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Context of 'September 10, 2001: 9/11 Hijacker Atta Allegedly Visits the WTC to Enter Coordinates Into GPS Device; One Report Claims Mistaken Identity'

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After a successful test, the FAA makes an enhancement to the Global Positioning System (GPS) called Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS) available to some aviation users. WAAS improves the accuracy of GPS data by correcting some known measuring errors. “The system demonstrated one to two meters horizontal accuracy and two to three meters vertical accuracy throughout the contiguous United States,” says the FAA. The system will be operated by Raytheon. [Federal Aviation Administration, 8/24/2000] The deployment of WAAS is only one of many technological advances that could lead to pilotless aircraft navigation, including takeoff and landing. Tests have shown that landing by autopilot is possible (see also August 25, 2001). [Spinoff, 1998; Federal Aviation Administration, 8/13/1999; Rockwell Collins, 10/5/1999] WAAS also has non-aviation uses. It will be used during the rescue effort at Ground Zero. “[A]t the World Trade Center, rescue teams used WAAS to survey the site during the recovery program,” according to Avionics Magazine. [Avionics Magazine, 2/1/2002] After 9/11 there will be some speculation that the hijackers used GPS to navigate to their targets (see (September 12-17, 2001)). Some press reports will claim that 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta was at the WTC the day before the attacks to gather GPS data (see September 10, 2001).

Entity Tags: Federal Aviation Administration, Raytheon

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The US Air Force successfully tests the use of a military technology component that will land planes entirely by autopilot. The component is installed on a commercial airliner. The test takes place at Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico and uses a Boeing 727. The component for automated landing used by the military is called the Joint Precision Approach and Landing System, or JPALS. The JPALS is a differential GPS ground station developed by Raytheon. It was designed to become interoperable with civilian systems utilizing the same GPS-based technology. The civilian counterpart to the JPALS is known as the Local Area Augmentation System (LAAS). Both the JPALS and the LAAS use GPS data sufficiently accurate to allow a plane’s autopilot to land safely without human intervention. The test demonstrates that “the JPALS and LAAS will provide an interoperable landing capability for military and civil applications,” according to a Raytheon announcement (see also August 2000). [SpaceDaily, 10/1/2001]

Entity Tags: Raytheon

Timeline Tags: US Military

At Boston’s Logan Airport, during the morning, businesswoman Jan Shineman is checking in for Flight 11 to Los Angeles, when she notices a man resembling 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta behaving suspiciously. She later recalls him wearing “summery, holiday-type clothes… and he had no baggage, just a folder with a notebook.” She sees him again at the gate for Flight 11, “taking notes, watching the pilots in the cockpit through the window by the gate. They were running through their pre-flight checks.” She decides, “if he had boarded I would have told the captain about him, he was so odd and frightening.” [Guardian, 7/5/2002; Corbin, 2003, pp. 229] Atta will return to Logan Airport and board Flight 11 to Los Angeles on 9/11. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 1-2]

Entity Tags: Jan Shineman, Mohamed Atta, Logan International Airport

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Credit card receipts later discovered by the FBI apparently show that alleged lead 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta is in Manhattan on this day. According to FBI agents, he visits the observation deck on the 107th floor of the south WTC tower. CNN will report, “Officials speculate Atta may have been in New York… to program the towers’ location into a global positioning system.” A global positioning system (GPS) uses satellite technology to pinpoint any location on Earth. According to the FBI, Atta bought himself such a device, costing about $500, by mail order. [ABC News, 5/22/2002; CNN, 5/22/2002] Investigators will reportedly consider this trip necessary, “because they believe the hijackers were too inexperienced to handle the jumbo jets without help.” [New York Daily News, 5/22/2002] BBC reporter Jane Corbin points out that Atta was also witnessed at Boston’s Logan Airport the previous morning (see September 9, 2001), where he could have entered start-point co-ordinates for his 9/11 flight into the GPS device. [Corbin, 2003, pp. 230] However, there is no mention of Atta’s New York visit in the 9/11 Commission Report. According to FBI Director Robert Mueller, Atta spent the previous night at the Milner Hotel in Boston, and then shortly after noon on this day is in Boston where he picks up Abdulaziz Alomari and drives to Portland, Maine. [US Congress, 9/26/2002] The 200-mile journey from Boston to New York takes approximately four hours by car. [MIT, 5/25/2006] So if Mueller’s account is correct, it seems difficult to comprehend Atta having time to travel to New York, go up the WTC, make purchases on his credit card, and then return to Boston, all in the space of one morning. An article in the New York Post will in fact claim that the person in Manhattan was “a distinguished renal and gene specialist at Johns Hopkins University Hospital” in Baltimore, Maryland. This man, who is also called Mohamed Atta, happened to have visited New York in the days before 9/11, “for a whirlwind weekend with his new bride.” The article claims that it had erroneously been reported that alleged hijacker Mohamed Atta “was casing the Twin Towers days before Sept. 11—even after the FBI concluded it was just the kidney doctor, who had planned to take his wife to Windows on the World for dinner in the North Tower.” [New York Post, 5/28/2002]

