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He Looked Terror in the Eye - and Blinked - (chilling; 9/11 Portland, ME airport security failure)
PHILLY.COM ^ | FEBRUARY 24, 2005 | Michael Smerconish

Posted on 02/24/2005 9:36:41 PM PST by CHARLITE

MICHAEL Tuohey "stared the devil in the eyes and didn't recognize him."

Now he kicks himself for not having acted, although if he had, our government probably would've punished him for trying to take the devil down.

Until recently, Tuohey worked the ticket counter at the airport in Portland, Maine, first for Allegheny Airlines, and then its successor, US Airways. He'll never forget one particular day of his 34 years of employment.

It began like any other. This married Army vet had a routine. He'd wake up at 3:30 a.m. and walk to the kitchen to grab a cup of coffee from the machine he'd pre-set the night before. Then he'd flicked on the TV, watch some CNN and check the weather forecast. After feeding his cat, he'd jump in his car for the 15-minute drive to work.

On most days, the big rush would come 6-7:30 a.m. That's when the tiny Maine airport would be abuzz with travelers heading for connecting flights in Philadelphia, Boston and Pittsburgh. But it's what happened at 5:43 a.m. on a particular day that he replays in his mind over and over.

At that time on a Tuesday, two men wearing sport coats and ties approached his counter with just 17 minutes to spare before their flight to Boston. (Tuohey now knows they'd stayed the night before at the Comfort Inn down the road.) And he suspects they arrived late to take advantage of an airline system that was then "more concerned about on-time departure than effective screening."

He thought the pair were unusual. First, they each held a $2,500 first-class, one-way ticket to Los Angeles (via Boston). "You don't see many of those."

The second reason is not so easy to explain.

"It was just the look on the one man's face, his eyes," Tuohey recently told me.

"By now, everyone in America has seen a picture of this man, but there is more life in that photograph we've all seen than he had in the flesh and blood. He looked like a walking corpse. He looked so angry. And he wouldn't look directly at me."

The man was Mohamed Atta. The other fellow ("he was young and had a goofy smile, I can't believe he knew he was going to die that day") was Abdul Aziz al Omari. Michael Tuohey is the individual who checked them in at the Portland airport as they began their murderous journey.

"I looked up, and asked them the standard questions. The one guy was looking at me. It sent a chill through me. Something in my stomach churned. And subconsciously, I said to myself, 'If they don't look like Arab terrorists, nothing does.' "

"Then I gave myself a mental slap. In over 34 years, I had checked in thousands of Arab travelers, and I never thought this before. I said to myself, 'That's not nice to think. They are just two Arab businessmen.' " And with that, Tuohey handed them their boarding passes.

As they walked through the metal detectors, out of his sight, the jackets and ties were gone. Now the two were wearing open-neck dress shirts when they went through security.

Atta and Omari arrived in Boston at 6:45 a.m., where they were joined by Satam al Suqami, Wail al Shehri and Waleed al Shehri. The five then checked in, and boarded American Airlines Flight 11 for L.A. The flight was scheduled to depart at 7:45 a.m. It actually left at 7:59. At 8:46, it hit the North Tower.

Back in Portland, Tuohey, got word of the crash.

"One of the agents from another airline said, 'Did you hear what happened in New York?'... I said, 'Oh, my God!' - and I was sorry I had judged them. I thought it was an accident."

But at 9:03 a.m., when United Airlines No. 175 hit the South Tower, Tuohey knew his first instinct had been correct.

"As soon as someone told me news of the second flight, I had a knot in my stomach."

And here's the irony.

While Michael Tuohey still second-guesses himself about his conduct on that day, the reality is that, had he taken action, he probably would have been punished by our government!

Consider that in the aftermath of 9/11, American, United, Continental and Delta airlines were fined millions of dollars by the Department of Transportation for instances where the DOT believed airline employees had factored race, gender, ethnicity, religion or appearance into security-screening decisions.

Worst of all, that remains government policy. Airline employees in this country are still told in their training that they can never take into consideration the race or religion of a passenger when making judgments about suspicious behavior. This, despite that all 19 on 9/11 had those characteristics in common!

Tuohey didn't learn of the fines until he read my book, "Flying Blind." Now he gets it.

"Here you have an industry in mortal peril, and you are fining them for political correctness?" asks Tuohey.

We need more like this guy.


TOPICS: Constitution/Conservatism; Culture/Society; News/Current Events; Philosophy; Politics/Elections; US: Maine
KEYWORDS: 2001; 911; 911hijackers; airportsecurity; alomari; alqaeda; atta; koranimals; me; mohammedatta; passengers; portland; racialprofiling; sept11; september11; terrorists; tuohey

1 posted on 02/24/2005 9:36:42 PM PST by CHARLITE
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To: CHARLITE
"although if he had, our government probably would've punished him for trying to take the devil down."

I don't know about that, considering what we learned about their backgrounds after the fact.

2 posted on 02/24/2005 9:40:58 PM PST by Darkwolf377 (Individuality)
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To: Darkwolf377; nothingnew; Congressman Billybob; jan in Colorado; archy; x
"I don't know about that, considering what we learned about their backgrounds after the fact."

I agree. Had he stopped those two, they and all of their belongings, notes, money contacts and sources, cell phone and regular phone usage, general travel information - i.e. the Florida "sojourn," expired visas and fraudulent driver's licenses plus contacts with the rest of the "brigade"......all would have been checked out, and he might have prevented 9/11......plus could have warned Logan authorities to scrutinize the other members of the terror team departing from there.

He might have become a national hero. But then, sometimes there has to be a tragedy like 9/11 or Pearl Harbor, in order for us to take action as we did in Afghanistan, then Iraq. If these two murderous twits had been apprehended, investigated and probably charged with terror-related activities, the others at Logan would also have been dealt with similarly, and there might not have been any "9/11" at all. Without 9/11, the Taliban would still be running things in Afghanistan, and Saddam, Uday and Qusay would still be causing all of that misery in Iraq.

