Had it not been for a malfunctioning detonator, nearly 300 people traveling on a Christmas Day flight might have perished. Only the faulty device, along with some fast-acting passengers, prevented a disaster.
But the detonator was not the only malfunction in this near-catastrophe. Government also broke down. The suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, has been on a watch list for the last two years. That list contains names of people known to have extremist links.
British press reports say Abdulmutallab has been on MI5's radar but was deemed insufficiently threatening to warrant surveillance. Still, he was barred from returning to Britain earlier this year, according to the London Times.
I was once on a watch list because my name is similar to that of someone wanted by the law. It is inconceivable that someone with a real terrorism profile could get on a plane bound for the United States with explosives strapped to his body and not be detected. When I was on a list, my identification was taken into a back room where calls were made to determine I was not the one they were looking for. Sometimes a series of S's would be stamped on my boarding pass. This did not qualify me for a free drink or an upgrade, but an intimate pat-down, along with a complete search of my carry-on bag. I had to turn on my laptop computer to prove it was not an explosive device.
How did Abdulmutallab, whose father had recently warned State Department officials about his son's radical beliefs and extremist connections, get on a plane bound for Detroit? What good is it to report suspicious behavior, as the Department of Homeland Security repeatedly urges us to do, if those reports are not taken more seriously?
Did America's reluctance to profile contribute to this latest near-disaster? That question should be among many asked at a congressional hearing.
Abdulmutallab is said to have traveled to the failed state of Yemen, where he acquired his explosive device and received training for the attack he nearly pulled off. The Obama administration is sending several Guantanamo detainees to Yemen. This is the equivalent of the Coolidge administration sending New York Mafia members to Chicago for re-education during the Roaring Twenties.