Patterico's Pontifications


How Did the Bomb Suspect Board Airliner? (Updated)

Filed under: Air Security,Terrorism — DRJ @ 4:56 pm

[Guest post by DRJ]

AP asks How did the bomb suspect board airliner?

“The no-fly list failed to keep the Times Square suspect off the plane. Faisal Shahzad had boarded a jetliner bound for the United Arab Emirates Monday night before federal authorities pulled him back.

The night’s events, gradually coming to light, underscored the flaws in the nation’s aviation security system, which despite its technologies, lists and information sharing, often comes down to someone making a right call.

As federal agents closed in, Faisal Shahzad was aboard Emirates Flight 202. He reserved a ticket on the way to John F. Kennedy International Airport, paid cash on arrival and walked through security without being stopped. By the time Customs and Border Protection officials spotted Shahzad’s name on the passenger list and recognized him as the bombing suspect they were looking for, he was in his seat and the plane was preparing to leave the gate.

But it didn’t. At the last minute, the pilot was notified, the jetliner’s door was opened and Shahzad was taken into custody.”

It sounds like agents manually checked the names after the plane departed the gate, but was his name on the No-Fly List or not?


UPDATE: The AP provides more detail on how Shahzad almost slipped through security:

“The reliance on airlines to check government lists has been a known problem for years. The government has long planned to take over the responsibility for matching passengers to watch lists, but the transition has taken longer than expected. The new program is still in the test phase for domestic airlines and is still months away from beginning with international carriers.”

The article also recounts how the Obama Administration tried to minimize the slip up.

37 Responses to “How Did the Bomb Suspect Board Airliner? (Updated)”

  1. It’s conjecture, of course, but possible that authorities had him under surveillance for a day or so hoping he’d make a cell call at the very last moment to other contacts, before pushback from the gate. Still, if there’s a lag in timing updates to the ‘no-fly’ list for carriers it needs some tweaking. Reports note that given the long flight to Dubai, he’d have been detained on the other end or the flight would have been turned back once airborne. Attaboys all ’round to the NYPD and FBI Federal anti-terrorist teams.

    DCSCA (9d1bb3)

  2. I agree the NYPD and FBI did well in wrapping this up in 53 hours. I’m glad you mentioned that.

    DRJ (d43dcd)

  3. Supposedly his name was put on the “no-fly list” a couple of hours before the flight but it takes the airlines a bit of time before their own records reflect the info.

    GeneralMalaise (33f99a)

  4. I was under the impression that anyone paying cash for any kind of flight is immediately flagged, not to mention a one – way only flight ticket. Proving once again that not only did the system fail, but that the much – derided profiling works. Our rampant PC culture run amok is going to kill more innocents.

    Dmac (21311c)

  5. I agree with dmac – I always thought that a few of the key behaviors that would guarantee a secondary screening included:
    – paying cash
    – a last minute ticket
    – one way ticket
    – no luggage
    – compounded by a destination in the Middle East

    Wow, makes you wonder how many other sleepers are taking advantage of air travel without raising any alarms.

    in_awe (44fed5)

  6. Yep, dmac, if this guy didn’t set off alarms, who would?

    But… was he in possession of any toothpaste?

    GeneralMalaise (33f99a)

  7. I blame Bush. And, IMP. That is all.

    JD (150c8d)

  8. Is it possible that the people working the Dubai airline desk are Muslims who would be sympathetic to Shahzad and would help him escape?

    jcurtis (138cbe)

  9. Once again we see that the Obama administration thinks that luck is a security policy.

    SPQR (26be8b)

  10. Is it possible the security screenings for outbound foreign flights are less strict and/or left to the discretion of the airline?

    DRJ (d43dcd)

  11. DRJ…Perhaps we should restrict all outbound flights to El-Al?
    Then we’ll know that the passengers will be properly screened.

