Perhaps a fitting American way to acknowledge the looming 11th anniversay of the 9/11 attacks is US District Court Judge Alvin Hellersteins decision that the holding company for American and United Airlines, UAL, will go to trial over assertions that they were negligent in preventing the attack. World Trade Center Properties (WTCP), the group that had just signed a 99-year lease before the attack, is bringing the suit.
The WTCP paid $2.805 billion for the lease, and has, according to defendants, received $4.091 billion from insurance companies, but is claiming $8.4 billion in damages, the apparent cost of replacing the towers.
Readers of a certain age, of which I am one, will remember a time when aircraft hijackings were epidemic, nearly to the point of being commonplace. Hijackers would threaten to detonate an explosive device or other act and once in control of the airplane, would take it to a location outside the US, often Cuba, North Africa, or the Middle East. The event, terrifying though it was, would often end there. (Though we pay tribute here to Robert Stethem, a US Navy diver murdered by Hezbollah on TWA 847.)
The US government and the airlines had adopted an operational strategy that reflected the best known ways to successfully and safely terminate an aircraft hijacking, though on 9/11 the hijackers had changed the rules of the game. UAL is being punished for adhering to a practice that was successful for decades. If there was intelligence regarding a new and credible threat, who had that information and who was responsible for acting on it to protect the flying public?
If revisionist history turns out to be the WTCP strategy, they should have to answer for their lack of foresight in strengthening the buildings against any conceivable attack, including from the air, in light of the 1993 WTC bombing. A threat assessment would have instantly identified evacuation vulnerabilities and other concerns.
What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.
Sources: Bloomberg, NYT, Rueters