Janet Napolitano

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Once lost, credibility is a difficult thing to get back. Especially when you hold a position where the public’s safety rides on your instincts and reflexes in a crisis.

The Homeland Security Secretary this morning is trying to walk back yesterday’s bone-headed assertion that the “system worked” in the near-miss that allowed a bomber with explosives in his underwear–someone who was already on a watch list of people with terrorism ties–to board an airplane and nearly blow it out of the sky. In this instance, the “system” came down to luck and the bravery of the suspect’s fellow passengers. The real question is, what was this guy doing on the plane in the first place? We are learning, for instance, that Britain also had the guy under watch and prevented him from even obtaining a visa.

Over at Real Clear Politics, Tom Bevan puts his finger on the problem:

It’s fine for Napolitano to want to reassure the American public that the skies are safe. That’s part of her job, too. But she should be smart enough to find a way of doing that without treating the American people like a bunch of morons and dupes.

Clearly, when a person who has been flagged for investigation of being a suspected terrorist (alerted to the presence of US officials by his father, no less) manages to get through security and take a seat on a US-bound airliner with a bomb strapped to his crotch, the system is not working the way it’s designed to.

The reason we didn’t have a major terror attack over Detroit three days ago is because of the heroism of the passengers on Flight 253 and the fact Abdulmutallab’s bomb had a faulty trigger. Neither of those things are part of “the system” that the government manages to ensure (to the best of its ability) that the public is safe from terrorists when they get on an airplane.

Despite sufficient warnings, that system failed – and the Secretary of Homeland Security made a fool of herself by going on television yesterday and asserting the opposite.

But rather than acknowledging she said something really, really stupid, Napolitano is now insisting she was “taken out of context.”

She wasn’t–as the video here shows. Here’s how she described “the system”:

And 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.

So given a chance for a do-over, Napolitano’s response was more spin. At this point, it only seems fair to ask: Does the Obama Administration really have the right person in this very important and sensitive job?