Just sniffin' around...
Terror and Aviation Security
Government Report on U.S. Aviation Warns of Security Holes
By ERIC LICHTBLAU
WASHINGTON, March 13 - Despite a huge investment in security, the American aviation system remains vulnerable to attack by Al Qaeda and other jihadist terrorist groups, with noncommercial planes and helicopters offering terrorists particularly tempting targets, a confidential government report concludes.
Intelligence indicates that Al Qaeda may have discussed plans to hijack chartered planes, helicopters and other general aviation aircraft for attacks because they are less well-guarded than commercial airliners, according to a previously undisclosed 24-page special assessment on aviation security by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security two weeks ago.
But commercial airliners are also "likely to remain a target and a platform for terrorists," the report says, and members of Al Qaeda appear determined to study and test new American security measures to "uncover weaknesses."
The assessment comes as the Bush administration, with a new intelligence structure and many new counterterrorism leaders in place, is taking stock of terrorists' capabilities and of the country's ability to defend itself.
While Homeland Security and the F.B.I. routinely put out advisories on aviation issues, the special joint assessment is an effort to give a broader picture of the state of knowledge of all issues affecting aviation security, officials said.
The analysis appears to rely on intelligence gathered from sources overseas and elsewhere about Al Qaeda and other jihadist and Islamic-based terrorist groups.
A separate report issued last month by Homeland Security concluded that developing a clear framework for prioritizing possible targets - a task many Democrats say has lagged - is critical because "it is impossible to protect all of the infrastructure sectors equally across the entire United States."
The aviation sector has received the majority of domestic security investments since the Sept. 11 attacks, with more than $12 billion spent on upgrades like devices to detect explosives, armored cockpit doors, federalized air screeners and additional air marshals.
Indeed, some members of Congress and security experts now consider airplanes to be so well fortified that they say it is time to shift resources to other vulnerable sectors, like ports and power plants.
In the area of rail safety, for instance, Democrats are pushing a $1.1 billion plan to plug what they see as glaring vulnerabilities. "This is a disaster waiting to happen," Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr., Democrat of Delaware, said last week at a Senate hearing marking the one-year anniversary of the deadly train bombings in Madrid.
Still, the new aviation assessment, examining dozens of airline incidents both before and after the Sept. 11 attacks, makes clear that counterterrorism officials still consider the aviation industry to be perhaps the prime target for another major attack because of the spectacular nature of such strikes.
The assessment, which showed that the F.B.I. handled more than 500 criminal investigations involving aircraft in 2003, will likely serve as a guide for considering further security restrictions in general aviation and other areas considered particularly vulnerable, the officials said.
The report, dated Feb. 25, was distributed internally to federal and state counterterrorism and aviation officials, and a copy was obtained by The Times. It warns that security upgrades since the Sept. 11 attacks have "reduced, but not eliminated" the prospect of similar attacks.
"Spectacular terrorist attacks can generate an outpouring of support for the perpetrators from sympathizers and terrorism sponsors with similar agendas," the report said. "The public fear resulting from a terrorist hijacking or aircraft bombing also serves as a powerful motivator for groups seeking to further their causes."
The report detailed particular vulnerabilities in what it called "the largely unregulated" area of general aviation, which includes corporate jets, private planes and other unscheduled aircraft.
"As security measures improve at large commercial airports, terrorists may choose to rent or steal general aviation aircraft housed at small airports with little or no security," the report said.
The report also said that Al Qaeda "has apparently considered the use of helicopters as an alternative to recruiting operatives for fixed-wing aircraft operations." The maneuverability and "nonthreatening appearance" of helicopters, even when flying at low altitudes above urban areas, make them attractive targets for terrorists to conduct suicide attacks on landmarks or to spray toxins below, the report said.
The assessment does not identify who might be in a position to carry out such domestic attacks.
While law enforcement officials have spoken repeatedly about their concerns over so-called sleeper cells operating within the United States, a separate F.B.I. report first disclosed last week by ABC News indicated that evidence pointing to the existence of such cells was inconclusive.
The question of how well the government is protecting airline travelers surfaced again last month after the disclosure in a Sept. 11 commission investigation that in the months leading up to the attack, federal officials received 52 warnings about Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, some warning specifically about hijackings and suicide operations.
Federal officials now say they have taken a number of steps to tighten security for helicopters, chartered flights and the like in response to perceived threats, as they did last August in temporarily ordering federal security guards and tougher screening for helicopter tours in the New York City area.
