Special to CNN
[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2010/CRIME/01/06/detroit.bomb/story.abdulmutallab.jpg.jpg width=300 height=169]
The Underwear Bomber failed. And our reaction to the failed plot is failing as well, by focusing on the specifics of this made-for-a-movie plot rather than the broad threat. While our reaction is predictable, it's not going to make us safer.
We're going to beef up airport security, because Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab allegedly snuck a bomb through a security checkpoint. We're going to intensively screen Nigerians, because he is Nigerian. We're going to field full body scanners, because they might have noticed the PETN that authorities say was hidden in his underwear. And so on.
We're doing these things even though security worked. The security checkpoints, even at their pre-9/11 levels, forced whoever made the bomb to construct a much worse bomb than he would have otherwise. Instead of using a timer or a plunger or another reliable detonation mechanism, as would any commercial user of PETN, he had to resort to an ad hoc homebrew - and a much more inefficient one, involving a syringe, and 20 minutes in the lavatory, and we don't know exactly what else - that didn't explode.
At that point, AbdulMutallab's fellow passengers quickly subdued him. Yes, the screeners didn't notice any PETN in his underwear, but the system was never intended to catch that particular tactic. There probably were intelligence failures - why wasn't his father's tip followed up on, and why wasn't his visa revoked? - but it's always easy to connect the dots in hindsight.
Anderson Cooper goes beyond the headlines to tell stories from many points of view, so you can make up your own mind about the news. Tune in weeknights at 8 and 10 ET on CNN.
Questions or comments? Send an email
Want to know more? Go behind the scenes with