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Context of 'February 22, 1974: Man Tries to Take Over a Commercial Aircraft to Crash It into the White House'

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Samuel Joseph Byck.Samuel Joseph Byck. [Source: Unknown]Samuel Joseph Byck, an unemployed former tire salesman from Philadelphia, tries to hijack a commercial aircraft with the intent of crashing it into the White House and killing President Richard Nixon, but commits suicide when his attempt runs into difficulties. Byck has focused his resentment on Nixon after being turned down for a loan by the Small Business Administration. He has come up with a plot to assassinate the president, called “Operation Pandora’s Box,” which entails hijacking an airliner and crashing it into the White House on a day when Nixon is there. [Edmund Preston, 1987, pp. 52-53; LA Weekly, 9/12/2001; Weekly View, 4/10/2014]
Man Shoots a Guard before Boarding a Plane - A few hours before making his assassination attempt, Byck mails a tape-recorded message in which he describes his plan to the renowned investigative reporter Jack Anderson. [Casa Grande Dispatch, 7/28/2004] Then, early this morning, he drives to Baltimore-Washington International Airport to carry out the plot. He has with him a revolver and a bomb, which he made using gasoline housed in motor oil bottles and a crude igniter switch. At the airport, without warning, he pulls out the revolver and shoots dead a security guard. He then leaps over the security check and gets onto Delta Air Lines Flight 523 to Atlanta, Georgia, a DC-9, choosing this plane because it is the nearest flight that is ready to take off.
Man Shoots the Pilots and Threatens to Blow Up the Plane - On the plane, Byck orders the pilots to take off immediately. They say they are unable to take off until the wheel blocks have been removed. Frustrated by the delay, Byck shoots the pilots, fatally wounding one of them. In his desperation, he then grabs a passenger and orders her to “fly the plane.” He also threatens to blow up the plane unless a flight attendant closes the door. After a standoff between Byck and the police ensues, a police officer starts firing through the cabin door, and two of his shots hit and wound Byck. Then, as the authorities close in, Byck commits suicide by shooting himself in the head. A briefcase containing the gasoline bomb is subsequently found under his body.
Incident 'Resonates' in American Minds after 9/11 - Following this incident, a bunker will be built deep inside the White House and large guns will be placed on the roof of the White House. A report published by the Federal Aviation Administration in 1987 will note that while Byck “lacked the skill and self-control to reach his target, he had provided a chilling reminder of the potential of violence against civil aviation.” After the attempted assassination occurs, Byck’s plot to kill Nixon will remain little known except within the US Secret Service. But it will again be mentioned in reports after 9/11. Then, one journalist will remark that “the terrifying memory of Samuel Byck’s misguided scheme resonates in every American’s mind whenever the thought of 9/11 visits our nightmares.” And LA Weekly will comment, “In the evolution of terrorism, the use of American commercial airliners as murder weapons was ‘pioneered’ by… Byck.” [Edmund Preston, 1987, pp. 52-53; LA Weekly, 9/12/2001; Weekly View, 4/10/2014]

Entity Tags: Jack Anderson, Samuel Joseph Byck, Richard M. Nixon

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

President Bush tells reporters during a visit to Samuel W. Tucker Elementary School in Alexandria: “Remember these are—the ones in Guantanamo Bay are killers. They don’t share the same values we share.” [US President, 3/25/2002; Human Rights Watch, 1/9/2004]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Former senior Watergate counsel Samuel Dash (see March 25, 1973) writes that if Bush administration officials leaked the identity of covert CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson to the press (see June 23, 2003, July 7, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, July 8, 2003, 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003, and Before July 14, 2003), “they may have committed an act of domestic terrorism as defined by the dragnet language of the Patriot Act their boss wanted so much to help him catch terrorists.” Dash notes that the Patriot Act defines domestic terrorism as “acts dangerous to human life that are a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any state” that “appear to be intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population.” In Dash’s estimation, the Plame Wilson leak meets this criteria. It put Plame Wilson’s life at risk along with “her contacts abroad whom terrorists groups can now trace.” It is a clear violation of US criminal law. And its intent was to “intimidate or coerce a civilian population”—to intimidate Plame Wilson’s husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, into silence, along with “all critics of the administration” who now know “they too can be destroyed if they persist.” Dash notes that the Patriot Act “distorts the criminal law, and its dragnet provisions threaten the liberty of too many innocent people,” so such an accusation—the Bush administration committed an act of domestic terrorism—may be an overstatement of the realities of the case. However, Dash continues, interpreting the law is irrelevant. The administration’s actions under the existing law are the issue. Dash writes that the Justice Department faces a dilemma: “Can they treat this investigation differently from any other terrorist investigation? Under the Patriot Act, they have acquired expanded powers to wiretap and search. Will they place sweeping and roving wiretaps on White House aides? Will they engage in sneak, secret searches of their offices, computers, and homes? Will they arrest and detain incommunicado, without access to counsel, some White House aides as material witnesses?” The Justice Department will not do so, Dash writes, nor should they: “I hope they would not employ such police-state tactics. I had hoped they would not use them against ordinary American citizens, but the attorney general has done so, insisting he needs to use these powers to protect our safety. Then why are they not equally needed in a domestic terrorism investigation of White House aides?” Dash concludes that whether or not the leak “constitutes an act of domestic terrorism under the Patriot Act, it was certainly an outrageous betrayal of trust and an arrogant display of power by officials charged with protecting our national security and, on behalf of the president, assuring that the laws are faithfully executed.” [Newsday, 10/28/2003; Wilson, 2004, pp. 399-401]

Entity Tags: Samuel Dash, Bush administration (43), Joseph C. Wilson, USA Patriot Act, US Department of Justice, Valerie Plame Wilson

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing


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