Flight NW253

“The system worked”, claimed Homeland Security Secretary, Janet Napolitano. Well, as part of “the system”, your columnist begs to differ.

The system which Napolitano claims “worked” was the response by passengers on Northwest flight 253. Jasper Schuringa leapt over several other passengers to subdue the suspect, Umar Abdulmutallab, and may have saved the entire flight from destruction. It is unclear why Napolitano considers Schuringa to be part of the ‘system’ which ‘worked’. Can anyone recall the Bush administration claiming credit for the fact that United 93 crashed in a field, killing no-one on the ground? Quite the contrary. Your columnist recalls members of the administration praising the heroism of the passengers, not muscling in to secure credit for themselves. Your columnist has been able to track down no record of the Obama administration contacting Schuringa to acknowledge his heroism or thank him. Holland’s Deputy Prime Minister phoned Schuringa, who is vacationing in Florida. Dutch Parliamentarian, Geert Wilders, has called for him to be given a royal honor, and Queen Beatrix has expressed pride in Schuringa’sactions. Napolitano seems more concerned with claiming credit for them.

If passengers are part of the ‘system’ which is supposed to restrain terrorists, should we not have some sort of briefing as to our role? Napolitano took credit for the fact that, within, 90 minutes of the incident, all flight crews in the air had been advised of the facts. It happens that your columnist was in flight 90 minutes after the incident, and at the exact time that Schuringa was subduingAbdulmutallab, was sitting in the departure lounge of Detroit Wayne County airport. As passengers leaving the airport at which Abdulmutallab was already under arrest we were not advised that there had been any incident. We were not even told that we were part of the system.

Napolitano has already backtracked on her claims that the system worked. She says she was quoted out of context – a miserably pathetic excuse, since we are talking about her own words, repeated several times in multiple live interviews. This is not a print journalist hacking her words to pieces, this is what she actually said.

She has conceded that prior to the incident, some things may have gone wrong. But she has also defended current practice. There was not enough information to put Abdulmutallab on the no fly list or even the selectee list. Being on the selectee list would have meant that he was given a full body search which would, presumably, have discovered the explosives concealed in his pant legs. It is not such a serious thing. Your columnist has been on the selectee list several times. The exact criteria are kept secret, for obvious reasons. But, at no time has your columnist ever been banned from entering Britain due to fundamentalist activism. His father has never reported him to the CIA as a terrorist risk. All your columnist did was purchase a one way ticket. If terrorists merely have to buy round trips – as Abdulmutallab did, paying in cash – to avoid the selectee list, despite specific intelligence linking them to fundamentalist groups and frequent visits to Yemen, then something is very, very, wrong.

This incident could, and should, have been prevented. The intelligence was there, but the procedures were inadequate. Napolitano should stop trying to take credit for Jasper Schuringa’s heroism and take responsibility for her own failings.

Article provided by Quentin Langley
Lecturer in PR and Political Communications,
School of Journalism, Cardiff University

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