WASHINGTON – Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., and Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Me., announced Monday that they would convene a hearing in January to examine the layers of security meant to protect airline passengers from terrorist attacks but which accused terrorist Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab successfully evaded.
The hearing is intended to address two vulnerabilities exposed by the Christmas Day attack on a jetliner flying between Amsterdam and Detroit: Why the names of passengers boarding flights from abroad to the United States are not checked against our broadest database of known or suspected terrorists, rather than against a smaller screening database? And why aren’t more passengers asked to pass through whole body imaging scanners that might have detected the explosives Abdulmutallab was carrying?
“I view Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab as a terrorist who evaded our homeland security defenses and who would have killed hundreds of people if the explosives he tried to detonate had worked," Senator Lieberman said. "We were very lucky this time but we may not be so lucky next time, which is why our defenses must be strengthened. What we know about the Abdulmutallab case raises two big, urgent questions that we are holding this hearing to answer: Why aren’t airline passengers flying into the U.S. checked against the broadest terrorist database and why isn’t whole body scanning technology that can detect explosives in wider use?"
Said Senator Collins: "We dodged a bullet on Christmas Day in the skies over Detroit. Nearly 300 lives were spared when this terrorist attack failed, but we cannot pin our nation’s security on good fortune, the bravery of other passengers, or the mistakes of our enemies. Our security strategies must put data into the hands of those who can take action to detect and disrupt attacks before they occur. We cannot expect to be this lucky next time.
“Our Committee’s inquiry will focus on identifying information-sharing and analysis gaps as well as any other security breakdowns,” she said. “Our Committee will ask why the names of passengers boarding planes to the United States are not run against all the databases of suspected terrorists, so that individuals of concern can be subjected to more thorough questioning and inspections.
“In this specific case, if our security officials had intelligence on the radicalization of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, questions arise about why his visa was not canceled. We must carefully investigate why that apparently did not happen in this case."
The Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee has been investigating violent Islamist extremism and self-radicalization since 2006, holding 10 hearings and issuing a report on the Internet’s role in self-radicalization. The Committee is also conducting an investigation of the circumstances leading up to the Nov. 5 Fort Hood massacre.
On Dec. 9, the Committee held a hearing on preventing terrorist travel, focused on international travel security measures such as the Visa Waiver program, the U.S. Visit program and the Terrorist Screening Center.