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Various Flight 253 Thoughts


Briefly, regarding the Detroit-Failure-to-Explode-Thing:

  • The successful destruction of Flight 253 might not have threatened American power, or the material foundation of American life, but it certainly would have sucked; any plausible conception of national security would expect that the government take reasonable measures to prevent such attacks.
  • It is nevertheless pretty lame that this is apparently the best that Al Qaeda could manage at this late date; any self-respecting terrorist organization should have been embarrassed to claim responsibility for this pathetic failure.
  • It’s not clear to me that “the system worked”; it seems, in fact, that the system failed at some key point, if only in its inability to recognize someone who (to the admittedly untrained eye) really seemed like a serious threat.
  • That said, there is no way to reform the system to eliminate all such threats; reforms may result in additional false positives, or may results in holes in different areas. Such are the trade-offs of intelligence and law enforcement work.
  • That said, not all intelligence failures are the result of trade-offs. Sometimes people screw up to the extent that they should be fired, and some procedures produce distinctly suboptimal outcomes. Unfortunately, determining whether the problem is in the trade-off or the bad procedure is hard;it’s often bloody difficult to tell the difference between a .400 hitter having a bad day and a .200 hitter having a normal day. My guess in this case is that there’s a bit of both; there seems to have been sufficient evidence to have kept this guy off of a flight to the US.
  • However, difficulties associated with the coordination of information across agencies or division are probably the most common kind of problem associated with intelligence and law enforcement work. There really is no over-arching solution; bureaucratic divisions are necessary for a variety of reasons, yet invariably cause difficulties of communication, jurisdictional overlap or underlap, and so forth.
  • Finally, Law Prof pointed out to me that the one major positive (other than the failed bomb) is that dude’s dad felt strongly enough about the threat dude posed to go to the US embassy and inform on his own son. I have no idea what his thinking was, but just maybe there’s a tiny upside to treating the rest of the world as if it exists and has feelings.
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