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Op-Ed: Leadership Required To Fix Broken System


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Tuesday, President Barack Obama called the attack aboard Northwest Airlines Flight 253 on Christmas Day a "mix of human and systemic failures." Eight years after 9/11, that is simply unacceptable.

I don't believe in pointing fingers when it comes to national security. I believe it's more important to get things right than to waste time on a blame game. However, there are some disturbing trends in the current administration that need to be corrected.

We are at war. Al-Qaida is a fundamentalist jihadist organization bent on destroying America and democracies around the world. Yet, President Obama and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano's initial reaction to the attack, and several instances leading up to it, indicate the administration does not appreciate the severity of the threat.

President Obama remained in seclusion in Hawaii and did not make any public statement about the attempted bombing until Monday--three days after the attack. Neither the attorney general, the defense secretary, nor the vice president made public statements. Only White House spokesman Robert Gibbs and Secretary Napolitano spoke. Their words were not reassuring.

Secretary Napolitano went as far as to make the absurd and factually incorrect assertion on Sunday that "the system worked," which was echoed by Gibbs.

This is how the system "worked": Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab was put on a watch list after his father, a prominent and well-respected Nigerian banker, briefed U.S. embassy and CIA officials in November about concerns his son had become radicalized by al-Qaida in Yemen.

Great Britain had already barred Abdulmutallab from entry. And, like many, although not all, terrorists, Abdulmutallab is a young, unmarried man with ties to a terrorism-infested state. Yet, he was able to board Flight 253 with a powerful explosive sewn into his underwear, which he tried to ignite as it entered Detroit airspace.

According to published reports, after Abdulmutallab's father's concerns were entered into a U.S. terror database, neither the State Department nor the National Counterterrorism Center checked to see if Abdulmutallab had ever visited the U.S. or had a valid visa. "It's not for us to review that," a State Department official reportedly said. Then whose job is it?

Great Britain, with which the U.S. has the strongest intelligence ties of any European nation, had denied Abdulmutallab a visa and forbade him re-entry into that country. Why weren't our intelligence agencies apprised of this? Abdulmutallab paid cash for a one-way ticket from Amsterdam to Detroit. When he checked in, he had no luggage. Why were these obvious indicators not flagged when the airlines submitted its required pre-flight passenger manifest to the Transportation Security Agency?

Perhaps this incident will raise the urgency level in the White House. But its track record is not impressive. It took three months from the time Gen. Stanley McChrystal asked for more troops in Afghanistan before President Obama finally agreed. And, even then, the president placed a timeline on withdrawal.

The only national security decision made quickly by the White House was the decision to close Guantanamo Bay and that was the wrong decision. Giving foreign enemies rights under the U.S. Constitution makes our enemies stronger and us weaker. Likewise, releasing terrorists to other countries only increases the ranks of our enemies.

The war against terror demands leadership. At the very least, President Obama should consider whether or not Secretary Napolitano is the right person to direct our national security apparatus. She certainly failed the early test. The White House has to remove itself from the mind-set that we can reason with terrorists. We are at war with individuals who wish to wipe us off the face of the Earth.

Treating terrorists as common criminals and Mirandizing them--as they did with Abdulmutallab--instead of treating them as enemy combatants makes it impossible to gather intelligence to stop further attacks. Before Abdulmutallab lawyered up, he reportedly told investigators, "There are more like me" in Yemen. Now, until they attack, we may never know who they are.

If it weren't for the brave passengers on Flight 253, Abdulmutallab may have succeeded and killed all 290 on board. We shouldn't have to rely on leadership from citizens to stop terrorist attacks. That's the president's job.

My job, and that of my colleagues on the House Intelligence, Judiciary and Foreign Affairs committees, is to give the administration the tools it needs to win the war. But the administration has to be willing to use these tools. We have been and remain ready to work with you, Mr. President.

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