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.