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Context of '(6:20 a.m.-7:27 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Flight 175 Hijackers Check In at Airport and Board Plane; None Selected for Additional Security Scrutiny'

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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. [Boston Globe, 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. [Boston Herald, 9/29/2001; Boston Globe, 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.” [Boston Globe, 10/17/2001]

Entity Tags: Newark International Airport, Washington Dulles International Airport, Virginia Buckingham, Federal Aviation Administration, Logan International Airport

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) finds at least 136 security violations at Boston’s Logan Airport between 1997 and early 1999. Flights 11 and 175 will depart from Logan on 9/11. Massachusetts Port Authority, which operates the airport, is fined $178,000 for these breaches, which include failing to screen baggage properly and easy access to parked planes. In summer 1999, a teenager is able to climb over the airport’s security fence, walk two miles across the tarmac, board a 747, and fly on it to London. In September 1999, the Boston Globe finds that doors are often left open at the airport, making it possible for potentially anyone to gain access to planes on the ground. [Boston Globe, 9/12/2001; Washington Post, 9/12/2001] After 9/11, an analysis by the Boston Globe will conclude that Logan’s security record is “dismal” (see 1991-2000). [Boston Globe, 9/26/2001]

Entity Tags: Massachusetts Port Authority, Logan International Airport, Federal Aviation Administration

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Mary Carol Turano is appointed director of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Boston Civil Aviation Security Field Office (CASFO). This is the office that oversees security at Logan Airport, from where Flights 11 and 175 depart on 9/11. Yet Turano has little experience in airport security, and has not even begun the basic training that all FAA special agents must undergo. During her tenure, according to an agent who is assigned to Logan, staff that document security violations become frustrated, as she allows violations to accumulate without taking appropriate action. After 9/11, it will be revealed that she lacks the identification badge necessary for unescorted access to secure areas. An official familiar with airport security procedures will comment, “An organization does well what a commander checks, and how can you check what they do if you don’t have a ramp access badge?” Turano is subsequently reassigned. [Associated Press, 9/29/2001; Boston Globe, 9/29/2001; WBUR (Boston), 10/4/2001; Thomas, 2003, pp. 61; 9/11 Commission, 3/11/2004 pdf file] Logan Airport’s poor record for security continues while she heads CASFO (see 1991-2000 and 1997-September 1999).

Entity Tags: Boston Civil Aviation Security Field Office, Mary Carol Turano, Federal Aviation Administration

