Author Topic: Homeland Security, Border, sabotage of energy, transportation, environment  (Read 1035016 times)

Crafty Dog

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Woof All:

This thread is for matters of Homeland Security.  As a starting point, I suggest reading:

Crafty Dog



Terror in the Skies, Again?

By Annie Jacobsen

A WWS Exclusive Article

Note from the Editors: You are about to read an account of what happened during a domestic flight that one of our writers, Annie Jacobsen, took from Detroit to Los Angeles. The WWS Editorial Team debated long and hard about how to handle this information and ultimately we decided it was something that should be shared. What does it have to do with finances? Nothing, and everything. Here is Annie's story.

On June 29, 2004, at 12:28 p.m., I flew on Northwest Airlines flight #327 from Detroit to Los Angeles with my husband and our young son. Also on our flight were 14 Middle Eastern men between the ages of approximately 20 and 50 years old. What I experienced during that flight has caused me to question whether the United States of America can realistically uphold the civil liberties of every individual, even non-citizens, and protect its citizens from terrorist threats.

On that Tuesday, our journey began uneventfully. Starting out that morning in Providence, Rhode Island, we went through security screening, flew to Detroit, and passed the time waiting for our connecting flight to Los Angeles by shopping at the airport stores and eating lunch at an airport diner. With no second security check required in Detroit we headed to our gate and waited for the pre-boarding announcement. Standing near us, also waiting to pre-board, was a group of six Middle Eastern men. They were carrying blue passports with Arabic writing. Two men wore tracksuits with Arabic writing across the back. Two carried musical instrument cases - thin, flat, 18 long. One wore a yellow T-shirt and held a McDonald's bag. And the sixth man had a bad leg -- he wore an orthopedic shoe and limped. When the pre-boarding announcement was made, we handed our tickets to the Northwest Airlines agent, and walked down the jetway with the group of men directly behind us.

My four-year-old son was determined to wheel his carry-on bag himself, so I turned to the men behind me and said, You go ahead, this could be awhile. No, you go ahead, one of the men replied. He smiled pleasantly and extended his arm for me to pass. He was young, maybe late 20's and had a goatee. I thanked him and we boarded the plan.

Once on the plane, we took our seats in coach (seats 17A, 17B and 17C). The man with the yellow shirt and the McDonald's bag sat across the aisle from us (in seat 17E). The pleasant man with the goatee sat a few rows back and across the aisle from us (in seat 21E). The rest of the men were seated throughout the plane, and several made their way to the back.

As we sat waiting for the plane to finish boarding, we noticed another large group of Middle Eastern men boarding. The first man wore a dark suit and sunglasses. He sat in first class in seat 1A, the seat second-closet to the cockpit door. The other seven men walked into the coach cabin. As aware Americans, my husband and I exchanged glances, and then continued to get comfortable. I noticed some of the other passengers paying attention to the situation as well. As boarding continued, we watched as, one by one, most of the Middle Eastern men made eye contact with each other. They continued to look at each other and nod, as if they were all in agreement about something. I could tell that my husband was beginning to feel anxious.

The take-off was uneventful. But once we were in the air and the seatbelt sign was turned off, the unusual activity began. The man in the yellow T-shirt got out of his seat and went to the lavatory at the front of coach -- taking his full McDonald's bag with him. When he came out of the lavatory he still had the McDonald's bag, but it was now almost empty. He walked down the aisle to the back of the plane, still holding the bag. When he passed two of the men sitting mid-cabin, he gave a thumbs-up sign. When he returned to his seat, he no longer had the McDonald's bag.

Then another man from the group stood up and took something from his carry-on in the overhead bin. It was about a foot long and was rolled in cloth. He headed toward the back of the cabin with the object. Five minutes later, several more of the Middle Eastern men began using the forward lavatory consecutively. In the back, several of the men stood up and used the back lavatory consecutively as well.

For the next hour, the men congregated in groups of two and three at the back of the plane for varying periods of time. Meanwhile, in the first class cabin, just a foot or so from the cockpit door, the man with the dark suit - still wearing sunglasses - was also standing. Not one of the flight crew members suggested that any of these men take their seats.

Watching all of this, my husband was now beyond anxious. I decided to try to reassure my husband (and maybe myself) by walking to the back bathroom. I knew the goateed-man I had exchanged friendly words with as we boarded the plane was seated only a few rows back, so I thought I would say hello to the man to get some reassurance that everything was fine. As I stood up and turned around, I glanced in his direction and we made eye contact. I threw out my friendliest remember-me-we-had-a-nice-exchange-just-a-short-time-ago smile. The man did not smile back. His face did not move. In fact, the cold, defiant look he gave me sent shivers down my spine.

When I returned to my seat I was unable to assure my husband that all was well. My husband immediately walked to the first class section to talk with the flight attendant. I might be overreacting, but I've been watching some really suspicious things... Before he could finish his statement, the flight attendant pulled him into the galley. In a quiet voice she explained that they were all concerned about what was going on. The captain was aware. The flight attendants were passing notes to each other. She said that there were people on board higher up than you and me watching the men. My husband returned to his seat and relayed this information to me. He was feeling slightly better. I was feeling much worse. We were now two hours into a four-in-a-half hour flight.

Approximately 10 minutes later, that same flight attendant came by with the drinks cart. She leaned over and quietly told my husband there were federal air marshals sitting all around us. She asked him not to tell anyone and explained that she could be in trouble for giving out that information. She then continued serving drinks.

About 20 minutes later the same flight attendant returned. Leaning over and whispering, she asked my husband to write a description of the yellow-shirted man sitting across from us. She explained it would look too suspicious if she wrote the information. She asked my husband to slip the note to her when he was done.

After seeing 14 Middle Eastern men board separately (six together, eight individually) and then act as a group, watching their unusual glances, observing their bizarre bathroom activities, watching them congregate in small groups, knowing that the flight attendants and the pilots were seriously concerned, and now knowing that federal air marshals were on board, I was officially terrified.. Before I'm labeled a racial profiler or -- worse yet -- a racist, let me add this. A month ago I traveled to India to research a magazine article I was writing. My husband and I flew on a jumbo jet carrying more than 300 Hindu and Muslim men and women on board. We traveled throughout the country and stayed in a Muslim village 10 miles outside Pakistan. I never once felt fearful. I never once felt unsafe. I never once had the feeling that anyone wanted to hurt me. This time was different.

Finally, the captain announced that the plane was cleared for landing. It had been four hours since we left Detroit. The fasten seat belt light came on and I could see downtown Los Angeles. The flight attendants made one final sweep of the cabin and strapped themselves in for landing. I began to relax. Home was in sight.

Suddenly, seven of the men stood up -- in unison -- and walked to the front and back lavatories. One by one, they went into the two lavatories, each spending about four minutes inside. Right in front of us, two men stood up against the emergency exit door, waiting for the lavatory to become available. The men spoke in Arabic among themselves and to the man in the yellow shirt sitting nearby. One of the men took his camera into the lavatory. Another took his cell phone. Again, no one approached the men. Not one of the flight attendants asked them to sit down. I watched as the man in the yellow shirt, still in his seat, reached inside his shirt and pulled out a small red book. He read a few pages, then put the book back inside his shirt. He pulled the book out again, read a page or two more, and put it back. He continued to do this several more times.

I looked around to see if any other passengers were watching. I immediately spotted a distraught couple seated two rows back. The woman was crying into the man's shoulder. He was holding her hand. I heard him say to her, You've got to calm down. Behind them sat the once pleasant-smiling, goatee-wearing man.

I grabbed my son, I held my husband's hand and, despite the fact that I am not a particularly religious person, I prayed. The last man came out of the bathroom, and as he passed the man in the yellow shirt he ran his forefinger across his neck and mouthed the word No.

The plane landed. My husband and I gathered our bags and quickly, very quickly, walked up the jetway. As we exited the jetway and entered the airport, we saw many, many men in dark suits. A few yards further out into the terminal, LAPD agents ran past us, heading for the gate. I have since learned that the representatives of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), the Federal Air Marshals (FAM), and the Transportation Security Association (TSA) met our plane as it landed. Several men -- who I presume were the federal air marshals on board -- hurried off the plane and directed the 14 men over to the side.

Knowing what we knew, and seeing what we'd seen, my husband and I decided to talk to the authorities. For several hours my husband and I were interrogated by the FBI. We gave sworn statement after sworn statement. We wrote down every detail of our account. The interrogators seemed especially interested in the McDonald's bag, so we repeated in detail what we knew about the McDonald's bag. A law enforcement official stood near us, holding 14 Syrian passports in his hand. We answered more questions. And finally we went home.

Home Sweet Home
The next day, I began searching online for news about the incident. There was nothing. I asked a friend who is a local news correspondent if there were any arrests at LAX that day. There weren't. I called Northwest Airlines' customer service. They said write a letter. I wrote a letter, then followed up with a call to their public relations department. They said they were aware of the situation (sorry that happened!) but legally they have 30 days to reply.

I shared my story with a few colleagues. One mentioned she'd been on a flight with a group of foreign men who were acting strangely -- they turned out to be diamond traders. Another had heard a story on National Public Radio (NPR) shortly after 9/11 about a group of Arab musicians who were having a hard time traveling on airplanes throughout the U.S. and couldn't get seats together. I took note of these two stories and continued my research. Here are excerpts from an article written by Jason Burke, Chief Reporter, and published in The Observer (a British newspaper based in London) on February 8, 2004:

Terrorist bid to build bombs in mid-flight: Intelligence reveals dry runs of new threat to blow up airliners

Islamic militants have conducted dry runs of a devastating new style of bombing on aircraft flying to Europe, intelligence sources believe.

The tactics, which aim to evade aviation security systems by placing only components of explosive devices on passenger jets, allowing militants to assemble them in the air, have been tried out on planes flying between the Middle East, North Africa and Western Europe, security sources say.

...The... Transportation Security Administration issued an urgent memo detailing new threats to aviation and warning that terrorists in teams of five might be planning suicide missions to hijack commercial airliners, possibly using common items...such as cameras, modified as weapons.

...Components of IEDs [improvised explosive devices]can be smuggled on to an aircraft, concealed in either clothing or personal carry-on items... and assembled on board. In many cases of suspicious passenger activity, incidents have taken place in the aircraft's forward lavatory.

So here's my question: Since the FBI issued a warning to the airline industry to be wary of groups of five men on a plane who might be trying to build bombs in the bathroom, shouldn't a group of 14 Middle Eastern men be screened before boarding a flight?

Apparently not. Due to our rules against discrimination, it can't be done. During the 9/11 hearings last April, 9/11 Commissioner John Lehman stated that was the policy (before 9/11) and I believe remains the policy today to fine airlines if they have more than two young Arab males in secondary questioning because that's discriminatory.

So even if Northwest Airlines searched two of the men on board my Northwest flight, they couldn't search the other 12 because they would have already filled a government-imposed quota.

I continued my research by reading an article entitled Arab Hijackers Now Eligible For Pre-Boarding from Ann Coulter (

On September 21, as the remains of thousands of Americans lay smoldering at Ground Zero, [Secretary of Transportation Norman] Mineta fired off a letter to all U.S. airlines forbidding them from implementing the one security measure that could have prevented 9/11: subjecting Middle Eastern passengers to an added degree of pre-flight scrutiny. He sternly reminded the airlines that it was illegal to discriminate against passengers based on their race, color, national or ethnic origin or religion.

Coulter also writes that a few months later, at Mr. Mineta's behest, the Department of Transportation (DOT) filed complaints against United Airlines and American Airlines (who, combined, had lost 8 pilots, 25 flight attendants and 213 passengers on 9/11 - not counting the 19 Arab hijackers). In November 2003, United Airlines settled their case with the DOT for $1.5 million. In March 2004, American Airlines settled their case with the DOT for $1.5 million. The DOT also charged Continental Airlines with discriminating against passengers who appeared to be Arab, Middle Eastern or Muslim. Continental Airlines settled their complaint with the DOT in April of 2004 for $.5 million.

From what I witnessed, Northwest Airlines doesn't have to worry about Norman Mineta filing a complaint against them for discriminatory, secondary screening of Arab men. No one checked the passports of the Syrian men. No one inspected the contents of the two instrument cases or the McDonald's bag. And no one checked the limping man's orthopedic shoe. In fact, according to the TSA regulations, passengers wearing an orthopedic shoe won't be asked to take it off. As their site states, Advise the screener if you're wearing orthopedic shoes...screeners should not be asking you to remove your orthopedic shoes at any time during the screening process. (Click here to read the TSA website policy on orthopedic shoes and other medical devices.)

I placed a call to the TSA and talked to Joe Dove, a Customer Service Supervisor. I told him how we'd eaten with metal utensils moments in an airport diner before boarding the flight and how no one checked our luggage or the instrument cases being carried by the Middle Eastern men. Dove's response was, Restaurants in secured areas -- that's an ongoing problem. We get that complaint often. TSA gets that complaint all the time and they haven't worked that out with the FAA. They're aware of it. You've got a good question. There may not be a reasonable answer at this time, I'm not going to BS you.

At the Detroit airport no one checked our IDs. No one checked the folds in my newspaper or the contents of my son's backpack. No one asked us what we'd done during our layover, if we bought anything, or if anyone gave us anything while we were in the airport. We were asked all of these questions (and many others ) three weeks earlier when we'd traveled in Europe -- where passengers with airport layovers are rigorously questioned and screened before boarding any and every flight. In Detroit no one checked who we were or what we carried on board a 757 jet liner bound for American's largest metropolis.

Two days after my experience on Northwest Airlines flight #327 came this notice from SBS TV, The World News, July 1, 2004:

The U.S. Transportation and Security Administration has issued a new directive which demands pilots make a pre-flight announcement banning passengers from congregating in aisles and outside the plane's toilets. The directive also orders flight attendants to check the toilets every two hours for suspicious packages.

Through a series of events, The Washington Post heard about my story. I talked briefly about my experience with a representative from the newspaper. Within a few hours I received a call from Dave Adams, the Federal Air Marshal Services (FAM) Head of Public Affairs. Adams told me what he knew:

There were 14 Syrians on NWA flight #327. They were questioned at length by FAM, the FBI and the TSA upon landing in Los Angeles. The 14 Syrians had been hired as musicians to play at a casino in the desert. Adams said they were scrubbed. None had arrest records (in America, I presume), none showed up on the FBI's no fly list or the FBI's Most Wanted Terrorists List. The men checked out and they were let go. According to Adams, the 14 men traveled on Northwest Airlines flight #327 using one-way tickets. Two days later they were scheduled to fly back on jetBlue from Long Beach, California to New York -- also using one-way tickets.

I asked Adams why, based on the FBI's credible information that terrorists may try to assemble bombs on planes, the air marshals or the flight attendants didn't do anything about the bizarre behavior and frequent trips to the lavatory. Our FAM agents have to have an event to arrest somebody. Our agents aren't going to deploy until there is an actual event, Adams explained. He said he could not speak for the policies of Northwest Airlines.

So the question is... Do I think these men were musicians? I'll let you decide. But I wonder, if 19 terrorists can learn to fly airplanes into buildings, couldn't 14 terrorists learn to play instruments?
« Last Edit: February 19, 2023, 02:25:01 AM by Crafty_Dog »


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My 2 cents...
« Reply #1 on: July 21, 2004, 10:09:58 AM »
Interesting article, and I feel that I should make a couple of points.

1) Airport security in the US - Let's be perfectly honest here: IT'S A JOKE. I have been fortunate enough to travel extensively throughout the world, and nowhere else (with the exception of Fiji) is security as lax as it is in the U.S. Guess what? Taking my shoes off isn't going to stop a hijacking. Neither is staring intently at "Middle Eastern" men. Airports in Europe are often filled with many visibly armed men/women that are looking at YOU as a potential troublemaker regardless of skin color, clothing, instrument case.

I attribute our attitude and approach towards airport security to what I call "The American Comfort" factor. Americans like to live in comfort, not surrounded by the reminders that people like terrorists exist. Thus, no highly visible guards (unless in small quantities), no forcing people to stay in line for tickets and check in, basically no inconveniencing travellers/shoppers lest their experience be made uncomfortable and their travel dollars go elsewhere.

This has to change. If I am reminded that a stupid move on my part will be answered by 5-15 well-armed soldiers, police officers, or guards, I may think twice before acting. But being waved through security 'cause the slightly-above-minimum wage, kinda-sorta-trained, checkers are too busy watching the game is ridiculous.

2) Those crazy Middle Easterners -If you think that people willing to do whatever it takes to hijack a plane are going to act in an overtly suspicious way especially these days, you've got another thing coming.

The author writes, "For the next hour, the men congregated in groups of two and three at the back of the plane for varying periods of time." Gee, I've never seen this on a plane, especially near the bathroom. If a group of white men/white women on a plane had acted in the same manner (standing up, grouping by the bathrooms, pulling reading material in and out of their coats) would the author, or any of us acted differently?

People from the Middle East come in many different shades and a variety of looks. And since we are dealing with a "global threat" we should be thinking globally when it comes to spotting strange behaviour. Again, just 'cause you look different (and I hate to say this, but I mean since you don't look "white") doesn't mean you are gonna kick in the cockpit door.

I mean, do you truly believe that the only terrorists out there are men between the ages of 18-28 with olive colored skin and neatly trimmed beards? Remember the Moscow theater takeover 2 years ago? Of the 40 terrorists, 20 were women, and none of them were Middle Eastern.

The author also mentions throwing out her "...friendliest remember-me-we-had-a-nice-exchange-just-a-short-time-ago smile" Here's a crazy idea, how about walking up to the man and saying "Hello, thanks for letting my kid on the plane first." Then if he decides to throw you one of those bone chilling glances he's either a) a real a-hole or b) a real a-hole. Since when does not smiling constitute a terrorist threat?

And, I'm happy to hear that she had a nice trip to India and went to Pakistan without feeling threatened. Had she considered that the other passengers on the plane might be thinking, "What the hell are those Americans doing on this flight? I hope they don't get us blown out of the sky!" Now who's perceptions are skewed?

3) Training lapses by the crew - One thing especially stood out and I find it more disurbing than the entire article:

"Approximately 10 minutes later, that same flight attendant came by with the drinks cart. She leaned over and quietly told my husband there were federal air marshals sitting all around us. She asked him not to tell anyone and explained that she could be in trouble for giving out that information."

Hmmm...let's try a little role playing. 12 of us are going to take over a plane. But, to be safe, we'll put 2 decoys on the plane to watch the other passengers. One of our decoys will mention to the flight attendant that they've noticed some suspicious behaviour among some of the passengers. I would have to put the stupidest flight attendant answer possible somewhere in the range of, say..."There are air marshalls all around you. Don't tell anyone or I'll get in trouble" Nice. Now I know that there are air marshalls on the plane and perhaps we'll pick another day for our hijinks.

A solid approach to combating terrorism is to change our approach and way of thinking about who terrorist are and what they will do to acheive their goal.

After all, an actual war on terror is physically impossible. The ancient Greek historian Xenophon wrote of the effectiveness of psychological warfare against enemy populations. Roman emperors such as Tiberius and Caligula used banishment, expropriation of property, and execution as means to discourage opposition to their rule.

The Spanish Inquisition used arbitrary arrest, torture, and execution to punish what it viewed as religious heresy. The use of terror was openly advocated by Robespierre as a means of encouraging revolutionary virtue during the French Revolution, leading to the period of his political dominance called the Reign of Terror.

So don't tell me we've suddenly come up with a formula to defeat terrorism worldwide.

We could develop an office of homeland security, hire thousands of people and spend alot of money on a color coded system of alarms. OR maybe we actually spend that money on hiring several thousand competent, well-trained individuals to work specifically on protecting places of travel, worship, and entertainment, as do many other countries around the world. Individuals who will search, question, and if necessary detain individuals who they are trained to look for based on behaviour, not look. What a novel idea!

Pardon the sarcasm, but my eyes are tired from constantly rolling at the inane perceptions of our public and their perceived "threats". The chance that any of us will be involved in a terrorist action at ANY point in our lives is probably less than that of being struck by lighting, so relax.


one out there

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don't worry
« Reply #2 on: July 21, 2004, 12:51:27 PM »
yep miguel, i agree.
your probably at much greater risk out there, especially in Detroit, than you are, ever, of getting messed up by some terrorist.


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Homeland Security
« Reply #3 on: July 21, 2004, 01:52:26 PM »

We certainly could beef up security to the point where a terrorist attack would be virtually impossible, but it would impose unacceptable costs on almost every sector of the economy.  

Sure Middle Easterners are not the only terrorists, but neither were the Japanese our only enemies during WW2.  But anytime "the enemy" is easily identified visually, you're going to have whack-jobs who'll argue that we must have the right to legally discriminate against these people.


Whack Job

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Homeland Security
« Reply #4 on: July 21, 2004, 03:22:27 PM »

"The author writes, "For the next hour, the men congregated in groups of two and three at the back of the plane for varying periods of time." Gee, I've never seen this on a plane, especially near the bathroom. If a group of white men/white women on a plane had acted in the same manner (standing up, grouping by the bathrooms, pulling reading material in and out of their coats) would the author, or any of us acted differently?"

C'mon--You ignore the writer's assertion that individuals who had boarded separately and were seated spread around the plane were signalling each other and meeting at the bathrooms.  Most self-defense experts strongly suggest that people should listen to their intuition about danger.  What would you have-- arrest, arraignment, voir dire, trial and verdict all while on the plane?

"But anytime "the enemy" is easily identified visually, you're going to have whack-jobs who'll argue that we must have the right to legally discriminate against these people."

Well, call me a whack-job then.   It seems pretty stupid to me to not note that the overwhelming majority of those trying to kill us are Arab males between 20 and 50 and act accordingly.

Whack Job


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« Reply #5 on: July 21, 2004, 04:01:35 PM »
Whack Job...

First off, I am not ignoring the writer's assertion about the behaviour of the individuals in question.

I just wonder if the same attention would have been paid to a group of "non-ethnic" looking men/women. Having the pleasure of being ethnically profiled while surrounded by "non-ehtnic" types, I find it insulting that nowadays the automatic assumption is: Middle-Eastern looking, not acting "normal" = terrorist/troublemaker.

That is the very issue that I take with our "war on terror":

"...the overwhelming majority of those trying to kill us are Arab males between 20 and 50 and act accordingly"

First off, the "us" you speak of would be (and pardon the assumption on my part) Americans. If you are naive enough to believe that "the Ay-rabs" are out to get "us", I think you are losing the battle before it starts. Muslim extremists are out to get us and believe me, Muslims come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. That is why we have soldiers fighting the war in places like the Philippines, Indonesia, and parts of Africa.

Second, I am not advocating across the board budget changes to defend our home turf by placing a guard at each mall entrance. I am only suggesting that our perception of what a terrorist is needs to change, 'cause they sure as hell aren't  going to keep sending people our way that "look" the part.

On this I believe we agree..."Most self-defense experts strongly suggest that people should listen to their intuition about danger." Absolutely. I just take issue with people narrowing their intuition to a field of vision that only includes "Arab males between 20 and 50". I would hope that people are educated in their vigilance, and not be UNABLE TO SEE THE WOODS FOR THE TREES.




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Homeland Security
« Reply #6 on: July 21, 2004, 06:36:12 PM »
Whack Job,

The only reason Japanese-Americans (and not German- or Italian-Americans) were placed in prison camps during WW2 is because Japanese people have a distinct look.  White people like Timothy McVeigh, Ted Kaczynski, and KKK members all qualify as terrorists, yet surely you would consider it absurd to allow such profiling of white people.  As Miguel points out, profiling of Arabs would not be a bug-free solution even if we could do it.  Plenty of Muslims as white as Geroge W. Bush are potential AQ recruits.  
The fact is that a terrorist attack could happen anywhere, anytime, with no warning.  This was just as true before 9/11 as it is now.  We should take whatever reasonable security measures we can, but even turning the US into a virtual police state wouldn't make as any safer than we are now.


Whack Job

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Homeland Security
« Reply #7 on: July 22, 2004, 07:19:24 AM »

"First off, I am not ignoring the writer's assertion about the behaviour of the individuals in question."

Sorry if I missed where you paid attention to it , , ,

"I just wonder if the same attention would have been paid to a group of "non-ethnic" looking men/women. Having the pleasure of being ethnically profiled while surrounded by "non-ehtnic" types, I find it insulting that nowadays the automatic assumption is: Middle-Eastern looking, not acting "normal" = terrorist/troublemaker. "

Forgive me, but too bad so sad.  It is an emminently reasonable thought to have.  15 of the 19 on 911 were Saudis.

That is the very issue that I take with our "war on terror":

"...the overwhelming majority of those trying to kill us are Arab males between 20 and 50 and act accordingly"

"First off, the "us" you speak of would be (and pardon the assumption on my part) Americans. If you are naive enough to believe that "the Ay-rabs" are out to get "us", I think you are losing the battle before it starts. Muslim extremists are out to get us and believe me, Muslims come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. That is why we have soldiers fighting the war in places like the Philippines, Indonesia, and parts of Africa."

Forgive me, but the naivete is yours.  To be precise, it is not the 'Ayrab' who are out to get us, but the religious fascist killer nuts amongst them. As for those in the Philippines and Indonesia the same so-called discrimination you lament would apply to them as well.

Anyway, before moving on to another article I found on all this, because the tone behind typed words often miscommunicates I do want to take a moment to underline that all I say is in a spirit of respectful disagreement.

Now, here's this:

Whack Job

More on airline security.  Is there nothing that can be done that is not too intrusive for the public safety?  When the next airline hijacking is completed, what do we do?


Scouting jetliners for new attacks

By Audrey Hudson

Flight crews and air marshals say Middle Eastern men are staking out airports, probing security measures and conducting test runs aboard airplanes for a terrorist attack.
    At least two midflight incidents have involved numerous men of Middle Eastern descent behaving in what one pilot called "stereotypical" behavior of an organized attempt to attack a plane.