    AD - RtR/OS! (b5b5b2)

  12. So it turns out the ‘teabagger’ is the son of the deputy head of the Pakistani FAA.

    ian cormac (865b4a)

  13. From ABCNEWS

    “He appeared real close to getting away,” one federal official said. “The plane was buttoned up. Backed away from the jetway.”

    Authorities said that despite the manhunt, his passport had not been flagged and he was able to buy a ticket with cash and clear airport security.

    New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, while refusing to criticize any agency Tuesday morning, said Shahzad was “clearly on the plane and shouldn’t have been.”

    elissa (4eac63)

  14. Gee, Mister Mayor, yah think?

    AD - RtR/OS! (b5b5b2)

  15. Bloomberg is the last guy who should be smart-mouthing anyone.

    SPQR (26be8b)

  16. They are saying Emirates didn’t “refresh” their system, and that has to be bullshit. Why would they design a system that requires “refreshing” when they could just connect right into one main data base and check the current status of any passenger as they walk up to the desk? You’d have to say it was needlessly designed to give airlines a way around the no fly list if you buy this excuse.

    [note: released from moderation. –Stashiu]

    jcurtis (138cbe)

  17. The passport not having been flagged even after officials knew his name and address, and when he had been the subject of a manhunt for hours, is a BIG screwup. I wonder which bureaucrat in what department is supposed to do that?

    elissa (4eac63)

  18. Yer doin’ a great job, Napolitanie!

    GeneralMalaise (33f99a)

  19. elissa – Clearly it is Bush’s fault. I have not bothered to check, but have any of the usual suspects blamed him yet?

    JD (150c8d)

  20. I don’t think this guy getting onto the airplane when NYPD/FBI have had his name for some handful of hours is a big failure. I think more indicative of the Keystone Kops is that Napolitano can’t give anyone a straight explanation.

    SPQR (26be8b)

  21. every airport on the east coast should have had double shifts working security as fast as people could be called is reasonable suspion without positive ID and the airline from any country should not be what we rely on for security or law enforcement actions.americans have endured humiliation,long waits,and silly searches for many years.then when this guy should have gotten strict scrutiny, he gets VIP service.

    clyde (ffe79c)

  22. Just imagine for a second, if a friend has gotten tickets for another flight on a different plane going to a different country, and they both passed security. And Faisal was given the friend’s ticket, perhaps in the bathroom, where Faisal changed, boarded a different flight without much scrutiny, and was gone as his friend walked out of JFK.

    It seems to me that the actual security was completely breached here, and it’s only because Faisal was actually honest about using the ticket under his name that he was caught. That he got beyond security is totally damning unless we actually had someone with eyes on him the entire time, hoping for intel.

    Dustin (b54cdc)

  23. A former federal agent who specializes in terrorism and security commented that in a situation like this agents would likely allow a suspect to board the plane to specifically see if there were any visual reactions to him: “You grab his bags on the tarmac side, then, once he’s on the plane you watch for any indication of anyone connected to him, perhaps making eye contact or winking.”

    It seems reasonable.

    Dana (1e5ad4)

  24. I dunno about that Dustin. Last time I flew to China there was a big deal about the tickets needing to be linked to my US passport at the time of purchase. And then I had to show the passport along with the ticket myriad times along the way through security and at boarding so they could verify a match. To Clyde’s excellent point at 7:46, it sounds like even with a near bombing in the same city as the airport, his mid-east destination, his late-purchased ticket, and all that officials already knew about him which should have flagged him in various data bases, he apparently pretty much waltzed onto that plane. I find that really quite depressing.

    elissa (4eac63)

  25. “and at boarding so they could verify a match.”

    It’s been 10 years since I flew to a different country. I still greatly suspect that it’s not hard at all to board a plane with a ticket and phoney ID once you’ve cleared the real security wall, but then again, once you’ve cleared the wall you probably don’t think you’re at much risk and won’t attempt a fraud.

