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What did Janet Napolitano mean by 'one-off'?

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano once again faces criticism for seeming to underreact to a possible terrorist attack. Back in December, she memorably remarked that “the system worked” after alert passengers stopped a would-be underwear bomber aboard an airliner. Now Democratic spinmeister Paul Begala is faulting her for saying on Sunday that there was no evidence that the Times Square car bomb was “anything other than a one-off.”

Napolitano would indeed look bad if she were prematurely implying that we were dealing with a lone nut rather than a wider conspiracy, as now appears highly possible. But that judgment has to await the answer to another question, specifically: What the heck is a “one-off,” anyway? I vaguely recall this is a British expression meaning “one of a kind,” or something like that. The American equivalent might be “one-shot deal.” If so, then perhaps Napolitano simply intended to suggest that the Times Square bomb was a single attack as opposed to just one of several coordinated attacks. That interpretation gets some support from this Newsweek item, which looks to be based on DHS leaks.

Anyway, I’d welcome reader definitions of the Arizonan’s Britishism.

By Charles Lane  | May 4, 2010; 1:56 PM ET
Categories:  Lane  | Tags:  Charles Lane  
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Comments

Public officials are pressured by the press and by the public to "constantly" inform us as to what is "known" at the time. So on Sunday, it looked to be a lone nut and now as investigations have kicked up new evidence, the assessment gets revised. If Napolitano had instead said, no comment, we don't know, or we won't speculate, then the critics would have been ripping her a new one for stonewalling and not being "transparent". Those with axes to grind with the administration will always find something to criticize. These nut jobs don't write suicide letters and mail them to the US govt. It takes time to figure things out and who was involved...

Posted by: matta08 | May 4, 2010 2:35 PM | Report abuse

If Obama had any credability, he lost when he appointed this moron She was a moron as governor of Arizona and it continues.

Posted by: halbran | May 4, 2010 2:37 PM | Report abuse

american17 wrote>>>>"the system worked" is NOT ACCURATE AND SHE SHOULD BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE!

If you read/heard the entire CONTEXT of her comment - she was correct. But obviously, Fox & Frightwing radio focused on ONLY 3 words in order to demonize Napolitano.
"The system worked" after he was tackled by an alert passenger, airline personnel restrained him, and he was arrested.
Napolitano wasn't suggesting the system worked before the incident. Hence, we now have supposedly better screening machines.
And now, after this latest incident, we'll have more cameras in public places.

Posted by: angie12106 | May 4, 2010 2:59 PM | Report abuse

She is not a comforting figure at all. She's a trainwreck waiting to happen.

Posted by: dherrsch | May 4, 2010 3:02 PM | Report abuse

She said what people want to hear. Americans don't want to hear "it's going to happen again". They want to hear the impossible: that they're 10% safe. Stop the political back and forth and grow up. Nothing is 100%, ask BP.

Posted by: jckdoors | May 4, 2010 3:27 PM | Report abuse

Big Sis... didn't she just tell Congress that the southern border was "secure against terrorists" but refused say whether it was "secure." What did that mean? And now this. Big Sis is nothing but a politically correct, administration careerist, cretin when it comes to homeland security.

Posted by: wjc1va | May 4, 2010 3:39 PM | Report abuse

Yes, "one off" means "one shot deal." I've lived in the USA all my life, and I've heard it used by other Americans many times. I'm surprised that it was referred to as a Britishism.

Naturally, a poltician such as Natpolitano immediately thinks about political "cover" for herself and her boss (the so-called "CYA" phenomenon). But she is indeed correct -- so far there is no evidence of this being other than a "one off." Hysteria doesn't change this.

Posted by: boudx | May 4, 2010 3:40 PM | Report abuse

She is in over her head. She should gracefully resign so we can get someone competent.

Posted by: sportsfan2 | May 4, 2010 3:44 PM | Report abuse

One off her rocker.

Posted by: Cornell1984 | May 4, 2010 3:54 PM | Report abuse

What did Janet Napolitano mean by 'one-off'?

She meant that she is utterly "fail" at her job.........

Napolitano and her ilk (Eric Holder) are what one gets when one elects democrats to high office.........

