Briefly, Jan 25

Ethiopian Air Flight 409

Sadly, last evening, Ethiopian Airlines Flight 409 caught fire (from early reports) and crashed shortly after takeoff from Beirut, Lebanon. has a good summary, as of Monday afternoon.  It appears as though none of the passengers or crew survived.  The investigation will be ongoing.

On the Hill This Week

As was the case last week, congressional committees continue to follow up on their understanding of the NW253 incident on Christmas Day.  But also, the confirmation process of a nominee to the FAA and the reauthorization process of the NTSB will be moving forward.  This week (via GovExec), they are:

  • Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee – Hearing [ 09:30 am, 01/26/2010 ]
    Full committee hearing on “Intelligence Reform: The Lessons and Implications of the Christmas Day Attack,” focusing on the attempted bombing incident on Flight 253 to Detroit on December 25. (Part Two)
  • House Homeland Security Committee – Hearing [ 10:00 am, 01/27/2010 ]
    Full committee hearing on “Flight 253: Learning Lessons from an Averted Tragedy.”
  • Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee – Hearing [ 02:30 pm, 01/26/2010 ]
    Full committee hearing on the nominations of Michael Huerta, to be deputy administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration; David Matsuda, to be administrator of the Maritime Administration; and Timothy McGee, to be an assistant secretary in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, with responsibility for environmental observation and prediction.
  • House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee – Hearing [ 10:00 am, 01/27/2010 ]
    Aviation Subcommittee hearing on “Reauthorization of the National Transportation Safety Board.”

Further Examination of NW253

Today and tomorrow on the Hill, there will be a few committee hearings so that legislators can better understand what went wrong leading up to the attempted bombing of NW253 on Christmas.  They are (from GovExec):

  • Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee – Hearing [ 09:30 am, 01/20/2010 ]
    Full committee hearing on “Intelligence Reform: The Lessons and Implications of the Christmas Day Attack,” focusing on the attempted bombing incident on Flight 253 to Detroit on December 25.
    Witness(es): Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano; Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair; and Michael Leiter, head of the National Counterterrorism Center, testify.  The chairman, Senator Joe Lieberman, spoke about this committee hearing on NPR this morning.
  • Senate Judiciary Committee – Hearing [ 10:00 am, 01/20/2010 ]
    Full committee hearing on “Securing America’s Safety: Improving the Effectiveness of Anti-Terrorism Tools and Inter-Agency Communication.”
    Witness(es): Robert Mueller, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation; Undersecretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy; Assistant Homeland Security Secretary for Policy David Heyman, testify
  • Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee – Hearing [ 02:30 pm, 01/20/2010 ]
    Full committee hearing on “The State of Aviation Security – Is Our Current System Capable of Meeting the Threat?” focusing on the attempted bombing incident on Flight 253 to Detroit on December 25.
    Witness(es): TBA
  • Senate (Select) Intelligence Committee – Briefing [ 02:30 pm, 01/21/2010 ]
    Full committee closed hearing on the attempted bombing incident on Flight 253 to Detroit on December 25.

We are proud that Rosemary Dillard was on the Hill today representing NADA/F!

TSA Administrator

Also, much attention was paid to the fact that there was no TSA Administrator in place when the attempted bombing of NW253 occurred.  While Senator DeMint has opposed the nomination of Erroll Southers based on perceived differences of labor policy.  It was actually Southers’ past abuse of power, in his position as chief of security with the LAX police, that caused wider doubt as to his suitability for the job.  He has withdrawn himself from consideration (via CongressDaily and GovExec).  I have to say this is a good move, since these recent questions only prevented an efficient confirmation process.  And, this position needs to be filled!

The Preliminary Report on NW253

President Obama has given his remarks on the preliminary evaluation by security and intelligence officials of what allowed a suspected threatening person onto a flight on Christmas Day (from The New York Times).  A six-count indictment was issued against suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, yesterday (from CNN).  Today, a de-classified report on the incident will be released (from USA Today)  “National Security Adviser James Jones told USA TODAY’s Susan Page that Americans will feel ‘a certain shock’ at how many red flags were missed.” 

There is so much to write about from this week and it is hard to try and keep up.  I’ll try to post my thoughts later!

The Government Response

In the week following the attempted bombing of Flight 253, we’ve already seen several stages in the government response to the incident.  And, yes, I use the word “government” broadly, since we are talking about agencies, the executive and legislative branches.  And, other goverments have responded too, but here I’ll just talk about the U.S.

