Guest: Douglas Laird, Bogdan Dzakovic, Candice DeLong, Steve Pomerantz, Larry Johnson, Michael Boyd, Annie Jacobsen, Kevin Jacobsen
JOE SCARBOROUGH, HOST: Tonight, a SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY special report:
Airline security, how safe are we? Our nation is on an elevated alert.
Security is tightened at airports, and passengers fear terror in the skies. So how would you feel if this happened on your flight, fourteen Middle Eastern men using one-way tickets to get on a plane from Detroit to Los Angeles. And they behaved suspiciously.
They repeatedly walk up and down the aisle of the plane. They gather in groups of three and four, and they spend an unusual amount of time in the restrooms. And, as the flight prepares to land, several of them rise from their seats in unison. The FBI says everything worked as it should. The plane landed safely. It was met at the gate by authorities. The men were interviewed by the FBI, cleared, and let go.
So what exactly happened on that flight? Tonight, we are going to be bringing you the chilling firsthand account from two passengers aboard that plane. We are also going to hear what the FBI says, and we will look at the state of airline security with our aviation experts next on this SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY special report.
ANNOUNCER: From the press room, to the courtroom, to the halls of Congress, Joe Scarborough has seen it all. Welcome to SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.
SCARBOROUGH: Hey, welcome to SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.
You know, we learned about this amazing story when a first-person account appeared from journalist Annie Jacobsen on the Webzine WomensWallStreet.com. Jacobsen‘s story can bring us all to closer examination of the status of aviation security almost three years after the September 11 tragedy. What can passengers do to protect themselves aboard a flight if they see suspicious activity, and how much is being done by officials on board that passengers may be unaware of?
Jacobsen and her husband, along with young son, boarded a Northwest Airlines flight bound for LAX. What happened next may concern you, as you listen to the Jacobsens tell their story, and ask yourself, would you have reacted the Annie and Kevin Jacobsen did?
ANNIE JACOBSEN, JOURNALIST: I noticed a group of six or so men. And they were Middle Eastern. And they actually had their passports out in front of them, and I noticed Arabic writing.
And our 4 ½ old son was pulling his carry-on. I said to this one gentleman—he had a goatee, and I said, this might take a while, because our son is trying to do this, so go ahead. And he was very polite. And I remember that so specifically, because it made me feel comfortable. I began to notice that there were additional Middle Eastern men on the plane as well.
But when I was out in the gate, I did not notice any other Middle Eastern men. I only noticed the six. So I remember thinking, six, plus more.
KEVIN JACOBSEN, ABOARD NORTHWEST AIRLINES FLIGHT: Any given time, there were two or three of them standing in the back of the flight. There was a couple of Middle Eastern men standing in the middle of the flight. And just the whole package deal just made me so uncomfortable.
A. JACOBSEN: Kevin turned me to me and said, I think we should get off this flight. And we didn‘t.
K. JACOBSEN: Well, I noticed when the gentleman went to the restroom with a yellow T-shirt, passes his seat. And when he gets to the middle of the flight, he gives the thumbs up to two or three other Middle Eastern men sitting behind him, and then continues back to the rear of the flight. There was one of the Middle Eastern sitting in first class, and he was wearing sunglasses. He was also always standing right in front of the cockpit door.
A. JACOBSEN: I said, honey, I think you should talk to the flight attendant.
K. JACOBSEN: She said, we are aware of it. The pilot is aware of it.
She said that, we are passing notes to each other.
Then, when they were passing drinks, the flight attendant came over to me and she leaned down and she whispered and she said that there are air marshals sitting all around you, but don‘t tell anyone, because I can get in trouble for that.
A. JACOBSEN: The captain made announcement that the plane was cleared for landing, could everyone please take their seat. Everyone was seated. Everyone strapped in.
And, at this point, I felt the fear was really palpable. And then seven of the guys stood up in what appeared to be unison, boom. They are up. Four of them go to the lavatory that‘s just right directly in front of us, waiting consecutively. And from what I could tell, there were three waiting at the back bathroom. And I can see downtown Los Angeles. The seat belt sign is on. It is so unusual.
You have got 180-some-odd passengers on that plane, and every single one of them is seated except for seven Middle Eastern men who have been acting really strangely for 4 ½ hours.
