First reports about a 20-something, nicotine-addicted, sandal-wearing, low-level diplomat are usually wrong
I was going to write about the future of homeland security today. But the present got in the way.
The story is still unfolding. But as I write this late on April 7th, here is the timeline of what the social network and other media were/are reporting.
Between 6 and 7 PM, Pacific Time
- A passenger attempted to light an explosive device on board an aircraft from Washington to Denver, sources tell NBC News
- Update: Air marshals subdued passenger on Denver-bound 757 jet. Plane is parked in remote area of airport – NBC News
- Update: Passenger detained after ‘shoe bomb’ incident aboard Denver-bound plane is identified as Qatari diplomat – ABC News
Between 7 and 8 PM, Pacific Time
- Update: Unclear if passenger tied to shoe incident aboard Denver-bound flight had explosives – NBC News
Between 8 and 9 PM, Pacific Time
- Update: Qatar diplomat subdued on United flight may have been smoking in bathroom – NBC News
Between 9 and 10 PM, Pacific Time
From the Denver Post, reported by Felisa Cardona and Jeffrey Leib :
A United Airlines flight from Washington was escorted by fighter jets to Denver International Airport after a diplomat on board from Qatar may have tried to light his shoes on fire….
More than two hours after the incident, it still wasn’t clear whether the incident was an actual threat or a misunderstanding because al-Modadi attempted to smoke a cigarette on the plane, according to numerous law enforcement sources….
ABC News and other outlets reported that no explosives have been found on the plane, which was still being searched at 9:45 p.m…
Approximately 25 minutes outside of Denver the air marshal, who was not immediately identified, confronted al-Modadi after smelling smoke.
From NBC —
…Federal officials told NBC News that a half hour before the jet landed, a flight attendant smelled smoke just as a passenger was coming out of a restroom and alerted an air marshal. The marshal confronted the man, and there were initial reports that the man said he was trying to light his shoe.
But NBC News reported that the man said he was putting out a cigarette, which he smoked in the restroom, on the sole of his shoe.
No explosives were found on the man, and a search of the plane with bomb-detecting dogs also turned up no explosives. And a federal official said the man was wearing sandals….
From the AP (by writers Eileen Sullivan, Matthew Lee, Matt Apuzzo, Joan Lowy, Pauline Jelinek and Lolita C. Baldor in Washington and Judith Kohler and David Zalubowski in Denver)
A Qatari diplomat trying to sneak a smoke in an airplane bathroom sparked a bomb scare Wednesday night on a flight from Washington to Denver, with fighter jets scrambled and law enforcement put on high alert, officials said.
No explosives were found on the man, and officials do not believe he was trying to harm anyone, according to a senior law enforcement officials who spoke on condition of anonymity…
An Arab diplomat briefed on the matter identified the diplomat as Mohammed Al-Madadi.
Two law enforcement officials said investigators were told the man was asked about the smell of smoke in the bathroom and he made a joke that he had been trying to light his shoes — an apparent reference to the 2001 so-called ”shoe bomber” Richard Reid…
A senior State Department official said the agency was aware of the tentative identification of the man as a Qatari diplomat and that there would be ”consequences, diplomatic and otherwise” if he had committed a crime.
The latest edition of department’s Diplomatic List, a registry of foreign diplomats working in the United States, identifies a man named Mohammed Yaaqob Y.M. Al-Madadi as the third secretary for the Qatari Embassy in Washington. Third secretary is a relatively low-ranking position at any diplomatic post and it was not immediately clear what his responsibilities would have been.
Foreign diplomats in the United States, like American diplomats posted abroad, have broad immunity from prosecution. The official said if the man’s identity as a Qatari diplomat was confirmed and if it was found that he may have committed a crime, U.S. authorities would have to decide whether to ask Qatar to waive his diplomatic immunity so he could be charged and tried. Qatar could decline, the official said, and the man would likely be expelled from the United States.
Qatar, about the size of Connecticut and Rhode Island combined, is an oil- and gas-rich monarchy and close U.S. ally of about 1.4 million people on the Arabian peninsula, surrounded by three sides by the Persian Gulf and to the south by Saudi Arabia…..
On Wednesday, April 7 TSA responded to an incident on board United Airlines flight 663 from DCA to DEN after Federal Air Marshals responded to a passenger causing a disturbance on board the aircraft. The flight landed safely at Denver International Airport at approximately 8:50 p.m. EDT.
Law enforcement and TSA responded to the scene and the passenger is currently being interviewed by law enforcement. All steps are being taken to ensure the safety of the traveling public.
By the time I wake up tomorrow, I’m guessing there will be a clearer picture of this currently bizarre incident.
Based on the evolving first reports, I go to sleep tonight thinking a 20-something, nicotine-addicted, sandal-wearing, low-level diplomat was smoking a cigarette in an airplane toilet-sink room. He put out the smoke by grinding it into his shoe. A flight attendant smelled smoke and notified a federal air marshal. At that point, Mohammed Al-Madadi — if that is really his name — stopped enjoying what in the 1980s used to be called “the friendly skies.”
Airplane, shoes, smoke, Al-Madadi… the first reports write themselves.
What ripples — if any — will this event stir in homeland security?
Do passengers with diplomatic immunity create another vulnerability in the US aviation security system?
Will cigarettes now have to go into checked baggage?
Is health care reform to blame?
Is this yet one more example of how America is turning socialist?
What will the story line be that places blame for this event on Secretary Napolitano?
I wanted to write about the future of homeland security. But the present is way too weird to be thinking about the future.
Update: 20 seconds after I posted the above:
“Qatari diplomat who sparked bomb scare by trying to smoke aboard Denver-bound jet won’t face criminal charges, official tells AP”
Oh well, who knows whether that’s true or not. First reports are almost always wrong.