    I hope Dana’s right, and this was just some effort to catch intel. I’m startled at how much information we got about this investigation. A lot of it clearly would have tipped Faisal off and should have been kept under wraps, in my opinion. We have to assume all kinds of genius trickery to avoid the conclusion that these people have totally lost that edge they had from 2001-2008.

    Dustin (b54cdc)

  26. Dustin:

    I’m startled at how much information we got about this investigation.

    I hope we learned a lot, too. Maybe he’s talking up a storm. Or maybe his emails and any recorded overseas phone conversations are the goldmines. If so, weren’t those already available (but perhaps unseen or unheard) to counterintelligence?

    DRJ (d43dcd)

  27. Dana – I hope you are right, but nothing so far suggests that they were tracking or trailing him, and nothing I have seen suggests that they had eyes on him.

    JD (150c8d)

  28. I agree, JD, I hadn’t read it anywhere else either. I can’t remember which site I read it at (I think it was a newspaper) but the former agent is now a professor (Criminal Justice College somewhere) and was offering his opinion of what could have possibly been the reason why the suspect was allowed on the plane. He also stated that agents have used this method with money launderers as well. He concluded his comments saying that regardless of whether or not the agents had eyes on him and willfully let him board the plane before nabbing him at the last second or not, it was good theater.

    Dana (1e5ad4)

  29. Rethinking this, I bet the admin wants to leave this vague enough that’s it’s plausible they were just monitoring him smoothly.

    The impact of a terrorist actually getting violent on a plane is just too severe. He’s not a drug dealer or a money launderer… he’s a guy who tried to blow up hundreds of people. There’s no way they actually meant for him to get on a plane.

    Dustin (b54cdc)

  30. How did the government know he got on that plane if Emirates system wasn’t working? They had to watch him get on that plane, I’d think.

    Or maybe they are trying protect the airline that a lot of Muslims fly on by not saying that they informed the US government about the terrorist.

    jcurtis (138cbe)

  31. I updated the post with a link to an AP article that provides more details on how Shahzad got on the plane despite his name being on the No-Fly list.

    DRJ (d43dcd)

  32. B+ Barcky

    daleyrocks (1d0d98)

  33. i find it amazing that liberals are going “the system worked!” talk about alternate reality.

    Here’s a hint: when the actions of private citizens and the idiocy of terrorists are the ONLY things that prevents a massacre, the system didn’t work.

    And that goes double if you name a suspect but let him get on a plane.

    Btw, I don’t know who called him the Uni-brow bomber, but its my favorite nickname.

    A.W. (e7d72e)

  34. The failed terrorist runs to the exact place where he can expect to find a concentration of authorities looking for him. He does everything on the list of suspicious acts which would attract attention (short of setting his underpants on fire) and very nearly makes a clean getaway.

    However, had an alert C&BP agent not spotted his name on a list, Shahzad would by now be relaxing in comfort, secure in the embrace of jihadi glory.

    But he got caught, so now he’s singing like a bird. Ya think there might be more to this than meets the eye?

    Here’s a thought: If KSM isn’t likely to get a PR podium in NY City to make the case for Islamic terrorism, perhaps Shahzad can take his place. Maybe the system worked after all.

    ropelight (858557)

  35. Howdy- My name is Pam. I’m new to blogging.I am what you all refer to as”a troll”. Not apologizing for it,this is how I know what is going on. NY’s Finest and the FBI did what needed to be done,and did it well,without the AG and BIG SIS,thank you very much. I think this is strike two for Big Sis and I’m very afraid of strike three.I have gone from a country of That will never happen,to if it happens,TO WHEN IT HAPPENS…….If they hadn’t got this guy off the plane would we have been able to get him back here for trial?also taking him off the plane for effect was dramatic. Which is something this Pres. is known for,but it could have backfired,and I don’t think the Pres. could get away with that. yes,no Pam

    pam (47a9e3)

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