K. JACOBSEN: I actually accepted that we are not going to make it back to L.A. safely.
A. JACOBSEN: I mean, I was just overwhelmed with fear. I was absolutely overwhelmed with fear. And I looked across to the man in the yellow shirt. And he reached inside of his shirt, and he started to pull something out, and he pulled out this little red book.
It was maybe four, five inches tall, and very thin, and he opened it up, and he read a few pages, and then he closed it. And then he put it back down in his shirt, so it was tucked into his shorts. And the guys are going into the bathroom slowly, and he does this three or four more times. When the last guy comes out of the bathroom, and, you know, I am really thinking like, OK, one two, three, four, I am just going, come on, guys, sit down, you know.
I got my son here next to me. So the last guy comes out and he goes up to the guy in the yellow shirt and he goes like this. And then he says, no. And I don‘t know what that meant.
K. JACOBSEN: I just started writing, because I was just panicking. And I just started journaling and journaling. And I had to have some outlet.
And this is one of the things that to me was the toughest thing, is—this is one thing I wrote. “I am just afraid that I am not going to see home again and that I am not going to see my son grow up. And I am also terrified of dying a painful death. I am terrified that I am not going to be able to protect my son and my family.”
SCARBOROUGH: Very remarkable.
Now, we have got Annie and Kevin Jacobsen with us right now, but, first, we want to read you a statement from Northwest Airlines regarding the incident that the Jacobsens describe.
Northwest officials say “Flight 327 from Detroit to Los Angeles on June 29 landed normally. We are working with the Federal Air Marshal Service and the TSA regarding customer statements about the flight. In the interests of security, we are not commenting further.”
But with me now to tell more of their story, Annie and Kevin Jacobsen.
Thank you so much for being here tonight.
And we have heard part of your story.
Annie, why don‘t you tell us what happened when your plane landed in Los Angeles.
A. JACOBSEN: When we landed, Joe, there was a bank of guys in blue suits up against the flight jetway. And we kind of got out of the area and then stopped and looked back. And we saw the federal air marshals that had been on board the flight kind of maneuver these 14 Middle Easterners off to the side. And then it was Kevin‘s idea to go and give our statements to the FBI. He thought that was really important.
SCARBOROUGH: Now, when did you first get the sense on the flight that something might be wrong?
A. JACOBSEN: I got the sense—well, I was uncomfortable with the additional eight men. I mean, the six men, I thought, they‘re fine. They are a group.
And then as we sat and we watched these men board, and suddenly there were eight more, it made me aware. But I really got uncomfortable when the flight was up in the air and these guys were going up and down the aisles.
SCARBOROUGH: Annie, what would you say to those watching you tonight and hearing your story that aren‘t convinced that you were ever in danger? They may say, gee, well, what‘s wrong. Why can‘t 14, 15 Arab men all fly on the same flight in the United States?
A. JACOBSEN: Based on the activity, Joe, that went on on that flight, that was just not normal behavior from anyone. And what I do know—a lot of people have asked me that question, a lot of people in the media.
And I would suggest they just check our statements against the flight attendants‘ statements, because, apparently, they match up real succinctly.
SCARBOROUGH: Kevin, tell me about the flight attendants and also about the other passengers. Did you get a sense when you were up in the air, and when did you first get the sense, maybe, that the other passengers and the flight attendants were very concerned about what was going on, on Northwest Flight 327 that day?
K. JACOBSEN: Well, there was one other gentleman that I noticed stood up against the wall facing the lavatory. And he and I would have eye contact whenever I saw things go on.
And I was trying to, by looking at him, trying to get a connection with him, are you seeing what‘s going on? Are you feeling as terrified as I am about this? And the thing hit the peak for me when I—Annie suggested to go up and talk to the flight attendant, because I don‘t know what to do. Go and talk to them. That‘s what they are there for.
And when I went up and spoke to the flight attendant up in first class and said to her that I hope I am not coming off wrong here, but I am so uncomfortable of what‘s going on, on this flight. These men are making me so afraid. And I was shaking. I asked her for a glass of water. My hand was shaking as I was telling her how afraid I was.
And she said to me, you are right on schedule. We are aware of it. You are not overreacting. The captain is aware of it. We are passing notes to each other. There are people on board higher up than you and me that are watching these men. And that did make me feel a little more grounded, because I didn‘t feel like I was alone about this situation watching it.
