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Latest “TERRORIST!!!” Threat

CNN reports Northwest jet turns back; 12 arrested:

Some of the passengers pulled out cell phones during the flight and appeared to be trying to pass the cell phones to other passengers, a U.S. government official said.

In addition, some passengers unfastened their seatbelts while the light requiring they be fastened was still illuminated, the official said.

The passengers who were arrested were looking into plastic bags and were busy with their cell phones, an airline source in Amsterdam said.

An AP report adds:

While Flight NO0042 was over German airspace shortly after takeoff, the pilot radioed for permission to return to Schiphol Airport and asked for an escort of jet fighters because some of the passengers were acting suspiciously, the Defense Ministry said.

Northwest Airlines flight NO0042 originates in Minneapolis and goes to Mumbai [formerly Bombay], India with a stop in the Netherlands. I wonder what the chances are that some of the passengers are dark skinned Asians speaking something other than English? They don’t obey the “fasten seat belt” sign, they rummage in plastic bags, and they pass things around – Omigod! It sounds like an extended family traveling together!!

Update: Dutch spokesperson plays Emily Litella tape.


1 oldwhitelady { 08.23.06 at 7:38 pm }

It sure does. I wonder if we’ll hear more about this?

2 Bryan { 08.23.06 at 7:43 pm }

I doubt it, OWL, but then I would have thought it absurd to ask for a fighter escort for people acting like my great aunts going to a family reunion.

3 cat daddy and dr squeeky { 08.23.06 at 8:25 pm }

If the travelers who did what those people did were European, nobody would do anything about it. If the flight was from Europe to New York or D.C. and the people in question were unusually swetty, yes, by all means, otherwise, it was a waste of time for all and I hope those people sue Northwest and takes them to the cleaners… Oh, Northwest, incidentally, if they won, they could send Northwest a pamphlet on “101 ways to save.”

4 Bryan { 08.23.06 at 9:13 pm }

Having traveled with my Mother and her first cousins I can even hear the dialog about calling to ensure the windows at the house were closed, checking to find the chicken salad sandwiches which had to be eaten first because of the mayonnaise, looking for the nose drops, finding the right book, etc. I know this routine by heart.

I’ve seen it on planes. I saw it on trains in Europe with German families, Italian families, Greek families, English families, Spanish families, et al. It is a very recognizable pattern. The only reason I can think of for the airline calling it suspicious it because of the nationality of the people.

Northwest should definitely be sued and that flight crew should definitely get the “Dumpster Divers Handbook”.

5 andante { 08.23.06 at 9:54 pm }

After I scraped myself off the floor from laughing, I realized these folks could very well be my family – if the plastic bags said “Food Lion” on them.

It’s the standard carry-on luggage in these parts.

6 Bryan { 08.23.06 at 10:47 pm }

Whose family isn’t like this? I’ve seen the same thing on the top of buses in Mexico. It is one of the few things that works exactly the same way no matter where you are, no matter what the religion, no matter what the language.   This is a pattern from the time we were hunter/gathers on the plains of Africa.

7 Michael { 08.24.06 at 9:32 am }

Hell, that description would fit perfectly with just about every flight I’ve ever taken, anywhere. Nobody pays much attention to the seatbelt sign, everybody rummages in bags and overhead compartments, and it’s not uncommon to see cell phones in use or being passed around. I think the flight crews are just getting more and more paranoid.

When I flew out to Las Vegas earlier this summer, I turned off my iPod when they said we had to turn off all electronic equipment for takeoff (though the logic behind that request escapes me, given that an iPod, without an iTrip or similar accessory, does not broadcast any signals), but left my earphones in, figuring I’d turn it back on as soon as they told us it was safe to do so, because I wasn’t about to pay the American Airlines fee to buy a set of headphones, only to listen to the four selections they had on any of their music channels all throughout a four-hour flight. I must have been asked by every flight attendant on the plane at least twice whether I was sure I had turned off my iPod. It got to the point where one of my fellow travelers, across the aisle, turned it into a running joke. On the return flight, I disconnected the earphones and put them in my pocket.

8 Bryan { 08.24.06 at 11:59 am }

Technically speaking everything that uses electricity generates electromagnetic signals, but at such a low level as to require precision equipment to detect them. You can actually tell what someone is typing on an IBM Selectric typewriter if you have an extremely sensitive receiver connected to a second Selectric.

This stuff was banned at a time when most “portable” equipment was a hell of a lot bigger and wasted a lot more energy. Even then it was an overly cautious approach.

TEMPEST was the military reaction to this reality, while the airline reaction was the ban. Both are a waste of effort for a number of reasons, and there are cheap solutions available.

Paranoia is the operative word here.

From what has been reported today it sounds like this was a group of guys on their way home, possibly for the wedding of one or more of them, and I assume they were passing the cell phones to show pictures, not to make calls.

9 Steve Bates { 08.24.06 at 10:01 pm }

I just read the TEMPEST wiki. Is there also a TEAPOT? Is EMSEC anything like INGSOC? Still, any article that references a scene from Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon can’t be all bad.

I flew to Graz, Austria to be on the faculty of a musical institute in 1978 on a charter flight out of New York. The charter departed six hours late, and I had been up all night already, taking the redeye to save money on the leg of the trip I had to pay for. Most of the 200 or so musicians and singers (instrumentalists and singers, I should say… some of the singers turned out to be musicians, rather good ones) were similarly fried and cranky, so they fed us all free drinks as compensation for our troubles. I don’t want to think how a pilot and crew today would react to our drunken revelry, but I suspect all of us would have been sent to Gitmo, or at least a military prison. Come to think of it, though, more than a few among us were people of color, but not one of us pulled out a cell phone.

10 Bryan { 08.25.06 at 12:11 am }

TEMPEST was the reason I had to use a manual typewriter the entire time I was in the service and to do my computer work off-line with paper tape on a Teletype 33 despite working inside vaults.

I can remember commercial flights that originated in Asia on which no one would have been able to use a lever, much less a cell phone. There was a lot of duty free booze that never left the aircraft.

At least on your flight the people were probably singing in tune.