Friday, January 8, 2010

The information about the debacle that took place on Northwest Flight 253 on Christmas Day, known by some as the Christmas Crotchfire Incident, keeps trickling out and it keeps getting worse and worse. From what I can tell, and you're not going to like this anymore than I do, your chances of getting blown out of the sky by al-Qaida are about 50-50 if you're coming from one of the "countries of interest".

Listen, I don't have a problem with the system. From what I can tell (and it's not like I have access to all of the classified stuff because if I did, I'd probably hang myself), the system works just fine. It's a matter of finding competent and capable individuals that can work the system so that it does what it's supposed to do.

Let's start with Michael Leiter and John Brennan. Michael Leiter is the head of the NCTC. (NCTC stands for National Counterterrorism Center. I'm not sure why they threw in the "T" when it's not beginning the word, but I'm guessing that if you're going to be fighting terrorism, you have to have the initial in the acronym.) According to New York Daily News, Leiter was supposed to go on a " vacation right after the Christmas Day bomber nearly blew up an airliner." Well, bummer that some guy with explosives strapped to his scrotum got in the way of that plan, eh? No one likes to change vacation plans, especially for Christmas, right? Well, right, but not so fast.

See, according to John Brennan, who is the top counterterror adviser, "Mike Leiter raised with me that he was in fact scheduled to go on leave to meet his son, and he asked me whether or not he should cancel that trip.And I said, 'Mike, no, you deserve this vacation. You need to be with your son.' " Wait a minute. What now?

The guy who is in charge of the anti-terrorism deal was given the OK to go off and go skiing right after this atrocity started to unfold? Are you kidding me? This is the guy who is leading the group, the NCTC, who are the ones who missed the gazillion clues that this guy was dangerous in the first place. And so since things clearly run so smoothly with him at the helm, there should be no problem in letting him take off for a few days of swooshing down the slopes while the rest of the Obama administration sorts through this mess, right?

Not only should that guy not have gone on his vacation, he shouldn't have asked if he could go. He should have just realized that one of the things about terrorism is that it is rather unpredictable and that your plans, even on Christmas, might get disrupted from time to time by some numbskull who can't set his groin on fire properly in order to take down a commercial jetliner. If this guy isn't going to stick around and deal with stuff when it happens, should he really be in that post? I think not. And the guy who told him he needed to go on vacation? Well, he is clearly incompetent and hasn't the slightest clue as to the meaning of the word "priority". Both of them should have been fired yesterday. At the latest.

Next up on the list of things that make me wonder how we've avoided another terrorist attack for as long as we have is the discovery that the Grundle Bomber was aboard Northwest Flight 253. Back to our friends at the NY Daily News for the information that "Homeland Security officials say they had flagged the suspect in the Christmas Day airline bombing attempt as someone who should go through additional security when he landed in the United States." Wow. Is that level of optimism common through all departments of Homeland Security? I was just wondering because that sentence makes it seem as if they assumed that he would land in the United States and would do so in tact (not in the bazillion little pieces scattered all over Detroit as he was planning).

Apparently, the way the system works is that the "Customs and Border Protection officials screen passengers against terrorist watch lists before international flights leave for the U.S." That seems reasonable. But then they "...check names against a different database while the flight is in the air." Um, wait. What is this second database and why is it different than the first? What good does it do anyone to check that second one when they're in the friggin' air already?! What say you check that first one and you check that second one before anyone gets on the plane? I don't get that at all. And of course "It was during this second check that officials flagged the alleged bomber."

Let's say that this nitwit had gotten away with this and had managed to set his loins aflame. How comforting do you think that would have been to the families of people on that plane to know that the guy was flagged while he was in the air? I'm guessing "not very". Not very comforting at all. That just seems (and I don't use this word very often) incredibly stupid.

And finally, as part of the changes that are going to be made after this incident, the LA Times informs us that "Obama also ordered the State Department to revoke visas when questions arise and to make it more difficult for people showing up in terrorism-related databases to receive visas." Wait, wait, WAIT! What is going on here?! Is everyone stupid?!

Let me get this straight. You're going to start revoking visas when there are questions?! You don't already do that?! Why in the bloody hell not? But before that gets answered, let's move on to the next one. Rather than not handing out visas when there are questions about people that show up, and I quote, "in terrorism-related databases" you're just going to make it "more difficult"? What does that mean? Only ask them the $2000 questions from Jeopardy! or something? These are people that are in, and I quote again in case you missed it the first three times I screeched about it, "terrorism-related databases" and all you're going to do is make it "more difficult". Not impossible; just difficult. I think we've finally come completely off the rails here.

That same article in the times (that I linked to above) also mentions in regard to the CIA that "...the agency gave itself a new 48-hour deadline for disseminating information on suspected extremists." A 48-hour deadline? To spread out the information? How in the hell long could the possibly need? And what, pray tell, what the "deadline" before this new rule? I can go into a Barnes & Noble bookstore and give them my phone number to receive my member discount and they can pull up in their database every damn book that I have bought from them since the beginning of time. Do you know how long it takes them to do that? Once the rhesus monkey working the register can get the phone number entered correctly (usually on the third try), I believe it takes approximately a third of a second for that information to pop up on their screen. That's at freaking Barnes & Noble. They're able to disseminate the information in their database rather rapidly, yet the CIA needs to put themselves on a strict 48-hour deadline when dealing with, not recently purchased reading materials, but terrorists. We are doomed.

I listen to this local, Northern California morning radio talk show called Armstrong and Getty. You'd like 'em. Trust me. (Download their podcast over yonder there at iTunes and check them out. They're hilarious and brilliant.) There's a term that they have coined which is a combination of being screwed and being doomed at the same time. They call it "scroomed". I am here to tell you that if this is how things are working in the intelligence departments and the counterterrorism departments around this country, we are all scroomed. Scroomed and scroomed hard.

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