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Lost and found?

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By Michelle Malkin  •  July 21, 2004 07:46 PM

National Review Online has just posted an article by Clint Taylor, who seems to have identified the mystery band on Flight 327. Will have more after the kids are asleep, but it looks like Taylor has done the sleuthing that the deep-pocketed mainstream media wasn’t interested in doing (and all it took was Google and a few phone calls).

An excerpt:

For a while the blogosphere settled on a Syrian band called Kulna Sawa as a likely candidate, but the gents at Powerline received a note from that group’s tour manager explaining the band was still in Syria when all this happened. Even the mainstream media began to notice the story: New York Times reporter Joe Sharkey confirmed some of the details of the story today but admitted he, too, was unable to identify the band.

Well, I am nominally the “news director” for Stanford University’s student radio station, KZSU, and I figured I’d help the Times out. There aren’t that many casinos in southern California, so I had my research assistant, Mr. Google, take a look at some. An hour later I was talking to the nice folks at Sycuan Casino & Resort, near San Diego. Unlike most casinos where it’s all Elvis impersonators, Paul Anka, and Linda Ronstadt � oh, wait, scratch that last one � Sycuan books the occasional “ethnic music” show, too. In August, for example, they’ll have a Vietnamese night.

“Oh, do you mean Arab music?” inquired Angie, who answered Sycuan’s phone. Yes, they had had an Arab act perform on July 1, an artist named Nour Mehana. Terry, Angie’s supervisor at Sycuan, confirmed that he was there and that there was probably a backup band brought in, since there’s no house band at Sycuan. In fractions of a second, Mr. Google found a website for Sycuan’s event promoters, Anthem Artists, whose archive confirms Nour Mehana performed at Sycuan on 7/01/04…

Liberals will likely decry the suspicion and interrogation the musicians faced on Flight 327. And the principled Right will regret that that was necessary. If the band’s English wasn’t very good they might not have understood the instructions. But a polite word and some helpful gestures earlier on, rather than a guilty PC silence, might have saved them some embarrassment. In any case, the police-state parallels fade quickly: In a real police state, like, oh, Syria, you are not even allowed inside the country with an Israeli stamp in your passport.

June 29 was no ordinary day in the skies. That day, Department of Homeland Security officials issued an “unusually specific internal warning,” urging customs officials to watch out for Pakistanis with physical signs of rough training in the al Qaeda training camps. The warning specifically mentioned Detroit and Los Angeles’s LAX airports, the origin and terminus of NWA flight 327.

That means that our air-traffic system was expecting trouble. But rather than land the plane in Las Vegas or Omaha, it was allowed to continue on to Los Angeles without interruption, as if everything were hunky-dory on board. It certainly wasn’t. If this had been the real thing, and the musicians had instead been terrorists, nothing was stopping them from taking control of the plane or assembling a bomb in the restroom. Given the information they were working with at the time, almost everyone should have reacted differently than they did.

Jacobsen’s fear was quite natural under these circumstances, and she has done us a service by pointing out some egregious shortfalls in our airline security.

Quick update: I’ve sent an e-mail to Annie Jacobsen asking her to take a look at the photos and video of band to see if she recognizes them.

Update II: 8:55pm. This just in from Dave Adams, Federal Air Marshals spokesman:

Michelle:

It is the policy of the FAMS not to release the names of individuals who have not been arrested. On a side note, I was not given the name of the band.

Dave Adams

Update III: 11:06pm Annie Jacobsen responds:

“I went to the link and I do not recognize any of the men or the lead singer himself.”

Hmmm. Well, the lead singer was apparently in first-class, wearing sunglasses. Would be hard for Annie to identify him from his cheesy publicity photos. As for the other men, it’s probable that he has many different back-up musicians that might not travel with him for every gig. Clint has persuaded me, conclusively, that it was indeed Nour Mehana and his band on the flight. I agree with him that in all likelihood, it was not a dry run.

Which, as Clint notes, is “not the same as saying Jacobsen was wrong to worry. The proven existence of this band confirms one of the last details of her story, and her story confirms some of our worst fears about airline security. The mindset of passengers, of the crew, and even of the law-enforcement personnel (Jacobsen said a flight attendant reassured her husband by pointing out that air marshals were on the flight), and decision makers higher up the ladder was reactive, not proactive.”

With the exception of the sentence that refers to the dry run, I stand by my final statement on the matter. I repeat:

Better a false alarm than a flaming plane.

Update IV: The invaluable Donald Sensing weighs in, and I share his sentiments regarding the great work of Clint Taylor and National Review Online in getting the story out…

Now, there are a couple of points here. One is that the fabled New York Times apparently has no reporters who know how to use Google. The other is that the only substantive coverage of this flight and what it might mean has been done mostly by amateurs, not professional journalists (Ms. Malkin excepted, of course).

I mean, folks, that what Taylor did is, as Sherlock Holmes would say, elementary. So why didn’t I do it? Actually, the thought occurred, but I do have to work for a living, too. And I did spend a lot of time futilely trying to talk to the FBI press office about the flight. I wish I had done the Googling, though, and Mr. Taylor deserves all the plaudits that should rightfully come his way.

Ditto! It kept getting knocked off my to-do list by other column deadlines/endless day job commitments/family stuff. Huge, full-time investigative teams for major papers don’t have the same excuse. The New York Times should eschew the diversity crap and get Taylor an internship pronto. And perhaps Joe Sharkey and the rest of us in the media should brush up on Google 101 skills. :)

Update V: Meanwhile, the Washington Times reports on pilots and flight crews who say they have witnessed dry runs, including a pilot who said that “on one of his recent flights, an air marshal forced his way into the lavatory at the front of his plane after a man of Middle Eastern descent locked himself in for a long period. The marshal found the mirror had been removed and the man was attempting to break through the wall. The cockpit was on the other side….There is a great degree of concern in the airline industry that not only are these dry runs for a terrorist attack, but that there is absolutely no defense capabilities on a vast majority of airlines,” the pilot said.

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