Patterico's Pontifications

7/22/2004

A Different Perspective on “Terror in the Skies”

Filed under: Air Security,Terrorism — Patterico @ 11:20 pm

Apparently the air marshals on the flight say the real danger was posed by the author of the “Terror in the Skies” piece — because she allegedly overreacted.

UPDATE: And yet, all 14 of these Syrians were in the country with expired visas. And let go. (Link via PrestoPundit, as well as Chadster in the comments.)

Not to worry. What harm can be done by someone with an expired visa?

Oh . . . right.

UPDATE x2: A commenter points out that the link above has been updated to reflect the possibility that the Syrians were here legally despite their expired visas. It’s a technical issue of immigration law, and it’s apparently unclear as applied to these folks. So the jury’s still out as to whether they were in the country legally. If so, that changes things.

As I say in the comments, the fact that I pointed people to the link about the air marshals’ view doesn’t mean I agree with it. Before we jump to conclusions regarding this woman’s alleged hysteria, we should look at the motivations of the parties involved. Yes, having written the story, Ms. Jacobsen has a motive to make the incident sound serious. But conversely, the air marshals, having done essentially nothing on the flight, have a motive to justify their inaction by making Ms. Jacobsen sound hysterical.

It sounds like *someone* on the plane with authority took Ms. Jacobsen’s concerns seriously. Doesn’t it? After all, I wonder who radioed folks on the ground to meet the Syrians. Obviously, it wasn’t Ms. Jacobsen. And if she was the only problem on that plane, as the air marshals seem to be suggesting, then why didn’t the FBI meet her instead of the Syrians?

I’ll stay on top of this. I hope readers with information will continue to leave comments.

UPDATE x3: By the way, the hat tip for the KFI link should go to Xrlq, who mentioned it in the comments to this post.

UPDATE x4: Regardless of the extent of Ms. Jacobsen’s alleged hysteria, the most worrisome aspect of her article remains a concern: the ridiculous government policy preventing more than two people of the same ethnicity from being selected for additional screening. Some have claimed this is a myth, but it’s not. I will probably do a stand-alone post on this soon.

UPDATE x5: And still more here. Apparently the Syrians were released before authorities checked their immigration status!

19 Responses to “A Different Perspective on “Terror in the Skies””

  1. “Forbidden.” Got a mirror?

    L. Barnes (1b54e8)

  2. In other news, the Syrians all had expired visas.

    http://michellemalkin.com/archives/000265.htm

    Anything to pass the buck, I guess.

    Chadster (0a4297)

  3. And what law is there that says terrorists have to wait for their visas to expire?

    Abiola Lapite (d71451)

  4. Hey! Are you guys who are posting about this story getting through to the KFI website??

    I have tried several times and then I tried an indirect route or two, and the site won’t let me in. I want to read what the marshal has to say about the lady who wrote the original story. That’s the “say” link in the post.

    L. Barnes (1b54e8)

  5. Oh, come on. Are you really suggesting that if we shipped everyone home who has an expired visa it would be notably harder to pull off a terrorist attack?

    Let’s focus on the stuff that matters…

    A.L.

    Armed Liberal (653cd1)

  6. Shipping everyone with an expired visa home would be fine. Keeping out everyone from terrorist countries like Syria would be better.

    Eric E. Coe (59f5b2)

  7. Oh, come on. Are you really suggesting that if we shipped everyone home who has an expired visa it would be notably harder to pull off a terrorist attack?

    A.L.,

    Since three of the 9/11 hijackers had expired visas, isn’t the clear answer to your question “yes”?

    Patterico (0a334e)

  8. No kidding. Especially since visas were easier to get back then. Weren’t two of the hijackers posthumously awarded visas about half a year after 9-11?

    Xrlq (6c76c4)

  9. Nope. Retrospective > prospective; you can’t retrospectively change the rules in a way that you know will work. Attackers will play the rules as they exist on the ground, and game them to the extent they can.

    Meanwhile, all the security staff will be buried in finding and deporting kids who’ve overstayed their visas, ignoring the hard-eyed, fit young men who come in on perfectly good ones.

    A.L.

    Armed Liberal (653cd1)

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    The worst thing about this whole “overstayed visa” nonsense is that if you bother to check Michelle Malkin’s post, she’s now updated it with information that indicates even that much isn’t necessarily true!

    Move along folks, there really is nothing to see here.

