Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

The case for firing Janet Napolitano

By Ed Rollins, CNN Senior Political Contributor
  • Before 9/11, airport security was a joke and agencies feuded, Ed Rollins says
  • He says Detroit incident shows similar problems persist
  • Obama needs to do more than get mad, he must hold someone responsible, Rollins says
  • He says Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano should be fired

Editor's note: Ed Rollins, a senior political contributor for CNN, is senior presidential fellow at the Kalikow Center for the Study of the American Presidency at Hofstra University. He was White House political director for President Reagan and chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee.

New York (CNN) -- On the second page of the executive summary of the 9/11 commission report is a line we should all remember: "[T]he 9/11 attacks were a shock but they should not have been a surprise. Islamist extremists had given plenty of warning that they meant to kill Americans indiscriminately and in large numbers."

Christmas Day could easily have gone into history as another day nearly as infamous as Pearl Harbor day or 9/11. The United States was attacked, allegedly by Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab, who got past whatever security precautions might have stopped him from boarding Northwest Flight 253 for Detroit, Michigan.

If the attack had been successful, 279 passengers and 11 crew members would probably be dead, and we wouldn't be discussing Democrats hiding behind closed doors to wrap up a health care bill.

Thankfully no one was killed, and the threat was stopped by the incompetence of the would-be bomber, not the competence of our security apparatus.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said immediately after the incident that "the system worked," intending to refer to what happened after the failed bombing. But people took it as a defense of the overall system, and she had to spend time clarifying her comment afterward.

Clearly the system didn't work. Her boss, the president, made that plain in his comments Tuesday: "The bottom line is this: The U.S. government had sufficient information to have uncovered this plot and potentially disrupt the Christmas Day attack, but our intelligence community failed to connect those dots which would have placed the suspect on the no-fly list," Obama said.

And now we find out our most important ally, Britain, also had sufficient intelligence and had warned us in advance about AbdulMutallab.

Pre-9/11, our guard was down. Airport security was a joke, and our national intelligence apparatus was a bunch of fiefdoms that didn't want to cooperate and wouldn't share information with each other.

In the aftermath of that great American tragedy, 9/11, the system was supposed to be fixed.

The Department of Homeland Security was created and all intelligence was put under one entity, headed by the director of national intelligence. But the failures outlined Tuesday are the same failures that caused 9/11.

Why have we as Americans spent billions of dollars, inconvenienced our lives, and lost many of our own freedoms? And in spite of the fortunate outcome in Detroit, is this next decade going to be one in which Americans lose more freedoms? Or is it going to be one in which we say, "Stop! I am not going to be intimidated."

I know we live in a dangerous time, but are we letting the other side win by letting our way of life be taken away from us by being overly cautious and maybe even overprotected? How come every time a system breaks down, we citizens are made to endure more?

Even before the president and his homeland security secretary issue their new travel guidelines, I know more of my personal freedoms are going to be eroded.

As someone who has traveled extensively, I now look at going to an airport with the same dread I felt as a kid going to the dentist. I know it is going to be a painful experience.

If I thought for one moment the TSA teams (50,000 plus strong) at the airport, who treat me as a potential terrorist, could actually catch a real terrorist, I might be a more willing victim of their harassment. I now have to be searched, my computer and Kindle stacked separately, shoes off (thanks to Richard Reid, another incompetent bomber), belt, wallet, watch and whatever else taken out, and have my ticket and ID checked every 10 feet even though I am in their secure space. Now my underwear is to be viewed as a secret weapon.

How does a man on a watch list, whose very own father turns him in as a potential terrorist, plunk down $3,000 in cash and get on a plane anywhere?

We as taxpayers are now spending billions on airport security and other intelligence to keep us safe. My challenge is: Get what you need, but get it right! No more excuses.

When I worked in the White House, I was told it was the big leagues. Zero defects was the rule. It was like the National Football League and you had to perform at the very top level or you were gone.

We have just finished the regular season of the National Football League and there are some lessons to be learned from that sport. Perform and you survive. Don't perform and you are fired.

Eight years after 9/11, the system failed. Mr. President, follow the example of your neighbor, the unpopular Redskins owner Dan Snyder, and hold someone accountable. Snyder fired his general manager and his football coach for a failed season.

You need to fire someone for the security failures. This is the second big-time security failure this year -- the White House gate crashers and now the Detroit bomber. The two agencies that have failed security big-time are the Secret Service and TSA.

The person in charge of both agencies is Janet Napolitano. Fire her and convince us that standing in long lines at airports is worth the price.

Getting mad is not enough, Mr. President. We're mad too. But you can do something about it!

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ed Rollins.