Another plane almost taken out by terrorists?

Apparently a guy who said he received instructions from Al Qaida had chemicals on him on a flight from Nigeria and tried to set them off as the plane was landing in Detroit today. Fortunately they didn’t go off, but it gives you a bit of pause to realize the guy had that stuff on him on the plane.

Actually, it’s really not all that surprising. I remember (from the last time I bothered to look at this stuff – maybe in 2005?) that one of the only airports in the world with security so bad that the TSA and State Department had an explicit warning for travelers was in Lagos.

Now, if the passengers were forced to disembark and be rescreened in Amsterdam, then I would definitely reconsider my earlier statement and say I’m worried as all heck.

If I wanted to terrorize a flight full of people on their way to Detroit, I’d just let it land.

Actually every nutjob in the world is Al-Qaida.

Invoking the name “Al-Qaida” is a surefire way of drawing attention to yourself.

Also, yelling “Allah-U-Ahkbar” in a crowded theater (or a Super-Walmart, for that matter) will clear it out virtually instantly, or so I’m told.

I’m trying to remember, but I thought the last time I flew through Amsterdam we did have to go through security again before going to our connecting gate.

You’re right about Nigeria - we used to have travel advisories all the time at work about not flying in/out of there.

The problem is, a LOT of flights connect in Amsterdam. So most of the people on the plane, at risk, coming into Detroit, probably were not coming in from Nigeria.

I hope the heroic passenger wasn’t hurt too badly.

From Yahoo:

Travelers said they smelled smoke, saw a glow, and heard what sounded like firecrackers. At least one person climbed over others and jumped on the man, who officials say was trying to ignite an explosive device.

“It sounded like a firecracker in a pillowcase,” said Peter Smith, a passenger from the Netherlands. “First there was a pop, and then (there) was smoke.”

Smith said one passenger, sitting opposite the man, climbed over passengers, went across the aisle and tried to restrain the man. The heroic passenger appeared to have been burned.

Afterward, the suspect was taken to a front-row seat with his pants cut off and his legs burned. Multiple law enforcement officials also said the man appeared badly burned on his legs, indicating the explosive was strapped there. The components were apparently mixed in-flight and included a powdery substance, multiple law enforcement and counterterrorism officials said.

The full story is pretty scary. The guy lit the material in the plane and the material was on fire. These people jumped him and got the fire out but that could have been major.

Thanks TSA thanks so much. What a worthless organization.

Does TSA operate in Amsterdam?

TSA or its equivalent operates anywhere a plane leaves for the US as far as I know. The website is overloaded of course, otherwise I could get you a link.

On the lighter side of this story, I saw a passenger on the news and she said the bomber was an African-American.

A week ago my mom and step-dad snow-birded back up from Naples, FL, to Dayton and security took her snow globe she’d bought for my 6yo daughter. Mom is 72yo, blond, about 5’ 10", grew up in KY, a real suspect on any security list. An elderly women in line nearby commented on this by saying something like, “Yea, I’m a terrorist too,” and security whisked her out of line and off to Gitmo. Oh, I’m sorry, a high security prison in Illinois.

As to the Al Qaida connection, I am reminded of an interrogation I had from the FBI when I lived in Houston regarding espionage. Which I will have to post later as I see my wife just went out to shovel the snow out of the driveway and not going out to help (even unasked) would be a Bad Husband point winner. ;)

Ah, I wasn’t aware of that. I thought we could blame this on poor foreign screening.

On that note, go TSA!

A few comments and observations:

  1. It’s early days for understanding this incident. We don’t understand the exact nature of his device, why it didn’t do more damage, how and where the suspect went through layers of security/screening, etc. I would expect a lot more info in the days and weeks to come.

  2. Bravo to the Dutch passenger who quickly acted to address the situation.

  3. The bad news is that this suspect was able to get something rather flammable and probably rather dangerous on to the plane. The good news is his plot didn’t work. Screening/security (wherever it occurred) can be both faulted for his having gotten what he did on, and credited in that it wasn’t worse. i.e. If the restrictions on liquids and other substances were more lax, perhaps he would have been able to get a more successful device on board. To some extent, this line of thinking depends on the nature of the failure of his device. If his device was in fact powerful enough to do serious damage or bring down the plane, but didn’t detonate properly, that’s more serious in my mind than if he detonated his device properly, but it just wasn’t powerful enough to do much damage.

  4. I think it’s very premature, at best, to criticize TSA for possible security/screening failures in Nigeria and/or the Netherlands.

Edit - That’s not to say that TSA could have done nothing to prevent this (no-fly list issues are one possibility). But criticizing the TSA seems very premature, given the preliminary reports about the suspect and where he boarded.

Since the device was apparently hidden on his leg, I assume that we’ll all have to start taking off our pants as well as our shoes when going through checkpoints now.

