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Context of '1972: Police Psychologist Suggests the Possibility of Terrorists Crashing a Plane into a Crowded Stadium during the Munich Olympics'

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Georg Sieber.Georg Sieber. [Source: Sarah Morris]Dr. Georg Sieber, a West German police psychologist, imagines the possibility of terrorists using a plane as a weapon and crashing it into the crowded Olympic Stadium when he comes up with a list of scenarios for possible attacks that could occur when his country hosts the Olympic Games. [Graff, 2011, pp. 40] In the months leading up to this year’s Olympics in Munich, organizers ask Sieber to conduct a risk analysis and predict worst-case scenarios for the games. The psychologist is “a serious student of global terrorist activity,” according to historian and author David Clay Large. For his analysis, he examines the activities of the most ruthless terrorist groups, such as the Irish Republican Army (IRA), the Palestine Liberation Organization, the West German Baader-Meinhof gang, and the Basque separatist group ETA. He comes up with 26 worst-case scenarios, which he outlines in minute detail. Most of the scenarios focus on the Olympic Village where athletes will stay during the games. They include bombings by the IRA and ETA, and kidnappings by the Italian Mafia and the Uruguayan terrorist group Tupamaros. Notably, one of the scenarios involves a 9/11-style event in which Swedish neo-fascists hire a jet aircraft and deliberately crash it into the packed Olympic Stadium in a suicide attack. The organizers, however, are unhappy with Sieber’s predictions. Manfred Schreiber, the Munich police chief, thinks they are too far-fetched and unrealistic. Sieber is asked to come up with some scenarios that are less frightening and that the organizers will consider more likely to occur. One of his imagined catastrophes, however, turns out to be eerily prescient. It involves armed Palestinian commandos getting into the Olympic Village, invading the Israeli team’s apartment, killing one or two hostages, and then demanding the release of Arab political prisoners from Israeli jails and a plane to fly the terrorists to a friendly Arab capital. [Time, 8/25/2002; Large, 2012, pp. 120] An attack almost identical to this occurs on the morning of September 5, during the Olympics. It involves eight men affiliated with the Palestinian terrorist group Black September breaking into the Israeli team’s apartment, and taking hostage 11 athletes and coaches. [Time, 9/5/2014] Sieber’s plane crash scenario will also turn out to be prescient in its resemblance to the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. It “foreshadowed a September day in another city many years later,” Time magazine will comment in 2002. [Time, 8/25/2002]

Entity Tags: Manfred Schreiber, Georg Sieber

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Fred McBee.Fred McBee. [Source: History Channel]Fred McBee, a friend of a security chief for a company at the World Trade Center, determines, using a flight simulator on his computer, that it would be possible for terrorists to crash a jumbo jet into the Twin Towers. [Stewart, 2002, pp. 193; Steve Humphries, 9/11/2005] Rick Rescorla is the director of security at brokerage firm Dean Witter and his office is on the 44th floor of the WTC’s South Tower. In response to the recent bombing at the WTC (see February 26, 1993), he is conducting an analysis of the security measures there. [Washington Post, 10/28/2001; New Yorker, 2/11/2002] Rescorla thinks that terrorists might try attacking the WTC again by crashing a plane into the towers. He therefore phones McBee, who is in Oklahoma, and asks him to examine the possibility of an air attack. McBee has the Microsoft Flight Simulator program on his computer. He has been experimenting on the program with a small Cessna plane, but, while he is on the phone with Rescorla, he changes this to a Boeing 737. He then pulls up the image of Lower Manhattan and is able to simulate a crash into the WTC. “It was a piece of cake,” McBee will later comment. “There’s nothing to stop you… once you’re in the air.” He tries to simulate crashing into the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building, and is again successful. But when he tries the same experiment with Washington, DC, as the location, he finds that the White House and the Capitol building are blacked out. McBee concludes that a terrorist attack involving crashing a plane into a building “looks very viable.” Presumably taking McBee’s findings into account, Rescorla co-writes a report in which he states that the WTC is likely to remain a target for terrorists, and suggests that the next attack could involve terrorists crashing a cargo plane into the Twin Towers (see Shortly After February 26, 1993). [Stewart, 2002, pp. 193-194; Steve Humphries, 9/11/2005]

Entity Tags: World Trade Center, Rick Rescorla, Fred McBee

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Olympics officials later reveal, “A fully loaded, fueled airliner crashing into the opening ceremony before a worldwide television audience at the Sydney Olympics is one of the greatest security fears for the Games.” During the Olympics, Australia has six planes in the sky at all times ready to intercept any wayward aircraft. In fact, “IOC officials [say] the scenario of a plane crash during the opening ceremony was uppermost in their security planning at every Olympics since terrorists struck in Munich in 1972.” bin Laden is considered the number-one threat. [Sydney Morning Herald, 9/20/2001] These security measures are similar to those used in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and other events, including Clinton’s second inauguration. Similar planning is already underway before 9/11 for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Utah. [Wall Street Journal, 4/1/2004]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Staff members at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) are apparently briefed on the possibility of terrorists deliberately crashing a plane into the World Trade Center. According to author Lynn Spencer, when Trey Murphy—a former US Marine who is now a weapons controller at NEADS—first sees the television footage on September 11 showing that a plane has hit the WTC, the news will bring to mind one of his briefings: “What if a terrorist flies an airplane with a weapon of mass destruction into the World Trade Center? It had always been one of the military’s big fears.… [T]he image on the [television] screen certainly reminded him of his briefing.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 179] It is also later reported that, in the two years prior to 9/11, NORAD conducts exercises simulating terrorists crashing hijacked aircraft into targets that include the WTC (see Between September 1999 and September 10, 2001). [USA Today, 4/18/2004] Yet, in May 2002, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice will claim, “I don’t think anybody could have predicted that these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center… that they would try to use an airplane as a missile, a hijacked airplane as a missile” (see May 16, 2002). [White House, 5/16/2002] And in 2004, NORAD commander General Ralph Eberhart will say, “Regrettably, the tragic events of 9/11 were never anticipated or exercised.” [USA Today, 4/18/2004]

Entity Tags: Trey Murphy, World Trade Center, Northeast Air Defense Sector

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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