Thursday, March 11, 2010

Discovery Channel airs documentary "Underwear" about Christmas Day Detroit Incident

The Discovery Channel, on Thursday March 11, aired the one-hour special “The Underwear Bomber: The Detroit Bomb Plot”, about the incident with the Northwest Flight 253 landing in Detroit on Christmas Day 2009.

The film traces the three-part journey of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab and examines in detail the security steps that let him slip through. The was on the 600,000 member “Tide” (apparently maintained by the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) in McLean VA, which maintains a "national targeting enter" for watch lists) list which can trigger questioning of someone who lands in the US but which did not cause the flight to return to Amsterdam even though his name did not come up until the flight was in the air. Umar had been on this list partly because his father had become concerned and contacted authorities about his extremist activities in Yemen. The watch list, by the way, is much larger than the no-fly list.

I actually went to a job fair to consider becoming a TSA screener, in August 2002, after my layoff. I was particularly concerned about the idea of having to do pat-downs.

The film gave limited details on how PETN works and how Abdulmutallab was able to hide it.

The show maintains that very intrusive pat-down searches by security screeners would have been needed to detect the device, which he tried to prepare in the lavatory 40 minutes before landing. The film dramatized the questioning that Umar would have received in Amsterdam from a screener trained to read body language, a process called "spot profiling".

The film interviewed a number of passenger, including Jasper Schuringa (38, an independent film producer who is said to be making another documentary of the incident), who tackled him. Here’s an interesting story about the payoff later to Schuringa, on gawker.

The movie also demonstrated, with an experiment, what would have happened if the PETN had detonated. Several passengers including the perpetrator would have died, but the plane would not have been brought down.

Discovery also re-aired “The Flight That Fought Back” (2005, dir. Bruce Goodison), about Flight 93 on 9/11. The film maintains that Air Force fighter jets could not have engaged the flight for 28 more minutes after the plane came down, which it says means that the passengers really did prevent a crash into the White House or Capitol.

Here's a personal opinion on the "political" significance of the Flight 253 incident.

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of Michigan prison where suspect is held.

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