In “From King Sifax to John Doe: Reporting Suspicious Behavior” in WomensWallStreet.com, the intrepid Annie Jacobsen reveals that at least two of the Syrians on the Northwest Flight 327 that she made famous were involved in an earlier dry run — on Frontier Airlines Flight 577. In discussing the Flying Imams’ lawsuit, she says:
The cunning part of the lawsuit is summed up in an April 14, Op-Ed piece from the New York Times written by James Zumwalt:
“Some security experts suggest the imams’ conduct may have been intended to identify aviation security weaknesses. Their John Doe lawsuit tends to support this theory, as such a complaint can also serve to manipulate our legal system to silence those who might otherwise report suspicious activity.”
I am John Doe, in spirit, and I’m also John Doe in reality. I am Annie Jacobsen and three years ago, I saw something on an airplane and I said something about it. I wasn’t sued — but a whole lot of other things happened instead.
What I saw on Northwest Flight 327 was a group of Syrian men act as though they were going to hijack the plane. The men blocked the aircraft aisles, knocked over a passenger and spent so much time in the aircraft bathrooms that one Syrian emerged covered in toilet chemicals. As the flight was about to land, seven of the men stood in the aisle and used the toilets while the leader read from a small red book. One of the men then made a slashing motion across his throat and mouthed the word, ‘no.’
What I saw on that Detroit-to-Los Angeles flight was so alarming it never occurred to me to censor myself when it came to speaking out about what happened on the flight. It never occurred to me to worry about getting sued. First I spoke with federal agents for two hours, under oath, detailing what I saw. Later, after I learned that the government botched the investigation of the Syrians and then tried to cover their mistakes, I spoke up about that. For three years now, I’ve spoken up about what I saw as a guest on more than 400 radio and television programs. I’ve written 28 articles on the subject as well as a book. I’m so glad I did.
Federal counterterrorism agents have told me that the Syrians on the flight I was on were practicing how to build a bomb in the aircraft toilet — that the flight I was on was something known in counterterrorism circles as a “dry run.” Other federal agents have told me it was more likely “the real deal called off.” But that information came to me much later. That information came long after WomensWallStreet.com published my original 3,000-word article in which I describe exactly what I saw.
Any reasonable person would have done what I did; others on the flight went on television and described the terror resulting from what they saw on Flight 327, too. Eventually, the White House asked the Department of Homeland Security, Office of Inspector General, to investigate exactly what happened on the flight. The investigation, called Review of the Department’s Handling of Suspicious Passengers Aboard Northwest Flight 327, took 22 months to complete (I was interviewed for the investigation). The review is a textbook case of why reporting suspicious behavior must be a citizen’s protected right. If this review were used in the imams’ lawsuit against John Doe, it could function as John Doe’s defense item Exhibit-1. But the review can’t be used in John Doe’s defense because the government classified its findings.
The reason the review is being withheld from the public eye is because its contents embarrasses the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). The report contains information that ties at least two of the Syrians from the dry run on Flight 327 to an earlier dry run on different airlines — Frontier Airlines Flight 577. That the TSA missed connecting these dots and instead allowed the Syrians to go free without answering some serious questions reveals a great flaw in the aviation security net.
The earlier incident happened on January 24, 2004 during a Houston-to-San Francisco flight. Joe Hodas, media spokesman for Frontier Airlines, confirmed this incident with me. Hodas politely declined to add further details of the Syrians’ suspicious activity on Flight 577 citing “safety and security concerns.” What Hodas also confirmed with me was that it was the Frontier Airlines flight crew who notified officials about the suspicious behavior onboard. Those flight attendants saw something and they said something. They didn’t worry about being sued.
Read it all.