Is it too much to ask that our government officials don’t try to con us, deceive us, and treat us like idiots?
In the law, the Latin term res ipsa loquitur means something that needs no further proof—“it speaks for itself.” When a man who is on a “watch list” boards a U.S. air carrier bound for the States, smuggles an incendiary device onto the plane and tries to ignite it mid-air, that is a security botch. Or as one court, citing res ipsa loquitur, said when a human toe was found in a plug of tobacco, “something is very wrong.” Nevertheless, when Janet Napolitano, head of Home Land Security, took to the Sunday airwaves after the attempted Christmas terrorist attack, she proclaimed herself to be satisfied with the resolution of the incident, saying that the system worked and flying Americans should feel “safe.” CNN’s Candy Crowley, to her credit, was incredulous:
NAPOLITANO: … What we are focused on is making sure that the air environment remains safe, that people are confident when they travel. And one thing I’d like to point out is that the system worked. Everybody played an important role here. The passengers and crew of the flight took appropriate action. Within literally an hour to 90 minutes of the incident occurring, all 128 flights in the air had been notified to take some special measures in light of what had occurred on the Northwest Airlines flight. We instituted new measures on the ground and at screening areas, both here in the United States and in Europe, where this flight originated.
So the whole process of making sure that we respond properly, correctly and effectively went very smoothly.
CROWLEY: Well, it seems as though the reason this plane did not explode is that the explosion failed and then you had some quick passengers who jumped on him when he lit this fire. So let me ask you about how he could have gotten on the plane, with this substance, the PETN. I mean, we get on, you can’t have more than 3.4 ounces of toothpaste and you can’t have more than 3.4 ounces of anything in a little bag, and so I think people are thinking, so how does he get on with an explosive? How does that get past security?
NAPOLITANO: Well, we are asking the same questions, looking at what happened in Amsterdam as he transferred flights to a flight that was U.S.-bound. We have already been working with the airport and airline authorities there to see what kind of screening, screening equipment was used. We have no suggestion that he was improperly screened, but we want to go through and see. We’re always …
CROWLEY: I’m sorry, but if he was not improperly screened or properly screened, and yet you want Americans to feel safe on the planes, and so if it was properly screened and he got on anyway with that, it doesn’t feel that safe.
NAPOLITANO: Well, you know, it should. This was one individual literally of thousands that fly and thousands of flights every year. And he was stopped before any damage could be done. And now the forensics are analyzing, well, what actually could have been done with whatever substance he had and whatever amount. Those are all undetermined issues right now. And then we will go back and see about that technology, about that screening, just as we will go back at the president’s request and look at how we put people on different types of watch lists. Those are things that had been in place for many years. They have been the procedures that we have utilized.
And again, once this incident occurred, what I really think deserves attention is everybody responded quickly, effectively, without panicking and shutting down the airline systems or air travel. What we did is dealt with the incident, put out additional security measures both at airports here and abroad, and made sure that the flights that were in the air were indeed safe.
After about 24 hours of ridicule, Napolitano revised her statement, and is now saying “the system failed,” which was 100% obvious at the time she was claiming that everything worked perfectly. [UPDATE: In an unrelated incident, the FBI has determined that a passenger on another flight managed to get a firecracker through security. I feel safer by the second, Janet…] She is also claiming her remarks were “taken out of context,” which must mean I only heard them out of context, because my jaw was hanging to the floor while I watched her live on Sunday. Napolitano’s argument is that she only meant that the system worked well after it failed to stop a terrorist from getting on a plane full of people with an explosive device. Other systems that “worked” by her standard: the Presidential security on November 22, 1963, and military readiness at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.
Napolitano is in charge of the federal agency responsible for protecting the public from airplane bombings. Her duty of accountability required her to admit to the public that the system obviously failed and failed badly, that it is not secure, and that she is responsible for finding out what went wrong and fixing it, quick. Instead, she attempted to trivialize the significance of the incident. Wrong. Accountability Grade: F
She, like all members of the Obama Administration, has a duty not to spin or deceive the American people. The attempted destruction of a passenger plane was foiled by a passenger, and Napolitano’s charges may not take credit for that, or pretend that this lucky happenstance (what if that passenger had been asleep?) validates her clearly flawed system. Nor is it honest to claim that her words were taken out of context, as if she did not say on Sunday the exact opposite of what she is saying now. She wanted us to believe that this was just an inevitable little hiccup in an efficiently operating system that nobody should be concerned about. Nonsense. Honesty Grade: F
When public officials are not accountable or honest, they cannot be trusted. President Bush destroyed what was left of his credibility when he praised the absurdly inept and apathetic FEMA Director Michael Brown in the midst of the awful performance of his agency during the Katrina aftermath. Secretary Napolitano essentially told us, when we knew better, that she was doing a “heck of a job.”
As with Bush, either she was lying to us, or she doesn’t know what a good job is. Either way, she should not be trusted.