Wait, you didn’t already do that? The guard told me it was mandatory! Shit, now I’m seriously wondering about that cavity search.

OK - so my FBI interrogation story and how it relates to this story:

Back when I’d been out of grad school and working for about 3 years, I was in my office at work and I got a call. The caller identified himself as special agent James Cooper of the FBI, out of the Houston office, and he asked if he could speak with me that day. He would not tell me over the phone what the subject was, just that he wanted to meet me that day. We set a time of 1:00 PM and he said he would come to my workplace.

OK - all kinds of thoughts run through your head. I was (not proud of it) involved in a couple of “elite” invitation only BBS “clans” in which you had to have developed a reputation in some area and then be invited by them to join, so that was my first thought. When the guy showed up, in our reception lobby, he showed me his badge and we went to a private meeting room. He then opens up this folder and I see all kind of “Secret” and “Top Secret” red stamps on folders and papers and he shows me a picture of a visiting professor from Hungary who had been in my research group. He asked me how well I knew him. I knew him pretty well. He then showed me a picture of a no-necked guy in a black turtleneck with a Russian name on it, looked like a bad guy in a Bond movie, and he asked me if I’d ever seen the professor with this guy. He did that for two other guys. He then asked me if the professor seemed to be authentic, i.e. was he truly a professor, did he know his science, did you ever meet anyone who had studied under him in Budapest, etc. Did he seem to have a lot of money, specifically cash? Did he ever ask you to buy anything for him?

I had a light bulb go off then -this guy had asked me to take him to a computer store in town, this was back when the IBM PC was new and about $6000 for a basic system, and asked me to purchase 4 of them for him - and he had the cash for them. He insisted that I approach the salesman and I actually buy them and give them my name, because “my English is so not so good.” I thought it was odd at the time, but he said they were for his kids in Hungary and they could not yet buy them there. He also bought lots of other stuff while at the store - or had me buy them.

The other one, though, really set the bells off as I recalled it and told the agent. I was at home, sick as a dog with the flu, and this professor calls me at my house. I told him I was sick, but he insisted that I call a phone number for him, “because of his poor English” and he wanted me to purchase a computer language for him for “their mainframe at the University in Budapest.” The language was ADA. So I called the number, sick as a dog, and I get some guy, and he starts telling me the price (expensive - again, this was probably around 1982 or so) and then he asks me for my SS#, etc. and what type of computer and where it would be used. I asked him why so much info, and he told me ADA was restricted by the Department of Defense for use in the U.S. only and only to approved customers. I told him I’m sorry, I think I’ve made a mistake and hung up. The prof calls again, I told him you can’t buy that, the whole DOD restricted, etc. and he says “Oh, I know, and we can supply all that paperwork, but it’s a pain in the ass and it would just be simpler to do it this way, and I’ll be happy to give you $500 for your trouble in helping me out.” I told him, no way in hell, then he threatens me by telling me that he didn’t think Professor Kennedy (my prof) would be happy to hear I was unwilling to help a visiting professor out, and I told him when I got back in the lab the two of us could go into Prof Kennedy’s office and discuss this, to which he said no, we should not bother him with such trivia and hung up.

So - I told the agent all this, and he smiled and wrote it all down, then after we’d talked for about an hour, he told me that what often happened was the intelligence agency from an Eastern Bloc country would recruit “normal” people traveling to the U.S. and give them a shopping list. If they could obtain items on that list - things that were restricted for sale to the home country - they could drop it off at the embassy to be shipped back and they would get a financial reward, the amount depending on the item. The FBI agent said that the foreign intelligence agencies did not want to put real “spies” or agents at risk when they could get some average guy or gal who was motivated by greed or loyalty to the country or some other motivation to do these things. If they got caught - who cares? They don’t work for the agency, they’ve never been told they were even dealing with the intelligence agency, just some guy gave them the list. And the foreign agency didn’t lose anything if these people got arrested. Turns out this professor had tried to blackmail a Hungarian couple who were good friends with my wife and me. The couple had defected to the U.S. and this professor told them if they didn’t help him get this stuff on his list it would be bad for their families back in Hungary. The agent got my name from the couple who were our friends.

So I wonder if (trying for SOME relevance to this thread) if agencies like Al Qaida don’t do the same thing. Sure, they have members who they highly train and who are capable and valuable to their organization, but I would suspect they also welcome some poor sap who they give some rudimentary instructions to and if he blows up a plane, great, if he gets caught, no loss for Al Qaida, just a dumb patsy

The problem is that flying is going to entail some risk. Some of that risk is probably going to be mitigated more by passenger/crew awareness than by anything TSA is doing. I’m not saying that there shouldn’t be any security, but people need to be aware that what TSA is doing is not going to necessarily keep them safe.

I don’t think there are a lot of travelers who expect absolute security from TSA, and further, I would assume that most travelers are rather aware of the fact that passengers and crew can contribute to safety (as demonstrated in this incident).