Payback Time? BWIA Pilots Humiliated by FBI
Posted: Saturday, December 27, 2003
As Bwee works with TT Embassy to get them home
By CHARLEEN THOMAS, Newsaday TT
NATIONAL airline BWIA was working closely yesterday with officials at the Trinidad and Tobago Embassy in Washington, USA, to have the names of two BWIA pilots struck off the "no fly list," to enable them to return to Trinidad. The two BWIA pilots Captain Anthony Wight and Rawle Joseph, a co-pilot, were detained in the USA, at Miami and New York respectively, after landing at international airports there earlier this week. They have numerous years of service with the airline. The reason given for their detention was because their names appeared on the "no fly list," which is a list of suspected persons with terrorist links. Communications Manager for BWIA, Clint Williams, told Newsday yesterday that the pilots were interviewed by FBI agents, "who appear to be comfortable with what they are saying."
He said the "necessary paperwork to take their names off the list is being done, and once that is completed they would be allowed to fly." He said the airline was working closely with the TT Embassy in Washington to have the matter efficiently dealt with. Williams stressed that Homeland Security required that the process be fully completed before the men are allowed to leave the USA. He however could not give a time line as to when the process would be completed, saying "this is all new ground for us." Williams also said that they were trying to ascertain how the pilots' name got on the list to enable them to prevent further recurrences. Sunday Newsday Editor, Horace Monsegue, was in New York yesterday when told by airline officials that the pilots were questioned for about 12 hours. The FBI they said, kept asking the pilots the same questions over and over. Eventually, it was felt that it was a case of "stolen identity." Speaking to Joseph over the phone in New York he told Newsday he has been employed with the airline since 1980, and was allowed to go through the "normal channel" of disembarking from the flight when the aircraft landed in New York on Tuesday. He was later escorted by four armed uniformed officers in the full glare of the public, for questioning. The source said he was not handcuffed, however the manner in which it was done, was enough to cause him "humiliation and embarrassment." Joseph also expressed concern over the harm which he said was already done to him and to the airline's operations. He has expressed the feeling of even giving up his US visa.
Joseph who lives in East Trinidad is the father of three, and was expected home on Christmas Day. Joseph told Newsday he and Wight were "extremely embarrassed and humiliated" over the incident, more so since they have not been told when they will be allowed to leave. Their passports and visas were initially taken from them, but they were later returned to them. The source further revealed that only his Fleet Manager and a junior person in the airline's legal department have contacted him. Newsday understands that Joseph was upset that no senior official from the airline had contacted him. When contacted yesterday at his hotel Joseph declined comment. He said he did not wish to speak to the media. However, a hotel official confirmed that Joseph was responsible for his meals at the hotel to which he has been confined in New York. The source said Wight has been employed with the airline since October, 1973. Both he and Joseph were crew members on the 737's. Efforts to contact the TT Embassy in Washington, and the Consulates in Miami and New York proved futile. They were all closed due to the Boxing Day public holiday and will reopen on Monday.
Over the Christmas holiday, Homeland Security in the US, had raised the security level to "high." The department claimed to have "credible" intelligence that al Qaeda links intended to use foreign aircraft to hit targets in the US. As a result, several flights have been cancelled, including Air France flights from Paris to Los Angeles. Information from the Internet said that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was authorised by law to maintain a watchlist of names and individuals suspected of posing "a risk of air piracy or terrorism, or a threat to airline or passenger safety." The TSA is said to have initially denied the existence of the list, but eventually acknowledged its existence in October, last year. The watchlist is said to have been created in 1990, and was administered by the FBI before the Federal Aviation Administration and the TSA assumed full administrative responsibility for the list in November last year. The source said there are two primary principles that guide placement on the list, but those principles have not been revealed. And there is also no information as to how a person can remove their name from the list, and there have been many complaints that the matter could generate a number of lawsuits.
Could this be payback time?
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