A Brief History of Suicide Hijackings Part IV

27th May 2012

In Part IV of this series we look at the alleged suicide crash of EgyptAir Flight 990, the attacks of 9/11, and the 2002 Tampa plane crash.  Of course, it is entirely possible that only one of these events actually involved a suicide hijacking. 

In October 1999 EgyptAir Flight 990, a Boeing 767, crashed into the Atlantic approximately 60 miles south of Nantucket island.  The plane was on its way from L.A. to Cairo, via New York and the crash killed all 203 passengers and 14 crew on board.  The exact cause of the crash remains disputed, and after lengthy investigations the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) of the United States concluded that the first officer Gameel Al-Batouti had deliberately crashed the plane.  The Egyptian Civil Aviation Authority (ECAA) blamed the crash on mechanical failure, and refuted claims of the pilot being responsible. 

The FBI were briefly called in to investigate the crash but they essentially came up with nothing.  Al-Batouti was not a terrorist, had left no suicide note, had no obvious reason to kill himself and had several reasons to live.  Indeed, the major part of the FBI's investigation appears to be have been concerned with allegations by staff at an L.A. hotel that he was a pervert. 

FBI Al Batouti exposing himself

FBI 302s from Flight 990 investigation

There were numerous stories like this, and of Al-Batouti trying to lure female guests and staff into his hotel room with money, chocolates and wine.  Indeed, even if Al-Batouti was a lewd and perverse man, and even if allegations that he feared being exposed were true, it still makes no sense for him to crash a plane and take over 200 other people with him.  The counterarguments by the Egyptian authorities rely on a unique set of circumstances creating an irrevocable problem with the plane.  Possible, but unlikely.  The crash of flight 990 will perhaps forever remain a mystery.

What is certain is that, whether by accident or by design, the crash in some ways pre-empted the terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001.  The notion that the first officer of the plane effectively hijacked and crashed the plane in a mass murder-suicide echoed the actions of Samuel Byck, David Burke and Frank Corder.  But, just as we saw in part III of this series, the mid-late 1990s saw a transition from American suicide hijackings to Muslim suicide hijackings.  That Al-Batouti was Egyptian, just like many of the alleged 9/11 hijackers, helped sell the official 9/11 story. 

However, it was not just the official 9/11 conspiracy theory that was predicted by fiction and real world events, but also many of the unofficial conspiracy theories.  In May 2000 the action comedy TV series Martial Law with Sammo Hung concluded its second and (sadly) final series with a two-part finale.  The scenario is that a secret international criminal organisation hijacks several commercial passenger planes by remote control and crashes them into major cities. 

Martial Law predicts 9/11

(click image to watch)

Somewhat better known, in March 2001 the first episode of X-Files spin-off The Lone Gunmen was broadcast.  The plot features a rogue network within the US government who plan to hijack a plane by remote control and crash it into the World Trade Center.  The conspiracy intend to exploit the attack to attack Middle Eastern countries and give a huge boost to the arms trade. 

The Lone Gunmen predicts 9/11

(click image to watch)

This is something ignored by most of the commentators discussing predictive programming - that just as it can be used to normalise and gain acceptance for future policies, or sow the seeds of official conspiracy theories about events that are planned but have yet to happen, they can also be used to send us down blind alleys, to sow the seeds of unofficial conspiracy theories that are actually misleading. 

For example, what if the purpose of 9/11 was not just about launching wars as a boost to the arms trade, but something more fundamental?  What if it were a hinging event designed to mark the beginning of a new era, just like the Reichstag Fire was not simply about demonising German Communists, but about the destruction of an existing idol, the destruction of a symbol of authority precisely so that a supposedly new authority could rise from the ashes?  The rather capitalistic conspiracy theory about it boosting the arms trade might simply be one of the many ways to encourage existing power players to keep their mouths shut and their eyes elsewhere. 