    "No doubt these are dry runs for a terrorist attack," an air marshal said.
    Pilots and air marshals who asked to remain anonymous told The Washington Times that surveillance by terrorists is rampant, using different probing methods.
    "It's happening, and it's a sad state of affairs," a pilot said.
    A June 29 incident aboard Northwest Airlines Flight 327 from Detroit to Los Angeles is similar to a Feb. 15 incident on American Airlines Flight 1732 from San Juan, Puerto Rico, to New York's John F. Kennedy Airport.
    The Northwest flight involved 14 Syrian men and the American Airlines flight involved six men of Middle Eastern descent.
    "I've never been in a situation where I have felt that afraid," said Annie Jacobsen, a business and finance feature writer for the online magazine Women's Wall Street who was aboard the Northwest flight.
    The men were seated throughout the plane pretending to be strangers. Once airborne, they began congregating in groups of two or three, stood nearly the entire flight, and consecutively filed in and out of bathrooms at different intervals, raising concern among passengers and flight attendants, Mrs. Jacobsen said.
    One man took a McDonald's bag into the bathroom, then passed it off to another passenger upon returning to his seat. When the pilot announced the plane was cleared for landing and to fasten seat belts, seven men jumped up in unison and went to different bathrooms.
    Her account was confirmed by David Adams, spokesman for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS), who said officers were on board and checked the bathrooms several times during the flight, but nothing was found.
    "The FAMS never broke their cover, but monitored" the activity, Mr. Adams said. "Given the facts, they had no legal basis to take an enforcement action. But there was enough of a suspicious nature for the FAMS, passengers and crew to take notice."
    A January FBI memo says suicide terrorists are plotting to hijack trans-Atlantic planes by smuggling "ready-to-build" bomb kits past airport security, and later assembling the explosives in aircraft bathrooms.
    On many overseas flights, airlines have issued rules prohibiting loitering near the lavatory.
    "After seeing 14 Middle Eastern men board separately (six together and eight individually) and then act as a group, watching their unusual glances, observing their bizarre bathroom activities, watching them congregate in small groups, knowing that the flight attendants and the pilots were seriously concerned and now knowing that federal air marshals were on board, I was officially terrified," Mrs. Jacobsen said.
    "One by one, they went into the two lavatories, each spending about four minutes inside. Right in front of us, two men stood up against the emergency exit door, waiting for the lavatory to become available. The men spoke in Arabic among themselves ... one of the men took his camera into the lavatory. Another took his cell phone. Again, no one approached the men. Not one of the flight attendants asked them to sit down."
    In an interview yesterday with The Washington Times, Mrs. Jacobsen said she was surprised to learn afterward that flight attendants are not trained to handle terrorist attacks or the situation that happened on her flight.
    "I absolutely empathize with the flight attendants. They are acting with no clear protocol," she said.
    Other passengers were distraught and one woman was even crying as the events unfolded.
    The plane was met by officials from the FBI, Los Angeles Police Department, Federal Air Marshal Service and Transportation Security Administration. The Syrians, who were traveling on one-way tickets, were taken into custody.
    The men, who were not on terrorist watch lists, were released, although their information and fingerprints were added to a database. The group had been hired as musicians to play at a casino, and the booking, hotel accommodations and return flight to New York from Long Beach, Calif., also checked out, Mr. Adams said.
    "We don't know if it was a dry run, that's why we are working together with intelligence and investigative agencies to help protect the homeland," he said.
    Mrs. Jacobsen, however, is skeptical the 14 passengers were innocent musicians.
    "If 19 terrorists can learn to fly airplanes into buildings, couldn't 14 terrorists learn to play instruments?" she asked in the article.
    The pilot confirmed Mrs. Jacobsen's experience was "terribly alike" what flight attendants reported on the San Juan flight.
    He said there is "widespread knowledge" among crew members these probes are taking place.
    A Middle Eastern passenger attempted to videotape out the window as the plane taxied on takeoff and, when told by a flight attendant it was not permitted, "gave her a mean look and stopped taping," said a written report of the San Juan incident by a flight attendant.
    The group of six men sat near one another, pretended to be strangers, but after careful observation from flight attendants, it was apparent "all six knew each other," the report said.
    "They were very careful when we were in their area to seem separate and pretended to be sleeping, but when we were out of the twilight area, they were watching and communicating," the report said.
    The men made several trips to the bathroom and congregated in that area, and were told at least twice by a flight attendant to return to their seats. The suspicious behavior was relayed to airline officials in midflight and additional background checks were conducted.
    A second pilot said that, on one of his recent flights, an air marshal forced his way into the lavatory at the front of his plane after a man of Middle Eastern descent locked himself in for a long period.
    The marshal found the mirror had been removed and the man was attempting to break through the wall. The cockpit was on the other side.
    The second pilot said terrorists are "absolutely" testing security.
    "There is a great degree of concern in the airline industry that not only are these dry runs for a terrorist attack, but that there is absolutely no defense capabilities on a vast majority of airlines," the second pilot said.
    Dawn Deeks, spokeswoman for the Association of Flight Attendants, said there is no "central clearinghouse" for them to learn of suspicious incidents, and flight crews are not told how issues are resolved.
    She said a flight attendant reported that a passenger was using a telephoto lens to take sequential photos of the cockpit door.
    The passenger was stopped, and the incident, which happened two months ago, was reported to officials. But when the attendant checked back last week on the outcome, she was told her report had been lost.
    Recent incidents at the Minneapolis-St. Paul international airport have also alarmed flight crews. Earlier this month, a passenger from Syria was taken into custody while carrying anti-American materials and a note suggesting he intended to commit a public suicide.
    A third pilot reported watching a man of Middle Eastern descent at the same airport using binoculars to get airplane tail numbers and writing the numbers in a notebook to correspond with flight numbers.
    "It's a probe. They are probing us," said a second air marshal, who confirmed that Middle Eastern men try to flush out marshals by rushing the cockpit and stopping suddenly.


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But wait, there's more...
« Reply #8 on: July 22, 2004, 09:15:14 AM »
"First off, I am not ignoring the writer's assertion about the behaviour of the individuals in question."

Sorry if I missed where you paid attention to it , , ,

That would be Paragraph 2, of Section 2 in my response:

The author writes, "For the next hour, the men congregated in groups of two and three at the back of the plane for varying periods of time." Gee, I've never seen this on a plane, especially near the bathroom.

All I'm wondering is if this behaviour would have seemed suspect coming from anyone else (a group of nuns/football players/computer geeks/midgets) or if the current "Arabs bad, others good" thinking should automatically kick in.

As to your response:

Forgive me, but too bad so sad. It is an emminently reasonable thought to have. 15 of the 19 on 911 were Saudis.

Again, that is the main point of my writing: Tunnel vision in regards to the terrorist threat. Does it concern me that strange behaviour has been displayed by Arab men on planes? Definitely. The problem that I have is NOT "racial profiling" but our (notice the "our", not "your") collective inability to look at places besides the Middle East as training/breeding grounds for terroristic thought.

Forgive me, but the naivete is yours. To be precise, it is not the 'Ayrab' who are out to get us, but the religious fascist killer nuts amongst them.

I didn't say the Arabs are coming to get us. Those were your words. Unfortunately the sarcastic tone I applied in using the word "ay-rabs" doesn't quite translate on the page. And again, those religious fascist killer nuts come in all shapes and sizes.

I appreciate a vigorous discussion as much as the next person, I only wish that the written word worked better when I put it on the page. A shortcoming on my part, I am sure.  :wink:

However, I will say that no one has responded to my notes on behaviour by both passengers and crew.

1) Shouldn't you be as concerned with the behaviour of a white male on a plane, mumbling to himself while stroking a Bible as you should a Middle Easterner doing the same while holding the Koran? Being vigilant means looking at everyone.

2) Shouldn't the crew not tip off passengers as to the presence of Air Marshalls? Again, I find that fact more disturbing than anything else.

3) Are we as a society so dumb as to believe that terrorists will act with stereotypical behaviour? Look, these people scouted, planned, trained, and pulled off one of the most audacious acts of terrorism that I can think of, right under our noses. Just as we have think tanks to find out their hows/wheres/whys, they have think tanks to figure out new unobstrusive ways of getting at the U.S. again. So let's broaden our field of view so that we are not caught with our pants down again.

4) When you are out and about, do you pay attention to the people around you? Having worked in various fields that require some type of crowd surveillance/control/security/organization, you often find that the person "least likely" to cause trouble if often the very one who does. I call it "the boy next door" syndrome. All I ask is that people get to know their neighbor, fellow passenger, co-worker even if with a few words of hello. You'd be surprised how far that will get you when it comes to noticing unusual behaviour.

Again, I solicit thoughts from the masses. And Whack Job, I  honestly appreciate your thoughts on the matter. That is what ultimately puts us miles ahead of so many nations in the world: honest, open discourse.



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« Reply #9 on: July 22, 2004, 10:03:12 AM »

"The author writes, "For the next hour, the men congregated in groups of two and three at the back of the plane for varying periods of time." Gee, I've never seen this on a plane, especially near the bathroom. "

My point is that this needs to be seen in conjunction with their boarding and sitting separately.

SB, I agree that sundry issues are raised by the article concerning improving security. I have no problem with the idea that not all terrorists are Arab muslims.  I totally agree that environmental awareness and knowing one's neighbors, etc are good things.  To the best of my ability I practice them.  That said, one can overload and screening mechanisms to trim down the volume are rational.  

Lets take a trip down memory lane with a quiz sent by an Israeli friend:


Subject: Profiling in the U.S.
Take the short quiz, read, reflect and forward.

Please pause a moment, reflect back, and take the following Multiple
Choice test.... no need to keep score. The events are actual cuts from
past history. They actually happened!
Do you remember?
1. In 1972 at the Munich Olympics, athletes were kidnapped and massacred
a. Olga Corbitt
b. Sitting Bull
c. Arnold Schwarzeneger
d. Muslim male extremists mostly between the ages of 17 and 40

2. In 1979, the U.S. embassy in Iran was taken over by:
a. Lost Norwegians
b. Elvis
c. A tour bus full of 80-year-old women
d. Muslim male extremists mostly between the ages of 17 and 40
3. During the 1980's a number of Americans were kidnapped in Lebanon by:

a. John Dillinger
b. The King of Sweden
c. The Boy Scouts
d. Muslim male extremists mostly between the ages of 17 and 40
4. In 1983, the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut was blown up by:
a. A pizza delivery boy
b. Pee Wee Herman
c. Geraldo Rivera
d. Muslim male extremists mostly between the ages of 17 and 40
5. In 1985 the cruise ship Achille Lauro was hijacked and a 70 year-old
American passenger was murdered and thrown overboard in his wheelchair
a. The Smurfs
b. Davy Jones
c. The Little Mermaid
d. Muslim male extremists mostly between the ages of 17 and 40
6. In 1985 TWA flight 847 was hijacked at Athens, and a U.S. Navy diver
trying to rescue passengers was murdered by:
a. Captain Kidd
b. Charles Lindberg
c. Mother Teresa
d. Muslim male extremists mostly between the ages of 17 and 40
7. In 1988, Pan Am Flight 103 was bombed by:
a. Scooby Doo
b. The Tooth Fairy
c. Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid
d. Muslim male extremists mostly between the ages of 17 and 40
8. In 1993 the World Trade Center was bombed the first time by:
a. Richard Simmons
b. Grandma Moses
c. Michael Jordan
d. Muslim male extremists mostly between the ages of 17 and 40
9. In 1998, the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were bombed
a. Mr. Rogers
b. Hillary Clinton, to distract attention from Wild
Bill's women problems
c. The World Wrestling Federation
d. Muslim male extremists mostly between the ages of 17 and 40
10. On 9/11/01, four airliners were hijacked; two were used as
missiles to take out the World Trade Centers and of the remaining two,
one crashed into the US Pentagon and the other was diverted and crashed
by the passengers. Thousands of people were killed by:
a. Bugs Bunny, Wiley E. Coyote, Daffy Duck and Elmer Fudd
b. The Supreme Court of Florida
c. Mr. Bean
d. Muslim male extremists mostly between the ages of 17 and 40
11. In 2002 the United States fought a war in Afghanistan
a. Enron
b. The Lutheran Church
c. The NFL
d. Muslim male extremists mostly between the ages of 17 and 40
12. In 2002 reporter Daniel Pearl was kidnapped and murdered by:
a. Bonnie and Clyde
b. Captain Kangaroo
c. Billy Graham
d Muslim male extremists mostly between the ages of 17 and 40
Nope, I really don't see a pattern here to justify profiling, do you?
So, to ensure we Americans never offend anyone, particularly fanatics
intent on killing us, airport security screeners will no longer be allowed to profile certain people. They must conduct random searches of 80-year-old women, little kids, airline pilots with proper identification, Secret agents who are members of the President's security detail, 85-year old Congressmen with metal hips, and Medal of Honor winning former Governors, and leave Muslim Males between the ages 17 & 40 alone because of profiling.
Let's send this to as many people as we can so that the Gloria Aldreds
and other dunder-headed attorneys along with Federal Justices that want
to thwart common sense, feel doubly ashamed of themselves if they have
any such sense.
As the writer of the award winning story "Forrest Gump" so aptly put it,
"Stupid is as stupid does."

You mentioned in a prior post being offended by profiling.  My intent here is the opposite of offending--it is to persuade you (and those reading) that there is good reason for profiling.  If you understand this, perhaps the sting you perceive will be removed.  

Whack Job


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« Reply #10 on: July 22, 2004, 10:33:21 AM »
The fact that you write there is a good reason for profiling gives me chills for a bunch of different reasons.

That being said, it gives me slight solace to believe that you mean it only in cases of terrorist threat. Otherwise, I certainly wouldn't want to be driving through your neighborhood in my new car with 3-4 of my multi-ethnic friends lest we be marked as trouble makers.

"So, to ensure we Americans never offend anyone, particularly fanatics
intent on killing us, airport security screeners will no longer be allowed to profile certain people."

Here is the fundamental problem that I tried (apparently unsuccessfully) to address in my first notes. "The American Comfort" factor makes it uncomfortable for us to search whoever at an airport security checkpoint.

80-year-old women (perhaps that 80 year old had a son die in a US led strike in Afghanistan and has decided to get a little revenge, after all who is going to search a lil old lady?)

Little kids (golly no one has ever used them to hide weapons)

Airline pilots with proper identification (maybe if we placed security restrictions on them they wouldn't make it on the plane drunk)

Secret agents who are members of the President's security detail (Hmmmm, perhaps a little reminder since we are talking profiling: American Airlines passengers say an Arab-American Secret Service agent, who was kicked off a Christmas Day flight, was targeted because of his ethnicity, and that the agent behaved professionally through out the ordeal, never acting in an angry manner or becoming confrontational, news agencies reported)

85-year old Congressmen with metal hips ('cause being a Congressman automatically means that you are a swell guy and could never, ever be a troublemaker)

Medal of Honor winning former Governors (ditto)

Again, my issue is with the skewed, untrained approach to security and its often shoddy application. If you want to offend/detain/search do it across the board, 'cause believe me the bad guys are gonna figure out a fresh new way of gettin' the job done.

All I am saying is that anyone boarding my flight I regard with a modicum of suspicion whether drunk frat boy who will freak out and try to open a door midflight, or nicely dressed Muslim fellow who is reading from the Koran.

A justification for profiling? Go for it. Then watch your plane go down 'cause upstanding white businessman John Walker Lindh walked through security with 5 pounds of Semtex strapped to his body.

If terrorists don't take issue with killing whoever, whenever, why don't we take an interest in securing ourselves against whoever, whenever? No one seems to be up to that task for some reason. Maybe it's just easier to spot 'em if you look in specific places.

Oh those poor little old ladies and kids and Congressmen. Funny, in the days after 9/11 alot of people were perfectly comfortable giving up some freedoms in order to catch the bad guys. Now most of y'all can relax knowing that the bad guys is once again darkskinned and easy to spot. Give me a break. 17-40 year old Muslim/Arab males have done alot of bad stuff and we know that. But from the sound of it, you want to exclude everyone else from the screening process.

I'm out. My eyes are rolling again...



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« Reply #11 on: July 22, 2004, 11:07:39 AM »

Sorry you're "out" on this, but that's up to you.

I too have "multi-ethnic" friends and have been on the receiving end of police stops more than once and yes it is a drag.

Yes there might be terrorists who are non-Muslim males 17-40, but the great majority of them are.  If I understand you correctly we need to consider everyone as a possibility.  Of course!  But, but at the same time consider what a friend wrote me earlier today:

"As to the airlines, Mineta is a prime example of the problem.  Because he was interred in WW2, he is too sensitive to racial profiling.  Therefore only 2 people of Arab heritage can be searched per flight, otherwise airlines can be fined."

This strikes me as resoundingly stupid and accounts for some of my truculence on this issue.
My friend continues:

"The next time we lose an aircraft to terrorists....and it will happen....we will have to take a hard look at security.  , , ,  A good start would be serious arming of pilots, not this BS program which makes it almost impossible for a pilot to get the training and permission to carry a weapon."

This matter of having more armed pilots strikes me as a good idea.  Perhaps we can agree upon this?

What else can we agree upon?  

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« Reply #12 on: July 22, 2004, 12:37:01 PM »
"Again, my issue is with the skewed, untrained approach to security and its often shoddy application. If you want to offend/detain/search do it across the board, 'cause believe me the bad guys are gonna figure out a fresh new way of gettin' the job done."

One of the reasons that terrorism is such an attractive option for those with political agendas, but limited political capital, is that it works so well.

And one of the reasons that it works so well is that the terrorist is playing with very few restrictions. They can use targets of opportunity, instead of being limited to legitimate military targets. They can use means and methods that are off limits to legitimate governments. They don't have to play by any rule but one:
'Do whatever it takes to get your agenda on page one'
And they have an automatic win from the media attention given to their actions.

The more that the media lavishes attention on the terrorist's actions, the more reactionary and media influenced will be the reaction from politicians.

So professional risk management scientists (such as the ones who sent every member of Congress a report well before 9/11 noting that Middle Eastern extremists would likely attempt to fly aircraft into skyscrapers) are sidelined, and military types with impressive looking uniforms and medals, but who did NOT issue any such reports before 9/11 are put in charge of 'security'.

Automatic win for the terrorists.

So people will become invested in rumors and scare-mongering like the Annie Jacobsen article, and focus their attention away from everyday awareness to only looking at stereotypes.

Automatic win for the terrorists.

So people will fall for any 'magic wand' or 'band aid' solution that comes down the pike, be it 'explosives detecting' dowsing rods, or armed pilots, or changing the jackets of airport screeners from 'Argenbright Security' to 'Federal Marshal' while keeping the same employees and policies.

Automatic win for the terrorists.

And as these reactions settle in, people will do what people naturally do, which is to look for ways to minimize inconvenience to themselves from whatever measures are in place.

So 'important' people will get to bypass security checkpoints, back doors will be propped open so friends can stop by secured workplaces, suspicious activities will be overlooked through various rationalizations, budgets will be cut to fund more important boondoggles...

And another automatic win for the terrorists.

"Take away paradox from the thinker, and you have a professor"

Soren Kierkegaard


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« Reply #13 on: July 22, 2004, 12:44:00 PM »
Any solutions Paul?


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« Reply #14 on: July 22, 2004, 01:15:51 PM »
This coverage of the incident in question was posted today on National Review Online:

The Syrian Wayne Newton
The man inadvertently behind a scare in the skies.

  By Clinton W. Taylor    

Annie Jacobsen's recent piece for WomensWallStreet.Com made waves. Her account of flying with her family while 14 Middle Eastern passengers acted in a threatening and apparently coordinated manner makes for a terrifying read. Her article captures her sickening sense of both uncertainty and inevitability as what might possibly have been the next 9/11 unfolded around her.

Fortunately, nothing of the sort happened. On June 29, Northwest Airlines Flight 327 landed safely in Los Angeles and a phalanx of law enforcement greeted the suspicious passengers, whisking them away for some intense interviews. Jacobsen noted a pile of Syrian passports in the hand of a law-enforcement official.

But the men checked out, and Jacobsen was told that they were "hired as musicians to play at a casino in the desert." She was not told the name of the band, nor the name of the casino. And as her story made the rounds through the Internet and beyond (the Dallas Morning News printed a condensed version earlier this week), a note of skepticism about her story crept in. Had she imagined the whole thing? Or was the government covering up a "dry run" for another terrorist attack?

Columnist and blogger Michelle Malkin confirmed some of the details of Jacobsen's story with the Federal Air Marshal's service, but the identity of the band remained the subject of much speculation. For a while the blogosphere settled on a Syrian band called Kulna Sawa as a likely candidate, but the gents at Powerline received a note from that group's tour manager explaining the band was still in Syria when all this happened. Even the mainstream media began to notice the story: New York Times reporter Joe Sharkey confirmed some of the details of the story today but admitted he, too, was unable to identify the band.

Well, I am nominally the "news director" for Stanford University's student radio station, KZSU, and I figured I'd help the Times out. There aren't that many casinos in southern California, so I had my research assistant, Mr. Google, take a look at some. An hour later I was talking to the nice folks at Sycuan Casino & Resort, near San Diego. Unlike most casinos where it's all Elvis impersonators, Paul Anka, and Linda Ronstadt ? oh, wait, scratch that last one ? Sycuan books the occasional "ethnic music" show, too. In August, for example, they'll have a Vietnamese night.

"Oh, do you mean Arab music?" inquired Angie, who answered Sycuan's phone. Yes, they had had an Arab act perform on July 1, an artist named Nour Mehana. Terry, Angie's supervisor at Sycuan, confirmed that he was there and that there was probably a backup band brought in, since there's no house band at Sycuan. In fractions of a second, Mr. Google found a website for Sycuan's event promoters, Anthem Artists, whose archive confirms Nour Mehana performed at Sycuan on 7/01/04.

And then I noticed something that was truly terrifying, something linking Nour Mehana to a figure of such repulsive evil that I felt a rush of prickly fear not unlike Jacobsen's: Just one week later, the same company that arranged Mehana's performance, also booked Carrot Top!

I talked to James Cullen of Anthem Artists who confirms that Nour Mehana's large band did arrive on Northwest Flight 327. Some of them came in from Detroit, and some from Lebanon. Cullen says they never said anything about a disturbance on the flight to him, even though "I stayed in the same hotel, they were nice, they stayed right above me." He said that they were fine musicians, put on a great show, and he would work with them again in the future.

Cullen did receive a follow-up e-mail from the Department of Homeland Security, asking him to confirm that the band had played their gig at Sycuan. He had read Jacobsen's article and concluded that some "people are just paranoid." A pilot himself, Cullen insisted that the patterns Jacobsen perceived wouldn't occur to him. "We should take pride in our system. We've got to trust our system." (Cullen made it clear that he opposes "this crazy Bush Iraq war sh*t," but it is important to bear in mind that Cullen also admitted to booking Carrot Top.)

Nour Mehana (a.k.a. Noor Mehanna, or Nour Mhanna, plus various permutations of those spellings) is, in fact, Syrian. He performs both "new-agey" hits and old sentimental Middle Eastern classics in a style called Tarab. In this catchy ten-minute video of Mehana on stage, (scroll down; the name is rendered Noor Mhanan this time ) you can see he has a rather large backup band helping him out. (The resolution is low, but Jacobsen might recognize some of the band members Mehanna is interacting with.) Followers of news from Iraq may have heard about the U.S. tour of the "Iraqi Elvis." Well, Mehana comes across not as an angry jihadi, but rather more like the Syrian Wayne Newton.

Much more like Wayne Newton:

Anyway, this is good news. Nour Mehana's band might have acted like jerks on the plane, but it appears safe to say they were not casing Northwest Airlines for a suicidal assault, and we can quit worrying about this being a "dry run" or an aborted attack. And if Jacobsen was wondering why one man in a dark suit and sunglasses sat in first class while everyone else flew coach, well, it seems pretty clear that this was the Big Mehana himself.

Which is definitely not the same as saying Jacobsen was wrong to worry. The proven existence of this band confirms one of the last details of her story, and her story confirms some of our worst fears about airline security. The mindset of passengers, of the crew, and even of the law-enforcement personnel (Jacobsen said a flight attendant reassured her husband by pointing out that air marshals were on the flight), and decision makers higher up the ladder was reactive, not proactive.

Now, by that I certainly don't mean that the interceptors should have scrambled or the passengers should have started swinging Chardonnay bottles as soon as the oud player took too long in the john. But evidently no one even engaged these guys in a conversation, and no one, not the flight crew, and not the air marshals, challenged their egregious violations of protocols about congregating near restrooms or standing up in unison as the plane started its descent. Nothing was done to alleviate the terror Jacobsen, and probably a lot of the other passengers, felt.

Liberals will likely decry the suspicion and interrogation the musicians faced on Flight 327. And the principled Right will regret that that was necessary. If the band's English wasn't very good they might not have understood the instructions. But a polite word and some helpful gestures earlier on, rather than a guilty PC silence, might have saved them some embarrassment. In any case, the police-state parallels fade quickly: In a real police state, like, oh, Syria, you are not even allowed inside the country with an Israeli stamp in your passport.

June 29 was no ordinary day in the skies. That day, Department of Homeland Security officials issued an "unusually specific internal warning," urging customs officials to watch out for Pakistanis with physical signs of rough training in the al Qaeda training camps. The warning specifically mentioned Detroit and Los Angeles's LAX airports, the origin and terminus of NWA flight 327.

That means that our air-traffic system was expecting trouble. But rather than land the plane in Las Vegas or Omaha, it was allowed to continue on to Los Angeles without interruption, as if everything were hunky-dory on board. It certainly wasn't. If this had been the real thing, and the musicians had instead been terrorists, nothing was stopping them from taking control of the plane or assembling a bomb in the restroom. Given the information they were working with at the time, almost everyone should have reacted differently than they did.

Jacobsen's fear was quite natural under these circumstances, and she has done us a service by pointing out some egregious shortfalls in our airline security. Danke Schoen, Darling. Let's hope the right people are listening.

? Clinton W. Taylor is a lawyer and a Ph.D. student in political science at Stanford. He's also news co-director and an intermittent classic-country DJ for KZSU, Stanford.


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« Reply #15 on: July 22, 2004, 02:15:11 PM »
Quote from: Anonymous
Any solutions Paul?

Any solutions for keeping politicians and the media from ruining the best laid plans?
Nope, not a one.  But then again, that's why I'm not a political scientist...

Are there better solutions to be had from pursuing risk management strategies?
Yes, in the less than perfect fashion that seperates real life from the ideal.
No one is going to make terrorists disappear, but they might make it worth their while to go after someone else.
And it is important to admit to such realities in examining security.

Medical science thought that they had eradicated diseases like TB and polio, and so forth decades ago.  Medical science was wrong, because people screwed it we have epidemics that are harder than ever to deal with...
That doesn't mean that medical science should never have addressed the problems. or criticised the old way of dealing with disease.
It just means that having a solution that works is no sort of guarantee

When I taught the only security/anti terrorism classes offered pre 9/11 at one of the top criminology departments in the US, I devoted an entire section to an examination of how *people* will screw up your best security plan, and how to anticipate media, politics, organizational behavior, and human nature when asked to come up with a solution for a security problem.

Very few of my students were ever happy with that section of the course.
They wanted a concrete answer, and wanted to assume that because they had the right answer from a security standpoint, that it would automatically be adopted, and that it would automatically work.

But we as a nation under recent terrorist attack, and reasonably anticipating others to come, can do significantly better than we are doing...the really tough question is how to get past the politicians and the media in order to address the terrorism issues directly and scientifically.
"Take away paradox from the thinker, and you have a professor"

Soren Kierkegaard


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« Reply #16 on: July 22, 2004, 02:18:11 PM »
Things were getting hectic around the office and I let that translate to frustration in my writing.

A writer far better than I put it perfectly in that last article:

"The mindset of passengers, of the crew, and even of the law-enforcement personnel...was reactive, not proactive. "


" one even engaged these guys in a conversation, and no one, not the flight crew, and not the air marshals, challenged their egregious violations of protocols about congregating near restrooms or standing up in unison as the plane started its descent. Nothing was done to alleviate the terror Jacobsen, and probably a lot of the other passengers, felt."

Upon relfection, this is the issue that I take not only with the incident mentioned, but with the war on terror as a whole. Obviously, our actions post 9/11 were reactive, as 90% of the world's would be. However, now that the commission's report has been released, we see a mind-boggling lack of proactivity prior to and post the events of that day.

All I ask is that we, as citizens of a country that will find itself under attack again, examine our behaviours in the face of often confusing/unexpected events. As martial artists/warriors/intelligent, free thinkers, I would hope that in the face of adversity we take the more rational approach instead of hopping on the alarmist band wagon.

Thanks again,



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« Reply #17 on: July 22, 2004, 04:54:37 PM »
Woof Whack Job,

Can you think of any scenarios where it would be appropriate to "profile" middle aged white guys?



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« Reply #18 on: July 22, 2004, 05:15:22 PM »
" one even engaged these guys in a conversation, and no one, not the flight crew, and not the air marshals, challenged their egregious violations of protocols about congregating near restrooms or standing up in unison as the plane started its descent. Nothing was done to alleviate the terror Jacobsen, and probably a lot of the other passengers, felt."

