Report Confirms Terror Dry Run; Government Handling Hit

Inspector general report backs eyewitness accounts of suspicious behavior by 13 Middle Eastern men

The incident followed a series of breaches of airline security in December and January, when the FBI issued a memo warning that suicide terrorists were plotting to hijack trans-Atlantic planes by smuggling "ready-to-build" bomb kits past airport security to be assembled in aircraft bathrooms.

"Terrorist operatives are more confident that they can successfully smuggle [bomb] components, rather than fully assembled bombs past airport security," the memo said. "It is conceivable terrorists may plan to use this private area to construct [bombs] in order to facilitate access to the cockpit, or position themselves in front of the passengers."

Electronic devices, such as cell phones, can be used to detonate explosives.

'Defenseless' flights

"What is disturbing to us as pilots is that there are now a number of incidents like this taking place across our industry and the vast majority of our flights are still defenseless," said Captain David Mackett, president of the Airline Pilots Security Alliance.

"If I were a member of Congress, I'd be asking some hard questions about why such a small percentage of flights have armed pilots or air marshals aboard, while the TSA whistles past the graveyard, asking us to believe none of this is related to terrorism," Mr. Mackett said.

The audit was initiated "because of media reports concerning actions taken by departmental personnel in response to events on Flight 327" and "to determine the various systems for recording and reporting suspicious passengers and activities."

The report sought to "determine the specific circumstances relating to Flight 327, including the department's handling of the suspicious passengers after the plane landed."

The inspector general made three recommendations, with part of one being redacted.

One recommended that the marshal service "develop or acquire technology to permit effective and timely in-flight communication," a capability that air marshals say they still lack despite a $15 million congressional appropriation to develop the technology.

"When handling suspicious passengers and activities aboard commercial aircraft," the department was directed to establish guidelines to clarify agency roles and responsibilities and share information. The inspector general called the follow-up action "inadequate."

The final recommendation was to develop and execute a memorandum of understanding with the FBI, which the Federal Air Marshal Service said was unneeded.

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