HOMELAND SECURITY: Guilty Plea in Underwear Bomb Trial
Why TSA Has to Search You There
A Nigerian man accused of trying to blow up a U.S. airliner with a bomb hidden in his underwear on Christmas Day 2009 has pleaded guilty to federal terrorism charges today (Oct. 12) – the second day of his trial –according to news reports.
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 25, pleaded guilty to all eight charges against him including conspiracy to commit terrorism and attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction, according to the Associated Press, the Detroit Free-Press, Reuters, AFP and other news outlets.
Abdulmutallab was a passenger aboard Northwest Airlines Flight 253 to Detroit from Amsterdam when the bomb he ignited failed to explode and passengers and crew subdued him and extinguished the blaze. He was the only one burned — literally and figuratively. Federal prosecutors said Abdulmutallab, the son of a Nigerian banker who warned U.S. officials that his son may have become radicalized, was influenced by fiery U.S.-born jihadist cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who was killed by a U.S. drone-fired missile in Yemen recently.
Abdulmutallab’s failed bombing attempt led to stricter – and controversial – passenger screening measures at U.S. airports. Because he successfully got his explosive device through airport security in Amsterdam and Nigeria, U.S. officials speeded up their deployment of whole body scanners that revealed what was beneath passengers’ clothes — including the passenger.
Civil liberties groups decried the screening technology as an invasion of privacy. The American Civil Liberties Union described it as a “virtual strip search.” Some conservative politicians and parents of small children were equally unhappy with the alternative to the full body screening: a rigorous physical pat-down by Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screeners. In recent months there have been several internet videos of crying children and unhappy parents at the airport security checkpoint.
TSA is a unit of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. To counter the criticism and ease passengers’ concerns, the machines were altered to show a cartoon-like image of the human subject rather than an X-ray-like picture. The TSA agent who sees the image in a different area can’t see the person being screened nor can agents at the checkpoint see the person’s body image.
The 7th Degree of Separation
Your 4GWAR editor was subjected to just such a pat-down recently at the Kansas City International Airport on our way home from the University of Kansas journalism school’s 2001 Military Journalist Experience program at Fort Leavenworth and Fort Leonard Wood.
After removing shoes and belt, emptying pockets of keys and coins, and taking our laptop out of its case, we stood before the image screener feet spread apart and arms raised when we realized our sunglasses were still atop our ahead. We stepped back to the baggage screening conveyor belt to toss them in the bin with our keys and money. Unfortunately we did this just as the unseen TSA employee snapped the picture.
Our last minute sudden move was apparently seen as an evasive action and raised a red flag. No bells or whistles went off but TSA didn’t let us pick up our property and go, either. Instead we were led off to the side where a very polite male TSA employee wearing rubber gloves (like doctors and dentists use) informed us we were going to be patted down. The experience was a cross between being fitted for trousers at the tailor and that well-known medical test to check for a hernia (‘Cough.’) Yes, “junk” was touched, but in a very efficient and professional way. The TSA officer explained what he was doing, noted he was wearing gloves and that he was using only the backs of his hands to search for contraband. He also announced in advance when the search was moving to another part of the body
When he felt an object in our pants pocket he asked us to remove it (a wad of receipts and a boarding pass documentation). Another object he asked us to remove from still another pants pocket was a bunched up, well-used hanky that we wanted to spare fellow travelers from seeing (it was ragweed season in the Heartland).
“Guess this isn’t your favorite part of the job,” we commented to the TSA officer. “Something like that,” he replied dryly. He thanked us for our cooperation. We thanked him and his co-workers for keeping us safe.
And thank you, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, for making all this necessary.
Entry filed under: Africa, Counter Terrorism, National Security and Defense, News Developments. Tags: Africa, airport screening, Anwar al-Awlaki, Christmas bomb plot, counter terrorism, Defense, Homeland Security, Nigeria, TSA, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, underwear bomber, Yemen.