And letting people like Jacobson direct air marshals to confront people acting in an 'obviously' suspicious manner is a real good way to get air marshals killed...they aren't security guards who are supposed to hassle minorities so the white lady can feel safe.
 They have a tactical job to do, and public perceptions are never a good tactical mandate.
"Take away paradox from the thinker, and you have a professor"

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« Reply #19 on: July 22, 2004, 07:51:24 PM »

Sure!  If, for example you have a problem with middle-aged KKKers, cracker rednecks attacking black people.

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« Reply #20 on: July 22, 2004, 08:04:25 PM »


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Thank God...
« Reply #21 on: July 23, 2004, 12:07:59 PM »
...for vigilant actors like James Woods.


Whack Job

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« Reply #22 on: July 28, 2004, 11:05:04 AM »
In fairness, I post this piece-- but I submit that the question still remains about being proactive instead of reactive.  At what point do we as passengers act? Do we wait for "probable cause"?  What the hell is that? And what do we do if we do want to act?  

LAX flight terrorism fears discounted

SAFETY: Despite widespread interest and Internet reports on Syrian passengers, the FBI says there was no "national security threat."

By Ian Gregor, Daily Breeze

Media inquiries have poured into Los Angeles International Airport from as far away as Australia and England. The story has made the rounds on local radio talk shows and popped up in national publications. It has been poked and probed from every possible angle in Internet chat rooms.

There's only one glitch: The supposed dry run for a terror attack aboard a June 29 Detroit-to-LAX flight -- chronicled earlier this month in dramatic prose on a Web site called -- never happened, federal officials say. The "terrorists" were, in fact, Syrian musicians who were simply flying to a gig at an Indian casino near San Diego, they say.

"The conclusion was there was no sort of terror threat, national security threat," said Cathy Viray, spokeswoman for the FBI's Los Angeles office. "To date this is absolutely our position."

An aviation security official who requested anonymity was more blunt in his assessment of the author, Annie Jacobsen of San Diego, who was aboard the Northwest Airlines flight.

"I just think it was an over-reactive passenger who saw things her own way," the official said. "It was immediately discredited."

The story of Flight 327 is one of increased anxiety in the post-9-11 era and, some observers charge, racial profiling of Middle Eastern men. It also shows how seriously authorities take concerns from flight crews as the government warns that terrorists remain interested in using commercial jets as instruments of attack. When it landed at Terminal 2, Flight 327 was met by a horde of FBI agents and officers from the LAX and Los Angeles police departments.

"We go to great pains to meet an aircraft at the gate when it's requested by flight attendants or pilots," said LAX Police Chief Bernard Wilson.

Jacobsen did not immediately return a phone message left with a clerk at's Aliso Viejo offices. In a posting on the site, she said federal officials confirmed the facts in her story and she denied that she was guilty of racial profiling. She also said she had received supportive e-mails from flight attendants and pilots.

In her initial 3,300-word July 16 story, Jacobsen said she grew terrified when 14 Middle Eastern men, who knew each other but sat in separate groups, made repeated trips to the lavatories carrying bags and signaling each other as they came and went. As the plane was on its final approach to LAX, seven of the men stood up together and walked to the front and back lavatories, each spending about four minutes inside. Her husband and a nearby passenger shared her concerns, as did a flight attendant who intimated there were air marshals aboard watching the men, she wrote.

Intelligence officials believe terrorists are trying to find ways to assemble bombs aboard planes using innocuous materials, according to published reports.

"If 19 terrorists can learn to fly airplanes into buildings, couldn't 14 terrorists learn to play instruments?" Jacobsen wrote.

Some elements of Jacobsen's account were true, said Dave Adams, a spokesman for the Federal Air Marshals Service. The men did act strangely and air marshals checked the bathrooms after the men exited, he said. But marshals did not see a need to intervene.

"Obviously some of their actions were a little out of the ordinary but not to the extent that (air marshals) had to react other than to keep them under observation on the flight," Adams said.

Air marshals were not on Flight 327 because of any specific threat or concerns about the Syrian musicians, he said.

"There was no intelligence (about a threat) on that flight," Adams said. "There's no specific intelligence indicating terror groups are conducting test runs aboard any commercial airliners."

Nevertheless, the marshals and the flight crew decided that the men should be investigated, and requested that law enforcement officers meet the aircraft at its gate, Adams said.

"All complaints are taken seriously," the FBI's Viray said, adding that law enforcement agencies frequently are asked to meet planes at LAX.

Federal agents detained the men, interviewed them, ran their names through terrorist databases and, when they came up clean, let them go, Adams said. Agents later determined the men did perform on July 1 at the Sycuan Casino & Resort and monitored the concert, according to a report on radio station KFI (640 AM).

Publish Date:July 28, 2004

BTW, FWIW it was reported on 640AM radio in Los Angeles that the musicians were all later discovered to have expired visas


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Homeland Security
« Reply #23 on: July 29, 2004, 07:21:02 PM »
Personal Journal
A New Approach
In Terror Readiness
Latest Efforts Address Specifics on How People
Can Respond to Attacks; Where to Find Shelter

In the past three years, a lot of attention has focused on making sure hospitals, corporations and government offices are prepared for a terrorist attack. But a new push is under way to address the possibility that in the first hours after an attack, individuals may have to act on their own.

Much of the first round of preparedness advice focused on basics, such as disaster kits and supplies like duct tape and bottled water. But several groups are now attempting to offer concrete advice about how to respond to a detailed range of possible attacks, from conventional weapons to biological and chemical agents to "dirty bombs" laced with radiological materials. The Bush administration has warned about the possibility of an attack timed to disrupt the upcoming political conventions, though it hasn&t raised the official terrorist threat level.

Much of the recent effort has focused on unconventional weapons such as biological and chemical agents, because it is these sorts of attacks in particular that may require quick action on the part of individuals to minimize risk. The goal is to offer guidance on how people can act in the critical hours after an attack, while the government is preparing its response.

One problem is that many Americans don&t know the difference between types of unconventional weapons, nor the very different responses that would be called for in each circumstance. And despite government recommendations, today only a small proportion of households have even a rudimentary disaster-preparedness kit.

A public symposium being held today in Washington, sponsored by the American Red Cross and the Department of Homeland Security, among others, aims to explore why so many people are not prepared for the possibility of biological, chemical, nuclear or radiological attack, and what steps can be taken by individuals to help themselves survive.

Be Prepared
See how to prepare for and react to different kinds of terror attacks.
Rand Corp., a Santa Monica, Calif.-based think tank, has created a small reference card, designed to fit in a handbag or pocket, that summarizes a recent report it published on steps people can take in response to various types of terrorist attacks. The card is free and can be downloaded from the group&s Web site, The Council for Excellence in Government, a Washington think tank, has issued its own report with advice for individuals.

Some groups have emphasized breaking a terror attack down into only few simple strategies to remember. In the event of a chemical attack, for example, Rand says the overarching goal is to find clean air very quickly: Take shelter in the closest building if the attack is outdoors; open windows if the attack is indoors. Remove clothing and shower once you are protected.

For radiological attack, people should avoid inhaling dust that could be radioactive. A dust mask or even a shirt can be helpful. In the case of nuclear attack, the main goal is to avoid radioactive fallout. Go as far underground as possible -- or high up in a multistory building -- until evacuation is possible.

One problem of course, is how to find out what type of attack is under way. For that, the Rand report suggests adding a battery-operated radio to any emergency-preparedness kit to monitor government announcements. The report, which costs $15, says a terrorism-preparedness kit doesn&t need to be elaborate and requires only a few items over and above the first-aid supplies and canned goods that might already be in someone&s emergency kit. In addition to the radio, the report suggests a dust mask with a N95-rated particulate filter that can be readily purchased to protect against radiological dust or fallout and biological agents, as well as duct tape and plastic sheeting to seal openings in a shelter.

The Duct Tape

Duct tape has been alternatively recommended and ridiculed as a protective measure. But while it can&t completely seal a home from contaminants, it can be helpful, the Rand report says. "What we found is that the most critical steps are simple to do and not hard to understand, but can make a tremendous difference," says Lynn Davis, senior political scientist at Rand Corp. and co-author of the organization&s report.

In general, preparedness experts aren&t counseling people to stock up on medications or gas masks, which have very limited value in an emergency. Cipro and other antibiotics, for instance, have a short shelf life, and indiscriminate or incorrect use of them could leave someone worse off. Gas masks need to be on at the time of an attack, or within a minute, and therefore are impractical since there is rarely sufficient warning of an attack.

Potassium iodide, which has a five-year shelf life, can be beneficial in protecting against the thyroid cancer that can result from a nuclear or radiological exposure. "But it has a very limited use" because it works only if certain types of radiation were used, says Christina Catlett, medical director of the Center for Emergency Preparedness at George Washington University Medical Center in Washington.

Some of the groups examining the issue of individual preparedness have studied the example of Israel, a country which has a long history of experience with terrorism and relies heavily on individuals to be vigilant against threats. Israelis are regularly reminded in public-service announcements to be on the lookout for suspicious objects or people. Most communities have citizen guards that take turns patrolling neighborhoods. Many schools have parent volunteers who help bolster security efforts. And nearly all homes have a designated "sealed room" with supplies and a phone jack where a family could retreat in an attack.

Convincing individuals to prepare for an attack hasn&t been easy. Last year, the Department of Homeland Security launched its Ready campaign, urging individuals to stockpile supplies such as water and canned goods and create a family emergency plan in the event of a terror attack. In a report to be presented at the Washington symposium today, the Red Cross found that only one in 10 people have made a disaster plan, prepared an emergency kit and received some kind of training in CPR or basic first aid.

The Council for Excellence in Government has sponsored town halls in seven cities, including St. Louis, Miami and Seattle, and this year published a "citizens& agenda" of actions individuals can take, such as lobbying for the creation of one telephone number, similar to 911, for citizens to report security threats and learn emergency information. The full report can be obtained at

Preparing Hospitals

Meanwhile, amid concerns about an attack timed to the election, efforts to insure that there is an ample national supply of smallpox vaccinations and antibiotics continue. Last week, the Centers for Disease Control said it had shipped thousands of so-called "ChemPaks" to Boston and New York containing Cipro and other antibiotics, medical supplies and masks, and other supplies and medicines. For use by hospitals, the packs are meant to ensure that hospitals have supplies necessary to deal with biological, chemical or nuclear attacks.

Write to Amy Dockser Marcus at

Be Prepared . . .
Some steps you can take to prepare for a possible terror attack:

Take an emergency-preparedness course:

The American Red Cross and some hospitals and community groups offer emergency-preparedness courses. For a list of courses, contact: American Red Cross at; George Washington University&s Response to Emergencies and Disaster Institute at

Prepare an emergency kit:

Checklists with helpful tips&such as don&t forget an extra set of prescription eyeglasses and medications&can be found at: Department of Homeland Security at; America Prepared Campaign at

Learn in advance about potential chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear weapons:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers fact-sheets with information about illnesses associated with unconventional terror attacks at The sheets include helpful information, such as the fact that anthrax isn&t contagious; that many effects of chemical agents such as sarin can be minimized by removing contaminated clothing and showering with soap and water; and how to recognize symptoms of various exposures.

Identify gaps in public preparedness and lobby for changes:

The Council for Excellence in Government published a report of suggestions of how emergency preparedness can be improved, such as creating one telephone number that people can call for information, available at Trust for America&s Health published a report about gaps in public-health infrastructure in each state and plans to update it later this year, available at

. . .How to Respond
If there is an attack, here are some simple steps individuals can take to improve the odds of survival.

("dirty bomb")  Avoid inhaling dust that could be radioactive by covering nose and mouth with any available cloth&even a shirt.  
Nuclear  Avoid radioactive fallout by evacuating the area quickly or seeking the best available shelter, either as far underground as possible or, if not available, in the upper floors of a multistory building.  
Biological  Go to a medical provider if symptomatic. Follow instructions from public-health officials on when and how to administer medications.  
Chemical  Find clean air quickly. In an indoor attack, open windows for fresh air or evacuate. In outdoor attack, find shelter&seal a room by closing windows and doors and shutting off air flow. Remove clothing and, if possible, shower.  

Source: Rand Corp. A full copy of the report and recommendations are available at

Return to story


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« Reply #24 on: July 29, 2004, 08:46:30 PM »
I'm a member of a Community Emergency Response Team (CERT); a fair amount of our training involves homeland security issues. It's a volunteer program, and certainly cuts into MA training time, but in IMHO it's well worth the effort.

CERT isn't exclusively focused on homeland security; training a corps of people able to provide emergency services locally when first responders are overwhelmed is the basis of the program. A lot of the training involves natural disasters, light search and rescue, and so on.

Anyone seeking more info can find it at:


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« Reply #25 on: August 01, 2004, 08:14:43 AM »
Thanks for that Buzwardo.

Now, here's this from

Highly recommended


Terrorist Tactics: The Art of Disguise
Jul 29, 2004 1550 GMT
Security sources in southern California have told Stratfor about incidents involving "vehicle-spoofing" -- or the use of falsely marked utility vehicles. The markings -- said to be fairly professionally done -- were identified by investigators looking into drug-smuggling cases.

That said, the potential for vehicle-spoofing and other types of disguises as terrorist tactics is a cause for concern.

The use of vehicles disguised as official or corporate cars, vans or trucks is an old tactic among criminals and militants that still bears review. It has cropped up everywhere -- from Iraq and Saudi Arabia to Maryland and San Diego -- and is even used by U.S. law enforcement agencies during surveillance operations. Such vehicles arouse little suspicion among the public -- and from a mental awareness standpoint, the mind has a tendency to discount the obvious, such as a delivery truck parked in a fire lane.

Stratfor has long argued that observance and vigilance among citizens are the best defenses against terrorism; the difficulty -- particularly during periods of heightened alert -- is knowing what to be on watch for.

Spoofed vehicles are only one example: Sources have told Stratfor that those identified in southern California were reasonable facsimiles of company vehicles -- utility trucks, delivery vehicles or even fleet sedans with corporate markings -- that would not attract notice from casual observers (emphasis on "casual"). In the past, militants also have used taxis as cover for surveillance; this has occurred in New York City and New Orleans, where investigators disrupted a Sikh militant assassination plot against Indian diplomats.

Other tactics include:

Official uniforms that are copied or stolen: This tactic has been used in terrorist attacks in the past, including the May assaults against Westerners at the Oasis housing compound in Khobar, Saudi Arabia. In the United States, theft of official uniforms -- such as those for police, firemen or security guards -- can be difficult to prevent; the most effective countermeasure usually is speedily reporting the theft to authorities.
Theft or copying of identification cards and badges: Requiring employees to display identification badges in order to enter the workplace is an effective security measure for many government agencies and companies, but it also renders the workplace vulnerable: Employees often wear their badges outside the building -- where they inadvertently could reveal important information or be lost or stolen. That said, employers can protect themselves through measures such as proxy card/badge readers, which allow specific numeric identifiers on lost or stolen cards to be deleted in real-time from computer memory banks, keeping any impostors from accessing the facility.
Stolen utility vehicles: These could be used in car- or truck-bombing plots, a tactic al Qaeda has discussed in the past. In 1993, militants in New York City considered using stolen delivery vans to gain access to target venues in several scenarios, such as blowing up the Waldorf-Astoria or U.N. Plaza Hotel. Countermeasures that can help to prevent against such attacks include the use of global positioning systems or similar technology that allows companies to trace lost or stolen vehicles quickly. GPS systems routinely are installed in commercial tractor-trailers, where federal officials say they have been extremely effective in preventing theft of cargo-loads traveling U.S. interstates.


The Vulnerability of the Passenger Rail Systems
Jul 16, 2004 1141 GMT
By Fred Burton

The FBI has ratcheted up its counterterrorism intelligence collection efforts as the U.S. presidential elections draw nearer, and both the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security remain highly concerned that an attack could come at anytime.

Nevertheless, the United States still has many "soft targets" that are difficult or impossible to adequately protect against a militant strike -- and the nation's passenger rail system tops the list. In such an environment, a "Madrid-style" attack is entirely possible, whether involving improvised explosive devices hidden in a suitcase or satchel, a suicide bombing or even a biological/chemical attack using agents -- such as sarin gas or anthrax -- released inside a passenger rail car.

The security necessary to prevent such a strike would cause the passenger rail system to all but grind to a halt. Securing the rail lines is much more problematic than securing air travel because of the sheer volume of travelers and stops. The Sept. 11 hijackers exploited weaknesses within the nation's air-passenger screening system to carry out a well-orchestrated attack -- but nothing as elaborate as the Sept. 11 strikes is required for a highly effective, mass-casualty assault against the country's rail systems.

This threat is particularly relevant in the Washington-to-New York City corridor -- which counterterrorism officials refer to as "the X", or target zone. An attack within those cities proper could lead to massive casualties: On average, some 4.5 million passengers use New York City's trains and subways every weekday, as do 550,000 passengers in Washington.

Local officials are not completely blind to this threat, but they are not adequately equipped to defend against it either.

For example, the New York City Police Department -- which has a long history of fighting terrorism and has conducted more planning than any other major metropolitan police department for the possibility of another attack -- currently is on heightened terror alert. The NYPD is putting forth a visible show of manpower on the streets and fielding extra uniformed police around the exterior entrances to subways. Undercover officers also are deployed underground, as a further step to thwart attacks. However, inside New York's Penn Station rail hub, the police presence is smaller, in marked contrast to the show of force of force outside.

Though the NYPD has made a tactical decision about where to deploy its forces -- visibly and otherwise -- this likely does more to combat low-level street crime and provide psychological comfort to travelers and tourists than it would to deter an actual terrorist attack. All of al Qaeda's major attacks, including the African Embassy bombings, the attack against the USS Cole and bombing plots in New York City, have shown that the group factors visible police and security staff into their attack plans -- and into the overall casualty count of a strike. If militants opted for gunfire, a single officer with a pistol likely would be killed without gaining a chance to return fire. If bombs were to be placed on trains, the presence of police would be meaningless.

If an attack were to take place on a train or inside a terminal, likely scenarios include a "spray and pray" strike -- in which a suicide bomber sprays a crowd with gunfire before detonating his own explosives to maximize casualty counts -- placing improvised explosive devices on trains or releasing a deadly gas or chemical inside a passenger car. Any of these would be quite easy to carry out within the current security environment: Nearly three years after the Sept. 11 attacks, no passenger or baggage screening systems are in place at Penn Station, or in Union Station or the subways in Washington. This is a serious concern.

In fact, Stratfor sources within the U.S. counterterrorism community are puzzled why an attack against a passenger rail system has not already occurred, in light of these factors. An attack involving a crowded passenger train could kill scores of people and have economic effects that might rival those of the Sept. 11 strikes -- for example, leading to a rail system shutdown and keeping thousands or millions of commuters from their jobs. Moreover, any strike need not be highly sophisticated or carried out by a large group: A lone militant could carry out such a plan, as seen in a lone Islamist gunman?s attack against the El Al terminal at Los Angeles Airport in 2002 or the killings by Mir Aimal Kansi at the front gate of the CIA in 1993.

Stratfor believes that Washington remains firmly atop al Qaeda's target list. The capital city's Union Station and Metro subways are under heightened threat, but security there is less substantial than on the rail systems of New York City -- something that makes no sense from a threat assessment perspective. In New York, bomb dogs and SWAT teams with submachine guns are deployed at key locations, such as the World Trade Center site. Standoff weapons would allow officer to at least return adequate fire in the event of a commando-style attack, and possibly save lives. However, in Washington there are no visible bomb dogs or police officers with standoff shoulder weapons.

That said, there are a few concrete steps rail travelers can take for protection:

Buy a flashlight and smoke hood for the daily commute.
Be aware of your surroundings.
Remain mentally prepared for an attack and walk through escape plans in your mind.
At the government level, aggressive threat information collection efforts -- coupled with passenger and baggage screening efforts -- are vital to prevent an attack involving the passenger rail systems. Police and Emergency Medical System response plans also play an important role. However, the practical steps involved in screening millions of passengers daily -- in a timely manner -- is simply not doable. Thus, the nation's rail systems remain a serious vulnerability, and are likely to be the next militant target inside the United States.

The Vulnerability of the Passenger Rail Systems
Jul 16, 2004 1141 GMT
By Fred Burton

The FBI has ratcheted up its counterterrorism intelligence collection efforts as the U.S. presidential elections draw nearer, and both the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security remain highly concerned that an attack could come at anytime.

Nevertheless, the United States still has many "soft targets" that are difficult or impossible to adequately protect against a militant strike -- and the nation's passenger rail system tops the list. In such an environment, a "Madrid-style" attack is entirely possible, whether involving improvised explosive devices hidden in a suitcase or satchel, a suicide bombing or even a biological/chemical attack using agents -- such as sarin gas or anthrax -- released inside a passenger rail car.

The security necessary to prevent such a strike would cause the passenger rail system to all but grind to a halt. Securing the rail lines is much more problematic than securing air travel because of the sheer volume of travelers and stops. The Sept. 11 hijackers exploited weaknesses within the nation's air-passenger screening system to carry out a well-orchestrated attack -- but nothing as elaborate as the Sept. 11 strikes is required for a highly effective, mass-casualty assault against the country's rail systems.

This threat is particularly relevant in the Washington-to-New York City corridor -- which counterterrorism officials refer to as "the X", or target zone. An attack within those cities proper could lead to massive casualties: On average, some 4.5 million passengers use New York City's trains and subways every weekday, as do 550,000 passengers in Washington.

Local officials are not completely blind to this threat, but they are not adequately equipped to defend against it either.

For example, the New York City Police Department -- which has a long history of fighting terrorism and has conducted more planning than any other major metropolitan police department for the possibility of another attack -- currently is on heightened terror alert. The NYPD is putting forth a visible show of manpower on the streets and fielding extra uniformed police around the exterior entrances to subways. Undercover officers also are deployed underground, as a further step to thwart attacks. However, inside New York's Penn Station rail hub, the police presence is smaller, in marked contrast to the show of force of force outside.

Though the NYPD has made a tactical decision about where to deploy its forces -- visibly and otherwise -- this likely does more to combat low-level street crime and provide psychological comfort to travelers and tourists than it would to deter an actual terrorist attack. All of al Qaeda's major attacks, including the African Embassy bombings, the attack against the USS Cole and bombing plots in New York City, have shown that the group factors visible police and security staff into their attack plans -- and into the overall casualty count of a strike. If militants opted for gunfire, a single officer with a pistol likely would be killed without gaining a chance to return fire. If bombs were to be placed on trains, the presence of police would be meaningless.

If an attack were to take place on a train or inside a terminal, likely scenarios include a "spray and pray" strike -- in which a suicide bomber sprays a crowd with gunfire before detonating his own explosives to maximize casualty counts -- placing improvised explosive devices on trains or releasing a deadly gas or chemical inside a passenger car. Any of these would be quite easy to carry out within the current security environment: Nearly three years after the Sept. 11 attacks, no passenger or baggage screening systems are in place at Penn Station, or in Union Station or the subways in Washington. This is a serious concern.

In fact, Stratfor sources within the U.S. counterterrorism community are puzzled why an attack against a passenger rail system has not already occurred, in light of these factors. An attack involving a crowded passenger train could kill scores of people and have economic effects that might rival those of the Sept. 11 strikes -- for example, leading to a rail system shutdown and keeping thousands or millions of commuters from their jobs. Moreover, any strike need not be highly sophisticated or carried out by a large group: A lone militant could carry out such a plan, as seen in a lone Islamist gunman?s attack against the El Al terminal at Los Angeles Airport in 2002 or the killings by Mir Aimal Kansi at the front gate of the CIA in 1993.

Stratfor believes that Washington remains firmly atop al Qaeda's target list. The capital city's Union Station and Metro subways are under heightened threat, but security there is less substantial than on the rail systems of New York City -- something that makes no sense from a threat assessment perspective. In New York, bomb dogs and SWAT teams with submachine guns are deployed at key locations, such as the World Trade Center site. Standoff weapons would allow officer to at least return adequate fire in the event of a commando-style attack, and possibly save lives. However, in Washington there are no visible bomb dogs or police officers with standoff shoulder weapons.

That said, there are a few concrete steps rail travelers can take for protection:

Buy a flashlight and smoke hood for the daily commute.
Be aware of your surroundings.
Remain mentally prepared for an attack and walk through escape plans in your mind.
At the government level, aggressive threat information collection efforts -- coupled with passenger and baggage screening efforts -- are vital to prevent an attack involving the passenger rail systems. Police and Emergency Medical System response plans also play an important role. However, the practical steps involved in screening millions of passengers daily -- in a timely manner -- is simply not doable. Thus, the nation's rail systems remain a serious vulnerability, and are likely to be the next militant target inside the United States.


The Sleeper Cell Threat: A Search in Unlikely Places
Jun 18, 2004 1706 GMT

An unfolding case against a man arrested in Tyler, Texas, points to potential threats posed by a combination of the United States' need for workers with specific qualifications, visa processes and the ability of sleeper cells to remain dormant -- and inconspicuous -- for years.


A Pakistani man arrested in May in the small Texas town of Tyler has been accused of plotting to carry out terrorist attacks on the West Coast. FBI agents arrested Osama Haroon Satti after he bought a handgun and silencer from an undercover agent and asked where he would be able to acquire more. Satti allegedly has been linked to a group of men who were arrested in Virginia on suspicion of involvement with terrorist organizations.

There is little in Satti's background to mark him as an aspiring Islamist militant: He first entered the United States on a student visa in 1990, and worked in the computer industry before returning to Pakistan 11 years later. He holds an MBA from the Rochester Institute of Technology.

Satti -- like many other foreign workers in the United States -- has been caught up in the nation's counterterrorism dragnet, as federal officials seek out members of dormant sleeper cells. If the allegations against Satti and others are true, authorities could be rooting out militants from some seemingly unlikely places.

Higher Education

Two characteristics that appear repeatedly in the backgrounds of suspected militants arrested by U.S. authorities are high levels of education and an interest in technology. Though millions of foreign workers with similar backgrounds -- and absolutely no connections to terrorism -- have entered the country for years, it is noteworthy that militant organizations easily could infiltrate by exploiting the visa process.

In fact, at least two of the Sept. 11 hijackers -- Mohammed Atta and Marwan al-Shehhi, who entered the country on tourist visas -- were approved for M-1 student visas shortly before carrying out their attacks. Approval forms from the Immigration and Naturalization Service arrived at the al Qaeda members' Florida flight training school exactly six months after Atta and al-Shehhi died at the helms of the planes that plowed into the World Trade Center towers.

Consider also the following cases:

Maher "Mike" Mofeid Hawas: A naturalized U.S. citizen who worked as a lead engineer for Intel Corp. He was arrested in August 2003 after traveling to China and allegedly attempting to enter Afghanistan to fight with the Taliban. Hawas pleaded guilty in August 2003 to aiding terrorist organizations and was sentenced to seven years in prison.

Mohammed Atique: A Pakistani native who arrived in the United States in 1996 to study electrical engineering. Atique worked for a number of wireless communication companies before his arrest May 8, 2003. He is among the group of 11 men who have been dubbed the "Virginia Jihad," accused of colluding with militant organization Lashkar e Taiba (LeT). Atique was sentenced in December 2003 to more than 10 years in prison.

Khwaja Hassan: Another member of the "Virginia Jihad." Hassan is a naturalized U.S. citizen from Pakistan who holds a master's degree in business technology. He was arrested while working as a teacher in Saudi Arabia and extradited to the United States in July 2003 on suspicion of involvement with LeT. A federal court sentenced Hassan to more than 11 years in prison in November 2003.