Posted by: georgedixon | May 4, 2010 4:04 PM | Report abuse

Cornell1984 "One off her rocker"
===============================

Good one!

Posted by: american17 | May 4, 2010 4:16 PM | Report abuse

The only consistent factor in the failed bombing attempts against innocent American civilians by islamic terrorism the past year is this:

They have failed due to their own technical ineptness,

They were not thwarted by any orchestration of this incompetant administration.

What will she claim the next time (unlike the underwear bomber and Times Square bomber) the terrorist actually overcome their technical difficulties?

Fire this idiot now.
Yesterday is not fast enough.

Posted by: factsmatter1 | May 4, 2010 4:19 PM | Report abuse

Two things:

1. Such criticism without information. Napolitano is not crazy, nor a moron, nor off her rocker, nor "a trainwreck waiting to happen." Good lord. She is an incredibly competent person with an incredibly hard job who is held accountable when there are any issues regarding the security of an area that is about 6 million square miles big with 300 million people. The trainwreck comment is the most stupid. How, possibly, is she a "trainwreck"? You think she's going to suddenly start boozing and calling hookers? Just because Glenn Beck throws crazy nonsense around indescriminantly doesn't mean that you should too.

2. One-off is an American expression. Welcome to America. Of all the silly, dumb side issues on this Time Square thing to blog about, this might be the dumbest. People say one-off ALL THE TIME. It is not unique or rare or elite or anything. Yes, it means something that happens ONE TIME. Mainly it refers to sex, to be honest. "One night stands" are "one-offs." Anything happening once is a one-off. Maybe Charles Lane should leave his office, ask ANYONE if they've heard of the expression, when EVERYONE says that they have, then he should maybe think of a different blog topic. Just because you got a WaPo blog doesn't mean that you can just pretend that things which are very common are somehow obscure just to make a point.

Posted by: Urnesto | May 4, 2010 4:21 PM | Report abuse

Maybe on the sha-zizzle people know what "one-off" means. Let's face it - the rest of us who took AP English, 4 semesters of college English literature just aren't as smart as the MTV and Jersey Shore crowd who know what One-Off means.

We now know that our ultra-hip, elvira-ish dominatrix Homeland Security chief is on top of the lingo.

Posted by: Cornell1984 | May 4, 2010 4:27 PM | Report abuse

Slow news day? Felt the need to throw some chum to the Obama hating right wing?

Posted by: kchses1 | May 4, 2010 4:28 PM | Report abuse

Maybe on the sha-zizzle people know what "one-off" means. Let's face it - the rest of us who took AP English, 4 semesters of college English literature just aren't as smart as the MTV and Jersey Shore crowd who know what One-Off means.

We now know that our ultra-hip, elvira Homeland Security chief is on top of the lingo.

One-off is a mostly British expression that people from the US, having gone through regular dental exams and orthodontist sessions, don't feel necessary to use to appear "Beatle-ish".

Posted by: Cornell1984 | May 4, 2010 4:31 PM | Report abuse

I think Obama said "one-off my list of Supreme Court nominees".

Posted by: Cornell1984 | May 4, 2010 4:33 PM | Report abuse

Obama did well in this. He didn't blame the anti-health care crowd like Bloomjerk and he didn't put his credibility on the line like the others did and say it was a lone wolf.

Posted by: Cornell1984 | May 4, 2010 4:37 PM | Report abuse

Well, if it's a one-off what happened in Pensylvania with the bomb in the micro?
The suspect is talking and says he acted alone - can that be believed? Al-Qaeda claimed affiliation and we don't believe them? Something fishy going on here.

Posted by: Lynne5 | May 4, 2010 4:37 PM | Report abuse

Dang, that woman is slow on the uptake. Someone tries to set off a car bomb in Times Square, NYC and she can't even see the possibly that Islamic terrorists might be involved? All she had to answer was "We don't know at this time". Instead, she responded in a way that excluded the possiblity of Middle Eastern based terrorism. And Obama defenders, don't even try to parse her words for a meaning that makes her appear slightly less foolish. She said what she meant. She's way over her head in that job.

