Friday, July 16, 2004
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What does this mean about airline security?
Like Glenn Reynolds and Andrew Sullivan, I received a mass e-mail linking to this disturbing first-person account by Annie Jacobsen in WomensWallStreet.com on mysterious doings onboard a Northwest flight from Detroit to Los Angeles (hopefully, she's not this Annie Jacobsen). The quick summary: a bunch of Arab gentlemen holding Syrian passports act in an extremely suspicious manner during the flight.
Michelle Malkin confirms at least part of the Jacobsen story, and a February 2004 story by Jason Burke in the Sunday Observer adds some plausibility to the behavior of the suspected terrorists in the story. This is the part of Jacobsen's account that Malkin confirms:
On the other hand, a post in the brand-new blog Red State voices some understandable skepticism. This blogger suggests that what looked like suspicious activity was actually Muslims behaving in a devout manner. There are parts of the story that sound over the top to me as well -- the only thing missing from Jacobsen's narrative to make the Syrian guys seem more evil is thick moustaches. The link to Ann Coulter doesn't make me feel any more sanguine.
I'm not saying something disturbing didn't happen, but I have as many questions about the Jacobsen story as I do for the Federal Air Marshalls.
Give it a read and think it over while perusing the fact that the Bush administration has scrapped its Computer-Assisted Passenger Prescreening System (CAPPS) II program for screening airline passengers. For more on the CAPPS debate, check out Ryan Singel's account in Wired.
I can say that the e-mail sent to me and other bloggers was cc-ed to movers and shakers in the mediasphere -- Bill Keller, David Ignatius, George Will, Anne Applebaum, and Nichoas D. Kristoff. So they're certainly aware of the story. My guess is they're probably ignoring the initial message because the originator of the e-mail tends to send out a regular stream of these messages, and the signal-to-noise ratio is quite low.
The interest by bloggers in the story, however, might prove to be enough of a spur to the mediasphere. I'm on the skeptical side of the spectrum -- but I'd like to see real journalists dig deeper into this.
UPDATE: Michelle Malkin now reports that the blogosphere will be getting results from the mediasphere:
On the other hand, Malkin talked with Jacobsen, and is told, ""My legs were like rubber... It was four and a half hours of terror" -- which again sounds over the top. Donald Sensing is also suspicious. He raises the perfectly valid point that one should not be too surprised at seeing a large number of Arabs boarding an airplane in Detroit, given the large concentration of Arabs living in Dearborn and its environs. Glenn Reynolds has more, including this optimistic take.
That said, it appears the system is working. [What system?--ed. The system whereby private actors can monitor government actors to see if the latter are doing their job. The blogosphere is only the latest link in that chain.]posted by Dan on 07.16.04 at 12:04 PM
Call me a skeptic.
After passing through security (in spite of not being re-screened), a group of Arab men got on an airplane, some carrying musical instruments. None had arrest records, none showed up on the FBI's no fly list or the FBI's Most Wanted Terrorists List.
While the yboarded seperately, they were travelling together, so they spoke to each other occasionally. Some had to go the washroom.
Several US Governemnt air marshalls were there the entire time.
Oh my God! We're all going to die! Arab muscicians! In America! Talking to one another on airplanes! Help!
Jeez, the FBI should investigate. Oh wait, they are.
I think the media is kinda occupied reporting, you know, actual stories where stuff actually happens.posted by: Andrew Edwards on 07.16.04 at 12:04 PM [permalink]
The Ann Coutler link speaks for itself. She gets even more hysterical about their carry-on luggage, and it never being checked. I'm not sure how she followed each of them through their point-of-entry. The peice is full of inneundo, and of course that's waht the wingnuts love. As I see it now, the right is going nuts over 14 arab men being on a plane at once and violating the bathroom rule. The FBI investigated and turned out nothing. We know some terrorirsts are very stupid (the shoe bomber), but you wouldn't think any would be stupid enough to wear clothes with arabic on them.
If we had 14 french men on a plane, violating the bathroom rule, investigated by the FBI and cleared -- this story would be forwarded straith to the trash. If people on the plane were getting as hysterical as the account suggests (which does actually seem likely), its amazing the attendantds or the undercover agents didn't suggest to the attendants to enforce the congregation rule. At least the first time or so a group of men went to the bathroom -- it could have been done.
On an a smi-related WoT note from Mess'o'potamia. The Australian press is reporting Allawi personally killed six detainees in cold-blood on annoinment day.posted by: Jor on 07.16.04 at 12:04 PM [permalink]
The incident may have happened (although it seems to have been embellished). The part about the Marshals in particular seems to have been overblown. If you suspect something, you don't load a plane with Air Marshals. You cancel and then look at more details.
At any rate, nothing seems to have come of this. These people apparently weren't terrorists (at least they didn't carry out any terrorist activities). Some of their actions, such as standing in the aisles is probably not that uncommon too for people who haven't that much experience with traveling in planes.
Still, this does point out that we need to do more pre-screening.posted by: Mike on 07.16.04 at 12:04 PM [permalink]
The article purporting to describe suspicious behavior by the Arab gentlemen has at least this one bogus element. It portrays the "no congregating" rule as being issued around July 1, shortly after the author claims to have taken her scary flight. In fact, that directive was issued in late 2003. Also, the author says she heard this news on SBS TV, a news network based in Australia, which seems a rather odd choice for an American. I couldn't find that story in the SBS TV archives myself.
We're in a Syrian band
Fourteen young chiquitas in Long Beach
Now these fine ladies, they had a plan
OK, the praying thing may explain all.posted by: praktike on 07.16.04 at 12:04 PM [permalink]
I find most incedulous the part about the flight attendants whispering and passing notes to the husband, and then asking him to write up a description to pass to her. In any case, the far more serious issue is that she uses this to call for (without saying it so explicitly) a removal of certain non-discrimination rules in airline screening. In fact, there is no rule against screening as many passengers as you want because they behave suspiciously, but there are, sensibly, rules against screening passengers based on their race. (Of course, as Annie Jacobsen tells us, she can't be a racist because she's been to India!) You simply have to have more reason than a person's race to find them suspicious. Any change in this basic premise of civil liberties is radical indeed. As far as they layover screening, the truth is that everyone in the secure part of an airport, regardless of whether they are changing planes or checked in at that airport, has been screened. The Middle Eastern men's instruments were in fact screened, certainly by a trained TSA screener at a security checkpoint in the airport. Room for improvement? Perhaps. But cause for alarm? I think not.posted by: Brett on 07.16.04 at 12:04 PM [permalink]
Congregating? It's a long flight. What's strange about getting up and talking to your friend sitting a few rows away?posted by: Bernard Yomtov on 07.16.04 at 12:04 PM [permalink]
Most of commenting seems arrogant and out of touch. Sure, guys with box cutters were just...
This is a scenario where a little bit of cultural knowledge would have spared a whole bunch of paranoia.
Clearly, they were praying. It's happened on flights that I have been on. Devout mislims will take the prayer mat to a space where it can be laid out, then they kneel and pray.
I doubt they went into the bathrooms - more likely used the "crossover" space between the bathrooms, as it's the only place on a plane where there's enough room to unfold a prayer rug without blocking an aisle.
The writer's myopic hysteria has led to great embellishment, no doubt. I'm sure everytime people speak to one another on a plane in a non-european language, she gets freaked. Sorta like when a famous Indian actor and his family were detained because some other passengers were scared by how they were speaking to each other (excitedly), and pointing to landmarks of the NYC cityscape upon landing in New York.
