August 03, 2004

Alert Agnst

I have been mulling whether I should tell this story ever since the Syrian band incident, but the left's carping over the terror alerts is so appallingly ignorant that a personal experience might be illustrative and mildly amusing.

Americans who question the terror alerts should have been in Europe in the 80’s. I worked for an Italian auto firm and commuted to London, Brugge and Frankfurt often.

Italy was an armed camp, literally, with Polizia everywhere in their ninja suits and armed personnel carriers on city street corners. No one in management of any nationality could move about without armed bodyguards and armored cars as kidnapping for profit and/or political gain were rampant. Our walled apartment complex had a 50 cal. machine gun stationed over the courtyard gate and bomb sniffing dogs went over the cars before each exit and entry. An armed unit patrolled the grounds 24x7. The restaurants and shops we patronized were private or by appointment only. You get used it in a weird way…it becomes part of the background routine of your life.

Every fortnight our team flew the early morning BA commuter flight from Malpensa to Gatwick to attend management meetings in London. Security was extreme, no cargo or luggage was boarded, one briefcase or handbag per passenger, we were wand searched, and patted down, everything was opened and X-rayed, and passengers kept apart in small groups, guarded by Polizia and dogs, then bussed to the aircraft which were staged away from the terminal. The two early morning flights were open seating business class and everyone was formally dressed in business attire. In 1985 after the Palestinian massacre in Rome and Vienna, Arabic men were suspect and received extra scrutiny, by everyone.

One morning five Arabic men were on the flight, two older and three thirty-something. They were expensively and smartly dressed, and appeared to be urbane businessmen. They were seated in the center of the aircraft next to the exit door on either side of the aisle in the same row. As we boarded everyone kept their distance, polite but guarded. Two armed militia sat in jump seats facing the passengers. The loos were locked and off limits for the 45 minute flight.

Once we were airborne and the seat belt lights were turned off, people relaxed, lit smokes and the noise level rose in the cabin. Suddenly one of the young Arabic men seated on the aisle stood up very quickly, turned and reached into the overhead storage bin. He pulled a briefcase towards him and snapped both latches. The cabin went completely silent for a second or two, all eyes on his hands and the case, a loud reflexive gasp rose and fear was palpable. Those seated nearby froze as the two Polizia stood, Uzis drawn. The poor man realized that he was the center of attention; turned bright red and slowly held up a pack of Marlboros with a shrug and big nervous grin.

The whole plane exhaled loudly and laughed raucously, but the five men moved a little as possible for the remainder of the flight and avoided eye contact as we disembarked.

I will never forget the wave of fear as the latches snapped, nor will I ever complain about security.

Posted by feste at August 3, 2004 07:56 PM | TrackBack
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