Practical Technology

for practical people.

The technology and the terrorist


On this past Christmas Day, a holiday nightmare was averted when a passenger and good luck kept a terrorist from blowing apart Northwest Airlines Flight 253 as it prepared to land in Detroit. While this story has a happy ending, we’re left to wonder why the automated systems designed to catch such people in the first place failed.

And, make no doubt about it, they did fail. After first pretending that some how the systems had worked, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano admitted on NBC’s “Today” show that “Our system did not work in this instance.” So, what are these systems anyway and why didn’t they stop Farouk Abdulmutallab, a 23-year-old Nigerian, from ever getting on the plane with the powerful PETN (pentaerythritol tetranitrate) explosive.

The main failure was that Abdulmutallab was even allowed to get a ticket and boarding pass in the first place. His own father had reported that he was concerned over his son’s “radicalization” to the U.S. Embassy in November. What happened after that is where things began to fall apart.

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