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Published: Wednesday, 1/6/2010

Safety first

THE concern of Americans over the unsuccessful bombing attempt by Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab follows a familiar set of circumstances - the lack of effective intelligence coordination among various U.S. agencies.

These include the Department of Homeland Security, the Transportation Security Administration, the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, the National Counterterrorism Center, and the Department of State.

It is their collective responsibility to sift through the world's potential security threats and, sharing information, boil them down to a database of now about 550,000 people and further to a no-fly list of about 4,000.

Somehow, in spite of warning signs along the way in Nigeria, the United Kingdom, and at least four U.S. agencies, Mr. Abdulmutallab slipped through the cracks and onto a plane that flew Dec. 25 from Amsterdam to Detroit.

The failure to coordinate the pieces of information was not helped by an ongoing feud between the director of national intelligence, Adm. Dennis C. Blair, who heads an office created after 9/11 to pull together U.S. intelligence among various agencies, and CIA Director Leon E. Panetta, a former White House chief of staff.

Another major missing cog in the machine is the director of the TSA. President Obama nominated a professional, Erroll G. Southers, for the job in September, but Sen. Jim DeMint, a Republican from South Carolina, maintains a hold on the appointment for political reasons.

Mr. Obama was correct in saying that "systemic failure" was at fault for Mr. Abdulmutallab's having been on the plane. The U.S. taxpayer has spent an estimated $40 billion, paid to TSA employees and contractors since Sept. 11, 2001, to address this problem.

Millions of Americans have submitted to inconvenience, delay, and hassle at airports and in the air in the name of security ever since - and it will almost certainly get worse in the wake of the Christmas Day event.

It's high time Mr. Obama took charge of the process, starting by making the people who run it do their jobs.

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