Saturday, December 27, 2003

Air France cancellations

The mysteries of the cancelled Air France flights:

  1. From Reuters (my emphasis):

    "A U.S. official said 'credible, reliable' intelligence reports had been relayed to France saying extremist groups were planning 'near-term simultaneous attacks' that could be on a scale of the Sept. 11 attacks by Al Qaeda. The French intelligence service questioned a number of people, but found no evidence of membership in radical Islamist groups among them. The only person named by U.S. intelligence as a suspect, a Tunisian man with a pilot's license, was still in Tunisia and had no apparent plans to leave the country, the French source said."


  2. From the Telegraph (my emphasis):

    "A French judicial official said the name of a Tunisian national with a pilot's licence had appeared on the American list of suspicious people who might attempt to board a flight. But French intelligence officials determined that the man was in Tunisia and had no plans to leave the country.

    The official added that the Tunisian had no criminal record and did not belong to any Islamic radical groups."


  3. From The Herald (my emphasis):

    "FURIOUS CIA sources yesterday accused France of throwing away the chance to capture militants with possible links to al Qaeda by cancelling all flights from Paris to Los Angeles on Christmas Eve.

    They said the public announcement of the cancellations, with a terror warning blamed, alerted the suspect Tunisians. The names of between three and six, understood to have been identified from computer lists, were passed to the DST, the French domestic intelligence agency, by the American embassy in Paris."


  4. From the BBC (my emphasis):

    "The BBC's Matt Frei in Washington said US security sources indicated they had alerted the French authorities after scouring the passenger lists."


  5. From the Los Angeles Times (my emphasis):

    "More information surfaced yesterday about why U.S. officials were so fearful that the three Air France flights might have been targeted for hijacking.

    One U.S. official, quoting electronic intercepts, said terrorist operatives had been overheard discussing specific flight numbers and airlines without mentioning a specific day, while other conversations alluded to attacks on the Christmas holiday and other days."


  6. From the Washington Post (my emphasis):

    "Police in Paris questioned 13 people who had checked in for two Air France flights that were canceled Christmas Eve because of a terrorism warning from U.S. authorities, but no evidence of wrongdoing was found, the French Interior Ministry said. All 13 were released.

    But U.S. officials said they are suspicious about some of the passengers who did not show up at the airport to claim their seats on the ultimately aborted Flight 68 from Paris to Los Angeles. One of those who did not appear for the Christmas Eve flight apparently is a trained pilot, one U.S. official said.

    'We still have an interest in talking to those people who didn't show up," said one U.S. official knowledgeable about the investigation. "There might be more to come on this.'

    Despite French statements suggesting some of the American fears about the Air France flights were unfounded, U.S. government officials said they believe they might have averted a terrorist attack by arranging for the flights' cancellation. Officials said they feared that al Qaeda operatives planned to hijack one of the flights and use the plane as a missile to attack a site on or near its route."

    and:

    "The Air France flights in question cross the Hudson Bay and eastern Canada before dipping down to airspace over Minnesota, and then taking a sharp southwestern swing toward Southern California.

    'The only big city near this route is Las Vegas, which they would consider a nice, attractive target,' one informed government official said. But officials said Los Angeles could have been the target, too.

    The al Qaeda network has long considered Las Vegas to be one of its top targets for a strike because it sees the city as a citadel of Western licentiousness, U.S. officials said. Government officials said they have known for some time that al Qaeda is interested in striking at Las Vegas."


  7. From AFP (or here; my emphasis):

    "[a French police source] said the US intelligence given to the French counter-espionage service DST, based on wiretaps and other sources, had focused on one name that US authorities thought might be tied to Al-Qaeda.

    But checks showed that the individual in question, a Tunisian man with a pilot's licence, was still in Tunisia, not France, and that he was not in French anti-terrorist files."

    and:

    "In the United States, an American official speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity said the alert had been raised because of intercepted Al-Qaeda e-mails that spoke of an attack being plotted for the Christmas holiday using Air France planes. Other intelligence narrowed that to specific Air France flights, he said."


  8. From the Associated Press (my emphasis):

    "French investigators questioned seven men pointed out by U.S. intelligence but found no evidence they planned to use a Los Angeles-bound jet to launch terror attacks against the United States, French authorities said Thursday."

    and:

    "The seven questioned men, who all had tickets for Air France Flight 68 to Los Angeles, were on a watch list provided by U.S. authorities, an Interior Ministry spokesman said."

    and:

    "French authorities also investigated a man from Tunisia whose name was supplied by American intelligence. But the judicial official said man was in Tunisia with no plans to leave for the United States. He has no criminal record and does not belong to any radical Islamic groups."


