If nothing else, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab succeeded in thrusting debate about airport and aviation security back into the realm of public debate when he unsuccessfully attempted to blow up a plane traveling from Amsterdam to Detroit on Dec. 25.
Two days after the botched ploy, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano said the nation's aviation security "system has worked really very, very smoothly over the course of the past several days." The next day, she conceded, "Our system did not work in this instance. No one is happy or satisfied with that. An extensive review is under way."
President Obama has ordered investigations of how travelers are placed on watch lists and how passengers are screened. Abdulmutallab was placed on a U.S. security watch list after his father told authorities Abdulmutallab had "become radicalized," but the information was not specific enough to put him on the no-fly list, a National Counterterrorism Center official said.
Following the incident, Dutch authorities said "security was well-performed," but days later Dutch airport authorities announced they planned to make mandatory new, more sensitive scanners that can detect unusual objects on the body and hidden under clothing. The explosive powder and a syringe of chemicals Abdulmutallab used in his ploy were allegedly hidden in his underwear.
The new microwave scanners the Dutch plan to implement are not as strong as the see-through scanners that allow security staff to see passengers virtually naked and detect items swallowed or concealed inside the body. The see-through scanners are being tested at airports in the U.S. and around the world.
And this brings us back to the popular debate that pits the safety of the public against the privacy of an individual.
Should see-through scanners be installed at airports to make it harder to bring dangerous materials onto a plane? Should requirements be less stringent to place a person on the no-fly list? Or would these changes infringe too heavily on the privacy of individuals?