I am skeptical of this story as well, but I don't see how the prayer explanation works. I find it hard to believe that Muslims that are so devout that they would go through the trouble to get up in the middle of a flight to pray in the bathroom (imagine how awkward that would be?) would be musicians playing in Las Vegas. I just don't really see it, with everything that comes with the territory of devout muslims. Equally, I could not see a 14 member band of Orthodox Jews playing in Las Vegas either. Just doesn't pass the bullshit test.posted by: steve on 07.16.04 at 12:04 PM [permalink]
also, how exactly is it "myopic" or "hysterical" to be pretty damn freaked out by a group of 14 or so young arab men, speaking arabic, stone faced, going in and out of the bathroom, LEAVING stuff behind in the bathroom, making gestures and speaking to each other even though they didn't get on the plane together or sit together? sounds to me to be a pretty understandable response. Or are you part of the country that doesn't think we are at war?posted by: steve on 07.16.04 at 12:04 PM [permalink]
Whether true or not, the moral of the story is...
all arab-looking men are suspicious.
Just helps to cut through all the fluff and gets right down to the paranoia.posted by: j swift on 07.16.04 at 12:04 PM [permalink]
It isn't paranoia if they're out to get you.posted by: DysOptimist on 07.16.04 at 12:04 PM [permalink]
'I find it hard to believe that Muslims that are so devout that they would go through the trouble to get up in the middle of a flight to pray in the bathroom (imagine how awkward that would be?) would be musicians playing in Las Vegas. I just don't really see it, with everything that comes with the territory of devout muslims. '
Why not ? Lots of Jews observe the Sabbath, but still go to nightclubs, dance, drink, gamble etc.posted by: alv on 07.16.04 at 12:04 PM [permalink]
All you guys would have been scared speechless as well. Admit it.posted by: Jeff on 07.16.04 at 12:04 PM [permalink]
The story says they were playing in "the desert." Las Vegas is indeed in the desert, but it's over 200 miles from L.A., and they probably would have flown there directly.
I'd imagine they were playing at one of our Indian Bingo Casinos, such as Morongo near Palm Springs. Oddly enough, several years ago the CIA tried to use the Morongo reservation as a place from which to conduct questionable operations outside of U.S. jurisdiction, it being Indian Country and all. Interesting, no?
Why haven't major newspapers and TV picked up on it?
Why didn't major newspapers and TV pick up on, for instance, the Jeremiah Denton story?
Remember, media bias is not just in how they cover stories, but in what they choose to cover.posted by: The Lonewacko Blog on 07.16.04 at 12:04 PM [permalink]
I agree that the most logical explanation is that they were praying.
I also find the reaction by the flight attendants hard to believe, though not necessarily unbelievable.
On a recent coast-to-coast flight I was on, the flight attendants were enforcing the "no-congregation" rule very strictly. Basically, they would not let anybody wait in the aisle for the forward lavatory to become available - even mothers with babies! They blocked the lavatory (and would net let anyone use it) every time they opened the cockpit door, and they put up a barrier to protect the cockpit while its door was open.
The crew on the return flight via Chicago was a little less diligent, however. (At the same time they also managed to be less friendly - the more diligent crew was actually doing all this relatively weird stuff in a pretty professional and friendly manner.)
I was also surprised that in Chicago there was no further checking - not even of IDs! - when boarding the connecting flight. I also haven't seen any carry-on bags being searched at the gate anymore. Or passengers, for that matter.
After reading this, my gut reaction something between fear and strong unease. Now after thinking about it more, I think this is very frightening if everything happened just as the article says, but I'm skeptical of whether it did. Aside from the Ann Coulter reference, the story just sounds too tight, and it doesn't all make sense. Why were there air marshals all around them? There aren't even enough air marshals to have one on each flight, so it seems odd that this one flight happened to have many air marshals (the story seems to imply that there were more than 2 of them). Also, the behavior of the flight attendant sounds somewhat unlikely (flight attendants can be fired for disclosing the presence of air marshals on a flight), although not implausible. Also, if they were intercepted when they landed, why wasn't law enforcement able to recover the McDonald's bag? And if they were building something inside the lavatory, why wasn't it found?
Now this leads me to think about CAPPS-II. I think it's clear that we should be making airplane security a high priority. But I don't think CAPPS-II was ever the right way to do it. If you have a system that assigns security rankings to individual passengers, then all a terrorist group has to do is obtain the lowest threat ranking for some of its members, even if the guys with records are screened out. A system like CAPPS-II would seem to make things easier on terrorists, not tougher. So I'm not to worried about the death of CAPPS-II. But I sure hope that Homeland Security has something other than CAPPS-II up its sleeve...posted by: Sam on 07.16.04 at 12:04 PM [permalink]
To those who claim that they were most likely praying: IIRC, in order to avoid conflict with other activities that one might be performing at the same time, today's muslims have several authorized substitutives to the act of physically kneeling and praying. For example, they may carry something similar to the catholic rosary beads, and when the time for prayer arrives, they simply pass their fingers through the beads while reciting the prayer (if you're driving a car or piloting a plane, you obviously cannot stop and pull out the rug at your convenience). At least, this is what I remember vaguely.
Is anyone else familiar with the above, or am I totally confused? Because in case the above is true, those men wouldn't have needed to make all that fuss in order to pray...posted by: PaulJ on 07.16.04 at 12:04 PM [permalink]
If 14 Syrians were congragating in the aisle of a plane you were on, every one of us would be sh$%ting their pants and dont deny it. You're right, maybe its not an entirely rational terror, but you would have to be a brain-dead moron not to have a red flag go up. I see a lot of snarking talk about this, and its crap. I agree that this event was probably overblown, and stress is well known to skew people's perceptions to danger, but that doesnt change the fact that this was a threatening situation. Again, i'd like to see what some of the brave enlightened PC souls on this board would do on that flight. I dont consider myself cowardly or easily rattled, but Im perfectly willing to admit i'd be scared. It wasnt 19 Norwegians or Frenchmen on 911, not to mention every plane that has ever been hijacked, not to mention who we happen to be at war with. And some of you guys wonder why we hawks roll our eyes when you folks profess your ability to fight terrorism.posted by: Mark Buehner on 07.16.04 at 12:04 PM [permalink]
Interesting how few commentators seem to know that there are many many US citizens and legal immigrants (some 3rd generation citizens) of Middle Eastern origin in Detroit. There are always a lot of "middle eastern looking people" in transit through DTW. Working there too in fact.
Crankyposted by: Cranky Observer on 07.16.04 at 12:04 PM [permalink]
Interesting how few commentators seem to know that there are many many US citizens and legal immigrants (some 3rd generation citizens) of Middle Eastern origin in Detroit. There are always a lot of "middle eastern looking people" in transit through DTW.
Several years before 9/11, I lived in New York and would periodically visit family in the Detroit area. In doing so, I often found myself on the last leg of a flight filled with pilgrims on their way back from Hajj, some of them carrying gallon jugs filled with Zamzam water. Looking back on it, it was kind of remarkable. Of course, I would very much doubt that even the most wild-eyed Islamic terrorist would hijack a New York-to-Detroit flight filled with Muslims.posted by: alkali on 07.16.04 at 12:04 PM [permalink]
'And some of you guys wonder why we hawks roll our eyes when you folks profess your ability to fight terrorism.'
Most of the comments here are simply tring to assess 1) Whether this actually happened (or what parts of it are overblown) 2) Whether the people involved were actually terrorists. 3) Whether there are any lessons for law enforcement
So far 1) seems to be possibly, with some exaggeration. 2) seems to be almost certainly not.
