Monday, October 06, 2014

About that Atta at Logan Surveillance Story..

The Daily Mail has an update on a story that came out in 2011 to very little fanfare in the mainstream press at the time.  The Mail links to fellow Rupert outlet the New York Post, who has released the names of the witnesses claiming at trial they'd seen two Arabic men filming a security checkpoint at Boston Logan airport exactly four months before 9/11--and they claimed one of them was Mohammed Atta:
Stephen J. Wallace, a 17-year American Airlines technician, first alerted Logan authorities that two Middle Eastern men — one of whom he would ID as Atta from a photo array following the attacks — were acting suspiciously outside the main ­security checkpoint.
He remembers it vividly. It was the morning of May 11, 2001. One was videotaping and taking still photos of the flight board and the checkpoint from about 25 feet away, while the other was talking loudly in Arabic on a cellphone. The behavior went on for 45 minutes.
Very sensational--the Captain at Hot Air is interested, but there are some problems with the story.  Mainly the evidence.  Evidently Boston Logan Airport didn't have video surveillance of the airport waiting areas at the time of Atta's alleged snooping, so no hard evidence exists supporting their claim outside eyewitness recall.  Speculation was the other man was UAL 175 hijacker pilot al-Shehhi, who had been palling around with Atta during that same time period, but that's not confirmed either.

What about the Atta timeline? Could he have been at Logan on the 11th? Well, yes, according to this source:
9th - 10th May 2001: Unit #1, 1836 Lincoln Street

10th May 2001: AT&T cellphone account An exhibit at the Moussaoui trial mentions documents relating to Atta's AT&T cellphone account for number 305-632-2408. (Source)
13th May 2001 - 16th June 2001: 1818 Jackson St A Moussaoui trial exhibit mentions a $1110 receipt for Atta & al-Shehhi, covering the rental of the apartment 1818 Jackson St., #3A, Hollywood, FL. (Source)
21st May 2001: Renting a mailbox Atta signs up at Mail Boxes Etc, Hollywood, FL for a mailbox: Box 256, 3389 Sheridan St., Hollywood, FL 33021-3606. The service agreement specifies his address as 1818 Jackson St., Hollywood, FL 33020 (phone 954-815-3004). He then files a USPS (US Postal Service) form asking for mail to his 10001 W. Atlantic Blvd, Coral Springs address to be redirected to the mailbox. (Source)
The FBI claims to have tracked all his flights and never showed him or al-Shehhi taking a flight from Florida to Logan or back during this time period.  The Post story says the witnesses claim the two Arabs left on a flight to Dulles.  When I blogged on this in 2011 I speculated they could have driven from Florida to Boston and barely made it in time.  If they did fly it would have had to have been under aliases. 

But using aliases wasn't necessarily their MO.  There are occasions when they used them but not with their known flights.  If so, why?  One reason might be protecting their 9/11 identities in case they got hauled in. At the time it's unlikely they would have been in much trouble, but using their real names might link to the Hamburg Cell, etc, so maybe it wasn't worth the risk.

One thing is sure--their experience there, if it happened, did not dissuade them from returning.  According to the timeline Atta returned several times using his own name--but never with another Arab, until 9/11.  On June 28th he left Logan for San Francisco in first class on United 161--a Boeing 767--eventually ending up in Vegas on a connecting flight. The FBI considers it one of test-run flights that all four hijacker pilots took prior to the attack.  By the way, the infamous James Woods test flight seems to have occurred in early August and might have involved a few of the hijackers using aliases. 

If this event happened could it explain the befuddling detour Atta and Alomari took by driving to Portland, Maine on 9/10 only to fly back to Boston on a commuter plane on 9/11 to connect with American 11?   Maybe Atta wanted to avoid being seen with another Arab in the same area he'd already been seen--and challenged in--on May 11.  Maybe Alomari was the other Arab with him, not al-Shehhi.   Coming from a connecting flight would lead him to security from a different way before boarding Flight 11.

While there's no evidence anyone cased Newark or Dulles airports in a similar conspicuous fashion beforehand there is evidence that a rental car in the name of Atta was videotaped three times coming into and out of the Logan parking garage in the days before the attack.  That makes sense from a probing perspective.  They knew the car would be filmed so they wanted to see if Atta was flagged.  

Personally, the lack of video confirmation leaves the story less than a bombshell for me.  It could have occurred, but it seems somewhat unnecessary even if it did.  If this is about finding liability in a lawsuit they may have a case as there's no good reason for not having video in that terminal.  While it's hard to believe witnesses could unambiguously finger Atta from memory four months after the fact, it does happen.  Atta apparently carried a less than pleasant expression on his face most of the time. 

Another story involving Atta from the same Bevan lawsuit is also weird, but it may also not be true.  We just don't know enough.  And speaking of which, if the surveillance story doesn't explain Atta and Alomari's Portland detour on September 10, then it remains one of the biggest mysteries of the entire event. Were they meeting someone? Or was it just a final attempt to zig-zag? The FBI certainly wasn't taking any chances. The manager of the Comfort Inn in Portland underwent some unusual scrutiny:
The constant pressure was beginning to wear her down. Wale said it upset her that she needed to be tested for anthrax because she had been one of the first people to enter the terrorists' hotel room after the attacks.
It would be interesting to know when she was tested.   And then there's this

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