Wednesday, May 16, 2007

A tragedy of errors 

The testimony at the Air India inquiry is revealing a chain of brushed-aside warnings, missing dogs, coincidence, circumstance, and tragic happenstance.
Bear in mind there are two facts which I haven't seen covered yet in the news accounts of the inquiry.
First, Air India apparently only flew from Canada to India once a week. So it wasn't as though putting on extra security for the Air India flights created a huge 24/7 security burden at Canadian airports. Second, remember that very same day, another bomb had been successfully hidden on a CP Air Lines flight from Vancouver, which exploded in Tokyo. So any discussion about why the Air India bomb wasn't found also needs to explain why the CP bomb wasn't found either.
As for the inquiry testimony, here's what we're learning. According to the Globe and Mail:
Flight 182 was considered at high risk of attack by Sikh extremists.
Yet according to Canadian Press, the RCMP at the Montreal airport thought there wasn't any particular danger:
...it appears from documents tabled Wednesday that D'Souza never consulted the RCMP. Sgt. J.N. Leblanc, the watch commander at the airport, later told investigators he learned of the three suspect bags only after the plane took off.
Leblanc said he decided not to recall the flight to Mirabel since "no other information had come to our attention that there could be any danger whatsoever to the plane."
From previous testimony, it appears there was actually plenty of information about Air India threats -- but apparently it wasn't passed on to the people who might have acted on it:
The RCMP's former head of airport security was not told that a group of Sikhs were plotting a suicide attack on an Air India jet leaving Montreal on June 16, 1984. . .
Sadder still, a tragic series of coincidences allowed the doomed flight to take off with a bomb on board:
. . . Flight 182 wasn't held at Mirabel to have all the baggage unloaded and matched up against passengers. If that had been done, the unaccompanied bag that contained the bomb would likely have been discovered.
. . . the X-ray machine used at Pearson broke down, and a hand-held electronic detector used in its place had been shown to be unreliable in tests conducted six months earlier.
Moreover, no sniffer dog was available in Toronto because all the RCMP's explosives-detection canine teams were on a training course that weekend.
So it all makes me wonder.
Maybe other bombs have been found aboard other Canadian planes in the last 20 years, but I haven't heard about any.
So we are left with this uncomfortable realization: after decades of security checks on thousands of airplane at hundreds of airports across the country, there were two times, perhaps ONLY two times, that bombs were hidden on in suitcases. And these two times, they didn't get found because of poor communications, inter-agency rivalry, and the incredible bad luck that a never-to-be-repeated series of coincidences occurred on one weekend in June in 1985.
This is the stuff of which conspiracy theories are born.

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