John Brennan, deputy National Security Advisor for the Obama administration, made his Sunday morning television debut yesterday, appearing on four of the five major public affairs programs nine days after the failed terrorist attack on a Detroit airplane took place.
His first task was to provide the intel on why the U.S. had closed down its embassy over night in Yemen, telling Fox News Sunday that, Until the Yemeni government gets on top of the situation with Al Qaeda, there is a risk of attacks. We know that there are a number of Al Qaeda operatives who are determined to carry out such attacks.
On the various other programs, roundtables with Democratic and Republican members of Congress took place to discuss Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's attempt to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight, but perhaps the most surprising criticism came from the co-chair of the 9/11 Committee, former New Jersey Republican Governor Thomas Kean.
On CNN, Kean labeled Brennan a bit defensive in his explanation as to why our various intelligence agencies failed to catch Abdulmutallab before he got on the airplane from Amsterdam to Detroit.
And he also blamed the President's months long pursuit on getting a health care bill passed, saying that Obama had been "distracted" with that pursuit (along with dealing with the recession and the two wars). Kean said it was "understandable, but not acceptable." (This morning on MSNBC, Kean's 9/11 Commission colleague, former Nebraska Senator Bob Kerrey, disagreed with Kean's criticism of Obama).
More criticism came Obama's way from that pesky independent, Connecticut Joe Lieberman, who strongly objected to trying Abdulmutallab in criminal court.
But Obama did receive tacit support from two former Bush Administration officials - former CIA head Michael Hayden and Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff, when it came to former Vice President Dick Cheney's latest outburst, when he recited to Politico last week that Obama doesn't believe 'were at war'.
"It's disappointing to me that either the vice president and others have willfully mischaracterized President Obama's position and actions, or they're just ignorant of the facts. I'm neither a Republican nor a Democrat. I've worked for the previous five administrations, and this president is determined, and I think it is demonstrated in his language. He says that were at war with Al Qaida. Were going to destroy Al Qaida the organization."
But like most Republicans, Chertoff does not look favorably on the administration bringing Khalid Sheik Mohammed to trial in New York City.
Issues like privacy vs. security and ethnic profiling were also raised.
Also, Homeland Security head Janet Napolitano has taken on a boatload of criticism after her ill advised comment last Sunday that "the system worked," in reference to the incident. She backed down the following day, but Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins a week later was still incredulous, saying,
I will say that her initial comments were bizarre and inappropriate. It baffled me that she said that the system worked very, very smoothly, when clearly it did not. It also surprised me when she implied that there was not information to indicate that this individual posed a threat when there was information.
I have to admit that it seemed all the players were performing their part on the various shows. It's been predictable since 9/11 that the various politicians take potshots at their opponents, etc.
That's why I was so enlightened to read journalist Amanda Ripley's column in TIME over the weekend, in which she wrote that the real lesson from the aborted attack was that airline passengers are not helpless.
As she writes, the incident of in Detroit was the 5th time (including on one of the downed planes on 9/11) where passengers have fought back - without weapons or training- and stopped an attack on an airplane.
And yet our collective response to this legacy of ass-kicking is puzzling. Each time, we build a slapdash pedestal for the heroes. Then we go back to blaming the government for failing to keep us safe, and the government goes back to treating us like children. This now familiar ritual distracts us from the real lesson, which is that we are not helpless. And since regular people will always be first on the scene of terrorist attacks, we should perhaps prioritize the public's antiterrorism capability above and beyond the fancy technology that will never be foolproof.