Thursday, September 29, 2011

Bye Bye Model Airplanes.....what's next?

Could model airplanes become a terrorist weapon?

BOSTON (AP) — Model airplanes are suddenly on the public's radar as potential terrorist weapons. A 26-year-old man from a Boston suburb was arrested Wednesday and accused of plotting to attack the Pentagon and the U.S. Capitol with remote-controlled model planes packed with explosives.

These are not balsa-wood-and-rubber-band toys investigators are talking about. The FBI said Rezwan Ferdaus hoped to use military-jet replicas, 5 to 7 1/2 feet long, guided by GPS devices and capable of speeds over 100 mph.

Federal officials have long been aware of the possibility someone might try to use such planes as weapons, but there are no restrictions on their purchase — Ferdaus is said to have bought his over the Internet.

Counterterrorism experts and model-aircraft hobbyists said it would be nearly impossible to inflict large-scale damage of the sort Ferdaus allegedly envisioned using model planes. The aircraft are too small, can't carry enough explosives and are too tricky to fly, they said.

"The idea of pushing a button and this thing diving into the Pentagon is kind of a joke, actually," said Greg Hahn, technical director of the Academy of Model Aeronautics.

Rick Nelson, a former Navy helicopter pilot who is now a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said Ferdaus would have had to hit a window or other vulnerable area to maximize damage, and that would have taken precision flying.

"Flying a remote-controlled plane isn't as easy as it actually looks, and then to put an explosive on it and have that explosive detonate at the time and place that you want it add to the difficulty of actually doing it," he said.

Ferdaus, a Muslim American from Ashland, was arrested after federal agents posing as al-Qaida members delivered what he believed was 24 pounds of C-4 explosive, authorities said. He was charged with attempting to damage or destroy a federal building with explosives. A federal affidavit claims he began planning "jihad" against the U.S. in early 2010 after becoming convinced through jihadi websites and videos that America was evil.

Ferdaus had a physics degree from Northeastern University and enjoyed "taking stuff apart" and "learning on my own," according to court papers.

The model planes Ferdaus eyed were the F-4 Phantom and the F-86 Sabre, small-scale versions of military jets, investigators said. The F-4 is the more expensive of the two, at up to $20,000, Hahn said. The F-86, one of which Ferdaus actually obtained, costs $6,000 to $10,000 new.

Ferdaus' plan, as alleged in court papers, was to launch three such planes from a park near the Pentagon and Capitol and use GPS to direct them toward the buildings, where they would detonate on impact and blow the Capitol dome to "smithereens." He planned to pack five pounds of plastic explosives on each plane, according to prosecutors.

James Crippin, an explosives and anti-terrorism expert, said that much C-4 could do serious damage — a half-pound will obliterate a car. But he said getting a stable explosive like C-4 to blow up at the right time would have been hugely difficult.

And there were slim prospects of causing any serious damage to buildings like the Pentagon and Capitol, which are undoubtedly hardened to withstand explosions, according to Crippin, director of the Western Forensic Law Enforcement Training Center.

"Basically, I think he's suffering from delusions of grandeur," he said.

Hahn said the heavier of the two models Ferdaus was allegedly planning to use could carry a maximum of two pounds of plastic explosive before malfunctioning. That's not including the weight of any GPS system, he added.

"It's almost impossible for him to get this done," he said.

Remote-controlled aircraft have been considered by terrorists before. In 2008, Christopher Paul of Worthington, Ohio, a Columbus suburb, pleaded guilty to plotting terrorist attacks in the U.S. and Europe using explosive devices. Prosecutors said he researched remote-controlled boats and a remote-controlled 5-foot-long helicopter.

And after Sept. 11, federal agents asked the Academy of Model Aeronautics' 143,000 members to watch for any fellow enthusiasts who might be buying planes with bad intentions.

Well before the Massachusetts arrest, police in Montgomery County, Md., put out a terrorist warning to hobby shops to be aware of customers "who don't appear to be hobbyists" buying model airplanes with cash and asking how they can be modified to carry a device.

The Federal Aviation Administration is devising new rules for model airplanes and other unmanned aircraft, but the restrictions are aimed primarily at preventing collisions. Under current FAA rules, such planes are generally limited to flying below 400 feet and away from airports and air traffic.

Massachusetts prosecutor Gerry Leone, who handled the prosecution of would-be shoe bomber Richard Reid, said terrorists are always building bombs out of common, legitimate items, and imposing restrictions on buying model aircraft would not make sense simply because of this one case.

But he said law enforcement might want be more vigilant about such purchases.

Similarly, Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said recent advances in model airplane technology could make them more attractive to terrorists. But he said the answer is better intelligence, not trying to regulate hobbyists and their toys.

