AIR FRANCE TERRORISM….So what’s the story behind the cancellation of those Air France flights due to terrorist concerns? According to the Telegraph, “American and French officials yesterday traded mutual recriminations” over the failure to catch any terrorists. The implication is that it was French officials who leaked word of the possible plot earlier this week, although I haven’t found any news reports that actually confirm this.
The BBC, meanwhile, says that American officials were upset not over the earlier leak, but over the fact that the flights were cancelled “so publicly.” That seems odd. You can hardly cancel six separate flights between Paris and Los Angeles on the same airline without explaining why.
According to an account in the French newspaper Le Monde, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell first alerted France’s foreign minister, Dominique de Villepin, of the perceived terrorist threat in a phone call on Dec. 21….
The Americans asked France to provide armed guards on several flights bound for the United States that were considered potential targets. Mr. De Villepin held an interministerial meeting Tuesday to discuss the American request, which was subsequently granted, Le Monde reported.
It said that on Wednesday, the American ambassador to France, Howard Leach, notified French authorities that the United States preferred simply canceling the flights in question. The first Air France flight was then canceled that day after a delay. The other flights were canceled later in the day.
The friction between French and American officials over this is disturbing. Crude French bashing aside, the French obviously have a huge personal stake in preventing terrorist attacks on their own airplanes, regardless of where the attacks take place, and their counterterrorism proficiency is every bit as sophisticated as ours. They wouldn’t be “chafing” over this simply because it turned out to be unfounded unless they had reason to think it was a poorly planned operation from the beginning.
On the other hand, crude Tom Ridge bashing aside, it’s also pretty obvious that American officials wouldn’t make a request like this unless they had good reason to think it was serious. So what’s going on?
The credibility of American intelligence has already taken a big hit from the Iraq war, and if it turns out the French are right this is going to be another blow. Obviously we’d all rather be safe than sorry, but being wrong too often presents its own problems. Stay tuned for more leaks about this.