David Griffin's 9/11 Contradictions Ch. 16

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Chapter 16


On the first page of The 9/11 Commission Report, we read:

Tuesday, September 11, 2001.... For those heading to an airport, weather conditions could not have been better.... Among the travelers were Mohamed Atta and Abdul Aziz al-Omari, who arrived at the airport in Portland, Maine.... Atta and Omari boarded a 6:00AM flight from Portland to Boston's Logan International Airport. [1]

The note for this seemingly unproblematic statement said:

No physical, documentary, or analytical evidence provides a convincing explanation of why Atta and Omari drove to Portland, Maine, from Boston on the morning of September 10, only to return to Logan on Flight 5930 on the morning of September 11.... Whatever their reason, the Portland Jetport was the nearest airport to Boston with a 9/11 flight that would have arrived at Logan in time for the passengers to transfer to American Airlines Flight 11, which had a scheduled departure time of 7:45AM. [2]

This admission by the Commission, that it could not explain why Atta would have taken this trip, had earlier been made by FBI Director Robert Mueller, during his testimony on September 26, 2002, to the Congressional Joint Inquiry into 9/11. Having stated that Marwan al-Shehhi, after flying from Florida to Boston, had taken a room at the Milner Hotel, Mueller said:

On September 9, Mohamed Atta also checked into the Milner Hotel staying that night where he met with Marwan al-Shehhi. Shortly after noon on the day before the attacks, Mohamed Atta left the Milner Hotel, picked up Abdul Aziz al Omari at the Park Inn, and drove to Portland, Maine. They checked into the Comfort Inn in South Portland. Atta and al Omari were seen together on several occasions in the Portland area later that evening but their reason for going there, to date, remains unclear. [3]

That same admission had been made two weeks earlier, on the first anniversary of 9/11, in a New York Times article, which said:

There have been many theories [as to why Atta and Omari made the trip]: that they made contact with a confederate in Portland who gave them the final go-ahead, or more likely, that by arriving on a connecting flight, they would avoid the security check in Boston. None of those explanations seems entirely satisfactory, given the risk. [4]

Those final three words, "given the risk," explain why the trip has been so puzzling.

Two Mysteries: The Portland Trip and Atta’s Luggage

The 9/11 Commission, after stating that on September 10 Atta and al-Omari "drove to Portland, Maine, for reasons that remain unknown," said: "In the early morning hours of September 11, they boarded a commuter flight to Boston to connect to American Airlines Flight 11."[5] This flight, as we saw above, left Portland at 6:00AM and arrived at the Boston airport at 6:45, enabling Atta and his companion to get On AA Flight 11, which was scheduled to depart at 7:45.

But if the commuter flight from Portland to Boston had been delayed by an hour, Atta and al-Omari would have missed the connection. This point was even made in a statement submitted by the 9/11 Commission staff on June 16, 2004. This statement said (in a sentence that did not make it into the Commission's final report): "The Portland detour almost prevented Atta and Omari from making Flight 11 out of Boston." [6] If this had happened, there would have been only three hijackers to take control of Flight 11. Atta, moreover, was reportedly the designated pilot for this flight and also the ringleader of the whole operation. After years of planning for this operation, he might have had to call it off. Why would Atta, after already being in Boston on September 10, have taken such an enormous risk? No satisfactory explanation had emerged one year later, as the New York Times observed, or even three years later, as the 9/11 Commission admitted. [7]

The Commission's story about this episode contained another unexplained element. Although Atta made the connection to Flight 11, his luggage did not-a fact that led to important discoveries. The above-quoted 9/11 Commission staff statement, just after saying that the Portland detour almost caused Atta and al-Omari to miss Flight 11, added:

In fact, the luggage they checked in Portland failed to make it onto the plane. Seized after the September 11 crashes, Atta and Omari's luggage turned out to contain a number of telling items, including: correspondence from the university Atta attended in Egypt; Omari's international driver's license and passport; [and] a video cassette for a Boeing 757 flight simulator. [8]

Mueller, in his testimony to the Joint Inquiry in 2002, had also reported the discovery of this treasure trove of information, saying:

Following the crash of Flight 11, authorities recovered two pieces of luggage in the name of Mohamed Atta that had not been loaded onto that flight. A search of this baggage revealed a three page letter handwritten in Arabic, which, upon translation, was found to contain instructions on how to prepare for a mission applicable, but not specific, to the September 11 operation. [9]

