As such incidents invariably do, the recent behavior of that Qatar diplomat, purportedly sneaking a smoke in the bathroom whilst on a flight to Denver, brings back Annie Jacobsen’s experience in 2004.
Snopes still insists on calling the Jacobsen charges false despite the fact that Homeland Security did indeed think it was a probe. However, as with any bureaucracy facing bad news, they claimed it was merely her hysteria before they admitted her intuition had some foundation. We saw the same “no-it-wasn’t-terror-related-yes-it-was” from Ms. Napolitano during the furor following the aborted underwear bomber attack over Christmas last year. In other words, the bureaucrats change chairs, but they’re all blowing the same smoke and castigating the public for their refusal to believe the fairy stories.
In 2007, three years after the fact, the suits at the Department of Homeland Security finally got around to acknowledging Jacobsen’s reality. Ed Morrissey said at the time:
Without a doubt, this vindicates Jacobsen and shows that either these men intended to conduct a terrorist dry run, or that they wanted someone to think that they were. It could have been a probe, a test to see just how far they could go without provoking a response. That could explain why the same man was involved in three such incidents. The official line that nothing happened on Flight 327 should embarrass everyone in the Homeland Security system, and someone owes Annie Jacobsen an apology.
When I see reports like the one about the Qatar diplomat, on his way to visit an al Qaeda friend in prison, I think back to 2004 and how much vitriol and ridicule Ms. Jacobsen received, all in the hope she’d back down from her report of what she saw.
So naturally, after the dust settled on the Qatar embassy’s third secretary and after the hapless “diplomat” had been hustled out of the country, I nudged a friend who used to work at LAX, the airport in Los Angeles, just to see what she thought of the whole thing. It took a while for her to get back to me but here are her impression of this latest bit of wink-wink probing, if that’s what it was:
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My thoughts about the recent incident on a plane bound for Denver?
Most Arab diplomats I used to interact with were fairly restrained in their actions and on the surface very polite. They tended to comply with what I asked them to do. Of course, we had a different protocol in place for them than we had for the average traveler.
I don’t know this man’s age, but from the news reports it seems that he had the casual attitude of the careless rich and young of the Middle East. Thus it is no surprise he’d give a flippant response when asked sternly about smoking in the bathroom.
Here is what is disturbing, however: had he bothered to show his diplomatic credentials to the crew and the air marshal, there would have been no incident at all. But he didn’t do that. Unfortunately, among younger Muslim travelers, especially those from the richer Gulf states there is a casual, “so what” attitude about the effects their actions could possibly have on Westerners. It’s almost as if they feel there’s no menace and they are studiously oblivious to the possibility they could be viewed as threat by anyone. Moi??
These guys are obstinately oblivious regarding consequences. For the most part they are insensible when it comes to the effects of their actions. Also, this group is very secular in their dress and manners so you wouldn’t notice them in a crowd.
The fact that he was a diplomat but joked about setting his shoes on fire, something that shocks us in its casualness, is in keeping with the kind of attitudes I used to see. You could sum up their mindset with the following, “Who me? I’m not one of those crazy guys that would blow things up. I just want to live my life, and by the way did you see this great youtube video of Chakira on my ipad touch?”
At other times, I’d run into what I call the criminal. This one wouldn’t have a problem with mugging your mother on her way home if he thought he could get away with it. With these, there’s no intense religious feeling, just the sloppy look of the pirate or the bandit ready to do what comes naturally for him. Pushed to justify himself, he’d have said he was doing it for the tribe.
Then… every once in a great while, I’d come across a passenger whose steely glance and dead eyes just barely hid his contempt for everything that I represented. Gone was the casualness, replaced by little signs of religious intensity, superiority and general withdrawal from the West. When I looked into those eyes, I saw intensity and the face of the enemy in this strange “Sitzkrieg” stage of the war in which we were — and are — engaged.
A feeling would come over me in those moments, as I stared back and said quietly, “yes sir you may go”. Those were my words, but deep down I wondered what battlefield was in his future and if our people were in danger from his hatred.
I’m out of that job now and I don’t miss it. Especially that last group. They hate us just for living and they hope to dance on our graves. But the Qatar kid? Just a spoiled brat. That’s why they sent him home.
The links to Ms. Jacobsen’s original columns in my post from 2004 appear to have gone, but there is still her book on Amazon, here.
In addition, she had a blog, The Aviation Nation, but it hasn’t been updated since October, 2009. The archives seem worth a look, though. And she has a list of questionable flights.