Break the Chain Preparing for Another 9-11 or Over-reacting?

Created 7/21/2004, updated 8/1/2004 (8/3/2004) The use of racial profiling for airport security has been a topic of heated debate since September 11, 2001. Many chain letters have made a case for singling out 'young muslim males,' but none quite as convincingly (and frighteningly) as this one.


Terror in the Skies, Again?
By Annie Jacobsen

A WWS Exclusive Article

On June 29, 2004, at 12:28 p.m., I flew on Northwest Airlines flight #327 from Detroit to Los Angeles with my husband and our young son. Also on our flight were 14 Middle Eastern men between the ages of approximately 20 and 50 years old. What I experienced during that flight has caused me to question whether the United States of America can realistically uphold the civil liberties of every individual, even non-citizens, and protect its citizens from terrorist threats.

On that Tuesday, our journey began uneventfully. Starting out that morning in Providence, Rhode Island, we went through security screening, flew to Detroit, and passed the time waiting for our connecting flight to Los Angeles by shopping at the airport stores and eating lunch at an airport diner. With no second security check required in Detroit we headed to our gate and waited for the pre-boarding announcement. Standing near us, also waiting to pre-board, was a group of six Middle Eastern men. They were carrying blue passports with Arabic writing. Two men wore tracksuits with Arabic writing across the back. Two carried musical instrument cases - thin, flat, 18" long. One wore a yellow T-shirt and held a McDonald's bag. And the sixth man had a bad leg -- he wore an orthopedic shoe and limped. When the pre-boarding announcement was made, we handed our tickets to the Northwest Airlines agent, and walked down the jetway with the group of men directly behind us.

My four-year-old son was determined to wheel his carry-on bag himself, so I turned to the men behind me and said, "You go ahead, this could be awhile." "No, you go ahead," one of the men replied. He smiled pleasantly and extended his arm for me to pass. He was young, maybe late 20's and had a goatee. I thanked him and we boarded the plane.

Once on the plane, we took our seats in coach (seats 17A, 17B and 17C). The man with the yellow shirt and the McDonald's bag sat across the aisle from us (in seat 17E). The pleasant man with the goatee sat a few rows back and across the aisle from us (in seat 21E). The rest of the men were seated throughout the plane, and several made their way to the back.

[Full text omitted, available at link below]


In mid-July, this personal account of a frightening episode on a cross-country flight made its debut on, where its author is a regular columnist. Instantly, its tone of nearly averted disaster - as well as the harbinger of future doom it could be - made it an online favorite. - free web hosting. Free hosting with no banners.
Understandably, the question I get most about this is "is it legitimate?" The author stands by her words and even posted a follow-up on about a week later (although the web site disclaimed her second essay as an opinion piece). Independent news sources have looked into her claims and found them to be basically correct. FBI, FAA, Federal Air Marshal Service and airline officials confirm that the basic outline of her story is correct, but many have questioned the accuracy of her details and conclusion.

The events in question took place on June 29, 2004. According to the associated press, air marshals aboard Flight 327 were monitoring the men closely, whom they admit were congregating on the plane in direct violation of a government advisory issued in December. Upon landing, the men were met by agents of the FBI, the Los Angeles Police Department and the Transportation Security Administration. Officials confirmed that the men were members of a backup band for singer, Nour Mehanna, whom the AP describes as "the Syrian Wayne Newton." One agent even attended the show near San Diego to confirm their stories.

But not everyone is convinced. A good number of bloggers feel that the detail of Jacobsen's online accounts are suspect. One source, Donald Sensing, of Trinity Methodist Church in Franklin, TN, and author of "One Hand Clapping," believes the basic message, but is skeptical. Many other share his doubt, but basically believe her. In contrast, pilot and commentator, Patrick Smith, calls her essay "six pages of the worst grade-school prose, spring-loaded with mindless hysterics and bigoted provocation." reports that federal air marshalls' accounts identified Jacobsen as a bigger threat to the plane's security than the group of men, citing that her "overreacting" threatened to cause a panic on board. Her actions could have forced the agents on board to identify themselves, thus losing their one tactical advantage: anonymity.

Jacobsen and her husband have been interviewed on television and newspapers. The popularity of Jacobsen's essay prompted Congress to ask the Department of Homeland Security and FBI to review the incident and brief their staff on it. Further investigations confirmed that the men on the flight posed no threat, but suggested that investigators may have missed signs that the men might have been in the country illegally.

What Do You Think?

Category: Real, But...
References: - "Terror in the Skies, Again?", - "Part II: Terror in the Skies, Again?", - "The Hysterical Skies", - "Right Hook", One Hand Clapping - "Casing Northwest #327 - threat or hoax?",, AP - Online Story Raises Terror Probe Questions - August 1, 2004

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