Television Journalists Charged With Checking Fake Bombs On Flights
Jan. 05, 1989
NEW YORK (AP) _ TWA employees' suspicions about a brown parcel led to the arrest of two French newsmen on charges of trying to smuggle fake bombs onto flights to test security. Dutch TV reported a similar attempt overseas succeeded.
In the incident at Kennedy International Airport on Wednesday, three packages containing bogus bombs were left for shipment at the cargo areas of three international airlines: TWA, Pan Am and Air France, police said.
The packages also contained a typed message that read in part: ''Congratulati ons 3/8 You have found our phony bomb 3/8 (made with molding clay, one alarm clock and wires),'' said Armando Arrastia, spokesman for the Port Authority, which operates the airport.
The message was written on the letterhead of the French TV station TF1 and signed by the station's New York bureau chief, Alain Chaillou, Arrastia said.
Chaillou and producer Bruce Frankel were arrested Wednesday night and charged with violating federal explosives law after TWA counter employees detected what appeared to be a bomb, said FBI agent Mary Frances Lilly.
The two men were testing the airlines' security, said Lt. Frank Tabert of Port Authority police.
They were being held at the Metropolitan Correctional Center and were to appear today before a U.S. magistrate.
In Amsterdam, the TV station Veronica reported Wednesday that it had smuggled a fake bomb onto a London-bound KLM flight to demonstrate that terrorists can pass security checks with relative ease.
Reporter Gert Berg was filmed by his station carrying a briefcase containing the imitation bomb through security checkpoints and onto the aircraft at Schiphol Airport, considered one of Western Europe's safest.
KLM spokesman Nico Harmsen today accused the station of ''immature ... marginal journalism.''
''They've shown themselves to be really stupid. Bombers don't have to be real terrorists, but this will always give some crazy people new ideas,'' he said. He refused to say whether security was tightened after the incident.
''This kind of reporting is not in the interest of aviation and will harm its security,'' said Dutch National Police spokesman Rick Hirs.
The incidents a week after investigators reported that a bomb blew up a Pan Am jet in Scotland, killing 270 people, drew mixed reactions from journalism scholars over the ethics of such news-gathering techniques.
Joan Konner, dean of Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism in New York, said it was a ''particularly worthy investigation to try to find out how well airport security works,'' but added: ''If that is how they want to test the system, they have to understand the (legal) risk they are taking.''
Melvin Mencher, a Columbia professor who has written about journalism ethics, called the episode ''nickel-and-dime'' reporting.
''For some guy to say he got a wad of paper through as a bomb sounds a little childish,'' he said. ''I don't know if the risk these guys took proved a thing. They've caused inconvenience.''
Bruce Haxthausen, an Air France spokesman, said that because of the incident the airline will now inspect every cargo shipment received rather than conduct random inspections.
TWA spokesman Robert Blattner said, ''We are very pleased our employees were able to use their techniques and just solve the case on the spot.''
At the Pan Am small cargo check-in, the package had been accepted and ''was on its way to the X-ray when the New York Port Authority police walked in and seized the package,'' said Alan Loflin, an airline spokesman.
Alouane Jeanterne, a TF1 documentary producer in New York, said he knew nothing about his colleagues' alleged actions before their arrest.
''If you're asking me my ethical judgment about it, I really don't know,'' he said. ''Every reporter has his own way of getting things, of getting sources, of getting to the news. I have not come to a private opinion yet.''
He said he did not know if Chaillou's superiors in Paris knew anything in advance about the bogus explosives.
In the message contained in each of the three packages, Chaillou said: ''We are TF1, the largest television network in France, and it is with due respect and great pleasure that we will tell our 18 million viewers who watch our daily newscast at 8, that we found your company to be keen and consistent with security matters.''
Frankel, 37, was arrested after TWA counter employees became suspicious of a 6-by-8-inch brown package Frankel wanted to check through to Paris, said Arrastia.
Inspecting the package, an employee found what appeared to be a bomb, he said. When the police arrived, Frankel cried, ''No, no it's a fake 3/8'' and ''took the bomb apart as the police officer and others watched,'' Arrastia said.
Frankel then told police he had delivered two similar packages to the small cargo areas of Pan Am and Air France, Arrastia said. Those packages were seized. After Frankel's arrest, Chaillou surrendered at Kennedy, authorities said.
On Friday, a reporter and cameraman from New York's WABC-TV were arrested and charged with trespassing for being in a restricted ramp area at Kennedy Airport. ''We had given them permission but they went beyond that,'' Port Authority spokesman Mark Marchese said. ''Security is kind of sensitive today.''