WHAT IS it with Cabinet members named Janet whose last names end in "o"?
First came Janet Reno, the Clinton attorney general who helped set the fire at Waco (with some help from the ATF) and had trouble with an illegal Elian.
But as wacky as she was (wrestling with crocs, both real and rhetorical), she looks positively competent compared to Janet Napolitano, the Obama administration head of homeland security who declared in the wake of the foiled terror attack on Christmas Day that "the system worked really very, very smoothly." (She also oversaw a report that equated political opponents of President Obama and some veterans with terrorists and hate groups. Apparently, she has a tenuous grip on reality.)
To her credit, Napolitano did a 180 after noticing the dropped jaws that greeted her original statement, admitting a day later that "clearly, there's some work that needs to be done."
A good start might be to link the names of people on no-fly lists to those special few on the terror-watch advisories. Call me crazy, but it actually might be useful to know whether the fellow slipping through security at your local airport has a hot date with 72 virgins later in the day.
But this is a serious matter that could've ended tragically for all those on Flight 253. Luckily, the terrorist (and let's stop calling him "alleged," as if he were a teenage carjacker in Kensington) was incompetent, his explosives failed to detonate, and some very alert passengers put out the fire he managed to ignite.
I suppose that's what Napolitano meant when she said the system worked "very smoothly." But by that measure, the system also worked "very smoothly" when the valiant passengers on United Flight 93 overcame the crazed jihadists bent on sending that plane into the bowels of the White House.
I doubt that anyone with a modicum of intelligence would agree that passengers and crew should be the last line of defense against an Islamic terrorist.
Napolitano's defenders say that what she really meant was that all's well that ends well. Or, as a letter writer to the Daily News wrote, "the part of our system that worked is the vigilance of our citizens. No planes were destroyed, lives lost or buildings toppled."
That subtle dig was obviously directed at the last administration, but you simply cannot shift the obligation of "vigilance" to the citizenry. One of the principal obligations of government is to protect and defend us and our borders. It shouldn't be left to people with boarding passes.
As an immigration attorney, I'm more aware than the average person just how difficult it is to deal with the flow of foreign visitors. Our airport personnel are overtaxed, undertrained and often handcuffed by rules that predate the age of terror. While they bear a large part of the responsibility of protecting us from terrorists, they alone are not to blame for this broken system.
Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab should never have been allowed to get on any flight. He should not have been allowed into the United States in the first place, given his shady dealings in Yemen and his associations in England. And yet he had a U.S. visa and made multiple entries to this country, even though he was on a terror watch list.
The State Department gave him a visa. Customs, which falls under Homeland Security, let him in. The Department of Justice, which governs the FBI, mismanaged the terror watch list and coordination with State and DHS. Every single agency that is charged with protecting us fell down on the job.
So Napolitano's seemingly clueless comment that "the system has worked really very, very smoothly" is really a slap in the face to all Americans who believe that their government is working to protect them.
In reality, Napolitano and her buddies need to do more.
Like mandating full body scans at security checkpoints. Sure, the ACLU (Attempting to Create Loopholes Union) calls it a violation of our "privacy." But terrorists don't have privacy rights, and the rest of us can probably deal with having a snapshot of our undies taken if it saves lives.
Some profiling, like the psychological variety the Israelis use, also works, and we should look into adapting it.
We need programs that work, not ones that get good headlines - or treat little old ladies just like young men hopscotching from terror sanctuary to terror sanctuary via airline tickets paid for with cash. I hope our DHS honchette knows that now.
Christine M. Flowers is a lawyer. Listen to her Sundays on WPHT/1210 AM, 4 to 6 p.m.