U.S. and Israeli intelligence
agencies received warning signals at least three months
ago that Middle Eastern terrorists were planning to
hijack commercial aircraft to use as weapons to attack
important symbols of American and Israeli culture,
according to a story in Germany's daily Frankfurter
Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ).
The FAZ, quoting
unnamed German intelligence sources, said that the
Echelon spy network was being used to collect
information about the terrorist threats, and that U.K.
intelligence services apparently also had advance
warning. The FAZ, one of Germany's most respected
dailies, said that even as far back as six months ago
western and near-east press services were receiving
information that such attacks were being planned.
Within the American intelligence
community, the warnings were taken seriously and
surveillance intensified, the FAZ said. However, there
was disagreement on how such terrorist attacks could be
prevented, the newspaper said.
Echelon is said to be a vast
information collection system capable of monitoring all
the electronic communications in the world. It is
thought to be operated by the U.S., the U.K., Canada,
Australia and New Zealand. No government agency has ever
confirmed or denied its existence. However, an EU
committee that investigated Echelon for more than a year
just last week reported its belief that the system does
The EU committee said that Echelon
sucks up electronic transmissions "like a vacuum
cleaner," using keyword search techniques to sift
through enormous amounts of data.
The FAZ, in its news story,
described the system as covering the whole world with
120 satellites. The newspaper also said Israeli
intelligence had collected information indicated that
Arab terrorist groups planned to hijack planes in Europe
to use as weapons to attack targets in Tel Aviv and
other coastal cities in Israel.
Because of increasing concerns of
plane hijackings, Israel has tested a new x-ray machine
at the Tel Aviv airport, the FAZ said. The machine
capable of detecting all known explosive elements, even
if only in small quantities, the newspaper said.
The FAZ said that German
intelligence fears that in coming days planes will be
hijacked in Europe and the Near East, and that there is
no sure way to protect against it.