Of course, it was not just TV shows, books, films and real life events that predicted 9/11, it was also the very 'defense' and 'security' infrastructure who supposedly failed to stop the attacks.  One report titled The Sociology and Psychology of Terrorism produced by the Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress said:

Suicide bomber(s) belonging to al-Qaidas Martyrdom Battalion could crash-land an aircraft packed with high explosives (C-4 and semtex) into the Pentagon, the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), or the White House. Ramzi Yousef had planned to do this against the CIA headquarters.
- The Sociology and Psychology of Terrorism

That was in September 1999.  What it shows is not just the eminent predictability of the 9/11 attacks (and the official culprits) but also how Peter Lance's contentions in 1000 Years for Revenge, Cover-Up and Triple Cross are simply wrong.  Lance claims that there was a second wave in the Bojinka plot, as discussed in Part III, that involved multiple suicide hijackings targeted at US buildings.  He claims that the FBI and CIA were so incompetent that they never figured this out or did anything about it. 

As with all such 'intelligence failures', the notion of the unpredictability of 9/11 should be viewed with extreme scepticism.  The 1999 report shows that this idea was being explored by at least some people in the US intelligence community.  What we now know is that the idea was not just being explored, but actively wargamed for at least two years before 9/11. 

A fuller account of these wargames, training drills, exercises and simulations can be found here, but the key document is a timeline of NORAD (North American Air Defence) exercises in the two years prior to the attacks.  Further documents can be found in the document archive, here.  A somewhat lesser known but equally telling document is a DOJ memo from March 2000 on the legal ramifications of suicide hijackings and US Air Force shoot-downs. 

General Ralph E Eberhart told the 9/11 Commission that "the threat of terrorists hijacking commercial airlines within the United States--and using them as guided missiles--was not recognised by NORAD before 9/11".  NORAD's argument was that the specific 9/11 scenario contained four distinct aspects (a) a hijacking of (b) a commercial airliner that was (c) originating with the US and (d) would be suicidally used as a guided missile against a building. 

For example, NORAD might say that the 1994 GIA hijacking aimed at the Eiffel Tower was from a plane originating overseas, hence giving more time for the defending country to decide what to do, and hence not a suitable parallel for 9/11.  Whatever the truth of this, it overlooks the actions of Samuel Byck, the suicide hijacking element of the Bojinka plot, the Terror 2000 report scenario and indeed several hijacking exercises that NORAD actually held prior to the 9/11 attacks.

These exercises were not all included in the timeline prepared by NORAD for the 9/11 Commission, but they were referred to in testimony by Richard Myers before the US Senate.

Senator Dayton. Did NORAD conduct exercises or develop scenarios, prior to September 11, 2001, to test a military reaction to an aircraft hijacking which appeared destined to result in a suicide crash into a high-value target? If so, identify the five exercises conducted on, or immediately prior to September 11, 2001; include dates, participants, scenario, and synopsis of exercise results.

General Myers. Prior to September 11, 2001, NORAD exercises were not designed to exercise or develop procedures to shoot down civilian airliners. Pre-September 11 exercises were designed to practice command and control procedures, rules of engagement, external agency coordination and hijack shadow and/or escort procedures. The following five exercise hijack events included a suicide crash into a high-value target. Synopses of exercise results are not available. They were discarded in accordance with DOD directives.

Exercise Name: Vigilant Guardian 01-1

Exercise Date: 23 Oct 00

Participants: HQ NORAD/Continental U.S. NORAD Region (CONR)/Sectors

Scenario: Weapons of Mass Destruction directed at the United Nations--an individual steals a Federal Express aircraft and plans a suicide attack on the United Nations Building in New York City.

Synopsis of actions: Conducted an interception, exercised command and control and coordinated with external agencies.

Exercise Name: Vigilant Guardian 01-1

Exercise Date: 16 Oct 00

Participants: HQ NORAD/Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center/CONR/ Canadian NORAD Region/Sectors

Scenario: Due to recent arrests involving illegal drug trafficking in Maine, an individual steals a Federal Express plane and plans a suicide attack into the United Nations Building in New York City.

Synopsis of actions: Exercised command and control, coordinated with external agencies and followed hijack checklists.

Exercise Name: Falcon Indian 99-3

Exercise Dates: 5 Jun 00 Participants: CONR/Sectors

Scenario: Learjet hijacked maintaining tight formation with Canadair airliner, loaded with explosives. Learjet planned to crash into the White House.

Synopsis of actions: Exercised command and control, coordinated with external agencies and followed hijack checklists.

Exercise Name: Falcon Indian 00-1

Exercise Dates: 5 Jun 00 Participants: CONR/Sectors

Scenario: Communist party faction hijacks aircraft bound from western to eastern United States. High explosives on board. Intends to crash into the Statue of Liberty.

