Dry Run Confirmed

A declassified report confirms that Annie Jacobsen accurately recounted suspicious activities on a Northwest flight from Detroit to Los Angeles in the summer of 2004, and that a number of Syrians attempted a dry run for a terror attack. Eight of the 12 had already been flagged for criminal or suspicious behavior, and the apparent leader was involved in a similar incident later as well:

A newly released inspector general report backs eyewitness accounts of suspicious behavior by 13 Middle Eastern men on a Northwest Airlines flight in 2004 and reveals several missteps by government officials, including failure to file an incident report until a month after the matter became public.
According to the Homeland Security report, the “suspicious passengers,” 12 Syrians and their Lebanese-born promoter, were traveling on Flight 327 from Detroit to Los Angeles on expired visas. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services extended the visas one week after the June 29, 2004, incident.
The report also says that a background check in the FBI’s National Crime Information Center database, which was performed June 18 as part of a visa-extension application, produced “positive hits” for past criminal records or suspicious behavior for eight of the 12 Syrians, who were traveling in the U.S. as a musical group.
In addition, the band’s promoter was listed in a separate FBI database on case investigations for acting suspiciously aboard a flight months earlier. He was detained a third time in September on a return trip to the U.S. from Istanbul, the details of which were redacted.

The air marshals and the gate personnel for Northwest knew at the beginning of the flight that these passengers presented a threat. Before the men had even boarded the plane, they started acting suspiciously enough that the air marshals signaled each other about the group. Twenty minutes into the flight, well before Jacobsen contacted a flight attendant, the crew had contacted the air marshals about their concerns. One flight attendant took the unusual step of entering the cockpit an hour into the flight to discuss the concerns with the pilots; cockpits have been locked and barred ever since 9/11.
After all of this, the FBI did not open an investigation into the incident until Jacobsen appeared on MS-NBC’s Scarborough Country. The Homeland Security personnel involved did not pass the irnformation along to their Operations Center, even though the leader of the group had been involved in a similar incident in January of that year, on Frontier Airlines. It didn’t get logged into the HSOC database until the Washington Times reported it on July 26, 2004. By that time, all 12 Syrians had left the country.
TSA, for its part, said that the matter did not merit a referral since all of the passengers could be “cleared”. It’s fuzzy about why they thought that, since the DHS found a pattern of suspicious activity for eight of the men involved, including a “similar” incident involving the leader five months earlier. His third time, on a trip back from Istanbul, the FBI finally detained him. DHS rejects the TSA excuse, stating categorically that the incident should have been logged into the HSOC and merited further investigation.
A look at the seating chart shows another reason for suspicion. Despite traveling together (they all supposedly worked as a musical group), they pretended not to notice each other. They got seats that literally put them all over the plane.
Without a doubt, this vindicates Jacobsen and shows that either these men intended to conduct a terrorist dry run, or that they wanted someone to think that they were. It could have been a probe, a test to see just how far they could go without provoking a response. That could explain why the same man was involved in three such incidents. The official line that nothing happened on Flight 327 should embarrass everyone in the Homeland Security system, and someone owes Annie Jacobsen an apology.

22 thoughts on “Dry Run Confirmed”

  1. It should do more than embarrass, it should result in the firing of the agents and TSA members responsible for monitoring the situation.
    These agents have only 1, clear job. With an obvious opportunity to prosecute and work together, they failed. Plain and simple.

  2. I’m amazed we haven’t had a catastrophic domestic event repeat yet. Revelations such as this almost convince me that as of now, it is only incompetence of our enemies that is trumping the incompetence (or is it negligence?) of our government agencies that has prevented 9/11 part 2. Perhaps that edge is just enough.
    We are living on borrowed time. On the plus side, Homeland Security is overseeing ICE and certifying the nation’s safety, so we have nothing to fear. Nothing to see here. Move along.

  3. Nobody owes Jacobsen diddly squat.
    “the FBI did not open an investigation into the incident until Jacobsen appeared on MS-NBC’s Scarborough Country”
    This is most likely not true. If I were the D of Homeland Security I wouldn’t be telling the media or bloggers or anybody about any investigations that had or hadn’t started because that would be really, really stupid. It’s far better that the terrorists believe America isn’t watching.
    She should have kept her mouth shut – she could have jeopardized a much larger investigation with her junior private eye silliness. Yet you’d rather give her a medal for being a good watchful citizen and are up at arms that it appeared nobody was paying attention to her story.
    I would rather they incur the wrath of outraged bloggers and do their job than reveal exactly what they’re up to and screw up an investigation.
    And a little nitpicky side note – there’s nothing suspicious about a group travelling together and deciding to sit apart. On a business trip, being on the plane away from everyone sometimes is the only peace and quiet one can get. I’ve seen co-workers do it and I’ve seen family members do it.