Rear Adm. David M. Stone, an assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Security who oversees the Transportation Security Administration, said that "the report validates T.S.A.'s sense of urgency in our daily efforts to secure aviation, and that same sense of urgency can be found in our work securing every other mode of transportation."
The report also sought to codify the various responsibilities for aviation security in the increasingly complex labyrinth of federal agencies, and it examined 33 terrorist plots against airplanes inside and out of the United States over the years.
Of the more than 500 criminal cases involving aircraft handled by the F.B.I. in 2003, two were hijackings in the United States involving flights from Cuba that landed in Florida. More than 300 episodes involved undeclared weapons or other problems at screening and security checkpoints, while 175 cases were triggered by on-board interference or threats against crew members, often involving alcohol.
In one case, a passenger sprayed perfume at a flight attendant "in a hostile manner," the report said.
Copyright 2005*The New York Times Company
Re: Terror and Aviation Security
Open letter from the President of Air Security International regarding the article posted below on 03/14:
Views on General Aviation Security
The story that was published in the New York Times on Monday, March 14, 2005 regarding general aviation security has become very controversial among the major players in the general aviation industry. Without putting forth my own opinion as to whether the story is accurate or the result of speculation, I must note that the main issues have been ignored.
The fact is that we are operating today under the shadow of terrorism. I am absolutely sure that every operator, corporate security department and executive has done everything possible to reduce vulnerability. The writer of the story in question suggested that al-Qaeda might have discussed plans to use general aviation as a tool for their next attack. We need not question this information, as it is very obvious that aviation has been the preferred tool for terrorists since the late 1960s.
The free world, in its response to terrorism, has not taken enough security measures, which is why the disastrous events of 9/11 occurred. As a result of the tragedy, U.S. authorities and the various world governments imposed regulations on commercial aviation in order to minimize its vulnerability.
General aviation has been left on its own to determine how to upgrade security measures in light of the threat. It is our civil obligation to make sure that the operators and the users of general aviation are able to operate safely, and ensure that complacency does not lead to vulnerability in light of the existing security threats.
It is my opinion that the New York Times story should be used as a wake-up call to encourage general aviation to review its security measures and to endorse security management for aviation operations. The following proposed steps deserve serious consideration:
Arrange for a security survey of your home hangar and aviation facilities, including in remote areas. This audit will allow operators to check their readiness response to potential act of terrorism.
Check security conditions at the FBOs that are usually used by the operators -- consider using only FBOs with sufficient security or add your own security coverage if necessary.
Train your flight department, operators and even the travelers, in security management and preventive measures.
Check your security manual and verify that it been updated and has the required response to the potential threats
It is highly recommended that the crew use a security checklist to ensure that the operation runs under security management
International operators should consider upgrading their security coverage by appointing a guard to watch the aircraft if they cannot verify security conditions abroad.
Know your destination before you go in order to make sure that transportation and accommodations on your entire itinerary are of the required security level.
It is always better to be proactive and prepared. A recovery plan, as good as it may be, cannot repair the damage incurred from an attack.
Air Security International, L.P.
Just sniffin' around...
Re: Terror and Aviation Security
LAX Resigned to Long Lines, Despite Cloud of Terrorism
Suggestions in a Rand security study are too costly to implement any time soon, officials say.
By Jennifer Oldham
Times Staff Writer
Despite warnings by security experts that long lines at Los Angeles International Airport are vulnerable to a terrorist attack, airport officials have concluded that the staff cannot be added to significantly shorten queues in the next few years.
Rand Corp. recommended last fall that airlines and federal officials hire more people to speed travelers from sidewalks and terminal lobbies into the more secure gate areas as the quickest and cheapest way to protect LAX passengers.
But in documents obtained by The Times, the airport's top official advised the City Council that a third more airline workers and screeners would be needed — an increase that's not feasible. And even if cash-strapped airlines could hire additional staff, there wouldn't be enough ticket counter space for them, airport officials said.
But Rand insisted that the urgency of reducing lines at the world's fifth-busiest airport remained.
"It's still the recommended thing to do," said Donald Stevens, a senior engineer at Rand and lead author of the Santa Monica-based research institute's September study.
Long lines at airports are "the single greatest vulnerability that we have in the domestic U.S. at the moment," said aviation consultant Billie Vincent, a former Federal Aviation Administration security chief.
