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Last week our country averted a disaster. Good work by American and foreign intelligence officials pinpointed explosives hidden in packages shipped in Yemen and bound on airplanes for the United States. But we cannot rely on getting such timely, accurate intelligence — it often is simply unavailable — and the episode highlighted a number of problems with our system for screening inbound air cargo.

The Department of Homeland Security has established very good “risk rating” systems to prevent dangerous goods from entering the country. The problem is that these systems are used only for cargo on ships, not for that arriving by air.…  Seguir leyendo »

President Obama has ordered intelligence reports to be distributed more rapidly and more widely because the events around Northwest Flight 253 show that "this was a failure to connect and share the intelligence we already had." Better technology at security checkpoints is a needed and obvious next step after a man got on a Detroit-bound flight with a bomb. Identifying and fixing the failure points are rightly at the top of America's agenda. We run the danger, however, of letting those important discussions distract us from seeing the far simpler improvements that are available.

The major remaining vulnerability in passenger screening is clearly our ability to detect objects carried on the body.…  Seguir leyendo »

In the days since the attempted Christmas Day airplane bombing, many officials, including the White House’s counterterrorism director, John Brennan, have insisted that the Detroit incident was “not like 9/11”. In many respects, we agree. But the government’s handling of the intelligence leading up to the attack was eerily reminiscent of one of the most shocking — and relatively underreported — revelations to come out of the 9/11 commission’s hearings.

The commission, having been informed that before 9/11 the State Department maintained a list of known or suspected terrorists whose travel should be restricted, asked Federal Aviation Administration officials how many of that list’s 61,000 names were on the F.A.A.’s…  Seguir leyendo »

The Christmas Day attempt to destroy an airplane landing in Detroit underscores the sad reality that terrorism is a constant danger to the United States. Let us hope that policymakers will take this opportunity to make some overdue changes in their strategies for preventing attacks.

They can start by “rationalizing” various government databases. It is disturbing that someone who is thought to have connections to terrorism serious enough to warrant being placed on a government watch list is still not put on the smaller “no-fly” list of people who are banned from airplanes.

How did this come to pass? The no-fly list is reserved for those who are thought to pose a threat to airplanes.…  Seguir leyendo »

Homeland security, intelligence and legal experts share their reactions.

The president has ordered two reviews since the attack attempted against Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on Christmas Day. While such reviews are necessary to understand why a multibillion-dollar aviation security system failed to prevent Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab from boarding a U.S.-bound flight with explosives, the American people rightly expect more.

This plot appears to trace back to Yemen, a country that is not a new counterterrorism problem. Since the October 2000 attack against the USS Cole, in which 17 U.S. sailors were killed, two administrations have pushed Yemen to confront al-Qaeda without sufficient success.…  Seguir leyendo »

Is traveling to the United States a "harrowing experience," as a Pakistani delegate to the International Olympic Committee claimed when the IOC rejected Chicago's bid to host the 2016 Games? The vast majority of the 25 million visitors arriving from overseas at U.S. airports each year experience no more than an inconvenience. But for hundreds of thousands, including Pakistanis such as the IOC delegate, it can be both difficult and unpleasant.

Men from Pakistan and two dozen other countries face onerous "special registration" procedures under the National Security Entry-Exit System set up after Sept. 11, 2001. While this was an understandable precaution in the aftermath of the attacks, more precise and effective measures have since been developed.…  Seguir leyendo »

By Jon A. Krosnick, a professor of communication, political science and psychology at Stanford (THE NEW YORK TIMES, 30/08/06):

THE crash of a Comair jet in Kentucky on Sunday ended the longest safety streak in aviation history: it’s been almost five years since a passenger died in a commercial airline jet accident in the United States.

Crashes are actually very crude gauges of the safety of air travel because they remain so rare. We must pay attention instead to the little events that happen every day in the skies and on the ground that very, very slightly increase the risk of another disaster.…  Seguir leyendo »