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being shocked that terrorists had hijacked airliners and crashed them into
landmark buildings is in the first sentence.
October 3, 2001, Wednesday
A NATION CHALLENGED: WARNINGS
Earlier Hijackings Offered Signals That
By MATTHEW L. WALD (NYT) 1083 words
WASHINGTON, Oct. 2 -- Over
and over since Sept. 11, aviation and security officials have said they
were shocked that terrorists had hijacked airliners and crashed them into
''This is a whole new world for us,'' Jane F.
Garvey, the administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, said in
testimony before a House subcommittee on Sept. 20.
But the record shows that for her and others,
there were numerous warnings.
In 1994, two jetliners were hijacked by
people who wanted to crash them into buildings, one of them by an Islamic
militant group. And the 2000 edition of the F.A.A.'s annual report on
Criminal Acts Against Aviation, published this year, said that although
Osama bin Laden ''is not known to have attacked civil aviation, he has both
the motivation and the wherewithal to do so,'' adding, ''Bin Laden's anti-Western
and anti-American attitudes make him and his followers a significant threat
to civil aviation, particularly to U.S. civil aviation.''
The previous year's edition of that report
said that an exiled Islamic leader in Britain proclaimed in August 1998 that
Mr. bin Laden would ''bring down an airliner, or hijack an airliner to
humiliate the United States.'' The report did not identify the leader.
The failure to heed these signs is ''an
indication of failure to put the pieces together,'' said Gerald B. Kauvar,
who was the staff director of the commission headed by Vice President Al
Gore on aviation security and safety after the crash of T.W.A. Flight 800
off Long Island in July 1996.
The authorities appeared to draw no lessons
from the two attacks in 1994. But one of them, in hindsight, had striking
similarities to those of Sept. 11.
That was the December 1994 hijacking of an
Air France flight in Algiers. The sponsor of the hijacking was an
organization called the Armed Islamic Group, which said it was trying to
rid Muslim Algeria of Western influence, specifically from France. Four
young Algerians, members of a subgroup called Phalange of the Signers in
Blood, commandeered the plane at the airport and ordered it to fly to
Marseille, from which they said they wanted to fly to Paris.
But they demanded that it be loaded with 27
tons of fuel -- about three times as much as required for the flight to
Paris. The plane was an Airbus A300, which is nearly as large as the Boeing
767's that struck the World Trade Center. The French authorities determined
from hostages who had been released and from other sources that the group
planned to explode the plane over Paris or crash it into the Eiffel Tower.
After French troops stormed the plane and
killed the hijackers, they found 20 sticks of dynamite.
Eight months earlier, in April 1994, a flight
engineer at Federal Express who was facing a disciplinary hearing that
could have ended his career, boarded a DC-10 as a passenger and stormed
into the cockpit with a hammer, hitting each of the three members of the
cockpit crew in the head and severely injuring all of them. They wrestled
him to the deck and regained control of the plane. Prosecutors said only
that the man wanted to crash the plane, but company employees have said he
was trying to hit the building in Memphis where the company sorts packages.
In between those two incidents, in September
1994, a lone pilot crashed a stolen single-engine Cessna into a tree on the
White House grounds just short of the president's bedroom.
But aviation security officials never
extrapolated any sort of pattern from those incidents.
Airlines take pride in their ability to spot
patterns and take appropriate action in the separate field of flight safety
field. Safety officers say the technique could help security, too. In
September 1996, when many people suspected that the crash of T.W.A. Flight
800 two months earlier had been caused by a bomb, the industry's trade
association set out to establish principles of security, which again stressed
pattern recognition. Security required continuous assessment of what it
called ''evolving threats,'' the group said, but suggested that the
assessment was a government task.
Even now, three weeks after the Sept. 11
attacks, most people in the aviation business are still confounded.
''I haven't talked to a person in aviation or
government who is less than dumbfounded at the scope of this act,'' said
David A. Fuscus, president of Xenophon Strategies, which advises airlines
on crisis communications. Mr. Fuscus was formerly the chief spokesman for
the main airline trade association.
Aviation security ''is a threat-based
system,'' Mr. Fuscus added. Actions are taken ''based on the threat as
perceived and interpreted by the U.S. government.''
But the government, by all accounts, was
focused on threats like the one to Pan Am Flight 103, destroyed by a
terrorist bomb over Lockerbie, Scotland, in December 1988, and T.W.A.
Flight 847, the plane taken to Beirut in June 1985. The passengers were
taken as hostages.
Despite the history and precedents, some
security experts say the possibility of an airliner attack like those of
Sept. 11 was too outlandish to have been believed in advance.
''Someone expressing that view probably would
have gotten short shrift, because it was generally considered just sort of
outlandish, not feasible, not real,'' said Richard F. Lally, who was the
top security official at the F.A.A. until 1981 and spent the next 10 years
doing the same work at the Air Transport Association, the big carriers'
International aviation experts say that most
aviation security problems are solved only after catastrophes. For example,
El Al is legendary for strong aircraft and airport security. But Lior
Zouker, who began his career as an El Al sky marshal and is now president
of International Consultants on Targeted Security, which serves several
American carriers, said those resulted from Israel's own catastrophes.
But extrapolation may be
a key lesson of Sept. 11. According to one executive at an aviation trade
organization, ''now we need to do that in every element of our life; that's
how we fight this new war.''
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