Reading about the secret world of spy warfare and America's Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in World War II can be a fascinating subject.

This department, which was a forerunner of our Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), was a product of the Pearl Harbor attack. Breaking the codes and obtaining intelligence on potential enemies was critical to the defeat of the Axis powers – Germany and Japan – in World War II.

As 9/11 and the ongoing war on terrorism prove, America still has enemies who hate and despise this nation. You would think that the government's skills and techniques regarding intelligence activity would have improved in the seven decades since those early days of the OSS.

Today, we face an enemy that we must stay one step ahead of in this deadly chess game.

On Christmas Day, another terror plot failed, but it wasn't the result of great work by our intelligence people. For the second time in a decade, a shoe bomber tried to blow up a trans-Atlantic flight. Fortunately, the detonation of explosives carried by Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, failed, just as it did for shoe bomber Richard Reid in 2002.

In fact, this latest episode was even more embarrassing since the bomber managed to get through two airport security checkpoints. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano offered little reassurance – to the 278 passengers and crew aboard the Northwest Airline Flight or to any other Americans who flew during the Christmas weekend. Napolitano said that Abdulmutallab "was stopped before any damage could be done" and that once the incident occurred, "everything happened that should have."

Her words are hardly reassuring.

Napolitano also said that there was no indication yet that Abdulmutallab is part of a larger terrorist plot, but that his possible ties to al-Qaida are still under investigation. Yet Abdulmutallab reportedly told authorities after his arrest that his plan originated with al-Qaida's network inside Yemen.

Napolitano needs to open her eyes or at least apply some common sense. The facts certainly don't show that our intelligence is staying a step ahead of our enemies in this chess match.

Abdulmutallab had been placed on a watch list with more than 500,000 names in November, but not one that denied him passage by air into the U.S. And how was it that this devoted Islamic radical came to the attention of U.S. officials? It wasn't through some super spy work by our intelligence people but by the suspect's own father, a prominent Nigerian banker, who reportedly alerted the American Embassy in Nigeria about his son's increasingly extremist views.

U.S. intelligence should have quickly acted on this information, which was gift-wrapped for them by Abdulmutallab's suspicious father. He should have been thoroughly checked out and placed on a no-fly list. But Napolitano said that would have required "specific, credible, derogatory information" that authorities didn't have.

Apparently, a father's suspicions about his own son's radical tendencies is not strong or credible enough information for the homeland secretary.

We wonder if Napolitano would feel differently had she been one of the 278 people terrorized aboard that Northwest Airline flight on Christmas Day.

By Jim Zbick

jzbick@tnonline.com