by Janice Kephart
Janice Kephart, who was a
counsel to the 9/11 Commission, explains how failures to follow recommendations
of the Commission led to vulnerabilities the Christmas bomber, Umar Farouk
Abdulmutallab, was able to exploit -- and others still could.
Al Qaeda's four plane
operations succeeded when four hijacking pilots with four or five support
hijackers per plane violently took over four U.S. domestic flights between
Boston and Washington D.C. on September 11, 2001. The results were suicide
crashes into four U.S. sites, with a total of 2,974 fatalities. Two pilots (one
twice) and two hijackers had received immigration secondary screening coming
into the United States, for a total of five secondaries, but only one was
Two Al Qaeda plane operations were attempted by individuals in-flight, but
failed after the terrorists' clothing carrying the bombs caught fire. The plots
were foiled by attentive passengers and crew, not the border or aviation
architectures abroad and supported by the United States. These are: (1) the
Richard Reid shoe bomb attempt on December 21, 2001, on a flight from Paris to
Miami (he had been refused boarding the prior day due to poor behavior in
secondary screening) and (2) the December 25, 2009, attempt by Umar Farouk
Abdulmutallab. He also received secondary screening at check-in, but it did not
result in further scrutiny or a no-board decision.
One of the key phrases from the 9/11 Commission report (p. 384; the report
is available as its own database on lexis.com) is "for terrorists, travel
documents are as important as weapons." The 2009 Christmas Day plot aboard
Delta Flight 253 by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab has made clear to the world that
not only are travel documents as important as weapons to terrorists, but
executed terrorist plots aimed at the United States on 9/11 and subsequently
have incorporated air travel as an essential component. What we have learned
about terrorist travel has been significant. Incorporating those lessons
learned into an operational architecture has improved border and aviation
security significantly, but has yet to edge close enough to ensuring it.
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Kephart is a former border counsel to the 9/11 Commission and
currently serves as National Security Policy Director at the Center for
Immigration Studies. Another version of this article appeared in the February
2010 issue of Aviation Security International.