Wednesday, May 30, 2007

“Terror in the Skies”: One Woman's Persistence

Annie JacobsenToday the Washington Times released the full report they promised on May 27th regarding the “dry run” Annie Jacobsen wrote about several years ago in both her columns and in her book, “Terror in the Skies”.

I waited until now to post on this because I wanted to see the full Homeland Security report which the Times obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. The first time they tried to get it, all but two lines had been blacked out. Now most of it is contained in a pdf suppied by the Times.

Long-time Gates readers will remember that Ms. Jacobsen was called a hysterical woman by a number of otherwise astute bloggers; authorities refused to follow up on her disturbing information and she was pretty much considered unreliable and paranoid — just to use two terms that were floating around at the time.

I wonder how many of these people are bothering to say “mea culpa” now that Ms. Jacobsen’s paranoia has proved to be reality?

From today’s Washington Time’s report:

A newly released inspector general report backs eyewitness accounts of suspicious behavior by 13 Middle Eastern men on a Northwest Airlines flight in 2004 and reveals several missteps by government officials, including failure to file an incident report until a month after the matter became public.

According to the Homeland Security report, the “suspicious passengers,” 12 Syrians and their Lebanese-born promoter, were traveling on Flight 327 from Detroit to Los Angeles on expired visas. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services extended the visas one week after the June 29, 2004, incident.

The report also says that a background check in the FBI’s National Crime Information Center database, which was performed June 18 as part of a visa-extension application, produced “positive hits” for past criminal records or suspicious behavior for eight of the 12 Syrians, who were traveling in the U.S. as a musical group.

In addition, the band’s promoter was listed in a separate FBI database on case investigations for acting suspiciously aboard a flight months earlier. He was detained a third time in September on a return trip to the U.S. from Istanbul, the details of which were redacted.

The inspector general criticized the Homeland Security officials for not reporting the incident to the Homeland Security Operations Center (HSOC), which serves as the nation’s nerve center for information sharing and domestic incident management.

The report comes three years after the incident, which was not officially acknowledged until a month later, after The Washington Times reported passenger and marshal complaints that the incident resembled a dry run for a terrorist attack. After reviewing the report, air marshals say it confirms their earlier suspicions.

Official denial

An air marshal who told The Times that he has been involved personally in terror probes that were ignored by federal security managers, called such behavior typical.

Read the second page of this news article here. It’s very detailed and shows well the extent to which federal bureaucrats were willing to dissemble and to put us at risk in a disgusting CYA business-as-usual.

Back in September, 2005, when I reviewed Ms. Jacobsen’s book, I titled it with a quote from one of the federal air marshals who was willing to talk to her. He called her from a pay phone to say that the whole business of federal air marshals and the aggravation you’re made to go through by the TSA when you fly is “all for show.” I wrote then:

According to Annie Jacobsen, we’d better do our homework on this one because there is no one watching out for us. Back in April, Gates of Vienna posted on Ms. Jacobsen’s tenacity and her willingness to follow this story wherever it led. That post, “Silence of the Sheep,” proved that the author is a sheepdog indeed. Her interviews with other passengers, with government agencies, with the House Judiciary Committee, with airline personnel, and with individual people who bear the day-to-day hazard of working in this field, have made her case. The tale of her experiences is documented well in “Terror in the Skies.”

This is a top-down problem. The guys in harm’s way — the pilots and flight attendants — know the problems but they have no more power to address them than you do. Less than two percent of pilots are armed. Want to know why? Because in order to actually carry a firearm on board, the firearms training must be done on the pilot’s own time and it has to be done in a place far from home, squeezed into his holiday time or vacation.

And flight attendants? Again, they have to arrange self-defense training on their own time, at their own expense and without the cooperation of the airlines themselves. Think of it this way: what if Brink’s hired drivers and gave them no training in handling attempted robberies? What if they expected their employees to get training — if any — on their own time and their own dime? How long do you think Brink’s would be in business?
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That’s the situation we have in the friendly skies of America. When you add to that the cruel joke of the Federal Air Marshals, the lackadaisical behavior of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the farce we all know as the Department of Homeland Insecurity, it’s enough to make you want to stay home and do your business by long-distance and email.

That was then. And now? Well now we have, from the Department of Homeland Security, the recently freed document titled The Review of the Department’s Handling of Suspicious Passengers Aboard Northwest Flight 327 This time it has been released with far fewer blackouts, thanks to the diligence of the Washington Times. Now we actually get to read the admissions of their ineptitude…and by implication, how unsafe flying commercial aircraft remains. Somehow this is not a comfort.

