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Skelton says thwarted Christmas Day plane attack must serve as warning
Skelton says thwarted Christmas Day plane attack must serve as warning

Congressman Ike Skelton
WASHINGTON, D.C. (Jan. 10, 2010) — On Christmas Day, a Nigerian with alleged ties to al Qa’ida attempted to detonate a bomb on board a Detroit-bound airliner. For many reasons, this attack disturbs me. Despite all that our law enforcement, intelligence, and policy communities have done to keep Americans safe, this incident demonstrates that weaknesses still exist in our global strategy to protect the American people against terrorism. I understand that there were failures across the government and the international community that quite frankly, eight years after the attacks on 9-11, should not have happened.

In the late 1990s, I noticed some disturbing trends within the Department of Defense regarding American efforts to prevent and prepare for terrorist attacks. I asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to look into the issue, and, by November 1998, my inquiries resulted in a series of five nonpartisan reports detailing various communication deficiencies within the DOD. In essence, the right hand did not know what the left hand was doing.

As the attempted bombing demonstrates, it appears that the issues identified by the GAO, which the Department of Defense corrected a decade ago, are disrupting other agencies’ efforts to prevent and destroy terror operations today. Failures, to include proper information sharing across all agencies and identification of relevant signs within mountains of data, continue to challenge our ability to identify potential extremists poised to strike.

That is why I sent a letter to President Obama two weeks ago outlining my frustration and concern with the almost-catastrophic failures of Christmas Day. Given the technologies available and the high quality personnel serving in our government, there is no excuse for security breakdowns of such magnitude.

I have also urged the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Terrorism, Unconventional Threats and Capabilities, Rep. Adam Smith, to delve deeper into this issue and build on the substantial body of work this subcommittee has already compiled on this subject. And, it is my intention that the full Armed Services Committee, throughout the remainder of the year, will examine the state of al Qa’ida and the Department of Defense’s efforts to defeat extremist forces. The Committee will also take a hard look at capacity-building initiatives of partner countries in the fight against al Qa’ida; at the Administration’s policy on detainees and any transfers of such detainees from the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; and at ongoing efforts against al Qa’ida and other extremist groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The attempted Christmas Day attack is a grim reminder that our enemies are deliberate and cunning in their quest to attack our nation. If given the chance, they will undoubtedly strike again. Either through direct military action, as we have undertaken in Afghanistan, or governmental support, like U.S. efforts in Pakistan or Yemen, our government must remain on the offensive. As Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, I will continue to direct bipartisan American efforts to secure our nation.

Congressman Ike Skelton (D-Mo.) serves as chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. Congressman Skelton’s website is at www.house.gov/skelton.

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