Posted by: earlduke | May 4, 2010 4:44 PM | Report abuse

Arizona is probably very happy to be rid of Napolitano -- but why do we Americans have to be saddled with her? First it was calling terrorism "man created disasters" or some such none sense -- now a "one-off"? Can she she not speak plain English? or even better keep her pie hole shut?

She is one more example of an incompetent admisistration official appointed by our anti-president -- I can't wait till November 2012 to vote his butt out!

Posted by: hbw2000 | May 4, 2010 4:57 PM | Report abuse

Janet Napolitan can always be depended upon for an idiotic comment. However, the "one-off" remark pales in comparison with this:

Janet Napolitano, the homeland security secretary, had said on the “Today” show that it was premature to label any person or group as suspect. “Right now, every lead has to be pursued,” she said. “I caution against premature decisions one way or the other.”

The otherwise incoherent last sentence may be translated as "Please God, don't let it be another goddam Muslim. If it be Thy will, let it be a tea-partying, anti-abortion, gun-toting, anti-obamacare fanatic."

Posted by: JamesCurrin | May 4, 2010 5:12 PM | Report abuse

Napolitano is NOT an idiot.

She is so blinded by politically correct, one-world, global elitist dogma that she would rather see 1,000 Americans killed by terrorists than say or do anything that might seem un-PC.

Posted by: pmendez | May 4, 2010 5:31 PM | Report abuse

another one of obummers left wing loonies.she wont call arab terrorists that name because it isults arabs

Posted by: dagner49 | May 4, 2010 5:31 PM | Report abuse

The left and The Obama circle were hoping this was a single wild Tea Party guy. And, in fact today they are denying the bomber is an Islamic terrorist, but a poor American caught up in the Bush recession which drove him to Bomb!! Blame Bush is the Chris Matthews cry today.

One-off is a Tea Bagger bomber!
Is the Tea Party training in Waziristan now???? Hell NO!!


Posted by: jcmale14 | May 4, 2010 6:01 PM | Report abuse

A 'One-off' bombing = Terrorism. When someone unleashes un-holy hell on innocent people from out of the blue, that is the definition of terrorism. The Fort Hood shooter report was released and never mentions the words Islam or Muslim. With this PC-Lib-Dem group running DC, we are doomed. The 2012 election cannot come soon enough.

Posted by: BadNews | May 4, 2010 6:25 PM | Report abuse

"An American law enforcement official and a source close to the United Arab Emirates government, which owns the Emirates airline on which Shahzad purchased a last-minute ticket, said that while his name was added to the no-fly list mid-day Monday, that did not stop him from boarding the flight."

I guess the system didn't work again, JANET !!

Please step down Janet, so American can be safe>

Posted by: richard36 | May 4, 2010 6:37 PM | Report abuse

The writer's attempts to justify Napolitano are to be expected of Wapo speak.

She continues to be one of Obama's biggest jokes, and he allows her in this important job. Obama has as much concern for the lives of Americans as he does the jobs of Americans or the creatures of the Louisianas marshes -- not a care in the world.

Posted by: llrllr | May 4, 2010 6:59 PM | Report abuse

It is very hard to access what is happening here at the border from an office or kitchen in New York or Washington. I submit that New Yorkers understand their city far better than I, and they often disagree about who they want for mayor, what to do about gun laws, and other issues important to them. It makes them interesting. I do love New York, and I lived in DC for many years.

However, out here at the southern Arizona border - and that is where I live and work (ten minutes from the border) - we have our own issues, and only occasionally do they really get the undivided attention of Washington and New York.

Governor Brewer's signature got your attention - finally. But I am not sure whether the dissent in New York is shared by the vast majority of Americans like me who live in a war zone thinly veiled by compassionate rhetoric. We really know what it is like to live with this every day. You don't.

I have hoped that the feds would see things more clearly after nearly 13 years of increasing violence and an assault of heart-wrenching stories that come from this land every week. But it hasn't.

Not only has Governor Brewer's signature gathered up a cloud of attention from the east coast, but it has the daily newspaper, El Imparcial, in Hermosillo, Sonora, our neighbor, recounting every gruesome detail of this new law. We have their attention, too - finally.