The General Accounting Office released a report this week that said heightened screening procedures and truck-sized explosives-detection machines in airport lobbies — added after 9/11 — had created crowds that put passengers at risk.
"In the '70s, gangs in Europe entered airports and machine-gunned and killed people," said Stephen Van Beek, policy director for Airports Council International-North America. "Terrorists know if they did that today, it would be highly publicized."
The risk is acute at LAX, considered the state's top terrorist target.
Lines will decrease about 50% at LAX by 2008, airport officials say, after installation of a new $400-million luggage system that will allow the screening machines to be moved out of the terminal lobbies. Los Angeles International is one of the few airports to receive federal funding for such a project.
LAX officials said that although they didn't plan to implement some of Rand's suggestions, dealing with the airport lines remained a top priority.
"We don't disagree with what Rand said at all," said Kim Day, executive director of Los Angeles World Airports, which runs the city's airports. "While we are not implementing exactly what they recommended, thanks to Rand we are focused on a direction that will indeed make this airport more safe and secure."
Mayor James K. Hahn called for the Rand study last spring after the City Council threatened to hire a firm to conduct a security analysis of his $11-billion modernization plan for LAX.
Rand stands by its recommendation to reduce crowding outside the terminals and in the lobbies.
"Even if you use their numbers, it still comes out as the top recommendation," Stevens said.
The wide-ranging report — which considered the potential casualties from car bombs, mortars, snipers and surface-to-air missiles — was the first public review of the airport's vulnerabilities and the most cost-effective ways to fix them.
It found that passengers on sidewalks and in lobbies were at risk from car and luggage bombs. Rand urged the city to reduce crowds and to establish permanent checkpoints at LAX entrances to search vehicles for bombs.
The City Council asked airport officials to report how they planned to decrease lines and screen vehicles. In response, the airport agency quietly sent two letters to members of the council's Commerce, Energy and Natural Resources Committee earlier this year.
Rand and some council members were unaware that the letters existed until informed by The Times earlier this week. In a five-page letter on airport crowds, LAX officials relied on statistics from an analysis by Leigh Fisher Associates, an airport queue specialist that conducted computer simulations of lines in each of the facility's nine terminals.
The study found that during peak periods, an increase of 25% to 75% in airline ticket agents would be required, depending on the terminal, to reduce lines to a wait of one minute — a level consultants considered optimal to reduce casualties in an attack. Average waits at ticket counters are now about 40 minutes during peak travel times.
Rand said that only 5% more airline employees were necessary to reduce lines to a target waiting time of five to seven minutes.
The Leigh Fisher study also concluded that the U.S. Transportation Security Administration would need 45% more baggage screeners and 25% more checkpoint screeners to reduce line waits to a minute. Wait times at screening checkpoints can stretch to an hour during busy periods.
Rand recommended adding lanes at security checkpoints, but did not specify how many more screeners would be needed.
Airport officials said the difference between their conclusion and Rand's occurred because the think tank didn't factor in the terminal layouts and frequency of passenger arrivals.
But Rand's Stevens suggested that, rather than conducting computer simulations, airport officials should add a few more people and run some tests to see how much they reduce lines. He also said a one-minute wait was an unrealistic goal.
Rand and the airport agency, which have spent months trying to negotiate an ongoing contract, say they hope to work on the problem together this spring.
The airport wants to reduce lines in the short term by working with the airlines to install more self-service kiosks that would let passengers obtain boarding passes themselves. A recent study showed that about 23% of passengers checking in at LAX last year used the kiosks.
Airport officials are also building more screening lanes and plan to continue a program to bus arriving passengers to less crowded terminals to check in.
As for Rand's call for permanent checkpoints at airport entrances to screen vehicles for bombs, airport agency chief Day said in a letter to council members that it would cost up to $8 million to build a such a checkpoint with 12 lanes and $39.5 million a year to operate it.
Such a facility would still not be big enough to efficiently screen cars unless screening times were kept below 10 seconds per vehicle, and it would gridlock streets around the airport, she wrote, causing passengers to miss flights.
Day concluded that "implementation of 100% vehicular screening cannot be accomplished in either the near term or for low cost."
Rand said that it did not ask the airport to screen every vehicle and that it believes devices such as vehicle scales can be used to reduce screening times. Airport officials say they have asked Rand to advise them about technology that could be used at checkpoints.
