--by Annie Jacobsen
On June 29, 2004 -- nearly three years after 9/11 -- I was on a flight that many undercover federal agents believe was a dry run for a future terrorist attack involving a hijacked commercial airplane. One federal agent went so far as to tell me that, based upon the intel he had, “it was the real deal called off.” Now, 22-months later, the government has completed its investigation into Northwest flight 327. Here’s what they say. Oh wait, a few more facts first…
Back in 2004, the flight became headline news after I wrote a 3,000 word, first-hand account of the terrifying events involving a 757 jet, 14 Syrian men, several flight attendants, two federal air marshals and 187 passengers. The article, called “Terror in The Skies, Again?” was published at WomensWallStreet.com and within a week, according to CNN, fifteen million people read it.
The initial explanations by Homeland Security officials about the flight were predictably obscure. As public outcry grew, and people demanded more information, the feds began to spin alternative accounts of what happened -- including my favorite, which was that “nothing happened.” Obscurity by federal officials is one thing, sending federal media spokesmen out to the pulpit to lie is another thing entirely. And that’s what happened. FBI officials suggested “the passenger” (i.e. Annie Jacobsen) was the problem (later the FBI claimed to have been “misquoted by the press”). The Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS), who stood the most to lose, trotted Dave Adams (nicknamed “Baghdad Bob” by rank-and-file air marshals) in front of the cameras to explain to the American public that federal agents had determined the 14 Syrians (13 Syrian passport holders and one American citizen of Syrian descent) were the back-up band for a popular Arab lounge singer, Nour Mehana.
Adams didn’t mention to the American public that the Syrians – guests from a state sponsor of terrorism and subject to very rigid travel requirements pursuant to the Homeland Security Act – were indeed traveling on expired visas, using one-way tickets which they paid for in cash. Instead, Adams told the American people that his undercover agents “trailed the men [the Syrians] to the casino to make sure they were playing there.” He also promised that undercover agents trailed the Syrians to their hotel, “to make sure they were staying there.” But in truth, federal agents did no such thing.
The way I was able to find this out (one year later) was owing to the fact that the Office of Inspector General (IG) was now investigating the veracity of the FAMS’ claims, as well as the claims of all the other federal agencies involved. I told Adams I was writing a book about Flight 327, one which would publish before the IG report came out. I gave Adams an opportunity to clear up the FAMS’ side of the street before the IG report came out and embarrassed them. Adams consulted his superiors and decided to admit to lying. This is from an interview with Adams which is published in my book, Terror in the Skies, Why 9/11 Could Happen Again.
“Well Annie,” Adams said, “I verified it, and well…we didn’t trail them to the casino. And we didn’t trail them to the hotel. What we did was, we verified the information from a third party – that the guys played at the casino and that they were registered guests."
Here’s the really embarrassing part. That “third party” Adams refers to? That was a name given to the Feds by the Syrians! This is like FBI agents asking Zacharias Moussaoui for a character reference (9/11 paymaster Ramzi bin al-Shibh comes to mind), taking what that reference says as fact, and then letting the suspect go.
I could go on about the grave errors made by the government involving Flight 327, and the lengths officials went to sweep their errors under the tarmac. I could detail one appalling blunder after the next, all of which are chronicled in my book -- beginning with the US State Department officials in Damascus who issued these “musicians” their P-3 cultural visas, to the ICE agents in Los Angeles who were required by federal law to show up for flight 327 when it landed but who did not.
Instead, you should read about these shocking, post 9/11 mis-steps -- ones that have a disturbingly pre-9/11 feel -- from your own government. The Inspector General’s “Review of Department’s Handling of Suspicious Passengers Aboard Northwest Flight 327” was released today (click under the heading "Management Reports"). This review took twenty-two months and untold taxpayer dollars to prepare. It is over 40 pages long (I appear in the review because four Federal Agents interviewed me and my husband for four-and-a-half hours last March).
Unfortunately, you can’t read it. And here’s where the tangled tale of Flight 327 becomes appalling:You can’t read the government’s version of what happened on Flight 327 because it has been classified.
Why? And whatever happened to “nothing happened?”
That is the question every American who flies the friendly skies should be asking. There are two things the one-page “Unclassified Summary” of the classified report makes painfully clear. The first is that the red rubber “secrecy stamp” so freely used today by Homeland Security officials is a dangerous tool. And the second clear revelation is that the Syrians were never found.
I spoke to Tamara Faulkner, spokesperson for the IG about why the Syrians were not interviewed for the report. “I am not going to be commenting on that,” Ms. Faulkner said. But she did say something interesting. The IG originally delivered two reports to Homeland Security officials, one classified, one not. It was the Transportation Security Administration, or the TSA, who decided to classify the whole thing.
Martin Van Buren, the eighth President of the United States, once said, “It is easier to do a job right than to explain why you didn't.” Tell that to the TSA.