As we're learning more about the attempted bombing of a Northwest Airlines plane on Christmas day, I'm most struck by the fact that Alhaji Umaru Mutallab, the father of alleged terrorist Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, was so afraid of what his son might do that six months ago he warned Nigerian security agencies of his concerns and he even went to the American Embassy in Nigeria to warn the U.S. that his son had become radicalized and might pose a danger to American interests.
According to the Nigerian newspaper, This Day, a close friend of the father reported that he was shocked to learn that his son was allowed to fly to the U.S. after he had reported him to U.S. authorities. I'm shocked, too.
As a parent, one's impulse is to protect one's children. Parents may agonize about difficult, withdrawn, or incorrigible children, but normally they don't alert law enforcement officials about them. Rather, in many cases, parents attempt to shield their children even in the face of evidence of terrible crimes. So, the actions of Mr. Mutallab in going so far as warning the U.S. Embassy about his radical Islamic son should have set off red flags and resulted in far greater security concerns.
This is particularly true given the father's standing in the community. Mr. Mutallab is a former minister and recently stepped down as Chairman of First Bank in Nigeria. Given his high profile in Nigeria and even in London, where has a home, one would think he would be particularly sensitive about shining a negative spotlight on himself and his family. Yet he did so when he informed the U.S. Embassy about his son, apparently driven by the fear that his son would be capable of exactly the type of attack he attempted on Friday.
Did someone drop the ball? Is this another case of beaurocratic incompetence? Do we need a new regulation specifically stating that when a parent says a child is dangerous, officials must pay special attention?
According to the New York Times, after the warning by his father, "the suspect's name was inserted last month into the Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment, or Tide. About 550,000 individuals are registered in the database. A subset of that is the Terrorist Screening Data Base, or T.S.D.B., which has about 400,000.
"By contrast, fewer than 4,000 names from the T.S.D.B. are on the “no-fly” list, and an additional 14,000 on a “selectee” list that calls for mandatory secondary screening, an Obama administration official said. At the time Mr. Abdulmutallab’s name was recorded in the Tide database in November, the official said, 'there was insufficient derogatory information available' to warrant putting him in the T.S.D.B., no-fly or selectee lists, and so he was not on any watch list when he boarded the plane bound for Detroit."
Does this surprise you? It surprised me that while millions of dollars are spent so that millions of passengers can be screened in airports, the most suspicious half million people receive no secondary screening at all. According to the New York Times, in the wake of this incident President Obama has ordered a review of current practices to make sure they're appropriate. Let's hope the result is more vigilance regarding people on the T.S.D.B. And let's put individuals whose parents have alerted authorities about them on the top of the list.