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Context of '(11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Customs Claims to Determine the Names of All 19 Hijackers'

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Michael Woodward, a manager at the American Airlines flight services office at Logan International Airport in Boston, instructs a colleague to find out the details of three hijackers on Flight 11, based on their seat numbers, but it is unclear whether his colleague is then able to identify the hijackers. (ABC News 7/18/2002; Sheehy 2/15/2004) Since 8:32 a.m., Woodward has been on the phone with Amy Sweeney, a flight attendant on Flight 11, who has been describing to him the trouble on her plane (see (8:32 a.m.-8:44 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 11) During the call, she says that the men who hijacked her plane were in seats 9D, 9G, and 10B. (9/11 Commission 1/25/2004 pdf file) According to the New York Observer, Woodward then orders a colleague “to punch up those seat locations on the computer.” (Sheehy 2/15/2004) This enables airline personnel “to pull up [the hijackers’] names, phone numbers, addresses—and even credit card numbers—on the reservations computer,” according to ABC News. ABC News will add, “One of the names that came up was Mohamed Atta,” the name of the lead hijacker. (ABC News 7/18/2002) However, apart from 10B—the number of the seat belonging to Satam Al Suqami—the seat numbers provided by Sweeney are different to the numbers of the seats assigned to the hijackers. The five hijackers on Flight 11 were in seats 2A, 2B, 8D, 8G, and 10B, according to the 9/11 Commission Report. Atta was in seat 8D—not one of the seats mentioned by Sweeney. (Lichtblau 9/20/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 2) It is therefore unclear whether American Airlines is able to determine the identities of any of the hijackers, other than, presumably, Al Suqami, at this time. Evelyn Nunez, a passenger service agent at the American Airlines flight services office, was provided with the seat number of Al Suqami, but none of the other hijackers, when she talked with Sweeney in an earlier call, at 8:25 a.m. (see 8:25 a.m. September 11, 2001). By running a computer check, she was able to determine Al Suqami’s identity from this number. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 9/11/2001, pp. 57-58) Nancy Wyatt, another employee in the flight services office, will pass on the three hijackers’ seat numbers provided by Sweeney to the American Airlines System Operations Control center in Fort Worth, Texas, when she calls it at 8:40 a.m. (see 8:40 a.m.-8:48 a.m. September 11, 2001). (American Airlines 9/11/2001, pp. 34-41; 9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 14)

Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke is told in private by Dale Watson, the head of the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division: “We got the passenger manifests from the airlines. We recognize some names, Dick. They’re al-Qaeda.” Clarke asks, “How the f_ck did they get on board then?” Watson replies: “Hey, don’t shoot the messenger, friend. CIA forgot to tell us about them.” As they are talking about this, they see the first WTC tower collapse on television. (Clarke 2004, pp. 13-14) Some hijacker names, including Mohamed Atta’s, were identified on a reservations computer over an hour earlier (see (Shortly After 8:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001).

Robert Bonner, the head of Customs and Border Protection, later testifies, “We ran passenger manifests through the system used by Customs—two were hits on our watch list of August 2001.” (This is presumably a reference to hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, watch-listed on August 23, 2001.) “And by looking at the Arab names and their seat locations, ticket purchases and other passenger information, it didn’t take a lot to do a rudimentary link analysis. Customs officers were able to ID 19 probable hijackers within 45 minutes. I saw the sheet by 11 a.m. And that analysis did indeed correctly identify the terrorists.” (Sheehy 2/15/2004) However, Bonner appears to be at least somewhat incorrect: for two days after the attacks (see September 13, 2001-September 14, 2001), the FBI believes there are only 18 hijackers, and the original list contains some erroneous Arab-sounding names on the flight manifests, such as Adnan Bukhari and Ameer Bukhari. (CNN 9/13/2001) Some hijacker names, including Mohamed Atta’s, were identified on a reservations computer around 8:30 a.m. (see (Shortly After 8:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and Richard Clarke was told some of the names were al-Qaeda around 10:00 a.m. (see (9:59 a.m.) September 11, 2001)