These are only a few examples of men who have been accused of belonging to militant sleeper cells within the United States. Though the actual proof in many cases is open to question, the security threat posed by sleeper cells is not.

The case of the Virginia Jihad -- nine of whose 11 members ultimately were convicted -- is of interest, in part because it involves an eclectic assortment of suspects that includes native U.S. citizens, a Korean immigrant and a former U.S. Marine. These backgrounds, along with high education and stable employment histories, obviously would help sleeper cell members to blend into the populace while planning any attacks -- unlike those who are involved with document falsification or other crimes that can draw the attention of investigators. Sleeper cells might not be an exclusive club for foreign-born jihadists: Testimony during the trials of the Virginia Jihad suspects showed this group was not planted in the United States for militant purposes, but rather that its members were ideologically sympathetic to Islamist movements and were recruited into the LeT cause after living in the United States for years.

Given the level of sophistication that was evident in the Sept. 11 attacks -- and that likely is required to carry out further strikes within the United States -- it is logical to conclude that the leaders and members of militant sleeper cells are required to have a higher level of education than are the jihadist foot soldiers fighting in Afghanistan, Iraq or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It also is conceivable that they maintain stable, legal employment with American companies.

Additionally, it is worth noting that, in light of the current focus on counterterrorism, sleeper cells and locally grown Islamist movements likely are operating with minimal guidance from al Qaeda, and are planning or carrying out operations on their own. This makes it all the more difficult to identify and disrupt the cells.

Focus on Background Checks

The May 1 attacks in Yanbu, Saudi Arabia, prompted many Western corporations to re-evaluate their own employees and security procedures. It is possible for dormant militants to remain in place for years before showing any signs of posing a threat: Some of the attackers in Yanbu were longtime employees of the targeted company, ABB Lummus -- they possessed access badges and enjoyed the confidence of their colleagues. Such a scenario is equally plausible within the United States, which places heightened emphasis on solid corporate security measures.

For privately held companies, conducting a thorough background check on workers can be extremely difficult. The required infrastructure in countries such as Pakistan and India, which contribute large numbers of workers to the United States, is practically non-existent -- heightening the potential for militants to exploit the L-1 visa process, which allows U.S.-based companies to import foreign workers with little diplomatic oversight.

Moreover, U.S. corporations do not have access to government-run counterterrorism databases -- making it difficult to know if an employee has been identified by federal officials as having links to militant groups.

Stratfor previously said Yanbu-style attacks -- or small-scale assaults involving well-trained, knowledgeable operatives -- would become more likely. Such attacks depend on militants having intimate knowledge of their target and the trust of coworkers and employers.

Though it is impossible to measure the number of people involved with sleeper cells in the United States or to give a definitive description of their backgrounds, a few facts are worth noting:

Because of a dearth of American workers with qualifications in math, science and engineering, large numbers of foreign workers have entered the United States to pursue careers in those fields -- frequently on student, or F-1/M-1, visas.

The high tech industry, which draws on workers with math, science and engineering degrees, offers an economic and social status that law enforcers tend to view as incompatible with public threats.

The number of visas awarded to foreign workers was reduced following the Sept. 11 attacks, after investigations showed that some of the hijackers entered the country legally with F-1/M-1 status. However, since the sleeper cell cycle is measured in years, it is entirely possible that militants who entered the country some time ago with student visas would only now be entering into an active attack phase.

Members of any new sleeper cells seeking to enter the United States likely would seek other forms of cover -- whether legal or illegal. The lack of a broad base of support for Islamist causes within the United States -- unlike in Europe, where there are large sympathetic populations with pre-existing communication channels and "safe houses" -- makes it less likely that cells would exist entirely of illegal immigrants and unemployed militants.

The Militant Threat: Focus on Britain
Jul 27, 2004 1147 GMT
Elite British intelligence and counterterrorism teams reportedly have been deployed to northern England to investigate potential threats by Islamist militants there. Sources within the British intelligence community have told Stratfor that MI5 and law enforcement agencies have received specific information about groups that might be operating in northern cities such as Manchester, Newcastle, Leeds, Liverpool and Sheffield, as well as smaller cities such as York and Hull.

Operationally, these are logical areas for militants to be located. Most of the well-known radical and jihadist Islamist groups are centered around the London area: If there is a connection between these groups and real threats, it is in the interests of jihadists to maintain operational distance between their cheerleaders, who seek attention, and actual operatives, who do not.

British intelligence sources have told Stratfor they believe Islamist militant groups actively have been raising funds in northern England and perhaps even conducting limited training exercises in national park areas, such as the North York Moors, the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales. The Muslim population in northern English cities has been under observation for quite some time, following ethnic riots in Leeds in the summer of 2001.

Though it is not clear whether any groups that have fallen under the British intelligence eye have al Qaeda connections or are planning attacks, two things are clear: Islamist militants have yet to carry out an attack within the United Kingdom, and -- given al Qaeda's ideology, goals and recent statements -- the country likely ranks high on the list of potential targets.

According to our sources, the British intelligence community is particularly concerned about the possibility of attacks against industrial facilities near Manchester, port facilities in Liverpool and shipyards in Newcastle. Though the potential for such threats should not be discounted, Stratfor finds it far more likely that militants would attempt to mount a strike in London -- where the potential for economic and symbolic damage is far greater.

Recent threats issued by known jihadist groups -- such as the Abu Hafs al-Masri Brigades and the Islamic Monotheism Group -- have focused specifically on U.S. allies, and there is none more staunch than Britain. The United Kingdom has contributed more troops -- roughly 9,000 -- than any other U.S. partner in Iraq and long has been active in Afghanistan as well. Interestingly, mentions of Britain have been noticeably absent from recent threats against Europe, which tends to focus our attention there all the more.

It should be noted that Islamists view Britain as a longstanding nemesis -- responsible for the collapse of the Turkish caliphate in 1924 and a colonizer of vast tracts of the Muslim world.

Rife with tourist attractions and as the nation's financial epicenter, London is home to any number of sites that would make ideal targets for militants, ranging from Big Ben to Trafalgar Square to Parliament and Buckingham Palace. It also is crisscrossed by a massive public transportation center, more heavily used than even that in Madrid.

Not only do Stratfor sources within numerous international intelligence agencies believe London is overdue for a strike, but the nation's political posture heightens the threat to the city. There is speculation that Parliamentary elections could be called in less than a year; a finely timed terrorist attack -- such as that in Madrid -- could serve as an opportunity to unseat the Labor government, which has stirred domestic controversy over its support for Washington's Iraq policy.

That is not to say that strikes against smaller or "softer" targets elsewhere in the country should be ruled out.

For geographic reasons, the British Isles are more secure than countries within continental Europe -- but they are linked to the continent by ferry and shipping traffic that ingresses and egresses from more than 23 ports and, of course, the Chunnel rail system. Ferry and train passengers are subjected to customs inspections at both ends of their trips, but rail and port security measures are known for being less stringent than those at airports (in fact, that has served as a selling point for Chunnel rail tickets, which can be vastly more expensive than airline tickets).

In Britain, as elsewhere, the security scenario is less than airtight.


Common-Sense Protection: From Tsunamis to Terrorism
Jul 26, 2004 1107 GMT
The British Home Office announced plans July 26 to distribute pamphlets outlining steps that citizens should take in the event of a terrorist attack. The 11-page, pocket-sized pamphlet will be mailed to every British household, and will be followed by a series of radio and television advertisements. Officials said the campaign is being launched as a general safety measure, rather than in response to any imminent or specific terrorist threats -- though the threat posture to the United Kingdom in general is high.

Interestingly, the International Association of the Red Cross said as recently as July 23 the United Kingdom is far more prepared in general than the United States to cope with a terrorist attack -- where other recent polls have shown that few Americans take warnings of an imminent threat seriously. Taking these events together, it is worthwhile to examine the U.S. and British counterterrorism preparation guidelines.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has published a document, comparable to the British pamphlet, titled "Are You Ready?" The document, which for the most part compromises longstanding guidelines issued by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), was revised in September 2002 to include guidance for civilian responses to a terrorist attack. The American Red Cross also has a publication containing advice and guidance on how to respond in the event of an attack. All of these publications are available for download on the respective agencies' Web sites.

All three documents are similar in that they emphasize common-sense approaches. Because terrorism is inherently unpredictable, government agencies can distribute few other kinds of broad guidelines to the general public.

Moreover, all three rehash advice that governments and non-governmental organizations have distributed for years about general steps to follow in the event of emergencies. For example, the DHS document lists threats ranging from volcanic explosions and tsunamis to cyber-attacks and the detonation of a radiological dispersion device.

In almost all cases, the guidelines are quite clear.

Know evacuation routes for whatever building you are in.
Prepare a household emergency kit that contains, among other items, a flashlight, radio and fresh water.
Learn and know how to use basic first aid techniques.
These examples are sound advice in all situations, but certainly are not ground-breaking -- which might be one reason the British Home Office pamphlet is coming nearly three years after the Sept. 11 attacks. The most useful guidance given -- and it is best put in the Home Office publication -- concerns simple steps the average person might take to assist in preventing a terrorist attack. (Similar information can be found in the DHS document, though it is found on page 83 of the 108-page publication.)
Here again, common sense prevails -- but that is particularly useful and specifically applicable to counterterrorism efforts, which rely on vigilance among the public, as well as from official agencies. These guidelines -- which include items such as reporting "suspicious" people, activities or retail purchases, or calling security to investigate unattended baggage -- likely are familiar to any government employee, but serve as useful reminders for average citizens who might feel powerless to act on the strength of exceedingly vague warnings from the government.

Because successful acts of terrorism are, by nature, unpredictable, government warnings will always be vague and almost always will carry an alarmist tone. Patterns of attack become apparent only after the fact -- leaving government agencies hamstrung in distributing anything but the most general advice to the public. Though common sense will never capture headlines, it remains perhaps the most useful and available weapon to citizens in any emergency -- whether tsunamis or terrorism.


Suggestions of Complacency
Jul 23, 2004 1727 GMT
A Land Rover that police believe was rigged with an improvised explosive device exploded July 22 outside the largest hotel and convention center in Nashville, Tenn. Although officials say they have no reason to suspect terrorism, they are investigating the incident -- in which one person, the vehicle's owner, died -- further.

This explosion came only a few days after a New York City police officer was wounded when a backpack stuffed with fireworks exploded in a subway station -- another incident that triggered fears of terrorism. In this case, officials say the officer who was wounded actually was responsible for the blast: He was to leave the police force on July 20 -- the following day -- on a disability pension related to what officials say were "psychological problems."

Despite the motivational disconnects between these two incidents, it is interesting that both explosions occurred in locations that Stratfor has identified as ideal "soft targets." The vulnerability of passenger rail systems and hotels has been amply backlit by the March 11 bombings in Madrid and the August 2003 attack against a Marriot hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia. Within the United States, such targets remain quite open, despite ongoing warnings of potential terrorist threats.

It obviously is impossible for police and security guards to adequately guard all potential targets against attack. As a result, they rely to some degree on average citizens to act as their eyes and ears -- particularly in public venues such as hotels or subway stations.

However, at least two recent surveys suggest that the American public is less concerned about terrorist threats than is the government. A poll commissioned by the Council for Excellence in Government finds that only 34 percent of Americans believe another terrorist attack on U.S. soil is "very likely." Additionally, a survey conducted by the Red Cross found that only 42 percent of Americans have assembled home emergency kits and only 10 percent have taken the "three steps" outlined by the Red Cross -- creating emergency kits, laying family disaster plans and training in first aid techniques -- for responses to emergencies.

If anything, these surveys suggest that the psychological effects of the Sept. 11 strikes are fading within the domestic United States -- even amid the increasing government warnings, which lose impact with frequency and vague information -- and that many Americans do not incorporate the practical steps that can be taken to protect against another strike to their daily lives.

Coupled with details from the Nashville and New York incidents, it also appears that even those who are on watch may not always know exactly which indicators to look for.

For example, the Land Rover in Nashville exploded in a relatively isolated area of the hotel parking lot, near storage trailers -- an unusual place for a guest to leave his vehicle. Though the explosion likely could not have been prevented, such a detail -- particularly if the vehicle was left parked for any length of time -- might have excited suspicion.

In the New York subway incident, many factors could have provided cover to the policeman accused of planting the explosives -- the hustle and bustle of a busy transportation link; the tendency of passersby to mind their own business; the police uniform worn by the accused. However, none of these factors would make it impossible to suspect an attack if vigilance is applied: For instance, the bag was planted around 8 p.m., which is not exactly a peak rush-hour period. It also should be remembered that militants who carried out several recent attacks against Westerners in Saudi Arabia were wearing the uniforms of police or security guards -- reasonable facsimiles of which could be acquired within the United States also.

Nearly three years after the Sept. 11 attacks, it is logical to expect that Americans would be "returning to normal" and again gaining confidence in the security of their country. The recent polls seem to reflect that this is the case, and that the nation's overall mood is one of ambivalence toward the increasing threat warnings. Among the general public, vigilance does not run high.

And as we have noted on several occasions during the past three years, complacency is a would-be attacker's best friend.


Seeking Cover: The Problem of Western Converts
Jul 22, 2004 1740 GMT
Sources within the European and U.S. intelligence communities have told Stratfor that their agencies are growing increasingly concerned about the potential for Western converts to Islam to be used in carrying out terrorist-style attacks. These concerns are coming to the fore amid heightened tensions over potential terrorist attacks in both regions and a strong counterterrorism focus on young, Middle Eastern males.

Al Qaeda has shown itself to be a dynamic, intelligence and adaptive organization. Using operatives who are Western in appearance would be one way of increasing its chances for pulling off a successful strike in the current high-alert environment. Nor would such a scenario be without precedent -- as the examples of men like Jose Padilla, John Walker Lindh, Richard Reid and Australia's Jack Roche, among others, show.

However, we view such a scenario as only a potential threat to be noted, rather than as an emerging trend.

The vast majority of Western converts to Islam, whether in the United States or Europe, receive the faith at the hands of ?mainstream? Muslims, rather than from radical Wahhabis. There are madrassahs and mosques in the West that teach more radical forms of Islam, and they do wield a degree of influence, partly because of the Saudi wealth that funds them. And it should be noted that radical Islamic literature is available in many Western prisons, where several would-be operatives from the West have spent time. That said, the majority of Muslim schools and mosques in Western countries are run by subscribers to mainstream, non-Wahhabi forms of the religion.

Moreover, al Qaeda has not shown a penchant for proselytizing. Rather than acting as missionaries -- which likely would lead to unwelcome exposure -- the network draws from the conversion work of other radical, but non-militant, Islamist and Wahhabi groups such as al Mujahiroun in Britain, the Islamic Assembly of North America (IANA) and Quran and Sunnah Society (QSS) in the United States.

Al Qaeda likely would not turn away a willing Western militant, but many factors serve to limit the potential pool. Though Islam teaches that there are no racial divisions among its children, Western converts do not embark upon their Muslim lives with a tabula rasa. Instead, they bring a history of cultural tenets and values that often cause other Muslims to question the quality of their faith. Moreover, radical jihadist groups such as al Qaeda reject any Muslims -- born or converted -- who do not subscribe to their own, much narrower, framework of ideology.

Though the vast majority of Western converts to Islam probably do not become radical Islamists, al Qaeda now is operating in an environment in which ethnic diversity would serve its aims. Correctly or otherwise, the ?profile? of a potential Islamist militant is that of a young, Middle Eastern man -- something that has prompted the U.S. Department of Homeland Security warn airport security workers to be on watch for all Pakistani men who recently traveled to that country.

In all likelihood, actual militants are now seeking new forms of cover -- for which there also are several historical precedents. For years, Palestinian militant groups have employed women -- and more recently children -- as suicide bombers when Israeli security forces began to intensify their searches of Palestinian men. Other groups, such as Sri Lanka's Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, also have histories of deploying female operatives -- in fact, one who officials say may have hidden explosives in her bra, killed herself and four police officers in Colombo on July 7. Reports also have circulated among the security and expatriate communities in Saudi Arabia that Saudi men are donning female garb as a disguise while conducting surveillance of potential targets. Most famously, Yasser Arafat dressed as a woman to escape capture by the Israelis while in Lebanon.

However, given al Qaeda prime's very conservative beliefs about women and the tactical complications of incorporating such a previously unused element into its plans, we view the possibility of female operatives being used in a major strike as extremely unlikely.

Al Qaeda, like any intelligent and successful organization, will do what works best. Within the current climate, it is certainly feasible that there could be a shift toward non-traditional operatives, such as Western converts. However, anxiety over this scenario easily could be overplayed: All factors still point to the emergence of Western Islamist militants as an exception, rather than a trend.


NYPD Taking Initiative in Counterterrorism Fight
Jul 20, 2004 1711 GMT
The subway station at 43rd and 8th Streets in Manhattan was temporarily closed July 19 after a bag placed on the staircase exploded, burning a police officer. Officials have said the bag contained only fireworks, but that it was bundled to look like a bomb.

The blast drew a rapid response from the New York City Police Department -- and though the investigation is continuing, it is plausible that the faux bombing could have been planned as a non-lethal way of testing New York City's emergency response systems. Gauging responses and reaction times by the NYPD, emergency medical services and fire department could make it easier for terrorists to carry out a real operation in the future.

The July 19 incident put the NYPD -- already tense amid preparations for the Aug. 30 through Sept. 2 Republican National Convention -- further on edge. The department already is fielding 1,000 police officers on the streets daily as part of the war on terrorism -- something officials acknowledge is putting pressure on patrol strength and overtime costs, which this year are projected at a city-wide record of $345.9 million.

The threat environment -- with warnings of a possible al Qaeda attack in the domestic United States within the next few months -- has placed additional strains on many, if not most, U.S. law enforcement, intelligence and emergency agencies. The atmosphere has not been aided by their relations with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which -- with its communication process still evolving -- frequently is regarded as more of a hindrance than an ally in the war on terrorism.

In light of these circumstances, Stratfor has learned, many metropolitan police departments -- including those in New York and Los Angeles -- are taking the lead on counterterrorism efforts within their own cities and elsewhere.

Some of the methods employed by the NYPD of which Stratfor has learned include:

Since Sept. 11, NYPD has established close relationships with foreign law enforcement and security personnel. This move stems in part from threat information dissemination problems between federal agencies and their state and local counterparts: Because of security criteria, information cannot flow smoothly and freely from top to bottom.

The NYPD actively is reaching out to state and local police agencies throughout North America. These communication efforts are part of an overall attempt to generate good will and smooth cooperation at the local law enforcement level nationwide -- especially in high-threat cities such as New York, Los Angeles, Houston and Chicago, among others.

The department is taking part in a program to train service personnel in some important locations -- such as doormen, maintenance workers and delivery people -- to recognize threats and take appropriate action.

With better communication, the NYPD also has improved response and contingency planning involving other agencies, such as the New York/New Jersey Port Authority.

The NYPD and possibly other agencies are taking a proactive approach to terrorism. That is not to say that local law enforcement agencies have completely eschewed the aid of the federal government: New York City and Boston still will employ a number of DHS assets, including the Secret Service, during the upcoming Republican and Democratic National conventions.

However, the DHS -- still in the growth and definition process -- has not yet established itself as a reliable administrator. For local law enforcement agencies, necessity has become the mother of invention.


The TSA's Airport Security Conundrum
Jul 09, 2004 1715 GMT
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) on July 7 launched a test of its registered traveler program in St. Paul, Minn. -- a program that allows frequent fliers to sidestep time-consuming security checks at airports by submitting biometric data and fingerprints and submitting to an extensive background check.

The previous day, however, the TSA had issued security guidance to all U.S. airports, calling for a system in which employees of airport vendors -- such as newsstands and restaurants -- must pass through security checkpoints when entering and leaving secure areas of terminals. Previously, such requirements were left to the discretion of individual airport authorities. A 30-day review period is under way before the guidance can be implemented.

On the surface, the two actions appear to contradict each other -- one apparently decreasing security, the other attempting to increase it. Taken together, however, these situations highlight the difficulties faced by the TSA and its parent organization, the Department of Homeland Security, in balancing post-9/11 security needs with practical measures and convenience for travelers.

The calls for security screening for airport vendor employees is not new: Both branches of Congress have pushed for the measures since the Sept. 11 attacks, but the TSA resisted, saying that background checks conducted by individual vendors were sufficient. The American Association of Airport Executives opposed the measures also. The rationale for the change, three years on, is not clear: TSA spokesman Mark Hatfield Jr. cited security reasons when he declined to explain to the Washington Post the motive or the specific language of the directive; he said only that it was issued as part of an ongoing TSA review of airport security.

In its own way, the TSA's registered traveler program is equally controversial: It has drawn fire from both the corporate security community and politicians, who say it is a loophole in airport security procedures or that it requires passengers to give up too much personal information to authorities.

Initially, the TSA is making the pilot program available only to travelers who fly more than once a week, though it later could be expanded to other applicants. Those who register their personal information will not go through mainstream security checks, but will be screened in a separate line. Secondary checks will not be conducted unless the TSA's Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System, or CAPPS, software raises a red flag -- typically if a traveler purchases a ticket with cash or pre-purchases a one-way ticket.

Though these measures likely will be welcomed by frequent fliers, when coupled with its July 7 directive, it is clear that the TSA and the Department of Homeland Security have a fight on their hands: They are attempting simultaneously to maintain their own relevance without crippling the airline industry with cumbersome security processes.

For the TSA, this need has been made all the more urgent by a congressional campaign to re-privatize airport security screeners and the loss of many security check personnel at smaller U.S. airports. And for the DHS, it comes in the wake of revelations about shortcomings in the air defense system: A congressional panel determined July 8 that the DHS was not in a position to interdict the plane of a former Kentucky governor that violated restricted air space while en route to the funeral of former President Ronald Reagan, had those aboard had hostile intent.

Tightening security processes within the airports themselves logically is one way to mitigate this weakness -- but in the face of the competing requirements faced by the agencies, success is not assured.



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« Reply #26 on: August 03, 2004, 04:29:50 AM »
Alert Level Raised: Parsing the Threat
Aug 02, 2004 1404 GMT

Pakistani officials revealed Aug. 2 that attack plans targeting the United States had been discovered following the recent arrest of suspected al Qaeda militants, including Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani. The announcement comes a day after the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) raised alert levels for the Washington, D.C., area from yellow (elevated) to orange (high) and issued specific warnings for financial targets in Washington, New York City (which already was on orange alert) and northern New Jersey.

According to U.S. government sources who have spoken with Stratfor, the threat information is based on "very reliable" intelligence, and law enforcement and intelligence agencies are taking a serious view of the threat.

Even prior to DHS Director Tom Ridge's early-afternoon weekend briefing on Aug. 1, U.S. intelligence agencies had been investigating reports of a sleeper cell in northern New Jersey and had received information that eventually was incorporated into the government warning. In fact, a July 14 New York Post article quoted intelligence agents, speaking on condition of anonymity, who warned of another attack against financial targets in New York City. The recent arrests of Ghailani and other militants -- one of whom has been identified as suspected al Qaeda communications officer Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan -- and the subsequent search and seizure of Ghailani's computer led Pakistani intelligence agents to the attack plans announced Aug. 2. Those details apparently were based on surveillance performed by al Qaeda prior to the Sept. 11 attacks, and likely represent 3-year-old plot scenarios.

The age of the plot scenarios, however, does nothing to diminish the significance of the DHS announcement. Surveillance can, and often does, begin years ahead of any planned attacks: for example, five years before the 1999 attacks against U.S. embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya. Even more to the point, Ridge called a hasty and poorly coordinated press conference -- on a Sunday -- to alert the public to the threat. It appears that the intelligence picture evolved late last week and was urgent enough that DHS officials felt the need to disseminate information to the public forthwith, allowing those in at-risk areas to decide before Monday morning whether they should report to work. Despite three years of intelligence-gathering and prisoner debriefs, this is unprecedented behavior on the part of DHS -- leading Stratfor to conclude that the agency undoubtedly has received some credible and sensitive intelligence, driving the urgency on this warning.

Police and security agencies in New York, northern New Jersey and Washington, D.C., are now on high alert: increased patrols are on the street, subway platforms are being monitored and some streets and bridges are closed to commercial traffic. Financial institutions in those areas have tightened security -- especially those mentioned specifically in the warning: Citigroup, Prudential, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the New York Stock Exchange.

Intelligence and law enforcement are taking the DHS warning very seriously: Although the specific targets named qualify as "soft" targets, which would yield fairly limited casualties, their status as well-known financial institutions does put them well within al Qaeda's standard targeting criteria. By simply making the threat information public, the U.S. government likely will have some impact on the security environment -- reducing the likelihood that al Qaeda itself would strike at the named targets, since the group seldom if ever strikes where expected. However, as al Qaeda is well aware, the United States and the American public cannot maintain extremely high levels of alert indefinitely.


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« Reply #27 on: August 03, 2004, 10:19:10 AM »
Second post of the day:

Personal Journal
Preparing for the Terror Alert
Latest Warning Underscores
How Little Many Have Done;
The Case for Text Messaging

Rod Thomas and his wife Giselle have been talking for nearly three years about what to do in the case of another terrorist attack. But the new alerts on Sunday prompted the 34-year-old financial adviser to finally cement those plans.

"It took me a long time to convince her to let me go to work today," said Mr. Thomas, whose office is barely a block from the New York Stock Exchange, a potential terrorist target cited in the alert. The couple, who both worked on high floors of the World Trade Center on the day of the Sept. 11 attacks, has now agreed to meet at their Staten Island home as soon as possible if there&s another attack. If either one is not there, they will head toward her mother&s house. "If anything happens I run straight home," he says.

Terror Alert
Terrorists Took Time to Get Data

On Alert, but Work as Usual

Bush Calls for Intelligence Chief

Wall Street Seems More Prepared if the Worst Hits
Many Americans have been preparing anew for terrorism during recent weeks, as fears have mounted of another attack pegged to the political conventions and the presidential election. Now, the weekend announcement from the Department of Homeland Security that terrorists may be planning attacks specifically in New York, New Jersey and Washington, D.C., has given those concerns more immediacy. Local governments have stepped up security efforts, such as barring commercial traffic on certain routes into Manhattan. And individuals who live and work in and around the named targets -- including the Citigroup building in New York and the World Bank building in Washington -- are growing overtly more cautious.

Business is up 20% to 30% at the Earthquake Supply Center in San Rafael, Calif., during the past couple of weeks, owner Michael Skyler says. People are snapping up 55-gallon water-storage drums and water-purification tablets. Some are buying potassium-iodide tablets that help protect the thyroid in the case of a nuclear attack. The alerts have "definitely raised consciousness across the board," he says.

Safety experts say the latest terror alerts targeting specific financial institutions highlight the need for people to not only have a safety plan for their home, but for their workplace as well. They are renewing calls for people to create disaster-preparedness strategies that encompass their work and commute. The focus on work might surprise people who have spent the past three years worried about creating safe rooms in their houses, but security experts say that in reality, you&re not likely to be at home in an emergency.

"You might be at work, your kids might be at soccer practice," says Lara Shane, a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security. A number of studies show that even after numerous warnings, most Americans still haven&t created an evacuation plan or compiled a disaster kit. The government urges all families to have a communications plan that includes an out-of-state contact.

