The State Department will make sure any airline travel warning issued to government employees because of terrorist threats will also go to the general public, a department official told Congress.
L. Paul Bremer, ambassador-at-large for counterterrorism, told the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday the American embassy in Moscow violated policy in posting a warning about Pan American flights from Frankfurt to the United States.The warning, which was not made public, came eight days before 270 people died in Scotland when a bomb exploded aboard Pan Am Flight 103, which was headed for New York from Frankfurt after a plane change in London.
"It is not our policy to alert government officials and not the general public to such a threat," Bremer said at the second congressional hearing of the day on efforts to combat air terrorism after the Dec. 21 downing of the Boeing 747.
"There is, and can be, no double standard," he said.
On Dec. 13, a notice was posted on the bulletin board of the Moscow embassy disclosing the threat and advising embassy personnel they could decide "on altering personal travel plans or changing to another American carrier."
Bremer said the threat, which came in a call to the embassy in Helsinki and was relayed to embassies and the airline by the Federal Aviation Administration, was later determined to be a hoax and only a "gruesome coincidence" in light of the still unsolved bombing of Flight 103.
The official said it is not State Department policy "to selectively alert people to terrorist threats."
"If we have a credible and specific terrorist threat to an airline which cannot be countered effectively on the spot, then our policy is to recommend that the airline cancel the flight," he said.
He said if that is mpossible, "we would issue a public travel advisory to the American traveling public."
Asked why the embassy posted the Dec. 13 notice, Bremer said, "It should not have been posted." He said embassy officials later said they found the policy on warnings "not as clear as we thought it was."