  4. RE: dave rywall (May 30, 2007 7:35 AM)
    And a little nitpicky side note – there’s nothing suspicious about a group travelling together and deciding to sit apart. On a business trip, being on the plane away from everyone sometimes is the only peace and quiet one can get. I’ve seen co-workers do it and I’ve seen family members do it.
    It’s a bit more than a group of fellow travelers splitting apart here. Review M. Malkin’s OIG narrative in her extended entry covering this same incident. We cannot afford to play disinterested bystander to the world around us.

  5. I recently flew out of Indianapolis and was struck by a couple of things about the whole airport security thing. One was that most of the TSA folks I interacted with were more polite and personable than I had expected. The other was that they are being sucked up in the silliness of political showmanship as much as the rest of us are.
    I was pulled aside for special processing due to having set off the metal detector twice. As it turned out It was my fault, because I missed a dime in a pocket while clearing metal for the normal clearance. But while there I witnessed something quite depressing. Another passenger that was pulled aside for screening was an elderly lady in a wheelchair. This lady was required to get out of her chair and stand, with her feet on the footprints on the floor, be wanded and frisked the same as I. Except she could not get her head above waist level and it was obvious that the effort was very painful and demeaning. I see no reason to steal people’s dignity. If for some reason I do not understand, it is necessary to make an old woman stand and be frisked, the very least they could do is provide a modicum of modesty by providing a less public place to do so.

  6. What caught my attention was they were traveling on expired U.S. visas. When considered along with the immigration amnesty debate one can see where all this leads. Were I caught in Germany without residency papers I would be given neither a fast track to citizenship nor multiyear tax forgiveness. I would be deported immediately, no questions asked. What is wrong with us?

  7. Whatever happen to the “No Fly” list? Or is the “No Fly” list simply one more of those things still to be implemented in the future, eventually, maybe, but only if this or something, providing, and not including, unless of course, and yes, a definitely very storng maybe….
    It makes me sick.

  8. If these hooligans try something like that on a flight I’m on, I think I’m going to take the 72-virgins option.

  9. Perhaps there is fire behind these strands of smoke. But one strand here strikes me as thin. It does seem to me that if I were a member of an innocent Middle Eastern musical band, I might find it prudent to travel in dispersed seats. Innocence is no guarantee that one will not suffer nervous attention, hard looks, passenger panic, and potential delays or expulsion from the flight.
    This would be especially true if I knew from experience that hassles can result from being among a group of Arab-looking males flying together. Nefarious intent is a good reason for splitting up on a flight; but so is having run afoul of prior unwarranted suspicion. And so is not wishing to attract attention, simply because I know my papers are not really in order – an offense, but one of interest to INS rather than DHS.

  10. Somebody commenting on the previous post for this matter thought Jacobson was hysterical.
    Having read the report, I think otherwise. We can’t know the motives, but the arrangement of the guys around the passenger compartment says a lot.
    dave rywall,
    It’s better that they know America is watching. That every citizen on board is watching. That there are air marshals around. That the aircrew is attentive.
    And, that, if you act suspiciously to the point where you annoy the other passengers, your trip can be made seriously unpleasant.
    Why? Because knowledge that someone is watching and may choose to act is a major deterrent. That approach is used with “photo radar vans”, and has been shown to be effective.

  11. TSA should have logged the data – whether or not this was in fact a dry run, stopping attacks in the instant is not their only job – they need to also contribute to a central body of intel. Without it, the “no-fly lists” aren’t worth anything – garbage in, garbage out.
    That said, I think it;s misleading to claim (as the headline does) that a dry run for a terrorist attack was “confirmed” here. There seem to be very plausible innocent explanations for the circumstances. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take notice – quite the opposite.