In 2006, Newsday would publish a story by Michael Dorman, entitled "Unraveling 9-11 was in the Bags," which elevated the importance of this discovery even further. Dorman reported that Warren Flagg, a former FBI agent, had said that one of Atta's bags contained far more than what had been previously reported, including the names of the hijackers. Although Flagg was already retired by September of 2001, he obtained this information, he said, from a young FBI agent whom he had helped train and who was working on the 9/11 investigation. According to Dorman, Flagg said:

It had all these Arab-language papers that amounted to the Rosetta stone of the investigation. How do you think the government was able to identify all 19 hijackers almost immediately after the attacks? They were identified through those papers in the luggage. And that's how it was known so soon that al-Qaida was behind the hijackings. [10]

Whatever the historical accuracy of Flagg's statement, it served, by describing the treasure trove of information found in Atta's luggage as the investigation's "Rosetta stone," to bring out the importance of this reported discovery.

But why did Atta's luggage not get loaded onto Flight 11? The 9/11 Commission staff statement, quoted above, implied that it was a tight connection, with Atta and al-Omari just barely making it. That statement, however, was not included in The 9/11 Commission Report, which instead said: "Atta and Omari arrived in Boston at 6:45.... Between 6:45 and 7:40, Atta and Omari ... checked in and boarded American Airlines Flight 11 ... scheduled to depart at 7:45." [11] There was, in other words, a full hour between the arrival of the commuter flight and the scheduled departure time of Flight 11. Also, the failure could not be explained by reference to a careless ground crew, because "Atta was the only passenger among the 81 aboard American Flight 11 whose luggage didn't make the flight, American sources confirm[ed]." [12]

We have, therefore, two mysteries. Why would Atta have risked the trip to Portland? And why did his luggage fail to get loaded onto Flight 11? This book, to be sure, is about contradictions, not mysteries. Clues to these mysteries, however, can be found by exploring a full-fledged contradiction in the Portland story. That is, the 9/11 Commission's story about Atta driving to Portland contradicts stories that appeared in the press in the first days after 9/11.

The Original Story: Boston and the Bukharis

According to all later news stories about the trip, Atta drove to Portland in a Nissan Altima that he had rented at Boston's Logan Airport. In the first few days after 9/11, however, the story was very different. On September 12, Susan Candiotti of CNN gave this report from Vero Beach, Florida:

Law enforcement sources say that two of the suspected hijackers... are brothers that lived here.... One of them is Adnan Bukhari. We have a photograph of him.... Also living in Vero Beach, Bukhari's brother, Ameer.... Law enforcement sources... tell CNN that the Bukhari brothers were believed to have been on one of the two flights out of Boston.... Also we can report to you that a car impounded in Portland, Maine, according to law enforcement authorities, was rented at Boston Logan Airport and driven to Portland, Maine. Now the Maine state police confirm that two of the suspected hijackers were on a U.S. Air flight [to] Logan Airport.... The FBI is also looking at two more suspected hijackers.... Mohammad [sic] Alta and Marwan Yusef Alshehhi. Now they stayed for a few days at the home of Charlie Voss in Venice, Florida. And they took courses at Hoffman [sic] Aviation. [13]

This report seemed to suggest that two brothers named Adnan and Ameer Bukhari were the two hijackers who drove to Portland and then took a commuter flight back to Boston. Atta was mentioned, but not in connection with the rental car that was impounded in Portland.

The reason for Candiotti's reference to Charlie Voss, as a person with whom Atta and al-Shehhi had stayed, was spelled out in Christy Arnold's September 14 story in the Charlotte Sun, mentioned in the previous chapter, which said:

Alta and Alshehhi are suspected of helping crash airliners into the World Trade Center on Tuesday.... Authorities first recognized Alta's name on one of the flight's passenger manifests. They then found a car abandoned at Logan Airport in Boston which connected Alta's name to a South Venice address of Charles and Drucilla Voss. The two men stayed with the Vosses for a short time in July 2000. [14]

These two stories, therefore, seemed to say that the Bukharis left a rental car at the airport in Portland and that Atta left one at the airport in Boston.

On September 13, CNN-in a story that is no longer available on its website-gave a more complete account, which said:

Two of the men were brothers..., Adnan Bukhari and Ameer Abbas Bukhari.... The two rented a car, a silver-blue Nissan Altima, from an Alamo car rental at Boston's Logan Airport and drove to an airport in Portland, Maine, where they got on US Airways Flight 5930 at 6AM Tuesday headed back to Boston, the sources said.... Before CNN learned the identities of the two brothers, Portland Police Chief Mike Chitwood said, "I can tell you those two individuals did get on a plane and fly to Boston early yesterday morning... I can tell you that they are the focus of a federal investigation."...

