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"Ex-FAA official describes anti-hijacking measures"
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
Ex-FAA official describes anti-hijacking measures
Moussaoui prosecutors seek to show 9/11 attacks could have been minimized
By Michael J. Sniffen
The Associated Press
ALEXANDRIA, Va. - An aviation security officer testified today that numerous
measures could have been instituted to thwart suicide hijackers had
officials known in August 2001 that Zacarias Moussaoui was an al-Qaida
member plotting to fly jetliners into U.S. buildings.
Robert Cammaroto, who was in charge of issuing federal security directives
to airlines in 2001, said the Federal Aviation Administration could have
moved its just-under-three dozen armed federal air marshals from foreign to
domestic flights, tightened security checkpoints and directed flight crews
to resist rather than cooperate with hijackers. And he said most of these
steps could have been ordered by FAA within a matter of hours and remained
in effect indefinitely.
In 2001, "we believed airplane bombings would not involve suicide,"
Cammaroto told a U.S. District Court jury which must decide whether
Moussaoui is executed or imprisoned for life.
The 37-year-old Frenchman of Moroccan descent pleaded guilty last April to
conspiring with al-Qaida to fly planes into U.S. buildings. The only person
charged in this country in connection with the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, he
says he had nothing to do with them but was training to pilot a 747 jetliner
into the White House as part of a possible later attack.
Prosecutors showed a videotape of hijackers Nawaf and Salem al-Hazmi going
through security at Washington's Dulles Airport on Sept. 11, 2001, and being
checked because a computer screening system raised an alert about them. But
they were allowed to board American Airlines Flight 77, which they helped
fly into the Pentagon. Cammaroto testified that security measures then in
effect were designed to detect "the homesick Cuban" intending to hijack a
plane to that Caribbean island.
If the FAA had known Moussaoui planned to hijack a plane with the
short-bladed knife he had when arrested, Cammaroto said, the agency could
have ordered facilities like Dulles to raise the sensitivity of metal
detectors to pick up such knives and could have prohibited them from planes.
They were not forbidden in 2001.
Cammaroto described FAA directives issued after Philippine authorities broke
up a plot by Ramzi Yousef, who bombed the World Trade Center in 1993, and
others to put time-delayed liquid explosives on U.S. jetliners over the
Pacific in January 1995.
When the plot was discovered, Cammaroto said, he was called in at 10 or 11
p.m. and the first directive went out at 4 or 5 a.m. It ordered the carriers
to do pat-down searches of all passengers and airline employees going onto
planes and barred containers of liquids, except medicines with the
passenger's name on them and sealed baby formula, from the cabin.
He testified that five years later, as more information came in, the FAA was
still issuing directives related to this so-called Bojinka plot. In 2000, a
follow-up directive ordered U.S. airlines to keep Yousef's uncle, Khalid
Shaikh Mohammed, and his baggage off any airliner and call law enforcement
if he showed up. Mohammed is now believed to have been the mastermind of
al-Qaida's Sept. 11 attacks.
Cammaroto said the Bojinka plot reinforced the view that airplane bombings
would not include suicides because a 1994 test run had used a bomb left
behind on a plane by a terrorist.
Defense attorneys were sure to question that assertion. They have pointed
out that Yousef's roommate and co-conspirator in the Philippines told
authorities in 1995 they were planning to fly a plane into CIA headquarters.
Defense attorneys were certain to question whether the FAA's Bojinka
directives mentioned the possible use of an airplane to destroy a building,
because they have argued that the government knew more than Moussaoui about
the Sept. 11 plot beforehand and didn't act on the information.
Prosecutors had fought a weeklong battle to keep evidence about aviation
security in their case after U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema barred two
other federal aviation witnesses who had been improperly coached by
Transportation Security Administration lawyer Carla J. Martin. Cammaroto,
now TSA's head of commercial airport policy, was allowed as a substitute
witness after prosecutors said he had no contact with Martin.
To obtain a death penalty, prosecutors must show that lies Moussaoui told
when arrested Aug. 16, 2001, while taking pilot training in Minnesota, led
directly to at least one of the nearly 3,000 deaths when al-Qaida flew
planes into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field.
They argue that if he hadn't lied the FBI and the FAA could have taken
enough action to save at least one life.
Earlier, a manager at an Arizona flight school that trained one of the Sept.
11 pilot-hijackers testified that she had called the FAA with concerns over
his qualifications for a pilot license, but her concerns were dismissed.
Margaret Chevrette, manager at the flight school, was the second witness to
testify this week that federal officials reacted either slowly, negatively
or not at all to warnings.
Chevrette told the FAA the school's student, Hani Hanjour, lacked adequate
English skills for the private pilot's license he already had. She said his
English was so bad he took eight hours to complete an oral test that usually
When FAA official John Anthony suggested she get Hanjour an interpreter, she
reminded Anthony that the FAA required pilots to be able to read, write and
speak English on their own, she testified.
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