  9. From MSNBC News (my emphasis):

    " U.S. investigators are searching for a small number of people who failed to show up at the Paris airport to board flights to Los Angeles that fell under close scrutiny in a possible terrorist plot, a U.S. official said Friday.

    One of those people was receiving pilot training, but was not yet certified, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity."


  10. From the New York Times (my emphasis):

    ". . . American government officials said the United States was still investigating people who had reserved seats on the planes but never showed up for the flights.

    Administration officials said potential attackers might have been tipped off by news reports earlier in the week that included vague references to American concerns about France.

    But they would not say whether any of the no-shows were on a list of suspected terrorists that Americans supplied the French this week. Agence France-Presse, the French news agency, quoted an antiterrorist investigator as saying that one person on the American list was a Tunisian passenger with a pilot's license and possible links to Al Qaeda. But the news agency said the man was in Tunis, not France, at the time of the flights."

    and:

    "Administration officials said the United States had given the French about a dozen names from its terrorist watch list and warned that they might be aboard the flights from Paris.

    After considerable internal debate, the French government decided to cancel six flights between Paris and Los Angeles scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday, and the French police briefly detained about a half-dozen passengers.

    On Thursday, French officials said they had released all the passengers, including one French citizen, one American, one German and several Algerians.

    'There was absolutely nothing there,' said a spokesman for the French Interior Ministry.

    Bush administration officials said on Thursday that their concerns were not simply about the people who had checked in for their flights but also about those who had bought tickets and not shown up.

    About 350 passengers were screened for questioning Wednesday afternoon as they prepared to board Air France Flight 68, which had been scheduled to depart at 1:35 p.m. Another 350 passengers who were scheduled to fly out at 7 p.m. were turned away before they checked in. It was unclear if any of those passengers for the second flight were questioned or whether the police had contacted passengers holding tickets for any of the other four flights that were canceled.

    According to an account in the French newspaper Le Monde, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell first alerted France's foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin, of the perceived terrorist threat in a phone call on Dec. 21."


  11. From Fox News (my emphasis):

    "U.S. investigators want to speak with a small number of people in Paris who failed to show up for boarding flights to Los Angeles that fell under close scrutiny in a possible terrorist plot, including one pilot-trainee, a U.S. official said Friday.

    The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said investigators hope to resolve concerns that some passengers aboard those flights might have intended to use them to launch terror attacks against the United States. One of them was receiving pilot training but was not yet certified, the official said."

    and:

    "Rep. David Dreier, R-Calif., also a member of the Homeland Security panel, said it was too early to tell whether a potential attack was thwarted.

    'Clearly, there was traffic, chatter as they call it, that indicated that a threat was there,' Dreier said."

    and:

    "After the Air France cancellations, French investigators questioned seven men pointed out by U.S. intelligence but found no evidence they planned to use a Los Angeles-bound jet to launch terror attacks against the United States, French authorities said.

    Officials in Washington and Nevada disputed a published report Friday that the flight cancellations thwarted a possible terrorist plot to crash an airliner in Las Vegas. Jerry Bussell, Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn's adviser on homeland security, said federal Homeland Security officials told him there was no known threat to Las Vegas."



Utter confusion, n'est-ce pas?:

  • If there really was a terrorist plot, the Tunisian pilot appears to be the patsy whose identity would have been stolen by one of the hijackers (the Tunisian would probably have been killed if the plane had taken off). If the pilot remained in Tunisia he can't be the same guy who was going to board a plane in Paris.

  • Do you think these terrorists are so dumb that they use their real names in telephone conversations and in e-mails?

  • The Americans apparently have a big computerized watch list and are running all passenger lists against it.

  • Is the CIA really furious because the French tipped their hand too soon, or did French action save the day? If the French investigated and cleared the names they were given by the Americans, what further use would it have been to investigate those people who had not shown up because they heard the planes were not flying? Were the French supposed to deceive everyone that all the flights were flying, trick them into a room, and give them to CIA goons to be worked over until they confessed?

  • It's funny to watch the Bushites squirm to protect the mobsters' interests in Las Vegas.


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