Because Faisal Shahzad nearly got airborne en route to Dubai, and we only narrowly managed to stop the takeoff and snag him, everyone wants to know why the no-fly list didn’t work. One issue is that Mr Shahzad was only added to the list that same day, so we’re responding by tightening the rules for using the no-fly list:
Airlines have been required to check the no-fly list for updates only every 24 hours. But the new rule, sent to airlines on Wednesday to take effect immediately, requires that they check within two hours of receiving notification that a high-priority name has been added to the list.
Hm. That sort of goes without saying, doesn’t it? I mean, if the list can be updated any time, then it makes sense to refresh it more than once a day, and it especially makes sense to respond to high-priority requests to refresh it. It boggles the mind that this isn’t already being done. Moreover, this should all be computerized, and the lists that are being used should be updated in close to real time. Are they actually printing paper lists?
But that’s assuming that the list has much value, in general, and it seems clear that it doesn’t. How many people have we really stopped from flying, who we actually wanted to stop from flying? We don’t have numbers on that — it’s a secret, of course — but wouldn’t the TSA be crowing about its success if it were significant? Yet we know that we’ve used it to turn Yusuf Islam (the former popular singer Cat Stevens) away at the border. We know we’ve used it to hassle and delay numerous honest, respectable, non-threatening people with unfortunate names, from five-year-old boys to aged grandparents.
A list of names simply doesn’t scale to the level we need it to for this task. And, yet, a list of names is what we have — a list of names that isn’t refreshed often enough to catch a suspect on the lam. We’re told the list makes us safer. I don’t believe it does. Show me the numbers to prove it.
Oh, and we have a no-fly list, but we don’t have a no-weapon list. Faisal Shahzad bought himself a powerful gun last month. He wasn’t on the no-fly list then... but if he had been, it wouldn’t have stopped him from snagging the weapon, legally, a weapon he could have easily taken on a killing spree through Times Square, just in case the bomb didn’t work.
Mayor Bloomberg thinks that should be fixed:
When gun dealers run background checks, should F.B.I. agents have the authority to block sales of guns and explosives to those on the terror watch lists — and deemed too dangerous to fly? I believe strongly that they should.
I agree, and I find it mystifying that we haven’t already done that.
I also think the NRA will bust a blood vessel on this, which would seem somewhat ironic.
Update, 11:00 — And in the New York Times, Gail Collins has an op-ed piece about the gun issue.
Here's an excerpt from what Ms Collins says:
Terror threats make politicians behave somewhat irrationally. But the subject of guns makes them act like a paranoid mother ferret protecting her litter. The National Rifle Association, the fiercest lobby in Washington, grades every member of Congress on how well they toe the N.R.A. line. Lawmakers with heavily rural districts would rather vote to legalize carrying concealed weapons in kindergarten than risk getting less than 100 percent.
Why can’t the voices favouring sensible control of dangerous weapons establish equal sway?
Update, 17:00 — And a New York Times editorial about the gun issue.