Various experts have gathered bits of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s biography. Since they can string the facts together to accurately predict the past, they thunder, the intelligence services should have been able to connect the dots to predict the future.
Dick Cheney argues that the error was caused by some ideological choice. Arlen Specter screams for more technology — full-body examining devices. “We thought that had been remedied,” said Senator Kit Bond, as if omniscience could be accomplished with legislation.
...For better or worse, over the past 50 years we have concentrated authority in centralized agencies and reduced the role of decentralized citizen action. We’ve done this in many spheres of life. Maybe that’s wise, maybe it’s not. But we shouldn’t imagine that these centralized institutions are going to work perfectly or even well most of the time. It would be nice if we reacted to their inevitable failures not with rabid denunciation and cynicism, but with a little resiliency, an awareness that human systems fail and bad things will happen and we don’t have to lose our heads every time they do [David Brooks, "The God That Fails," New York Times, 2009.12.31].
Brooks doesn't try to score political points: he offers equal criticism here for Republicans and Democrats. Everyone from Bush to Obama has bought into the notion that big government and big technology can solve all of our problems, and that if they produce anything less than perfect results, heads must roll.
Madison had 71 crimes over a four-month period, but we don't call for Chief Pulford's resignation or a complete overhaul of our "failing" police department. It's too bad we can't be similarly level-headed on airport security. A little British stiff upper lip might do more good than further investments in the diminishing returns of "Security Theater."