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Context of '(6:50 a.m.-7:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001: 9/11 Hijacker Atta Observed at Boston’s Logan Airport Running Late for Plane?'

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Virginia BuckinghamVirginia Buckingham [Source: Publicity photo]Data compiled by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) shows that over this period Boston’s Logan Airport has one of the worst records for security among major US airports. Flight 11 and Flight 175 depart from Logan on 9/11. While it is only America’s eighteenth busiest airport, it has the fifth highest number of security violations. FAA agents testing its passenger screening are able to get 234 guns and inert hand grenades and bombs past its checkpoint guards or through its X-ray machines. Though it is possible that the high number of violations is because the FAA tests more frequently at Logan than elsewhere, an official later quoted by the Boston Globe says lax security is the only explanation, as all checkpoints at every major airport are meant to be tested monthly. In contrast, Newark Airport, from where Flight 93 departs on 9/11, has an above average security record. Washington’s Dulles Airport, from where Flight 77 takes off, is below average, though not as bad as Logan. Officials familiar with security at Logan will, after 9/11, point to various flaws. For example, the State Police office has no video surveillance of the airport’s security checkpoints, boarding gates, ramp areas, or perimeter entrances. (Brelis and Carroll 9/26/2001) Security cameras had been put into use at most US airports in the mid-1980s. When Virginia Buckingham takes over as executive director of Massachusetts Port Authority in 1999, she is surprised at the lack of cameras at Logan, and orders them that year. Yet by 9/11, they still will not have been installed. (Hanchett and Washington 9/29/2001; Belkin 9/30/2001) In spite of Logan’s poor security record, after 9/11 the Boston Globe will report, “[A]viation specialists have said it is unlikely that more rigorous attention to existing rules would have thwarted the 10 hijackers who boarded two jets at Logan on Sept. 11.” (Carroll 10/17/2001)

Chris Lyons, a newspaper delivery driver, sees four or five Middle Eastern men near the entrance of Portland airport, from where alleged hijackers Mohamed Atta and Abdulaziz Alomari will later take a plane to Boston (see (6:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The men are speaking Arabic among themselves and hauling about ten suitcases into the airport. Lyons later says they “stuck out because usually no one is around at that hour.” After 9/11, local police will say they don’t think the men are connected to the attacks. However, Lyons is concerned that they might have been “support people,” because, he says, “It’s just too much of a coincidence that this group of businessmen was leaving Portland the morning of the terrorist attacks.” (Portland Press Herald 9/22/2001; Walsh 10/21/2001)

Abdulaziz Alomari (a passport stamp overlaps part of his face).Abdulaziz Alomari (a passport stamp overlaps part of his face). [Source: FBI]Having spent the previous night at the Comfort Inn in Portland, Maine (see September 10, 2001), hijackers Mohamed Atta and Abdulaziz Alomari check out at 5:33 a.m. and drive their rented Nissan to the nearby Portland International Jetport Airport, entering its parking lot at 5:40 a.m. The FBI will later seize their car there. (Vulliamy et al. 9/16/2001; Portland Press Herald 10/5/2001; Federal Bureau of Investigation 10/5/2001; Dorman 4/17/2006) Their flight is due to take off for Boston at 6:00 a.m. (see (6:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The Boston Globe points out, “Any significant delay would foil [Atta’s] big plans for the day.” (Zuckoff 9/16/2001) The 9/11 Commission later concludes: “The Portland detour almost prevented Atta and Omari from making Flight 11 out of Boston.” (9/11 Commission 6/16/2004)

9/11 hijackers Mohamed Atta and Abdulaziz Alomari’s flight from Portland to Boston takes off. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 10/4/2001) Their plane, Colgan Air Flight 5930, is a 19-seat Beechcraft 1900. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 2001; 9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 3) Fellow passengers Vincent Meisner and Roger Quirion will later say Atta and Alomari board separately, keep quiet, and do not draw attention to themselves. (Chicago Sun-Times 9/16/2001; Gugliotta 9/16/2001) Quirion, says: “They struck me as business travelers. They were sitting down, talking, seems like they were going over some paperwork.” (CBS News 10/12/2001)