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    Abiola Lapite (d71451)

  11. A.L.,

    My argument is not that we should focus on finding people who have overstayed their visas. My point is that, when you have a group of people from a known terrorist country whose behavior on a plane attracted enough attention to warrant an interview — and then you find out they have all overstayed their visas — you toss them out of the country. By simply enforcing the law, you relieve yourself of worrying about whether they are possible terrorists in addition to being musicians.

    Patterico (0a334e)

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    “whose behavior on a plane attracted enough attention to warrant an interview”

    Except it wasn’t *their* behavior that attracted said attention, but Hysterical Annie’s, a revelation you yourself helped break.

    “and then you find out they have all overstayed their visas”

    But that’s exactly the problem in this case – there’s no evidence that they’ve “overstayed” anything. That one’s visa has expired has no bearing on whether one is in the country legally or not, as that is determined by one’s I-94. Anyway, there’s a larger issue at stake here than what happened to this particular group.

    “By simply enforcing the law, you relieve yourself of worrying about whether they are possible terrorists in addition to being musicians.”

    And you also strike terror of the authorities not only into all those who are illegally in the country, but also those who shelter them or are acquainted with them in any way, making the job of intelligence gathering far harder than it need be. Do you think the story of the permanent resident who was permanently thrown out of the country simply for having co-signed a lease with a couple who had overstayed their visas hasn’t made the rounds amongst Middle Eastern immigrants?

    A far more sensible policy in such cases would be to follow these individuals around, learn who their acquaintances are, and if possible, use the knowledge that they’re in the country illegally as a means of pressuring them into gathering information on one’s behalf. Police do this sort of thing all the time with ordinary criminals, so it isn’t as if we’re talking about an exotic tactic here. “Throw the bums out” may be emotionally satisfying to people who feel “swamped” by dark-skinned foreigners, but as a counter-terrorism tactic it sucks.

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    Abiola Lapite (d71451)

  13. Abiola,

    I should note that my last comment was directed at Armed Liberal, not at you. I just now noticed that you share his initials.

    I also just now found the Malkin link with the update bearing out what you say about the possibility that these folks were still here legally. (For the benefit of others, that is here.) Hey, if they were here legally, that’s a whole ‘nother ball of wax.

    I don’t necessarily agree with tossing out residents who associate with people here illegally. But people who actually are here illegally have little right to complain should they be deported, no?

    The fact that I pointed people to the link about the air marshals’ view doesn’t mean I agree with it. And I’ll make this point as well: who radioed folks on the ground to meet the Syrians — Ms. Jacobsen? And if she was the only problem, then why didn’t the FBI meet her instead of the Syrians?

    It sounds like *someone* on the plane with authority took Ms. Jacobsen’s concerns seriously. Doesn’t it?

    Patterico (f7b3e5)

  14. I am going to update the post to reflect some of these issues. Abiola, let us know if you hear anything new, and thanks for the interesting comments.

    Patterico (f7b3e5)

  15. >It sounds like *someone* on the plane with authority took Ms. Jacobsen’s concerns seriously.

    Sure does; and more than that. My understanding is that this arithmetic:

    ( # air marshals on duty / 2 [travel in pairs] / # flights in the air)

    yields a very small fraction.

    Most flights don’t have marshals on board; this one did. I expect (hope) that “14 Syrian nationals” translated to “let’s pick this flight”.

    It would be interesting to know.

    AMac (222289)

  16. It’s hard to find out how many Federal air marshals there are; this information appears to be classified. This Defense Review article from Feb. 2, 2004 says the following:

    “The number of Federal Air Marshals is classified, but it is less than two percent of the 35-40,000 needed to cover each domestic flight daily. The cost of complete FAM coverage for all flights would exceed the current FAA annual budget.”

    This translates into a roughly 98% chance that someone in Homeland Security flagged this flight before it took off. Presumably Ms. Jacobsen was not the potential security risk.

    AMac (222289)

  17. With over 12 million customers, Direkt TV with a “c” is looking to alienate a few with comment spam.

    Cancel Direkt TV (c277bf)

  18. Another Terror in the Skies Update
    I was watching Joe Scarborough on MSNBC last night and he was discussing the Terror in the Skies story (see previous posts here, here, and here). He had a reporter on from WNBC, Scott Weinberger, who reported that the 14 Syrian band members on the f…

    New England Republican (28eb22)

  19. Yet Another Jacobsen Post
    There has been a lot of interesting reaction to my (and others’) criticism of Anne Jacobsen’s story of terror on flight 327. I want to take a moment to set out what the critics seem…

    Winds of Change.NET (75cec2)


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