  12. Ummm…remind me again why people like big, fat bureaucratic organizations and want to keep increasing the size of the federal gov’t????
    Why has the government taken more time than World War II to try and increase the protection they offer to the average citizen? Well, take a look at how much larger both the military and civilian components of the U.S. government are – compared to 50 years ago….
    Any large, bureaucratic organization is inherently inefficient, and concerned with it’s own survival and growth. The size contributes directly to it’s inability to adapt quickly and effectively to new threats and challenges.
    Anyone who expected the U.S. gov”t (especially “Dept of Homeland Security” – sounds like a German POW camp nickname) to respond quickly was only fooling themselves.
    More cities and states are prepared to handle a large-scale emergency than any Federal agency, I’d bet.
    And if a disaster struck tomorrow, it would be bystanders and quick-thinking emergency workers who would be the real heroes…not the feds.

  13. I still think her delivery was hysterical and over the top.
    All I’m saying is it looks like there was another investigation underway already that rightfully wasn’t leaked to the media so TV stations and bloggers could high five themselves silly over nailing a big story.
    As I said before, passengers are MORE aware than ever before. All my friends of middle eastern descent hate travelling in North America – they’re scrutinized from the second they show up at the gate to the moment they pick up their luggage. They get up to use the washroom and are faced with suspicious stares from the entire plane until they get back to their seat. People are outright paranoid and obsessed with Middle Eastern travellers. So no, I’m not worried about passengers being watchful.

  14. All my friends of middle eastern descent hate travelling in North America
    Aha. A bias revealed. Tell me, Mr. Rywall, you got any friends of Jewish descent, or the homosexual persuasion?
    It seems to me that a multitude of problems would be solved if Arabs would just stay in the countries that created them. Then they wouldn’t have to worry about being harassed and embarrassed, and we wouldn’t have to worry about being blowed up.
    But then Mr. Rywall and others of his ilk wouldn’t have any reason to accuse everyone else of being hysterical and therefore setting himself up as a superior sort of sacrificial lamb.

  15. Anyone who wants Arabs to stay in “the countries that created them” is obviously too tiny-minded to participate in the discussion.

  16. To say that this “without a doubt” vindicates Jacobson is a bit of a stretch, though I am interested in learning more. If people break the rules (overstay visas, not report reportable incidents), I’m all for nailing them. If a flight crew is concerned, that IS reason for concern. But some of this strikes me as inconclusive or presumptive. My family of four always gets seats scattered about the plane despite our requests for seats together, even my four-year-old. It seems every flight is full at the least, oversold frequently. When they see that my four-year-old cannot possible sit by herself, they switch somebody, often separating other folks flying together. When I have toured with groups, we are often scattered throughout a section of the plane, and some of us get up and visit each other on long flights. Could that be construed as suspicious if we were all “middle eastern looking”? Quite possibly. Does anyone know what the “criminal activities” reported about some of the flyers were? There is a big difference between overdue parking tickets and illegal music downloads and something that goes to “confirm” that this was a terror dry run. I’m open to the possibility it was. But I’m also suspicious of declaring “proof” using assumptions, as Pajamas Media once again proved over the weekend with their “scoop” over a fake food shortage memo that turned out to be real.

  17. Bummer – it wasn’t Norwegians that flew 2 airplanes into the Twin Towers.
    And since the study that came out the other day (http://powerlineblog.com/archives/017719.php) indicated that approx 28% of Muslims living in the US didn’t believe Arabs had anything to do with 9/11…
    And 8% of those surveyed said suicide bombings of civilian targets is sometimes justified…
    I’d say “too bad”. (and yes, my husband has a good friend of Greek descent who gave up his well-paid sales job since he was kicked off of several planes after 9/11. He says “bummer”, too).
    ***************
    “All my friends of middle eastern descent hate traveling in North America – they’re scrutinized from the second they show up at the gate to the moment they pick up their luggage. They get up to use the washroom and are faced with suspicious stares from the entire plane until they get back to their seat. People are outright paranoid and obsessed with Middle Eastern travellers.”

