’re told he was on a “watch list” but the concerns weren’t “aviation related” and so he wasn’t on a No Fly list! Spend a bit of time on that one and see if you can extract any sense from that. A terrorist may surely switch their focus without broadcasting it to intelligence officials. Surely a simple rule that we don’t want people on a terrorist watch list on airplanes wouldn’t be too controversial?

Moreover, if a potential terrorist presents themselves at an airport, pays all cash for his ticket (as he did), has no checked luggage and the smallest possibly carry-on, don’t we want to flag this somehow in a common database so he can be detained, searched and questioned? Why do we think there is union discipline among terrorists whereby say railway bombers don’t step on the turf of airline arsonists and vice-versa?

This gets even more bizarre. The Nigerian terror suspect was refused a re-entry visa into the UK 7 years ago for various reasons — one, he was known to have some ties with radical Islamic extremists, but also because he claimed he was returning to carry out studies at a University that doesn’t exist! Surely, that was a modest red flag. Less than a month ago, his own father reported to the US Embassy his concerns about his son’s ties to extremists! When your Dad turns you in (an affluent and respected individual), you’d think (and here the consultant in me comes forth), you’d get that information disseminated to border patrol, airlines and more. Shockingly, the re-entry visa to the US of this individual was kept valid despite what had happened in the UK and this information from his father. My own uncle (I’m an American, but originally was from Pakistan), who has a son who is a US citizen, was himself former Pakistan Finance Secretary, and is over 80, needed over 4 months to get his own multiple entry visa re-issued! Surely we’re missing the point in how we focus our energies?

There are now largely irrelevant panic-stricken knee-jerk responses. So now coming into the US, we are told no one can get up in the last hour before landing (that’s when the incident occurred). What if the next person does something in the first hour? So then we can’t get up in the first hour either? What is the relevance of the “last hour” necessarily to this incident? We had blown our obligation for due diligence well before we got to that point. No blankets on our laps in the last hour either we are told. How ridiculous! Talk about locking the gate after the horse has bolted!

If this happened from someone we had no reason to be concerned over — not a one way ticket buyer denied a visa in the UK and on a terrorist watch list — maybe we would say we’re down to that and have no choice. But why is the response to inconvenience as many law-abiding citizens, further decimating the airline industry as people further try to avoid air travel,  for what are utter lapses in inter-agency communication and scrutiny? Why this rush to more indiscriminate symptom management? So we’re all to interfere with countless businesses and lives to compensate for lack of integration and competence? This needs surgery, not Pavlovian mania.

Rushing to “ban” peripheral activities that are often quality of life issues (say for a shivering passenger wanting a blanket, or a pregnant woman needing the bathroom) is an almost insulting response to such a core breakdown.

Congratulations to the passengers and crew. We’ve at least as a public started to re-empower ourselves. It’s high time that same accountability filters through to the inane if not insane ways our intelligence lists are managed, shared…and acted upon.