SCARBOROUGH: And, Kevin, as you all were starting to land in Los Angeles, and, at this point, we have heard you and Annie both say that six or seven of the gentlemen then got out of their seats after the seat belt signs were on, everybody else was seated, and they got up, again, seemingly in unison.
Now, I know when I fly—and I fly—my gosh, I fly all the time. If I were to get up when a plane was landing to get a cell phone that was ringing above me or something, I would have two or three flight attendants come to me and say, sit down, sir. In fact, they do it all the time. Did any flight attendant tell any of these gentlemen that they needed to sit down as this plane was descending after a flight that apparently was harrowing even for the flight attendants?
K. JACOBSEN: No, they didn‘t.
And now, from digesting this more and telling more people about it, I
understand. They were afraid. And immediately when they landed, I was so
· had so much adrenaline going on, and the air marshal who spoke to us said that you need to drink a lot of water afterwards and relax until you‘re able to crash after having all this adrenaline through you.
They were afraid. And now I understand why they didn‘t say anything. They were doing the best they could. And I am just glad I don‘t have a job like that, because I could not go back to a job like that.
SCARBOROUGH: Now, Annie, Kevin said that he was nervous on this flight, had to go up, get water throughout the flight. But you actually said that you were nervous before Flight 327 even took off from Detroit. Tell us why.
A. JACOBSEN: You know, I don‘t believe that I was nervous about the other passengers, per se.
I was really struck by the fact that Kevin and I and our son ate in a diner with metal forks and knives right next to the gateway. And there was no secondary screening procedure for any of us, so—and we had been traveling through Europe, and India and whatnot just a couple weeks before, and the security there was really tight. And whenever we took a connecting flight anywhere, we were absolutely screened and asked a whole bunch of questions.
In Detroit, there was none of that. I mean, we just simply got on the plane.
SCARBOROUGH: Annie, stay with me. Kevin, stick around, because, after the break, we are going to have more with both of you.
Also, we‘re going to be talking to NBC‘s Pete Williams about the FBI‘s take on this story.
We‘ll be right back.
SCARBOROUGH: How safe are our skies? We are going to be debating that coming up.
And if you had what you think is a scare while flying, write me at Joe.MSNBC.com.
We‘ll be right back.
SCARBOROUGH: We are back with Annie and Kevin Jacobsen.
Kevin, let‘s go back to you. It was so compelling hearing you talk about this journal that you were writing about. You really believed, as this flight was coming into Los Angeles, that you and the other members on that plane were going to be killed?
K. JACOBSEN: Well, I don‘t know if I believed exactly that. But was I terrified? Yes. And was I ready to do something when something happened? Yes.
Anything else is speculation, but I have never been so terrified in my whole life as I was on that flight. And I am a husband and I am a father, and I am there with my wife and 4 ½-year-old son, who doesn‘t know anything about this. And I was ill. And actually watching the different things that we‘ve done on this actually brings back the emotions and the memory of it. And I am speechless sometimes about this.
You know, again, for those just joining us, again, 14 Syrians were on a flight from Detroit to Los Angeles. Some passengers were startled by their behavior. So was it just a case of post-9/11 jitters or was there a genuine cause for concern?
And, Annie, you know, again, I know people are out there that have read your story. They are listening to it tonight. And they are saying, gee, what, Arab men can‘t go to the bathroom? Explain to me specifically how these Arab men going to the restroom on this flight, four-hour flight, 4 ½-hour flight, why it upset you so much and why you think there may have been suspicious activity going on.
A. JACOBSEN: Joe, on the flight, it just was what it was. It was terrifying. Maybe it‘s one of those situations where you had to be there.
I mean, you know, I wrote this article. And we have just had a ton of reader reaction from it. And some people are saying, oh, they are overreacting. But really what interests me most is this overwhelming response that I have gotten directly from pilots of commercial aircraft.
And these guys are saying, Annie, this is not an isolated incident. Annie, I get every detail that you were talking about, because I have seen it. And I have got pilots that are willing to talk on the record for the first time about what they are calling the airline‘s dirty little secret. And what this is, is dry runs being conducted. And that‘s a horrifying dirty little secret.
SCARBOROUGH: All right, Annie Jacobsen and Kevin Jacobsen, thank you so much for being with us tonight on SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY. We greatly appreciate it.
K. JACOBSEN: Thank you.
A. JACOBSEN: Thank you.
SCARBOROUGH: Now let‘s bring in Pete Williams. He‘s NBC‘s justice correspondent. And he talked to the FBI. And he joins us now.
