Patterico's Pontifications

9/10/2007

Delta Flight 1824: A Benign Incident, or Something More?

Filed under: Air Security,General,Terrorism — Patterico @ 5:41 am



Douglas J. Hagmann, the director of an organization called the Northeast Intelligence Network, has a potentially disturbing report about a Delta Airlines flight that the feds are saying was benign — but that Mr. Hagmann says appears to have had some characteristics of a terror plot. The participants, some of whom allegedly had fraudulent documentation, were released.

Keep in mind that the following is based on anonymous reports, so it’s tough to know what to make of it at this point. Still, it seems worth looking into. Here’s Mr. Hagmann:

The passengers aboard Delta Airlines Flight 1824 flying out of Orlando International Airport last Thursday at 7:15 a.m. heard the following statement over the intercom as they were preparing to taxi onto the runway on their way to Atlanta, Georgia:

Ladies and gentlemen, we have been informed that there is “a credible security risk with this aircraft” and we are returning to the terminal.

Delta Flight 1824 was scheduled to take off at 7:15 a.m. on September 6, 2007, but did not take off until 10:19 – three hours and 5 minutes behind schedule, landing in Atlanta without incident at 11:52 a.m. . . .

If you rely on official government statements and the major media, the entire incident involving Flight 1824 was “benign” and was never a security risk. It involved 12 people from two families, all of Middle Eastern origin, reportedly carrying suspicious items in their luggage. Again, if you rely on official government statements and the major media, the “suspicious items” inside of checks luggage turned out to be “a bottle that had been covered with tape to prevent leaking.”

“It was all benign,” said Dave Couvertier, the FBI agent from the Tampa, Florida Orlando FBI office. The flight ultimately took off about 10:20 a.m. without the two families, who were still undergoing FBI questioning at that time. They were ultimately released, stated FBI spokesman Couvertier.

But Hagmann claims to have developed sources, including a “trusted federal source” and a passenger from the flight, who provide additional details which, depending on your point of view, are potentially disturbing . . . or just weird, coincidental, and benign:

During a routine test of the baggage, Transportation Security Administration authorities ran the luggage through x-ray detection and then conducted an explosive trace detection of the bags belonging to the 9 Middle Eastern passengers. The x-ray of the bags found questionable items inside the luggage, and the explosive trace detection tests resulted in a “positive hit” for explosives – specifically, SEMTEX, an explosive commonly used by Islamic terrorists. To be certain, however, the luggage was test no less than 4 times by four different machines and operators. Each time, a “positive hit” for explosives was registered. “The presence of explosive traces was ‘no mistake,’” stated one federal source talking to this agency on condition of anonymity.

Due to the multiple independent “hits” for traces of SEMTEX, TSA authorities emptied the luggage in a secured area, and were astonished by what they found. Authorities found 3 jars of Vaseline duct taped together to make one large cylinder. An inspection of this Vaseline-filled cylinder determined that someone had previously removed the Vaseline and replaced it back into the containers, something that was proven by air pockets left within the containers. Based on a thorough inspection of all the luggage belonging to these Middle Eastern passengers, authorities also found multiple strands of electrical wire with the ends stripped of the insulation, thus exposing the copper wire, small eyeglass screw drivers, clocks, cocoa butter, 2 tubs of butter, batteries of various sizes and types, a computer laptop, and multiple bottles of hydrogen peroxide – 144 ounces in all.

Even more disconcerting, TSA and security officials observed that two of the Middle Eastern men intended for the flight had smeared Vaseline on their arms and neck areas – a common tactic among hand-to-hand fighters who want the advantage in the event someone tries to grab them or put them in a headlock. Covered by the greasy agent, they are better able to extricate themselves during close-quarters, hand-to-hand fighting.

Merely weird, or truly alarming? I don’t know — but there’s one detail that, if true, seems clearly not benign:

A closer inspection of the identification possessed by the Middle Eastern passengers determined that three-(3) of the men possessed false or fraudulent credentials. In fact, one of the Middle Eastern men possessed 2 passports with his picture on both, but the passport information was different on each one.

I’m going to e-mail Mr. Hagmann and some of my own federal sources to see what they can tell me about this.

UPDATE: Keep in mind that some sober commentators have called the Northeast Intelligence Network the “world’s most alarmist website.” Caveat lector.