As regards your question about whether we'd be shitting in our pants -- speak for yourself. I've traveled in various airlines that fly to South or South-East Asia via the ME and stop there. On certain parts of the leg (Kuwait to Delhi or Dubait to Mumbai and back, for instance), the airlines regularly fill up with a lot of brown skinned people of vaguely Middle Eastern appearance. Their names would seem to be Muslim names as well, and they would spend a lot of time in the centre aisles talking incomprehensible languages, spending a lot of time in aisles. Didn't bother me too much. .
Mike, what you just characterized wasnt remotely how the story was described. What we do know for a fact was that group young male Syrians were flying together, which is significantly different than a random collection of brown skin people traveling on the same plane. The Feds detained these guys for a reason, even if what happened on the plane was overblown by the author.posted by: Mark Buehner on 07.16.04 at 12:04 PM [permalink]
As far as "leaving stuff behind in the bathroom" goes, well, that's standard operating procedure in a bathroom, isn't it? On a plane, it has a trash container, so it's a convenient place to get rid of some trash.
As for why the McDonalds bag would go in "full" and come out "empty", I submit that it didn't come out empty. Maybe going in there were fries and a hamburger wrapper and a soda cup in the bag, put in there for easy transport. In the bathroom, the trash - the burger wrapper and the cup - were thrown out, but the fries retained in the bag for later.
Why bother bringing back an empty bag, when there's a trash container in the bathroom? I don't think it was empty, though it may have been less full.
Or, I suppose an empty bag might be useful as a tool for manipulating the door after the ritual washing, in order to get out without soiling the hands.posted by: Jon H on 07.16.04 at 12:04 PM [permalink]
Put me in the highly skeptical column. If you read the piece carefully, Ms Jacobsen was coming from a connecting flight, and for all she knew, the Arabs had been strip-searched at the usual security line. She was all upset that they weren't searched again. The idea that a large musical instrument case and a prosthesis went by unnoticed is risible (my sister-in-law has been pulled out of line every single time since her hip replacement).
While I'm sure some of the incidents took place as she describes in the literal sense, she brought to the airplane a pre-existing belief based on anncoulter.com that liberal and libertarian weenies won't let the government curtail civil liberties enough to protect us. Where the idea that they'd only open two Arabs' luggage arises, I can't guess. Opening suspicious objects is not a random search.
It's also worth noting, in terms of bias, that she conflates fines levied against airlines for not carrying Arab passengers who had passed TSA security with the role of the government itself. I don't see a role for United and JetBlue in bouncing Arab passengers who clear government checkpoints.
Her impressions of the stewardesses and other passengers' affects are surely filtered through hysteria.
And as for Mr Buehner, a close reading of his comments above shows that he isn't really interested in defending America from terrorism, he's interested in saving himself from shitting in his pants. Hard as it is to believe, these aren't the same thing.posted by: Andrew J. Lazarus on 07.16.04 at 12:04 PM [permalink]
I had a similar experience on a flight to San Diego. 4-5 Sudanese men in their 20’s were cutting in and out of the ticket line, on cell phones and quite agitated and rude. They were shouting to friends near the door, also on cell phones. They had only 1 small piece of luggage among the 5 of them.
When we arrived at the gate there were 4-5 more Sudanese men. At first they didn’t acknowledge one another. Then, 1 man would cross the room and visit with one of the men who had not been in line earlier. This continued until time to board…the men just seeming to “check in with one another.”
The flight was uneventful until the seatbelt sign was turned off, at which point they all got up, I felt the same terror as the author of the article. They proceeded to the bathroom as well and returned to their seats.
Only the fear of being accused of racial profiling kept me from reporting their behavior.
It felt very much like a trial run.
posted by: Jon H on 07.16.04 at 12:04 PM [permalink]
And if they were Sudanese, were they Muslims or Christians ?
There are many Sudanese in my area and they were reading the Koran....pretty good cluesposted by: ssmith on 07.16.04 at 12:04 PM [permalink]
I don't care that racial profiling is taboo to the Politically Correct. I want to see it done with regards to Arabic men. THEY started this war with US.posted by: Daniel on 07.16.04 at 12:04 PM [permalink]
Dan is far too "sanguine" about this report.
Fourteen Arab men boarded a domestic flight with one-way tickets and sat in both the first class and economy class sections. Their behavior was so alarming that, if Ms Jacobsen's report is true in even its basic outline, the flight crew was spooked enough by what they saw to alert the captain, and he, in turn, appears to have alerted the authorities on the ground. Other passengers were also very alarmed by the Arab passengers' behavior.
Were those Arab passengers just behaving in a devout manner? Some of their actions might be interpreted that way. But others cannot. Not unless taking your McDonald's meal to the lavatory or standing around in the aisle of the plane are considered some quaint religious customs. And as the plane was preparing for landing, and after the seatbelt signs were turned on, seven of them suddenly stand up and head to the restroom, one taking his cellphone and another taking his camera. Is this just another example of Arab men acting in a devout manner?
Yes, in the end nothing happened, but this appears to be more due to luck than the policies used to secure airline flights. And keep in mind, the men do not have to be terrorists themselves to make a dry run for terrorists. All they need to do is pass on the information about how much leeway passengers are given in their behavior, and what the likely official response to it will be.
The insouciance of Dan and others here to this report is indicative of the mindset of many Americans, and helps to explain why there was never going to be an effective policy to prevent a 9/11 attack before 9/11 actually occurred. Less than three years after that day, many are already pooh-poohing reports of very suspicious activity on planes by Arab nationals as just so much paranoia.posted by: Pincher Martin on 07.16.04 at 12:04 PM [permalink]
Jeff and others,
You're right. I would have been scared.
But that doesn't mean that later on I would find it impossible to accept an innocent and reasonable explanation for the behavior, especially after the men involved ahd been questioned by the authorities.posted by: Bernard Yomtov on 07.16.04 at 12:04 PM [permalink]
"And as the plane was preparing for landing, and after the seatbelt signs were turned on, seven of them suddenly stand up and head to the restroom, one taking his cellphone and another taking his camera."
Would *you* leave a cellphone or camera unattended at your seat?posted by: Jon H on 07.16.04 at 12:04 PM [permalink]
"Fourteen Arab men boarded a domestic flight with one-way tickets and sat in both the first class and economy class sections."
Where were they supposed to sit? The not-first-class-and-not-economy-section?
As for the one-way tickets, they went from Detroit to LA and from Long Beach to New York. It's entirely possible for a band to have a set of gigs like that, especially a specialty group as this would seem to be. With gigs scheduled like that, there's no way to get round-trip tickets.
It would be very useful to learn who these musicians were. I'd think a group of 14 Syrian musicians, touring the US, probably has a name for themselves under which they perform.
A bit of Googling didn't turn up any likely matches, but I did find a story, from early 2004, about "Iraq's Elvis" planning a small spring tour of the US, with 14 musicians. Only some of whom were Syrian, so it wasn't these guys, but all were Middle Eastern.
"Would *you* leave a cellphone or camera unattended at your seat?"
Yes. Why not? I leave valuables (computer, cell phone, camera, passport) in my seat or in the overhead compartment all the time.
But maybe I'm just weird that way. I also don't depart with my friends en masse for the restroom as the plane is preparing for arrival, and after the flight attendants are strapped in. Go figure, huh?posted by: Pincher Martin on 07.16.04 at 12:04 PM [permalink]
"Where were they supposed to sit? The not-first-class-and-not-economy-section?"
The point was not where they *should* sit, but to add their seating arrangement as one more part of a pattern of behavior, and to argue that this pattern warranted suspicion and possible action by the authorities.
