Skip to comments.Ticket agent suspected Atta but let him go.
Posted on 02/26/2005 9:15:31 AM PST by Fatigued Mother
An airline ticket agent who checked in hijacker Mohamed Atta the morning of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks says he had a feeling he was looking at an Arab terrorist but gave in to political correctness and let him through.
Michael Tuohey, who works for U.S. Airways in Portland, Maine, told his story recently to Michael Smerconish, Philadelphia Daily News columnist and author of "Flying Blind: How Political Correctness Continues to Compromise Airline Safety Post-9/11."
Touhey now kicks himself for not acting, but Smerconish says if he had, the federal government probably would have punished him, noting three major airlines have been fined for alleged racial profiling.
The ticket agent, a veteran of 34 years now, says that at 5:43 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001, two men wearing sport coats and ties approached his counter with just 17 minutes to spare before their flight to Boston.
He suspects they arrived late to take advantage of an airline system that was then "more concerned about on-time departure than effective screening."
Traveling with Atta was another 9-11 hijacker, Abdul Aziz al Omari.
Touhey told Smerconish:
"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, Smerconish writes, Tuohey handed them their boarding passes.
Touhey thought it unusual that they each had a $2,500 first-class, one-way ticket to Los Angeles, via Boston, but the second warning flag was much more subjective.
"It was just the look on the one man's face, his eyes," Tuohey said of Atta.
The agent said Atta looked like a "walking corpse."
"He looked so angry. And he wouldn't look directly at me."
Omari, Touhey said, was "young and had a goofy smile, I can't believe he knew he was going to die that day."
After leaving Touhey's sight, Atta and Omari took off their coats and ties then went through the metal detectors.
The terrorists arrived in Boston at 6:45 a.m. where they joined Satam al Suqami, Wail al Shehri and Waleed al Shehri to board American Airlines Flight 11 for Los Angeles.
When Touhey received word the flight crashed into the World Trade Center's North Tower at 8:46 a.m., he thought is was an accident and was "sorry I had judged them."
But at 9:03 a.m., when United Airlines No. 175 hit the South Tower, Smerconish writes, 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."
But Smerconish points to 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!"
In the aftermath of 9-11, American, United, Continental and Delta airlines were fined millions of dollars by the Department of Transportation for factoring race, gender, ethnicity, religion or appearance into security-screening decisions.
Tuohey said he was not aware of the fines until he read Smerconish's book.
"Here you have an industry in mortal peril, and you are fining them for political correctness?" Tuohey asked.
And still Political Correctness controls our lives.
Wow it would suck to be him. I'm a ticket agent at a small airport, too. I've also checked in lots of Arab travelers, but I've never had a feeling like he describes. The problem is, there wasn't much he could have done. Just tell the guy he can't fly? He would have just been overridden by a supervisor and disciplined.
Damned if you do and damned if you don't. I do not envy your job.
Feb 26 1993
A bomb explodes on level B2 of the World Trade Center, creating a five story crater and leaving six dead and over 1,042 injured.
And what did the Klintoons do about it?
As for his 'goofy' partner, do we know whether or not some of the hijackers were ignorant about their mission?
Thank you 'Anti-Racial Profiling' and 'Hate Crimes' legislation.
They'd have to fire me. Gut feelings are sometimes more accurate than logic.
Interesting story, but is that what he told the 9/11 commission? Maybe this is just revisionism on the part of Touhey. He has read Smerconish's book and finds this a useful way to asuage his sense of guilt.
Many more like me sustained injuries that day but were too concerned with getting home and cleaning the smoke out of our nostrils - and getting some real info as to what happened and why - to be counted.
Why, oh why, did Bush appoint Norman Mineta, a liberal Democrat as SECDOT? He is one of the primary forces behind all the PC that is discussed in this article.
I have got to stop reading threads like this one. They always remind me of three things:
There is no incompetence more common, more serious and more intractable than a bureaucrat with authority and no common sense (the Dept of Transportation).
No good deed goes unpunished.
And the only thing necessary for an
unjust incompetent government to exist is an endless supply of unjust incompetent bureaucrats.
Thanks for the ping!
I truly don't know WHAT he told the 9/11 commission and I don't even know how to find out what he told them... but I would also not put it past the 9/11 commission (as well as the media) to not release this info even if he had said it.
I'm all for doing a dragnet of all aliens from Arab countries, immediately deporting those who are here illegally, detaining the suspicious in Guantanamo and photographing and fingerprinting the rest and making them report their movements to local law enforcement under penalty of immediate deportation for failure to do so.
Politically incorrect you bet, but if it would prevent another 9-11 well worth it.
gulp (chirp chirp)