Pete, thanks for joining us.
Now, you have just heard the Jacobsens‘ story. You have also read it previously. I understand you talked to the FBI in both Washington and Los Angeles. What do you find out about Northwest Flight 327?
PETE WILLIAMS, NBC JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, the investigators who responded confirm in the rough detail what the Jacobsens report.
In fact, there were 14 Syrian men on the plane. They were—the airline did radio ahead and say there was some potentially suspicious behavior. All the men were detained at the airport. They were questioned at length by federal authorities, who were satisfied that the men had nothing sinister planned, that they were musicians going to a gig on the West Coast. They said there were no incidents in the airport. The men were all very cooperative.
And after extensive questioning, they were released. So there was enough concern that the federal agents were called in, and they did interrogate them.
SCARBOROUGH: Is this unusual for the FBI to come to an airport like LAX to get 14 Arabs off the plane and interrogate them or does it happen quite frequently?
WILLIAMS: It is somewhere between quite frequently and unusual, but it‘s certainly not uncommon.
Since 9/11, you have got federal authorities asking people like the Jacobsens to be on the lookout, be our eyes and ears, as Tom Ridge, the homeland security secretary, says, and report suspicious behavior. And that‘s precisely what the Jacobsens did. That‘s what the airline did. And that‘s what federal authorities want people to do.
And people are almost daily reported. There‘s somebody out here taking a picture of a bridge. Someone is taking a picture of this tunnel. Just a couple of weeks ago, an FBI agent told me agents were called out in the middle of the night because passengers were concerned about a group of Middle Eastern men on a flight. And it turned out they were all going to a business meeting.
So this happens frequently. And this is what federal authorities want people to do. They want them to be alert. Now, they point out, federal agents who have read her account on the Internet, and she said it again tonight, that obviously she is unaware that these men were all screened when they got to the airport. You have to remember, she got on the flight originally from Providence to Detroit, where she connects, and then gets on the Northwest flight to Los Angeles.
These men either came to the Detroit Airport or connected from another flight. But, in any event, when they started their flying day, they would all have been searched. Federal agents say, in fact, the men all were screened. All their carry-on was checked. And they also say, Joe, that whenever there is a large—both people in and out of law enforcement tell me that, when you have a large number of people from a single country like this flying together, that also raises red flags. And there was additional checking on that.
SCARBOROUGH: I was going to ask you, coming out of Detroit, you have got 14 Arabs flying on the same plane. Of course, we know Detroit, in fact, the Detroit area, there are probably more Muslims in that region than anywhere else in the United States. So it may not be that unusual for 10, 15 Arabs to be flying from Detroit to Los Angeles.
But any time you have that number, does that send a red flag up in these post-9/11 days automatically and the FBI automatically checks over the list, and TSA also gets involved?
WILLIAMS: Well, this is something they don‘t really want to talk about publicly. And we don‘t know. Frankly, I suspect it‘s not just enough to have a Middle Eastern name. I suspect that it‘s certain countries of origin that they are looking at.
But, yes, when there are groups that raise red flags and large number of people from the same country, especially young men, let‘s face it, that is going to raise red flags, and there is additional checking. And many people in law enforcement who have read Ms. Jacobsen‘s two—now two articles on this Web site say that she says flat out in there that these men were not subject to security.
And what many law enforcement people who have looked at this, her article, say, we understand why she is concerned, but the fact is, she didn‘t know what screening they went through, and they did go through screening.
SCARBOROUGH: Pete, a final question here. Obviously, the president and Tom Ridge have come out over the past couple weeks, said Americans should be on high alert for another domestic terror attack. Does anybody in the D.C. or L.A. bureaus that you have spoken to or anybody in or outside of law enforcement believe, as the Jacobsens believe, that this flight may have actually been a dry run for a future attack on Americans?
WILLIAMS: Well, I don‘t know of anyone who believes that the behavior she saw was a potential test of the airline systems or what security was. It seems awfully overt, if that‘s what it was. They just have no way of knowing that. Now, period, paragraph, is that sort of testing going on? They certainly don‘t rule it out.
SCARBOROUGH: OK, Pete Williams, thanks so much for being with us tonight.
WILLIAMS: Yes, sir.
SCARBOROUGH: We greatly appreciate it.
WILLIAMS: You bet.