If a young Swedish lady takes a McDonald's bag to the restroom, why worry?
If a group of Mexican tourists has some of the group sitting in first class and some of the group in economy, who cares?
If children passengers are wandering around the aisles of the plane and getting up to go to restroom at the last minute before arrival, why would non-supervising adult passengers be overly concerned about it?
Picking a single point or a couple of points out of the Ms Jacobsen's report -- as you have done, Jon -- does not accurately convey why she and others on that flight, including those personnel trained to handle such situations, were concerned about what was happening.posted by: Pincher Martin on 07.16.04 at 12:04 PM [permalink]
I wonder if one or more of the folks who are inclined to dismiss the author as having over-reacted would be willing to outline the sort of behavior that they *would* consider to be threatening on an airliner?
What sort of behavior by a group of 14 young men of similar nationality would it take for for you to become alarmed?
And would your threshold for alarm be utterly indifferent to the nationality/race of the young men?
(In earlier comments, folks have wondered whether 14 young Frenchmen or Swedes would be as threatening with similar behavior to these 14 Syrians.)
Your thoughts welcome.
And please, let's stipulate a US domestic flight. Learning that lots of Arabs fly from Kuwait to Delhi in groups does not trouble me either.posted by: Tom Maguire on 07.16.04 at 12:04 PM [permalink]
I'm guessing it wouldn't be very easy to find adjacent seats for 14 people, especially if the tickets were bought within a couple of weeks of the flight.
Lord knows it's common enough for a *couple* to get seats well apart from each other.
If they were flying Southwest, with open seating, they might well have all sat together.
They might be Muslim, but that doesn't give them a magical ability to thwart aspects of modern-day air travel that bedevil everyone else.
hehe...Ah so Detroit has a lot of Muslims, fine, I suspect they aren't Syrians are they? This was a band of 14 Syrians, they weren't from Detroit.
Air Marshall's aboard the flight, lets see if the TSA was worried about this group of Syrians would they consider maybe putting extra aboard? Seems like putting extra marshalls onboard would be the least they could do. Remembering that in our PC world we couldnt stop them from traveling so we had to watch them, absurd yes but we live in an absurd world until the next attack makes us serious.
If this band of Syrians was so innocuous then why did they get greeted by FBI, TSA, LAPD and others when they got to the ground? A new sort of welcoming committee? I forget was it 19 German Grandmothers who flew those planes into those buildings or 19 Arabs?
Denial isnt just a river in Egypt.
Pierreposted by: Pierre Legrand on 07.16.04 at 12:04 PM [permalink]
Hey, that gives me an idea.
Maybe Muslims should get priority group seating. If they're in a group, they get to sit together, no matter how many people have booked seats on the flight.
That way, there'd never be a problem with groups of Muslims sitting apart, suspiciously.posted by: Jon H on 07.16.04 at 12:04 PM [permalink]
Tom Maguire writes: "(In earlier comments, folks have wondered whether 14 young Frenchmen or Swedes would be as threatening with similar behavior to these 14 Syrians.)"
Lots of Muslims in France.
"What sort of behavior by a group of 14 young men of similar nationality would it take for for you to become alarmed?"
I think the problem is that *any* behavior may be seen as suspicious.
Carrying your expensive electronic device to the bathroom instead of leaving it at your seat? Suspicious!
There are people in these comments demanding that Arabs do the impossible, and get seating arrangements that would be impossible to obtain due to first-come-first-served ticketing.
Jon, again, you're missing the point.
No one is arguing that any one or two particular things this group of Arab men did warrants attention. No one is saying that there are no valid reasons for a group of travelers to sit in different sections of the plane. No one is trying to argue that there are no good reasons for travelers to have one-way tickets. No one is saying it's suspicious -- in and of itself -- to take a McDonald's bag to the restroom. That's not the point here.
The *pattern* of activity is the point, as is how passengers and flight crew can and should react to it. People on that flight were scared by what they saw. It wasn't just Ms Jacobsen. The activity by those Arab passengers caused the flight attendants to begin passing notes to each other, to alert the captain, and also to alert authorities on the ground. And, yet, nothing was really done about it during the flight. That is the point. This time it appears the fourteen Arab men were not terrorists, but if fourteen non-terrorists could get away with that kind of activity on a flight, then so could fourteen terrorists.posted by: Pincher Martin on 07.16.04 at 12:04 PM [permalink]
Pierre writes: "hehe...Ah so Detroit has a lot of Muslims, fine, I suspect they aren't Syrians are they? This was a band of 14 Syrians, they weren't from Detroit."
"Detroit has long been a destination for immigrants from the Middle East. The earliest arrivals were Lebanese, who first came at the turn of the century to work in the factories settling on the East Side. Today, the Detroit region is home to the largest population of people of Arab decent in North America, with sizable groups of Chaldeans, Iraqui Muslims, Iranians, Syrians, Palestinians and Egyptians."
They weren't from Detroit, but they probably had a gig there.
Remember, we're looking for patterns of behavior. If half of what Ms. Jacobsen said is true, it's enought to set off alarm bells in any reasonable person.
And if ther were multiple Air Marshalls on that flight, something triggered their presence....perhaps 14 Syrians with one-way tickets?
Maybe it was all innocent, maybe it was a dry run. Shouldn't we err on the side of caution?
And by the way, I'm sure there are parts of the story that the FBI have not made public.posted by: madhatter on 07.16.04 at 12:04 PM [permalink]
Many of you are apparently more willing to believe that Syrians pray and eat burgers in airplane toilets than that they would be engaging in a dry run for a bombing. This despite the fact that the 9/11 terrorists engaged in at least one dress rehearsal. We can't afford this too-cool-for-school denial. Not anymore.
The FAM representative said that the Syrians were a band, on their way to a gig. What band foots the bill for one member to fly coach? Why would they have booked one way tickets instead of round trip flights?
Why were there air marshals on the flight? Most flights don't even have one air marshal. This one apparently had several. The two most likely explanations are first, that there were no air marshals. The flight attendant just invented them to reassure the passengers. The other possible explanation is that the air marshals were there because law enforcement is aware of these dry runs and are increasing security on these flights, while also presumably gathering information on their methods. This last, if true, suggests that the dry runs are a known phenomenon with a defined response procedure.
I'm really quite astonished that many of you are spending more energy dismissing the story than actually thinking about the few unquestioned facts and what they might mean.posted by: CalGal on 07.16.04 at 12:04 PM [permalink]
"I'm really quite astonished that many of you are spending more energy dismissing the story than actually thinking about the few unquestioned facts and what they might mean."
Hear, hear!posted by: Pincher Martin on 07.16.04 at 12:04 PM [permalink]
Pincher Martin writes: "The *pattern* of activity is the point, as is how passengers and flight crew can and should react to it. People on that flight were scared by what they saw. It wasn't just Ms Jacobsen. The activity by those Arab passengers caused the flight attendants to begin passing notes to each other, to alert the captain, and also to alert authorities on the ground. And, yet, nothing was really done about it during the flight. That is the point. This time it appears the fourteen Arab men were not terrorists, but if fourteen non-terrorists could get away with that kind of activity on a flight, then so could fourteen terrorists."
The *only* behavior I could see as being in any way questionable was the getting up and going to the bathroom part before landing.
The McDonalds bag seems harmless.
The "consecutive lavoratory usage" seems harmless as well. I think the prayer explanation is sufficient. They were probably washing up before prayer. They used both bathrooms because, ta da, there were a lot of peopel. She never says how many people actually used the bathroom, though, just "several".