UPDATE x2: More here, including an update from Annie Jacobsen, and an endorsement of Mr. Hagmann from one of my air marshal sources.

34 Responses to “Delta Flight 1824: A Benign Incident, or Something More?”

  1. I hope this is a case of the government letting them go in order to watch who they are connected with, and not a “well let’s just let them go” situation. I know that the FBI will let know terrorist fund raisers go free for years to track the money trail. If this isn’t something similar, I’m very concerned.

    Dr T (b1f404)

  2. A wise man once said: “If it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck …”, well, you know the rest …

    Harry Arthur (5af33b)

  3. There might be more to the OBL tapes (Drudge reports a second one) than the anniversary of 9/11 after all.

    nk (0c0cd0)

  4. This doesn’t quite make sense.
    1) The men were prepared for fighting at close quarters–but there’s no indication of weaponry. But people do use ordinary vaseline and mineral oil in place of suntan lotion, and these men were flying out of a major tourist destination, and may have simply been trying to catch a last bit of suntanning before leaving.
    2) The luggage contained elements used to make a bomb. But are hydrogen peroxide and butter explosive? I’m not chemist. And while traces of Semtex were found in the luggage, apparently nothing more than traces were found. How much Semtex is needed to make a bomb? And there are rational reasons why someone would have cocoa butter (=suntan lotion) and hydrogen peroxide (bleaching/antiseptic) with them while traveling, but I don’t know why anyone would empty out and then refill vaseline jars, or why they would put two tubs of butter in their luggage. It would start to go rancid even before it got to the cargo hold.
    At any rate, whatever bomb making was intended would not have affected Flight 1824. Perhaps they intended to assemble the bomb and put it on a connecting flight when they got to Atlanta?
    3) Were they actually flying with family? Or were they several males pretending to be brothers/cousins? If they were flying with wives and children, then a legitimate family vacation (inlolving Disney World and/or a cruise from Melbourne, which is also served by this airport) is more probable. They might be using such a vacation to cover their plot, of course.
    4)It is puzzling why the FBI let them go. Or is possession of false documents, without attempting to use them, not criminal?

    kishnevi (4aaf1e)

  5. There is a formula for homemade plastic explosive which includes vaseline. Ingredients or test/dry run?

    nk (0c0cd0)

  6. To answer some of kishnevi’s questions.

    1) Hydrogen peroxide is used to make the most popular explosive used by these people. The explosive could theoretically be prepared during a flight.

    2) Butter or like material probably have the same appearance on an x-ray as plastic explosive. They may have testing whether it would be picked up during luggage examination

    If this incident occured as descibed then it may have been another test run to see what triggered a hand check of luggage. The trace semtex, the hydrogen peroxide, the wire and so on. They could have testing the effectiveness of the security system. Not a very effective test though in my estimation. To learn anything you’d want to test one item at a time.

    agesilaus (9923ce)

  7. I have traveled far and wide and never once has there ever been a trace of semtex in my suitcase let alone the coincidental combination of explosives making materials. Is there anyone who just accidentally happens to have these items in their suitcases? Please.

    Dana (b4a26c)

  8. Agesilaus–thanks for the info.

    Actually, thanks to the NIN and anyone else who publishes this report, it’s a very effective test run: they will know that the traces of Semtex triggered the system, but not the other things.

    The potential ingredients were not assembled, so they couldn’t have been used for this flight.

    What is possible is this scenario:
    Terrorists have their own tickets for connecting flights out of Atlanta, tickets under the fake ID for a flight from Atlanta to some place X that is not their actual destination, and luggage checked through to Atlanta. In Atlanta, they assemble the bomb, and check in with it for the flight from Atlanta to place X, intending that the flight to point X be blown up. Meanwhile they are on the flight to their actual destination, acting like innocent vacationers with their families.

    Two things that would throw a wrench in this: the luggage would have to be checked through to Atlanta only; otherwise it would be placed on the connecting flight without them having a chance to retrieve at Atlanta. Been a while since I’ve flown, but that’s how Delta used to handle baggage for connecting flights. Second thing is that this scheme would depend on the crew of the flight to point X not checking to make sure that the number of passengers onboard match the number of passengers checked in. ElAl has always done this (resulting, in one flight I was on, in a four hour delay*), but I’m not sure if this SOP for all airlines.

