Was Jet Scare Excessive?

The nervous joke of a diplomat caught with tobacco on a plane highlights how quickly a misunderstanding can spiral out of control in this age of hyper security.

In an article on the New York Times website, Scott Shane questions whether the reaction to Mohammed al-Madadi’s smoke break aboard a flight to Denver was a sign of an effective security system, or a case of “unnecessarily alarming the entire country, inconveniencing passengers and squandering the taxpayers’ money.”

Mr. Madadi is a third secretary at Qatar’s embassy in Washington. A flight attendant confronted him as he left the lavatory, claiming there was a smell of smoke. Mr. Madadi said he hadn’t been smoking but admitted to having a pipe. He then had the misfortune of joking about trying to set his shoes on fire, which soon resulted in a conference call of top Transportation Security officials and an alert to the pilots of the thousands of flights in the air at the time.

Airport authorities, an F.B.I. team, and even Norad sprung into action. The press, too, contributed to the hysteria until about 8:30 Denver time, when news media reports were instead calling the incident a false alarm after no explosives were found.

Authorities feared a repeat of the attempted bombing of a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day, 2009, in which a Nigerian passenger was accused of trying to assemble explosives hidden in his underwear during a trip to the bathroom. Kep Hawley, who was administrator of the Transportation Security Administration under the Bush administration from 2005 to 2009, said there are very good reasons to be on high alert for terrorism.

To read the New York Times article, click here: