07-25-2004, 05:22 PM #1AR-Hall of Famer / Retired
- Join Date
- Aug 2001
- Wherever necessary
Terrorists do a dry run on the next plane attack?
Terror in the Skies, Again?
By Annie Jacobsen
Note from the E-ditors: 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 plane.
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-closest 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-and-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 "...it 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 (www.anncoulter.com):
"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 jetliner bound for America'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?
07-25-2004, 06:00 PM #2
Its just a matter of time before another attack comes. No way to dodge it. I would be willing to bet my house that there will be another attack within the next year on American soil.
07-25-2004, 06:19 PM #3
I say we bar all unnaturalized Arabic/Middleastern people from entering or leavintg the country. If you got a visa I don't care keep on knockin but you can't come in! The ACLU will put a nix in that one. I hope that the next flying bomb lands on one of thier attorneys houses, that would be justice!
07-25-2004, 06:52 PM #4
Cycleon..... where did you get that?
07-25-2004, 07:14 PM #5
07-25-2004, 07:21 PM #6
its horrible the issue of race and profiling. ****ed if you do, ****ed if you dont i say.
whenever i fly i am armed to the teeth (with legal but lethal tools) and i am ready to kill. its a horrible way to travel. i fly four x per month, often more and i always ready myself for a fight to the death. i will bite,gouge,stamp,choke,elbow and tear myself into anyone who threatens the safety of a flight i am on. air marshals? i dont feel safer for them being onboard personally. i reckon id feel better if there were 6-10 trained specialists on every plane. but who is gona pay for that?
the israelis have had air marshalls for years and they have proved a model of efficiency. when those planes hit i reckon they should have put trained people onto ALL planes.. but then the airlines just are not into that.
1Victor. do you assume that all terrorists that threaten all of our safety are arabic speaking or middle eastern? some of them may look just like me and you!
the tragedy for muslims folks and folk from middle eastern climes is that these so called islamic terrorists (i dont believe they are true muslims) have seriously attacked the acceptance and tolerance that once existed. these maniacs have threatened the safety of all of us and ironically it is also muslim and middle-eastern folk who will suffer the savagery of racial and religious fear and intolerance as a result. i try to look for a balanced view but i just dont see the muslims in our respective countries being particularly vocal against the minority of nutters who also call themselves islamic warriors etc.
the whole plane thing is pretty terrifying. but someone could hit other targets with ease and low resources. i am amazed something has not yet happened in London UK after Blairs very vocal support of the war on terror. i dont doubt it may and i wish the govt would step up the protection of the public here.
i am afraid to mention obvious targets as i dont want to promote them as ideas!
07-25-2004, 07:33 PM #7Originally Posted by skinjob
07-25-2004, 09:34 PM #8
Its kind of sad that MOST people will just sit in their seat KNOWING they are gonna die rather than standing up and doing something about it even when they KNOW the plane is gonna crash if no action is taken.
A group of 50 people can surely take out 6 men with no weapons but people sit complaciently hoping someone ELSE will take action.
07-25-2004, 11:10 PM #9
The problem with 50 people or the entire plane trying to take out 6 or so terrorists is that planes are kind of small, and if you try to jump the terrorists and everyone thats hyped jumps in with you then that weight shift alone will cause the pilot to los control of the plane. The air-marshalls would also have a hard time doing their job with you and ten others having a bar-brawl in the tin aisles!!
The problem is in every flight there will be someone that is or looks middle eastern...because what exactly is middle-eastern looking? I lived in that area when i was woking for a while and let me tell you it ranges greatly from black(as in african looking) to extremly pale with blond hair and blue eyes!! yes man i am serious, most people think that the poor indian people in kwiki marts are what a terrorist looks like, well your wrong!! they could very likely look jus like me and you! so what do you do? panic in every flight? go talk to the pilot everytime one of them uses the restroom or smiles at his friend? What you have to do is act liek nothing is wrong and let the government officials and security do their job! If you are in the situation in wich your life is directly in danger then get up and choke that mo-fo!
07-26-2004, 12:03 AM #10AR-Hall of Famer / Retired
- Join Date
- Aug 2001
- Wherever necessary
What you do is learn to figure out what an arab really looks like - and yes, they look different depending upon where they are from egypt, syria, saudi, turkey, etc - but you CAN tell if you know what you are looking for...and you can tell what country too once you get good - believe me, the israelis can tell who is a palestinian - but basically we just dont know much about the rest of the world
07-26-2004, 02:30 AM #11Retired Vet
- Join Date
- Nov 2001
Skin, I'm not sure if you get RTE 1 and 2 on the radio there. But I was listening to an interview recently with the head of the european aviation authority on airline security. The interview was along the lines of airline security before and after 9/11. The interviewer asked how many years we (Ireland, and europe) were behind America in terms of airline security, the reply shocked me.
The head of the european aviation authority said before 9/11 America was perhaps 30 years behind Europe and now their probably 10 yrs behind us, but catching up slowly. Racial profiling, does it work... Of course it works, we have it here all the time. A small thing Skin, a parcel coming from Amsterdam, Thailand, South America or Africa you don't think the post office pays particular attention to those?, of course they do because these people are know to produce the vast majority of the worlds narcotics, now why is it such a bad thing to say ''guys, the vast majority of the terrorists who want to bomb us out of existance are Islamic'', lets go get 'em.
