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9/11 Anniversary Aftermath

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My pledge to avoid parking in front of the television for the 9/11 anniversary was a qualified success. But there was so much wall-to-wall coverage that it was unavoidable. Some of it dealt with how much and how little airline travel has changed during the last decade.

Several readers sent me this link for a blog that went viral over the weekend. It's an account of a woman of Arab extraction suffering through a humiliating search and interrogation for reasons that were never made clear to her, other than probable racial profiling. According to her report, there were some 50 such incidents in the U.S. on Sunday or over the weekend. Obviously, people were spooked and security agencies weren't taking any chances. Given the complacency before the original attacks, I can't really fault them.

But I can fault them for ham-handed treatment of falsely roused "suspects" when it becomes obvious that the lead they're pursuing is a dead end. Who of us can forget the John and Martha King takedown at gunpoint earlier this year? I continue to believe we should insist that agencies train their people to handle the public with more respect unless the threat is clear, present and confirmed.

TSA is evidently getting the message. It recently announced that it's going to stop the moronic practice of patting down toddlers and, ludicrous as this sounds, we're in sight of being able to board an airliner without removing our shoes. Who'd of ever thought this would rise to the level of a small victory?

The anniversary reporting turned up some interesting nuggets that I didn't know about. One involved the origin of the shoot down order given to Air Force fighter pilots after the hijackings. Contemporaneous reporting said that the order came from Vice President Dick Cheney after consultation with the President. The record has since revealed that he made the decision on his own and forwarded it to the Air Force which promptly ignored it initially because the order didn't come through the proper chain of command, which was the SecDef through the President.

Now you gotta wonder, Air Force One is as much a flying communication center as it is an airplane and the VP can't pick up the phone to urge the President to issue this order? I don't begrudge either the decision or the command go-around, given the circumstances. But wouldn't it be better to tell the truth about it from the outset? Cheney only recently confirmed that the decision was made without Presidential consultation.

The 9/11 Commission's report revealed the FAA's poor handling of some aspects of the minutes immediately after the hijackings were confirmed. While the facilities working the airplanes figured out they needed to get fighters airborne, when the request was bumped up the chain of command, the paralysis was disturbing. The 9/11 report released transcripts, but now the actual tapes are out there. As the 9/11 report revealed, the degree to which the federal government—including the FAA—was unprepared to react to such attacks all but assured their success.

Last, some people just don't seem to get it. That would be the three stooges who decided it would be a fun idea to lock themselves in a lav of an American Airlines flight enroute from LAX to JFK on Sunday. This understandably alarmed the crew and, taking no chances, the flight ended up with an F-16 escort. Overkill? I don't think so, frankly. When the pax refused to exit the lav and return to their seats, the crew was right to expect the worst. (The airplane landed with them still in the lav. The FBI and Secret Service soon arrived.)

Now this may have been a perfectly innocent prank. Details remain sketchy. An American Airlines spokesperson described it as a "big nothing." But the fact is, you can't do this sort of thing at all, never mind on the anniversary of 9/11, and expect no repercussions. If the other passengers had gotten nervous about this, the three could have found themselves beaten to a pulp, if not worse. Passengers are not going to stand for even a whiff of another hijacking. If I were the judge in this case, I'd slap these dopes with the largest fine possible and a bill for those F-16s. If you wanna have fun, you're gonna pay for it.

Maybe that's a little harsh, but if we want to get rid of overbearing security, maybe we ought to behave in a way that shows we don't need it.

Comments (16)

I agree that scrambling the F-16s was an appropriate response and good training for all involved.

ABSOLUTELY the 3 pulling the "prank" should be prosecuted to the fullest extent possible and pay for the F-16s as their actions were deliberate and intentional.

It is unfortunate case of guilt by (unintended) association for the woman detained in the other case. She had the misfortune to be sitting the same row as two other men who were acting suspiciously enough to be detained. Was it prudent to detain and question her? I think yes. Could it have been handled better? Probably. Was it "racial profiling" alone that caused her to be detained? I think not.

We only have her word via her tweets and blogs that she didn't do anything to warrant additional scrutiny and that she fully cooperated with authorities.

We used to hire people with experience and training and trusted their "gut" feelings to assess risks. Now those same experts need to validate their every action under the microscope of 20/20 hindsight and when "there was just something about his look and how he was acting that made me suspicious" is now considered racial profiling and can get you fired, or worse.

