Criticism of Security Effort Rises After Christmas Day Attack

In an impressive amount of fallout from an unexploded bomb, ratings of the government's anti-terrorism efforts have dropped to post-9/11 lows since the attempted Christmas Day airliner attack. Security concerns have moved farther ahead of privacy rights – and most Americans now oppose closing the Guantanamo Bay detention center.

Just a third of Americans in a new ABC News/Washington Post poll now give a positive rating to U.S. efforts to break up the al Qaeda network, half what it was in the fall of 2002. Ratings of federal efforts to prevent further terrorism improve intelligence gathering and reorganize anti-terrorism agencies likewise are down sharply, also to their lowest in polling since 2002.

Click here for a PDF with charts and questionnaire.

Overall, barely more than half, 51 percent, say the U.S. campaign against terrorism is going well, down 11 points in 16 months and, like these other measures, its worst in polling since the Sept. 11 attacks. It peaked, by contrast, as high as 88 percent after the overthrow of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

A majority now opposes President Obama's plans to close the U.S. detention center for suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. At 56 percent, opposition has risen sharply, by 18 points, since last spring. And most Americans now express qualified support for passenger profiling as a security measure.

Despite the heightened concerns, Obama receives broad approval for handling the government's response to the attempted bombing – at 62 percent it's his highest individual rating of six in the latest ABC/Post poll. And 63 percent express at least some confidence that the intelligence errors associated with the attack will be fixed – although just 14 percent are "very" confident of it.

The Senate held hearings today on the Christmas Day terrorism attempt, which Obama has blamed on a "systemic failure" to link and act upon available intelligence. He promised better intelligence efforts, expanded terrorism watch lists and more rigorous airport screening.

Rights and Profiling

While security has outpaced privacy rights as a concern steadily since Sept. 11, the dial has moved farther in that direction: Seventy-five percent now call it more important for the government to investigate possible terrorist threats, even if that intrudes on personal privacy – up 12 points from a late 2006 poll to the most since September 2002.

Results on profiling, however, show that privacy concerns do remain. Americans fairly narrowly (53 percent) support the authorities using personal characteristics such as religion, ethnicity and nationality in airline passenger security screening. But if it's a more targeted effort, in which these characteristics are combined with other information to create an overall profile, rather than just used on their own, support soars to 83 percent.

Previous polling has pointed the same way, indicating that the public is willing to accept privacy intrusions in the name of security, but with a preference for those intrusions to be as focused and targeted as possible – and, of course, effective.

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