One day after 9/11, the New York Times will report that FBI agents in Florida investigating the hijackers quickly “descended on flight schools, neighborhoods and restaurants in pursuit of leads.” At one flight school, “students said investigators were there within hours of Tuesday’s attacks.” (Canedy and Sanger 9/13/2001) Also on September 12, the Times will report, “Authorities said they had also identified accomplices in several cities who had helped plan and execute Tuesday’s attacks. Officials said they knew who these people were and important biographical details about many of them. They prepared biographies of each identified member of the hijack teams, and began tracing the recent movements of the men.” (Johnston and Risen 9/13/2001) In September 2002, 9/11 victim’s relative Kristen Breitweiser, testifying before the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, will cite these news reports and will ask, “How did the FBI know exactly where to go only a few hours after the attacks? How did they know which neighborhoods, which flight schools and which restaurants to investigate so soon in the case?… How are complete biographies of the terrorists, and their accomplices, created in such short time? Did our intelligence agencies already have open files on these men? Were they already investigating them? Could the attacks of September 11th been prevented?” (US Congress 9/18/2002) In at least some cases, it appears that US intelligence did quickly access existing files on the hijackers. The Washington Post reports, “In the hours after Tuesday’s bombings, investigators searched their files on [Satam] Al Suqami and [Ahmed] Alghamdi, noted the pair’s ties to [Nabil] al-Marabh and launched a hunt for him.” A top Customs official claims that by checking flight manifests and comparing them with other information such as watch lists, he is able to determine the names of all 19 hijackers by 11:00 a.m.(see (11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Mintz and Lengel 9/21/2001)

Susan Trento.Susan Trento. [Source: DC Bureau]FBI agents are able to identify the alleged hijackers of Flight 77 surprisingly quickly on video recorded this morning by security cameras at Washington’s Dulles International Airport, from where Flight 77 took off. (Trento and Trento 2006, pp. 36-37; Priska Neely 10/21/2010) FBI agents arrived at Dulles Airport at around 12:40 p.m. (see (12:40 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 9/29/2003 pdf file) The first thing they did there was seize the security video of the west checkpoint in the airport’s main terminal. (Trento and Trento 2006, pp. 36) The five alleged hijackers passed through this checkpoint on their way to boarding Flight 77 (see 7:18 a.m. September 11, 2001, 7:35 a.m. September 11, 2001, and 7:36 a.m. September 11, 2001) and were captured on video as they did so (see 7:15 a.m.-7:36 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Federal Bureau of Investigation 9/19/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 3)
FBI 'Knew Who the Hijackers Were' - FBI agents now bring Ed Nelson, the supervisor in charge of the west checkpoint, the video recorded at the checkpoint this morning for him to examine. As he watches it with them, he is surprised that they already seem to know who the Flight 77 hijackers were and what they looked like. The agents “went right to the first hijacker on the tape and identified him,” Nelson will later recall. “They would go ‘roll’ and ‘stop it,’ and showed me each of the hijackers,” he will say. He will remark that both of the metal detectors at the checkpoint were open around the time the hijackers were screened and “lots of traffic was moving through.” In light of this, he will say, “picking people out [on a video recording] is hard.” And yet the agents “knew who the hijackers were out of hundreds of people going through the checkpoints.” When an interviewer asks him, “How would they know?” since the “FBI claimed they had no idea who these hijackers were,” Nelson will reply: “Oh, exactly. Yeah, it boggles my mind.” He will comment: “I wanted to know how they had that kind of information. So fast. It didn’t make sense to me.” (Trento and Trento 2006, pp. 36-37; Priska Neely 10/21/2010)
FBI Knew Who the Hijackers Were 'the Day Before,' Journalist Will Suggest - US Customs reportedly provided the FBI with the passenger lists and the names of the probable hijackers for the four hijacked flights within 45 minutes of the terrorist attacks this morning (see (11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 1/26/2004) Whether this helped the FBI agents at Dulles Airport to identify the hijackers on the security video is unclear. Investigative journalist Susan Trento will comment on their ability to recognize the hijackers so quickly, stating, “What it says to me is… if they knew [the hijackers] that morning, they knew who they were the day before and they should have been able to catch them before they got to the airport.” (Priska Neely 10/21/2010)