All the alleged 9/11 hijackers reportedly check in at the airports from where they board Flights 11, 175, 77, and 93. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 1-4; 9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 27, 89, 93) Since 1998, the FAA has required air carriers to implement a program called the Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System (CAPPS). This identifies those passengers who might be a security risk, based upon suspicious behavior such as buying one-way tickets or paying with cash. CAPPS also randomly assigns some passengers to receive additional security scrutiny. If a particular passenger has been designated as a “selectee,” this information is transmitted to the airport’s check-in counter, where a code is printed on their boarding pass. At the airport’s security checkpoints, selectees are subjected to additional security measures. (Satchell 4/1/2002; 9/11 Commission 1/27/2004; US Congress 3/17/2004; 9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 2, 85) Their baggage is to be screened for explosives or held off the plane until they have boarded. Supposedly, the thinking behind this is that someone smuggling a bomb onto a plane won’t get onto that same flight. According to the 9/11 Commission, nine of the 19 hijackers are flagged by the CAPPS system before boarding Flights 11, 175, 77, and 93. (Goo and Eggen 1/28/2004; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 84; United States of America v. Zacarias Moussaoui, a/k/a Shaqil, a/k/a Abu Khalid al Sahrawi, Defendant 3/6/2006) In addition, Mohamed Atta was selected when he checked in at the airport in Portland, for his earlier connecting flight to Boston (see 5:33 a.m.-5:40 a.m. September 11, 2001). All of the hijackers subsequently pass through security checkpoints before boarding their flights. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 1-4)

During this period, all five Flight 11 hijackers check in at Boston’s Logan Airport and board their plane, bound for Los Angeles. The FAA has a program in place called the Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System (CAPPS), which is designed to identify those passengers most likely requiring additional scrutiny by airport security (see (6:20 a.m.-7:48 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Ticket records will show that CAPPS selects three of the Flight 11 hijackers at Logan: Since Waleed Alshehri checks no bags his selection has no consequences; Wail Alshehri and Satam Al Suqami have their bags scanned for explosives, but are not stopped. All five hijackers would need to pass through a security checkpoint to reach the departure gate for their flight. Each would have been screened as they walked through a metal detector calibrated to detect items with at least the metal content of a small-caliber handgun. If they’d set this off, they would have been screened with a handheld metal detector. An X-ray machine would have screened their carry-on luggage. However, Logan Airport has no video surveillance of its security checkpoints (see 1991-2000), so there is no documentary evidence of exactly when they pass through them, or if alarms are triggered. According to the 9/11 Commission, none of the checkpoint supervisors later recall seeing any of the Flights 11 hijackers, or report anything suspicious having occurred. (9/11 Commission 1/27/2004; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 1-2; 9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 5-6) However, a WorldNetDaily article will claim that some Logan staff members recall seeing Mohamed Atta (see (6:50 a.m.-7:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Sperry 9/21/2001) The Boston Globe will later comment, “aviation specialists have said it is unlikely that more rigorous attention to existing rules would have thwarted the 10 hijackers who boarded two jets at Logan on Sept. 11. At the time, the knives and box-cutters they were carrying were permitted.” (Carroll 10/17/2001)

According to an article on the conservative news website WorldNetDaily, alleged lead 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta almost misses Flight 11 and has to rush to the departure gate at Boston’s Logan Airport. The article is based on the account of an unnamed American Airlines employee at Logan, and claims Atta is running late because his connecting flight from Portland was delayed (see (6:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). However, the 9/11 Commission claims that this plane was “on time,” and says Atta is observed at Logan with Abdulaziz Alomari, asking for directions in a parking lot (see 6:45 a.m. September 11, 2001). The employee says that at the baggage check-in, when asked security questions, Atta claims he does not speak English. A supervisor is called for, who just sends him towards the departure gate, as it is close to his plane’s take-off time. Atta rushes through the security checkpoint, then down to the gate, where he shows up perspiring. The employee comments, “The nitwit. You know, they’d been planning it for five years, and he’s running late for the flight.” An American Airlines spokeswoman will refuse to comment on this account, saying all American employees have been ordered not to speak to the press. (Sperry 9/21/2001; 9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 3, 5)

An unnamed gate agent at Logan Airport in Boston calls Donald Bennett, the crew chief for Flight 11, and asks him if the two suitcases of a passenger who has just boarded the plane have arrived from US Airways. Bennett replies that the suitcases, which belong to lead 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta, have arrived, but Flight 11’s baggage compartment has already been locked for departure, so they will not be loaded. Atta flew from Portland to Boston on a Colgan Air flight operated for US Airways (see (6:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). American Airlines baggage expediter Philip Depasquale will later claim that bags from US Airways are always late, and so this problem is a common occurrence. The luggage is turned over to Depasquale to have it sent to Los Angeles on another flight. According to Salvatore Misuraca, a ramp service manager for American Airlines at Logan Airport, gate agents do not usually call about a bag unless the passenger that owns it has specifically asked about it, to ensure that their bags have been put on their flight. Atta’s luggage will remain at Logan Airport and be found after the attacks, revealing important clues (see September 11-13, 2001). (Federal Bureau of Investigation 9/11/2001; Federal Bureau of Investigation 9/17/2001; 9/11 Commission 2/10/2004)


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