The "congregating in groups of two and three at the back of the plane for various periods of time" is vague. It could have been that groups of two or three were doing their prayer thing, because there was space there, but only room for a few people.
As for the guy who gave her a "cold, defiant look", maybe it was because she was obviously freaking out and giving them all the hairy eyeball? Maybe she was talking loudly and he overheard her freaking out?
The boarding separately thing doesn't necessarily mean anything. Six boarded together. The 8 that boarded separately could be explained many ways. Perhaps those later boarders did their prayers at the airport, taking differing amounts of time, and arrived at the gate at different times after people began lining up. Rather than rudely jump in front of people to be with other Arabs, they boarded in line where they wound up.
The only really objectionable part (other than 'flying in groups while Arab') is that they went to the bathroom (supposedly) after the attendants had strapped in.
But nobody objected to that, so it's impossible to tell what their attitude was. Because there was no objection, there was no resistance. Perhaps, had there been an objection, they would have sat down immediately. We don't know.
As for this: "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. "
Maybe the last guy to use the bathroom stank it up real bad?
CalGal writes: "Jacobsen wasn't the only person spooked. The incident did happen. The authorities were contacted and were waiting for the Syrians when they got off the plane."
So? It doesn't take much to get that kind of response. It just takes suspicions. And it doesn't take much to cause a human brain to turn innocuous details into sure signs of evil incarnate.
Remember, these days anyone can get interrogated for hours and put on a suspicious-persons list for just saying "That's the bomb!" at an airport.
CalGal writes: "Why would they have booked one way tickets instead of round trip flights?"
Because their next gig wasn't in Detroit, it was in New York.
Detroit-LA-New York is *not* a round trip.posted by: Jon H on 07.16.04 at 12:04 PM [permalink]
"Maybe the last guy to use the bathroom stank it up real bad?"
You're not funny, Jon.
Your continual disparagement of a pattern of strange activity shows you take lightly potential threats to airline safety. This was understandable before 9/11, but not today.
You believe that by dealing -- and dismissing --each of odd behaviors separately, you can dismiss their totality. But that's not how it works. People see and react to the context.
An example of how flippant and dull your reactions are to the odd behavior of these men is your explanation for the McDonald's bag. You write:
"The McDonalds bag seems harmless."
Obviously, it's not the bag that's the problem, but what was in it. I live overseas and travel by air all the time. I don't believe I've ever seen anyone take a fastfood bag to the lavatory.
Passengers do take the hygiene kits to the restroom. Was the Arab man's McDonald's bag his own makeshift hygiene kit? Maybe, but given the other circumstances of the flight, the crew and passengers were right to wonder and worry.posted by: Pincher Martin on 07.16.04 at 12:04 PM [permalink]
There was a great moment in a libel case over blacklisting where one blacklisted actor recounted that he had been able to secure a gig at UN Radio that required him to pass an FBI background check. Then the actor, who denied ever having been a Communist, took his FBI clearance to the blacklisters, and they said "Oh, we take that with a grain of salt. Our standards are higher than theirs; we feel they are a little too lenient."
OK, I can see why 14 Syrians traveling together could get people's attention. The question is what do we do about it, and an awful lot of people think the answer is "go vigilante". People like Petersen and Pincher are not just saying they are afraid of groups of Muslims traveling, enough so that every ordinary incident of travel (some got to sit together, and some didn't) takes on ominous portents. Petersen and Pincher are also saying they don't trust the government, even at this date, to have the first clue about how to safeguard our security: probably because their idea of "security" does indeed involve a general level of harassment of Arabs that hasn't taken place. That's where I part company. (Incidentally, isn't it interesting that they blame this alleged government incompetence not on the people running the government, but on the liberals? One scapegoat fits all, I suppose.) If you're that scared of what liberals have done to the TSA, maybe you should stop flying, instead of trying to keep Arabs off the flights.
Is there any doubt what these people would have thought of the internment of the Nisei? And what they would have said about the lack of patriotism of the many Americans who opposed it?posted by: Andrew J. Lazarus on 07.16.04 at 12:04 PM [permalink]
"People like Petersen and Pincher are not just saying they are afraid of groups of Muslims traveling, enough so that every ordinary incident of travel (some got to sit together, and some didn't) takes on ominous portents. Petersen and Pincher are also saying they don't trust the government, even at this date, to have the first clue about how to safeguard our security: probably because their idea of "security" does indeed involve a general level of harassment of Arabs that hasn't taken place. That's where I part company. (Incidentally, isn't it interesting that they blame this alleged government incompetence not on the people running the government, but on the liberals? One scapegoat fits all, I suppose.) If you're that scared of what liberals have done to the TSA, maybe you should stop flying, instead of trying to keep Arabs off the flights."
Your inferences are -- in my case, at least -- wild and unsubstantiated. And your solution is a typically blinkered view that would keep law-abiding citizens off domestic flights while not allowing flight crews and passengers to take precautions against what *they* (not just Pincher and Peterson) feel are suspicious activities.
First, as I explained already on at least two separate occasions, it was not simply Muslim men traveling together, or even how they traveled together, that I considered an ominous portent. It was the entire scenario that was described that I found chilling, and the lack of response from the flight crew to what they reportedly also found chilling.
Second, I neither trust nor distrust the government on this matter. I'm simply responding to the details of the case presented here. I have no idea who, if anyone, is to blame for the policies and how they were implemented. It could be the government. It could be the flight crew. It could be a combination of both. I don't know.
Perhaps no one is at fault. Numerous federal officers might have been on board the flight, tailing the suspects and monitoring their activities. Maybe they feel things went down just as they wanted. I don't know because it's not possible to know for sure from just one article. But what is reported in Ms Jacobsen's piece seems to indicate a disconnect between what was perceived as a threat by the flight crew and what was done about it while the flight was in air.
Third, I have not once -- not once! -- blamed liberals for this incident. I haven't even typed the word "liberal" in any of my posts here. So retract your comment immediately.
"Is there any doubt what these people would have thought of the internment of the Nisei? And what they would have said about the lack of patriotism of the many Americans who opposed it?"
Perhaps there is no doubt in your mind, but your comparison between how a group of Americans were treated for several years in WW2 and how a group of foreign nationals, acting suspiciously, should be treated on a flight is a sloppy and emotional appeal to tar other viewpoints different from your own.posted by: Pincher Martin on 07.16.04 at 12:04 PM [permalink]
I can relate to some of the fears. Recently, on a flight one guy (he did not look like a person of Middle Eastern descent) kept going into the bathroom on a flight. I would surmise he went it around 8 times, and the flight was probably slight more than two hours. After the fourth time I started to get pretty edgy. I also asked the flight attendant what was up with that. He could have been doing cocaine, but it is one of those things that just seemed unusual. Also, after a few times he was walking to the bathroom without any shoes on. I was edgy with 1, I don't know what I would have done with 14. Yeah maybe everyone on the plane over-reacted, but that is truly a palpable fear, especially when we are being bombarded with warnings about more plane attacks.posted by: Dave the Barbarian on 07.16.04 at 12:04 PM [permalink]
There's nothing scary or off-putting about the comments here; people are simply reacting to patterns. We all do it. For example, when I see a group of southern white wingnuts gather, I assume they are going out to lynch an African-American or beat to death someone who is gay.
