Sometime on Monday afternoon, a “law enforcement official” (which is now how DHS asks press to refer to them) gave ABC’s Brain Ross a breaking news story with an attention-grabbing quote. The two men taken off the Chicago-to-Amsterdam United Airlines flight had been charged by Dutch police with “preparation of a terrorist attack.”
As far as the DHS national security machine is concerned, it doesn’t get any more serious than that. And that quote is certainly not something a veteran newsman like Brain Ross is going to get wrong.
FBI agents were sent to Detroit to search al Soofi’s apartment. One neighbor told reporters that the front door of an apartment al Soofi once lived in appeared to have been kicked down.
All throughout the following morning, DHS and TSA officials at headquarters refused to answer questions on the record. I spoke to three TSA agents and two DHS agents, none of whom would provide me with any on-record information other than a previously released official statement describing the investigation as “ongoing.”
Suddenly, around 11:00 a.m. PST, the Department of Homeland Security provided a New York Times reporter with utterly contradictory news.
This reporter then was interviewed on National Public Radio, providing the world with an exclusive, totally different version of events. ABC’s Brian Ross had rushed to judgment, the Times reporter said, explaining that news is a competitive business and insinuating that the desire to make money had gotten in the way of good judgment (nevermind what the unnamed DHS official originally said). According to the Times, what had happened was a just a mistake, a mix-up, a confusion of sorts. It was United Airlines who had changed the mens’ itineraries in the first place — after they missed their flight to Yemen via Washington, D.C. It was United Airlines who instead re-booked the two men to Amsterdam. It was all one big misunderstanding.
Wait a minute.
The Times reporter appears to have forgotten to ask his unnamed law enforcement official, aka DHS, the most important question of all: is that really how it works over at the Department of Homeland Security these days? They make good old-fashioned mistakes, and then hang ABC’s Brian Ross out to dry?
Jacobsen then goes on to list several reasons why DHS’ story is either implausible, or it reveals gross incompetence. To name one, are we really to believe that, if the second story is correct and United caused the mix up itself, that DHS didn’t think to contact United first to find out if there was a real problem, before issuing an intercontinental alert? It’s not as if baggage errors are something new. Does the FBI always kick down doors in lost-luggage cases? (Mind you, I’ve sometimes felt like doing that myself while stuck in a baggage-claim area…)
Regardless, a good reporter was left with substantial egg on his face by a DHS pushing two different stories, and it makes one wonder even more just what was going on with the two travelers and their suspicious luggage.
(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)