Home and Office Preparedness:

Safety experts advise people to have disaster preparedness plans and kits for both home and work. Here are some guidelines:

What you need at home:

FOOD AND WATER: Three gallons of water per person and a three-day supply of nonperishable food per person
FIRST-AID: Any needed prescription drugs, extra pair of glasses or contact lenses, aspirin, sunscreen, sterile bandages, soap

OTHER SUPPLIES: Battery-operated radio, flashlight, extra batteries change them every six months), cash, nonelectric can opener, plastic sheeting, one change of clothes per person
What you need at work:

FOOD AND WATER: One gallon of water, three meals of nonperishable food

FIRST-AID: Three-day supply of prescription medications, aspirin, sterile bandages, waterless hand sanitizer, extra pair of glasses/contacts

OTHER SUPPLIES: Flashlight with extra batteries, battery-powered radio, toothbrush, toothpaste, one complete change of clothing, comfortable shoes, emergency mylar "space" blanket
Source: American Red Cross
The American Red Cross recommends that individuals prepare a special disaster-supply kit for their workplace. The organization offers an exhaustive list of items that could make the average cubicle feel pretty crowded, including a flashlight, battery-powered radio, one gallon of water, food for one day, a change of clothing and shoes and a first-aid kit. (The full list is available at Under Disaster Services, click on "Be Prepared," then "Personal Workplace Disaster Supplies Kit.") Stocking up on medications like potassium iodide or the antibiotic Cipro isn&t recommended. Incorrect use of antibiotics could leave someone even more vulnerable to illness. And potassium iodide works only on certain types of radiation.

The Red Cross also sells a pared-down kit designed for one person, called a "Safety Tube." The tube can be attached to the underside of a desk (with Velcro) or fit in a briefcase, and includes a lightstick, a dust mask, a whistle and a water-filled pouch. The kit is available through local Red Cross chapters for around $5 and will be sold online at beginning next month.

Aside from preparing a disaster kit, there&s the challenge of staying in touch with loved ones during an emergency. On the day of the Sept. 11 attacks, millions of people in New York and Washington, D.C., found that their cellphone calls wouldn&t go through. The networks& capacity was hurt by the destruction of lines leading into a Verizon Communications Inc. central office, which affected all carriers. Networks were also overloaded by all the extra telephoning.

Since then, carriers say they have added capacity. Recent agreements with law-enforcement agencies are designed to give priority on the wireless network to calls from police and other emergency personnel. In reality, however, even the extra capacity is unlikely to keep up with a dramatic spike in calling prompted by another attack.

There are a few tips for staying in touch in an emergency. For people on the street with only a cellphone, a text message could have a better chance of getting through than a regular call. If the network is overloaded, a phone call just gets dropped, but a text message essentially waits in a queue until there is room for it go through. It could be delayed for hours, but at least it&s more likely to get there.

If your cellphone provider is Nextel Communications Inc., that carrier&s walkie-talkie-like "push-to-talk" feature could be more likely to make it through, since it doesn&t rely on the public telephone network, and such calls take up less capacity. And the BlackBerry portable e-mail devices sold by most major cellular carriers can also potentially get a message through when the telephone network is clogged. BlackBerry users can also send messages even when the connection to their employer&s e-mail server is lost, by using a function that allows them to bypass the server altogether.

Some people have a simpler strategy to avoid problems: Stay home. The Republican convention in New York City that begins late this month has prompted James A. Pardo, a Manhattan attorney, to spend that week working from his house in Darien, Conn. -- where he has 60 gallons of emergency bottled water stored in his basement -- instead of traveling to his Midtown office. "If I can work from home, why do I want to be here?" he says.

For those who cannot stay home, there was little escaping the heightened concerns in New York and Washington yesterday. On the Washington Metro, special response teams armed with machine guns performed spot checks of the stations and trains, occasionally stopping rail service to check beneath the cars. More than 200,000 people rode the Metro yesterday morning, according to a spokesman, who said ridership was down slightly from the same day last week, but up from the same day a year ago.

The latest terrorism warnings say that plots could target the ventilation systems of businesses. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has been working with security managers in the private sector to encourage them to place physical barriers in front of entrances to ventilation and air-conditioning systems. But terrorism experts say that there is little that can be done if terrorists are successful in releasing a biological agent into a ventilation system. That is because it likely won&t be detected until people start becoming ill.

If there is news of a contagious agent -- such as smallpox or plague -- being released in a building, safety experts do say that those outside the immediate area can protect themselves from becoming infected by "sheltering in place." This means sealing windows and doors with plastic sheeting and -- yes -- duct tape. Avoiding hospitals and large groups of people will also help, as will wearing a protective mask. "If you don&t come into contact with those who have been exposed, you won&t get sick," says Greg Evans, director of the Institute for Biosecurity at St. Louis University.

-- Marlon A. Walker and Kara Scannell contributed to this article.

Write to Andrea Petersen at and Jesse Drucker at


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« Reply #28 on: August 08, 2004, 11:28:02 PM »
Woof All:

This aptly titled piece (after the famous Japanese movie about how three different players to one event each had a different version) follows up on the intriguing episode discussed earlier in this thread.

Crafty Dog

Roshomon in the Skies: The Tangled Tale of Flight 327  
by Clinton W. Taylor  
Published 8/5/2004 12:09:20 AM

 No one yet has the full story on the infamous June 29 Northwest Airlines Flight #327 from Detroit to Los Angeles, on which thirteen Syrian musicians acted so suspiciously that passenger and writer Annie Jacobsen feared she was about to be killed by terrorists. The identity of the band remained unknown for a while until I identified them as the backup band for Canaanite crooner Nour Mehana, whom I dubbed the "Syrian Wayne Newton."

Regardless of the behavior of Nour Mehana's band, Ms. Jacobsen's story has focused international attention on the very serious issue of terrorists sizing up our commercial aviation for another strike. She has been getting the full Paula Jones treatment for her trouble.

Critics gleefully hang Ms. Jacobsen's fear on a moral defect: a hidden and unacknowledged racism. She felt fear, you see, because deep down, she is really a bad person. And also because she is "bigoted and paranoid" (per's Patrick Smith), and a "sniveling little twit" (from, and because girls tend to get hysterical and overreact. It's their hormones. It's why they can't be president.

I told my wife that, and she overreacted.

But it's not just the amateurs on left-wing blogs gunning for Ms. Jacobsen. Anonymous "federal officials and sources" told Los Angeles radio station KFI that "[t]he lady was overreacting," More recently she tangled with the Syrian ambassador to the United States, who repeatedly called her a "paranoid racist." It's always reassuring when officials of Syria's government and of our own sing from the same hymn book.

The opposite of paranoia is complacency -- in this case, a refusal to grapple with mounting evidence that hostile forces still stalk our skies. The Washington Post reported that air marshals had observed and filed reports on 192 instances of "potential terrorists" probing and testing aircraft between September 11, 2001 and January 2, 2003. Recent news, such as a Middle Eastern passenger removing a mirror from a plane's bathroom wall in order to break into the cockpit, and the capture of a suspected al Qaeda hotshot trying to fly to New York from Texas, suggests that our airliners and our resolve are still being tested.

For those who assume it's paranoid to suppose that a musical group might practice espionage, here's one better: How about an entire film crew? We know it can be done, because we've done it. During the Iranian hostage crisis, a CIA team infiltrated Iran disguised as a Canadian film company.

But don't take my word for it. You know who else thinks there's a terrorism risk posed by some Middle Eastern bands? Nour Mehana's tour manager. But more about him in a second.

LEFTISH PUNDITS ARE ALSO attacking the notion that political correctness had something to do with the way that Flight 327 unfolded. And it's true that "PC" can be a convenient scapegoat for outcomes conservatives dislike. But that's not the case here.

The funny thing about flight 327 is that something very much like it happened before. When it did, Northwest Airlines reacted very differently. Consider the case of Northwest Airlines Flight 979, traveling from Memphis to Las Vegas on Sept. 11, 2002. The behavior of three passengers on that flight was not that much more suspicious than that of the Swingin' Syrians on Flight 327.

Flight 979 had matching shaving kits; Flight 327 had a McDonald's bag. Flight 979 happened on the anniversary of 9/11; during Flight 327, DHS had issued an "unusually specific internal warning" that mentioned potential terrorist activity in both Detroit and LAX. But on Flight 979, the men were challenged by flight attendants. When they refused to obey, the plane landed in Little Rock and the men were arrested for "interfering with a flight crew in furtherance of their duty."

Had Nour Mehana's band been ordered to sit down but failed to comply, they might be spending the next 20 years serenading the fashion show in Leavenworth. But the confrontation and order never came, and the plane continued to its destination. Whatever you think of the decisions the two flight crews made, it seems clear that they were faced with two similar scenarios, but made very different choices. Why the change in policy? What intervened?

Lawsuits and pressure, especially from the ACLU, and fines from the Department of Transportation.

A few days after the September 11 attacks, Northwest expelled three Middle Eastern men from a flight in Salt Lake City. The Utah Attorney General's office publicly condemned the violation of civil rights and extracted an apology from Northwest, and one of the men sued the airline. On Christmas Day of 2001, Northwest ejected a Pakistani immigrant named Harris Khan from a boarded aircraft in Minneapolis. They had to apologize, pay a monetary settlement, and reeducate the pilot in civil-liberties sensitivity. Another "Flying while Arab" case involved Arshad Chowdury, who also sued Northwest Airlines for discrimination with the help of the ACLU.

Perhaps Northwest's culture has changed in response to these suits, although a former Northwest employee who worked in Customer Relations (and preferred to remain anonymous) also fingered Department of Transportation sanctions as another likely cause: "Northwest was gun-shy of being slapped with a bunch of fines by the DOT if we were too stern with customer complaints -- especially with militant minorities like Middle Eastern folks...So I felt that it was necessary to kowtow to customers of any stripe who would complain to the Dept. of Transportation so as to avoid fines. Once that kind of bad politics seeps into an organization or event, everyone feels that they are on notice to handle certain kinds of passengers with 'kid gloves.'"

Regardless of the merits of these suits and sanctions, it is difficult to imagine that they had no effect on Northwest's corporate culture over time. They were intended to punish and change the peremptory way Northwest dealt with minority passengers. But they may have pushed Northwest too far in the other direction, leaving the flight attendants scared even to enforce the rules and ask unruly Arabs to take a seat.

THANKS IN PART TO MS. JACOBSEN, there is now a reawakened concern over the potential for terrorism on commercial aircraft. The House Judiciary Committee has held emergency sessions to get to the bottom of the law enforcement response to the situation, and federal agencies seem to be actively running down the story of Flight 327.

James Cullen, who booked Nour Mehana's act at Sycuan Casino, declined further comment by e-mail: "Clinton I was asked by homeland sercurity [sic] not to talk to the press...we have to protect nour mehana from any negative stuff...Please do not divulge his number" And Elie Harfouche's former business partner has received three visits from two FBI agents at her home in Connecticut since the story broke.

Wait, who is Elie Harfouche?

Mr. Harfouche was the promoter for Nour Mehana's tour in America. He was on flight 327, and currently is in Lebanon but requested his former partner contact me on his behalf. (Blogger and professor of history H.D. Miller helped me verify some information about Elie Harfouche. Check out Miller's erudite and wide-ranging blog here.)

At his request, his former partner (who asked not to be identified) contacted me and provided the following list of the musicians who were traveling on Flight 327:

Minas Lablbjian
Ammer Sawas
Ziad Mlais
Nabil Anwar
Huuan El Waez
Saad Idlbi
Youssef Alajati
Mohamad Nahhas
Manaf Al Ibrahim
Edmond Derderian
Adbullah Hkwati
Tarek Alfaham

(My speculation in the NRO article that the passenger in seat 1A was Mr. Mehana was incorrect. The band was flying out to join Mehana in Los Angeles for the trip to Sycuan casino.)

Nour Mehana, she added, is a Middle Eastern superstar, equivalent in fame to Frank Sinatra.

"Or Wayne Newton?" I asked. Yes, or Wayne Newton.

I asked about the suspicious behavior of the band and the former partner acknowledged that it was quite likely they were being rowdy and disorderly. They were on tour 24-7, she said, with very little sleep and lots of drinking and partying. She did not think Ms. Jacobsen's account of their actions was at all implausible. She cited cultural differences language barriers as a likely source of the misunderstanding. "In the Middle East they're not disciplined to follow orders, and to stand in line...They're proud of who they are," she explained. "It's an Arab thing."

I asked columnist Michelle Malkin, who has covered this story from the beginning on her blog, to pass along a picture of Elie Harfouche along to Annie Jacobsen, without identifying who it was. I also sent along a ringer: a picture of Al-Jazeera journalist Elias Harfouche (no relation). This way the test was blinded so she couldn't know that one of them definitely was on the plane, and one of them wasn't.

And Ms. Jacobsen declined to comment.

MR. HARFOUCHE WAS ALARMED to learn he was being discussed as a potential terrorist. I telephoned him in Lebanon and he was adamant that he would contact his lawyer as soon as he returned to America, probably at the end of August.

Mr. Harfouche, a singer himself, came to America from Sweden in 1998. He is a dual citizen of Lebanon and Sweden and lives in New Jersey. In 2000 he opened an entertainment business has booked several Middle Eastern acts. Mr. Harfouche is a Maronite Catholic who attends Our Lady of Lebanon Church in Brooklyn.

In his version, not much happened on Flight 327. One of the band went back to the bathroom to discard a McDonald's bag, it was too small to fit in the garbage chute, so he gave it to a flight attendant to get rid of. He didn't remember Ms. Jacobsen from the flight -- in fact he couldn't recall her name -- but he was not aware of anyone being scared in the cabin. "She said we were doing strange stuff? That's bullsh*t. No, we're busy, we were tired and sleeping the whole way. That's it." Why, then, was Ms. Jacobsen so terrified? "Maybe she had something against Middle Eastern people."

I mentioned that some other people had written in to confirm her account, but he was quite firm that the band's demeanor on the flight was not that different from the other passengers'.

He did not remember the man in a suit and sunglasses whom Ms. Jacobsen saw in first class. No one in the band was in first class, he's certain, and they were all traveling comfortably in T-shirts and jeans and sandals, not suits. About the only point of agreement with Ms. Jacobsen's account of the flight was a confirmation of the man with the limp -- one singer is handicapped and wears some sort of brace on his foot.

What about everyone standing up at the end of the flight? According to Mr. Harfouche, it didn't happen. I took a multicultural tack with him and mentioned I'd read in the New York Times that the rules were different on Middle Eastern flights, and that perhaps some of these guys weren't used to our rules. "What? No. When the light is on and the plane lands, you sit in your seat. Everybody knows that."

When the FBI met them, he said, the agents were laughing and one of them admitted to him that "this was ridiculous" and that "one lady got scared." "I said, no, do your job. I'm happy when they do their job." Mr. Harfouche was surprised to hear the reports that he had been traveling on an expired visa. "We had extensions," he told me. "The proof was that the FBI looked at our visas and let us go."

Mr. Harfouche noted that these men had already been through a rigorous visa application process with the U.S. embassy in Syria. Each man was individually interviewed by several different agencies. He has never had an application refused, he says, and wants to keep it that way. So he pre-screens the musicians in-country before even starting the visa process.

Mr. Harfouche's story is so at odds with Ms. Jacobsen's that it will keep people guessing for quite a while, until perhaps more witnesses come forward. While I don't endorse all of the conclusions Ms. Jacobsen drew, or didn't quite draw, there are three witnesses -- her husband, who was writing things down in his journal, plus two anonymous passengers who have spoken up -- that corroborate her account of the events and, also, the mood of Flight 327.

The behavior of the flight attendants she describes indicates they also suspected something bad was up. And if the flight crew really thought the only problem on the flight was Ms. Jacobsen's hysteria, why would they summon the FBI, the TSA, Air Marshals service, and the LAPD to await them at their destination airport? Four agents, not four agencies, would have been sufficient to get her off the plane.

ANOTHER MEMBER OF THE Nour Mehana tour was Atef Kamel, an American citizen who works at the Nile Restaurant in North Bergen, New Jersey. He was born in Egypt and has been in America since 1987; he has worked with many Arabic stars such as Lebanese diva Feyrouz. The Nile confirmed he was recently on tour with Mr. Mehana. I spoke with Mr. Kamel and he confirmed that the band had played in various American cities: San Diego, Chicago, Anaheim, San Francisco, and Detroit, among others. Mr. Kamel was the manager for the tour and also worked as an emcee at the events. He traveled with this band on several occasions and met them at the gate in LAX. Like Mr. Harfouche, Mr. Kamel was insistent that all the trouble on Annie Jacobsen's flight arose from the McDonald's bag the drummer, Alfaham, carried back to the bathroom.

According to Mr. Kamel, the drummer told him the McDonald's bag contained "McDonald's." It was too big to fit in the bathroom trash can, so the drummer brought it back out. Someone noticed this, said Mr. Kamel, and the FBI was waiting for them as they came off the plane. They let them go on after an hour and a half -- "It was nothing." The whole band told the same story to Mr. Kamel as soon as the Feds released them.

It's not surprising the band didn't tell the trip manager anything more incriminating they might have done on the flight that might have alarmed the passengers and crew and had the FBI waiting to meet them. But since the band first arrived in Washington, D.C., on May 30, until the last concert at the Nile on July 4 (after which the band returned to Syria out of JFK), Mr. Kamel was with them constantly and never knew them to go to the bathroom together or "act weird."

Mr. Kamel had planned a month-long tour for Nour Mehana. But when the band arrived in the U.S. they were mistakenly issued visas for only a week, to Mr. Kamel's consternation. So they applied for and received extensions to their visas to finish out their trip. (Homeland Security now affirms that the band's paperwork was in order.)

I asked Mr. Kamel about the lyrics to a song called "Um al Shaheed" -- "Mother of a Martyr" -- that Mr. Mehana has recorded. It is not about suicide bombers, he insisted, but about soldiers who die in battle. Besides, if Mr. Mehana didn't do that old standard, "the people wouldn't like him." Mr. Kamel was raised Muslim but is now Catholic; he stated that suicide bombing bars you from heaven in both religions. "If you kill yourself, you're evil."

And on this subject Mr. Kamel said something I didn't expect him say: there are Middle Eastern bands out there with ties to terror groups. "I am a proud Arab American," he said. "But I don't deny there are some bad people" out there. He then named a couple of singers -- I will demur from repeating their names, but they appear to be quite prominent in Middle Eastern music -- whom he said had tried to enter the United States but were turned down because of alleged connections to [radical] Shi'a or to Hezbollah. One of them played at a party linked to Hezbollah. A rockin' affair that must have been.

Mr. Kamel has no problem with keeping terror-linked bands out of the United States. "That's how I like it!" he said. "Check them out and stop them over there -- if there's a problem, don't even let them in." He also welcomed surveillance of the bands while in the United States: "You have to have some people follow [the bands] around, so you don't leave people behind. You don't want to come over with 14 and leave with 12."

In case you missed that: A successful promoter with intimate knowledge of the Middle Eastern music scene admits that a few connections exist between Islamic terrorists and musicians, and that care is warranted in screening the musicians' visits to the United States. For those of you in the "mere paranoia" camp: Denial isn't just a nightclub in New Jersey.

When I told Mr. Kamel some of the details of Ms. Jacobsen's article, however, he was not impressed. "This reporter wants to make something from nothing," he said. "That's not nice. No, that's not nice." I mentioned to him that ABC's Good Morning America had contacted me to try to book Nour Mehana on their show, and he paused. "As the good guy, or the bad guy?"

He was not on the flight, but his account of the passengers on Flight 327 differs in some important respects from Ms. Jacobsen's and confirms Mr. Harfouche's. Mr. Kamel does not remember anyone in the band with a limp or an orthopedic shoe. And, like Elie Harfouche, he denies the man in the dark suit and sunglasses in seat 1-A was with the band. "No one flies first class except Nour Mehana," who wasn't on the plane.

Who was the dude in 1-A, then? Sharp dresser, stood in front of the cockpit door, fluently chatted up the Arab contingent on the next guess would be this was an Air Marshal. Or maybe he was just a fan.

IN HER FIRST ARTICLE, ANNIE Jacobsen asked why, if terrorists can learn to fly airplanes, they cannot also learn to play musical instruments. This new information doesn't answer that entirely fair question. In fact, given potential ties between certain musical groups and terrorist groups, it makes the question all the more critical.

All of which begs the question of why Nour Mehana's entourage wasn't simply dealt with, firmly but politely, by the flight crew. They were scared enough to call the FBI to meet the plane, but apparently they were not permitted to enforce federal regulations in flight. "I expect that no one came up and asked them to sit down, so how would they know they were creating a problem?" wondered the former business partner.

As New York Times business columnist Joe Sharkey noted, cultural differences are important to understanding this matter. I agree, and should I visit Syria, I would try to learn and accommodate that country's laws and customs as best I could, to avoid giving offense or alarm. Similarly, this country also has laws and customs that govern air travel and, under the real threat of terrorism, following these rules is more than just a matter of civility. It's deadly serious.

Mr. Harfouche's former partner may be right that the band's behavior was just "an Arab thing." But even the Islamic newswire Alt.muslim offers a "note to Arabs flying in groups in the US: don't play out your worst stereotypes."

It's still a free country. But the dry runs are real. And, there's a war on. Look, gentlemen, play your music, and enjoy your time in America. All we ask is that you don't act like terrorists. We don't tolerate that anymore.

It's an American thing.

Whack Job

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« Reply #29 on: August 10, 2004, 04:10:37 PM »
The DOT Has Never Had an Ethnic-Screening Policy
August 10, 2004; Page A11

In your July 23 editorial "The Pre-emption Commission" on the work of the 9/11 Commission, there is a reference to a screening quota allegedly established by the Department of Transportation limiting the number of Middle Eastern men that can be screened.

No policy ever existed, or exists today, that would limit the screening of passengers based on any criteria. The Department's general counsel, Jeff Rosen, and American Airlines' vice president of security, Peggy Sterling, went before the Senate on June 24 and testified that such a policy did not and does not exist. Said Mr. Rosen, the "department never had such a policy." Said Ms. Sterling, "We have not heard anything of this nature from the DOT or any other government agency. Our policies and procedures are not based on the proposition that there are any ethnically driven limits on how many passengers from a particular flight can be subjected to heightened security screening." Even the original broadcaster of this allegation, Michael Smerconish, admitted that "I don't know if there was ever a quota system for young Arab males." That is because there wasn't one . . . ever.

Finally, despite 9/11 Commission member John Lehman's initially having questioned whether there might have been such a quota policy, when the full Commission reached its conclusions no such policy was found to exist. Not a single word is dedicated to it in the much heralded 600-page Commission report. Not a single word.

Robert R. Johnson Jr.
Director of Public Affairs
U.S. Department of Transportation


 letter from the Department of Transportation takes issue with our editorial on the 9/11 Commission's report and explains the Department's post-9/11 policy on screening airline passengers. We'll let the letter speak for itself.

For the record, however, we'd also like to draw readers' attention to another Transportation Department missive. It is a consent order dated June 21 and signed by the Department's deputy general counsel. It asserts that Delta Air Lines discriminated against passengers undergoing its screening procedures and directs the carrier to spend $900,000 over the next two years to provide "civil rights training to its pilots, flight attendants, and passenger service agents."

Delta denies the charges that it violated federal law by removing from flights or denying boarding to "persons [who] were, or were perceived to be, of Arab, Middle Eastern or Southeast Asian descent and/or Muslim." The carrier says its actions were based solely on safety and security concerns. It agreed to the settlement to avoid litigation or fines.

Transportation notes that it has reached similar settlements with United, American and Continental -- all of which also speak for themselves, and don't make us feel safer.

Whack Job

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« Reply #30 on: August 11, 2004, 09:10:45 PM »
by Doug Casey


(originally published on 4/26/04)

As if we didn?t have enough terrorism threats to worry about, it now appears al-Qaeda has a secret 15-ship ?navy? it acquired from a Greek supplier over a period of several years. US intelligence experts think one or more of the ships were used to transport the explosives used in the deadly bombings of two American embassies in Africa and in the terrible nightclub blast in Bali. Since al-Qaeda?s ships are ordinary merchant vessels registered under new names in different countries, they will be very difficult to identify and track.

Unfortunately, the biggest danger posed by an al-Qaeda ship is not its ability to transport explosives or terrorists. The ship itself can be used as a giant bomb to wipe out a US port. If the port has a large LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) storage facility or a gasoline refinery, the secondary explosion could destroy much of the adjacent city. (The devastating crash of fuel-laden trains in North Korea provides a tragic and relevant example of the danger.)

The cities vulnerable to an attack by al-Qaeda?s ships are not limited to our coasts. Due to our extensive network of navigable rivers, bin Laden could get a ship as far inland as Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, or even Kansas City. To make matters worse, even a small merchant vessel could carry enough shielding to prevent the detection of a stolen nuclear device or a radioactive dirty bomb.

In addition to having its own ships, it looks as if al-Qaeda plans to hijack a supertanker. Such a vessel would make an even bigger bomb than a freighter and create an environmental disaster.

According to London-based Aegis Defense Services, in March 2003 about ten Islamic pirates boarded the oil tanker Dewi Madrim off the coast of Sumatra. Instead of the usual routine of robbing the crew and either stealing the cargo or making off with portable items of value, in this instance the pirates disconnected the ship?s communication system, hooked up their own communications, and then spent over an hour learning how to steer the ship, run its engines, and use its electronic navigation equipment. When the pirates finally departed, they took the captain and his first officer with them. No ransom demands were received which indicates the pirates weren?t after money.

More recently, another group of ten armed pirates?probably from the Abu Sayyaf terrorist organization?boarded an ocean-going tugboat in the Sulu Sea south of the Philippines. This time they took the ship?s sophisticated navigation equipment in addition to its officers. Similar incidents are thought to have occurred throughout the region, but have been kept quiet by embarrassed ship owners and government officials. According to Singapore terrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna, oil and chemical tankers have been the principal targets which suggests the hijackings were rehearsals for terrorist attacks.

Any modern merchant vessel used by terrorists will be extremely difficult to stop?even if it is detected and attacked a few miles from its destination. As we learned from the Exxon Valdez disaster in 1989, large ships have such great momentum they can travel several miles even after their engines are stopped.

Considering what we now know about al-Qaeda?s threat to our port cities, our advice last month to spend next October in the countryside seems very timely. Particularly since National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice recently said that the government believes al-Qaeda is so pleased with the outcome of its Madrid bombing, it plans to use the tactic again in the US just before our presidential election.


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« Reply #31 on: August 15, 2004, 03:19:19 PM »
Just a couple of points on the story. It is not unusual to see a concentration of people of Middle Eastern ethnicity fly out of Detroit's
Metro Airport. There is a higher concentration of people of Middle Eastern ethnicity in the Detroit area than just about anywhere outside the Middle East. Do you not think federal law enforcement/intelligence isn't aware of that too?

I have travelled out of Detroit's Metro Airport many times and not once have I not had to produce identification to get past the checkpoint. The TSA people in Detroit appear a lot sharper than many other airports I've been through so I find that part difficult to believe.


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But wait, there's more
« Reply #32 on: August 25, 2004, 02:53:22 PM »
First off, apologies to Tiny for posting the following.

In light of our, uh, differing views on the event in question, I thought that it would be interesting to post an actual pilot's response to Anne Jacobsen's article (which, by the way, I have noticed has bought her plenty of airtime  :shock: )

So, take a deep breath, keep an open mind, and read all four responses in "Ask the pilot"...