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Alleged 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta is seen by at least two people, examining the security checkpoints at Logan International Airport in Boston—the airport at which he will board Flight 11 on September 11—but no action is taken when the witnesses report their concerns about his suspicious behavior. [Sullivan, 12/23/2013 pdf file; WCVB 5 (Boston), 10/6/2014]
Supervisor Sees Atta Filming a Security Checkpoint - Theresa Spagnuolo, a supervisor for Globe Aviation Services, sees a Middle Eastern man videotaping the main security checkpoint at the airport. The man, Spagnuolo will later describe, is between 5 feet 5 and 5 feet 6 tall, with one day’s beard growth. After 9/11, she will recognize him as Atta from photos she is shown by investigators and seeing Atta’s picture on television. Worried by the man’s behavior, she tells her supervisor, James Miller, what she has seen. Miller, though, says nothing can be done about her concerns because the man is in a public area. According to the New York Post, however, this is untrue. “[A]irport security had clear authority to investigate anybody surveilling a checkpoint,” it will state, “and [Atta’s] activity should have raised major red flags.” Shortly after 9/11, Miller will claim he has no recollection of this incident and his alleged conversation with Spagnuolo. [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, 9/17/2001 pdf file; New York Post, 10/5/2014]
Technician Sees Two Men Behaving Suspiciously - Meanwhile, Stephen Wallace, an American Airlines technician, notices two Middle Eastern men acting suspiciously sometime between 8:00 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. outside the main security checkpoint. He sees one of the men taking photos, and recording video of the checkpoint and the flight information display screens. He sees the other man speaking loudly in Arabic on a cell phone. Wallace will describe the men as having a dark complexion and being of medium height or perhaps slightly less than medium height. The man he sees talking on a cell phone has “no chin and dead eyes,” he will say. After 9/11, he will identify this man as Atta from photos he is shown by investigators. Whether he will be able to identify the other suspicious man is unstated. The two men are dressed like they are from Miami, Florida, Wallace will say. Atta is wearing a shiny grey shirt while the other man is wearing a tan shirt with stripes and flowers on it. Both men are wearing new leather shoes but no socks. Wallace observes them behaving suspiciously for about 45 minutes.
Port Authority Employees Think the Men Are Speaking Portuguese - Wallace alerts a couple of Massachusetts Port Authority employees who are nearby. He tells them the men have been taking photos, recording video, and talking Arabic on the phone. However, the Port Authority employees are apparently unconcerned. They tell Wallace the two men are “okay” and are speaking Portuguese, not Arabic. Wallace, though, is sure the men have been talking in Arabic.
Technician Questions the Suspicious Men - Due to his concerns, Wallace eventually walks up to the men and questions them about their carry-on luggage. They have what he will describe as “brand new” pilot bags with them. One of the bags is open and Wallace sees three disposable cameras, a video camera, files, and a cell phone in it. He points to a kiosk display of items that are prohibited on planes and says, “You guys don’t have any of this stuff in your bags, do you?” In response, one of the men addresses the other and refers to Wallace using an Arabic swear word while gesturing toward the technician. The two men then nervously pack up their bags and hurry toward another security checkpoint.
State Trooper Takes No Action - Wallace follows them and, before they reach it, alerts a Massachusetts state trooper to them. [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, 9/17/2001 pdf file; Merrill Corp., 7/17/2007 pdf file; New York Post, 10/5/2014] He tells the state trooper: “These two clowns are up to something. They’ve been taking videos and pictures down at the checkpoint.” However, nothing is done in response to his concerns. The men are not stopped, questioned, or asked for IDs. [WCVB 5 (Boston), 10/6/2014] Wallace is unsure if they subsequently get on a plane but he thinks they board a flight to Washington, DC.
Action Today Could Have Prevented 9/11, Expert Will Say - There are no security cameras at the airport’s security checkpoints (see 1991-2000 and September 29, 2001), and so no images of Atta and his companion are recorded. Brian Sullivan, a retired special agent and risk management specialist for the Federal Aviation Administration, will express frustration at the lack of response to the sightings of Atta today when he learns of this incident after 9/11. “I’m convinced that had action been taken after the sighting of Atta, the 9/11 attacks, at least at Logan, could have been deterred,” he will say. Referring to Atta, the New York Post will comment, “[T]he worst terrorist hijacker in history was allowed to waltz through security without anyone stopping him, asking his name, checking his ticket, taking a picture, looking at his driver’s license or passport, opening his bags, or patting him down.” [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, 9/17/2001 pdf file; Merrill Corp., 7/17/2007 pdf file; New York Post, 10/5/2014] Atta will again be seen behaving suspiciously at Logan Airport on September 9 (see September 9, 2001). [PBS, 1/17/2002; Associated Press, 5/28/2002; Guardian, 7/5/2002]

Entity Tags: James Miller (Globe Aviation Services), Massachusetts Port Authority, Brian Sullivan, Stephen Wallace, Mohamed Atta, Theresa Spagnuolo