The airport agency is designing a permanent 12-lane vehicle checkpoint, but won't proceed with construction until the city decides whether it will build a controversial check-in center near the San Diego Freeway. That proposed facility is part of Hahn's LAX plan and requires further study and council approval.
Airport officials note that they have already spent $141 million since 9/11 to fortify LAX. Ongoing projects include a $57-million reinforcement of perimeter fencing and a $42-million effort to expand a camera surveillance system.
Rand researchers also noted that the airport was the only one of the country's 429 commercial facilities to approach it and ask for a public study of its security problems.
"Yeah, we may find LAX vulnerable," Rand's Stevens said. "But at least they're forward-leaning. They're doing things there — they're trying to fix that perimeter fence. You look at the perimeter fence around San Francisco and say, 'Sheesh.' "
Copyright 2005 Los Angeles Times
Re: Terror and Aviation Security
Al-Qaida Web message offers missile tutorial
Updated: 8:33 p.m. ET March 30, 2005
An Internet posting obtained by NBC News — written mostly in Arabic — details how to fire a shoulder-fired missile and how to overcome security measures. NBC terrorism analyst Evan Kohlmann says it was posted five days ago on an Internet location used by Iraq's top terrorist, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. "We've seen plenty of material on radical Islamic Web sites dealing with shooting down military aircraft in combat zones," says Kohlmann. "However, this is the first time I've ever seen the deliberate targeting of civilian aircraft leaving U.S. airports."
NBC News will not reveal many of the details. There's a sketch of a terrorist on a rooftop shooting a missile at a plane, and information on possible evasive tactics. Much of the information appears to have been taken from the Web site of a U.S. magazine. There are also maps showing flight paths and new security perimeters from New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport. New York officials say they take this seriously and have alerted security at the airport. The FBI is still analyzing the information, but terrorism experts tell us there's no suggestion this poses any immediate threat.
"What concerns me is the acknowledgement by Zarqawi's people that we have vulnerability in our airports, of the launching of missiles against commercial airliners," says Charles Slepian, a risk analysis expert. Al-Qaida has tried to shoot down a plane. In 2002, terrorists fired missiles at an Israeli airliner in Kenya. And a launcher tube was found near a U.S. airbase in Saudi Arabia.
How tough would it be to pull off an attack in the United States? "The hardest thing for al-Qaida to do in order to carry out one of these attacks is to smuggle both the shooters and smuggle the weapons into place," says James Chow, an analyst with the Rand Corp. who has authored a study on shoulder-fired missiles.
The Internet posting ends with a provocative message: "This is what I have FOR now. I hope it is useful for my dear brothers."
Just sniffin' around...
Re: Terror and Aviation Security
Re: Terror and Aviation Security
Passenger lists sought for flights over U.S.
Updated: 1:52 a.m. ET April 21, 2005
WASHINGTON - The U.S. government plans to force foreign airlines flying over American soil to turn over the names of passengers on board or check the names against U.S. government watch lists in an effort to prevent terrorists from entering U.S. airspace. Under current rules, overseas carriers are required to provide passenger manifests to U.S. officials within 15 minutes of takeoff if they are to land in the United States, according to the Transportation Security Administration.
Officials have been concerned that terrorists may try to hijack a plane over the United States and crash it into a building, as occurred on Sept. 11, 2001. Officials acknowledge, however, that no credible intelligence exists indicating such a plot.
"We are currently considering a measure that would require foreign carriers to vet their passenger manifests against the 'no-fly' list and 'selectee' lists on overflights," said TSA spokeswoman Yolanda Clark. The no-fly list is a secret list of thousands of names of known or suspected terrorists who may pose a threat to U.S. aviation. The selectee list contains the names of individuals who are not known terrorists but present a possible threat to the airplane.
The proposal has angered European, Mexican and Canadian airlines, which operate most of the 500 estimated daily overflights. If foreign airlines do not comply with the order, which is expected to be issued in coming weeks, they could have to reroute flights, adding time and cost to the journeys. At least one carrier, Aeromexico, claims the rule would violate international aviation agreements.
The TSA's proposal, discussed in recent days with foreign leaders, was prompted by a KLM Royal Dutch Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Mexico on April 8 that was prohibited from flying over American airspace because two passengers were found to be on the U.S. government's no-fly list. The KLM flight, a specially configured 747 with 278 passengers and 15 horses on board, was five hours into its journey when Mexican authorities alerted U.S. officials about two Saudi passengers on board. TSA officials decided not to allow the plane to continue on its usual route over the United States.
