Thursday, March 08, 2007

"We Passed With Flying Colors"

LA Times:
Authorities called in the bomb squad early Tuesday and diverted a flight to Las Vegas after Los Angeles International Airport security screeners found hidden wires and other objects in a body cavity of a Philadelphia-bound passenger.

Fadhel Al-Maliki, a 35-year-old Iraqi national living in Atlantic City, N.J., had been flagged by security officials at LAX and was undergoing a secondary "selectee screening" when he set off a metal detector.

Al-Maliki, a former security guard, told screeners that he knew what had triggered the alarm and proceeded to remove items from his rectum, including a rock, chewing gum and thin wire filament.

Larry Fetters, federal security director at LAX, said at news conference that Transportation Security Administration officers had become alarmed because Al-Maliki was acting strange but initially refused to identify the items he had hidden.

Concern that the objects might be components for an explosive device led airport authorities to call in the Los Angeles Police Department and FBI bomb technicians as well as a hazardous material team.

A preliminary investigation appeared to rule out a theory that Al-Maliki may have been looking for weaknesses in security or was rehearsing for a terrorist act, federal and local law enforcement authorities said.

During questioning, Al-Maliki said the objects in his rectum were used to alleviate stress, federal law enforcement sources said.

The rock, authorities said he told them, was from another planet.

As Al-Maliki was being detained, his two bags were loaded on to US Airways Flight 1422, which took off for Philadelphia with 143 passengers and six crew members on board, said Liz Landau, a spokeswoman for the airline.

Federal officials said the bags had been checked for explosives, chemicals and other hazardous materials using the most modern and extensive screening devices available. Even so, they diverted the aircraft to McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas "out of an abundance of caution."

There, passengers were taken off the plane, which was parked away from the terminal.

Passengers had to leave their carry-on bags aboard, and the plane and their luggage were searched, Landau said.

Federal officials also said a search of Al-Maliki's luggage turned up nothing "hazardous or illegal."

"Based on our investigation, there was no threat to Los Angeles International Airport or the airports in Las Vegas or Philadelphia," said Ethel McGuire, the FBI assistant special agent in charge of the Joint Terrorism Task Force.

Airport police briefly blocked access to roads leading to LAX and diverted vehicle traffic. But no other flights were disrupted at the airport, and Terminal 1, the building used by Southwest Airlines and US Airways, remained open.

After several hours of questioning, the FBI determined that Al-Maliki had not committed a crime, but he was turned over to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

At Tuesday afternoon's news conference, authorities said that Al-Maliki had been in the United States legally since 1994 but that federal officials were reviewing his immigration status because he may have outdated information on his green card.

Law enforcement sources said Al-Maliki previously served time in jail for criminal trespassing in Atlantic City.

In addition, he was arrested on suspicion of possession of a destructive device, but the sources said charges were dropped; details of the incident were unavailable.

A law enforcement source close to the investigation said Al-Maliki spent only a day in Los Angeles, arriving Monday afternoon after taking a flight from Philadelphia.
Let me get this straight. An Iraqi national with a criminal record -- who has just spent less than twenty-four hours in Los Angeles -- tries to board a flight with various objects concealed in his rectum. According to another report here, al-Maliki had been flagged previously based on his travel profile, and according to this report he used cash to buy his one-way ticket. He's prevented from boarding the flight, and the LAPD and FBI bomb squads and a hazmat team are called in.

And authorities allow the plane to take off with his luggage on board?

According to several other reports (here and here), al-Maliki first triggered an alert at 5:40 a.m., at which point he was detained (this report says that when a security screener ran a metal-detector wand over al-Maliki's body and it kept going off, al-Maliki "acknowledged immediately" that he had objects inside his body). On Tuesday, US Airways flight 1422 was scheduled to depart Los Angeles at 6:30 a.m., and according to this report it left at 6:40 am. For a full hour, it didn't occur to anyone that his luggage might be aboard? Were they busy checking grandmothers' shoes when some DHS sharpie had an "oh, no!" moment with the plane over Barstow?

Rep. Jane Harman summed up the incident: "The good news is that the system worked. If this was a test case for security at LAX, then we passed with flying colors."

Nothing to see here, move along please....


Anonymous Whammer said...

Spectacular incompetence. And the principle is not new at all. 19 years ago my flight from Frankfurt to Chicago was delayed for more than 3 hours because there was luggage on the plane that did not have an owner on the plane.

Foreign objects in the rectum or not, if you don't get on the plane your luggage shouldn't either. "Flying colors"??? What a disgrace.

3/08/2007 1:21 AM  
Blogger Kevin said...

"...officers had become alarmed because Al-Maliki was acting strange..."

You'd be acting strange with all that junk in your trunk hole. I was waiting for the story to quote the guy saying the rock was from Uranus.

3/08/2007 1:27 AM  
Anonymous Thomas Daulton said...

...the bags had been checked for explosives, chemicals and other hazardous materials using the most modern and extensive screening devices available.

TCR wonders whether or not the screeners knew the guy's luggage was aboard when the flight took off? I think that quote sums it up. I believe that is from the Federal CYA (Cover-Your-@$$) Manual, Page 3, Section, "Procedures for pretending the situation was well in hand after your ignorance has been exposed after-the-fact"

I wonder if we can get a good flame war going here about racial profiling? I wonder where TCR actually stands.

Neo-conservatives will say that this incident prvoves beyond any doubt that we need to detain everyone who is young-ish-middle-aged, and fits the racial profile of our current enemies...

("We have always been at war with Oceania..." Yeah, we'll stop every Arab from travelling, right up until the point an Indonesian muslim terrorist scores a big success. Meanwhile White Supremacists will keep sneaking explosives across our border with Canada, unimpeded.)

Liberals and privacy-minded conservatives will say that this proves we don't have the manpower and concentration to pick out even the people who leave us obvious clues, and therefore we should concentrate on spotting the clues rather than casting a broad but stupid net over everyone from a particular race. No liberal would say this man shouldn't have been detained. But he should have been detained due to the numerous other clues, not his race.

3/08/2007 1:53 PM  
Blogger David said...

What was the rock and chewing gum for you might ask? Obviously so he could play the "nut job" card. The rock is from another planet he says...he knew exactly what he was doing and it worked for him.
I'm embarrassed for our "law enforcement authorities".

3/08/2007 6:30 PM  
Blogger Spider63 said...

I just wonder if he usually re-chews his gum after it spends a few hours in his rectal cavity?

3/08/2007 9:54 PM  
Blogger mrs panstreppon said...

I found some records online that indicate al-Maliki used to live in Falls Church VA. I wonder where he was a security guard.

3/09/2007 9:45 PM  
Anonymous George said...

Heckuva job, TSA!

Yeah, spider. I was wondering about the gum. Probably Wrigley's Extra. The flavor lasts and lasts...

3/09/2007 11:43 PM  
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