Thompson decries intelligence errors in attack attempt

December 31, 2009 4:36:24 AM PST
Former Governor Jim Thompson, a member of the 9/11 Commission, says three errors have been made following the attempted terror attack on a Northwest Airlines jet. Five years ago, the 9/11 Commission developed a list of over three dozen anti-terror recommendations. Some were enacted; others have been slow in coming.

While intelligence agencies may communicate more efficiently today, the ball was still dropped on Christmas Day.

Thompson says the evidence should have immediately put the would-be bomber on the no-fly list. His visa should have been revoked, and where was explosives detection?

"We have five years later, not made much progress in putting in screening devices that detect explosives," Thompson said.

That was one of the key recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. In years since, some of the explosive screening technology has been judged unreliable, and there's been significant resistance to full body scanners as an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy, an argument Thompson does not accept.

"I thought our first civil liberty was that government should make us secure. If we don't have that, we don't have anything in this society," Thompson said. "I don't think you should be able to get on a plane and travel within the United States or to the United States without the use of a body scan," Thompson said.

The newest generation of body scanners, demonstrated Wednesday at Reagan National, provide not a sharp, but ghosted image of the body, sufficient to see objects under or in clothing. The TSA says the images are not stored or transferrable, and the operator doing the scanning is in another room.

While the security versus privacy debate will go on, Thompson calls the intelligence errors leading to Flight 253 "terrible".

There was, he says, clear evidence that Abdulmutallab's visa should have been revoked, and his name should have been put immediately on the international "no-fly list". Instead, it went on the much larger terrorist watch list.

"And these watch and terrorist lists -- you know they're still split between the government and airlines. That's crazy," Thompson said.

The all-encompassing government list has been slow in coming. There is on the half-a-million name terrorist watch list the name James R. Thompson, but not this James Thompson.

"I get stopped every 20th or 25th time, and I have to provide secondary screening information, but this guy from Nigeria waltzes on the plane. Now that tells you something is wrong when they stop a member of the 9/11 commission, but they let this guy on the plane despite the intelligence they have about him," Thompson said.

Thompson doesn't mind the occasional name-stop and secondary screening, but it is yet another illustration of how clumsy a list with half a million names on it can be.

After his father told the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria that Abdulmutallub had become radicalized, Thompson says the name should have gone on the no-fly list immediately.


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