Posted by: Kris Larson | September 14, 2011 3:11 PM    Report this comment

The Arab woman's experience was over the top, Cheney reminded me of Alexander Haig's 'I'm in charge now' declaration after Reagan was shot, but the three-in-the head on the airliner leaves me puzzled. What if, terrorism aside, there was a rape going on inside the lavatory, or worse? I don't know what airline procedures are, but aren't the crew allowed to enter if circumstances warrant? Some clever crazie could be doing anything in there, even something to bring the aircraft down like starting a fire, but they have to wait to land for taking action? I don't understand that one.

I'm in total agreement to fine them and have them pay for the F-16's cost. Kinda like our stupid motorist law here when people need to be rescued for driving thru washes on roads with signage Do Not Enter.

Posted by: Dave Miller | September 15, 2011 5:08 AM    Report this comment

What good did scrambling the F-16s do? If the people are locked in the lav they aren't goping to be hijacking the plane. If they are going to blow it up they can do that with or without the escort. So why were they allowed to continue on to their destination? The flight should have been diverted to an out-of-the-way airport if they were really worried about terrorism.

Regarding the frisking of children, I hate to say it but if I was a terrorist I would consider using a child to get explosives or other contraband onto a flight. Our morals, convictions, beliefs, etc., don't matter to these guys. The end matters more than the means to them so all methods are acceptable.

Posted by: steve egolf | September 15, 2011 7:56 AM    Report this comment

I totally agree that the three-in-the-head should be slapped with the bill for the F-16's, fines, and let's just heap the Ground Crew that had to preflight/postflight those F-16's...that ought to get some attention.

As for the Arab woman who claims she was treated unfairly...I'm sorry but when 4 Arab men decide to hijack 4 airliners, crash 2 into the World Trade Centers, 1 into the Pentagon, and 1 that was headed for the White House...you're going to get profiled. It may not be PC, but it's going to happen...my apologies, but that's the new world we live in.

Posted by: R. Doe | September 15, 2011 11:16 AM    Report this comment

My dad used to get regularly singled out for extensive searching when he flew. This wasn't because he looked of Arab descent, or had a threatening demeanor. On the contrary, he was 80+ years old, very pleasant, didn't behave obnoxiously, and TSA apparently felt that hey, we have to do extensive on x number of people a day, here's a guy who's not going to give us ANY hassle. This pretty well negated any possible benefit to doing random searches. I wonder how many other random check folks were chosen for similar reasons.

Posted by: David Chuljian | September 15, 2011 12:12 PM    Report this comment

Dear Mr. Egolf, I have to take exception to your statement “The end matters more than the means to them so all methods are acceptable.” We live in a free society. As such, we have to accept the risks to remain a free society. The ends are not and will not justify the means. There should be a level of acceptable scrutiny, such as detectors, dogs and profiling. I would not even be opposed to the virtually strip searches, after those scanners are put through the same FDA acceptance procedures that any other medical device would be subject to. But to relinquish our freedoms for the window dressing we currently have is plain and simply the start of tyranny. I personally would rather die at the hands of a terrorist than to give up my rights for what we have currently. It is my belief that our founding fathers felt this same way, risking their own personal fortunes and safety in the pursuit of freedom. Once we start to give up our rights and freedoms, for the greater good, where does it end?

Posted by: Scott Rupp | September 15, 2011 1:36 PM    Report this comment

I have to agree with Steve Egolf: What was the point of scrambling F-16s because PAX locked themselves in the lav? Exactly what could the Viper jocks do - other than shoot the airline down? They couldn't force them out of the lav. (I'm guessing the three idiots in the lav didn't even know the F-16s had intercepted their airliner)

That sounds like a job for the onboard Sky Marshall, or that it was time for the pilots to put on their gas masks, and activate the "secret" gas cartridge that can incapacitate everyone else on the airplane. (Just kidding about that secret gas cartridge, although it may not be that bad an idea.)

Posted by: Gary Dikkers | September 15, 2011 9:14 PM    Report this comment

Hey Scott. I totally agree with you. This is the real reason I wrote. If we are all so concerned about terrorism that it is acceptable to assume adults are guilty until proven innocent, then we shouldn't overlook any passengers. If we feel that frisking children is an outrage we should also feel that the measures they use on adults is an outrage for the reasons you state.

