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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Blinded By The Light

Blinded By The Light

Main Categories | Terrorism | The News Today | US Domestic Issues
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Posted by Guest on April 25, 2005 - 1:17pm

"This is Rumor Control" received a great write-up by one of our loyal readers, and it struck us as so interesting that we decided to post it. It's quite a good piece of investigative reporting, complete with links to sites that support its contentions. Great work, and thanks out there for the submission.

In late December of last year, I came across an article I thought interesting: "Lasers illuminate airline cockpits on approach." The report was that six commercial airliners within four days had laser beams shone in their cockpits, temporarily blinding the pilots. The article worried me. One month earlier an "intelligence bulletin" had been sent "to police agencies to alert them that terrorist groups have shown an interest in using laser beams to try to bring down airliners." The first incident took place on September 22, when a laser light was shined into a pilots eyes as he circled his commercial aircraft over Salt Lake City. This is no laughing matter: terrorists could use lasers to blind pilots flying passenger jets at 5,000 feet and below.

On December 31, I saw another report: "Man quizzed about laser incidents" and three days later, on January 3 -- after a number of internet rumors -- an official denied rumors that the U.S. government was testing lasers to see if they could blind pilots in commercial aircraft. Even so, on January 4, the U.S. government freed a man they said was suspected of shining lasers into passenger jet aircraft. According to the story, David Banach of Parsippany, NJ, bought a green laser for his seven-year-old daughter from BigHa.com whose website states that they not only sell to civilians but "also sell to law enforcement, military personnel." Charges were brought against Banach for shining the laser into the cockpit of a commercial airliner on December 29, and again into a police helicopter on December 31. BigHa.com maintains that the lasers are used mainly to point at stars and constellations, as Banach and his daughter claimed to be doing. Banach was released on $100,000 bail.

It was at this point that I became curious -- how could someone buy a laser and point it in the cockpit of an airplane? Could a laser really blind a pilot? Did David Banach really shine a laser into the cockpit of an airplane from his backyard? A laser expert told me that this was impossible: in order for a laser beam to shine through cockpit glass the person shining the laser would have to be on the same level as the plane. Another expert told me this was wrong, and that terrorists were perfectly capable of bringing down passenger jets at 5000 feet and below. I had a different theory: all of these incidents (in Cleveland, New Jersey, and Salt Lake City), were the result of a government test. The government denied it, but weakly: An anonymous government official proposed two possibilities for the laser incidents. He said that it was a bunch of kids "who got a laser light at Christmas" (oh, yeah, that sounds right), or that it was a group of terrorists in a "deliberate attempt to target aircraft" (holy cow, what're-we-gonna-do?).

Nine days after David Banach's release, there was another laser incident. This time the pilot "was able to determine that the laser was coming from a building on airport grounds." Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta announced that, as of January 19 "all pilots would be required to immediately report any laser sightings to air traffic controllers." This was the last incident reported for a period of one month. Between September of 2004 and mid-January of 2005 rumors circulated that lasers had burned a pilot's retina, that an aircraft had nearly crashed after a laser was shined into its cockpit, and a civilian had been arrested for spotting constellations with his daughter in a New Jersey backyard. What was going on? Were a bunch of crazed laser-toting al-Qaeda terrorists loose in America's backyards? Or was the government running a secret program and just not telling us?

On February 11 of this year an article detailed the development of a new system designed to interdict unauthorized passenger or commercial planes that had penetrated the airspace over the nation's capitol. The system? You guessed it: laser beams. "It's an attention-getter, but it's not blinding," a NORAD official said."It's not a distraction. So pilots can still focus on flying the aircraft without endangering anyone or themselves." And finally, on April 22 -- just days ago -- CNN "Technology" section ran a story headlined: "Lasers to warn pilots in restricted D.C. airspace." So here it is: the U.S. government was testing laser beams all along, despite their denials. The testing caused a minor panic that convinced pundits and air travelers that turbin clad idiots were trying to bring down our aircraft. An intelligence bulletin was even released to local police departments about the threat. Need more proof?

The article announcing Mineta's request to pilots that they begin reporting incidents of lasers being shone into their cockpits was posted on January 12, the same day that technical testing of the laser warning system was completed. That is to say: the U.S. government allowed the public to believe that terrorists were testing laser beams to bring down aircraft when, in fact, the government was testing lasers to bring down aircraft. Did Mineta know and lie? Did anyone at the FBI consult with NORAD to determine whether there was any testing? Did anyone think it might be a bad idea to panic the public? What about airline pilots? Should they have been informed? And was there any danger in the testing? Why didn't the media put two and two together? If I could do it, why couldn't they do it?

Going back to the articles posted months ago on CNN, I now notice things I did not see before. For instance, David Banach was reported as being 15 miles away from the aircraft when shining his laser beam. CNN reports of the beams now used to defend our capitol city, "The laser beams can be seen 15 to 20 miles away, authorities said, except in cloudy conditions." In the December 31 article, CNN reported, "A report for the FAA in June 2004 examined the effect of laser beams on pilots. Of 34 pilots who were exposed to lasers during simulated flights, 67 percent experienced adverse visual effects at even the lowest level of laser exposure. Two high exposure levels resulted in significantly greater performance difficulties and nine aborted landings."

So, let's see if I have this right: the U.S. government has been using us as guinea pigs to test to see whether their stupid laser can blind pilots? What were they thinking?

As for David Banach (now described in news reports as a "fiber-optic cable tester") and his daughter, well, CNN and other news networks remain mum. Was he a part of the testing program? Or was he simply caught up in another wild idea of government-obsessed gadget testers wandering around the country scaring the living hell out of us.


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Lasers warn pilots of restricted airspace

Criminal Complaint -- Charges Alleging Lasers Aimed at Aircraft
U.S. v. David Banach Page 1 of 4
Federal criminal charges against a New Jersey man accused of shining lasers at a jet and a helicopter, after allegedly lying to federal investigators that it "was his daughter" who had shined the laser beam.

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