CIA Director George Tenet is given copies of the passenger manifests for the four planes that were hijacked this morning. (Summers and Swan 8/12/2011) Tenet is currently in the CIA’s printing plant, where a makeshift operational facility has been set up, after evacuating from the agency’s headquarters building this morning (see (9:50 a.m.-10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Tenet 2007, pp. 164, 167) Earlier today, Richard Blee, chief of Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, asked the FAA liaison at the Counterterrorist Center (CTC) at CIA headquarters to let him see the manifests for the hijacked planes, but the liaison refused. Blee therefore asked FBI agents deployed to Alec Station to see if they could get the manifests through their channels (see After 10:03 a.m. September 11, 2001).
FBI Has Sent the Passenger Lists to the CTC - The FBI has now sent copies of the manifests to these agents. (Coll 2018, pp. 33, 35) It apparently obtained them from the US Customs Service. Robert Bonner, commissioner-designate of US Customs, will later state, “Within 45 minutes of the attacks, Customs forwarded the passenger lists with the names of the victims and 19 probable hijackers to the FBI and the intelligence community” (see (11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 1/26/2004)
Analyst Passes the Lists to Tenet - An analyst from the CTC races across to the printing plant with the manifests. He hands them to Tenet and points out that the manifest for Flight 77 shows two known al-Qaeda members were on this plane. “Some of these guys on one of the planes are the ones we’ve been looking for in the last few weeks,” he says, pointing at the names Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi. Tenet looks at the manifest for Flight 77 and exclaims: “There it is. Confirmation. Oh, Jesus…” This is “the first time we had absolute proof of what I had been virtually certain of from the moment I heard about the attacks: we were in the middle of an al-Qaeda plot,” he will comment. (Tenet 2007, pp. 167; Summers and Swan 2011; Summers and Swan 8/12/2011)
Counterterrorism Chief Will Claim the Manifests Were Obtained Much Earlier - The exact time when Tenet receives the passenger manifests is unclear. The FBI agents at the CTC received them “by about 1:00 p.m.,” according to journalist and author Steve Coll. (Coll 2018, pp. 35) Authors Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan will write that Tenet is given them “[s]oon after 1:00 p.m.” (Summers and Swan 2011; Summers and Swan 8/12/2011) CIA Deputy Director John McLaughlin will recall that an analyst bursts into the temporary office at the printing plant with a copy of the manifest for Flight 77 “[w]ithin about two and a half to three hours after the last plane hit.” (McLaughlin 9/11/2016; McLaughlin, Pistole, and Taylor 9/12/2016) But White House counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke will claim that he was told the FBI had received the manifests from the airlines significantly earlier, at around 9:59 a.m. (see (9:59 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Clarke 2004, pp. 13-14)

None of the manifests for the hijacked flights have ever been released, except for this partially obscured page which appears in Terry McDermott’s 2005 book, Perfect Soldiers. McDermott has not explained how or where he got this document. Names of the five hijackers are highlighted.None of the manifests for the hijacked flights have ever been released, except for this partially obscured page which appears in Terry McDermott’s 2005 book, Perfect Soldiers. McDermott has not explained how or where he got this document. Names of the five hijackers are highlighted. [Source: Terry McDermott]On September 13, the FBI says there were 18 hijackers, and releases their names. Hani Hanjour’s name is not on the list. (CNN 9/13/2001) On the morning of the next day, CNN announces on the air that “CNN managed to grab a list of the names of the 18 suspected hijackers that is supposed to be officially released by justice sometime later today.” An announcer reads the list, which actually contains 19 names. It is the same list as the day before, except for one new name: Mosear Caned. (Note that the name is a very rough phonetic spelling from a CNN transcript.) (CNN 9/14/2001) Later in the day, the list is revised. Caned is gone and is replaced by Hani Hanjour. It is never explained who Caned is, how he got on the list, or even how his name is correctly spelled. No name even remotely similar to his appears on any of the released manifests of the hijacked 9/11 flights. (CNN 9/14/2001; Barakat 9/14/2001) A few days later, it is reported that Hanjour’s “name was not on the American Airlines manifest for [Flight 77] because he may not have had a ticket.” (Washington Post 9/16/2001)


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