December 26, 2003

More on Air France/LAX Le

More on Air France/LAX

Le Monde continues to provide information on the whole Air France/LAX situation that I haven't seen reported in the U.S. press yet. Today they have a piece up that reports that about ten individuals scheduled to be on the L.A. bound flights in question were considered suspicious by Washington.

French authorities searched them and all their luggage, checked into their backgrounds, and interrogated each individual about the purpose and duration of their prospective stay in the U.S.

Le Monde says this effort was in "vain" with nothing suspicious turned up.

There was also mention of a Tunisian national scheduled for the 13:35 flight to L.A. He was traveling to L.A., via Paris, having originated in Tunis. His frequent trips to the U.S. and especially his pilot's license had "attracted suspicion," aoccording to Le Monde.

But this individual never checked in at the gate in Tunis. Paris went ahead and checked with Tunisian authorities and "no compromising" information was found re: the individual in question, ie. he was unknown to anti-terrorist agencies and not on any lists of Islamic activists.

Le Monde concludes:

"S'il fallait une preuve supplémentaire du peu de crédit accordé par les autorités franćaises aux craintes américaines, en l'absence d'éléments matériels probants, la section antiterroriste du parquet de Paris n'a pas jugé nécessaire d'ouvrir une enquźte préliminaire. L'annulation a été décidée selon d'autres critŹres. "Nous avons tenu compte de la qualité de leurs services de renseignement et de la mobilisation ą Washington autour de cette question, explique-t-on au ministŹre de l'intérieur. Les Etats-Unis vivent toujours dans le traumatisme du 11 septembre, c'est un élément qu'on oublie souvent de prendre en considération, en France." Une nouvelle réunion devait se tenir ą Matignon, vendredi 26 décembre, dans la matinée, sur les mesures de sécurité aérienne."

I've copied the text from the original article for the benefit of French readers.

But the down and dirty translation is that the French authorities have given so little credence to the American fears that they see no need, at least at this juncture, to even pursue a preliminary inquiry about the whole episode.

Thus the cancellation of the flights was merely justified on grounds put thus by one French Ministry of Interior official:

"We took stock of the general quality of their [the U.S.'] intelligence services and the mobilization in Washington around this issue... The U.S. is still living under the trauma of 9/11, it's an element we often forget to take into consideration in France." [emphasis added]

Well, it would be nicer if the French official quoted above was more in outright agreement with his American counterparts about the needed for utmost scrutiny of flight passenger manifests and such, as well as the need for the occasional cancellation of flights.

This would point to a better understanding of the general post 9/11 terror environment. It would provide more convincing proof that the Europeans had moved, along with the U.S., into a post 9/11 posture (some have, particularly Aznar and Blair who are well acquainted with the brutish means terrorists employ and better understand how the added variable of WMD use could fell tens of thousands or more).

But, that said, it's better than nothing to see that the French official at least shows an understanding and cognizance of the American psyche post 9/11. It's pretty clear that we are still a nation traumatized by the mass carnage of 9/11.

And that's certainly nothing to be embarrassed about as long as we don't become wildly irrational in our fears. So far, I've seen no evidence of that.

A digression.

Michael Moore, in his pretty imbecilic (and utterly classless, think of his crude stalking of Charlton Heston in his own house) documentary "Bowling for Columbine," sought to paint America as a nation that is risibly easy to scare.

Like many such gross stereotypes, there's a grain of truth to it. You know how the thinking goes. We've been protected by a large continental land mass and flanked by two oceans so have been (mostly) spared the visitations of world war, plague, ethnic purges.

So, Moore's hyperbolic treatment goes, we get all in a tizzy about "African" killer bees, "Asian" flu strains, and so on. He paints us a land of fearful, boorish xenophobes--guns at the ready to fight off foreign (very broadly defined to mean someone from beyond the environs of one's immediate homestead) interlopers.

No wonder the movie is so wildly popular in Europe. Add it to the shockingly widespread view (see Germany) that the American government orchestrated 9/11 (so as to justify neo-imperialist land graps hither dither and to pass the Gestapo-like Patriot Acts I and II to cow the now panicky and scared American masses into submission and con them into erecting a Yankee version of the Third Reich) and, voila, you've got a roadmap for world dominion as methodically planned by the fearsome triumvirate of Wolfowitz-Rove-Georgie.

Said junta, of course, representing a clear and present danger to the future of these Americas as a democratic polity (thereby keeping self-appointed stewards of the vessel of state like Gore Vidal tossing and turning late into the night).

But back to the French official at least being cognizant of the emotional impact of 9/11. To me this is a positive. Sure there will be some snickering, a la Moore thesis, in the backhalls of various ministries in Paris of our 'panicky' overreaction to the whole LAX situation.

But broadly speaking, I think we are getting pretty sincere (if a tad halting) cooperation on intelligence and varied risk mitigation actions with the main counterparts in Paris.

All this reminds me of an event a group I work with in London had scheduled for September 12, 2003. I mentioned to a partner at a major City law firm that we had moved it forward a day so as not to coincide with the 9/11 anniversary. With nonchalance and some befuddlement the partner muttered something along the lines that "he had forgotten all about that."

Well, we certainly haven't forgotten all about "that" in the proverbial 'over here'. And at least, if not in full-blown cooperative mode, some French officials ostensibly haven't either.

As long we we remain sober in our analyses of the threat environment (put differently, don't 'cry wolf' too often)--we should have the right to expect continued cooperation and understanding of our security concerns going forward--at least from all intelligence services not actively opposed to American interests.

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