I think NBC has run one too many reality TV shows. Or maybe they’re just completely out of ideas for filling airtime. Whatever the reason, this stunt borders on the criminal. If I had tried this, I can assure you I would end up in a terrorist watchlist database.
This comes from Bob McDaniel, airport manager at St. Louis Downtown Airport:
Earlier today two Middle Eastern men attempted to penetrate our security. They telephoned one of my helicopter FBOs and asked about a charter flight. After discussion of price and directions to the business, they arrived an hour later. When the office agent asked how they were going to pay for the flight they produced cash. When asked for ID, they produced driver’s licenses from two different states and they were driving a car licensed in a third state.
Things didn’t smell right so the mechanic took them into the hangar to see the aircraft while the office person called the FBI and local police. The helicopter they were going to fly was blocked in by other aircraft so the mechanic was able to stall them by having to slowly shuffle the blocking planes. Meanwhile the two men got their backpacks and odd-shaped luggage out of their car. Soon the local police arrived and they were hauled off to jail in handcuffs.
After a little time behind bars, the FBI verified that the two men were employed by NBC New York and were on assignment to get a story of how easy it is to charter a helicopter for a terrorist attack. The men had stayed in a local hotel and purchased box cutters, leather-man knives, and other potential weapons at the local Wal-Mart using a credit card. The box cutters had been hidden in the lining at the bottom of the back packs and the other weapons were hidden throughout their baggage. They had audiotaped the telephone conversation with Arlene and were going to use it as part of a national news story about how easy it is to get information and directions to the location of the helicopter and then hijack it to commit a terrorist attack.
I doubt they will be back at our airport soon and this is a story that will never be seen since they were caught. A very “well-done” to my FBO and staff and the local FBI and police response forces. We have since learned that we were the first airport where this had been attempted and NBC planned to attempt similar penetration stories around the country. Please help me spread the word to other airports.
If impersonating a terrorist isn’t illegal, perhaps it ought to be. If the TSA wants to do some testing in order to assess security, that’s one thing. But for a TV network to hire Middle Eastern men, give them weapons and money, and have them try to get aboard an aircraft just so they can score some ratings points? Please. What if the pilot had gotten suspicious of them in mid-flight and there had been some sort of accident? Is a low-flying turbine helicopter a legitimate place for this kind of nonesense?
If they had gotten aboard that helicopter, you can bet the story would be all over the news. But when security works the way it’s supposed to, the news gets buried — if they air it at all.
I guess NBC didn’t learn anything from that GM crash test lawsuit. Perhaps NBAA, AOPA, AAAE, and the other alphabet organizations should arrange a boycott of the network. Better yet, let’s hire some Middle Eastern men to try and get into the NBC News studio and see how well they do.