For that reason alone I am in support of what Arizona has done. As my handle suggests, I have been an expatriate to Mexico and taught at a university there. I have a house in an ejido, not a gated, wealthy, expatriate American beach community. I have lived as one of them, and I can affirm that most educated Mexicans are in accord with the actions taken by Brewer to support the sovereignty of our border. Of course the Mexicans hear about the racists who spout anti-Mexican propaganda, but they can differentiate between America's legitimate need for a sovereign border and their need to solve their own problems with the cartels and the culture of bribery that have sometimes overwhelmed their small rural communities as well as the cities.

This distant neighbor has suddenly been pulled very close to our chest, and now we must deal with it - not with feigned outrage and the same old tired arguments, but with a look to the reality we live with at the border.

9-11 forced the rest of us to look with compassion and respect at the potential disaster which New Yorkers and Washingtonians face there daily. We only ask for the same consideration out here.

Posted by: expat2MEX | May 4, 2010 7:13 PM | Report abuse

Didn't bother me--I like her best when I don't understand her.

Posted by: rusty3 | May 4, 2010 7:44 PM | Report abuse

There are some things, Mr. Lane, you simply have no need to know!

This is one of them!


Posted by: helloisanyoneoutthere | May 4, 2010 8:24 PM | Report abuse

The slug in the White House will let you know as soon as he (as the terrorist's legal counsel) prepares the terrorist's defense.

Posted by: kwoods2 | May 4, 2010 8:36 PM | Report abuse

Urnesto ~ Obama has gathered around him a remarkably UNTALENTED and INCOMPETENT bunch of bumblers.

Napolitano is quickly proving herself to be the worst of the lot.

Ideological purity is no substitute for basic "smarts".

You people are too dangerous to be in charge of this country. My son and his wife were 1.5 SHORT BLOCKS away from that bomb at the time of its discovery.

I prize his and her safety and welfare ABOVE your ideological pretentions and unadulterated BS.

It's long overdue for Obama to go to the American people and ask for their assistance ~ in the meantime he should have a firing squad going in the background disposing of his worthless appointees.

It is literally time for some "new blood" in the White House, Executive Office Building, and the various federal agencies at the top in the ranks of the a appointees and schedule C folks.

Posted by: muawiyah | May 4, 2010 9:44 PM | Report abuse

"What did Janet Napolitano mean?" could be a regular column.

Even a game show.

And the best part? There are no wrong answers!

Posted by: andrew23boyle | May 4, 2010 9:47 PM | Report abuse

If you read/heard the entire CONTEXT of her comment - she was correct. But obviously, Fox & Frightwing radio focused on ONLY 3 words in order to demonize Napolitano.
"The system worked" after he was tackled by an alert passenger, airline personnel restrained him, and he was arrested.
Napolitano wasn't suggesting the system worked before the incident. Hence, we now have supposedly better screening machines.
And now, after this latest incident, we'll have more cameras in public places.

Posted by: angie12106

---------------------------

This is the kind of creative excuse-making that Napolitano's people want us all to believe, but the larger context of not just her response but also of the question asked to her was about the failures of the system that allowed a would-be terrorist to get on an airplane in the first place. Napolitano foolishly tried to avoid that question and focus on what happened after passengers took the man down. Either she was totally avoiding a serious question about how U.S. security failed or else she was claiming that it worked, but Napolitano cannot have it both ways.

And in this latest comment, who knows what she means? I don't think that she knows herself. A one-off, meaning that this man didn't seem to be part of a serious of coordinated attacks like 9/11? A one-off, meaning that this has never been tried before? A one-off, meaning that this will never be tried again? All of the above?

One of the duties of a government spokesperson, which cabinet heads often serve as, is that they be concise in language. For someone in charge of security issues, Napolitano needs to learn to speak with more caution. Her words can easily incite panic and confusion, and she is now two-for-two in speaking poorly in the immediate aftermath of attempted terror attacks.

My bet? Assuming Napolitano survives a full term, and assuming Obama survives for a second term, Napolitano won't be invited back, at least not if she continues to function in this loose-tongued manner.

