Averted disaster has important security lessons

Call it a Christmas Day miracle that the airplane descending into Detroit Friday night did not crash.
The right ingredients were there: A young man indoctrinated to harm Americans laden with enough explosives to tear a hole in the side of the plane.
The biggest hole was in U.S. security measures that failed to prevent Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab from boarding the transcontiental flight from Amsterdam to the United States.
In October, Abdulmutallab’s father had contacted U.S. authorities about his son’s increasingly radical Islamist views and his loss of contact with family members. The two changes in his son had caused the Nigerian banker to worry of what he had become and might do.
Alerted U.S. authorities then put Abdulmutallab on a list of possible terrorists — joining 500,000 other names — which dictates only to track suspicious activities that might lead up to conclusive evidence of terrorism. The smaller no-fly list is whittled down to 4,000 names.
Abdulmutallab, 23, boarded the plane with the hard-to-come-by ex-plosives sewn into his underwear. In Amsterdam, for reasons yet to be explained, imaging ma-chines, which might have detected the pouch, were not being used for U.S.-bound passengers.
Fortunately, the explosives did not go off as planned and the young man was subdued by fellow passengers and crew.
Since the 2001 commandeering by radical Islamists of four U.S. airliners to crash into the World Trade Center towers, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field, it’s been proven that people — not faulty engines or unfortunate birds — are the most dangerous components to air travel.
Besides the father’s warning of his son’s potential for harm, two other tips should have triggered security alarms: He paid for the $2,831 ticket in cash and he had no luggage save a small carry-on.
It’s another call to remain vigilant in airport screenings. But it’s a bigger call to realize that the young man did not act alone and that the fight to eliminate terrorist training grounds must be continued around the world.

— Susan Lynn