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FAA details terror warnings given to airlines

FAA details terror warnings given to airlines


From Beth Lewandowski and Patty Davis
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Federal Aviation Administration said Friday it provided 15 warnings to airlines regarding possible terrorist attacks -- including al Qaeda hijackings -- in the months leading up to September 11.

The agency released the data a day after National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice outlined a few of the security directives, which are traditionally considered "classified" by federal statute, in a White House press briefing.

A government official involved in transportation issues said Thursday that the FAA told airlines the situation in the Middle East was tense and terrorists might attack U.S. interests. The FAA mentioned Osama bin Laden or al Qaeda in alerts the agency sent to domestic airlines.

"These people had been trained to do hijacking," the official told CNN, quoting the FAA's message to the airlines.

A spokesman for United Airlines, which had two planes hijacked in September, confirmed the airline had received "alerts or cautions" regarding possible terrorist attacks. But United spokesman Joe Hopkins said they were "always general in nature."

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A spokesman for the Air Transport Association, a trade group representing domestic carriers said he never received FAA warnings mentioning suicide hijackings before the attacks.

"I am not aware of any warnings or notifications in advance of September 11 concerning specific security threats to any of our airlines," spokesman Michael Wascom said Thursday.

On Friday, the FAA briefly described the 15 circulars issued to airlines between January and September 2001:

  • January 2001: Alerts U.S. carriers to the continuing possibility of violence against American citizens and interests worldwide due to Middle East unrest.
  • March 2001: Informs specific U.S. airlines of threats from suspected terrorists in Middle Eastern nations served by those carriers.
  • April 2001: Updates U.S. airlines about the possibility of violence against Americans and encourages carries to have a high degree of awareness in two, similar circulars released this month.
  • June 2001: Issues four separate circulars to U.S. carriers pertaining to terrorist threats. The first provides U.S. airlines operating in the Middle East with additional information on terrorist activity in the region. A later circular alerts carriers to increased violence in Israel. A third is prompted by the closing of the millennium bomb plot trial, in which led to the conviction of two Algerian-born men on charges they planned to bomb Los Angeles International Airport. And a fourth warns U.S. carriers that extremist groups may target American interests.
  • July 2001: Four additional bulletins offer additional warnings. The first delves into deeper detail about the LAX bomb plot, identifying the baggage claim area as a potential target and giving a projected date. The second offers statistics and threat assessment information on a weapon system that might be used against civilian aircraft. The final two notify airports and airlines of of possible imminent terrorist activity originating in the Middle East: One states that terror groups are known to be planning and training for hijackings, but no gives specific target or target date, Rice said.
  • August 2001: Three new circulars offer details about new threats. An August 16 bullet alerts airport security personnel to developments in techniques to disguise weapons, such as cell phones, key chains and pens. The FAA warns aviation security personnel about increasing violence in Israel, describing recent threats to civilian Israeli planes and advising U.S. carrier to review the State Department guidance on travel to the Middle East. And a third circular warns U.S. carriers serving Spain about recent bombings by Basque separatists in Madrid and Malaga.


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