Department of Homeland Security

Secretary Janet Napolitano made quite the misstep, when she originally stated that “the system worked (clip from CNN).”  In trying to assure people, her point was that the action taken subsequent to the fire on the flight was swift and appropriate.  But, it was misinterpreted to mean there was proactive action, which clearly, there wasn’t.

One other issue has come up with this first statement.  While she said all pilots in the air were informed, today the Coalition of Airline Pilots Association disputed that (via WOAW TV 9).  She and President Obama have since identified some of the human and systemic failings and we are learning more every day.  President Obama receives the report of preliminary findings today (via USA Today).

Rep. Dan Burton of Indiana was the first to call for Napolitano’s resignation (via The Hill).  This has become political very quickly and Republicans in Congress have taken this opportunity to criticize the adminstration policy (via AFP).

Transportation Security Administration

The Transportation Security Administration was swift to implement a modified directive that was supposed to be in place through yesterday.  But it was unclear at the time, if it applied to all flights, and for how long.  Among some of the actions taken on flights were  limiting passenger activity for the last hour of the flight and taking televisions and live maps offline.  Since, at least, two bloggers received the directive via email and posted it, there was plenty of online discussion of its contents, relevancy and consistency in implementation.  Many passengers were curious to know what would apply to them and the TSA was not very communicative.  FoxNews had the story online, before the Department of Homeland Security got involved.  Now many outlets are writing about the subsequent subpoenas and investigation.  But, here’s the link to the USA Today story on what happened.  I can say from my original interpretation, I don’t think they realized until later that they were the only ones who had it. 

To our best knowledge, TSA is no longer following that directive.  However, they are looking at expanding the use of full body scanners (via FoxNews), among other things.

Although Erroll Southers was nominated to be TSA Administrator in September, and is a former FBI special agent with counter-terrorism expertise, he has not been confirmed by the Senate.  Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina has blocked  the process over concerns the Southers is too friendly to collective bargaining (via WIBW).  I can’t help but think that not having a leader may just as much challenge an agency’s effectiveness as having a leader friendly to labor.  But, Senate majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, says he will force a vote on the nominee in three weeks (Los Angeles Times).

Central Intelligence Agency and Department of State

I can only assume that these two agencies needed to contribute greatly to the preliminary report to President Obama.  Since we now know the suspect’s father communicated his concerns to the U.S. Embassy and the CIA (via ABC News), there must have been serious study of what happened (or didn’t) with that information. 

Intelligence and military leaders are also focused on the role Yemen likely played.  Yesterday, NPR ran a good story on the challenges there.

Northwest Flight 253, Christmas Day

As we all now know, a young Nigerian man (also of Yemeni descent), on Northwest Flight 253 from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas, brought explosives on board with intent to do greater damage than was actually done.   And oh, has it revealed holes in the U.S. and global security systems.  DHS Secretary, Janet Napolitano, finally said as much this morning (story over at NPR).  But, from intelligence and watch lists to screening, a lot went wrong.  It was fortunate for the crew and passengers on that flight that his detonator also failed somewhat.  And, as passenger Jasper Schuringa reminded us, quick-thinking and acting crew and citizens can help out a lot in these situations (via the Detroit Free-Press).

Since then, the suspect, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, was treated for his burns and is now being held at a federal prison in Michigan.  His detention hearing was postposed and is now scheduled for January 8 (via NY Post).  We have learned that he had ties to a Yemeni branch of al-Qaeda and that his family was concerned enough to bring him to the attention of the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria (via The Washington Post, subscription).  That report resulted in him being added, just a month later, to a U.S. terrorism-related database but not to any aviation watch list (The Washington Post).

NPR had an interview this evening with a witness to a potential accomplice.  He also seems to question whether or not the suspect had appropriate documentation to travel.

There is some discussion about whether or not the primary explosive, PETN, could have been detected with standard equipment.  The Washington Post has a good article on the kind of equipment that CAN detect it and the reasons it hasn’t been fully implemented.  A full pat-down may have revealed the detonator, but in this case, the suspect wasn’t identified for additional screening.  Schiphol, Amsterdam’s Airport, is undertaking a full investigation of their procedures (via The Wall Street Journal) and is obviously, a little defensive.

Since there is more to say on the topic of what TSA has done with their procedures in the days following and the subsequent sensitivity to behavior on planes since, I’ll post on that later!