What is a comfort, though, is how much one person can accomplish in the teeth of vitriol, ridicule, bureaucratic stonewalling, and attempts to smear her reputation as a reporter. She’s another example of the fact that WE’RE ON OUR OWN, but she’s also an example of the fact that this can be enough.

See Hot Air for the video of hero Annie Jacobsen as she discusses her experience. And you can also view the vapors coming from the government representative.

Also read Jacobsen’s accounts in her series that ran in Women’s Wall Street. These columns formed the basis for her book. They bring back reminders of how reviled she was for reporting what she saw and the impact it had on her and her family.


Profitsbeard said...

What I've wondered since 9:10 a.m. 9/11/2001 is:

Who the hell got rid of all of the sky marshalls?

Why were there none on any of the hijacked planes?

How many were even left by 9/11?

Who fired them?

And are the same types still running things?

(Rhetorical question, that last one.)

Anonymous said...

As a road warrior (86,000 air miles last year) I am not surprised at the response of the airlines. Nor am I surprised at the response of the government. It is another of the unfunded mandate class of problems--arm the pilots and give flight attendants unarmed combat instruction, but don't decide how to pay for the additional cost. The cost to the airlines is more than they might recover in additional fares by advertising such training. In fact, it could be counter-productive. "They have to have armed pilots and judo-trained flight attendants? Flying is too dangerous."

As for the government, as long as there is a regulation, ineffectual or not, they are protected. As long as they operate within regulations, they are safe.

I fly securely, knowing that Flight 93 and the flight Richard Reed was on have provided a behavioral model for all passengers. We will never be subdued again. I, and like-minded passengers will prevent further hijackings.

This is not to diparage or denigrate (Isn't that a great word if you are literate?) Anne Jacobsen's experiences. She showed us how resilient the enemy is and how imaginative. Too bad those with responsibility can't be as imaginative.

PapaBear said...

I think it more likely that we can blame the lawyers on this.

The federal government has authorized, but not required, pilots to carry firearms. If the airline actively assists the pilots in being armed, then they may face greater liability if there is a shooting incident involving one of their pilots. Or at least that's what the airline lawyers will have told management

History Snark said...

I think PapaBear is right- airlines have to be scared of the potential for lawsuits. I could see someone getting hurt in an unsucessful hijacking attempt (i.e. a stray round from an armed pilot) and winning a lawsuit against the airline. Even if the pilot also got the hijacker and saved the flight.

Another of the tales that I always tell is of a senior Israeli official who testified before Congress after 9-11. He apparently told them that our airline "security" is brilliant for what it's intended to do. Which is to make people *feel* that they're safe.

Dymphna said...

gc wacko--

That's why I don't fly if I can possibly avoid it.


86,000 miles without anything under you sounds inhumane... ugh.
I agree with you that passengers are less sheep-like now and besides, the Jihadists have morphed it from the real thing into a pseudo-fright that permits them to attempt to scare people. Like the frying imams and CAIR. What cynics these people be.

I am fortunate indeed to have the luxury of not flying. I've never liked it -- feels like I'm on a bumpy bus that is too crowded and Philip Larkin, I don't travel well. As he famously said, "I wouldn't mind seeing China if I could be home in time for dinner." Amen.

I admire Jacobsen's willingness to act like a real reporter in the face of denigration, ridicule, and threats. And I admire the flight personnel who were willing to speak to her.

It seems as though all 9/11 did, besides the cowardly killing and destruction, was swell our govt by several thousands more than it annihilated.

livfreerdie said...

She has an article here about investigating student visas.


Anonymous said...

To be fair, in any future hijacking the pilots' job should be to put the plane down at the nearest airport and disable it once it's on the ground. While I agree that pilots should have the choice of being armed, if the terrorists have got into the cockpit then you're already in big trouble.

If I remember correctly, that's basically El Al policy, and they haven't been hijacked in decades despite being one of the biggest terrorist targets around.

But then El Al take security seriously, rather than treating it as a theatrical performance.

Captain USpace said...

This is very scary and maddening. Bush is like the worst manager ever. He is too loyal to inept appointees. Some of these Homeland Stupidity idiots should be in jail. Chertoff is a disgrace.

The next time there is a hijacking attempt I hope the passengers beat the terrorists to a dead bloody pulp, I mean gouge their eyes out and worse. Anybody, except 'men of the cloth', who profess sympathy for terrorists should see a therapist, for they are surely insane.

absurd thought -
God of the Universe says
keep hijackers alive