Colin Powell's not going to the convention, is he?posted by: SomeCallMeTim on 07.16.04 at 12:04 PM [permalink]
I think that Annie Jacobsen is getting a bit carried away. Should we be more inclined to suspect Arab looking people of terrorist activity? Of course we should. The odds are that blue eyed and blond haired Swedes are relatively harmless. Still, we must be cautious not to jump to invalid conclusions. There is no simple solution. I am a German-American and during WWII it would have been foolish not to be concerned about my possibly being a traitor. We can only try to be as fair as it is humanly possible.posted by: David Thomson on 07.16.04 at 12:04 PM [permalink]
"There was a great moment in a libel case over blacklisting where one blacklisted actor recounted that he had been able to secure a gig at UN Radio that required him to pass an FBI background check. Then the actor, who denied ever having been a Communist, took his FBI clearance to the blacklisters, and they said 'Oh, we take that with a grain of salt. Our standards are higher than theirs; we feel they are a little too lenient.'"
Name the actor. Considering the dishonesty of the rest of your post, I have no reason to believe your cute little blacklisting story, and good reason to believe you made it up.
"OK, I can see why 14 Syrians traveling together could get people's attention. The question is what do we do about it, and an awful lot of people think the answer is 'go vigilante'. People like Petersen and Pincher are not just saying they are afraid of groups of Muslims traveling, enough so that every ordinary incident of travel (some got to sit together, and some didn't) takes on ominous portents. Petersen and Pincher are also saying they don't trust the government, even at this date, to have the first clue about how to safeguard our security: probably because their idea of 'security' does indeed involve a general level of harassment of Arabs that hasn't taken place. That's where I part company. (Incidentally, isn't it interesting that they blame this alleged government incompetence not on the people running the government, but on the liberals? One scapegoat fits all, I suppose.) If you're that scared of what liberals have done to the TSA, maybe you should stop flying, instead of trying to keep Arabs off the flights."
"Is there any doubt what these people would have thought of the internment of the Nisei? And what they would have said about the lack of patriotism of the many Americans who opposed it?"
posted by: Andrew J. Lazarus on 07.17.04 at 01:17 AM [permalink]
So, you are so intellectually incompetent, that given your inability to argue a point, you simply misrepresent the views of those with whom you disagree, and tar them as white supremacists.
Had you been on the four 911 flights, would you have been accusing your suspicious fellow passengers of racism, until it was too late to do anything? No doubt. Would you have soiled your pants, once it was clear what was going on? Again, no doubt.
You pull your pathetic, "isn't it interesting" line (why not go all the way, Mr. Lefty Clichemonger, and say, "Isn't is ironic?") "that they blame this alleged government incompetence not on the people running the government, but on the liberals?" Well, the truth covers both. Our incompetent Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, is a politically-correct-with-a-vengeance liberal, who has deliberately hamstrung airline security, out of a desire to personally avenge himself against the surely long dead federal officer who confiscated his baseball bat over sixty years ago.
Like Mineta, you have no problem with sacrificing Americans, in order to puff up your sense of moral superiority.posted by: Nicholas Stix on 07.16.04 at 12:04 PM [permalink]
There are lots of Muslims in Sweden, too - thanks for the news about France.
Any chance of a serious response to what pattern of behavior *would* be troubling to you?
If, for example, the 14 men had gathered togeher near the cockpit, said, "Nobody move, we are about to astound you", and reached into their various cases, would you consider "alarm" a reasonable response, or would you figure they were probably a traveling band about to regale the crowd with a bit of karaoke?
If your answer to that is, hmm, that might have been alarming, can you present a slightly less far-fetched scenario that might also meet your threshhold for alarm?
And for the sky-riding heros out there - suppose the writer's husband had simply walked up to where the (small) groups were gathered and asked to use the bathroom?
Or should the husband (not to be deplorably sexit) have attempted to enlist a few other passengers to mill about with him? Sort of pre-emptively disrupt whatever was happening?
And would Jon H have joined in, or would that have offended his sense of racial profiling?posted by: TM on 07.16.04 at 12:04 PM [permalink]
Pincher Martin writes: " I don't believe I've ever seen anyone take a fastfood bag to the lavatory."
You probably have, you just didn't notice it because you weren't suspicious of them due to their ethnicity.
As I mention above, there is a perfectly good reason to take something to the bathroom. There is a trash receptacle in the bathroom. If you walk on the plane with a half-eaten takeout meal, you're going to soon end up with some trash.
Cabin crew don't usually collect trash until after the in-flight meal, so you could end up holding that bag of trash for over an hour.
Instead, one could just get up, go to the bathroom, and toss the trash in the receptacle.
The fact is, people will confabulate any manner of suspicious intent to a person's activities, once that person is considered suspicious. No matter how innocuous an act, the frightened, wary person will interpret it as some doom-portending evil.
Arab person takes a phone into the bathroom? It's suspicious! Never mind that they might come from a poor background, and thus be less cavalier with expensive items than a wealthier American might be.posted by: Jon H on 07.16.04 at 12:04 PM [permalink]
TM writes: "And for the sky-riding heros out there - suppose the writer's husband had simply walked up to where the (small) groups were gathered and asked to use the bathroom?"
Maybe he could have, you know, gone up to have a look and see what they were doing. The writer doesn't actually say what the people were doing.
Of course, that sort of person probably finds praying Arabs suspicious under any circumstance. Clearly, they would think, the Arabs must be praying to get right with Allah before driving the plane into a building.
I can imagine what this woman writer would do if a pagan lesbian couple moved into her neighborhood.
If the lesbians had friends over for a barbeque, she'd probably call the cops and say they were having a black mass and roasting babies.posted by: Jon H on 07.16.04 at 12:04 PM [permalink]
"There was a fire, and wild music, and I smelled burning meat. Meat! What else could it be, but babies roasting during a Black Mass?"
"Maybe it was a barbeque?"
"Well, maybe, but under the circumstances they might have avoided cooking meat. And they could have played more appropriate music, like maybe Lee Greenwood. They should know better. Can you blame me for being suspicious?"posted by: Jon H on 07.16.04 at 12:04 PM [permalink]
Jon, your explanation for the McDonald's bag is convoluted, and it doesn't track with what was reported. You would do your explanations a big favor by reading the article instead of making stuff up on the fly about what you think happened.
The full McDonald's bag was not tossed into the restroom's trash receptacle. It was taken to the lavatory and when it was brought back, it was half-empty. As the man carrying the McDonald's bag returned to his seat, he gave a thumbs-up sign. The bag then disappeared. This detail, which you don't find suspicious at all, was what the FBI investigators focused on most in their interview with Ms Jacobsen and her husband.
In retrospect, it probably meant nothing. But the matter before us is not how you demonstrate coolness and personal magnanimity to a unusual but already resolved situation that you haven't faced -- something any idiot can do. It is instead to ask how flight crews and passengers deal with stressful situations where *they* -- not you -- fear they are at risk.posted by: Pincher Martin on 07.16.04 at 12:04 PM [permalink]
There's something delicious in seeing Nicholas Stix complain about the tone of my comment, and then exceed whatever sins I committed with the nastiest paragraphs on the entire thread. Our airline security is weak because Norm Mineta is wreaking vengeance for his confiscated baseball bat. You know, Mineta doesn't have lifetime tenure, and if this incident scarred him so bad he can't do his job, your hero GW Bush can fire him. And I'll take your ridiculing the internment of Norm Mineta as symbolic that indeed you do support the internment of the Nisei (your likely source, Ann Coulter forgot to mention that's where the bat incident occurred, did she?), in which case by your own description you are a white supremacist. As far as tone goes, Nick, start with the man in the mirror, OK?
The blacklisted actor was Everett Sloane and the incident is recounted on pp.367–69 of The Jury Returns by Louis Nizer [out of print, no link].