Charles Voss, a bookkeeper for Huffman [Aviation]... confirmed he briefly allowed two students from the flight school to stay at his house..., Mohammed [sic] Atta and Marwan Yousef Alshehhi.... A Mitsubishi sedan impounded at Logan Airport was rented by Atta, sources said. The car contained materials, including flight manuals, written in Arabic that law enforcement sources called "helpful" to the investigation. [15]

According to the original story, therefore, the Bukharis left the Nissan Altima in Portland, whereas Atta had left a rented Mitsubishi at Logan Airport in Boston. It was in this Mitsubishi, moreover, that authorities found the treasure trove of information that was helpful to the investigation-not, as Mueller and the 9/11 Commission would later claim, in luggage that failed to get transferred to AA 11 from the Portland-to-Boston commuter flight.

This point -- that the helpful material was found in a Mitsubishi left at Logan -- was spelled out more explicitly in another CNN program that same day, September 13. Eileen O'Connor, reporting on CNN Live, said:

Federal law enforcement in the United States was led to the Hamburg connection by way of information linked to a car seized at Logan Airport. It was a Mitsubishi. It was rented by Mohammed [sic] Atta, who lived in an apartment in Hamburg.... Inside was a flight manual in Arabic language material that law enforcement investigators say was very helpful... [Another car, found at the airport in Portland, Maine,] was rented at Logan... and it was ... documents ... the FBI looked at or law enforcement looked at… that led them to these Bukhari brothers. Also, we know that those two men who took that car to Portland were on a U.S. Air flight from Portland to Logan right before the American and United planes took off. And [authorities] are convinced that those two men were at least some of the hijackers. [16]

So, it was the Mitsubishi left at Logan Airport in which authorities found documents that, besides leading them to Atta, were otherwise helpful to the investigation. The Nissan left at the airport in Portland contained documents indicating that the Bukharis, who took the early morning flight from Portland to Boston, were two of the hijackers.

BBC News, the same day, reported the same basic facts, albeit with much less detail, saying:

A trail of evidence led investigators ... from one abandoned rental car in Portland, Maine, to two houses in Vero Beach, Florida. A second hired car, found in Boston's Logan Airport… led investigators to the Florida homes of two pilots: Mohammed [sic] Atta and Marwan Yousef Al-Shehhi. [17]

A Correction

However, that same day, September 13, CNN issued a correction, saying:

We would like to correct a report that appeared on CNN. Based on information from multiple law enforcement sources, CNN that Adnan Bukhari and Ameer Bukhari of Vero Beach[,] Florida, were suspected to be two of the pilots who crashed planes into the World Trade Center. CNN later learned that Adnan Bukhari is still in Florida, where he was questioned by the FBI. We are sorry for the misinformation.... Ameer Bukhari died in a small plane crash last year. [18]

This discovery, that neither Adnan nor Ameer Bukhari had died on 9/11, meant that the original story had been wrong.

This discovery, however, did not lead immediately to a complete change of story. "Evidence found in a rental car left in Portland," that same CNN story continued, led investigators to the Bukharis, whereas materials found in a Mitsubishi sedan at Logan Airport in Boston "led investigators to two more men who were pilots: Mohammed [sic] Atta and Marwan Yousef Alshehhi." It also "contained materials written in Arabic, including flight manuals, that law enforcement sources called 'helpful' to the investigation."[19] Another CNN report the following day, September 14, still maintained this same correlation:

According to law enforcement sources... [a] Mitsubishi sedan [Atta] rented was found at Boston's Logan Airport. Arabic language materials were found in the car. ... Federal sources initially identified Bukhari and Ameer Bukhari as possible hijackers who boarded one of the planes that originated in Boston .... Their names had been tied to a car found at an airport in Portland, Maine, but Adnan Bukhari's attorney said it appeared their identifications were stolen. [20]

Immediately after the correction, as can be seen, everything remained the same, except that the Bukharis, rather than being hijackers, were victims of identity theft. The treasure trove of helpful information was still said to have been found in a Mitsubishi at Boston's Logan Airport, which led authorities to Atta.