07-26-2004, 07:17 AM #12
Skinjob, at this point in the terrorist "game" yes most if not all are middleastern. It's a fact, not a guess or racially motivated. I'd love to have put you on the same plane with that woman and see what your feelings would be right now.
07-26-2004, 10:42 AM #13
There are white terorists also. So, you never know. And you'd have to be a fool not to fight a hijacker now a days. Unless you don't know about the order to destroy any hijacked plane. You're going to die anyway. May as well go out trying to get the plane back than to go out getting shot down by a US fighter.
07-26-2004, 10:44 AM #14
And that chick seemed to know way too much info. I don't know how she could see from coach into the 1st class cabin. Don't they normally have a curtain or something?
07-26-2004, 10:52 AM #15
Here we go with another liberal conspiract theory........ If you were that stressed you could probably see through walls (exaggeration) she was talking to the flight attendants the whole time and I'm sure she talked to airline personel when she got off the plane.
07-26-2004, 11:26 AM #16
1Victor the point i was not disputing that the majority of al queda types are probly middle eastern origin. but its not always so clear cut and we should be careful across the board. you are missing the point of what i was saying:
remember that there are al queda and linked or similar groups active right across asia, indonesia etc and in other parts of the world eg *the Balkans*, Chzechnia (i cana spell sorry). these chaps are white as snow my friends. our enemy is not exclusively middle eastern. and of course there are misguided, chip-on-shouldered partisan ****s from our own homelands.
07-26-2004, 11:43 AM #17New Member
- Join Date
- Jun 2002
The only way to do this is to racial, regional, and yes if possible do religion profiling. This is unfortunate but it has to be done, before any liberal prop. gets smeared on this thread, I am hispanic and have been racialy profiled and regional profiled, because of where I happen to live. The facts are simple, every country, and people from every ethnic group commit racial profiling. No matter who you are or what your background is, we cannot get away from doing this exact same thing ourselves, regardless. To cry about civil rights, when the same ****ing thing has been happening for yrs and yrs is bull****. ****ing extreme liberals cry about policy against some of this nations, when the **** will they learn?? Not until, the united nations dictates our laws and foreign policy and not until we Americans are someones bitch, thank God some sensible people still live in the good ole USA.
Last edited by AZTKWORRIOR; 07-26-2004 at 11:45 AM.
07-26-2004, 11:57 AM #18
Preach on Warrior!
07-26-2004, 05:12 PM #19
I think one way to identify possible terrorist threat is by name, a terrorist that looks very middle-eastern or has one of those terroristly-fashionable beards or goatee's will have a hard time passing as 'John' or 'Robert'...they will obviously have some hardcore middle-eastern name...and there are very very few middle eatern names that sound American....so when taking reservatin over the phone/internet/in person, th airline company needs to monitor something like the number o fmiddle eastern names on a single flight, if there ar emore than say 4 guys with names like that then the airline needs to start telling other middle eastern people that the flight is full, regardless of weather it is or not, losing a few seats and a little profit is worth the security. Then if 20 of these guys are desperatly trying to all be on the same flight or the first five are trying to switch planes now that the rest of them cant get on it then that should be used as a 'cause for suspition and investigation'.
That way if you limit the number of middle eastern people to less than the number fo air marshals then it becomes safer for us and harder for them to take over the plane.
There will always be real cases in which a 4-5member middle eastern family want to travel together, and that case needs to be addressed individually.
Name-Profiling first when the ticket is first reserved, and then racial profiling at the airport before the plane takes off. I think its a safer and better method to prevent many of them being on the same flight and to measure how desperate someone wants to be on a particular flight.
07-26-2004, 05:21 PM #20
Tell ya what............ i would have gotten off the plane... went to the desk.. made a loud statement like
"I do not feel safe on this flight"
response... "yes sir, we can accomodate you in 1st class on a flight that leaves in 30 minutes at the next gate..
Originally Posted by KAEW44The answer to your every question
A bigot is a person obstinately or intolerantly devoted
to his or her own opinions and prejudices, especially
one exhibiting intolerance, and animosity toward those of differing beliefs.
If you get scammed by an UGL listed on this board or by another member here, it's all part of the game and learning experience for you,
we do not approve nor support any sources that may be listed on this site.
I will not do source checks for you, the peer review from other members should be enough to help you make a decision on your quest. Buyer beware.
Why the Police will Kick your ass
07-26-2004, 06:00 PM #21Banned
- Join Date
- Aug 2001
- The Resistance
07-26-2004, 06:11 PM #22
Im curious, lets say hypothetically another terroist attack does occur in the skies so to speak. What repercussions if any do you think may befall the dept. of homeland security? Do you think they will come under fire for not producing results despite new legislation and funds? Of course you cant stop all the attacks, but Im just curious if you all think there will be anything said about it.
Users Browsing this Thread
There are currently 1 users browsing this thread. (0 members and 1 guests)