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Monday, November 06, 2006

Ethnic music for gamblers, or ethnic cleaning for infidels? A belated update on the Annie Jacobsen story 

You may remember the Annie Jacobsen story - how a Womens Wall Street reporter boarded a plane, was convinced that she was surrounded by terrorists. The introduction to the article will cause you to hide under your plastic bag:

On June 29, 2004, at 12:28 p.m., I flew on Northwest Airlines flight #327 from Detroit to Los Angeles with my husband and our young son. Also on our flight were 14 Middle Eastern men between the ages of approximately 20 and 50 years old. What I experienced during that flight has caused me to question whether the United States of America can realistically uphold the civil liberties of every individual, even non-citizens, and protect its citizens from terrorist threats.

Then, subsequent reports indicated that the "terrorists" were Nour Mehana and his band, on their way to play at a California casino. In the meantime, however, Jacobsen wrote a whole series, complete with escalating tension, fear, and danger. Here's a sample from part four in the series:

On Monday night I appeared on MSNBC's Scarborough Country, discussing flight 327 alongside Bob Flamm, Executive Director of the Federal Air Marshals Association (FAMA), and Steven Emerson, who is considered one of America's leading authorities on terrorism. Here's what Emerson had to say to host Joe Scarborough about the flight and the ensuing investigation:

"Look, Joe, the fact of the matter is that this is a major embarrassment. These are Syrian nationals, who are on a country, one of the seven countries that officially supports terrorism. They were out of status.

"And then when they landed at the airport in Los Angeles, nobody interrogated them. They were allowed to leave as if they were just American citizens or they were foreigners coming from Europe. The reality is, this is a scandal that really needs to be investigated. And I can tell you, having spoken to FBI agents in the field, they are telling me, go get them. Because, Joe, this needs to be exposed. Because headquarters is trying to basically pretend it wasn't a scandal." (Clarification: Emerson uses the word "interrogated." Keep in mind there's a difference between being questioned and being interrogated. The men were stopped and they were questioned, but they were not interrogated).

I even wrote a parody of the whole affair.

As we sat waiting for the waitress to take our drink order, we noticed another large group of Finnish men entering. The first man wore a dark suit and sunglasses. He sat at table 1. The other seven men were seated at other tables. As "aware" Americans, my wife and I exchanged glances, and then continued to get comfortable. I noticed some of the other diners paying attention to the situation as well. As seating continued, we watched as, one by one, most of the Finnish men made eye contact with each other. They continued to look at each other and nod, as if they were all in agreement about something. I could tell that my wife was beginning to feel "anxious."

Once we ordered our iced teas and club sodas, the unusual activity began. I overheard someone asking for a tuna fish pizza....

Well, I haven't kept up with this story, but it turns out that Annie Jacobsen wrote a book on the whole affair - Terror in the Skies: Why 9/11 Could Happen Again.

The book clearly addressed the needs of its audience - according to the statistics displayed at the amazon.com web page, a whopping 89% of the people who view the page end up buying the book.

Reactions to the book are...um...mixed:

it never happened, April 28, 2006

Reviewer: Decius (oakland, ca United States) - See all my reviews

This event never happened. It is just a gimmick to sell books. Don't waste your money.

Either Decius chose poor wording, or he really believes that Jacobsen never boarded a plane in the first place.

On the other end of the spectrum:

Take a stand of your own, August 30, 2006

Reviewer: Mrs. BJ Day "AndesOwl" (Glendale, AZ USA) - See all my reviews

An eye-opener and in view of recent events in the UK, what Annie Jacobsen has to say is fair warning to all air travellers, despite the dismissive accounts of some readers (who, I feel, could well be trying to defend their own lack of common sense).

It may be politically incorrect to stigmatise a cast or creed, but in view of the radical Islamic jehadists stance against the west and what they have already done, it seems only common sense to avoid any flights that might carry such personages.

Personally, I won't take the risk in future and will be eyeing my fellow passengers very carefully. If I suspect anything might be wrong, I'll ask to be put on another flight. Maybe, if others do the same, the Airlines might begin to do something to protect their passengers, such as recommending "some" people fly Arab Airways instead.

Thank you for your courage and writing this book Annie. It's a book that everyone should read.

This one is interesting - it even uses my favorite F-word:

More than just vanity... poor logic from a paranoid mind, December 16, 2005

Reviewer: S. Koterbay "Professor of Art History" (Johnson City, TN USA) - See all my reviews

I keep hoping for the day when people of little brain but vast imaginations are told that their over-excited fantasies are just that, fantasies. Anyone who has followed the shrill and stupid rantings of this woman after her "discovery" of a plot to blow up her plane, and all the "secret" information that she feels she can "confide" with us, needs to begin to take a stand: either you truly are against terrorism, and can think clearly about it (as do many other people who write much better books), or you are with idiots like this, who write something that shouldn't even be in the science fiction section of Wal-Mart. Let's hope most people begin to think intelligence wins over deranged illusions.

And, on a recent note, I thought that I'd add to this review (August 12, 2006) by stating that a number of people have emailed me asking me to rescind this review, or telling me what they think of it. Yeah, like I'm going to give in to you Republican fascists.

Meanwhile, what of Nour Mehana? He's apparently released a new album in 2005, with the title Layaly Hobak.

And the Sycuan Resort isn't bothering to update its events calendar.

And snopes.com has stated the following about expired visas, for what it's worth:

Much has been made of the discovery that the Syrian musicians were supposedly traveling on "expired visas." This claim stems from a misunderstanding of what the expiry date on a U.S. visa signifies.

The expiry date indicates the date after which that visa may no longer be used to travel to the U.S. A valid visa does not in itself grant the holder the right to enter the U.S., but merely authorizes the holder to seek permission to enter the country from a U.S. immigration officer. Only that officer can approve or deny entry, and it is that officer who will inscribe on that visitor's I-94 Arrival-Departure Record the date by which the traveler must leave the country. The same visa can be used by its rightful holder on multiple occasions (as in the case of someone who travels frequently), but each entry has to be approved by an immigration officer who will on each occasion make a determination as to when that visitor must leave.

Once the foreign traveler is in the U.S., the expiry date of his visa becomes unimportant — all that matters is the exit date listed on that person's I-94, a card he carries with his passport while in the U.S. While it is true that an expired visa cannot be used to re-enter the U.S. (its holder must reapply or seek an extension), there is nothing wrong in and of itself with being in the U.S. past the expiry date listed on one's visa.

From the Ontario Empoblog (Latest OVVA news here)

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