SCARBOROUGH: All right.
And coming up, I‘m going to be joined by a counterterrorism expert and an aviation safety expert to talk about the safety of the skies. Is the situation better or worse since the events of September 11? And it‘s not just about our planes. We are also going to be talking about whether or not the United States is winning the overall war on terror.
So stay with us. We‘ll be right back.
SCARBOROUGH: So what can nervous passengers do when they spot suspicious activity on their flight? Our aviation and terror experts are here to tell you. That‘s coming up next.
But, first, let‘s get the latest headlines from the MSNBC News Desk.
ANNOUNCER: From the press room, to the courtroom, to the halls of Congress, Joe Scarborough has seen it all. Welcome to SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY.
SCARBOROUGH: Fourteen Syrians boarded Flight 327. The FBI concluded they were a group of musicians traveling together. But, as you have heard, some passengers say they engaged in suspicious activity on that flight, including congregating in groups and standing in unison as the plane was about to land.
We aren‘t here tonight to draw any conclusions about the specific facts of this case, but to ask questions that are raised by this incident. Joining us tonight to do that is aviation expert Michael Boyd. We also have counterterror expert and former State Department official Larry Johnson. And we have Steve Pomerantz. He‘s a former assistant director of the FBI and a former chief of its counterterrorism unit.
Gentlemen, thank you all for being with us tonight.
Steve, let me ask you first, what happened here?
STEVE POMERANTZ, FORMER FBI CHIEF OF COUNTERTERRORISM: Well, I‘m struck by a couple of things, Joe.
First of all, it‘s clearly—I can easily understand the Jacobsens‘ reaction to this kind of series of events, given the recent history. But I am also struck by two other things. One is, of course, that nothing happened. We can talk about suspicious behavior. We can talk about all these activities, but the bottom line is nothing occurred on that flight. That‘s the second thing.
Thirdly, I am struck by the fact that the FBI did turn out. There seemed to be an appropriate and proper response, and they did what sounds to me like a very thorough, exhaustive investigation, during the course of which nobody was charged with a crime, nobody was even detained, which tells me that these people were here legally, legitimately, had official and appropriate and proper documentation, because, as you know, for the last few years in particular, the FBI has not been reluctant to detain people who are here in any way illegally, whether they‘re out of status, or whether they have false documentation. That didn‘t happen in this case.
I think Pete Williams‘ telling of events was enlightening and illuminating. I think it sounds to me like this is one of those false alarms that are occurring, understandably, and with greater frequency and raising more concern, but, nevertheless, they turn out to be, to all appearances, false alarms.
SCARBOROUGH: Larry Johnson, let me bring you in here. Do you believe it could have possibly been recon work?
LARRY JOHNSON, COUNTERTERRORISM EXPERT: It could have been. We just don‘t know.
Instead of trying to predict what it is that they are doing, what we ought to be looking at is asking the question, are we doing everything we can to prevent acts of terrorism on board aircraft?
SCARBOROUGH: And what‘s the answer to that question?
JOHNSON: I think we have moved in the right direction. We still have one gap left that‘s significant, on board, in-flight, that is highlighted by these gentlemen.
If you recall back in December of 1994, Ramzi Yousef, who bombed the first World Trade Center, was perfecting and doing the planning for an operation to blow up 12 jumbo jets. It was called Project Bojinka. And he did a test run on board a Philippine Airline flight where he took the components for a bomb. The actual explosive was in a liquid bottle that looked like contact cleansing solution, a bag of cotton that was actually gun cotton, a Casio data watch, two nine-volt batteries, and a light bulb like would go into the dashboard of a car.
He got aboard the plane and built that device in the lavatory, took it back, put it under the seat, got off the plane, someone else got on board. The plane took off and it exploded in flight. So one of the gaps still in place is that we haven‘t come up with effective detector at screening checkpoint for liquid explosives.
SCARBOROUGH: And, Mike Boyd, we also heard of course the story from the Jacobsens about how one of these gentlemen went into the lavatory with a McDonald‘s bag. It was left in there. Others would go in, come out. I mean, it sounds certainly like it could have possibly been a dry run. What is your conclusion?
MICHAEL BOYD, AVIATION SECURITY EXPERT: Well, whether you believe these people or not, that‘s not the issue. The real point of it is, dry runs are probably being made. We know that the 9/11 terrorists scoped out Boston Logan Airport for months. We know they had dry runs.
