GOP Appropriators Probe Aviation Security Gaps

Senior Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee wrote to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano Wednesday, demanding descriptions of the gaps that allowed suspected terrorist Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to threat a US-bound flight on Christmas Day and how the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is changing processes to address those gaps.

Reps. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) and Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) wrote to Napolitano to demand replies to a series of questions relating to Abdulmutallab’s apparent attempt to blow up Northwest Flight 253 by Jan. 6, 2010.

"As the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, we believe it is your duty to account for this failure and request you immediately provide to the committee a report on this incident," the congressmen wrote.

Lewis and Rogers underscored that Congress had funded numerous improvements in aviation screening technologies and procedures as well as information-sharing methods that should have halted Abdulmutallab’s aborted attack if properly applied. The questions, coming from prominent members of the Appropriations Committee, could signify a movement toward more funding for those efforts.

The lawmakers posed a series of questions to Napolitano concerning what was done with information submitted by the father of Abdulmutallab from Nigeria on his radicalization and how Abdulmutallab was thereafter classified by various US watch lists.

They also inquired as to what communications occurred between the United Kingdom, which denied Abdulmutallab a student visa recently, and US authorities? Also, what detailed intelligence did the United States possess, if any, concerning potential terrorist attacks on US-bound flights leading up to Christmas Day?

In addition, they were interested in the type and method of passenger screening Abdulmutallab underwent from his point of origin and layovers on Northwest Flight 253. They further asked about the status of coverage by federal air marshals for US-bound flights from Amsterdam, where Flight 253 had its layover en route to Detroit.

The letter demanded Napolitano submit a complete technical assessment of the explosives carried by Abdulmutallab and the inspection and screening methods capable of detecting such explosives.

Finally, the letter asked, what is DHS doing to improve passenger screening and to boost information sharing with the Terrorist Screening Center and the National Counter-Terrorism Center, considering the breakdowns that occurred in the case of Abdulmutallab?

"Considering our nation has invested in aviation security, counterterrorism, and information sharing since 9/11, and given the tactics employed by the alleged bomber were not beyond the reach of current screening capabilities, we cannot understand why this attack was not prevented before it even occurred," Lewis and Rogers wrote.

"Therefore, we respectfully take exception to the Administration’s initial findings that the ‘system worked.’ On the contrary, the system appears to have failed upon multiple levels and we believe we must do all we can do to prevent such an event from ever occurring again," they concluded.

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