Posted by: steve egolf | September 16, 2011 8:15 AM    Report this comment

> Who of us can forget the John and Martha > King takedown at gunpoint earlier this > year? I continue to believe we should > insist that agencies train their people > to handle the public with more respect > unless the threat is clear, present and > confirmed.

I believe John and Martha King should file a lawsuit.

Posted by: Alex Kovnat | September 16, 2011 9:21 AM    Report this comment

"If the people are locked in the lav they aren't goping to be hijacking the plane. "

I find this somewhat naive. If three people lock themselves in a lav and refuse to comply with the order of the flightcrew to cease and desist on the anniversary of 9/11 when everyone is spooked, this is a problem.

There is no reason to believe another hijacking can't occur by someone determined to do it. The security apparatus is full of gaps and the only reason to believe a cockpit door can't be breached is because it hasn't happened yet. If you believe weapons and explosives can't be gotten onto an airliner, you have much more faith in the security apparatus than I do. As for the passengers preventing it...an untested assumption.

So yeah, the F-16s are there to shoot the thing down if all your faith turns out to be misplaced. Other than the expense, there's no downside to having them there. No one's rights are trampled, no one's privacy is abused. If I were the skipper of that airplane, I might not ask for them, but I wouldn't say no either.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | September 16, 2011 9:31 AM    Report this comment

On 9/11/01, the assumption was that no one could hijack airliners and ram them into buildings. Thus, we had an slow-reacting FAA that couldn't notify the military quickly and when it finally did, F-16s launched in the wrong direction, controllers failed to communicate the authorized shoot down authority because of a chain of command breach and when they finally did get airborne, the F-16s had a one second burst of practice ammo but the pilot later concluded they of had to ram the airplanes to take them down.

To let that happen again without a better showing would be criminally stupid.

Posted by: Paul Bertorelli | September 16, 2011 9:32 AM    Report this comment

"...the assumption was that no one could hijack airliners and ram them into buildings."

I doubt there was an "assumption" it wouldn't happen. Other than in the minds of a handful of writers of potboiler thriller and action novels, before 11-September-2001, the idea of an airliner hijacking/kamikaze mission wasn't even a possibility on anyone's radar screen.

Posted by: Gary Dikkers | September 17, 2011 9:35 PM    Report this comment

Regarding the King (and other) incidents: Why should a tail number of a stolen aircraft be re-issued at all? Do we have such a huge quantity of stolen planes that we NEED to have those numbers available to be re-issued?

Out-of-date "hot sheets" are a common problem for all LEOs but nobody has suggested compounding the situation by re-issuing automotive tag numbers. The FAA should get a clue.

Unless the aircraft is recovered, that tail number should remain as "missing in action" forever. If the stolen aircraft is known to have been destroyed, then keep the registration but show the decommissioning.

Posted by: Walter Freeman | September 19, 2011 12:10 PM    Report this comment

" Who of us can forget the John and Martha King takedown at gunpoint earlier this year? "

That didn't have anything to do with terrorism, that was just a group of student pilots driven insane by the dry tone and endlessly cheery smiles of King videos!

Posted by: Bradford E. Willmore | September 22, 2011 11:42 AM    Report this comment

Scott, I read Mr. Egolf's comment about means and ends differently. I thought he was referring to the terrorists view that the end (whatever it might be) would justify the means of using children to help hijack or destroy a plane. Also, I had to laugh about Mr.Willmore's comment about the King videos. While they conveyed good information, it could get annoying being talked to like you were a 4th grader.

Posted by: John Worsley | September 22, 2011 12:37 PM    Report this comment

All one needs to do is get on facebook and search for “Boycott Flying”, to see the extent of groups that have formed to tabulate and complain about our government’s rapid abandonment of almost all constitutional protections in exchange for absurd security theater. TSA has not stopped one single attack, but airline passengers certainly have stopped multiple attacks. Suspected bomb on board? Scramble F-16s to shoot it down? This is nuts!

Personally, I’d rather we dispense with TSA altogether and issue handguns and frangible ammo to all adult passengers who are not felons and who agree to use them only to stop a terrorist attack.

One such group is actually executing a plan to effect political change (not an easy task with arrogant know-it-all politicians). Google “freedom to travel usa”. Consider joining the cause! (no financial contribution required.)

Posted by: Bruce Liddel | September 23, 2011 10:38 PM    Report this comment

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