So whether or not this latest story is legit or just people who panicked isn‘t really the issue. I think, as the two gentlemen brought up, we do have a problem. And we had a 20-year-old kid who breached security doing exactly on a dry run, if you will, what the terrorist did on Philippine Airlines.
SCARBOROUGH: Michael, recount that story, if you will, about the box cutters.
BOYD: Well, what happened was a 20-year-old kid named Nathaniel Heatwole breached security several times by getting things onto a Southwest Airlines, or several Southwest Airlines airplanes. He sent e-mails to the TSA to tell them about it.
And when that was discovered, the only thing really that happened was the head of the TSA, Admiral Lay, got kicked upstairs. We have heard nothing more about it. But this issue of bringing things on airplanes, either from the ramp side or from above wing, which would a passenger, that‘s very true. We haven‘t looked at that. And until we do, until we get the kind of expertise we need, which we are a long way from, to do that, we are still going to be at risk, regardless of what happened on Northwest 327.
You know, actor James Woods was actually on a flight August 1, 2001, when he saw four men that he said were behaving suspiciously. Their behavior was so strange that he thought they were going to hijack the plane. He told the flight attendant and the first officer. They eventually filed reports with the FAA. But after the attacks of September 11, Woods called the FBI to tell them about the incident and he later found out that four men on his flight were on board Flight 77 and 175 on 9/11.
So I guess a lot of people out there, Steve, may be asking, does it really matter that they all checked out, that none had red flags in their records, that possibly these gentlemen, or not just these gentlemen, let‘s generalize it, say that these dry runs are going on out there and the system is not doing enough to step in and protect us?
POMERANTZ: Well, the system is never going to protect us to 100 percent level. That‘s just not possible. I think—I agree with Larry. I agree with Michael. I think the system is certainly better than it was.
It‘s not perfect.
The fact that these individuals may check out don‘t mean that the next batch won‘t check out. This is just something that it‘s a continual process. We are certainly much better at it than we were prior to September 11. But we are not where we need to be, and we are never going to be at 100 percent. It‘s just not possible.
SCARBOROUGH: You know, “The New York Times” is reporting that—and this is unbelievable, that air marshals actually have a dress code that requires—quote—“neatly trimmed hair, no beards, suit or sport coat, and dress pants and dress shoes.”
Larry Johnson, how safe can we be when just about anybody can spot an air marshal on a flight full of vacationers who may be in flip-flops or short pants or blue jeans? Can you believe we have a dress code for air marshals?
JOHNSON: The good news is, they still look like businessmen or businesswomen who are traveling. So some people think they are easy to spot, but generally they are not as easy to spot. I really don‘t think we should put a lot of information out about what they are doing and how they are doing it.
One thing we know, Joe, is that in the past when you have used security measures and people have done dry runs, the mere presence of security measures ends up deterring them. We saw during the first Gulf War, for example, there were plans by Saddam to try to bomb an airport in Athens. And the fellow tasked with doing that came back and said, no, we can‘t because of the security.
So, if they‘re going to do dry—if I am a bad guy, I have to do a dry run. I have to collect intelligence and do a target study, but when I find that there are security measures in place that I am going to have to confront, that could potentially deter me. So I think it‘s more important that we focus upon what we can do proactively to deter this behavior, as opposed to try to be mind readers to figure out who is the bad guy.
SCARBOROUGH: Mike Boyd, one final question. Give it to me in 30 seconds or less, if you can. Are we safer today in the skies today than we were on September 11?
BOYD: I think that‘s like saying, on September 11, we were 500 feet under water. Now we‘re 300 feet under water. No, I really don‘t. We have a TSA that is a total shambles, where we have major problems with screeners.
We really are just looking for pointy objects. Our airport have no mitigation or contingency plans. All they do is evacuate the terminal. We have film shield bags that can get through with almost anything in them. Our perimeters are wide open. The ramps are wide open.
No, I don‘t really think we are anywhere near as safe as we need to be. Frankly, we need to disassemble the TSA and put in a professional security organization. When you have port security run by former press secretary to the secretary of transportation, trust me, we don‘t have good security.
SCARBOROUGH: So what do you think—I‘ve just got to ask you a follow-up to that—what do you think they should have done on this flight in particular, when you had 14 Arabs from Syria wandering around the plane as the plane was landing? What would the proper response have been in the air?
