Snopes, call your office; it's time for an update.
Annie Jacobsen has been speaking out for years about what she saw on Northwest Airlines Flight 327 on June 29, 2004.
But the hoax-detector site Snopes.com labels her story as an urban legend, or at least an urban myth, blown up wildly out of proportion by Annie's all-too-vivid imagination. The group of Syrian men seated in a zig-zag pattern in the plane, making hand signals to each other throughout the flight, using the bathroom continuously in rotation, and standing up in unison when the fasten seatbelt sign went on (and there's more suspicious behavior where that came from) were a musical group, don't you see? Which means, of course, that they couldn't possibly have been carrying out a terrorist dry run. All the flight attendants and the air marshals felt all along that Ms. Jacobsen was exaggerating. She was endangering the flight by making such a fuss. Everyone thought so. They tried to calm her down, but she wouldn't listen. Poor, hysterical woman. Nothing to see here, folks. Move along.
Thanks, Snopes. We're so glad you're there to tell us when to brush these things off. We wouldn't want to be credulous, now, and get all bent out of shape for nothing.
Now the Washington Times has filed a FOIA request and obtained partial copies (some parts still redacted) of a 51-page government report on the incident. And apparently the air marshals didn't think Annie crazy after all at the time. And it was the flight attendants who, contrary to the version taken as gospel by Snopes, spoke to the air marshals about the men's behavior. And, says the Washington Times, air marshals do identify this as a having been a terrorist dry run.
This result should not be surprising, except perhaps to Snopes. I have heard a portion of an interview with Annie Jacobsen. She is smart, detailed, and sounds eminently sane. And the behavior of the men was bizarre and entirely suspicious. Indeed, one detail she gave in the radio interview is not even mentioned in the portion of the Women's Wall Street Story available on-line. She told the radio interviewer that one of the men was so determined to keep up the continuous rotation of that group's occupation of the lavatories that he threw a passenger to the ground to get him out of line. Read the excerpts from her story. It looks like Women's Wall Street may have taken down the whole original article (it isn't available at the link given in Snopes or Jihad Watch), but Jihad Watch got a good chunk of it.
Contrary to what Snopes says, the group's behavior on that flight does not admit of a charitable interpretation. They did not merely "move around like any other group of passengers, talk to one another, eat food, and use the bathroom" in normal fashion. That is the weirdly biased interpretation, not Annie's. If this was not a dry run for a flight takeover or an aborted attempt at a flight takeover, it was a deliberate attempt to imitate one for purposes of provocation.
Oh, and just one more thing: The musical group's promoter had been involved in a similar incident in January, 2004.
I wonder, now that we have a different take on the story from this report, will Snopes change the status of Annie's story on their site? I'm not holding my breath, but it would be nice to be proved wrong. Meanwhile, caveat lector. Next time you look up a story on Snopes and find it labeled "False" in loud, confident, bright red letters, don't be so sure they know what they are talking about.
Update: Here is the second part of the Washington Times piece. Not having TV channels, I didn't see this myself, but apparently the TSA is still trying to deny that there was anything going on here. Is it really possible that this TSA spokette said, "We can't stereotype terrorists; we need to look at behavior"? Is that really possible? Lady, we are looking at behavior. But, hey, maybe she doesn't even know anything about what the men did on the flight. You don't have to know anything to speak for the TSA, I s'pose.