The Canadian government offered the plane an option to land on its territory if the aircraft did not have enough fuel for a return trip, a Canadian official said. But KLM decided to turn the plane around for the five-hour flight back to Amsterdam out "of interest to the passengers and animals," KLM spokesman Hugo Baas said in an e-mail. "The assigned airport was not suitable for handling a 747 in this configuration." KLM is a leading air transporter of horses and operates an animal hospital at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam.
The two Saudi passengers on the KLM flight were men who trained at the same Arizona flight school as Sept. 11 hijacker Hani Hanjour, according a law enforcement source. The men, according to aviation sources, were questioned by Dutch officials and eventually allowed to fly back to Saudi Arabia. U.S. officials did not interview the men, according to law enforcement and Homeland Security sources.
A Homeland Security official familiar with the proposed rules said U.S. and foreign officials are negotiating over whether airlines or the U.S. government would check passenger names against the watch lists. If any names match those on the lists, airlines would have to undertake new security measures. For example, if a flight from Canada to Mexico were to have a passenger whose name matched one on the no-fly list, the flight would not be allowed into U.S. airspace. The passenger would have to be removed from the flight, or if the plane happened to already be in the air, it would have to fly around the United States to reach its destination, according to officials familiar with the plans. Similarly, if a passenger's name were to match one on the selectee list, the passenger would have to undergo more thorough security screening before boarding the plane, the source said.
Aeromexico, which has 18 weekly flights from Mexico City that cross U.S. airspace on their way to Europe, said that the U.S. proposal might violate international transit agreements and that it is consulting with the Mexican transportation department to "present our legal position for this potential requirement."
"This potential directive will restrict our privilege to fly across U.S. territory without landing, and to land for non-traffic purposes," said Fernando Ceballos, Aeromexico's assistant director for airport operations, in an e-mailed statement. If the TSA issues the requirement, he said, it would not be practical to fly around the U.S. coast. "Flying over water along the coast is not an option for Aeromexico as increased flight times would be prohibitive given the type of aircraft we use, our slots and crew requirements." TSA's spokesman Clark said, "We are working with our international partners to give thoughtful consideration to all aspects of the impact of this measure."
The rule change would affect many of Canada's estimated 1,000 weekly overflights, including domestic flights such as Montreal to Toronto, which fly over the United States because of geography and weather patterns. "We're currently gathering information from air carriers to evaluate the impact that the proposed amendment would have," said Vanessa Vermette, spokeswoman for Transport Canada.
KLM said that it is now checking its passenger lists against U.S. watch lists for its overflights, following the recent incident. "It is not up to an airline to judge the security measures of individual countries," KLM spokesman Baas said. "However, it is up to the responsible authorities of each country to safeguard that measures do not have negative counter effects on the daily operation of the airlines."
Re: Terror and Aviation Security
Annie Jacobsen Gets a Visit from the Feds
This is Part XIII of the ongoing series entitled "Terror in the Skies".
By Annie Jacobsen
The call came a little over a month ago, on my cellular phone -- which is not listed. It went like this:
"Hello Annie, this is [name withheld, and name withheld, and name withheld and name withheld]. We're from the Department of Homeland Security."
"We'd like to set up a time to talk with you."
"Okay, now is good."
"Actually, we'd prefer to come to your house. How is March 15?"
"Not so great. That's three days before I'm due to have a baby…"
They came anyway. To my house in Los Angeles. By plane from Chicago.
Look Who's Coming for Coffee
The four federal agents showed up exactly on time, in a rented green mini-van, carrying briefcases and wearing suits (it was 75 degrees). They came to discuss the events of Northwest flight 327, the now notorious Detroit-to-Los Angeles plane trip I took last June. My husband led them to our house through the garden and, from where I sat in my kitchen, I could hear their comments: nice garden, pretty plants, too bad palm trees don't grow in Chicago. So, I thought, federal agents are people too.
In truth, I was excited that I hadn't gone into labor before the meeting. I was, after all, meeting with the big boys (actually three men and one woman). In the nine months that I've been working on this series, my access to the government has been through mid-level bureaucrats and agency mouthpieces. So here I was, suddenly meeting with agents who have real access to the truth -- and at their request.
