The Corner

How Did Shahzad Get on the Plane?

It now appears that two major security lapses — one outside the control of federal authorities — contributed to allowing Times Square plot suspect Faisal Shahzad to board a plane to Dubai.

First, the F.B.I. surveillance team tracking Shahzad from Connecticut lost track of Shahzad for an undisclosed amount of time before he left for JFK airport. They thus did not know that he was planning to fly abroad until a final passenger list was sent to Customs and Border Protection just before takeoff.

Second, and more maddeningly, Emirates Airline reportedly failed to act on an alert send at midday Monday that there was an important new addition to the no-fly list:

. . .[A]t about 12:30 p.m. on Monday, more certain that Mr. Shahzad was the suspected terrorist, investigators asked the Department of Homeland Security to put him on the no-fly list. Three minutes later, the department sent airlines, including Emirates, an electronic notification that they should check the no-fly list for an update. At about 4:30 p.m., more information was added to the list, including Mr. Shahzad’s passport number, officials said.

Workers at Emirates evidently did not check the list, because at 6:30 p.m., Mr. Shahzad called the airline and booked a flight to Pakistan via Dubai, officials said. At 7:35 p.m., he arrived at the airport, paid cash for his ticket and was given a boarding pass.

Airlines are not required to report cash purchases, a Homeland Security official said. Emirates actually did report Mr. Shahzad’s purchase to the Transportation Security Administration — but only hours later, when he was already in custody, the official said.

Mr. Shahzad had evaded the surveillance effort and bought his ticket seven hours after his name went on the no-fly list.

The massive coordination and informational problems of homeland security, not to mention the perennial potential for human error, will never be entirely eliminated. It is folly to legislate as if they could. But this cash purchase loophole, and the apparent failure of Emirates to act on crucial information in a timely fashion, seem as if they are remediable — and in critical need of remedying.


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