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

9/11 hijacker Marwan Alshehhi checks out of his hotel in Boston, Massachusetts. It is unclear where he spends the night before 9/11, but at 11:57 a.m. on this day he wires some money to a co-conspirator in the Middle East from the Greyhound bus station in Boston. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 pdf file] One eyewitness will claim to see him at Dulles Airport in Washington later this evening (see (Between 8:00 p.m. and 8:45 p.m.) September 10, 2001), but apparently he is back in Boston by the next morning (see (6:20 a.m.-7:27 a.m.) September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: Marwan Alshehhi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A group of five Middle Eastern men, which includes two men who will later be identified as alleged 9/11 hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Marwan Alshehhi, get into a confrontation with Eric Gill, an employee at Washington’s Dulles International Airport, from where Flight 77 will take off on September 11, after they try to get to a secure area of the airport. Gill, who works for Argenbright Security, which handles the passenger security checkpoints at Dulles Airport, notices the men while supervising the west checkpoint on the upper level of the airport’s main terminal. He initially sees just two of them as they try to go through a side door next to the checkpoint that only a few people are permitted to use. People can use this door to bypass the checkpoint, but they need to swipe a card and enter a code on a keypad to pass through it. Going through the door enables a person to reach the airport’s secure, employee-only areas, including the area where planes are parked.
Men Try to Go through a Door Used by Security Personnel - One of the men trying to go through the door is wearing a green ID badge with a red “A” on it, of the kind typically worn by the airport’s baggage, ramp, and services personnel. However, use of the door is restricted to police, security personnel, and government officials. Gill then notices the other three Middle Eastern men following the first two. Two of these men are also wearing green ID badges with red As on them. Gill will describe one of the five men as Arabic or Palestinian and the other four as Middle Eastern. He will say the men appear to be aged between 30 and 35, and between 5 feet 7 and 5 feet 9 in height. The three men with ID badges are wearing dull grey striped shirts and blue pants, like the uniform worn by United Airlines ramp workers. None of the men are carrying anything and Gill does not recognize any of them.
Men Appear to Be Examining Security Procedures - As the men are approaching the side door, they stop and look around for a few moments, as if they are examining security procedures at the checkpoint. Gill finds this unusual. “Normally, people who had legitimate business would just keep walking because they knew where they were going and what they were doing,” he will comment. One of the men swipes his ID card and enters a code into a keypad in order to open the side door and allow the group to go through it. But Gill is suspicious and goes up to the men. After asking if he can help, he refuses to let them proceed through the door. The men who have ID cards show them to him. But he then notices that the other two men are not wearing uniforms and have no airport identification, and so he tells these men they cannot enter the secure area unless they have their own IDs with them.
Men Don't Say Who They Are - Gill asks the men who they are and why they are trying to go through the side door, but they give no answer. He tells the two men without IDs that they have to come back through the door, but they say they have IDs and are going to continue on their way. Around this time, Gill is joined by his colleague Nicholas DeSilva, who subsequently witnesses the rest of the incident. Gill then notices that the uniforms worn by three of the men are very dirty, which strikes him as odd, since United Airlines managers would not usually tolerate this. He refuses to let the men in uniforms escort the other two men through the side door and says the men without IDs will have to go through the main security checkpoint.
Men Become Abusive - At this point, the men get angry and become abusive. One of them tells Gill to “f_ck off” and says they are important people he doesn’t know. Next, however, instead of the men without IDs simply passing through the security checkpoint as requested, all of the men retreat, which surprises Gill. They then head off and go down the stairs that lead to the lower level of the main terminal. Gill will never see them again. However, Ed Nelson, his supervisor, will note that if they’d wanted to access a plane at the airport, perhaps to plant weapons on it, they could have returned after 10:00 p.m., when Gill’s shift ended, and used their ID cards to activate the electronic lock and pass through the side door next to the west checkpoint.
Incident Will Be Reported the Next Day - The exact time when Gill’s confrontation with the five men occurs is unclear. Gill will tell the FBI that it occurs “[d]uring the approximate time period of 8:10 p.m. to 8:45 p.m.” But he will tell the 9/11 Commission that it occurs at around 8:00 p.m. And he will tell investigative journalists Joseph Trento and Susan Trento that it occurs at 8:15 p.m. The incident is not unusual enough to necessitate a report and so Gill will take no further action this evening. But he will report it after he comes into work at 1:00 p.m. the following day and hears about the hijacking of Flight 77.
Two of the Men Will Be Identified as Hijackers - Gill will subsequently identify two of the men he confronted as 9/11 hijackers. A week or two after 9/11, his wife will show him a story in the National Enquirer magazine that includes photos of the alleged hijackers and he will recognize two of the hijackers as having been among the group he encountered. And, at some point after this, he will be shown the photos of the alleged hijackers that are published on the FBI website by Steve Wragg, the district manager in charge of Dulles Airport for Argenbright Security. From looking at these, he will identify two of the men he confronted as Flight 77 hijacker Alhazmi and Flight 175 hijacker Alshehhi. He will say these two hijackers were among the men wearing uniforms and ID badges. He will also recognize Alshehhi as the first man to have shown him his ID and Alhazmi as the man who verbally abused him. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/14/2002; 9/11 Commission, 1/19/2004 pdf file; Trento and Trento, 2006, pp. 1-6, 43-44; Priska Neely, 10/21/2010] However, in 2004, when the 9/11 Commission shows Gill photos of numerous individuals, including Alshehhi, Alhazmi, and other 9/11 hijackers, he will say he does not recognize any of these individuals as having been among the men he confronted at Dulles Airport. [9/11 Commission, 2/10/2004 pdf file] The FBI will not take Gill’s account seriously because it has difficulty understanding how and why one of the Flight 175 hijackers would have been at Dulles Airport on the evening before he took an early morning flight from Boston, according to a source with the bureau. [Trento and Trento, 2006, pp. 44] Khalid Almihdhar and “possibly” Salem Alhazmi—two of the alleged hijackers of Flight 77—are recorded on video at Dulles Airport at an unspecified time this evening (see September 10, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 9/29/2003 pdf file; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 11/14/2003 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Nawaf Alhazmi, Eric Gill, Ed Nelson, Marwan Alshehhi, Nicholas DeSilva

