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The ancient Romans were fond of asking the question, translated from Latin: Who will watch the watchers? Americans should be asking urgently, in the wake of the near-disaster on Christmas Day on Northwest Flight 253: Who will watch the Watchlist?

Listening to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano defending the indefensible failures, once again, of our vaunted Homeland Security systems, one cannot help but be reminded of the similarities between that question asked some two thousand years ago in Rome, and the questions we need to be asking and urgently answering in America now. One is also reminded of another similarity with Ancient Rome: the Emperor Nero is said to have fiddled while Rome burned, and Secretary Napolitano seems to diddle while Flight 253 nearly exploded, or at least burned, were it not for quick actions by both heroic passengers and crew, combined with a defective bomb detonator.

Shakespeare's Prince Hamlet smelled something rotten in Denmark. Americans ought to smell something rotten in Amsterdam, where Amor Farouk Abdulmutallab, now likely to be known as the Crotch Bomber, was allowed to board Flight 253 with no extra security screening, even though he was known to be on the vaunted Terrorist Watch List. Our Homeland Security Secretary correctly points out that there are some 550,000 individuals on that list, which essentially makes it worthless in this type of situation.

But the roots of this breach of security lie, not in Amsterdam or Europe in general, but here in the United States, where our counter-terrorism policies, plans, and procedures are determined. Long before the tragic attack of September 11, 2001, the handwriting was on the wall. The first terrorist attempt on New York's World TradeTowers took place, not in 2001, but in 1993, orchestrated by a blind Egyptian sheik and his crew of bombers.

Working for an arm of the Israeli government at that time, I advocated steps such as Air Force jets ready to defend New York and other major cities at a moment's notice, and artillery mounted on top of key targets such as the World TradeTowers and ready to eliminate any threatening aircraft instantly. Unfortunately, such measures were not taken.

Even the strengthening of the cockpit doors of all commercial airplanes, something done for decades on Israel's El Al Airline, was not done here at that time. Strong steel cockpit doors would have prevented the September 11 hijackers from taking control of flights.

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Meanwhile, as time passed,. we had many more warnings of impending terrorism, from the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole in a harbor in Yemen to the embassy attacks in Africa. We sat on our collective hands, or rumps, in the various American security agencies, far too busy with turf wars and jockeying for security supremacy to do what was needed.

Thus it was that, when a local FBI agent reported early in 2001 that a flight school in her district was training men to fly commercial airplanes, who had little interest in takeoffs or landings, that report fell on blind eyes and was filed away at the supervisory level. Thus it was that a host of Arabic documents outlining the plot of events of September 11, 2001 remained un-translated in the vaults of our so-called security agencies. Thus, that disaster caught us unaware and unwary--and our lives, and America itself, were changed forever.

The Department of Homeland Security, established in the wake of the September 11 terror attack, has had several heads so far, none of whom has been fully successful at melding the various agencies now part of DHS into an effective and unified network. The misnamed War Against Terror (which is much like a War Against Hate or a War Against Despair) has become a gigantic elephant giving birth to a mouse of security. Yes, America has been lucky since September 11, 2001, and so DHS claims that Al Qaeda and the other bad guys are on the run--even if we cannot seem to locate their leader, Osama Bin Laden, and most of his top henchmen. And, on Christmas Day, 2009 we were lucky once again--Amor Farouk Abdulmutallab's detonator failed to set off his explosive device, which packed sufficient wallop to bring down Northwest Flight 253.

Clearly, unless and until we face up to the realities of our ongoing unpreparedness, we are unlikely to continue to be so lucky. Even now, as this article is written and as it is read, those same bad guys from Al Qaeda and a host of other terrorist organizations are analyzing what went wrong with the Crotch Bomber. We urgently need to be analyzing why his own father's warning that Abdulmutallab had been radicalized in the Middle East, a warning conveyed directly to the U.S. Embassy in his home country of Nigeria, did not place him on the NO FLY list rather than merely the ineffective Watch List. We urgently need to analyze how this militant extremist, even after his own father's warning, continued to keep a valid American visa allowing unlimited entries and travel in the United States. Those failures absolutely must never be repeated, and those responsible need to find another line of endeavor which does not put so many lives at severe risk.

Ultimately, then, all of the defensive explanations and pseudo-justifications for this latest breach of security will not make it go away. It was only a few days ago that the entire secret screening procedures manual used by the Transportation Security Administration at American airports, and to a lesser extent at other airports all over the world, was posted on the Internet--by the TSA itself! While some sensitive procedures were blacked out, anyone with a minimum of hacking skills could uncover all of those secret details. What was amazing at that time was the casual and cavalier attitude about this security breach at DHS. Such sleeping at our Security Switches will not serve well to protect this nation.

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Author's Biography Eugene Elander has been a progressive social and political activist for decades. As an author, he won the Young Poets Award at 16 from the Dayton Poets Guild for his poem, The Vision. He was chosen Poet Laureate of Pownal, (more...)

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Friend and fellow contributor to OEN John Graham h... by Richmond Shreve on Sunday, Dec 27, 2009 at 7:21:26 PM
It's certainly true, Richmond, that the NO FLY lis... by Eugene Elander on Monday, Dec 28, 2009 at 4:27:28 AM
that the TSA is screening passengers boarding airp... by John Sanchez Jr. on Monday, Dec 28, 2009 at 8:37:39 AM
Good question, John. It is my understanding that e... by Eugene Elander on Monday, Dec 28, 2009 at 1:00:57 PM
Yes, technology exists for a better and cheaper so... by KMGuru on Monday, Dec 28, 2009 at 9:24:14 AM
What does it take to wake the American people up t... by TL Winslow on Monday, Dec 28, 2009 at 3:28:35 PM
Truly, as philosopher George Santayana said so wel... by Eugene Elander on Monday, Dec 28, 2009 at 3:33:39 PM
By the time West wakes up, it may be too late.... by KMGuru on Monday, Dec 28, 2009 at 4:07:22 PM
People have been sending this around.Dear Presiden... by Matt Stouler on Monday, Dec 28, 2009 at 6:05:45 PM
Though I think you (and I) missed the point of thi... by Dick Thomson on Tuesday, Dec 29, 2009 at 8:59:52 AM
Dick Thomson's stereotyping is no substitute for a... by Eugene Elander on Wednesday, Dec 30, 2009 at 9:58:22 AM
Unfortuanely, not having lists of potential terror... by Eugene Elander on Wednesday, Dec 30, 2009 at 10:06:35 AM
From Jimmy Lohan's piece in Buzzflash:http://blog.... by Bia Winter on Tuesday, Dec 29, 2009 at 8:52:00 AM
There were those who claimed that the American Gov... by Eugene Elander on Wednesday, Dec 30, 2009 at 10:13:23 AM
Whether there are 500 names or 500,000 names on th... by Ken Scott on Tuesday, Dec 29, 2009 at 9:19:30 AM
Sorry, Ken, but numbers DO matter -- the DO NOT FL... by Eugene Elander on Wednesday, Dec 30, 2009 at 10:02:26 AM