BOYD: I think we go back to what Steve said. This was probably something that was a normal situation. And we have two people who know nothing about security who are making determinations about the airline‘s dirty little secret of this, that, and the other thing.
I am thinking I think we need to check more what really did happen and look at the various sides of 327. But that notwithstanding, let‘s not be deterred from the real issue here, is, we are being scoped out and we have to do something. I think, in this case, it may have been a false alarm, as Steve just said.
SCARBOROUGH: All right, Michael Boyd, Larry Johnson and Steve Pomerantz, thank you so much for being with us tonight.
JOHNSON: Thank you, Joe.
SCARBOROUGH: We greatly appreciate it.
SCARBOROUGH: Our federal air marshals are forced to dress like federal agents. If you are outraged by a dress code of men that are supposed to be undercover that may actually make air marshals targets of terrorists, e-mail me at Joe.MSNBC.com.
Also, again, if you have any stories of concerns that you have had while you have been flying the not so friendly skies lately, e-mail me at Joe.MSNBC.com.
Now, coming up, we are going to be joined by a former federal air marshal and terror experts. We are going to learn how they say we can protect ourselves when we‘re flying.
Plus, we are going to be bringing back the Jacobsens to hear their final thoughts on their terrifying flight. Will it keep them from flying again soon? We‘ll be talking to them in a minute.
SCARBOROUGH: You know, there hasn‘t been a single terror attack on U.S. soil since September 11, but are the security systems in airports any better? And if those system fail, how can passengers who see suspicious activity keep themselves safe?
With me now, we‘ve got former FBI profiler Candice DeLong, former director of security for Northwest Airlines Douglas Laird. And Bogdan Dzakovic is a former inspector on the Federal Aviation Administration‘s Red Team. He conducted undercover exercises to expose holes in airport security.
Bogdan, when you hear details of an incident like this, does it sound to you like a terror cell doing a dry run?
BOGDAN DZAKOVIC, FORMER FEDERAL AVIATION ADMINISTRATION INSPECTOR:
Well, I think it‘s important not to overreact to something like this. But the reality is, if they wanted to do a surveillance like this, they very well could. But, as far as this individual situation, I am not sure.
SCARBOROUGH: What about when you have the president of the United States and Tom Ridge coming out, telling Americans to be on higher alert? Do you think it‘s going to cause overreaction, or do you think that these people that were flying on this plane responded appropriately?
DZAKOVIC: Well, like I said, it‘s important not to overreact, but it‘s also important not to underreact.
And the reality of the world we are in right now is that, if the terrorists wanted to conduct another 9/11 type attack, they could very well do it.
SCARBOROUGH: Why is that?
DZAKOVIC: Because security is not really that much better than it was on 9/11, in spite of all the money that‘s gone into it.
DZAKOVIC: As you may know, I filed a whistle-blower complaint against FAA regarding what happened leading up to 9/11. And absolutely nobody in the federal government has taken the time to learn the lessons of why that actually occurred.
So we are basically making the same mistakes now that we did three years ago.
SCARBOROUGH: Douglas Laird, do you agree?
DOUGLAS LAIRD, FORMER SECURITY DIRECTOR, NORTHWEST AIRLINES: No, I don‘t.
There are several things, I think, he is incorrect on. One is that, since 9/11, we have gone to 100 percent hold baggage screening at many airports, using EDS, or computer tomography, which is a marvelous way of finding devices in suitcases. Secondly, and probably more important, after 9/11, you may recall, we have reinforced the cockpit doors, so that a group of individuals with box cutters can no longer get into the cockpit.
The unfortunate thing about what happened on the event we spoke of earlier this evening was that those people on the flight took a number of events, put them together, and came up with a scenario that I think just isn‘t true.
SCARBOROUGH: Do you think they responded inappropriately?
LAIRD: It‘s not that they—it‘s not that they did not respond. I feel for the fact that they were terrified.
The problem is that they took bits and pieces of information and assembled them incorrectly and came to conclusions that are false. And I think that was shown by the fact that nothing happened. Furthermore, if these individuals, these men on the flight were going to conduct a dry run, so to speak, they certainly wouldn‘t have 14 individuals bringing attention to themselves.
SCARBOROUGH: So why did the FBI appear at the airport? Again, we understand that was because of the flight attendants. And I am certainly not being argumentative in my questioning of you. Just how common is that for FBI agents, for TSA agents, for local law enforcement officers to actually greet a plane and take 14 members aside, people flying on that plane aside, and talk to them?
