Accountability Does Matter in Getting to the Bottom of the Screwups in the Attempted Attack on the US at Christmas Time — Who Did What / Or Didn’t Do What / And What Lessons We Can Learn From That

We’re back blogging today – a Happy New Year 2010 to all.  We resume this running commentary on matters of accountability (hence, the title of the column) after a break in 2009 when we tended to other business.  This diversion included writing/editing the Perspectives & Insights newsletter which you can read on our INSIGHTS-edge platform.  My colleagues urge me to be brief – it’s the Web, not a book chapter – and so I will try my best to be on point and to the point…and more Blogger-like than long form essayist.  I may wander from this promise with longer pieces when the muse within stirs.


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In Michael Moore’s film on the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States – “Fahrenheit 9/11” — then-President George W. Bush is shown sitting in a Florida classroom which he was visiting at the time…staring down as if confused or bewildered on hearing the news of the first planes crashing into the World Trade Center…sitting for a l-o-n-g period (seven minutes, Mr. Moore tells us in the movie).  Then the president left the school (to wander the skies, it is portrayed) and very slowly the resources of the federal government began to react to the terrible damage being inflicted on this nation by a gang of terrorists.


Over the next decade literally hundreds of billions of dollars would be invested in homeland security, in the intelligence services, the armed conflict in the Middle East – and let’s be clear, the War on Terrorism was clearly described as such by President Bush – and yet very simple things seem to be still going wrong.


December 2009:  A Nigerian national disappears from his family and shows up in Yemen where he is trained in terror tactics.  Strange emails from him compel his father (a brave man) to go to the US Embassy to report his son’s changed behavior and potentially-threatening behavior.  The son travels with a US visa (issued by the State Department) with inadequate documentation, buys a one way ticket with cash and checks no luggage.  He slips through the security system and after a long journey on approach to the Detroit, Michigan airport he attempts to damage the plane and bring it down.  Alert passengers spring into action and the threat is addressed.


The current President of the United States was even slower that his predecessor in [publicly] responding to the event.  Finally, from his Hawaii vacation, President Barack Obama commented publicly…sounding more like a constitutional law professor (which he once was) than the Commander in Chief (which he most certainly now is) as an armed attack was attempted on US soil, or in US airspace to be more exact.  Where was the indignation and call to action? Only later did he begin to sound more like a war-time president – which this writer believes he is – to demand accountability of the leaders of agencies under his supervision.


(See The Washington Post story on this – “Obama Addresses Airline Security in Low Key Fashion” – days after the attack —


Michael Moore owes President Bush an apology, it seems to me, for the movie director’s depiction of the president as diffident, or dis-engaged.  Or maybe he’s got another movie planned in which the current president will be accurately depicted in his slow-to-respond mode.  Fair is fair, right?


A few days ago Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernancke made an important speech and admitted that the Fed could have done more to attempt to prevent the capital market crisis which destroyed many personal investment portfolios.  Hindsight is 20/20, someone once observed.


As the chairman was urging the Congress to grant the central bank more authority to deal with future crises, the question is asked, “If the Fed missed this bubble, how will it see the next one?”  We can ask the same question of those in charge of homeland security, right up to the front door of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  (We are promised answers to these and many other questions by the Commander in Chief…soon.)


In referring to the failure of Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and his colleagues in not taking action before the market meltdown, The New York Times economics commentator John Leonhardt wrote:


“He and his colleagues fell victim to the same weakness that bedeviled the engineers of the Challenger space shuttle, the planners of the Vietnam and Iraq wars, and the airline pilots who have made tragic cockpit errors.  They didn’t adequately question their own assumptions.  It’s an entirely human mistake…”


Mr. Leonhardt could have added the current crisis atmosphere that follows the attempt to down the Detroit-bound airliner.  Today, Umar Farouk Abdulmuttalab was indicted for attempted murder (and other charges) for the Christmas Day attack on board Flight 253 (with its 278 souls on board).


Having been involved in literally scores of crisis or critical issues over my career, experience has taught me that both President Bush (#43) and President Obama and Chairman Alan Greenspan and his successor were behaving like so many CEOs and leaders of various types of institutions.  It is very, very hard to think outside the box and imagine the worse-case scenarios that seem to occur in real life all too frequently in our time.  Pick up a copy of the 9/11 Commission report and read the official findings of that terrible day in American history.  Reads like something penned by a novelist with over-active imagination who kept dreaming up one impossible literary device after another for his book…except that it is all true life events being described.  Failing to comprehend the events that were unfolding, many people in responsible positions were paralyzed and failed to act decisively.


What lessons are to be learned from this most recent event…the Christmas Day Flight 253 attack…what went wrong…how…who should be held accountable?  Stay tuned.


Continuing the comparisons of #43 and #44…where President Bush was long ridiculed for his comment in the wake of the feeble response of FEMA to the events in New Orleans…”heck of a job, Brownie…”  We now have, The system worked! This from the Secretary of Homeland Security (who was speaking on behalf of the administration). We could ask: on what planet Janet?


Partisan politics aside – when serious threats to the nation arise — accountability does matter – so we must apply the lessons learned in serious situations like the Christmas Day attempted attack on our nation.