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Likely Terror Attack ‘Dry Run’ Exposes Dangerous TSA Missteps (Updated)

While defying common sense, a Yemeni citizen carrying mock bombs and $7,000 in cash apparently does not defy TSA security. (Updated at 1:50 PM PDT/4:50 PM EDT.)

by
Annie Jacobsen

Bio

August 31, 2010 - 12:09 am
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But the situation moved from unbelievable to outrageous in Chicago, where al Soofi was able to check his bags on a flight headed first to Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C., and then on to Dubai and Yemen. But al Soofi did not board the D.C.- Dubai-Yemen flight. Instead, he boarded an entirely different flight, the United Airlines flight to Amsterdam. Did al Soofi originally buy two different tickets, which would have put him in two different places at once? Or did he change one ticket at the last moment? And if he changed his ticket at the last moment — oddly switching his destination to an entirely different continent in the 11th hour — then why weren’t his checked bags taken off a flight headed for the nation’s capital first? Most confounding of all is the fact that the TSA has no follow-up protocols. Why wasn’t the TSA in Chicago notified by the TSA in Alabama that a suspicious passenger named Ahmed Mohamed Nasser al Soofi (who was to headed to Yemen, the State Department’s newest, biggest al-Qaeda concern) was coming through O’Hare with checked bags packed with knives, box cutters, and mock bombs? The TSA’s annual budget costs taxpayers $8 billion dollars a year. What are they spending those dollars on? How many suspicious moves does it take to catch a terror suspect in a federalized airport today?

Clearly, there is considerably more going on with this story than law enforcement officials are currently saying. Very little is known about the second man, Hezem al Murisi, with CBS reporting that he may not be linked to al Soofi at all. Time will reveal more. One thing is clear. Rarely are terror suspects arrested for conducting dry runs, which are notoriously difficult to prove. The story of al Soofi and al Murisi is unique in that they have already been arrested. What else does law enforcement now know? The TSA did not return calls.

Equally frightening as the two terror suspects, and sadly increasingly less rare, are the dangerous missteps yet again made by the TSA.

veral news outlets including the NYT and the AP are saying terror ties in the Amsterdam arrests are now being “doubted.” The insinuation by the NYT reporter speaking on NPR just a little while ago was that Brian Ross, who broke the story for ABC, got burned. Not so fast. The TSA bureaucracy continues to have a total lock down on speaking to reporters on the record about any of this and all questions are being fielded through parent agency DHS. If the NYT is willing to tow the DHS party line without looking further, that’s certainly their choice but it should by no means be taken as the final word.

DHS won’t confirm if in fact one of the men had been in the U.S. on an expired Yemeni visa. And they won’t answer the question, “why were the men arrested in the first place?” In these situations, suspects are far more commonly held for questioning and then released.

Customs and Border Patrol confirmed with me that both men would have had to fill out an I-94 form when they left the United States. Since that information goes to flight attendants and not federal agents, the men could have easily misrepresented their visa status. But that would not have triggered an arrest in Amsterdam.

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Annie Jacobsen writes the "Backstory" blog (http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/back-story/) for the Los Angeles Times Magazine.
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