On the telephone, the agents explained to me that the Department of Homeland Security, Office of the Inspector General, has been investigating flight 327 and flying DHS agents around the country to talk to various parties -- the flight attendants, pilots, federal air marshals and the passengers. They had saved me for last.
Here's what I find fascinating: while one arm of the government (the Federal Air Marshal Service) has vehemently maintained all along that "nothing happened on flight 327," the other, more muscular arm (the Department of Homeland Security) has been conducting a rather large investigation about it. Based on my 4 ½ hour meeting with the agents, I can tell you that not only have they been investigating what did happen during the flight, but they've also been investigating who botched the subsequent investigation as well as how it got botched.
So what do you say to four federal agents at your kitchen table on a bright Tuesday morning? The first thing I clarified for the agents was that, prior to my experience on flight 327, I had never heard of a "probe" or a "dry run." For the record, I explained, I had never heard of the James Woods incident either. [In case you're not aware, the actor James Woods flew on an American Airlines flight from Boston to Los Angeles one month prior to 9/11. Alarmed by the behavior of a group of four Middle Eastern men, Woods summoned the pilot and told him that he was "concerned the men were going to hijack the plane." A report was filed with the FAA on Woods' behalf but, tragically, no one followed up with Woods or the men. A few days after 9/11, several federal agents showed up in Woods' kitchen. Woods can't talk about what was said -- he believes his testimony will be used in the trial of the supposed 20th hijacker, Zacarias Moussaoui-- but, in an interview with Bill O'Reilly, Woods revealed that his flight "was a rehearsal [for 9/11] with four men."]
Standing in my kitchen, one of the agents said, "What I can tell you is this: Mohammed Atta was one of the passengers on that flight with James Woods." (Apparently, this information has never been made public.) With that, the agent pulled out his chair, opened his notebook and started in with his questions for me (at which point the other three agents opened up their notepads almost simultaneously).
During my meeting with the agents, what was not said was often as revealing as what was said. Naturally, the agents "were not at liberty" to tell me anything about the 13 Syrian men aboard flight 327, but they asked a lot of questions regarding my "intuition" about the situation: Intuition told me something was not right. Intuition is why I began noting the men's actions from the get-go. And it was exactly these details in which the agents seemed most interested. One of the agents commented on the fact that I took a lot of hits in the press -- that I was called a racist and a bigot simply for sticking with my gut instinct. To me, the agents' story that Mohammed Atta had been on James Woods' flight was a wink and a nod to the fact that it's fine to trust your intuition. If you're wrong, you can always stand corrected.
The Devil Is in the Details
Each agent carried a thick document (30-40 pages) filled with questions. All four took copious notes. After about three hours, they excused themselves, saying they were going to pow-wow privately in the garden for a little while. When the agents returned, they continued with what seemed to be the same line of questioning.
They continued to ask my husband and me question after question but, in the course of the morning, here are some additional details I gathered -- things that I didn't otherwise know:
The Northwest Airlines flight attendants interviewed for the investigation would only speak to federal agents with lawyers from the airline present. (One agent remarked to me, "Northwest Airlines wishes flight 327 never happened.")
There were 27 airports between Detroit and Los Angeles where the pilot could have landed flight 327 yet didn't.
Because the men were from Syria -- which the State Department lists as a terrorist-sponsoring nation -- each man was interviewed individually by Customs and Border Patrol when he entered the country. Once in the United States, they traveled back and forth across the country several times using one-way tickets, for which they paid cash.
Two months prior to the flight, the FBI issueda warning that, based on credible information, terrorist organizations might try to hide their members behind P visas -- cultural or sports visas -- to gain entry into the United States.
The Syrians entered the United States on P-3 cultural visas, which they overstayed; the visas had expired by the time they boarded flight 327.
While being interviewed at Los Angeles Airport (LAX), none of the federal law enforcement agencies involved noticed that the men's visas were expired.
At LAX, the FBI interviewed only the two "leaders" of the group; 11 of the Syrians on flight 327 were never asked a single question by law enforcement.
The Syrians were allowed to leave even before the FBI interviewed me and my husband.
The Federal Air Marshal (FAM) supervisor at LAX took statements from my husband and me on the back of an envelope, later borrowing a notepad from another FAM.
Another passenger from flight 327 indicated to the agents that he did not see any musical instruments in the baggage claim area, including the oversized baggage area.
So What Really Happened on Flight 327?
