Interestingly, this notion that the government can claim success when an aspiring terrorist proceeds through airport security, boards a plane with explosives, and is only stopped because of his own incompetence and a vigilant public, is not new to the Obama administration.
In a press conference on January 17, 2002, then-Attorney General John Ashcroft made a similar claim about shoe-bomber Richard Reid.
“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.”
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.