Presidential Panel Recommends Retaliation Against Air Terrorists
A commission investigating the 1988 bombing of Pan American Flight 103 over Scotland recommended military retaliation or preemptive strikes against air terrorists and was bitterly critical of U.S. airline security procedures.
The presidential commission presented its report on the in-flight bombing of Flight 103, in which 270 people died when the Boeing 747 crashed in the village of Lockerbie, to President Bush today, hours before its public release.
The report recommends U.S. military strikes against groups involved in attacks on passenger planes and further suggests covert action against terrorist strongholds where open military action is not feasible.
“Terrorism is a new kind of warfare and it’s a kind of warfare we’re going to have to be prepared to deal with,” said Sen. Alfonse D’Amato (R-N.Y.), a member of the investigating group, after the commission delivered its report to Bush.
“There are those (countries) who would use these shadowy groups, these militant groups, and hide behind them and finance them,” D’Amato told White House reporters.
He declined to comment specifically on the report’s findings, however.
The report, prepared by a commission headed by former Labor Secretary Ann McLaughlin, slams as “seriously flawed” the safety procedures of both Pan Am and the Federal Aviation Administration.
All 259 people aboard the Frankfurt-London-New York flight and 11 on the ground were killed when a bomb hidden in a radio-cassette recorder destroyed the plane over Scotland on Dec. 21, 1988.
Bush formed the commission in response to charges from the victims’ families of major security lapses by the airline and federal airline safety regulators.
The report was specifically critical of Pan Am for allowing unaccompanied baggage to be loaded on the flight.
The State Department was faulted for its alleged incompetence in arranging the return of remains and personal effects from Scotland, among other charges.
Asked whether he thought the airlines would accept the commission’s recommendations on tightened security procedures, D’Amato replied, “The airlines are always going to oppose certain things which make it more difficult and more onerous . . . but certainly there are certain things that can and should be done.”
At a hearing last month, officials from the FAA and Pan Am said the airline had not been hand-searching unaccompanied baggage put aboard aircraft in Frankfurt, where the doomed flight originated. The luggage was X-rayed only.
Pan Am said it had received permission from FAA security chief Raymond Salazar to skip the hand searches, a contention Salazar strongly denied.
Last week, Salazar was transferred to a different position within the agency, but the FAA insisted that the shift was not linked to the impending release of the report.
Salazar, an FAA official since 1972, was among those whose resignation was demanded by families of the victims.