Synopsis of actions: Cross-sector hand over. Exercised command and control, coordinated with external agencies and followed hijack checklists. Federal Aviation Administration requested assistance.

Exercise Name: Falcon Indian 00-1

Exercise Date: 6 Nov 99 Participants: CONR/Sectors

Scenario: China Air from Los Angeles to JFK airport hijacked east of Colorado Springs by five terrorists. If not intercepted, intends to crash into United Nations building.

Synopsis of actions: Cross-sector hand over. Exercised command and control, coordinated with external agencies and followed hijack checklists.

- Senate Hearing 108-875

These additional exercises were not discussed as part of the 9/11 Commission's investigations, but once again show just how predictable (and therefore preventable, at least in theory) the 9/11 attacks were. 

Indeed, given the long history of Americans attempting or carrying out suicide hijackings, it could be said to be a largely American phenomenon, typically caused by depressed ex-military types.  As such, when looking back on 9/11 from the vantage point of hindsight and knowledge, we might well ask if the most likely culprit is not Al Qaeda, but depressed ex-military types.

One young man who bucked this trend was Charles J Bishop, though he too was an American suicide hijacker.  On January 5th 2002, only months after 9/11, Bishop flew a stolen Cessna 172 into the side of the Bank of America building in downtown Tampa, Florida, killing himself.  He was only 15 years old. 

Some of the FBI's files on their investigation of the crash were released to me under a FOIA request, and they detailed interviews that outline much of Bishop's past.  He was apparently the child of an unstable home, and had moved from school to school on a frequent basis throughout his youth.  He was a smart student who got good grades, and who clearly had an imagination and critical thinking skills that belied his years. 

He left a sucide note apparently explaining his motives, though it claimed that he had met with Al Qaeda several times and that Bin Laden was planning to blow up the Superbowl with an antiquated nuclear bomb.  This was apparently a young man suffering from serious delusions, no doubt inspired to some extent by the televisual nature of the 9/11 attacks.

Indeed, perhaps the most chilling detail in the Charles Bishop FBI file is a 302 of an interview with one of his teachers, who taught an advanced class to gifted students. She recalled how Bishop was 'intrigued by reading Tom Clancey(sic) novels' and that she had mentioned to him that she also enjoyed them.

FBI Charles Bishop Tom Clancy novels

Of course, Tom Clancy novels in the years before Bishop's crash included Debt of Honor, which involved a suicide hijacking aimed at the Capitol building.  We have to wonder if Bishop was not just a copycat with regards to 9/11, but a copycat of the suicidal hijacking scenarios he saw playing out on TV, in films and in books. 

To help those interested in learning more about the Bishop case, the effects of predictive programming and the extent of the FBI's investigation into the 2002 Tampa crash, I have put together a dossier of the most significant documents from the FBI files.

Charles J Bishop dossier

Charles J Bishop Dossier

The dossier includes 302s of interviews with many people who knew Bishop, including friends that he told to 'watch the news' before he stole and crashed the plane.  It includes an affidavit filed in support of a search warrant on Bishop's computer and hard drives, a copy of Bishop's suicide letter, as well as writing assignments that he did as part of his school work.  You can download the dossier via the link underneath the picture above, or directly via this link (PDF, 1.87MB).

To finish, there is one other particularly worrying document included in the FBI files on Charles Bishop.  A statement from his family, which reads, 'The family of Charles Bishop is appalled and devastated over the incident of Saturday, January 5.  We had absolutely no prior indication that this might occur.  We are exceedingly grateful that no one else was injured. Charles and his family have always supported our United States war on terrorism and Osama Bin Laden.  We do not understand why or how this happened.  We will always remember Charles as a loving and giving person, a hardworking and responsible honor roll student, and a boy who cared deeply about his country.  We hope that something positive can come out of our tragic loss.'

Sadly, over 10 years on, it appears very little that is positive came out of the Bishop family's tragic loss.  In large part that is due to the climate of fear and mutual suspicion that was instituted in the aftermath of 9/11, which had even the distraught family of a troubled young man feeling they had to publicly praise the 'war on terrorism and Osama Bin Laden' in the days following Charles Bishop's suicide. 

Related Articles

A Brief History of Suicide Hijackings Part I

A Brief History of Suicide Hijackings Part II

A Brief History of Suicide Hijackings Part III