Still another CNN report, which gave an initial list of hijackers, said that "Atta rented a car that was later found at Boston's Logan Airport." [21]

In a story by Neil Mackay appearing in Scotland two days later (September 16), another slight change occurred: The Bukharis were no longer mentioned. But Atta was still said to have left a Mitsubishi sedan at Logan. Mackay's story even included another detail, saying that Atta and al-Shehhi had "argued with another driver over spaces" at the Logan Airport parking lot. [22]

The Emergence of the Final Story

Back in the United States, however, the story had begun to change more drastically. On September 14, an Associated Press report, discussing "two suspects in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center," said:

One of the two suspects who boarded a flight in Portland was Mohamed Atta, 33.... The 2001 Nissan Altima used by the men came from the same Boston rental location as another car used by additional suspects that contained incriminating materials when it was seized at Boston's Logan Airport.

Once in Maine, the suspects spent the night at the Comfort Inn in South Portland before boarding the plane the next morning, said Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Public Safety Department. [23]

Suddenly, the Nissan Altima had been driven to Portland by Atta and his companion, who then stayed there at the Comfort Inn that night. In this Associated Press version of the Portland story, however, the transition to what would become the accepted narrative was not yet complete. The incriminating materials were still found in a rental car left at Logan (although this car had been rented by unnamed "additional suspects," not by Atta).

The complete transition to the final official account was made on September 16, [24] in a Washington Post story by Joel Achenbach (the same reporter, interestingly, who apparently introduced, within the United States, the revised version of the Shuckums episode, discussed in the previous chapter, according to which Atta did not drink alcohol). Achenbach wrote:

Among the 19 hijackers identified by authorities was Mohamed Atta.... Atta is thought to have piloted American Airlines Flight 11, the first to slam into the World Trade Center. A letter written by Alta, left in his luggage at Boston's Logan Airport, said he planned to kill himself so he could go to heaven as a martyr. It also contained a Saudi passport, an international driver's license, instructional videos for flying Boeing airliners and an Islamic prayer schedule. Officials believe that Alta and Alomari rented a car in Boston, drove to Portland, Maine, and took a room Monday night at the Comfort Inn.... They then flew on a short flight Tuesday morning from Portland to Boston, changing to Flight 11. [25]

Achenbach's Washington Post story not only had Atta and al-Omari, instead of the Bukharis, driving to Portland, staying overnight at the Comfort Inn, and then taking the commuter flight back to Boston. It also said that the incriminating evidence was found in Atta's luggage, which was found inside Logan Airport (not in a Mitsubishi sedan that Atta had rented and left in the Logan parking lot).

This new story, which evidently first appeared five days after 9/11, was soon fleshed out with various details, including physical evidence that Atta and al-Omari had been in Portland the night before the attacks. An article in the Portland Press Herald on October 5, for example, said:

The FBI released a detailed chronology Thursday [October 4] showing that two of the suspected hijackers in the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center spent their final hours in Greater Portland stopping at ATMs and visiting a pizza restaurant and Wal-Mart.... After checking in at the motel, Atta and Alomari were seen several times between 8PM and 9:30PM. Between 8 and 9PM, they were seen at Pizza Hut; at 8:31PM, they were videotaped by a KeyBank automatic teller machine, and videotaped again at 8:41PM at a Fast Green ATM next to Pizzeria Uno.... At 9:15PM, the two stopped at Jetport Gas on Western Avenue, where they asked for directions, and at 9 22PM, Alta was caught on videotape in the Wal-Mart in Scarborough. The FBI reports he spent about 20 minutes there.... On Tuesday morning, the two men checked out at 5:33AM; their rental car was recorded entering the airport parking lot at 5:40. The two checked in at the counter at 5:43; [and] passed through security, as shown on videotape, at 5:45.26

This new story solved a problem created by the discovery that the Bukharis not died on 9/11- how to explain why a rental car left at the Portland airport could have led authorities to two of the hijackers. In the new version of the Portland story, the rental car led the authorities to Atta and al-Omari, because they were the ones who rented it and drove it to Portland.

The Mysteries and the Contradictions

This solution, however, created one of the afore-discussed mysteries: Why would Atta have taken this trip, thereby putting the whole operation at risk?

The Atta-to-Portland solution to the Bukhari problem also created another problem: how to explain the well-reported fact that incriminating materials, "helpful" to the investigation, had been found at Logan Airport. This problem was solved by saying that they were found in Atta's luggage, which did not make it onto Flight 11. But this solution created, in turn, the other mystery:  Given the fact that the commuter flight from Portland was on time, arriving at Boston a full hour before the scheduled departure time of Flight 11, why did Atta's luggage fail to get loaded onto this flight?

