WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Thank God for wardrobe malfunctions. On Dec. 22, 2001, Richard Reid failed in an attempt to blow up American Airlines Flight 63 using 50 grams of the explosive PETN and became known as "the shoe-bomber." Since then, we have all had to remove our footwear prior to boarding commercial aircraft bound for U.S. airports.
On Christmas Day eight years later, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, wearing a bomb made from 80 grams of the same explosive, attempted to bring down Northwest Flight 253 en route from Amsterdam to Detroit. Had this 23-year-old Nigerian-born, Yemini-trained al-Qaida terrorist succeeded, he might have revived Detroit's economy through casket sales alone. He hid the device in his crotch and is now infamous as "the underpants bomber." One can only imagine what items of clothing we will have to remove in order to fly in the future.
A day after the attempted murder of 288 passengers and crewmembers in the skies over Michigan, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano claimed Abdulmutallab failed because "when it came right down to it, the system worked." Two days later, Napolitano apparently received new "guidance" from the vacation White House in Hawaii.
On Dec. 28, she reversed course and said, "Our system did not work in this instance," and added, "An extensive review is underway." She has yet to recant her bald assertion that there is "no indication" the incident is connected to a "larger plot." This is of course the same secretary of homeland security who warned us in April last year that the "greatest threat to U.S. security" is from "right-wing extremists" and "disgruntled military veterans."
After three days of silence -- and scores of finger-pointing leaks about how an individual known to U.S. intelligence services and already on a "terror watch list" could board a commercial airliner with a bomb in his pants -- Barack Obama roused himself to comment on the matter. Though his administration previously barred using the term "war on terror," the president referred to the incident as an "attempted act of terrorism" and claimed, "The United States will do more than simply strengthen our defenses." He also acknowledged that "there was a mix of human and systemic failures that contributed to this potential catastrophic breach of security."
Unfortunately, neither Obama's nor Napolitano's words are particularly reassuring. Both refer to "systems" -- as though they can "fix it." But the "system" for securing commercial aviation isn't broken -- it doesn't exist -- and radical Islamic terrorists know it.
U.S. civil aviation has been the Islamic radical-Jihadist weapon of choice since the 1980s. Efforts by successive administrations to put defensive security measures in place -- from air marshals to government-employee airport screeners to high-tech passenger and baggage-scanning equipment -- have been marginally effective at best. Changes in intelligence policies and procedures -- and the creation of whole new bureaucracies ostensibly devoted to sharing "threat-warnings" -- have proven to be anything but foolproof. Inevitably, solutions to the problem come down to "How much does it cost?" and "Is it too intrusive?"
The technology to detect explosive residue has been around for decades. A safe apparatus that can see through clothing has been available for nearly as long. Trained operators using either of these devices could have prevented Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab from boarding Flight 63. On Dec. 30, Dutch authorities announced that such equipment will be used to screen all passengers heading for U.S. airports. Apparently, objections raised by the American Civil Liberties Union don't carry as much weight in The Hague as they do in Washington.
The Obama administration -- wedded to "Rule one: Never allow a crisis to go to waste" -- will undoubtedly find a way to undertake major "reforms" in the "system." These "repairs" will most certainly be expensive. But there is one "fix" that that will actually save money and very likely American lives: halt transfers of Guantanamo detainees to Yemen -- where Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was apparently trained by al-Qaida operatives on how to use the bomb he carried aboard Flight 63.
The day after the abortive attack, Abu Bakr al-Qirbi, Yemen's foreign minister said al-Qaida in his country may be planning more "attacks like the one we have just had in Detroit" and pleaded for help "to expand our counterterrorism units." Instead, the Obama administration has been sending Gitmo detainees to Yemen.
Since Oct. 1, 2009, Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., has written six official letters to the White House demanding that the administration cease sending detainees from Guantanamo to Yemen. In his Dec. 29 missive, Wolf notes the connections among known al-Qaida operatives; terrorist detainees released in Yemen; the accused Ford Hood killer, Maj. Nidal Hasan; and now Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. Wolf concludes his letter, "Please stop these releases."
It's smart, timely advice -- far better than Obama receives from Homeland Security Secretary Napolitano. She should be sent to Yemen.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.