Cliff May

Several hundred men, women, and children will live to see the New Year thanks to good luck: The terrorist on Delta/Northwest Flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit was inadequately trained, and one passenger turned out to be remarkably quick-thinking and courageous.

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But a multi-billion dollar government security system failed. The question now: Is the Obama administration smart enough to go to school on this attack? Among the lessons that need to be learned are these:

Real security means looking for terrorists - not for weapons. In this case, it should have been easy: Alhaji Umaru Mutallab, a prominent Nigerian banker, alerted U.S. Embassy officials that his son, Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab, had become radicalized. That ought to have led to the revocation of Abdul Muttalab's multiple-entry visa to the U.S., his inclusion on the "no-fly" list, or, at the very least, to a thorough screening before he was allowed to board a plane bound for Detroit. President Obama and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano should want to know why these steps were not taken. Whoever is to blame should be fired.

More broadly: Does looking for terrorists rather than weapons mean we need to profile? Yes, but we're not talking about racial profiling, we're talking about terrorist profiling - identifying the characteristics, background, and behavioral patterns that terrorists often share.

For example, it has been reported that Abdul Mutallab paid cash for his ticket and checked no baggage. Surely, that should have raised suspicions and prompted someone to question him. A 23-year-old planning to die on Christmas Day, 2009, may not have come up with a great answer when asked about his plans for 2010.

It's reasonable to assume that anyone who has spent time in countries where terrorists are known to train and operate represents an increased risk. Abdul Mutallab was in Yemen from August to early December 2009, according to the Yemeni Ministry of Foreign Affairs. How difficult would it have been for authorities to learn this?


Cliff May

Clifford D. May is the President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.