No one could argue that the capture of 2 guys in Portland, ME and another 8 at Logan Airport would have caused the then new president to launch two wars in a row. Only the "shock and awe" of 9/11 provided the national outrage and therefore public support for retaliating as we did.

3 posted on 02/24/2005 10:07:01 PM PST by CHARLITE (glad to see lib Dem rats on sinking ship, unable to disembark)
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To: Darkwolf377
There's something very odd about this story:

"He'd wake up at 3:30 a.m. and walk to the kitchen to grab a cup of coffee from the machine he'd pre-set the night before. Then he'd flicked on the TV, watch some CNN and check the weather forecast. After feeding his cat, he'd jump in his car for the 15-minute drive to work."

I've never heard of such a thing. Don't all self-respecting cats enforce the universal feed-the-cat-first-thing-in-the-morning law?

4 posted on 02/24/2005 10:09:48 PM PST by fullchroma
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To: CHARLITE
Right on analysis. Anyone doubting that only has to look at how some Americans responded after we actually WERE attacked. The FEAR in these people is amazing--"OK, well, you can attack Afghanistan but only if you just capture the four or five people who actually PLANNED 9-11..." or whatever.

Bush realized what they did not--9-11 was in many ways a test. How far would the US be pushed? How would it react? Would it do what it did in Somalia and pull back? (That's the ULTIMATE reason I blame Clinton.) Let's give it a shot and see--the worst that could happen is they'll try to find UBL in a law enforcement-manner.

They misunderestimated...

5 posted on 02/24/2005 10:14:09 PM PST by Darkwolf377 (Individuality)
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To: fullchroma
I've never heard of such a thing. Don't all self-respecting cats enforce the universal feed-the-cat-first-thing-in-the-morning law?

Mine sure do! They don't even wait for the first thing in the morning -- they start mewing and rustling the covers in anticipation before the alarm goes off. They have amazing internal body clocks.

6 posted on 02/24/2005 10:15:38 PM PST by Ryan Spock
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To: Ryan Spock

Mine do the same thing but I was too embarrassed to say so. As long as we're coming clean I'll admit that they often begin the rustling well before the alarm goes off, escalating their noise-making which includes knocking furniture about until someone (me, usually) gets up and serves them. They dominate the household. Still, I love them.

As for the hapless ticket agent, except for that one-in-a-million encounter with Moohahmid Atta (whatever the stupid spelling) his ass would have been cooked by the ACLU types for profiling and he knew it and Moohahmid knew he knew it and counted on it.


7 posted on 02/24/2005 10:32:07 PM PST by fullchroma
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To: Darkwolf377

We have a problem.

We have even looser controls on foreigners entering the USA today, than we did before 9-11.

As we worship at the alter of political correctness, our country is being flooded by any and all aliens who desire entrance. Granted, most illegals are 'harmless".....however, if only 1% of the 15-20 million illegals are sleepers, then we are in big trouble.


8 posted on 02/25/2005 1:19:35 AM PST by Psion ("He who dares not offend cannot be honest." Thomas Paine)
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To: CHARLITE
He thought the pair were unusual. First, they each held a $2,500 first-class, one-way ticket to Los Angeles (via Boston). "You don't see many of those."

Two thoughts: First of all, this guy shouldn't feel guilty. Who the hell would've thought anything like that would've happened?? The ones who should feel guilty are the perps--roasting in hell right now, and perhaps the people years earlier who had declared a "war on terror" and never followed through.

Secondly, I thought I heard that none of these asswipes had ordered a "one-way" ticket...so which is it?

9 posted on 02/25/2005 2:09:48 AM PST by Recovering_Democrat (I'm so glad to no longer be associated with the Party of Dependence on Government!)
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To: CHARLITE
Ignore your common sense... THE RESULT OF POLITICALLY CORRECT CONDITIONING.

""I looked up, and asked them the standard questions. The one guy was looking at me. It sent a chill through me. Something in my stomach churned. And subconsciously, I said to myself, 'If they don't look like Arab terrorists, nothing does.' "

"Then I gave myself a mental slap. In over 34 years, I had checked in thousands of Arab travelers, and I never thought this before. I said to myself, 'That's not nice to think. They are just two Arab businessmen.' " And with that, Tuohey handed them their boarding passes."

10 posted on 02/25/2005 3:01:28 AM PST by ViLaLuz
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To: fullchroma

Mine used to get into the cubbyhole in the headboard, above my snoring puss, and bat my face until I awoke to feed him.


11 posted on 02/25/2005 3:06:44 AM PST by I_dmc
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To: I_dmc

Referring to your cat in the past tense worries me. Did you lose your patience one morning and...SCREEEEEEEEECH...off the little guy? I understand it's tempting.


12 posted on 02/25/2005 1:44:58 PM PST by fullchroma
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To: fullchroma

Referring to your cat in the past tense worries me. Did you lose your patience one morning and...SCREEEEEEEEECH...off the little guy? I understand it's tempting.

Hehe.  No.  He and I went our separate ways years ago.  He didn't care much for sharing his Meow Mix (he liked the chicken, too).  ;-)

13 posted on 02/26/2005 10:37:09 PM PST by I_dmc
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To: CHARLITE
I would wager that there's a lot of intelligence used beyond the purview of standard airport screeners. Also, the tactic of coercing passenger submission under the pretext of a simple hijack could only have been used successfully once.

Place these two ideas together, and we see a reason there hasn't been any air terrorism in our nation since 9/11.

14 posted on 02/26/2005 10:46:37 PM PST by Cultural Jihad
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