(if for some reason you can't get into, you can click "free 1-day pass" and the rest is easy)

Main thread:

Response 1:

Response 2:

Response 3:

Response 4:


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« Reply #33 on: August 25, 2004, 04:13:39 PM »
Woof SB Mig:

It looks very interesting, but would you please post it here?  I've found that signing up requires enabling cookies and tends to generate lots of spam.  TIA

Crafty Dog


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« Reply #34 on: August 26, 2004, 09:22:44 AM »
Woof Guro Crafty,

I will attempt to post the responses as I pulled them off

Be warned that the material amounts to around 14 pages of reading. I personally think that the last two responses are the best.

That being said:


The hysterical skies
She survived a flight with 14 harmless Syrian musicians -- then spread 3,000 bigoted and paranoid words across the Internet. As a pilot and an American, I'm appalled.

By Patrick Smith

July 21, 2004

In this space was supposed to be installment No. 6 of my multiweek dissertation on airports and terminals. The topic is being usurped by one of those nagging, Web-borne issues of the moment, in this case a reactionary scare story making the cyber-rounds during the past week.

The piece in question, "Terror in the Skies, Again?" is the work of Annie Jacobsen, a writer for Jacobsen shares the account of the emotional meltdown she and her fellow passengers experienced when, aboard a Northwest Airlines flight from Detroit to Los Angeles, a group of Middle Eastern passengers proceeded to act "suspiciously." I'll invite you to experience "Terror" yourself, but be warned it's quite long. It needs to be, I suppose, since ultimately it's a story about nothing, puffed and aggrandized to appear important.

The editors get the drama cooking with some foreboding music: "You are about to read an account of what happened," counsels a 70-word preamble. "The WWS Editorial Team debated long and hard about how to handle this information and ultimately we decided it was something that should be shared ... Here is Annie's story" [insert lower-octave piano chord here].

What follows are six pages of the worst grade-school prose, spring-loaded with mindless hysterics and bigoted provocation.

Fourteen dark-skinned men from Syria board Northwest's flight 327, seated in two separate groups. Some are carrying oddly shaped bags and wearing track suits with Arabic script across the back. During the flight the men socialize, gesture to one another, move about the cabin with pieces of their luggage, and, most ominous of all, repeatedly make trips to the bathroom. The author links the men's apparently irritable bladders to a report published in the Observer (U.K.) warning of terrorist plots to smuggle bomb components onto airplanes one piece at a time, to be secretly assembled in lavatories.
"What I experienced during that flight," breathes Jacobsen, "has caused me to question whether the United States of America can realistically uphold the civil liberties of every individual, even non-citizens, and protect its citizens from terrorist threats."

Intriguing, no? I, for one, fully admit that certain acts of airborne crime and treachery may indeed open the channels to a debate on civil liberties. Pray tell, what happened? Gunfight at 37,000 feet? Valiant passengers wrestle a grenade from a suicidal operative? Hero pilots beat back a cockpit takeover?

Well, no. As a matter of fact, nothing happened. Turns out the Syrians are part of a musical ensemble hired to play at a hotel. The men talk to one another. They glance around. They pee.

That's it?

That's it.

Now, in fairness to Jacobsen, I'll admit that in-flight jitters over the conspicuous presence of a group of young Arabs is neither unexpected nor, necessarily, irrational. She speaks of seven of the men standing in unison, a moment that, if unembellished, would have even the most culturally open-minded of us wide-eyed and grabbing our armrest. As everybody knows, it was not a gaggle of Canadian potato farmers who commandeered those jetliners on Sept. 11. See also the legacy of air crimes over the past several decades, from Pan Am 103 to the UTA bombing to the failed schemings of Ramzi Yousef, the culprits each time being young Arab males.

Air crews and passengers alike are thus prone to jumpiness should a certain template of race and behavior be filled. Jacobsen's folly is in not being able to step back from that jumpiness -- neither during the flight itself, at which point her worry and behavior are at least excusable, nor well after touching down safely. Speaking as a pilot, air travel columnist, and American, I find Jacobsen's 3,000-word ghost story of Arab boogeymen among the most overwrought and inflammatory tracts I've encountered in some time.
Most disturbing of all has been the pickup from Internet bloggers and news sources, including ABC, CNN, MSNBC and the New York Times. The writer hops a flight to California on which absolutely nothing of danger occurs, and the following are among the citations:

"Harrowing piece"
"The frightening true story"
"Disturbing account"
"Riveting article"
"An absolute must-read"

"Read all about the breaking Northwest airlines scare," advertises, suggesting perhaps a narrowly averted crash, a bomb defused during flight or a thwarted skyjacking. Click on over to hear instead about the toilet habits of a group of Syrian minstrels and one middle-aged woman's alarmist reaction to them. No matter; over the past week or so Jacobsen has found herself linked and excerpted in every last crevice of the Web. Those of you not convinced of just how paranoid and xenophobic Americans can be, look no further than the following online posts, which, along with thousands like them, have emerged in direct response to this story:
"You will never, ever, catch me on an airplane again!"

"My advice would be to de-plane as soon as I counted 14 Arabs as passengers. "

"Soon after 9/11 we were in a local McDonald's and a group of Middle Eastern men came in and got carry-out. They sat in their van for a while then headed North. I felt scared out of my wits. I wrote down a description of the vehicle and license, but never did anything with it. Guess next time I won't be so stupid."

Jacobsen spins her experience into a not-so-veiled call for racial profiling of airline passengers. Help me out with this one: If only those musicians had been interrogated prior to boarding, it would have been revealed they were, in fact ... musicians. (They had, of course, endured the same concourse X-ray and metal detector rigmarole as everyone else, and were in possession of valid passports and visas.)

My own feelings on passenger profiling are mixed, and I'm not as liberal on the issue as you might expect. However, I do think singling out a specific ethnicity for extra screening is less a racist idea than a wasteful and ineffective one. Does it not occur to people that Muslim radicals come in all complexions and from many nations -- from the heart of black Africa to the archipelagoes of Southeast Asia? (Many Syrians, no less, are fair-haired and light-skinned.) Does it not occur to people that terrorists are clever, resourceful and, in the end, bound to outwit such obvious snares? The notion that 14 saboteurs, replete with silk-screened track suits effectively advertising themselves as such, would obviously and boisterously proceed in and out of an airplane lavatory, taking turns to construct a bomb, is so over-the-top ludicrous it deserves its own comedy sketch. Indeed, Jacobsen is trying to portray a scene of angst and fear, but she inadvertently scripts out a parody. I half-expected her to tell me that one of the men wore a cardboard sign labeled "TERRORIST."

On Tuesday morning I appeared as a guest on a conservative, drive-time radio show in Philadelphia, and Jacobsen was the hot issue. The host, without much else to go on, proposed the Syrians had choreographed a "dry run" for a future attack. (At one point he referred to the involved carrier, Northwest Airlines, as "Northeastern.") When I dared express doubt, and noted that investigators from the Transportation Security Administration and the FBI had confirmed the men's identities and motives, I was mocked, ridiculed and eventually hung up on. The very suggestion that the men could have been innocent musicians seemed, in the eyes of the host and callers, preposterous. They had to be terrorists. Disagreeing got me called "a frickin' idiot," and a caller demanded to know which airline I worked for so he could be certain never to ride on a plane with a traitor like me at the controls.

Stop the presses: A sequel to "Terror in the Skies, Again?" has now been posted on, in which Jacobsen reinfects the conversation with a fresh dose of mongering. "And I now have another important question," she writes. "Is there a link between my experience ... and the arrest of Ali Mohamed Almosaleh by Customs agents at the Minneapolis Airport on July 7?" Almosaleh, a Syrian, was allegedly carrying a suicide note and "anti-American material."

Jacobsen's hint at conspiracy, however, is based exclusively on the coincidence that Almosaleh and the musicians happen to all be Syrian citizens. I see. That a supposition this groundless and stupid can make it into print and entice the likes of major news networks should outrage any clear-thinking American. How about we seek out all Syrians and put their names on airline blacklists?

Jacobsen's sequel is peppered with incendiary quotes from industry sources. Says an airline pilot: "The terrorists are probing us all the time." Another confides a maddeningly baseless belief that Jacobsen had been "likely on a dry run," while another states, "The incident you wrote about, and incidents like it, occur more than you like to think. It is a 'dirty little secret' that all of us, as crew members, have known about for quite some time."

Which dirty little secret, exactly, are we talking about? That foreigners ride on airplanes?
In a moment of truly ghastly philosophizing, Jacobsen includes a manipulative passage in which she is smitten with anguish as she recollects a photograph taken during the Sept. 11 attacks. She gives us this: "Political correctness has become a major road block for airline safety ... I think about the meaning of 'dry run.' And then I think about what it means to be politically correct. And I keep coming up blank."

So do I.

Aside from matters of politics and general opinion, is Jacobsen playing fast and loose with the facts? There appear to be embellishments in her original tale.

Aboard flight 327, as she, her husband and several passengers and crew are having their nervous breakdowns, comes this instance of B-movie tension: "[The flight attendant] leaned over and quietly told my husband there were federal air marshals sitting all around us. She asked him not to tell anyone and explained that she could be in trouble for giving out that information. She then continued serving drinks."

Are we to believe not only that an airline professional was unwise enough to reveal such a thing, but that a group of marshals -- not one, not two, but several -- having gotten word that a covey of Arabs were flying to LAX, were on hand to trail and observe them? That's some tight logistical planning. Are we following Middle Easterners through airports now? If so, how does that work at Kennedy International, I wonder, where foreign airliners carrying thousands of passengers arrive daily from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, Morocco, the UAE and elsewhere? That's a lot of dry runs, and there's no love lost, after all, between Muslim radicals and the governments who own and operate these airlines -- Pakistan International, Saudi Arabian, EgyptAir, Royal Jordanian, etc. Such subtleties are lost on that segment of the public who'd prefer a more digestible cock-and-bull yarn from high above the American heartland. As for those wacky airlines from abroad, why not simply ban them from American airspace?
Clearly I'm in a fit of envy over Jacobsen's cheap grab at notoriety. I've got a book out and could use some publicity. Here, let me give it a try.

Late last summer I boarded a nonstop flight from Dubai, United Arab Emirates, to Newark, N.J. After taking my seat, I noticed that well over a hundred of my fellow passengers looked to be Muslims! Yes, that's the same faith adhered to by those dastardly perpetrators who knocked down our Trade Center and demolished part of the Pentagon. Not only that, but our aircraft, a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777, was registered and maintained by a company headquartered in a predominantly Muslim nation! What if the cargo holds had been stuffed full of anthrax or TNT by unscrupulous terrorists back in Kuala Lumpur!

Several passengers wore conservative Islamic dress -- men in white dishdashas; women concealed in full black burqa. Our plane contained a Muslim prayer enclave (for possible use by terrorists preparing for the throes of martydrom), and the seatback video displayed a graphic of the qibla, showing real-time distance and heading to Mecca. En route toward New York, dozens of Muslim passengers were seen socializing and using the lavatories, in some cases blatantly ignoring the illuminated seat-belt sign!

To my relief and utter astonishment, we landed safely (and on time).

Jacobsen simmers her own account in gratuitous detail and melodrama. It plays like a Hollywood disaster film -- the young child, the would-be villain who smiles innocently in a moment of spooky foreshadowing. We're waiting for the gunshots, the fireball from the lavatory, the marshals jumping up to yell, "Hit the floor!"

That her story concludes in such a painfully boring anticlimax ought to be the very point, and in the final few pages she still has time for a constructive moral, the clear lesson being not the potentials of global terror, but the dangers of our own preconceptions and imagination. Instead, she pulls a vile U-turn and chooses to bait us with racist innuendo and fearmongering. Nothing happened, but something might have happened, and so it serves us to remain frightened and draconian at all costs, furthering our nation's pathetic embrace of maximum paranoia.

Jacobsen's kicker: "So the question is ... Do I think these men were musicians? I'll let you decide. But I wonder, if 19 terrorists can learn to fly airplanes into buildings, couldn't 14 terrorists learn to play instruments?"

Excuse me? She concludes, as did the radio host Tuesday morning, by insinuating that the men were terrorists, despite every shred of evidence, not to mention common sense, arguing to the contrary. And with that her article, and her credibility with it, plummets from merely sensationalist to inexcusably offensive.


  • Guest
« Reply #35 on: August 26, 2004, 09:24:57 AM »

Ask the pilot

The hysterical skies, Part 2: In defiance of all obtainable facts, Annie Jacobsen continues to claim she was a witness to a terrorist "dry run."
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By Patrick Smith

July 30, 2004  |  "Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself -- nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror ..."
-- Franklin Roosevelt, 1933

The evening of my published rebuttal to Annie Jacobsen's scare story about sharing a Northwest Airlines flight to Los Angeles with a gang of hyperactive Syrian musicians, I attended an outdoor concert in Boston's South End. On stage was the Sharq Ensemble, an Arabic music sextet. As any connoisseur of fine irony will understand, I relished the fact that two of the band members (five Arabs and a Turk) were from Syria.

The show came to an end uneventfully, without a single casualty among the hundred or so concertgoers. Of course, there remains the distinct possibility that I witnessed a so-called "dry run." The musicians claimed to be professionals -- graduates of prestigious conservatories -- but I'm not so sure. They struck me as a menacing lot, glancing conspiratorially at one another while seeming to case the audience. Not once did I witness law enforcement personnel verifying visas, green cards, or notes of permission signed by the ambassador from Damascus. It appears you could pack quite a bit of Semtex into those odd Middle Eastern instruments. Will the next show conclude with the Qanun player blowing himself up on stage?

If you can't tell, my temptation to mock Jacobsen's account remains unabated. In retrospect I'll concede that my initial piece may have been a little more burlesque than it needed to be -- my cheap shot at Jacobsen's "grade school prose," for one, deserved the editorial shears -- but at the time I felt she deserved a good lampoon more than a serious dissection. Little has changed, and I stand by my general assertion that her narrative served no purpose other than to inflame and frighten.

If you think I'm recycling this issue for the sake of a few more laughs and lack of anything better to opine about, please know that Jacobsen continues to garner undeserved hype and coverage through major television, print and radio outlets.

On July 23 she appeared on a nationwide call-in show maestroed by conservative advocate Michael Smerconish. That's the same Smerconish on whose local Philadelphia show I appeared last week, and whose callers ridiculed me for refusing to swallow Jacobsen's reactionary bait. This time, he announced to millions of listeners that Annie Jacobsen was nothing less than "a victim of terrorism."

Smerconish, a lawyer by trade, has a book coming out: "Flying Blind -- How Political Correctness Continues to Compromise Airline Safety, Post-9/11." (Note the attractive cover and somewhat less than shy exploitation of the 9/11 reference, which appears in numerals four times the size of the accompanying wording.) The author appears eager to parlay Jacobsen's hissy fit into ammo for the conservative agenda. He links his Web site to both her original column at, and its even more treacly follow-up.

I'm unsure what saddens me more -- Jacobsen's rhetoric itself, or the manner in which commentators and pundits have spun the story into a partisan conflict of ideals: Those who find folly in draconian security measures and racial scapegoating are, to use one of my most loathed Bushisms, siding with the enemy.

A victim of terrorism? I asked Annie Jacobsen what she thought of such audacious speculation presented as fact. "Everybody is entitled to their own opinions," she answers. "Look, I'm a Democrat. I did not intend for this to be made a political issue, and I feel bad that it became one."

Odd for a Democrat to have referenced the national security expertise of Ann Coulter, but this, she daringly claims, was a decision borne of strict practicality and not ideology. "I barely knew who Ann Coulter was. And to be honest, I expected hardly anybody to read my piece to begin with."

Meanwhile, a Federal Air Marshals source confided to Los Angeles radio station KFI that Annie and her husband were as much of a spectacle aboard Flight 327 as the Syrians, something she vociferously denies. "Absolutely not," she says. "I hardly spoke to anybody during the flight, and I never got out of my seat other than to use the bathroom. Reports that my behavior was cause for alarm are simply not factual."

Agents say they verified the band members' identities at LAX, and all 14 were interrogated and cross-checked against terrorist watch lists. National Review, hardly a well of impartiality, cites James Cullen, a music promoter, confirming that the musicians arrived on Northwest Airlines Flight 327 not to spread mayhem throughout Southern California, but to play backup at the Sycuan Casino & Resort for Nour Mehana, a well-known Syrian-born singer. (Nour's disturbing likeness to Wayne Newton has not gone unnoticed, and brings up even more unsettling questions about who we let into this country. Is one Wayne Newton not enough?)

At this point, whether or not the Arabs on Flight 327 were hapless minstrels or scheming scoundrels is growing less important, even to those touting the supposition that the men were terrorists. Unable to fashion hard facts from conjecture, they present the story either as a lecture on the dangers of political correctness, or as otherwise groundless evidence that gangs of Muslims are running psy-ops surveillance for an eventual attack. Much the way our disastrous foray into Iraq is garbled by extraneous justifications, Jacobsen's ride to Los Angeles is co-opted into an excuse to discuss proverbial "greater issues."
Are there, somewhere in all of this, important discussions waiting to happen? Is it not true that airlines have been fined for selecting more than two passengers of the same ethnic extraction for preflight screening? Is it not unreasonable that our hypersensitivity to offending certain races or nationalities undermines air safety? Certainly so, but if Jacobsen wanted to advocate the need for profiling, she ought to have written a story in which profiling had a kernel of relevance, instead of one boiling over with histrionics and meaningless innuendo.

And she may have done her loudmouth proponents more of a disservice than she realizes. On June 29, the day of her infamous trip, the Department of Homeland Security issued an internal memo warning that a group of Pakistani men, alleged to be graduates of al-Qaida training camps, might be traveling through the U.S. The communiqu? specifically mentioned Detroit and Los Angeles, origin and terminus of Annie's flight. This could explain the presence of the onboard marshals. She lobbies for increased attention paid to Muslim passengers, and ironically it might be exactly that which managed to exonerate the Syrian musicians.

"But didn't you hear?" she says. "The Syrians were traveling on expired visas!" Why wasn't this discovered at LAX? Democrat Jacobsen follows up by e-mailing me an article from that stalwart of left-wing media, the Washington Times. Along with other, perhaps more objective, sources, the Times reports the men's P-3 artist visas turning into Homeland Security pumpkins on June 10, only 10 days after they arrived in the United States for a six-week concert tour.

But not so fast. While Jacobsen and others have seized on a visa's shelf life as reason enough to have to NORAD aiming its rockets toward Damascus, complicating matters is the fine print of the alien registration rules. The following is taken from a post on Michelle Malkin's blog site, which in the dearth of official statements has become a de-facto home page of the Jacobsen controversy.

"The period of an alien's authorized stay isn't governed by the visa. How long an alien can stay is governed by the date on his or her I-94. The I-94 is a form foreigners fill out on admission and approved by the immigration inspector. A musician on tour can apply for an extension of status. This extension allows the foreigner to remain in the U.S. longer, but has no effect on when the visa on which he or she came into the U.S. expires."
Queries to the public affairs office at the U.S. Department of State verify this. "The visa provides admission to the country and nothing more," a staff member explains. "The expiration of the visa itself is totally irrelevant." Not to the Washington Times it's not. Why muck up a good witch hunt with the petty specifics of law?

The bulk of evidence suggests the men were here in full legal compliance. "There was no legal basis for any manner of law enforcement," says David Adams, spokesperson of the Federal Air Marshals, a division of the Department of Homeland Security. "Everything was carefully checked out. Agents interrogated the men, attended their concert, and verified their stay at a local hotel." Adams tells me the men had played several gigs at numerous venues around the country.

Of course, you needn't be a convicted criminal or watch-listed radical operative to be a potential terrorist. With nothing else to go on, Jacobsen's allies keep coming around to the "dry run" theory. The trouble with this proposition is that it leaves open every Arab, and for that matter anybody who is conspicuously Near Eastern, Middle Eastern, Indian, or Central Asian, to a guilty-until-innocent presumption. The dry run idea provides a vague, but craftily indisputable fallback. Who can prove it wasn't a rehearsal?

"Annie Jacobsen is entitled to her own interpretations," says David Adams, lightly emphasizing that last word in a manner that suggests we read between the lines. "While the 19 original hijackers are known to have conducted test runs, there is no specific intelligence that terrorists are conducting test flights or surveillance activities on U.S. airliners. Period."

Baloney, claims Jacobsen, who at times seems eager to refute everything short of the earth revolving around the sun. "All I know is that I saw what I saw. Those men were up to something and I cannot believe otherwise."
Something nefarious, dastardly and deadly?

"I saw what I saw."

She states that the rambunctious behavior witnessed on Flight 327 has been confirmed by "numerous individuals" as telltale signals of a terrorist dress rehearsal. "You know," she says, "It turns out there was a second, eerily parallel incident." Once again she pulls out her Washington Times, which makes tauntingly vague note of "similar activity" on a flight last February between Puerto Rico and New York. "The six men involved worked for a cruise ship and were carrying musician's cases with instruments." No further explanation is given.

Jacobsen claims to be a fairly savvy flier, but anybody who has shared an airliner cabin with a group of any kind, be it a sports team, a band, or a bunch of ex-classmates heading for a college reunion, knows that such clusters tend to be boisterous and animated and move around a lot. What made this different, exactly? The ethnicity of the suspected perpetrators is my guess. Following the events of 2001, we are programmed to react fearfully when confronted by the combo of young Arab males and jet airplanes. That's understandable, and does not necessarily make us racists and bigots. But it does predispose us to act irrationally and, in some cases, shamefully. For the record, I do not consider Annie Jacobsen to be racist or prejudiced in any strict sense. However, I do feel she has fed, and continues to feed, many people's bigoted preconceptions.

"I don't care what country they were from," she answers. "Had the men on that plane been 14 Swedes, I'd have felt exactly the same way."

That's a noble and, dare I say it, politically correct bunch of hogwash, but I guess I give her credit her for trying.

I'd like to point out that several acts of airborne terror in American skies have come at the hands of non-Muslims and non-Arabs, from an insurance scam bombing of a 707 back in the 1960s, to suicide skyjackings over California in 1964 and 1987 (crews shot dead, planes crashed), to the attempted siege of a Federal Express DC-10 by a hammer- and spear-gun-toting off-duty pilot. Somewhere in there rests the Achilles heel of profiling -- a tantalizing idea, but one that wouldn't accomplish much other than knocking the system, at great cost and stress, into the next unwinnable phase of cat and mouse.

Be they Swedes or Syrians, it has long been my assertion -- in this column, in my book, and elsewhere -- that no sensible terrorists will be stupid enough to consider a copycat Sept. 11 attack. The 2001 modus operandi took advantage of a decades-old hijack protocol -- to land safely before procrastinating and, if need be, negotiating with the perpetrators. That protocol was terminated the moment American Airlines Flight 11 met its fate against the Trade Center's north tower.

Neither do I find it believable that a tag-team of 14 people would need be employed to assemble a bomb in an airplane lavatory -- another scenario thrown around by talk masters and pundits, borrowed from intelligence reports that operatives may try to smuggle aboard bombs one component at a time. Might they? Sure, but there are probably a hundred thousand other mechanisms of terror at any saboteur's disposal. Apoplexy over each and every one is the surest recipe for defeat. A frightened victim, in the grand scheme of terrorist philosophy, isn't a whole lot different from a dead one.
"Don't you find it disturbing," Annie Jacobsen asks me, "that a restaurant beyond the secure perimeter of an airport terminal is able to dispense forks!" Visas, hijackings, lavatory bombs, and now silverware? In her own style of martyrdom, Jacobsen sounds anxious to sling-shoot every last detail of Flight 327 onto every last surface to see what sticks.

Anathema as it might sound, I could not care less about forks. In the strange-bedfellows department, I have none other than Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., on my side regarding the complete futility of our zero-tolerance obsession with, as I like to call them, weapons of mass distraction. Mica is chairman of the House Subcommittee on Aviation, and has publicly voiced his belief that certain tools and implements -- heretofore dangerous in the eyes of zealous TSA screeners -- once again be allowed onboard airliners.

None of this maintains that America's sworn enemies will not heed their delusions of martyrdom and again strike. They probably will. My point is that our expectations of that violence will most almost surely prove off-mark, and meantime they drain our resources and waste our time. We continue to fuddle and obsess over corkscrews, butter knives and whether or not swarthy foreigners are eyeing the cockpit door.

Jacobsen is surprised that a pilot would feel this way. Aircrews, according to her testimonials, are in lockstep with the notions of skyjackings and dry runs. "Most every pilot I've spoken to," she says, "knows these things are going on." She claims to have heard "disturbing examples" from various crewmembers, but refuses to cite examples or speak on the record. "This is common knowledge," she says.

Is it? The e-mails below are edited for clarity and the exact identities of the writers withheld ...
"I appreciate your rebuttal to Annie Jacobsen. I am always surprised at how fellow flight attendants and passengers sometimes react to some of these situations. I see Arabs and Arab-Americans on flights frequently, alone and in groups. When you become suspicious of certain passengers on the basis of race, all of their normal behaviors become suspect."
-- Dale, flight attendant, major airline

"Do Arab males fly aboard our carriers? Have they always flown aboard our carriers? Could one or all of the men on Flight 327 have been terrorists? Could the white male in Row 15 also have been a terrorist? Was Timothy McVeigh a white male? Was John Walker Lindh a white male? Was Mrs. Jacobsen's article the most ridiculous, paranoia- stricken, overblown article ever written? Have we become a fear-frozen country? I recently had my car inspected by a Pakistani mechanic. Perhaps I should check the tailpipe for explosives."
-- Michael, Airbus A320 first officer, major airline

"I have been following Ms. Jacobsen's story since it first broke. She claims to have the backing of pilots; however, I speak for every pilot I know in saying that she has little or no support within the ranks. This was not an act of terrorism, but rather a serious exaggeration of something that happens almost daily on aircraft across the country and around the world. Although we must now exercise prudence, that prudence must be tempered by reason. I see no reason in Jacobsen's tirade."
-- David, 757 first officer, major airline

"I don't want that woman on my plane. We have enough problems with weather, air traffic control and the TSA -- all doing a very nice job of making us late!"
-- Michael, instructor pilot, Continental Express

"I was a friend and U.S. Navy squadron partner of Tom "Stout" McGuinness, the copilot on American Airlines Flight 11. After Sept. 11 I had a different reaction than many of my co-workers. I did not understand, for example, the urgency to hold Iraq accountable for terrorism when the original hijackers and their funding were Saudi Arabian. My take is that Annie Jacobsen's point of view is symptomatic of a greater societal dysfunction -- one shared with many airline pilots, being consumers of all things conservative -- which trots out the usual cast of bogeymen: welfare mothers, Muslims, and, especially, liberals."
-- Dan, Boeing 777 first officer, major airline

And so on.

Evidence and reason submit that Northwest Airlines Flight 327 was the scene of nothing more than gross misinterpretation. And although Annie Jacobsen was entitled to a measure of uncertainty while high above the Rockies en route to California, she has done all of us an embarrassing disservice by ignoring the facts and pandering to partisan noisemakers.

Mysteries remain. The precise status of the Syrians' travel documents, itineraries and current whereabouts is unknown. What were their names? Why have none come forward? Why was Mr. Cullen, the music promoter who verified the performance at the casino, reportedly asked by Homeland Security not to comment further to the media? They are legitimate, if not particularly foreboding, questions all. But government bureaus, historically uptight and perhaps less than eager to expose the politically sensitive realities of ostensibly "lenient" rules, aren't saying much. The result, as we see, is a hailstorm of rumor and rampant speculation.

With the simplest of clarifications from the proper spokespeople, Jacobsen would be off the air and her witch-hunting minions forced back into her xenophobic bunkers. Alas, say the cynics, there are those in power more than pleased with this arrangement, chortling along with the blowhards and conspiracy peddlers whose only duty is to stoke the coals of fear.


