Did Logan Airport miss a chance at Atta?

It may be the most infamous mug shot in American history.  Did security at Logan Airport miss a chance five months before the 9/11 attacks to have it at every airport checkpoint in the US?  According to depositions taken in a lawsuit against the Boston airport and the state troopers that provided security, Atta had been spotted in May 2001 videotaping and photographing security procedures in the airport — and the troopers never stopped him:

Months before the horrific 9/11 attacks, lackadaisical state troopers specially assigned to protect Logan International Airport failed to act on tips that Middle Eastern men were casing security checkpoints armed with cameras, explosive new court documents allege.

One of the suspected terrorists whom troopers could have cornered was later identified as al- Qaeda 9/11 leader Mohammed Atta, according to lawyers for a Boston woman who is suing over the loss of her son. The lawyers took depositions from an airline employee and other witnesses.

Troopers were told the Middle Eastern men were “acting suspiciously” and videotaping airport security in May 2001, according to the filing in a New York court.

“When Mohammad Atta went through the security checkpoint after being reported to F Troop that he was photographing, videotaping and surveilling the checkpoints, Massport F Troop did nothing,” the documents state.

Massport offered a weak and ambiguous defense yesterday, stating that there is “no evidence” that Massport “breached any duty owed by the airport” to the plaintiff.  That’s hardly the same thing as saying, “We followed up vigorously on every lead.”  The Boston Herald quotes a retired FAA investigator that accuses the Massport F Troop of conduct “bordering on criminal negligence” for failing to react to the information apparently provided them by multiple sources.

Jammie Wearing Fool offers a better — and more plausible — defense:

Let’s think back a few months before September 11, 2001. What do you suppose would have been the reaction had Massachusetts State Police and/or the FBI had posted photos of suspicious-looking Muslim men at airports nationwide?

Why, the ACLU and the other usual suspects would have screamed about racial profiling.

Snark aside, I’m not sure that’s true.  Before 9/11, few were complaining about racial profiling as relating to Muslims and airport security; the issue of racial profiling was mainly confined to local police and African-American men who have long complained about being detained for “driving while black.”  The concern over profiling of Muslims erupted after the 9/11 attacks and continues to this day to such an extent that we’re stripping adult diapers off of 95-year-old women and groping toddlers to avoid the very appearance of profiling. In May 2001, I don’t think the Massport F Troop has that excuse, if these reports are true.

In a world of coulda-shoulda-woulda, this one takes the cake.  Stopping Atta might not have stopped the entire 9/11 plot from going forward, but (again, if the testimony is accurate) it was an opportunity missed that could have saved 3,000 lives.  This is also information that the 9/11 Commission missed in its report, which once again points out the incomplete nature of the panel’s work.  How much more information might we learn from these private legal actions?