The four federal agents showed up exactly on time, in a rented green mini-van, carrying briefcases and wearing suits (it was 75 degrees). They came to discuss the events of Northwest flight 327, the now notorious Detroit-to-Los Angeles plane trip I took last June. My husband led them to our house through the garden and, from where I sat in my kitchen, I could hear their comments: nice garden, pretty plants, too bad palm trees don’t grow in Chicago. So, I thought, federal agents are people too.
In truth, I was excited that I hadn’t gone into labor before the meeting. I was, after all, meeting with the big boys (actually three men and one woman). In the nine months that I’ve been working on this series, my access to the government has been through mid-level bureaucrats and agency mouthpieces. So here I was, suddenly meeting with agents who have real access to the truth — and at their request.
On the telephone, the agents explained to me that the Department of Homeland Security, Office of the Inspector General, has been investigating flight 327 and flying DHS agents around the country to talk to various parties — the flight attendants, pilots, federal air marshals and the passengers. They had saved me for last.
Here’s what I find fascinating: while one arm of the government (the Federal Air Marshal Service) has vehemently maintained all along that “nothing happened on flight 327,” the other, more muscular arm (the Department of Homeland Security) has been conducting a rather large investigation about it. Based on my 4 Â½ hour meeting with the agents, I can tell you that not only have they been investigating what did happen during the flight, but they’ve also been investigating who botched the subsequent investigation as well as how it got botched.
So what do you say to four federal agents at your kitchen table on a bright Tuesday morning? The first thing I clarified for the agents was that, prior to my experience on flight 327, I had never heard of a “probe” or a “dry run.” For the record, I explained, I had never heard of the James Woods incident either. [In case you’re not aware, the actor James Woods flew on an American Airlines flight from Boston to Los Angeles one month prior to 9/11. Alarmed by the behavior of a group of four Middle Eastern men, Woods summoned the pilot and told him that he was “concerned the men were going to hijack the plane.” A report was filed with the FAA on Woods’ behalf but, tragically, no one followed up with Woods or the men. A few days after 9/11, several federal agents showed up in Woods’ kitchen. Woods can’t talk about what was said — he believes his testimony will be used in the trial of the supposed 20th hijacker, Zacarias Moussaoui– but, in an interview with Bill O’Reilly, Woods revealed that his flight “was a rehearsal [for 9/11] with four men.”]
Standing in my kitchen, one of the agents said, “What I can tell you is this: Mohammed Atta was one of the passengers on that flight with James Woods.” (Apparently, this information has never been made public.) With that, the agent pulled out his chair, opened his notebook and started in with his questions for me (at which point the other three agents opened up their notepads almost simultaneously).
During my meeting with the agents, what was not said was often as revealing as what was said. Naturally, the agents “were not at liberty” to tell me anything about the 13 Syrian men aboard flight 327, but they asked a lot of questions regarding my “intuition” about the situation: Intuition told me something was not right. Intuition is why I began noting the men’s actions from the get-go. And it was exactly these details in which the agents seemed most interested. One of the agents commented on the fact that I took a lot of hits in the press — that I was called a racist and a bigot simply for sticking with my gut instinct. To me, the agents’ story that Mohammed Atta had been on James Woods’ flight was a wink and a nod to the fact that it’s fine to trust your intuition. If you’re wrong, you can always stand corrected.
Read it all.