- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 30, 2007

President Bush the other day lashed out at opponents of the Senate immigration “compromise,” declaring that opponents were “trying to frighten our citizens.” By the very act of criticizing a bill granting legal status to tens of millions of illegal aliens, he added, critics are attempting “to scare the American people” about things they shouldn’t worry their little heads about. Back in the real world, there are dangers that should be very alarming to anyone with common sense.

September 11 and thousands of grisly attacks in Iraq and other locations since drive home that civilized people all over the world — Muslim and non-Muslim — are under siege from violent jihadists who would welcome the opportunity to carry out more attacks on American soil. Any immigration proposal — especially one that grants legal status to millions and millions of illegals — could prove catastrophic if we lack the ability to screen out terrorists and criminals who engage in document fraud and other criminal activity to get into the United States, to board airplanes or enter government buildings. And, unfortunately, we are awash in government studies, reports and other data which make clear that nearly six years after September 11, the government bureaucracies that are supposed to keep out terrorists are in many ways as incompetent and dysfunctional as they were before Mohammed Atta and his associates killed nearly 3,000 people that morning.

A newly released report from the inspector general for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security about the government’s handling of 13 suspicious passengers on a June 29, 2004, Northwest Airlines flight serves as a reminder of why so many Americans are rightly skeptical of Washington’s ability to manage a mass-amnesty program. The report, which details what happened on the flight 327 from Detroit to Los Angeles, confirms eyewitness accounts describing suspicious behavior on the part of 12 Syrian musicians before and during the flight.

Initially, Homeland Security officials tried to downplay its seriousness and suggested that other passengers had overreacted. But the report corroborates the passengers’ accounts and suggests that what took place was a dry run for a terrorist attack — which first was reported by Audrey Hudson of The Washington Times. The report raises disturbing questions about the handling of the case by several agencies: Homeland Security, the Federal Air Marshal Service and the Citizenship and Immigration Services, which will play the lead role in overseeing the amnesty program for illegals.

Of the 13 men, the 12 musicians were traveling on expired Syrian passports and their Lebanese-born promoter was a legal resident of the United States. Said the report: “Six of the men arrived at the gate together after boarding began, then split up and acted as if they were not acquainted. According to air marshals, the men appeared sweaty and nervous. An air marshal assigned to Flight 327 observed their behavior as ‘unusual,’ but made no further reports at the time … During the flight, the men again acted suspiciously. Several of the men changed seats, congregated in the aisles, and arose when the fasten seat belt sign was turned on; one passenger moved quickly up the aisle towards the cockpit and, at the last moment, entered the first class lavatory. The passenger remained in the lavatory for 20 minutes… Another man carried a large McDonald’s restaurant bag into a lavatory and made a thumbs-up sign to another man upon returning to his seat.” One man raised his hand to his throat and made a cutting motion. Alarmed fellow passengers complained to flight attendants about the behavior.

When the plane arrived in Los Angeles, all of the men were detained but only two were questioned. A Federal Air Marshal supervisor examined the visas, but did not notice that they had expired 19 days earlier. The incident was not even reported until July 26, 2004 — four days after a story about Flight 327 ran in this newspaper.

What is perhaps most disturbing of all is the fact that these travelers were able to board the plane in the first place because just five months earlier the FBI had issued a warning that suicide terrorists were plotting to hijack planes by smuggling bomb kits past security to be assembled in aircraft bathrooms. In April, the FBI issued a warning that terrorists might be trying to enter the country using cultural or sports visas — the very visas used by the Syrian musicians. And even after the scare, Citizenship and Immigration Services extended the Syrian musicians’ visas by another week.

Pilots and former air marshals told this newspaper that federal security managers have been concealing information on dry run probes from other federal agencies and that most of our flights today do not have armed pilots or air marshals aboard. And yet the president and “immigration reform” supporters on Capitol Hill insist that the dysfunctional bureaucracies responsible for Flight 327 security are up to the task of overseeing mass amnesty for illegals.

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