  • Guest
« Reply #36 on: August 26, 2004, 09:25:54 AM »

Ask the pilot

If Annie Jacobsen won't stop her fearmongering about terrorists, then I won't stop exposing the harm she's doing to us all, either.
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By Patrick Smith

Aug. 6, 2004  |  "We are still in the Dark Ages. The Dark Ages -- they haven't ended yet."
-- Kurt Vonnegut, from "Deadeye Dick," 1982

If you're tired of hearing about Annie Jacobsen, so am I. Please don't take it out on me. A month ago we were in the midst of a multi-week conversation about airports and terminals. Annie came calling and now, like a bad case of jet lag, she won't go away. You can lay some of the blame on this very column if you want, for bothering to indulge the tenacious paranoia seeded by this story, but as a pilot and air travel columnist I feel uniquely qualified, perhaps obligated, to stick with it. The larger media has presented few, if any, rebuttals from those within the ranks of civil aviation.

Don't look now, but has just published Part 3 of "Terror in the Skies Again?" -- in which Jacobsen celebrates her incendiary non-story having made it to the ears of policymakers in Washington, D.C. That a Web site ostensibly devoted to the financial interests of American women has posted a hideously callow, three-part (thus far) sermon on what it pathetically characterizes as "national security" is shameless. That officials on Capitol Hill are now paying attention is somewhere between disheartening and irresponsible.

Part 3 of Jacobsen's reactionary triptych is shorter than the first two, but no less infuriating in its relentlessness and arrogant eschewal of the facts. Although it was widely reported that the Syrian musicians aboard flight 327 had not overstayed their I-94 limitations, once again we are baited with talk of those "expired visas." Elsewhere, in a reference to the musicians, the word "harmless" is enclosed in quotes -- yet another instance of the kind of sleazy conjecture that has been this story's only selling point from the beginning.

"It seems to me that the highest-ups don't like having to get information that involves national security from articles written by yours truly," Jacobsen explains. Probably not, and neither do the rest of us, particularly when that information is a bunch of alarmist balderdash.

"I've kept quiet about numerous matters that have surfaced over the past few weeks," she writes. "But there is something I must share because I find it so telling." Jacobsen has a way of ceremoniously preambling the most banal commentary. True to form she goes on to describe a suspiciously paraphrased tit-for-tat telephone conversation with an understandably insulted and annoyed Syrian ambassador, Dr. Imad Moustapha.

"I spoke at length with the United States House of Representatives Judiciary Committee," Jacobsen informs us. "It was an honor and a privilege, and I believe things are finally in the right hands." Let's hope those hands, manicured by your tax dollars, have the good sense enough to toss this matter where it belongs.

I was unable to procure a transcript of what Jacobsen had to say to this committee, which was attended by representatives from the Department of Homeland Security, FBI, and the Federal Air Marshals Association. But then, bound by the precepts of honesty and fact, there's only so much she could say:

"Dear Judiciary Committee Members:

"At the end of June, 2004, I flew to California in the company of a large group of Syrian musicians. During flight, the men acted much the way large groups of passengers act aboard flights the world over. They talked a lot, moved around a lot, ignored the seat belt sign, and made frequent trips to the toilet. With the images of September 11 still fresh in our minds, and because the men were Arabs, their behavior was unusually conspicuous and, on some level, cause for concern. We landed safely and it was later determined that the men were professional artists legally in this country. They had no records and were not on terrorist watch lists. Taking every precaution, government authorities followed the men, witnessed their concert performances, and checked out their hotels. They have since returned to Syria. I find this experience deeply troubling."

A full third of the home page is devoted to the "Terror in the Skies Again?" series, including a list of chronologically arranged links connecting readers to "follow-up information." While my own July 30 column is notably absent, included are click-overs to National Public Radio, the New York Times, and seven separate articles from the right-wing Washington Times, a paper that has, more than any other single source, propagated this affair through continuously vapid coverage.

The latest Washington Times piece borrows select details from Jacobsen's original account, repeating one of her most manipulative observations: "Upon returning to his seat, one man mouthed the word 'no' as he ran his finger across his throat."
Among the letters I've received over the past couple of weeks, several have taken me to task for not bothering with a point-by-point dissection of the musicians' in-flight conduct. Jacobsen presents a theater in which the men engaged in everything short of an onboard decapitation and a Frisbee game down the center aisle: They congregate and socialize; they bring cameras and cellphones into the lavatories; one removes a long skinny object, draped in cloth, from the overhead bin. What do these things mean?

Embedded in each tiny snapshot is a nugget of scary-sounding detail. But that's precisely the narrative's undoing; the entire thing is an out-of-context cheap shot of gratuitous detail. The men brought phones into the toilets? Who cares? Were the phones in their hands, or clipped to their belts? And if the former, what would the point be when all he'd have to do is slip the device into a pocket to conceal it? What of the item wrapped in cloth? An ivory-handled scimitar magically slipped past security? And so forth. It's ridiculous, especially when we accommodate even a small measure of embellishment.
Like any other pilot, and particularly one who answers questions from the general public, I've been privy to countless distorted chronicles from passengers about the last terrible flight they were on. Usually these stories have elaborate, totally implausible details such as the airplane banking upside down, pieces falling off, flight attendants screaming, ad nauseam. Is it not unreasonable that "Terror in the Skies Again?" includes similar fear-induced enhancements and exaggerations? The New York Times reported on Tuesday that, according to witnesses on the flight, and contrary to Jacobsen's statements, the musicians did not stand up after the seat belt light went on, but were already standing, and returned to their seats when asked to by flight attendants. When portions of Jacobsen's account are suspect, why trust the rest?

As for the regurgitation of the man mouthing "no," Jacobsen initially wrote that the men were speaking Arabic. Yet the Arabic word for "no" is "la." When I presented this to Jacobsen a week ago, she stammered and sputtered before contending the men had spoken both English and Arabic. It's also my understanding that the hand-across-the-throat gesture is a custom in parts of the world meaning full, complete or finished.
Virtually everything Jacobsen claims to have witnessed is patently and obviously explainable. That is, unless viewed obsessively through a prism of fear and politically motivated conjecture. To reiterate a point I made last time, Jacobsen's crime was not feeling anxious aboard flight 327. Her crime is trying to make the rest of us anxious more than a month afterward.

She and her partisan allies have succeeded in pushing this matter beyond the realm of air travel and onto the greater stages of politics and civil debate. It does not belong in any of these places, frankly, and thus I'm offended on two levels: first, as a pilot and air travel pasionado; secondly as an American.

As anybody familiar with my work as an aeroevangelist knows, commercial flight means more to me than any seat-of-the-pants thrill of airspeed and altitude. My infatuation with planes led directly to an infatuation with geography and travel. Studying the route maps of the airlines as a sixth-grader, I was inspired, as an adult, to visit places like Cambodia and Mali. In 2004, travelers can fly nonstop from New York City to China, Singapore, South Africa and the Middle East. Never before has air travel had the potential to so easily bridge cultures and open minds.

Whether they're intended to or not, stories like Annie Jacobsen's work to squander that potential, encouraging Americans to stay home, distrust their neighbors, and above all else be afraid -- afraid to fly and afraid of the world.

Heaven help us when terrorists strike again. By all indications we will find ourselves living in a fortress nation more resembling a Soviet-bloc police state than a liberal (with a small "l") democracy. The mail I've received of late certainly paints an ominous picture -- one of a nation in the paralytic throes of absurdity:

?  A United Airlines 747 jettisons thousands of gallons of kerosene into the Pacific and swoops back to Sydney, Australia, for a precautionary landing because a discarded airsickness bag, with the letters "BOB" scrawled across it, is found discarded in a lavatory. The crew interprets the acronym to mean "bomb on board."

?  A Canadian-Pakistani man is removed from a plane in Denver because a flight attendant reasoned he "looked like a wanted terrorist."

?  Military fighter planes scramble to escort a jetliner into Kennedy airport after a group of Indian karaoke singers chat excitedly and point toward the Manhattan skyline.

?  Buddhist monks visiting the Grand Canyon spark the alarm of tourists who worry they might be "terrorists."

?  A Sikh university student is detained and interrogated for five hours by authorities in Boston for taking photographs of a campus chapel.

Excavated from the rubble of Sept. 11 could have been, and should have been, a crucial and instructive lesson beyond the expected hand-wringing over security and preparedness. Specifically, a call for American citizens to broaden their horizons and develop a smarter sense of the world's mechanisms and conflicts. Instead, we appear to be growing even more insular, myopic, and unimpressed with the fact that large numbers of people despise us for reasons a tad more complex than "they hate freedom." It's a path we follow at our own peril, and it is exactly opposite to what global tensions mandate. We can't tell the difference between an Indian, a Tibetan, and an Islamic radical. More to the point, we don't seem interested in learning what those differences are.

Annie Jacobsen represents the worst of America: pandering, irrational, dismissive of evidence. Assembling a scare story based entirely on raw speculation, she has nonetheless arranged herself a bunker impervious to full discredit. Her Syrian musicians will always be terrorists, no matter the facts and no matter anyone's official statement. And when the next batch of genuine terrorists strike, whether by airplane, truck bomb, submarine or on horseback, her lowest-common-denominator strategy retains just enough vaguely rendered credibility to shout out: "I told you so."

In the end, Jacobsen and I agree on one thing, even if we concur from opposite poles: As Americans it serves us to be vigilant, cynical and skeptical. Dangerous times indeed.


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« Reply #37 on: August 26, 2004, 09:28:08 AM »

Ask the pilot

A bogus "federal air marshal" group joins Annie Jacobsen's crusade against Syrian musicians.
- - - - - - - - - - - -
By Patrick Smith

Aug. 13, 2004  |  Feedback to my analysis of the Annie Jacobsen/flight 327 affair has been overwhelmingly positive. Of the hundreds of letters I've received, roughly 90 percent have been supportive. Here's hoping that testifies to the sensible thinking of Americans in general as much as it does to the eagerly analytical minds of Salon subscribers (read: elitist Democrats).

Dissent has arrived from two camps. A few of you who took me to task did so intelligently, patiently and respectfully. My gratitude to Tom Izzo, Ken Potter, Rebecca Matthews and several others (you know who you are), for your constructive and engaging critiques. Unfortunately, the bulk of the disagreement has come in the form of pugnacious little e-mail bombs -- rude, obscene, flippant letters that can't be bothered to address a specific point. These are easy to spot since their subject lines typically include some combination of the words "pussy," "loser," "idiot" or, most caustic of all, "liberal." Begins one letter: "You might be a pilot, but your [sic] also an idiot." Usually these notes are unsigned, and rarely longer than three or four lines. To a few -- call me crazy -- I took the effort of a pointed reply, but not once did the writer respond a second time or elaborate on his or her disappointment with my views.

"Dear Patty, I just read your article on Annie Jacobsen. I find it hard to believe you're a pilot given your cavalier attitude toward terrorism. Thanks, JH"
I'd hardly describe my take on terrorism to be "cavalier." To the contrary, I find the incendiary scare-mongering of Jacobsen, et al., to be reckless and destructive. I can't afford to be cavalier. The fallout of Sept. 11 cost me my job and effectively ruined a career I spent decades attempting to establish.

This how-can-you-be-a-pilot bit is something I keep running into. During my appearance with Michael Smerconish, the conservative talk-show host out of Philadelphia, he posed to his listeners: "Can you believe this guy? And he's a pilot! That is scary."

Pilots, in the opinions of those who transact in fear and hysterics, are consigned to play the part of red-meat nationalist -- eager to kick ass, take no prisoners, and hoist the Stars and Stripes over whatever inflammatory rhetoric happens to be cast about. Take a skeptical view, and you're a "pussy," if not a traitor. To those who insist on tying in ideology with FAA flight credentials, please extend the offer to thousands of other pilots, including those quoted in part 2 of my Jacobsen rebuttal, one of whom was a friend and U.S. Navy squadron mate of Tom McGuinness, the copilot of American Airlines flight 11. And consider this, from pilot Don Wright, retired from Pan Am and Delta:
"Last week my adult daughter announced she is terrified of flying. Reason: That idiotic piece about the Syrians. We've put the hysterics in charge. Last year the airlines killed exactly zero passengers while auto accidents did in about 40 thousand. I'm sure a number of those killed on highways would have been safely aboard airplanes if it weren't for people like Annie Jacobsen."

More than it hurts my feelings, the juvenile harshness I've encountered serves to underscore the strange way in which the story of flight 327 has been so acutely politicized.

As Annie and her story made the rounds of electronic and broadcast media, I started to feel as though I was typing into a void. At long last, other voices have begun scrutinizing the matter more carefully. Congratulations to Time magazine for featuring an exclusive interview with one of the federal air marshals aboard flight 327, who coolly and succinctly dismantled most of Jacobsen's histrionic fantasy. Then again, to quote one of my hometown's more popular drive-time radio blabbermouths, Time is "just another liberal rag."

Francis Volpe writes for the Sentinel, in Carlisle, Penn. Along with yours truly he was one of the few people to pen a less-than-gullible take on "Terror in the Skies Again?" Several days after his article ran, Volpe received an e-mail from something called the Federal Air Marshal Association (FAMA). Assuming it was a legitimate dispatch from a government agency, Volpe clicked open the letter. It read:

"You might want to read this about the 'innocent' 14 Syrian musicians and their leader, who were on NW Flight 327.
"Federal Air Marshal Association Media Relations Department"

The link carries you to the lyrics of "Mother of a Martyr," a song authored by Nour Mehana, the so-called Syrian Wayne Newton, who the flight 327 musicians were en route to play backup for. Several things here: For one, Nour Mehana was not on the airplane. Second, presenting song lyrics as circumstantial evidence of some vaguely defined wrongdoing opens quite the can of worms. (Never mind that "Mother of a Martyr" is about Palestinian suicide bombers in Israel and that the official Palestinian policy, what exists of it, does not actively target Americans.) We look forward to FAMA's advocating that rapper Ice-T be kept off airplanes because of his song "Cop Killer" and that Eric Clapton be grounded for "I Shot the Sheriff."
I found it discomforting that representatives of a law enforcement body, entrusted with the lives and security of all Americans, are going around sending snippy, unsigned e-mails to bolster a controversial cause, particularly when the Department of Homeland Security, under whose authority the federal air marshals safeguard our skies, openly disputes any speculation that terrorists were aboard flight 327.

Pay a visit to the FAMA Web site, however, and things drop into place. FAMA is not, in fact, a government-sanctioned entity. Rather, it's a spinoff composed of apparently disenchanted members of the official Federal Air Marshal Service, or FAMS. Air marshals with an agenda, you might say, operating as something between a labor union and a propaganda machine. Their choice of name and acronym lends itself nicely to quotes or sound bites. Indeed, several media accounts discussing Annie Jacobsen include statements from FAMA, ostensibly speaking on the government's behalf.

There's a creepy, artful convolution to the organization's press releases, which sound like a mix between Big Brother and Yogi Berra. "For immediate release," begins a dispatch. "[FAMA] announced today that additional evidence now exists confirming the possible existence of terrorist dry runs and probes on commercial passenger flights."

What is that evidence? How about "a man on a recent flight" and a pair of anonymous testimonials from flight 327 that presumably (we don't know because no details are given) buttress Annie Jacobsen's. These have "confirmed the original incident as a possible dry run or probe."


One notably crude touch is the home page graphic of the KLM (Royal Dutch Airlines) DC-10. They've airbrushed out the tail design, but you can still see the carrier's logo on the engine cowls. Elsewhere we find images of a hooded marshal crouched behind an airplane seat, taking aim at, we figure, a terrorist strapped with dynamite, or possibly a Syrian oud player. A little too much swagger for comfort. Through its scratch and grain, the page looks, and I really hate to say this, like one of those al-Qaida recruitment videos we've seen on TV. Instead of bearded jihadis bayoneting effigies of George Bush, we see pictures of trigger-happy marshals antsy for the next takedown at 37,000 feet.

Doubtless somebody will rip the above from context and claim that I "compared federal air marshals to terrorists." And maybe I'll get a letter or two reminding me that I won't be saying these things "when one of our men is up there saving your pathetic liberal ass." I can't quote FAMA directly since none of my phone calls or e-mails were returned.
Air marshals could and should portray themselves in any number of ways: highly trained, competent, vigilant. Two things they should not be are politically partisan and confrontational. FAMA looks to be both, and the Department of Homeland Security should be alarmed and ashamed that some of its members have taken up like a renegade militia, purposely obfuscating the identity of a government office while openly contradicting its statements. I can think of nothing less professional. Who would you rather have aboard your plane, an unarmed Arab musician flying to a concert, or one of these reactionary zealots packing heat?

FAMA harps heavily on the dry-run theory despite contrary assertions from its bosses. "There is no specific intelligence that terrorists are conducting test flights or surveillance activities on U.S. airliners. Period." That's not from National Public Radio, the New York Times, or al-Jazeera. Those are the words of David Adams, spokesperson for the Federal Air Marshal Service in Washington, D.C.

Adams is concerned about FAMA's influence and media appearances, but won't tip his hand as to how or whether his bureau will address the matter. He says of FAMA's executive director, Bob Flamm, "He is not a federal air marshal. And, honestly, I don't know for sure who he is or what he represents. FAMA's assertions are not borne out by facts, and the group is not sanctioned by the office of the Federal Air Marshal Service or our workforce."

I wonder what FAMA thinks of the comments in Time magazine from the flight 327 air marshal. According to Adams, Annie Jacobsen disputes the officer's account and has reportedly called him a liar. But the more Annie Jacobsen discredits and rejects nearly everything set before her by the TSA, FBI, FAMS and DHS, the more we have to ask: Just what, exactly, do she and her allies want? Is that question even answerable? Here are the feelings of Stanley J. Alluisi, a professor from the Aviation Sciences Institute at Southeastern Oklahoma State University.

"One of my biggest problems with Ms. Jacobsen is her implicit and explicit insistence that 'something should have been done.' The 'so-called musicians' should have been arrested, deported, or possibly sent to Guant?namo Bay. For what? Being Syrian?"

"Her 'logic' that the Syrians were terrorists on a dry run is similar to the arguments put forward by those claiming psychic or magical powers. First, they demand that you prove their extraordinary claims are false, turning the evidentiary requirements on their head. And if you would just look closer and closer, you will eventually find the proof! The truth is out there."

"Jacobsen says, 'I saw what I saw' and 'Those men were up to something and I cannot believe otherwise.' Therefore, no amount of investigation will be sufficient if it does not dig deep enough to 'prove' the 14 Syrians were terrorists. Nothing short of their signed confessions, or their actually participating in a terror attack could satisfy her, since she 'cannot believe otherwise.' This is religion, not logic."

Conspiracy myths, if that's the appropriate term for all that has emerged from flight 327, come in all colors, sizes and political affiliations. I'm hoping at least a few of you remember my take on the Paul Wellstone crash a couple of years ago, when members of the fringe left were peddling grassy-knoll theories that Republican operatives had bombed Wellstone's twin-engine Beechcraft out of the sky. Now it's the other side's turn, and this time the stakes are much higher.

The right has spun the Annie Jacobsen psychodrama into a clash of ideologies. On one hand this is hardly surprising, yet at the same time I'm baffled -- and creeped out -- by the weight of people's investment in the idea of terrorists working among us. What does a group like FAMA stand to gain? Merely a justification for their existence and continued "business"? Or does a ceaseless pretext of us-vs.-them hostilities pander to baser instincts -- those that hunger for conflict and power?

It's a familiar story, whereby hard-line conservatives claim deed over all things virtuous, patriotic and strong, casting aside all who disagree as traitorous, co-conspiring liberals whose opinions ensure nothing short of rampant destruction and the collapse of society. This is not only distasteful but dangerously counterproductive. The security of the skies is being hijacked, if I may, by belligerent partisans who hold their own ideology above evidence, practicality and the common good. I have a problem with that, and you should too.


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« Reply #38 on: August 26, 2004, 09:48:54 AM »
Woof SBMig:

Thank you for that.  Interesting read.

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« Reply #39 on: August 28, 2004, 07:46:20 AM »
Very interesting set of articles.
I'm wishing that the agencies set up in response to 9/11 had taken a different approach than they did, and the FAMA rhetoric is pretty unsettling.
"Take away paradox from the thinker, and you have a professor"

Soren Kierkegaard

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« Reply #40 on: August 28, 2004, 07:53:30 AM »
"I'm baffled -- and creeped out -- by the weight of people's investment in the idea of terrorists working among us."

Maybe this is because they are?


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« Reply #41 on: August 28, 2004, 08:14:34 AM »
Montreal man downed U.S. Plane, CSIS told
'Farouk the Tunisian' involved, al-Qaeda say, but officials insist crash was

Stewart Bell
National Post

Friday, August 27, 2004

A captured al-Qaeda operative has told Canadian intelligence investigators that a Montreal man who trained in Afghanistan alongside the 9/11 hijackers was responsible for the crash of an American Airlines flight in New York three years ago.

Canadian Security Intelligence Service agents were told during five days of interviews with the source that Abderraouf Jdey, a Canadian citizen also known as Farouk the Tunisian, had downed the plane with explosives on Nov. 12, 2001.

The source claimed Jdey had used his Canadian passport to board Flight 587 and "conducted a suicide mission" with a small bomb similar to the one used by convicted shoe bomber Richard Reid, a "Top Secret" Canadian government report says.

But officials said it was unlikely Jdey was actually involved in the crash,
which killed 265 people and is considered accidental. The fact that al-Qaeda attributed the crash to Jdey, however, suggests they were expecting him to attack a plane.

"We have seen no evidence of anything other than an accident here," said Ted Lopatkiewicz, spokesman for the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board. "There has been no evidence found, from what I can tell -- at least that's been relayed to us -- that there was any criminality involved here. It appears, at least the evidence we have, is that a vertical fin came off, not that there was any kind of event in the cabin."

Jdey, 39, came to Canada from Tunisia in 1991 and became a citizen in 1995. Shortly after getting his Canadian passport, he left for Afghanistan and trained with some of the Sept. 11 hijackers, according to the 9/11
commission in the United States.

He recorded a "martyrdom" video, but was dropped from the 9/11 mission after returning to Canada in the summer of 2001. The planner of the World Trade Center attack, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, claims Jdey was recruited for a "second wave" of suicide attacks.

The FBI issued an alert seeking Jdey's whereabouts in 2002. John Ashcroft, the U.S. Attorney-General, told a news conference in May that Jdey was one of seven al-Qaeda associates "sought in connection with the possible terrorist threats in the United States."

The information on Jdey's alleged role in the plane crash is contained in a
memo on captured Canadian al-Qaeda operative Mohammed Mansour Jabarah. The Canadian government memo was written in May, 2002, and was based on information provided by a "source of unknown reliability."

Jabarah is a 22-year-old from St. Catharines who allegedly joined al-Qaeda and convinced Osama bin Laden to give him a terror assignment. He was tasked with overseeing a suicide-bombing operation in Southeast Asia, but was caught and has since pleaded guilty in the United States.

The report, which was sent to the Philippine National Police intelligence
directorate, recounts what Jabarah said he was told about the U.S. plane
crash by Abu Abdelrahman, a Saudi al-Qaeda member who was working for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

"In discussions, Abu Abdelrahman mentioned AL QAIDA was responsible for the assassination of Massoud, the Northern Alliance leader," the report says. "According to the source, Abu Abdelrahman added that the 12 November 2001 plane crash (btb American Airlines flight 587) in Queens, New York was not an accident as reported in the press but was actually an AL QAIDA operation.

"Abu Abdelrahman informed Jabarah that Farouk the Tunisian conducted a
suicide mission on the aeroplane using a shoe bomb of the type used by
Richard Reid .... 'Farouk the Tunisian' was identified from newspaper
photographs as being identical to Abderraouf Jdey, a Canadian citizen who had resided in Montreal."

Jabarah was initially suspect of the claim about Jdey, but he later believed
it after he saw the same information on a "mujahedin Web site," the report says.


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« Reply #42 on: August 30, 2004, 09:50:29 AM »
Thanks for the preface, Migs.  ;)

It has also become apparent that, as mentioned by AskThePilot series author, Patrick Smith, Annie Jacobsen's behavior aboard the plane was far more disruptive than any of the other passengers.  As always, sometimes unchecked paranoia and knee-jerk reactions are far more detrimental than the perceived threat.  Aside from making American women look like paranoid, racist ninnies, Jacobsen's actions were upsetting other passengers.  She has/had all the rationality that usually ignites mob mentality.


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« Reply #43 on: August 31, 2004, 09:25:13 AM »
Oh boy...

Report catalogues problems in air marshals service

Tue Aug 31, 6:12 AM ET

By Mimi Hall, USA TODAY

Federal air marshals have slept on the job, tested positive for alcohol or drugs while on duty, lost their weapons and falsified information, the Homeland Security Department's inspector general said Monday in a scathing report on the air marshals program.

The government logged 753 incidents of misconduct by air marshals during an eight-month period in 2002, according to the report. The report criticizes the undercover program as being too lenient on officers involved in misconduct. Most were placed on leave with pay after the incidents.

"In many cases, air marshals were placed on administrative leave for extended periods of time," the report said. "In similar cases, a screener (security checkpoint worker) would have been placed on leave without pay or dismissed."

The report also said 161 applicants to the air marshals program made it through a preliminary step in the hiring process despite problems that included accusations of domestic violence, drunken driving or sexual harassment. None of those applicants wound up being hired, however.

Homeland Security spokesman Brian Doyle said hiring guidelines for the program have since been changed. Even though the applicants were approved for consideration, Doyle said, all were eventually rejected because of concerns about their backgrounds.

Asa Hutchinson, chief of border and transportation security at the department, said new guidelines are also in place to make marshals more accountable.

Parts of the report were blacked out because many details about the air marshals service are classified for security reasons, including the precise number of marshals guarding commercial flights.

Before the Sept. 11 attacks, there were only a few dozen "sky marshals," and they flew mainly on foreign trips. After 9/11, several thousand new marshals were hired to also fly on domestic routes as one of many government efforts to protect against future acts of terrorism.

The armed marshals pose as regular passengers on flights. Their identities and routes are kept secret by the government.

Hutchinson disputed the report's finding that there were 753 disciplinary reports in 2002. He said that those reports were logged over a 22-month period, from 2002 to 2004, and that there were 717 cases.

Further, he wrote in a response to the report that most of the cases were "much less serious, but much more common allegations ... like rude behavior by a (federal air marshal) during the check-in process."

The inspector general's report also questioned why marshals had been given $6.5 million in cash travel advances when they are reimbursed every two weeks under a travel voucher system. The report recommended discontinuing travel advances; the department agreed with that recommendation.


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« Reply #44 on: August 31, 2004, 03:36:08 PM »
Ack.  Don't mean to be a nuisance posting everywhere, but I thought everyone debating this thread would appreciate this:


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« Reply #45 on: September 03, 2004, 10:25:44 AM »
Woof All:

Tiny, no nuisance at all.  We enjoy when people come to play.

Anyway, here's this.


Quiet Investigation Centers on Al Qaeda Aide in New York
 A Pakistani American raised in Queens is telling authorities about plotting with top network members, court documents show.
By Josh Meyer, Greg Krikorian and William C. Rempel, Times Staff Writers

NEW YORK ? As President Bush touted his record in the war on terror Thursday night at Madison Square Garden, another front in the terrorism fight was playing out nearby in the federal holding cell of a Pakistani American named Mohammed Junaid Babar.

Babar, who grew up in Queens, is a cooperating witness in an unfolding investigation of what authorities say may be a New York-based "sleeper cell" involved in Al Qaeda efforts to launch attacks in the U.S., perhaps as the Nov. 2 election approaches.
The investigation remains nearly invisible to the public, and federal authorities and defense lawyers have refused to discuss it.