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

All five Flight 175 hijackers reportedly check in at Boston’s Logan Airport, pass through a security checkpoint, and board their plane during this period. The five hijackers are Marwan Alshehhi, Fayez Ahmed Banihammad, Hamza Alghamdi, Ahmed Alghamdi, and Mohand Alshehri. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 89] The FAA has a program in place called CAPPS, which selects passengers for more thorough security screening based on suspicious behavior such as buying a one-way ticket or paying with cash (see (6:20 a.m.-7:48 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Although reports claim that between two and five of the Flight 175 hijackers have one-way tickets, none are selected by CAPPS. [WorldNetDaily, 4/24/2002; US Congress, 9/26/2002; US Congress, 9/26/2002; Washington Post, 1/28/2004; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 18] Two of them have problems answering security questions at the ticket counter (see (6:20 a.m.-6:53 a.m.) September 11, 2001). At the security checkpoint, all five would pass through a walk-through metal detector, and an X-ray machine would screen their carry-on luggage. But Logan Airport has no video surveillance of its checkpoints (see 1991-2000), so there is no documentary evidence of exactly when they go through, or how they are processed. Jennifer Gore, the young supervisor overseeing the checkpoint, is later unable to recall seeing any of them. The Globe and Mail will explain, “[S]he was trained to look for metal bits in bags and in clothes, not people.” [Globe and Mail, 9/7/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 2; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 18]

Entity Tags: Marwan Alshehhi, Logan International Airport, Ahmed Alghamdi, Jennifer Gore, Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System, Fayez Ahmed Banihammad, Mohand Alshehri, Federal Aviation Administration, Hamza Alghamdi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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). [WorldNetDaily, 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.” [Boston Globe, 10/17/2001]

Entity Tags: Satam Al Suqami, Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System, Wail Alshehri, Federal Aviation Administration, Logan International Airport, Waleed Alshehri

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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