LAIRD: Several things would have happened as that flight made its way from Detroit to Los Angeles. You can be assured that the pilot was aware of what was happening in the cabin of the aircraft, that the captain was communicating with the systems operation control center of Northwest Airlines in Minneapolis. And they, in turn, would have been in touch with the TSA and so forth.
It‘s the standard procedure to do interviews in such a situation, for a variety of reasons. Also, keep in mind that at large airports such as LAX, there are FBI agents permanently assigned to those airports and available 24 hours a day to sort out situations such as this.
SCARBOROUGH: All right, Candice DeLong, talk about what passengers on domestic air flights in the United States need to look for, so they don‘t overreact or underreact to possible dry runs or terror attacks in progress.
CANDICE DELONG, FORMER FBI PROFILER: Well, I think the previous gentleman brought up a good point. It‘s unlikely that if it was a real dry run of the terrorist group, that 14 of them would have been on the same flight and acting the way they were.
But, Joe, we really don‘t know exactly what to look for. I would certainly want to talk to actor James Woods, as you mentioned, and find out exactly what did he see the four what we later found out were real terrorists that acted on 9/11, what did he see them doing on August 1? It‘s important that people not overreact.
But I can tell you this. And I fly a lot myself. And I flew a lot shortly after 9/11. I just keep my eyes on everyone. And if anybody really gets out of line, I am prepared to stand up and act and ask other passengers around me to assist.
SCARBOROUGH: All right, Candice DeLong, Douglas Laird, and Bogdan al-Dzakovic, thank you so much for being with us tonight.
And we are going to be back with more from Ann and Kevin Jacobsen right after this short break.
SCARBOROUGH: With us again is Annie and Kevin Jacobsen.
I‘d like to tell both of you that we have been flooded with e-mails.
I know, Annie, you said that you were flooded with e-mails after you wrote your letter—wrote column. This past hour—we get tons of e-mail every night, but I‘ll tell you what. We have been absolutely flooded tonight.
And I want to read you an e-mail that we just got from a viewer who said: “I‘m an airline captain for a major U.S. airline company and personally have had what I consider a dry run by Middle Eastern men on one of my flights. As a result, I‘m going to attend a federal program that arms pilots. I strongly agree with your guests that something is brewing regarding this manner.”
Annie, is that a lot like the e-mails you have been getting over the past week?
A. JACOBSEN: I think that pretty much sums it up, Joe.
And the thing that‘s so disturbing is that if you do have these dry runs going on, eventually, it‘s not going to be a dry run because the dry runs are all going to have been run, and then what?
SCARBOROUGH: Kevin, are you going to get back on a flight anytime soon?
K. JACOBSEN: I have been thinking a lot about it, and, no, I am not. And my frustration is that I have been traveling to India a lot. I‘ve been there three times in the last year. And I have a business where I go there, and I am not sure what to do. But, no, I don‘t want to get on a plane.
SCARBOROUGH: You know, you all don‘t sound angry to me.
I‘ll tell you, I had something happen. I won‘t go into great detail, but it was about a year ago. We actually flew up the Hudson River, flew right over ground zero. And there was somebody in the rest room that had been suspicious, I had been looking at the entire flight. And I fly all the time. I rarely get suspicious of anybody. I was suspicious.
We were actually flying over New York City, over ground zero. We went up the Hudson and took a right, must have been five seconds away from the Empire State Building. And afterwards, I asked the pilot, I said, do you guys take that route usually? He goes, no, we haven‘t done that in a while. I was like, I wonder why.
Annie, some people just don‘t get it, do they?
A. JACOBSEN: I don‘t know, but, Joe, I do have one question, and it‘s off the former FBI director‘s comment that a thorough investigation had been done.
And I myself spoke with a gentleman named Dave Adams after the incident, and he actually called me when he got wind I was writing a story. And I would like to know what thorough is, because I asked Dave what kind of instruments they had. And he told me that they actually hadn‘t—they hadn‘t gotten that far into the weeds, is what he said.
SCARBOROUGH: All right, thank you all so much for being with us. We greatly appreciate it.
And I want to tell all of you, we are going to stay on top of this story that the Jacobsens have brought to us. E-mail me at Joe.MSNBC.com.
We‘ll see you tomorrow night.
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