Thursday, December 31, 2009

Note to reporters on the penis-bomb

The penis-bomb fizzle in Detroit (there's a phrase I never imagined writing!) points up the utter failure of U.S. intelligence agencies. Abdulmutallab bought his ticket with cash and didn't check a bag! His own father had reported him directly to the Nigerian embassy. Our Nigerian embassy.

Systems fail, though. All systems.

What I'd like to see as follow-up to this good factual story from the New York Times is a way for me to assess whether this was a rare failure due to imperfection or a symptom of systemic failure. That requires numbers:

  • How many reports are the intelligence agencies sharing?
  • What proportion lead to actions (beyond entry into a database that "serves as holding area for cases that need more research")? And, no, 1700 visas revoked in eight years doesn't seem like a lot to me.
  • What proportion of similar fact patterns to this attack elicit a no-fly order? A pat-down order? Some other protective act, where here there was none?
Who's going to report that story?

Update: An attempt at context, though I want details on the firehose intel is drinking from, and Ackerman ignores the behavioral markers - cash and no carry-on.

Update (1/9/10): Hey, my Google alert tells me the Wall Street Journal has linked to me. With such a pithy title, too, espethially if you lithp!

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