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Annie Jacobsen Vindicated (Updated)

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.

Comments (5)

Makes me wonder about this...

Believe it or not, I'd never heard that particular theory. Don't know if it's true. What I do suspect is that Snopes isn't politically neutral. They also did a rather odd debunking of the Baby Samuel photo, managing to imply that Baby Samuel was just a sort of baby-shaped hunk of meat whose little hand "flopped" out of the uterus and was "flopped" back in and got a lot of feeble-minded folks all goo-goo-ing when they saw the picture of it around the surgeon's hand.

What bothers me almost more than anything is the air of neutrality while actually presenting a picture far biased in the other direction. In the Baby Samuel situation, for example, apparently the real nub of the quarrel was whether pro-lifers and others overstated when they said that he was reaching around outside the womb deliberately. That he was _grasping_ the surgeon's hand is still not implausible, even given that he was (with his mother) partially anesthetized. The grasp reflex could easily have been developed at his age, and it certainly looks like grasping in the photo. The surgeon himself is pro-abortion and was mainly pointing out that the baby wasn't feeling around "for" him but that it was he who reached out and put his hand back in when the picture was snapped. But Snopes makes it sound like the whole thing has nothing interesting to be said at all.

In the Jacobsen case they just jumped the gun and picked the most dampening account they could find to trust (for some reason) rather than the eye witness account given by Jacobsen herself.

I don't know if all of this is just a passion for debunking, though, rather than a political bias. It might turn out that they have a higher false negative rate than false positive rate, but I have no good way of checking this out.

Here's a page with links to the entire series, from part one onward.

I haven't read the Times piece yet (I will), but I remember reading this story when it first came out, and was never convinced that the behavior of those men could be explained away. I still don't. It made me mad, to put it mildly. Still does.

Bill, thanks _very_ much for that link. I couldn't find one. The pages had just been moved.

Here's the followup:


It contains some more details of one of the earlier suspicious behavior incidents with the "promoter of the musical group." That involved leaving a cell phone in a bathroom during a time when there were warnings that terrorists might be trying to taking bomb components on board planes.

The Times has consulted air marshals and former air marshals who say this definitely looks like a dry run or probe and also like covering it up and blaming the passengers as hysterical matches a pattern of behavior on the part of "the agency"--I believe the federal air marshals agency is in view there, though it is the TSA that provides the dissenting voice apparently, saying the concerns "proved unfounded."

This is scary stuff. One wonders _why_ they are blaming the messenger in this way. Is it pure political correctness or some cockamamie idea that they are being subtle in this way and putting the bad guys off-guard?

Wow you are really racist.

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