The best blog item I've read on this by a non-liberal, showing why although the outline of the story is true the narrative is completely distorted by fear of Muslims and liberals, is Donald Sensing's.posted by: Andrew J. Lazarus on 07.16.04 at 12:04 PM [permalink]
I recall quite a bit of discussion regarding failure to connect dots Pre 911.
Are we too politically correct, too stubborn, or too stupid to connect dots Post 911??
Whether true or not, the moral of the story is...
that the terrorists are, by definition, winning.
Annie Jacobsen and a whole bunch of other people are, in point of fact, officially terrified. shitting their pants, as Mr. Buehner puts it, and then yammering about why the rest of us aren't doing the same. hell why even bother to blow yourself up when you can sow fear and loathing just by going to the bathroom a lot?
I mean if you think a system that noticed, investigated, interrogated, and accompanied 14 Syrian musicians before letting them onto the plane doesn't work then what exactly do you propose? not letting brown people fly? and do you really think all those nervous passengers would have let the musicians take control of that plane rather than merely blowing it up?
get a grip folks. if you're such a chickenshit that you think that civil liberties ought to be scrapped in order to make people feel safer you can always move to a nice "safe" authoritarian country that doesn't allow people to own guns or travel without a reason. if you value your life more than you value your freedom, then stop flying, stop going to the mall, crawl into a hole and pull it in after you. America doesn't need your kind of help right now.
apologies for the hostile tone, and to anyone I've offended here...posted by: radish on 07.16.04 at 12:04 PM [permalink]
A lot of speculation, none of it informed. Annie was paranoid, or Annie was rightly suspicious, pick a side and argue. The fact is that the story needs to be checked with other passengers and the crew, as well as FBI and airline officials. Then we'll see. I have to add that making a throat-cutting gesture and mouthing "no" (I assume that isn't a misreading by Annie) seems mighty suspicious to me in any light. Even if it turns out she was barking up the wrong tree and adding up innocent incidents into one big conspiracy, anyone who has lived in a city or country where garbage bins are routinely used for bombings (as I have, in London and Cape Town) is EXPECTED to blow the whistle on unattended bags and odd behaviour (a lunchbag was blown up by the bomb squad here near parliament here not long ago).
Seeking to explain it away (instead of following up ) seems foolhardy in the extreme. Jacobsen did the right thing, even if it all turns out to be harmless.
1) I have a friend who had a similar thing happen during an early morning flight (i.e. half empty) that crossed over DC. He thought he was going to die; has never been as scared in his life.
2) I know a lot of flight attendants. Nothing of what they have told me gives me any reason to doubt anything about Annie's story. On the contrary.
3) A lot of people refuse to accept that there are bad guys out there or that there is a war. You'd be surprised by the amount of people who have filed 9/11 in a separate, isolated box of their mind so that it doesn't trouble them too much; allows them to keep on cruisin' in pre-9/11 mode. Are you one of them?
4) To all you skeptics: yeah, maybe it's not true. Maybe I didn't have the friend I mentioned above either. Maybe I know flight attendants from television only. Except... I did tell you the truth. Hmm. That's more unpleasant to live with, isn't it?posted by: Realist on 07.16.04 at 12:04 PM [permalink]
Pincher Martin writes: "The full McDonald's bag was not tossed into the restroom's trash receptacle. It was taken to the lavatory and when it was brought back, it was half-empty."
No, I did address it.
There may have been stuff in the bag that he didn't want to throw out, (some food saved for later), but also things he did want to throw out (burger wrapper, soda cup, soiled napkins). The bag provides a convenient container for transporting these items to the bathroom.
Why would he keep the leftovers in the bag during the process? Because otherwise, he'd have to find a place to stash them at his seat. Given the nature of fast food (greasy, etc) and the questionable sanitation of airline upholstery, it would be better just to keep it in the bag, rather than putting a container of fries in the seatback pocket or on the seatcushion itself.
Alternately, he could have left the retained items in the bag, at his seat, but then he'd have to make his way to the bathroom with one or both hands full of trash.
I dunno, this doesn't seem all that unlikely to me. It wouldn't raise any eyebrows if a white guy or a kid did something similar.
If you think McDonalds bags are suspicious, what if they use a woman, and she goes into the bathroom with her purse, and comes out with her purse?
Given that it's generally *impossible* to tell if the contents of a purse have changed, would this be a greater or lesser risk than a person carrying a McDonald's bag in and out of a bathroom?posted by: Jon H on 07.16.04 at 12:04 PM [permalink]
As far as connecting the dots goes, wouldn't that fall on the shoulders of the FBI?
I mean, these people were checked out after landing, and apparently deemed harmless. If they *were* doing a dry run, that means the FBI and CIA are missing lots of information, or else that information is held but isn't disseminated widely enough.
I can't imagine the US being the least bit shy about shipping these guys off to Syria for torture and interrogation if there was even a slight bit of evidence in their background of a connection with terror.
Didn't they ship off a Canadian of Syrian origin, who was just connecting flights in New York his way to Canada, because a lease he signed was witnessed by someone supposedly involved with terrorism?
Compared to that, if there was even a hint of something suspicious in these musicians' backgrounds, after the events on the plane, they surely would have been shackled and shipped of to somewhere nasty.
That is, if the suspicious connections in their background isn't stuck in a cubicle at an FBI office in Lenexa, KS, ignored by everyone higher up.
Don't think this has been mentioned up-thread, but CAPPS is not only destined to fail, if it is implemented, it will make flying less safe. The only things necessary to make this true are a reasonably diverse population of potential troublemakers and finite resources for inspections.
If airline security rests on a mix of random and non-random (i.e., CAPPS-driven) checks, then potential hijackers can be sent on a few flights to see if they get flagged by the CAPPS system. After as few as ten flight legs, it's possible to say with mathematical certainty that someone is not on the list.
If confidence in the CAPPS-like system means that three-quarters of searches are done on people flagged by the system, that leaves only one-quarter of searches available to find malefactors through random searches. In effect, CAPPS has led the government to waste three-quarters of its scarce resources.
With just a little bit of investment in time and money, a group intent on airline mayhem can send people around the country -- on completely harmless and legitimate travel -- to find out if they're flagged by CAPPS or not. If not, then the security program itself has reduced by 75 percent the chances that a perpetrator will be caught by a random search.
But don't take my word for it, these guys have actually done the math:
And for what it's worth, aren't the days of passengers sheepishly going along with a hijacking officially over? After 9/11, will anybody believe hijackers who say "just be quiet and no one will get hurt"? I don't think so.
I fly two to three days a week and lots to Detriot. I would have been very concerned about the men and what they were up to. The individual acts themselves can be easily explained. But you can not be to careful. If you expect the govt to be able stop everything you are kidding yourself. I think most people would prefer to keep the head in the sand as it makes life easier to live.posted by: Bill on 07.16.04 at 12:04 PM [permalink]
Has anyone came forward with verification that this 14 member band played somewhere "in the desert"? I'd also be interested to hear of any passenger's accounts from the return flight on Jetblue. It just seems that there is not any follow up information available.posted by: Scott on 07.16.04 at 12:04 PM [permalink]
I spoke with a reporter from the NY Times and he believes he has the name of the band and reports that food was actually in the McDonalds bag. Regardless, more information should be available soon, especially if he actually gets in touch with the band.posted by: Scott on 07.16.04 at 12:04 PM [permalink]
RE: the "thumbs up" sign given by the man with the McD's bag:
In the middle east, the "thumbs up" sign is the equivalent of our very own middle finger. Maybe the guy with the bag was joking around with another one of the Syrians, and was flipping him off, in jest?
