The arguments over the use of our available, existing technology that can detect the same plastic explosive Richard Reid used in 2001 — the House voted this summer to prevent scanners from being used for primary screening — distract from the real issues of threat assessment highlighted by this frightening episode. What criteria are used to determine potential threats? What is the threshold for "derogatory information" that would move someone like Abdulmutallab from the TIDE (Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment) list to the no-fly list, or at least to a list of people requiring extra screening?

The Obama administration must answer the pertinent questions, and do so as soon as possible, holiday or no holiday. If the administration has been working closely with the Yemeni government to try to contain the growth of al Qaeda in that country, then President Obama should not allow leaks to The New York Times to speak for him; he should tell Americans exactly what he is doing to make sure we are kept safe on his watch. If the Homeland Security policies that permitted this incident are left over from the George W. Bush administration, then new ones need to replace them.

Democrats should be aware that this incident poses very real political problems for their party, should the American public view the administration's response as insufficient or inadequate. This is the first time Democrats have governed in the post-Sept. 11 age of terrorism, and this is their first test. The response thus far is more than disappointing.

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