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Context of 'August 4, 1999: FAA Considers Suicide Hijacking Possibility: Al-Qaeda Could Hijack Jet and ‘Slam It into a US Landmark’'

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Steve Elson.Steve Elson. [Source: 911Report LLC]A Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) internal memo warns that small knives have been used in hijackings. The memo states, “Small knives (blade length of four inches or less), the most frequently employed weapon to hijack aircraft (in the US), were used in three incidents.” Details of the memo will later be provided to the 9/11 Commission by Steve Elson, an FAA special agent for security. According to Elson, the memo is widely distributed to agency security officials. Elson will quit the FAA 1999 in frustration over lax security. [New York Magazine, 9/24/2001; Elson, 9/4/2003; Salon, 8/3/2004; Linda Ellman, 2005; Village Voice, 2/8/2005] By 9/11 it will still be legal to bring small knives onto planes (see July 8-August 30, 2001).

Entity Tags: Federal Aviation Administration, Steve Elson

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The FAA’s Office of Civil Aviation Security Intelligence sends an internal memo summarizing the al-Qaeda hijacking threat. After reciting information available on the topic, a few principal scenarios are presented. One of them is a “suicide hijacking operation.” The 9/11 Commission will comment on this and another memo the previous year, “In 1998 and 1999, the FAA intelligence unit produced reports about the hijacking threat posed by bin Ladin and al-Qaeda, including the possibility that the terrorist group might try to hijack a commercial jet and slam it into a US landmark.” However, FAA analysts consider this an option of last resort, because “it does not offer an opportunity for dialogue to achieve the key goal of obtaining [Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman] and other key captive extremists.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 345, 561; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 53]

Entity Tags: Federal Aviation Administration, Omar Abdul-Rahman, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

US Army Lieutenant General Michael A. Canavan is appointed associate administrator for civil aviation security at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), a position that includes being the “hijack coordinator” (see 8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Federal Aviation Administration, 11/2000] In early 1998, Canavan participated in reviewing a CIA plan to capture Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. He was then the commander of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which oversees the military’s counterterrorism operations and covert missions. He objected to the plan, saying it was too complicated for the CIA and “out of their league.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 113] The plan was later canceled (see 1997-May 29, 1998). It is not known if Canavan’s appointment at the FAA is related to his prior involvement in counterterrorism or to any intelligence that al-Qaeda might target civil aviation. He will leave the post in October 2001, after only 10 months, reportedly after clashing with other FAA officials. [Los Angeles Times, 10/13/2001]

Entity Tags: Federal Aviation Administration, Mike Canavan

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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