Monday, July 19, 2004
The Jacobsons are telling the 'Terror in the Skies' story on 'Scarborough Country' tonight. So far, it jibes with the written account, and the Jacobsons strike me as extremely credible. They may have misinterpreted the bizarre things that they saw, but they are not making it up.
UPDATE 10:10: Scarborough cracks me up. With a straight face: "Why can't 14 Arab men fly on the same flight in the United States?" Jacobson points out that seven of them were out of their seats when the "fasten seatbelts" light was on, and nobody else was.
I still believe these guys. If they are acting or otherwise making it up, they should get Oscars.
Scarborough: "Did any of the flight attendants tell these people to sit down when the plane was landing?" No, apparently. Kevin Jacobson says that the flight attendants were visibly terrified.
UPDATE 10:17: Scarborough: "Was this a case of post-9/11 jitters, or was there real cause for concern? Explain specifically how Arab men going to the rest room upset you so much." [Added in UPDATE: Annie says, basically, that "you had to be there, and see how they were acting." But she further] reports that pilots of commercial aircraft have written her about "dry runs" being conducted, which at least one pilot correspondant has referred to as the "airlines dirty little secret."
Now Pete Williams, NBC's Justice Department correspondant, follows up. PW: "The investigators who responded confirm in rough detail what the Jacobsons report. There were 14 Syrians on the flight, they were detained, and they were questioned at length and then released. The federal agents were satisfied that they were, in fact, musicians going to a gig in Los Angeles."
Scarborough: "Is this unusual? Do federal authorities detain Arabs who travel in groups regularly?" PW: This is what the federal agents want people to do. The FBI gets reports all the time of people taking pictures of bridges and power plants, or Arabs flying together on flights. What the Jacobsons did not know at the time was that all of these passengers were screened before having gotten on the flight.
Pete Williams is very calming and matter of fact about the incident, while remaining very respectful of the Jacobsons. He doesn't seem to think that this was a "dry run," but a gathering of Arabs that understandably raised concerns. Next up, the terrorism experts.
UPDATE 10:30: We now get aviation expert Michael Boyd, Larry Johnson (a counterterrorism guy), and Steve Pomerantz, a former assistant director of the FBI.
Pomerantz is "struck by the fact that nothing happened, and that the FBI conducted what sounds like a thorough and proper investigation." He basically thinks that this was a false alarm, like so many others.
Larry Johnson thinks that it "could have been" a trial run, but wants to divert the conversation into an inquiry into whether we are doing enough to secure the airs. He thinks we still have gaps, and that this episode illustrates what the weakness might be -- "we have not figured out how to detect liquid explosives." Bombs can be assembled in mid-air.
Michael Boyd says that "whether we believe the Jacobsons or not, dry runs are being made." Scarborough agrees, and cites James Woods' story, wherein the actor apparently witnessed one of the dry-runs prior to September 11. Boyd just hammers the state of commercial airline security, but he blew through his list of shortcomings so quickly I couldn't get it down.
UPDATE 10:45: Now we have Bogdan Dzakovic, a former FAA inspector. He joins the chorus of critics of airline security. Cites the whistleblower suit that he filed over pre-9/11 policy decisions. Douglas Laird, the former security director of Northwest Airlines, disagrees. He talks about reinforced cockpit doors, the screening of backage, and so forth. Laird talks quite learnedly of all the procedures that would have been triggered by 14 Syrians if anything bad actually were happening. I'm not convinced.
Candice DeLong, a former FBI profiler, takes us back to the Woods case, and argues that passengers should stay alert and act if they notice something weird. The principle being, I suppose, that reticence or deference in the face of lots of Arabs on a plane acting differently from everybody else is a mistake.
FINAL UPDATE: Scarborough reports that they are "flooded" with emails tonight. He reads an email received on line from a commercial airline pilot that says that he strongly believes that he has seen dry runs, and he is going to attend the program to arm pilots. Annie: "Someday, they are going to be all done with the dry runs."
Annie also questions the claim that a "thorough" investigation was done after the flight. She says that she spoke with one of the investigators -- she cited him by name but I missed it -- and asked him what kind of instruments the "musicians" had. He said that they "had not gotten that far into the weeds."
Weeds? While the presence of instruments would only show that the 14 Syrians were keeping their facts straight with their alibai, wouldn't the absence of instruments go a long way toward proving the Jacobsons' worst fears? How could the federal investigators have failed to ask to see the instruments?
I'm back to worried, but I'm done for the evening.