    * anecdote too long to be included in a comment lies behind this, but it involves a senile old man who was flying from Tel Aviv to New York, and mistook Leonardo da Vinci for John F Kennedy.

    kishnevi (e26f5d)

  9. This and similar incidents are more likely designed to see what the system will detect, rather than an attempt to commandeer an aircraft. The 9/11 hijackers tested the system to see if boxcutters would trigger an alert. They didn’t.

    Other system tests have included creating a ruckus to determine where air marshalls positioned themselves and what it would take to make them act. Butter and gelatenous products are also tests of the system.

    While the TSA may say it was a non-event, it wasn’t toatally benign.

    Corky Boyd (7ce4e6)

  10. Well, if they are going to vaseline their arms, we may as well just concede the aircraft to the terrorists and begin our prayers. Imagine the futility of trying to kick the living shit out of a terrorist with vaseline all over his arms. And what if they get petroleum jelly on our clothes!

    spongeworthy (45b30e)

  11. Current security proceedures re checked baggage (IIRC) requires that all pieces of checked baggage match a passenger who is “on-board”.
    No body – No bag on board.
    This is another thing that delays flights from leaving the jet-way.

    Another Drew (8018ee)


  12. 10. Well, if they are going to vaseline their arms, we may as well just concede the aircraft to the terrorists and begin our prayers. Imagine the futility of trying to kick the living shit out of a terrorist with vaseline all over his arms. And what if they get petroleum jelly on our clothes!

    Comment by spongeworthy — 9/10/2007 @ 8:26 am

    Maybe you can fight off the terrorist with your sarcasm.*sarcasm off*

    Clearly spongeworthy has never been in a fight, and I hope he never is because he will lose. Failing to respect a motivated opponent, who has prepared a physical advantage, is a sure way to guarantee a defeat.

    TimesDisliker (845ce9)

  13. What about a baggage handler at the original airport or at the connecting flight assembling a bomb from materials in the suitcase. S/he could assemble the bomb and then place on any plane they wanted without a recheck. (Have no idea how security works at the airports, but seems like potential scenerio.) Wouldn’t be the first plot involving airport employees.

    By having all the components with traces of semtex, (but nothing truly dangerous), they are able to test the system without getting in trouble.

    Or they were supposed to clean the vaseline out, place semtex in the containers and then top it with vaseline and then they chickened out and that is how traces of semtex were found.

    Or it is nothing at all, but man the way it is described sure sounds like a test.

    cstmbuild (6fc537)

  14. This is a good example of the problem with applying criminal standards of proof to terrorism. Assuming what we have been told in this report, It is possible to come to a conclusion about what was going on that can’t be proven to a criminal burden of proof. And yet, turning such people free is not a good idea either.

    Robin Roberts (6c18fd)

  15. This makes no sense. The security guys checked the luggage four times, then put it on the plane, then stopped the plane? Or did they carry out a ‘routine’ check on the luggage after they had recieved a ‘credible threat’ to the aircraft?

    Or were they scanning the luggage while the plane was taxiing?

    Matt (d72b7b)

  16. if there were a shred of truth to this, the TSA self-promotion machine would be trumpeting this full-throttle.

    “These are the facts developed to date about Delta Flight 1824 from Orlando. Our investigation into this matter is continuing, accompanied by the tenacious investigative reporting of Annie Jacobsen, author of Terror in the Skies, Why another 9/11 could happen again. A well-informed investigative journalist about the threat to our air travel, Ms. Jacobsen is on the trail of additional leads related to this incident and can be reached through her website The Aviation Nation.”

    How does one develop facts? Is that like imagining or inventing them ?

    Glad ol’ Annie is on the case though. Go, girl

    steve (b3d00c)

  17. Exactly what kind of fraudulent documents were involved? Does this mean these people were not related? Were fradulent passports involved and if so from what country?

    Thomas Jackson (bf83e0)

  18. Thomas,

    It’s my understanding that one person had two passports in different names, both of which had his picture.

    DRJ (8b9d41)

  19. Matt,

    The suspect luggage never made it on the plane. The passengers on the plane had to disembark with their carry-on luggage for re-screening, and I think the whole plane was re-checked, too.

    DRJ (8b9d41)

  20. No, Steve, right now the administration and TSA seem to be suppressing the significance of incidents, not trumpeting them.