Entity Tags: World Trade Center, Mohamed Atta

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Satam Al Suqami’s remarkably undamaged passport, marked and wrapped in plastic. It is shown as evidence in the 2006 Zacarias Moussaoui trial.Satam Al Suqami’s remarkably undamaged passport, marked and wrapped in plastic. It is shown as evidence in the 2006 Zacarias Moussaoui trial. [Source: FBI]The passport of 9/11 hijacker Satam Al Suqami is reportedly found a few blocks from the World Trade Center. [ABC News, 9/12/2001; Associated Press, 9/16/2001; ABC News, 9/16/2001] Barry Mawn, the director of the FBI’s New York office, will say that police and the FBI found it during a “grid search” of the area. [CNN, 9/18/2001] However, according to the 9/11 Commission, the passport is actually discovered by a male passer-by who is about 30 years old and wearing a business suit. The man gives it to New York City Police Department Detective Yuk H. Chin shortly before 9:59 a.m., when the South Tower of the WTC collapses. The man leaves before he is identified. Chin, according to the 9/11 Commission, will give the passport to the FBI later in the day. [9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004; 9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 40 pdf file] An FBI timeline concerned with the 9/11 hijackers will state that the passport is found by a civilian “on the street near [the] World Trade Center,” and is “soaked in jet fuel.” [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/2001, pp. 291 pdf file] According to FBI agent Dan Coleman, Al Suqami’s passport is handed to a New York City detective who is “down there, trying to talk to people as they were coming out of the buildings.” By the time the detective looks up again after receiving the passport, the man who handed it to him has run off, “which doesn’t make sense,” Coleman will say. The passport is then given to a detective on the Joint Terrorism Task Force. Coleman will say that by this evening, “we realized… that this was the passport of one of the people that headquarters had identified as one of the 19 probable hijackers.” [France 5, 3/14/2010] Investigative journalist Nick Davies will later write that he talked to “senior British sources who said they believed that the discovery of a terrorist’s passport in the rubble of the Twin Towers in September 2001 had been ‘a throwdown,’ i.e. it was placed there by somebody official.” [Davies, 2009, pp. 248] The Guardian will comment, “The idea that Mohamed Atta’s passport had escaped from that inferno unsinged [tests] the credulity of the staunchest supporter of the FBI’s crackdown on terrorism.” (Note that, as in this Guardian account, the passport will frequently be mistakenly referred to as belonging to Atta, not Al Suqami.) [Guardian, 3/19/2002]

Entity Tags: Dan Coleman, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Satam Al Suqami, New York City Police Department, Barry Mawn, Yuk H. Chin

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

After arriving at FAA headquarters on September 12, Tony Ferrante, the manager of FAA investigations, spends several days working out the movements of the four hijacked planes. He is astonished at the precision with which they were flown towards their targets, later saying: “[I]t was almost as though it was choreographed.… It’s not as easy as it looks to do what they did at 500 miles an hour.” He concludes that either the hijackers were better pilots than originally thought, or they were aided by additional equipment such as radios to communicate among the four planes or handheld Global Positioning System (GPS) equipment. [Freni, 2003, pp. 74 and 76] 9/11 Commission investigators will in fact later speculate that the hijackers may have purchased GPS devices, “so they could determine the latitude and longitude of their intended targets.” According to a summary of a Commission interview, “Any autopilot changes made by the terrorist pilots to assist them in navigating to predetermined coordinates would simply have been to enter a specific location such as Newark or Reagan National” Airport. However, airline personnel will tell the 9/11 Commission investigators that “Entering changes to the autopilot is something that terrorist pilots probably would not have been trained or able to do.” Even a United Airlines senior pilot, who instructs on how to do this, says “he always has to pause before he makes such corrections to make sure to remember how to enter the change.” [9/11 Commission, 11/17/2003 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Tony Ferrante

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Information about the alleged April 2001 meeting in Prague between 9/11 plotter Mohamed Atta and Iraqi diplomat Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani is leaked to the Associated Press, which reports, “A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the United States has received information from a foreign intelligence service that Mohamed Atta, a hijacker aboard one of the planes that slammed into the World Trade Center, met earlier this year in Europe with an Iraqi intelligence agent.” [Associated Press, 9/18/2001; New York Times, 11/19/2003 Sources: Unnamed US official] A long series of confirmations and refutations of this story will take place over the next several years, as some politicians try to make it a key argument to justify why the US should invade Iraq (see September 18, 2001-April 2007).

Entity Tags: Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani, Mohamed Atta

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

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