The agents who sat with me all morning going over the events of flight 327 seemed sincerely committed to getting to the bottom of what happened on that flight. It seemed obvious that they believe something happened. Was it a probe? A dry run? A training exercise or an intelligence gathering mission? My sense is that the jury's still out on a hard and fast answer. But flight 327 was far from a situation involving 13 hapless Syrian musicians and a case of bad behavior.
Since 9/11 the Justice Department has been widely criticized for one particular tactic it uses in fighting the War on Terror: it detains suspicious persons for long periods of time and puts them under heavy questioning before they are ever even charged with a crime. Flight 327 seems to have had an extreme case of just the opposite. There were 13 men on a domestic flight acting in such a way that many passengers felt their lives might be in danger. And yet not one of the individuals responsible for that threatening behavior was detained. Only two were put under light questioning, let alone medium or heavy questioning. Two individuals from a terrorist-sponsoring nation were allowed to speak on behalf of the other 11 men. In this War on Terror, whatever happened to a middle ground? Can a democratic nation fight a War on Terror and at the same time bend over backward so as not to offend a few visitors' rights?
Perhaps these answers -- or at least some of them -- are forthcoming. According to the agents, once the investigation wraps up, the Office of the Inspector General will generate two reports on flight 327: one for DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff (Tom Ridge's replacement), which will be classified, and one for public consumption, which you and I will be able to read (this DHS report is different than the document Congress is working on). Whether the version we get will be a mere press-conference account or an actual glimpse into what went wrong during and after flight 327 is anyone's guess.
As they stood to leave, one of the agents shook my hand and said, "Thank you for writing those articles." The most senior agent asked if he could touch my very pregnant belly. Then he said, "As a fellow American I can say you did your duty." A third agent borrowed a line from my original article: "If 19 terrorists can learn to fly airplanes into buildings, couldn't 13 terrorists learn to play instruments?"
Anyone who's read my Terror in the Skies Series knows that I have not been writing with an eye toward approval from any government agency. But I really appreciated the agents' tip of the hat.
Annie Jacobsen writes about business, finance and terrorism for a variety of national and international magazines and webzines. A graduate of Princeton University, she lives in Los Angeles, California with her husband and two sons.
Recall this also:
Jihad comes to Small Town, USA
Posted: April 19, 2005 1:00 a.m. Eastern
By Laura Mansfield
... another student took the podium. His name was Khaled, and he began to recount his recent trip to New York City. Khaled and three of his companions had gone to New York for several days in January. He told of how uncomfortable his trip up to NYC had been. He felt like he was being watched, and thought he was the victim of racial profiling. Khaled and his friends were pretty unhappy about it, and while in New York, they came up with a plan to "teach a lesson" to the passengers and crew. You can imagine the story Khaled told. He described how he and his friends whispered to each other on the flight, made simultaneous visits to the restroom, and generally tried to "spook" the other passengers. He laughed when he described how several women were in tears, and one man sitting near him was praying. The others in the room thought the story was quite amusing, judging from the laughter. The imam stood up and told the group that this was a kind of peaceful civil disobedience that should be encouraged, and commended Khaled and his friends for their efforts. ...
Re: Terror and Aviation Security
I highly recommend that anyone interested in aviation security also read the first twelve parts of Annie Jacobsen’s “Terror in the Skies, Again?” series. You will find it a real eye opener if you haven'’ read it yet. The links to those twelve articles follow (the articles are too long to post here in their entirety).
Terror in the Skies, Again?
Part II: Terror in the Skies, Again?
Part III: Terror in the Skies, Again?
Part IV: Terror in the Skies, Again?
Another Passenger from Flight 327 Steps Forward With Disturbing New Details
Russian Airliners Were Likely Exploded From Their Toilets
Gentlemen, Why Can’t We Get it Right?
Tired of Hearing About the Federal Air Marshals? Congress Isn’t
What Happened on United Airlines Flight 925?
Who Is Steering the “No-Fly” List?
How Intelligent Are We?
Bizarre Incident on British Airways 0215
Just sniffin' around...
Re: Terror and Aviation Security
Re: Terror and Aviation Security
Last Updated on May 13, 2005, 12:51 AM (GMT+02:00)
Air France Paris-Boston flight diverted to Bangor, Maine after passenger’s name appeared on US no-fly list of suspected terrorists. Jet carries 167 passengers.