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On the underwear bomber, the new US intelligence system failed. But it's still better than the old one.
LONDON, U.K. — In the weeks since the attempted “underwear bombing” of a Northwest airliner over Detroit, there has been much talk of what needs to be done to correct what President Obama described as “systemic failures” that allowed a Nigerian national whose family had gone so far as to flag his radical views to American officials to board an airliner with a bomb.
Many have pointed to a failure to “connect the dots” on the part of U.S. intelligence agencies, and so far as it goes, that’s basically a good description of what went wrong for those who don’t pay much attention to our intelligence system. The calls for reform since have broken down into three basic categories:
This last debate, raging primarily in print and in the more erudite corners of the blogosphere, invariably fails to excite the same level of public excitement as the specter of Transportation Security Administration screeners putting nude shots of the Swedish Olympic ski team on their Facebook pages.
Yet it’s the latter debate that really matters, and in that respect there is both good news and bad news to report. The good news, at least judging by the initial report delivered by President Obama about the circumstances of the attack, suggests that human error and not bureaucratic dysfunction probably played the largest role in the failure to prevent the would-be bomber from getting on an aircraft.
Going back to the “connect-the-dots” thesis, all the necessary “dots” in this case existed in the form of intelligence collected by U.S. and allied services. The agencies involved, broadly speaking, appear to have done what they were supposed to do with the information passed on by the Nigerian’s father to the U.S. embassy about his son’s radicalization.