Michael Totten

France is Cleared

Last week I harped on the French police for letting seven possible terrorists go. The FBI matched their names on Air France flight manifests to those on a US terrorist watch list.
Forget I mentioned it. France did nothing wrong.
As it turned out, those who were detained were caught up in mistaken identity.
Their names were coincidentally the same or only similar to those on the terrorist watch list. One of them was only seven years old.
It looks like incompetence. But it’s also to be expected when officials need to act quickly on imperfect and murky intelligence.

”A check was carried out in each case and in each case it turned out to be negative,” a [French] ministry spokesman told AFP.
“The FBI worked with family names and some family names sound alike,” the spokesman said, noting that some of the names had been transliterated from Arabic, which uses a different alphabet from French and English.
“The difficulty is compounded when you have no first name or date of birth,” he said.

If it hadn’t taken a week for all the details to emerge, this would have been a non-story.
UPDATE: The first story I linked to said seven people on terrorist watch lists were found to have purchased tickets on Air France flights. And the second story said six were released. I wondered what happened to the seventh person, but chalked it up to sloppy reporting.
Turns out, the seventh person ran away and no one knows where he is.

One passenger who did not show up for the flight has fled and cannot be found, a U.S. intelligence official said. He was described as a male of Middle Eastern descent who is a pilot, according to another U.S. intelligence official.

(Via Jeff Jarvis.)