"Kids have them, people fly them, groups are organized just to engage in this type of pastime activity," the congressman said. "It would be almost impossible to regulate the little engines and things, propellers."

Life was so nice growing up, we could build model airplanes, have chemestry sets without worrying about much..

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Go to the bathroom, then to jail.................

Passenger: Was cuffed, searched over 'appearance'

DETROIT (AP) — A U.S. woman said Tuesday that she endured nearly four hours in police custody that included being forced off an airplane in handcuffs, strip-searched and interrogated at Detroit's airport on the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks — all, she believes, because of her Middle Eastern appearance.

Shoshana Hebshi, 35, told The Associated Press she was one of three people removed from a Denver-to-Detroit Frontier Airlines flight after landing Sunday afternoon. Authorities say fighter jets escorted the plane after its crew reported that two people were spending a long time in a bathroom — the two men sitting next to Hebshi in the 12th row.

Hebshi said she didn't notice how many times the men went to the bathroom. "I wasn't keeping track," she said.

"I really wasn't paying attention," said Hebshi, a freelance writer, editor and stay-at-home mother of twin six-year-old boys who lives in a suburb of Toledo, Ohio. "I was minding my own business — sleeping, reading, playing on my phone."

The FBI has said the three didn't know each other. One man felt ill and got up to use the restroom and another man in the same row also left his seat to go to the bathroom. The FBI said they never were inside together.

Hebshi has written extensively on her blog about the incident, saying she felt "violated, humiliated and sure that I was being taken from the plane simply because of my appearance."

Hebshi, who describes herself as half-Arabic, half-Jewish with a dark complexion, told the AP after they landed, she noticed police first surrounding, then storming the plane. She said she was surprised when they stopped at her row and ordered her and the men to get up.

Her Twitter posts from Sunday bear that out. At one point, she wrote: "A little concerned about this situation. Plane moved away from terminal surrounded by cops. Crew is mum. Passengers can't get up."

Later she wrote, "I see stairs coming our way...yay!" Her last post said, "Majorly armed cops coming aboard."

It's then than she says the officers ordered her and the men, whom she described as Indian, to get up.

She said she was patted down and taken by car to a holding cell. A uniformed female officer eventually came in and told Hebshi to take off her clothes.

After the strip search, another officer who identified herself as a Homeland Security agent led Hebshi to another room, Hebshi said. There, a man who identified himself as an FBI agent asked her a series of questions while a female agent took notes, Hebshi said.

Hebshi said that when she asked what was going on, the male agent told her someone on the plane reported that she and the men on her row were "conducting suspicious activity."

FBI spokeswoman Sandra Berchtold said the three passengers were questioned but not arrested before the FBI determined there was no reason to suspect or hold them. She also said FBI agents who questioned the passengers were not involved in any strip searches.

"We received a report of suspicious activity on that particular plane," Berchtold said. "We did not arrest ... these passengers. ... We didn't direct anybody to arrest them."

Airport police are under the supervision of the Wayne County Airport Authority, which operates Detroit Metropolitan Airport.

In an email to the AP, agency spokesman Scott Wintner said airport police "responded appropriately by following protocol and treating everyone involved with respect and dignity. "

Wintner said the decision on how to respond was a call made by the Airport Authority's CEO, who he said is Arab-American.

Hebshi said that finally, after being fingerprinted and allowed to call her husband, she was told she and the men were being released and that nothing suspicious was found on the plane. She said an official apologized and thanked her for understanding and cooperating.

Hebshi said she received another call of apology from an FBI agent Monday, before she wrote her blog post.

"I can understand they were just doing their job," she told the AP. "My beef is with these laws and regulations that are so hypersensitive. ... Even if you're an innocent bystander, you have no rights."

AP left email and phone messages seeking comment Tuesday night with Frontier.

The flight was one of two for which fighter jets were scrambled Sunday after crews reported suspicious activity on the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, officials said. In both cases, it involved bathroom use. In neither case did authorities find anything to substantiate the suspicions.

On American Airlines flight 34 from Los Angeles, three passengers who made repeated trips to the bathroom were cleared after the plane safely landed at New York's Kennedy Airport.

Also Sunday, a GoJet Airlines flight bound for Washington was still on the runway in St. Louis when the pilot returned the aircraft to the gate and requested all passengers be re-screened after crew found paper towels stuffed in a toilet, according to a United Airlines spokesman. GoJet is a regional carrier for United.

Another reason why not to fly the friendly skies anymore.......

Or at least you would be better off by peeing in your seat. So now she was fingerprinted and held for hours....