  18. The author of this blog is simply spewing ideological nonsense. Never let the facts get in the way of your opinion, right?
    The Inspector General’s report in NO WAY “confirms” anything about this being a dry run.
    The vast majority of the IG’s report focuses on structural issues such as lack of communication between air marshals and the FBI, jurisdictional issues over which agency is responsible for what and when, etc.
    As for the incident itself, the IG’s report specifically says that an air marshal checked the lavatory after the man with the McDonald’s bag came out of it, and found nothing suspicious.
    The plane was searched after it landed, and again nothing was found.
    As for the visas being expired, the musicians had timely filed petitions for extending the duration of their visas. These extension requests were then approved by the government. If these musicians obtained additional gigs, it would be quite reasonable for them to file petitions for extending their visas.
    The computer checks on the men involved turned up very little “derogatory information”. The men were then released.
    So given the extremely sparse evidence for any sign of a plot or conspiracy, why does the author of this blog blindly assume that there was a plot or conspiracy? I think this fundamental mistake – making allegations without any credible evidence to back them up – says much about the biases of the author of this blog than anything else.
    Reality trumps ideology. We all need remove our ideological blinders, and look at reality head on. The evidence in this particular case is very thin, and the facts simply do NOT support — repeat, DO NOT SUPPORT — the allegations and assertions of Ms. Annie Jacobson.

  19. Old Reality,
    I read the report. I think the Captain is right. Wonder where the cellphone went? Wonder where the McDonalds bag went? Wonder what they represented, in a binary sort of way.
    These guys, like the six imams, were doing something which made people notice them. At least one observant passenger journalist, several sky marshals, the flight crew, the captain.
    If you read the full report, it details a comedy of errors by the guys who are supposed to be protecting us, as well as a whole bunch more CYA.
    Reality does indeed trump ideology. What part of “they still are trying to kill us” don’t you understand?

  20. unclesmrgol: “Wonder where the cellphone went?”
    The IG’s report doesn’t say. There is no evidence.
    Therefore, the right answer is say: “I don’t know.”
    “Wonder where the McDonalds bag went?”
    The IG’s report states that the McDonalds bag was in the hands of the passenger after he returned from the lavatory. Its ultimate disposition is, again, not described in the IG’s report.
    So again, the right answer is: “I don’t know”.
    If the only evidence you have for your conspiracy theory are a cellphone and a Mcdonalds bag that have been unaccounted or, that’s very very very sketchy and thin evidence indeed.
    The fact is that there is no evidence that indicates a conspiracy actually existed. The passengers were questioned, the lavatory was clean, the cabin was clean, the luggage was clean, and the computer search was mostly clean. And the passengers were released, and nobody got hurt.
    So where’s the conspiracy? Where’s the credible evidence that this was a “dry run”? There is none.
    Bottom line: We can all imagine all sorts of explanations that might fit the known facts. However, a tendency to keep gravitating toward more sinister explanations is an indication of personal bias, not a credible, neutral assessment of where the evidence actually leads.

  21. unclesmrgol: “Wonder where the cellphone went?”
    The IG’s report doesn’t say. There is no evidence.
    Therefore, the right answer is say, simply, that “I don’t know.”
    “Wonder where the McDonalds bag went?”
    The IG’s report states that the McDonalds bag was in the hands of the passenger after he returned from the lavatory. Its ultimate disposition is, again, not described in the IG’s report.
    So again, the right answer is: “I don’t know”.
    The facts as we know them are that there were some suspicious behaviors that raised concerns of the crew and air marshals. In flight, the air marshals were keeping a close eye on the passengers, including searching the lavatory after the man with the McDonalds bag used it. Nothing was found.
    Upon arrival at LAX, the passengers were detained and questioned, and the plane was searched. The lavatory was clean, the cabin was clean, the luggage was all clean, and the computer search was mostly clean. And the passengers were released, and nobody got hurt.
    So where’s the conspiracy? Where’s the credible evidence that this was a “dry run”? There is none.
    Indeed, if the only evidence you have for your conspiracy theory are a cellphone and a Mcdonalds bag that have been unaccounted for, that’s very very very sketchy and thin evidence indeed.
    Bottom line: We can all imagine up all sorts of explanations that might fit the known facts. However, a tendency to keep gravitating toward more sinister explanations is an indication of personal bias, not a credible, neutral assessment of where the known evidence actually leads.

  22. Old Reality is confused about dry runs or defense probes vs. terrorist attacks. Of course TSA can deny that any of the suspicious people were terrorists, because NO TERRORIST ATTACK OCCURRED. What the report can’t possibly conclude is whether the suspicious passengers were practicing for their own future attack (dry run) or probing the defenses for a different set of terrorist passengers in the future. For such a probe or dry run, there needn’t be anything in the McDonalds bag. I’m sure the people of the foiled London plane bombing plot needed to know the results — whether you could get away with carrying a full bag into the bathroom and exit without one, or with a half-full one. Maybe flight 327 was supposed to provide them with that information.

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