The main problem facing the new story, however, is simply the fact that it is a new story, which is radically different from what the authorities had said the first few days. If the Nissan Altima was driven to Portland by Atta, why did authorities originally say that it had documents leading them to Adnan and Ameer Bukhari? If the treasure trove of materials that was so helpful to the investigation was really found in Atta's luggage, which was inside Logan Airport, why did authorities first say that those materials were found outside the airport, in a Mitsubishi? If Atta and al-Omari were really the ones who stayed overnight in the Comfort Inn in Portland, why did officials originally say that it was the Bukharis? If it was Atta and al-Shehhi who really took the commuter flight from Portland to Boston, why did authorities originally say that it was Adnan and Ameer Bukhari?

Although these problems are severe enough, there was yet another contradictory report.

Another Contradiction: Atta Reported in New York City September 10

On May 22, 2002, Susan Candiotti of CNN gave this startling report:

The FBI has found credit card receipts that appear to place September 11 hijacker Mohamed Atta in Manhattan the day before the attacks, a source close to the investigation told CNN Wednesday.... The source also said investigators have determined Atta may have been accompanied to Manhattan on September 10 by Abdulaziz Alomari. [27]

Why might Atta have been there? "Officials speculate Atta may have been in New York... to make a final visit to the World Trade Center to program the towers' location into a global positioning system, the source said." [28]

That same day, a New York Daily News story gave basically the same information, saying:

Mohamed Atta... was in New York on Sept. 10 and perhaps Sept. 9, according to a law enforcement source familiar with the investigation.... The FBI found transactions that show Atta used a credit card in Manhattan the day before the planes crashed into the World Trade Center. ... Sometime on Sept. 10, the FBI believes, Atta traveled to Boston and rented a blue Nissan sedan. He and Abdulaziz Alomari then drove to Portland, Maine. [29]

Although that statement seemed to leave open the means by which Atta "traveled" to Boston, one of the article's summary points states: "FBI believes he visited World Trade Center, then flew to Boston." It is, therefore, theoretically possible that Atta could have been in Manhattan in the morning and then, after rushing to an airport, arrived in Boston in time to rent a car and -- assuming that, as the CNN story suggested, al-Omari was already with him -- leave for Portland in time to check in at the Comfort Inn, as the FBI said he did, at 5:43PM. [30]

However, this story, even though it was evidently based on FBI-derived information, contradicted the FBI's account of what Atta actually did. In FBI Director Robert Mueller's testimony to the Congressional Joint Inquiry, cited earlier, he said:

Marwan al-Shehhi [was staying] at the Milner Hotel in Boston. On September 9, Mohamed Atta also checked into the Milner Hotel staying that night where he met with Marwan al-Shehhi.Shortly after noon on the day before the attacks, Mohamed Atta left the Milner Hotel, picked up Abdul Aziz al Omari at the Park Inn, and drove to Portland. [31]

There is simply no possibility, given this account, that Atta could have been in Manhattan during any part of September 10. So unless either the FBI or "the source" was mistaken, [32] we have another contradiction.

Dealing with the Contradictions

The 9/11 Commission dealt with these contradictions by ignoring them. It did not mention the early reports that the Nissan left at the Portland airport had documents leading the FBI to Adnan and Ameer Bukhari. It did not mention the early reports that the Bukharis had stayed at the Comfort Inn in Portland on September 10 and then taken the early morning flight from Portland to Boston. It did not mention the early reports that the FBI was led to Atta (along with Marwan al-Shehhi) by information found in a Mitsubishi left at Logan Airport. It also did not mention the fact that this Mitsubishi, according to the early reports, was where the treasure trove of information, which was so helpful to the investigation, was found. It instead simply told the new story as if it had been the story all along. The Commission also did not mention the 2002 story saying that, according to the FBI, Mohamed Atta had used his credit card in Manhattan on September 10.

Former FBI agent Warren Flagg's 2006 claim about the Atta's luggage raised an additional question. If this "Rosetta stone" contained, as Flagg claimed, the names of all nineteen hijackers, why did the authorities, after opening the luggage, claim that Adnan and Ameer Bukhari were two of the hijackers? Could Atta, as the ringleader of the operation, have included the names of two people who were not going to be involved-one of whom was already dead?


The treasure trove of information that was reportedly discovered in Atta's belongings played a central role in the process of placing blame on al-Qaeda for the 9/11 attacks. And yet the present version of the story about this treasure trove of information radically contradicts the version that was told in the first days after 9/11. Congress and the press need to ask why these contradictory stories emerged and why the 9/11 Commission ignored the existence of the original story.