But unsealed court documents show that Babar, 29, has admitted meeting with senior Al Qaeda members in remote South Waziristan in Pakistan this year as part of a scheme to smuggle money, night-vision goggles and other equipment to the terrorist network.

On June 3, he secretly pleaded guilty to charges of providing material support to a terrorist organization and agreed to cooperate in ongoing investigations.

"I understood that the money and supplies that I had given to Al Qaeda was supposed to be used in Afghanistan against U.S. or international forces," Babar told the court.

Authorities believe three of the men Babar met with were involved in plotting attacks in London and perhaps the United States, using surveillance gathered during visits to New York, New Jersey and Washington, D.C., in 2000 and 2001.

Babar's case is by no means isolated. Court documents and interviews show that U.S. authorities are conducting at least a dozen significant investigations throughout the nation into suspected support cells or operational cells of Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas and affiliate organizations.

These investigations ? and dozens of preliminary probes ? show the extent to which Al Qaeda maintains an active support network in the United States that is linked to its leaders on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, its global network of cells and potentially to ongoing plots here and overseas, according to senior U.S. counterterrorism officials.

During his acceptance speech Thursday night, President Bush said his administration's aggressive counterterrorism efforts had been successful in the three years since the Sept. 11 attacks.

Critics, however, say that at least some of the investigative activity unfairly targets innocent Muslims, and that all of the secret detentions, arrests and prosecutions have failed to uncover any proven terrorists in the United States.

Indeed, the Justice Department has had a mixed record in prosecuting alleged terrorism cell members in the United States; just this week, its first big terrorism conviction was thrown out of court by a federal judge in Detroit.

Such problems have raised questions about how successful the government has been in tracking terrorists, while skeptics ask if the terror threat is being hyped to bolster support for the Bush administration's hard-line approach.

Several U.S. counter-terrorism officials acknowledged that they had no hard evidence that Al Qaeda operatives were living in the U.S. and readying a terrorist attack. But the officials, who have tracked Al Qaeda in the United States and overseas, said they operated every day under the assumption that the terrorist network had not just sympathizers but one or more teams of attackers ready and waiting in the country.

One U.S. official, whose specialty is tracking Al Qaeda, said, "The difference between now and 9/11 is they are now in a rabbit hole. But are they still here? You bet."

Some of the investigations have been underway for months or even years. In others, the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and other agencies are pursuing recent leads generated through electronic intercepts and the capture and interrogation of suspected terrorists overseas and a review of their computers, cellphones and paper documents.

Several of the investigations involve alleged terrorism cells in New York and northern New Jersey, where suspected Al Qaeda operatives have been under intermittent surveillance since the early 1990s.

One focuses on local supporters of prominent Yemeni cleric Mohammed al Hasan al-Moayad and an aide, Mohammed Mohsen Yahya Zayed, who authorities contend have used a Brooklyn-based mosque, ice cream parlor and other businesses to funnel $20 million to Al Qaeda overseas, court documents show.

New York area authorities also continue to investigate whether local sympathizers helped another prominent cleric, Omar Abdel Rahman, the so-called blind sheik, communicate with leaders of an Egyptian-based terrorist organization while Abdel Rahman was imprisoned in Colorado. One U.S. postal employee is being prosecuted in that case.

Additional investigations in the New York region focus on other suspected Al Qaeda cells, as well as operatives believed to be providing clandestine support for alleged Al Qaeda affiliate groups such as Ansar al Islam and Egyptian Islamic Jihad as well as Hezbollah, a global terrorism network of its own, authorities said.

In Boston, authorities are investigating whether a Lebanese man who claims to have attended an Al Qaeda training camp is part of a larger sleeper cell in the region. Other probes focus on cities in Texas, Florida, Michigan and the Carolinas, authorities say.

And in California, authorities are pursuing leads that Al Qaeda is operating on both sides of the Mexican border, and that the group continues to be interested in launching attacks against high-profile targets in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

In some cases, authorities are closely monitoring suspects, often using secret wiretaps and search warrants obtained through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act to determine whether they are raising money, recruiting operatives or providing logistical aid to terrorist groups, or even playing operational roles in plots against U.S. targets.

Authorities are also investigating several dozen other individuals and groups that have no visible connections to known terrorists, including two young men of Pakistani descent who were arrested last week on suspicion of plotting a "holy war" rampage in New York City. Authorities said those plans included blowing up subway stations, police precincts and bridges.

Babar's case appeared to be unique, authorities said, in that he had admitted having personal contact with several high-ranking Al Qaeda members and playing a role in a plot by the group to blow up pubs, restaurants and train stations in London. Babar has admitted providing the London group ammonium nitrate and other materials to make bombs.

British authorities thwarted that alleged effort in March, arresting eight suspects. Authorities also seized 1,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate, a key ingredient in the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City and the bombing of two Bali discos two years ago.

Soon after the arrests, British authorities told their U.S. counterparts that Babar appeared to be a co-conspirator. He had already been placed on an FBI terrorism watch list, after a Canadian television program broadcast footage of him from Pakistan making inflammatory remarks.

Babar said he was a Muslim first, an American second, and that he wanted to fight with the Taliban against U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

"I'm willing to kill Americans," he told the reporter on the program, even as he asserted that his mother had worked in one of the World Trade Center towers and barely escaped with her life on Sept. 11. He also said he would never return to New York.

But Babar did return to New York shortly after his meeting with Al Qaeda officials in Pakistan, and was put under surveillance. He was arrested April 10 by federal agents and local police as he drove to a taxi-driving class in Long Island City, Queens.

Babar began cooperating almost immediately, according to court records and interviews.

When visiting Pakistan, Babar said, he had brought cash, sleeping bags, waterproof socks and ponchos and other supplies for Al Qaeda operatives and their Taliban allies.

He also admitted participating in the London terrorism plots, and to personally setting up a "jihad training camp" in Pakistan and arranging lodging and transportation for recruits to attend.

Authorities say that while Babar was in Pakistan, he also met with key Al Qaeda operatives who conducted detailed surveillance of U.S. financial institutions for possible attack in 2000 and 2001.

Two of the operatives have since been arrested: suspected Al Qaeda communications specialist Mohammed Naeem Noor Khan, in Pakistan, and a London-based operative who authorities said was sent by the network to the United States several years ago to facilitate terrorist attacks on U.S. soil.

A third attendee, authorities believe, was Adnan El Shukrijumah, a trained pilot, accomplished bomb-maker and former South Florida resident. Shukrijumah, who remains a fugitive, has been identified by the FBI as the apparent mastermind of an Al Qaeda plot to launch a mass-casualty attack in the United States.

Authorities continue to "work" Babar to determine the extent of his relationship with those men and other Al Qaeda leaders, and to determine who else may have helped him funnel money and supplies to Al Qaeda.

They are seeking information about whether an attack was in the works, according to a source close to the investigation.

That source and others familiar with the case also confirmed that authorities were scrutinizing New York-based members of Al Muhajiroun, a religious group with ties to Babar that had been linked to Islamic extremism in other parts of the world.

"He's a true believer," one source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said of Babar.

The source said no one knew why Babar, who attended St. John's University in New York for a year, was so eager to help Al Qaeda.

Babar, who was being held without bail, faces up to 70 years in prison. No sentencing date was set because of his agreement to cooperate.


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« Reply #46 on: September 05, 2004, 10:33:35 AM »


Posted on Sun, Sep. 05, 2004

'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' is no strategy for homeland security

by TIM PAWLENTY (governor of Minnesota)

When Zacarias Moussaoui was in Minnesota allegedly preparing to take part in the biggest terrorist attack in American history, he would have liked the protections given to him by city ordinances in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Minnesota's two largest cities prevent their police officers from inquiring about a person's immigration status. Police can't check to see if a visa is expired or if a person is in the United States illegally. Essentially, Minneapolis and St. Paul have taken a "don't ask, don't tell" approach that could impede our homeland security efforts.

Why would Minneapolis and St. Paul want to tie the hands of their police in protecting homeland security? With the threats that Sept. 11 made apparent to all Americans, why would city councils prevent their police officers from using all available legal means to protect their communities from terrorism? These are questions to which I'd like to hear some answers from the members of the Minneapolis and St. Paul city councils.

We are a country of immigrants, and immigration has contributed greatly to America's success. But immigration must be legal, reasonable and orderly. We cannot pretend there is no connection between illegal immigration and homeland security concerns.

Recently, in North Carolina, a police officer observed a man filming financial institutions and other nontourist structures. This was suspicious, but not necessarily illegal activity. The basis upon which the man could be detained and questioned was his immigration status, he was in the country illegally. His behavior and motives are now being reviewed for possible terrorism-related charges. In Minneapolis and St. Paul, city ordinance could have prevented that officer from taking action.

Minnesota has not been isolated from the war on terror. For a relatively small state in the middle of the country, we have had more than our fair share of terrorism-related arrests. Since 2001, five men from different countries ? all with connections to Minnesota ? were detained or arrested on suspicion of terrorism-related activities. This includes, for example, a Moroccan who lived in Minneapolis, who was indicted and later convicted of conspiring to provide material support or resources to terrorists, of fraud and of misusing documents.

The city councils argue that all residents should be able to seek the help of the police without fear their immigration status may become an issue. That concern, however, needs to be balanced against the need for increased vigilance to protect homeland security. That balancing can be accomplished without compromising public safety.

The ordinances in St. Paul and Minneapolis should be repealed. If the city councils are unwilling to take that action, they should at least be willing to grant police officers the option of questioning immigration status if there are concerns about homeland security.

The heart, soul and hope of America is reflected in the immigrants who come here to find a new life and new opportunity. Protecting our homeland does not oppress immigrants. It protects them ? and the freedom and opportunity for which they came. Our local law enforcement is the first line of defense in America's homeland security. Prohibiting them from using a critical public safety tool simply defies common sense.

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« Reply #47 on: September 08, 2004, 10:33:34 PM »
From a different forum, two well-regarded posters:


There has been an Islamo-fascist 5th column in the US for over 10 years. Whom do people think carried out the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center?

The indictees and the convicted were Muslims living in New Jersey as well as Ramzi Yousef and his first lieutenant who fled to Iraq where he was given sanctuary by Saddam Hussein's government.


<< There has been an Islamo-fascist 5th column in the US for over 10 years. >>

I agree Rick. I would say we have evidence of cells here in Tucson going back further, at least to 1990 and probably into the 80's according to this conviction:

Cleric Rashad Khalifa was murdered at his Tucson Mosque on January 31, 1990. The way I see it, Islam is in the midst of a civil war between those who want to reform Islamic practice for modern life and those, often refered to as fundamentalists, who want the religion to adhere to medieval rules. Khalifa popularity in the Mulsim world was on the rise, even in the middle east, for his theory that the Quran is numerologically provably the word of god whereas the Sharia (sp?) and other medieval laws, supposedly based on the life of Mohammed, are provably not the word of god.

Although the document I linked above does not indicate the nationality of the convicted conspirator, I was told by a friend in Tucson who was an FBI agent at the time that before Khalifa's death, he said that he believed that two Saudi's were in Tucson to kill him. Ironically, the FBI then had a policy of keeping a low profile in cases such as this, with agents being reprimanded if their name should appear in the news. Thus, the FBI made no effort to investigate who killed Khalifa or why. The Tucson police never solved the case.


Ex-local man was 'assistant' to bin Laden
By David Wichner, Arizona Daily Star

A former Tucson resident sentenced to life in prison Oct. 18 in two U.S. embassy bombings was a "personal assistant" to Osama bin Laden (news - web sites), federal prosecutors say.

Wadih El-Hage, 41, who lived in Tucson in the 1980s, was sentenced in New York on federal charges that he helped plot the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

Though El-Hage denied involvement in the bombings, which killed 12 Americans and more than 200 others, prosecutors at the sentencing said the evidence showed he was a "central facilitator" who acted as bin Laden?s assistant while leading the Kenyan cell of bin Laden's al-Qaida terror network.

El-Hage also has been linked to the 1993 purchase of a used jet aircraft in Tucson on behalf of bin Laden, as well as the 1990 murder of a Tucson Islamic leader. Together with evidence that Hani Hanjour, one of the Sept. 11 suicide hijackers, lived in Tucson, the links show how bin Laden's terror network touched Tucson and fuel suspicions that terrorists may still reside here. "They have, I think, blended in with the local people, based on the cases we know about," said Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, who revealed earlier this month that his department was looking for two Middle Eastern men who left evidence of possible terror links in their Catalina Foothills apartment.

A terrorism expert also said Tucson and Phoenix may have been considered prime locations for bin Laden?s terror group because of the large aviation industry and the presence of a significant population of Middle Eastern people.

"There is a lot of this going on out there, and a lot of them we find tied to the aviation industry," said Brent Smith, head of the Department of Criminology at the University of Alabama-Birmingham.

Tucson and Phoenix also may have been favored because they are home to significant populations of foreign students from the Middle East, allowing terrorists to blend in, said Smith, who tracks terrorist groups in cooperation with the FBI (news - web sites).

Imam Omar Shahin of the Islamic Center of Tucson said members of his community have cooperated with police and the FBI. But he said he had no information on the known terrorists and doubts any suspected terrorists were active in the local Muslim community. Shahin estimated that there are between 8,000 and 10,000 Muslims in the Tucson area, mostly foreign students. He estimated that there are about 45,000 Muslims in the Phoenix area.

According to Smith, members of bin Laden's al-Qaida group did not rely on local people for support, nor did they recruit in the United States.

"These people were recruited before they came to this country," he said, noting that many were veterans of the resistance to the occupation of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union.

That description fits El-Hage, a Lebanese-born naturalized U.S. citizen who settled in Tucson in 1986 with his American wife.

El-Hage worked as a custodian for the city departments of Public Buildings and Parks and Recreation between 1987 and 1989, city officials have confirmed.

Investigators say El-Hage may have been involved in the January 1990 murder of Rashad Khalifa, the controversial founder and leader of the Masjid, or Mosque of Tucson, formerly at 739 E. Sixth St. El-Hage's name came up in the case in 1992, as Colorado state investigators probed a radical Islamic sect known as Jamaat ul-Fuqra, or simply Fuqra, with a history of targeting Hindus and Islamics deemed heretics.

In 1989, police searching a storage locker rented by the group in the Denver suburb of Englewood discovered explosives, weapons and documents indicating a planned attack on the Tucson mosque.

Seven members of the Fuqra group, mostly black American Muslims, were indicted in 1992 on conspiracy charges related to Khalifa's killing and the 1984 bombing of a Hare Krishna-owned hotel in Denver, along with fraud and theft charges.

Two Fuqra leaders were subsequently convicted of conspiracy charges, two were convicted of fraud charges and one pleaded guilty to theft.

The group's alleged leader, James D. Williams, jumped bail before sentencing in 1994 and wasn?t apprehended until early this year.

In March, Williams was sentenced to 69 years in prison on conspiracy charges, said Douglas Wamsley, a former assistant Colorado attorney general who worked on the case.

The Tucson Police Department file on the Khalifa case remains open. The case is still considered unsolved because no one was convicted of the actual murder, Tucson Police spokesman Sgt. Marco Barboa said. Wamsley, now a deputy district attorney in Golden, Colo., said Khalifa had angered many in the Islamic community by rejecting many Muslim traditions and predicting the end of the world based on a numerological analysis of the Quran, the holy book of Islam.

Wamsley said one Colorado Fuqra member, Edward Flinton, told investigators that he and Williams had visited Khalifa in Tucson. Federal prosecutors alleged in court that El-Hage had helped in surveillance of Khalifa before his slaying, but they did not provide details.

Wamsley said Khalifa was warned of a possible assassination plot by the Colorado sect, but he told investigators he did not know of the group. "Two weeks later, I'm afraid he heard of them in a big way", he said.

According to documents filed in the case, El-Hage moved with his family to Sudan around 1992. In 1993, El-Hage allegedly arranged the purchase of an aging twin-engine T-39 Sabreliner jet from a Tucson ?boneyard, or aircraft storage yard, according to testimony in the embassy bombing case. The plane was to be used to transport Stinger surface-to-air missiles to help Afghans fight the Soviets, the pilot, Essam Al-Ridi, testified.

Al-Ridi testified in February that he delivered the $210,000 plane to El-Hage at a Khartoum, Sudan, airport and later went to dinner with El-Hage and bin Laden.

Tucson's bustling aviation industry also provided a link to Hanjour, who moved to a rooming house on North Fourth Avenue near East Speedway in October 1991. Hanjour, who went by the last name ?Hanjoor? in Tucson, took an eight-week English course at the University of Arizona in 1991 and lived here at least a year before moving back to his Saudi Arabian homeland.

In 1996, Hanjour reportedly took several months of pilot training at a Scottsdale flight school and used a flight simulator in 1998 and as recently as June of this year.


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« Reply #48 on: November 13, 2004, 06:09:21 AM »
From the DRUDGE REPORT today:
Fri Nov 12 2004 12:02:34 ET

Osama bin Laden now has religious approval to use a nuclear device against Americans, says the former head of the CIA unit charged with tracking down the Saudi terrorist. The former agent, Michael Scheuer, speaks to Steve Kroft in his first television interview without disguise to be broadcast on 60 MINUTES Sunday, Nov. 14 (7:00-8:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.

Scheuer was until recently known as the "anonymous" author of two books critical of the West's response to bin Laden and al Qaeda, the most recent of which is titled Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror. No one in the West knows more about the Qaeda leader than Scheuer, who has tracked him since the mid-1980s. The CIA allowed him to write the books provided he remain anonymous, but now is allowing him to reveal himself for the first time on Sunday's broadcast; he formally leaves the Agency today (12).

Even if bin Laden had a nuclear weapon, he probably wouldn't have used it for a lack of proper religious authority - authority he has now. "[Bin Laden] secured from a Saudi sheik...a rather long treatise on the possibility of using nuclear weapons against the Americans," says Scheuer. "[The treatise] found that he was perfectly within his rights to use them. Muslims argue that the United States is responsible for millions of dead Muslims around the world, so reciprocity would mean you could kill millions of Americans," Scheuer tells Kroft.

Scheuer says bin Laden was criticized by some Muslims for the 9/11 attack because he killed so many people without enough warning and before offering to help convert them to Islam. But now bin Laden has addressed the American people and given fair warning. "They're intention is to end the war as soon as they can and to ratchet up the pain for the Americans until we get out of their region....If they acquire the weapon, they will use it, whether it's chemical, biological or some sort of nuclear weapon," says Scheuer.

As the head of the CIA unit charged with tracking bin Laden from 1996 to 1999, Scheuer says he never had enough people to do the job right. He blames former CIA Director George Tenet. "One of the questions that should have been asked of Mr. Tenet was why were there always enough people for the public relations office, for the academic outreach office, for the diversity and multi-cultural office? All those things are admirable and necessary but none of them are protecting the American people from a foreign threat," says Scheuer.

And the threat posed by bin Laden is also underestimated, says Scheuer. "I think our leaders over the last decade have done the American people a disservice...continuing to characterize Osama bin Laden as a thug, as a gangster," he says. "Until we respect him, sir, we are going to die in numbers that are probably unnecessary, yes. He's a very, very talented man and a very worthy opponent," he tells Kroft.

Until today (12), Scheuer was a senior official in the CIA's counter terrorism unit and a special advisor to the head of the agency's bin Laden unit.


Politics and Policy
Homeland Security's Counterweight
Inspector General Takes
Politically Risky Steps
In Serving as a Watchdog

Throughout the 2004 presidential campaign, the harshest critic of the administration's homeland-security efforts wasn't John Kerry or the Democrats. It was one of President Bush's own -- Homeland Security Inspector General Clark Kent Ervin.

A Texas Republican and Houston native, Mr. Ervin is a longtime ally of the Bush family, having first worked for former President George H. W. Bush. He became Homeland Security's top cop for internal waste, fraud and abuse in a recess appointment nearly a year ago. The question now is whether he will be reappointed when the new Congress convenes in January.

During his tenure, Mr. Ervin has issued three reports critical of the department's sky-marshal and airport-screening programs and has lashed out at the department's "failure of leadership" in creating a single database of terrorist suspects. He attacked the Transportation Security Administration for throwing a $486,000 party, including outlays of $81,767 for award plaques, $1,500 for cheese buffets and $1,486 for balloons. He concluded that federal inspectors aren't up to the task of detecting weapons of mass destruction in shipping containers. And he has even gone so far as to describe the government's antiterrorism efforts on the whole as "ad hoc" and "uncoordinated."

Long for the Job?
Clark Kent Ervin is the outspoken Inspector General of the Homeland Security Department

Born: April 1, 1959

Raised: Houston

Education: B.A. in Government, Harvard College, 1980; Master&s, Oxford University, 1982; J.D., Harvard Law, 1985.

Family: Married to Carolyn Harris, a Democrat and consultant with the Heinz Center for Education and the Environment.

Public Service: 1989-91, White House Office of National Service; 1995-1999, Assistant Secretary of State of Texas; 2001-03, Inspector General, State Department.

Texas Ties: Went to the same Houston area secondary school as President Bush; won Republican primary but lost general election bid for Congress in 1991.

Source: WSJ research
"I stand by that," he says in a recent interview.

It is an extraordinary comment by an official in an administration not known to publicly air problems or disagreements. Mr. Ervin has turned heads in the media and on Capitol Hill with his candor and made enemies in the new department where he is criticized as uninformed about fighting terrorism. His detractors in DHS and on Capitol Hill also have complained that he talks too much to the media -- something Mr. Ervin admits to proudly, noting that the only thing he has to bring force to his reports is "the bright light of congressional attention and the press."

Like Superman, the alter ego of his namesake, Mr. Ervin seems impervious to the brickbats. "It's my job to call it as I see it and let the political chips fall where they may," says Mr. Ervin, a 45-year-old lawyer.

Where those chips are going to fall is unclear. By law Mr. Ervin's appointment expires at the end of this Congress. For him to continue in the job, the White House must reappoint him next year at the start of the 109th Congress. Neither the White House nor Senate leaders are saying whether Mr. Ervin will return to the post.

His first nomination to the job languished in the Senate for a year until Mr. Bush finally appointed him during the congressional recess in December 2003. According to Mr. Ervin and congressional staffers, the Senate didn't act on his nomination because of concern that he failed to investigate accusations of wrongdoing while he was inspector general at the State Department. He says that he did investigate the matter, but found that he had no jurisdiction. All sides refused to discuss any details.

Sen. Susan Collins (R., Maine), chairwoman of the Governmental Affairs Committee, said in a statement last week that if Mr. Ervin were nominated again, he would be considered carefully, "as the Governmental Affairs Committee considers every nomination."

About six weeks before the election, when Mr. Ervin issued perhaps his most scathing report, on the government's failure to forge a viable database of terrorist suspects, a White House spokeswomen said Mr. Bush had complete confidence in Mr. Ervin and was "grateful for his service." Since Mr. Bush's re-election, the White House has been more circumspect when discussing individuals on the president's team.

But Mr. Ervin is no stranger to fighting for survival. He was born a month premature, and his struggle to live touched his brother Art, 11 years old at the time and a huge Superman fan. When it became clear that the baby would be fine, Art begged his parents to name him after his hero. They agreed. "I love it," Mr. Ervin says. "It's I who insists on signing my name in full. Otherwise no-one would know what the "K" stands for."

Growing up the third son of a bricklayer in Houston's poor, black Third Ward, Mr. Ervin was pushed by two teachers to apply to the city's elite Kinkaid School, President Bush's alma mater. He was the first African-American boy to attend the school. He excelled at music, becoming an accomplished pianist, and was obsessed with politics, developing into one of the nation's top high-school debaters.

Mr. Ervin's friendship with George W. Bush started in 1988, when a mutual acquaintance recommended Mr. Ervin for a job in the first Bush administration. The younger Mr. Bush wrote a note recommending Mr. Ervin, who eventually landed work in George H.W. Bush's Office of National Service, which fostered volunteer projects. Later, when the younger Mr. Bush became Texas governor, Mr. Ervin joined his administration as an assistant secretary of state under Alberto Gonzales, who was named earlier this week to succeed John Ashcroft as Attorney General.

Mr. Ervin returned to Washington in 2001 as the State Department's inspector general after being personally recommended by Secretary of State Colin Powell. A year later, Mr. Powell suggested he take on the same role at the new Department of Homeland Security.

Despite his close ties to the Bush family, Mr. Ervin hasn't pulled his punches. His investigations have led to arrests of allegedly corrupt customs officials, embarrassed DHS Secretary Tom Ridge, and challenged the White House.

When President Bush created the Terrorist Threat Integration Center in May 2003, effectively duplicating Homeland Security's intelligence-analysis responsibilities, Mr. Ervin said the move risked undermining the department. At the time, Mr. Ridge insisted the move wasn't a threat to his department.

Asked about the conflicting views on PBS's "NewsHour," Mr. Ridge said the inspector general's conclusion suggested that Mr. Ervin was "not as aware as he should be" of the department's activities.

Mr. Ervin says he has only had positive feedback from the White House and Senate, and if the department is displeased with him, it is only natural. "Criticism, even though it's constructive, is not easy to take," he says.

Mr. Ervin says the department wants a break because it is new. "My response is that's precisely when we should be involved, before money is wasted, before a program is too far out of the block that it basically can't be corrected and you have to start all over. This mission is too important for it to fall victim to politics."

Asked if he thought there was a political risk in his attitude, he plays with his college ring from Harvard and shrugs. "Common sense would say there is. But on the other hand, I know the president well enough to know that he wants every person in his administration to do the right thing."

He adds: "My hope is that I get to stay. I want to stay. I think the record suggests that I should be able to stay."

Write to Robert Block at


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« Reply #49 on: November 14, 2004, 10:26:12 PM »

Bordering On Nukes?
New accounts from al-Qaeda to attack the U.S. with weapons of mass

Sunday, Nov. 14, 2004
A key al-Qaeda operative seized in Pakistan recently offered an alarming
account of the group's potential plans to target the U.S. with weapons of
mass destruction, senior U.S. security officials tell TIME. Sharif al-Masri,
an Egyptian who was captured in late August near Pakistan's border with Iran and Afghanistan, has told his interrogators of "al-Qaeda's interest in
moving nuclear materials from Europe to either the U.S. or Mexico,"
according to a report circulating among U.S. government officials.

Masri also said al-Qaeda has considered plans to "smuggle nuclear materials to Mexico, then operatives would carry material into the U.S.," according to the report, parts of which were read to TIME. Masri says his family, seeking refuge from al-Qaeda hunters, is now in Iran.

Masri's account, though unproved, has added to already heightened U.S.
concerns about Mexico. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge met publicly with top Mexican officials last week to discuss border security and
smuggling rings that could be used to slip al-Qaeda terrorists into the
country. Weeks prior to Ridge's lightning visit, U.S. and Mexican
intelligence conferred about reports from several al-Qaeda detainees
indicating the potential use of Mexico as a staging area "to acquire
end-stage chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear material." U.S.
officials have begun to keep a closer eye on heavy-truck traffic across the
border. The Mexicans will also focus on flight schools and aviation
facilities on their side of the frontier.

And another episode has some senior U.S. officials worried: the theft of a crop-duster aircraft south of San Diego, apparently by three men from southern Mexico who assaulted a watchman and then flew off in a southerly direction. Though the theft's connection to terrorism remains unclear, a senior U.S. law-enforcement official notes that crop dusters can be used to disperse toxic substances. The plane, stolen at night two weeks ago, has not been recovered.