Today on Fox News' Special Report with Bret Baier, during a discussion of the recent media whirlwind surrounding Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, "Fox All-Star" panelist Charles Krauthammer revived the long-discredited conservative attack that Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano cited last year's attempted Christmas Day terrorist attack as evidence that the "system had worked":
KRAUTHAMMER: This is a team that gave us a Homeland Security secretary who said after the Christmas -- the attempted attack on Christmas day last year -- that a bomb that nearly went off and where the bomber was subdued by the passengers was an example of how the system had worked. There are problems with this team.
That would be a perfectly reasonable statement, if it did not entirely ignore the fact that Napolitano's comments -- said during a December 27, 2009, appearance on CNN's State of the Union -- specifically referred to the emergency response that took place following the attempted attack:
NAPOLITANO: One thing I'd like to point out is that the system worked. Everybody played an important role here. The passengers and crew of the flight took appropriate action. Within literally an hour to 90 minutes of the incident occurring, all 128 flights in the air had been notified to take some special measures in light of what had occurred on the Northwest Airlines flight. We instituted new measures on the ground and at screening areas, both here in the United States and in Europe, where this flight originated. So the whole process of making sure that we respond properly, correctly and effectively went very smoothly.
The next day, on NBC's Today, Napolitano clarified that she was referring specifically to the emergency response and notification system.
As Media Matters pointed out at the time, numerous Fox News personalities attempted to skewer Napolitano over the remark. In doing so they, like Krauthammer, completely ignored both the original context and similar comments made by Bush administration officials in the wake of the thwarted shoe bomber attack.
After would-be shoe bomber Richard Reid was subdued by fellow passengers in 2001, both then-Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge and then-Attorney General John Ashcroft claimed success in the public's role in thwarting the attack. From a December 28, 2009, article by ABC News' Jake Tapper:
Napolitano's predecessor as Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge, went on MSNBC's Hardball on September 10, 2002, where host Chris Matthews asked him if the US government had thwarted any terrorist attacks within the US.
"You can't measure that success," Ridge said, "because it's difficult to determine with an organization that's so decentralized."
Matthews suggested that such success could in fact be measured "if you catch a guy about to blow up a building" or "you catch a guy moving a car bomb into an area of their building."
"Because of the vigilance of some citizens, we certainly have gotten some folks on airplanes, shoe bombers," Ridge said.
"Throughout the war on terrorism, our military and intelligence officials have made a concerted effort to share appropriate information with the public in order to enlist their assistance," Ashcroft said. "We've asked citizens to be vigilant, to be alert to any possible threat. The success of this strategy was made clear by yesterday's indictment of Richard Reid, who may very well have succeeded in destroying American Airlines Flight Number 63, as the indictment charges, had it not been for the courage and attentiveness of the citizen passengers and crew."