Sunday, June 3, 2007

Those Syrian Musicians on the Plane

Remember back in 2004, when odd behavior by some Syrian musicians on a flight here in the U.S. led to concerns that this was a terrorist "dry run"--and the mainstream media (and the Bush Administration) said, "No, nothing to worry about?" From the May 30, 2007 Washington Times:
A newly released inspector general report backs eyewitness accounts of suspicious behavior by 13 Middle Eastern men on a Northwest Airlines flight in 2004 and reveals several missteps by government officials, including failure to file an incident report until a month after the matter became public.

According to the Homeland Security report, the "suspicious passengers," 12 Syrians and their Lebanese-born promoter, were traveling on Flight 327 from Detroit to Los Angeles on expired visas. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services extended the visas one week after the June 29, 2004, incident.

The report also says that a background check in the FBI's National Crime Information Center database, which was performed June 18 as part of a visa-extension application, produced "positive hits" for past criminal records or suspicious behavior for eight of the 12 Syrians, who were traveling in the U.S. as a musical group.

In addition, the band's promoter was listed in a separate FBI database on case investigations for acting suspiciously aboard a flight months earlier. He was detained a third time in September on a return trip to the U.S. from Istanbul, the details of which were redacted.

The inspector general criticized the Homeland Security officials for not reporting the incident to the Homeland Security Operations Center (HSOC), which serves as the nation's nerve center for information sharing and domestic incident management.

The report comes three years after the incident, which was not officially acknowledged until a month later, after The Washington Times reported passenger and marshal complaints that the incident resembled a dry run for a terrorist attack. After reviewing the report, air marshals say it confirms their earlier suspicions.

Official denial

An air marshal who told The Times that he has been involved personally in terror probes that were ignored by federal security managers, called such behavior typical.
The Inspector General's report is here.

I sometimes wonder if DHS (and their Canadian counterparts) is making a serious effort on this. I just went on an Alaska cruise. A friend of mine took a train from Skagway, Alaska into Canada. Canada's border inspectors looked at his U.S. passport--but took no information that might have allowed checking names against a watch list.

When we entered Canada at Victoria, Canadian customs gave only the most cursory look at our U.S. passports. I am sure that I could make a U.S. passport that would get past them. (And as I have mentioned in the past, Canadian border guards are still not armed, unlike their American counterparts.)

When I re-entered the U.S. at Seattle, I didn't even have to show my passport. I asked the smiling DHS employee if she needed to see our passports. Nope. What's the point of maintaining watch lists for terrorists, or laws prohibiting unlawful immigration, if you aren't even going to try and see if those coming into the country are U.S. citizens?

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