Also, as to one of the men sitting in first class: this man was also dressed better than the others, right? He was probably their MANAGER. I've worked in the music industry, and this would by typical manager behavior: book the band in coach, get a good seat for yourself in First Class.
It's really quite amazing the gyrations the right wing will go through to keep this country paralyzed with FEAR. Now, anybody who's remotely foreign-looking is immediately under suspicion.
I have a few Pakistani friends, and they no longer feel safe flying out of the country. They are legitimately fearful that they will be detained upon return and held without trial or hearing indefinately-- just because they're brown-skinned and speak with an accent.
It's really quite pathetic how the right-wing has cowed the country into being afraid of every single thing that doesn't "look right". It's far worse than the Red Scares of earlier decades.
It's far sadder, too, that people don't question what's REALLY going on, and instead rely on their base suspicions instead of thinking with their heads.posted by: bleaorrgh on 07.16.04 at 12:04 PM [permalink]
If the story occurred as she said, then every one of the air marshals on board should be fired. Supposedly her husband had marshals seated "all around" them. And apparently the pilots and stewardesses were all aware of this apparently dangerous plan too.
Is no one else concerned that if this really happened, the plane could have blown up and the air marshalls would have done absolutely nothing to stop it? Isn't that what they're on the plane for in the first place?
And also. Of an entire plane of people, even those who were oblivious on the flight, how would they not notice, when coming off a flight, a group of LAPD, FBI, etc. running towards the plane and escorting 14 men to the side? And not one person on the flight, nor anyone in the airport, ever went to the media to talk about it? There's just too many media sources out there to blame a "media conspiracy" as to why there's been no coverage at all.posted by: no tomatos on 07.16.04 at 12:04 PM [permalink]
I think these are changing times that require a more open minded thinking pattern -- the unthinkable can happen and did happen and there have been attempts to make it happen again. Call it paranoia or call it being cautious - - unfortunatley racial stereo typing is going to be a part of it. The most disturbing thing that bothers me is the article in November of 2001 about the "14" Syrians that were enroute to Dallas to attend a flying school. Surely someone is ruling out the connection. Like it or not - - the possiblity of terrorist cells in this country does exist and all suspicious activity no matter how trivial should be reported.posted by: Kim on 07.16.04 at 12:04 PM [permalink]
As a "weenie" with a strong fear of flying prior to 9/11, I have to admit that the story sent shivers up my spine. The mental image of the last guy out of the bathroom running his forefinger across his neck seemed a bit unsettling. Upon further reflection, however, I did wonder why a man who had previously been speaking Arabic mouthed "No" in English rather than in his native tongue.posted by: Julia on 07.16.04 at 12:04 PM [permalink]
I have flown often with mideastern people and have usually had no fear (just normal activities going on) but once had very similar things happen. It was very frightening. I was plotting how I personally could stop them if something happened. "Trial run" really describles the whole scenario. BUT WORSE before 9/11 I WAS actually confronted by an angry mideastern man yelling at me about all the things that came to light later: Jihad/American society/the place of women in society/ANTHRAX/hatred for our government etc. I contacted the FBI after 9/11. My message: they're here! PAY ATTENTION!posted by: Chitown on 07.16.04 at 12:04 PM [permalink]
I have one question, a question I asked Joe Sharkey of the NYT and is still unanswered by him and everyone else interested in this story:
What was the name of the band and where did they play?posted by: Chris Monoki on 07.16.04 at 12:04 PM [permalink]
It's unfortunate that in a country that prides in its rich diversity and deep cultural mix, we allow a nobody named Annie Jacobsen to turn speculation into a conspiracy theory. Annie Jacobsen's story is based on a connection of dots of incidents that ultimately meant nothing. Quite simply, we cannot and should not be alarmed every time a person of Middle Eastern descent stands up on a moving aircraft and heads to the lavatory. Articles like Jacobsen's only turn back the hands of time and incite hateful, cruel and completely unneeded racism.posted by: Asher Ailey on 07.16.04 at 12:04 PM [permalink]
From the Washington Times
"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..
"It's happening, and it's a sad state of affairs," the paper quoted an anonymous pilot as saying.
David Adams, a spokesman for the Federal Air Marshal Service, confirmed Jacobsen's account. He said officers who were on board checked the restrooms several times but found nothing.
A pilot reported another flight in which an air marshal broke into a lavatory that an Arab had locked himself into for a long time. The man had removed the mirror and was trying to break through the wall, on the other side of which was the cockpit, the pilot said.
But Profiling Terrorists Isn't P.C.
Then why is so little being done? Political correctness and fear of pressure groups.
Most Muslims are not terrorists, but most terrorists are Muslim. Anyone who ignores this reality is abetting the next 9/11.posted by: ssmith on 07.16.04 at 12:04 PM [permalink]
Who was the band and where did they end up playing? Where are they now? What is an "LAPD agent?" Why are there no other corraborating passengers? If the pilots felt seriously threatened, would they not have landed in a less populated area enroute to LA, perhaps a military base (there are several on the desert northeast of the city)?posted by: RCasey on 07.16.04 at 12:04 PM [permalink]
Some commentors would have us supress all instincts and actions in the circumstance Ms. Jacobsen experienced.. all in the name of civil rights. Just what threshold must be reached before it's considered reasonble, and not discriminatory, to act, or, at the very least, feel threatened?? I fear the plane would already be going down if we left it up to those commentors.
I'll give an example: a couple of years after the Oklahoma City attack, I was working in the Thurgood Marshall Judiciary Building in DC. One day as I entered the building, there was a Ryder moving truck parked at the side of the building. Did I flinch mentally? Yes. Did I have valid concerns? Yes. Did I go into a hysterical state? No.
I observed the situation; I looked at the truck, and determined from the tires that it wasn't carrying a heavy load. I also determined that it was parked in view of the security post at the garage/loading dock. The guard was unconcerned; given that he probably didn't want to die either, it seemed likely that he had already investigated. I moved on. Was I relieved when I went out later and it was gone? Sure. Did I rant to my coworkers about how it must have been a dry run for terrorists? Did I spread irrational hysteria? No.
The 9/11 Commission's report blames America's inept defense on a "failure of imagination
I find this story very disturbing!! I would have gotten off the plane. We HAVE TO TAKE CARE OF OURSELVES AND YES, WE NEED PROFILING TO PROTECT AMERICANS.posted by: L Earnhart on 07.16.04 at 12:04 PM [permalink]
This is so interesting. I just did a search on the net to learn more about this Fourth Generation War because I explained to some friends my odd experience on America West a couple of weeks ago and they told me there was publicity on similar experiences. I flew LA to Seattle connecting in Las Vegas where we picked up 10 Arab Men. They were dispersed around the cabin and acting very bizarre. Meeting at the bathroom in the front of the plane and turning to face the cabin and looking each and everyone one of us in the eyes with long stares. Two in front of me pulled out a large, round mirror. Acted like they were looking at themselves in the mirror and then held it so they could view the cabin behind them! That could easily be a weapon if broken. I told the flight attendants who were well aware of the suspicious behavior. They were looking at each other over the seats and across the plane and nodding their heads and then looking around. The whole plane was obviously uncomfortable based on body language. I was just angry when the flight was over because it seemed to me their suspicious actions were deliberate to create anxiety. I noticed when they gathered toward baggage claim that they had instruments, guitars, etc. After reading the comments on your page here, I think it to be an odd coincidence.posted by: Marie on 07.16.04 at 12:04 PM [permalink]
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