Attacks could have been thwarted

By Michael J. Sniffen The Associated Press

ALEXANDRIA, Va. – An aviation security officer testified yesterday that numerous measures could have been instituted to thwart suicide hijackers had officials known in August 2001 that Zacarias Moussaoui was an al-Qaida member plotting to fly jetliners into U.S. buildings.

Robert Cammaroto, who was in charge of issuing federal security directives to airlines in 2001, said the Federal Aviation Administration could have moved its just-under-three dozen armed federal air marshals from foreign to domestic flights, tightened security checkpoints and directed flight crews to resist rather than cooperate with hijackers. And he said most of these steps could have been ordered by FAA within a matter of hours and remained in effect indefinitely.

In 2001, “we believed airplane bombings would not involve suicide,” Cammaroto told a U.S. District Court jury which must decide whether Moussaoui is executed or imprisoned for life.

The 37-year-old Frenchman of Moroccan descent pleaded guilty last April to conspiring with al-Qaida to fly planes into U.S. buildings. The only person charged in this country in connection with the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, he says he had nothing to do with them but was training to pilot a 747 jetliner into the White House as part of a possible later attack.

Prosecutors showed a videotape of hijackers Nawaf and Salem al-Hazmi going through security at Washington’s Dulles Airport on Sept. 11, 2001, and being checked because a computer screening system raised an alert about them. But they were allowed to board American Airlines Flight 77, which they helped fly into the Pentagon. Cammaroto testified that security measures then in effect were designed to detect “the homesick Cuban” intending to hijack a plane to that Caribbean island.

If the FAA had known Moussaoui planned to hijack a plane with the short-bladed knife he had when arrested, Cammaroto said, the agency could have ordered facilities like Dulles to raise the sensitivity of metal detectors to pick up such knives and could have prohibited them from planes. They were not forbidden in 2001.