    Robin Roberts (6c18fd)

  21. Evidence?

    steve (f180b1)

  22. Oh no, brown people!!!

    asdf (783abc)

  23. Evidence?

    Oh, Good Lord.

    Steve, if the administration and TSA are suppressing the significance of incidents, do you seriously think they are going to tell you or anyone else?

    Paul (5efd01)

  24. “Oh no, brown people!!!

    Comment by asdf”

    The sheer inanity of this comment suggests a bot is lurking on the blog. Patrick, do you have bots monitoring and commenting ?

    There is a lot of evidence of dry runs that is not getting into the press but is known to employees of the airlines. There is little incentive to publicize it since scaring the public would hurt the airlines and probably not accomplish much in improving security. It is important to take some actions, like creating immunity for passengers that report suspicious activity.Beyond that, let’s hope security, as opposed to inconveniencing people, is improvng. The fact that explosive residue was detected is a big step forward.

    Mike K (6d4fc3)

  25. Steve, the evidence is the TSA reaction to this particular piece which is to suppress it, as well as their PR strategy of downplaying all similar incidents.

    Robin Roberts (6c18fd)

  26. Maybe the TSA wants to confirm its tests before it says anything?

    Remember the “WMD” found at the U.N. recently that turned out to be cleaning powder?

    alphie (99bc18)

  27. #8 It sounds like this is checked luggage, and if so you are incorrect. I won’t say what triggered the alarm bag, but it was not “simply” the trace SEMTEX. I can’t go into greater detail about the procedure for screening checked luggage.

    #15 The checked luggage does not have to fly with the passenger. The TSA tries to check a bag and get it on board, but screening isn’t rushed because a passenger is too late to have his luggage properly searched. I have seen luggage that has missed a flight because it couldn’t be screened fast enough.

    dfctomm (8092d0)

  28. However, it is common knowledge in the commercial aviation industry, that there have been probing and dry runs

    Ron (c0b066)

  29. Hours before the anniversary of 9/11 we have DF’s like asdf stands for (another stupid dumb f**K) Who tries to use white guilt to protect extremists. Look, if I see 3 or 4 islamic looking young guys on a plane acting weird, I am going to call the F.B.I. C.I.A. F.A.A. and my local dog catcher. “Let’s roll” should be all our motto from now on. Don’t sit back and get yourself and your family killed by extremists because some liberal democrats have white guilt.

    Upland Patriot (e65125)

  30. Remember the “WMD” found at the U.N. recently that turned out to be cleaning powder?/blockquote>

    Is this what your talking about?

    You are without a doubt the most factually challenged person on the internet.

    chas (3385c2)

  31. chas:

    “Fooled again.

    Chemicals discovered in the United Nations’ Manhattan offices – feared to be a toxic agent produced by Saddam Hussein’s regime a decade ago – may be nothing worse than a cleaning solvent, sources said yesterday.”

    http://tinyurl.com/2r27pf

    Don’t tell me the pro-war websites forgot to update their readers.

    I’m shocked…shocked!

    alphie (99bc18)

  32. Staunch Brayer, all this NY Daily News story–‘Chemical ‘WMD’ found at U.N. may be little more than cleaner’–illustrates is the incompetence of the UN…something the Right has pointed out for years.

    I loved this passage:

    UN officials discovered the chemical in a canister sealed in an unmarked plastic bag as they closed a weapons inspection agency on E. 48th St., a block from UN headquarters.

    By Aug. 29, UN officials said they traced the material using inventory sheets. They believed it was a chemical warfare agent seized by UN inspectors in 1996 from Iraq’s chemical weapons facility near Samarra.

    UN officials couldn’t account for why a potentially lethal chemical sat in Manhattan for 10 years undetected.

    And you along with every wacked-out leftist site linked to this embarrassment?

    I’m shocked…shocked!

    Paul (5efd01)

  33. guess i alpo a retraction. oh well, even a broke clock is right twice a day.

    chas (3385c2)

  34. http://www.theaviationnation.com/

    Per Annie Jacobsen

    Just now, I had a lengthy conversation with TSA Spokesman Christopher White who confirmed the incident. Here’s what White told me about Delta Airlines Flight 1824:
    (see article)
    *******************
    The persons were handed off to the FBI who later described the incident as “benign”. She is following up with ICE and the FBI, but I wouldn’t expect much information from those agencies.

    cat (fc26d2)


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