Posted by: blert | May 4, 2010 10:04 PM | Report abuse

fortunately, thsi probably puts the kabosh on Napolitano nomination for supreme court- however, if we end up with Ellen Kagan, what has been gained ?

Posted by: jdwhite | May 4, 2010 11:17 PM | Report abuse

Matta08 is Napolitano's admin asst....no wait it's Urnesto...or maybe they're the same sycophant.

The backpatting started the same way it did with the undie-bomber. 'We stopped this attack--hooray for us.' Foiled this one too! The truth is Nappy and her staff had no clue...none. Both bombs failed to go off through the incompetence of the bombers and the incompetent DHS Secretary was a deer in the headlights on both occasions. She did snap out of it long enough to congratulate herself for being 'on top of things.' Clueless idiot.

Posted by: PanhandleWilly | May 4, 2010 11:37 PM | Report abuse

what the he11 is wrong with you people

a terrorist tries to blow up Times square, NOBODY DIES, and that is a failure

but when george bush was asleep at the switch, reading "The Pet Goat" during the worst terrorist attack in American history, you said that was a fine example of leadership

do facts even matter any more

something happened, wapoop says Obama failed, yada yada ...

can anybody at the wapoop write anything outside of that pathetic outline ???

Posted by: nada85484 | May 5, 2010 12:20 AM | Report abuse

Let's say we have a missile defense system. Someone launches a nuke at us. It flies straight through are missile defense system which doesn't even detect it and lands on the White House lawn. Fortunately, the missile was a dud and doesn't explode.

So, is that a "success" or a "failure" for our missile defense system?

Do you understand now why a terrorist managing to get to Time Square with a bomb which fails to detonate ONLY because of the terrorist's OWN incompetence, is a "failure" for our counter-terrorism policy?

No hard to grasp.

Posted by: andrew23boyle | May 5, 2010 6:43 AM | Report abuse

Let's say we have a missile defense system. Someone launches a nuke at us. It flies straight through are missile defense system, which doesn't even detect it, and lands on the White House lawn. Fortunately, the missile was a dud and doesn't explode.

So, is that a "success" or a "failure" for our missile defense system?

Do you understand now why a terrorist managing to get to Time Square with a bomb which fails to detonate ONLY because of the terrorist's OWN incompetence, is a "failure" for our counter-terrorism policy?

Not hard to grasp.

Posted by: andrew23boyle | May 5, 2010 6:44 AM | Report abuse

In the last six months alone, a commercial jet liner was almost blown up out the sky in Detroit and Times Square almost became another Oklahoma City. Eight months ago, a terrorist killed 20 people on a US army base.

So what she meant to say that we're all better off pretending that this will never happen again, since the bill clinton-barack obama "law enforcement" approach to terrorism is such an utter failure that you dont even want to contemplate what will happen when there is not a by-stander to intervene or the bomb simply fails to go off, if the next terrorist are even half as competent as the ones who attacked the World Trade Centers.

Posted by: dummypants | May 5, 2010 4:51 PM | Report abuse

Yes, "one-off" is a British colloquialism meaning "a one-of-a-kind occurrence." Sort of like an "anomaly" or a "fluke." (I often translate American English into British English, and vice versa, for medical publishers.)

See the Chambers on-line dictionary for British meanings and spellings. http://www.chambersharrap.co.uk/chambers/index.shtml

nada, people are suspicious of Obama's dedication to fighting terrorism. His unwillingness to concede that radical Islam is a serious threat feeds this suspicion. Obama and his people seem to want to discount every incident (e.g., the Fort Hood shootings) as a "one-off."

Posted by: Renfield1 | May 5, 2010 4:51 PM | Report abuse

What Napolitano meant was "one after another". The muslim terrorists just keep on coming and Obozo and this WH refuse to call them terrorists!!

Posted by: morphy | May 5, 2010 4:59 PM | Report abuse

9-11 was a one-off as well.

Good to know that's not the kind of thing to trouble our leaders. If they took it seriously, we'd have to have another Beer Summit.

Posted by: jiji1 | May 5, 2010 5:02 PM | Report abuse

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