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Context of 'After 1:00 p.m. September 11, 2001: FBI Fails to Consider Whether Hijackers Visited Dulles Airport the Previous Evening'

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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).

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)

Vaughn Allex.Vaughn Allex. [Source: USA Today]Brothers Nawaf Alhazmi and Salem Alhazmi, two of the men who will allegedly hijack Flight 77, check in at the American Airlines ticket counter at Washington’s Dulles International Airport. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 3, 452; 9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 27) They are running late. They “come running in the front door, looking around, and didn’t know which way to go,” Vaughn Allex, an employee at the ticket counter, will later describe. (CNN 9/8/2012; Hughes 9/10/2016) They are captured on security video pulling large, dark, roller-type suitcases as they approach the counter. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 9/19/2001) They are allowed to check in despite having missed the official deadline for doing so by a few minutes. (CNN 9/8/2012; Hughes 9/10/2016)
Trainee Checks in the Hijackers - Nawaf and Salem Alhazmi are checked in by Inga Hill, a trainee who is overseen by Allex. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 9/19/2001; Federal Bureau of Investigation 9/25/2001) Today is only her second day working at Dulles Airport. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 9/12/2001) Allex looks on while she confirms the brothers’ tickets. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 9/25/2001) The Alhazmis check in two dark-colored bags, one of them a hard plastic suitcase, the other a soft bag, Hill will recall. One of the brothers has a carry-on bag, she will say. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 9/12/2001) Allex will recall the brothers having only one bag, which he considers to be “totally inappropriate for a trip to Los Angeles.” The bag is “almost like a satchel” with straps across the top but which doesn’t seal, he will say. (CNN 9/8/2012)
Hijackers Have Difficulty Answering Questions - Nawaf and Salem Alhazmi show passports for their photo identification but are unable to recall the country from which these were issued. They also have trouble answering the security questions that all passengers must answer. Allex therefore has to get involved and take over the task of questioning them, Hill will recall. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 9/12/2001) However, Allex will say he takes on the task of checking them in from the outset because they are running late. (CNN 9/8/2012) Nawaf Alhazmi is the only one of the brothers who speaks during the check-in, but his English is poor. Salem Alhazmi, meanwhile, acts “very anxious or excited,” according to Allex. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 9/12/2001; Federal Bureau of Investigation 9/25/2001) “He was grinning, he was smiling, and he was dancing back and forth,” Allex will say. (CNN 9/8/2012)
Hijackers Are Selected for Extra Scrutiny - Allex selects the two brothers for extra security scrutiny. He does this because he finds them suspicious, and one of them—probably Salem Alhazmi, according to the 9/11 Commission—has no photo identification and cannot understand English. However, the only consequence of the extra scrutiny will be that their bags are held off Flight 77 until it is confirmed that they have boarded it.
Employee Is Suspicious and Follows the Hijackers - After being checked in, Nawaf and Salem Alhazmi proceed to a security screening checkpoint (see 7:36 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 3; 9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 27-28; Leshan 9/12/2016) They no longer have their suitcases with them when they leave the ticket counter. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 9/19/2001) Allex is still uncomfortable with the two men and follows them for a few steps. He stops himself, though, as he is concerned that his suspicion may be racially motivated. (CNN 9/8/2012) The name of Nawaf Alhazmi was recently added to a terrorism watch list (see August 23, 2001). (Associated Press 7/22/2004; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 270) An employee at Dulles Airport will recall encountering him and four other Middle Eastern men as they tried to get to a secure area of the airport the previous evening (see (Between 8:00 p.m. and 8:45 p.m.) September 10, 2001). (9/11 Commission 1/19/2004 pdf file; Trento and Trento 2006, pp. 2-6, 43-44)

Flight 77 departs Dulles International Airport near Washington, ten minutes after its 8:10 scheduled departure time. (Washington Post 9/12/2001; CNN 9/17/2001; Ellison 10/17/2001; Associated Press 8/21/2002; 9/11 Commission 6/17/2004)

Arthur Eberhart.Arthur Eberhart. [Source: Spc. Edgar R. Gonzalez]In a government report analyzing the effectiveness of rescue worker response to the Pentagon crash, it is mentioned that, “At about 9:20 a.m., the WFO [FBI Washington Field Office] Command Center [is] notified that American Airlines Flight 77 had been hijacked shortly after takeoff from Washington Dulles International Airport. [Special Agent in Charge Arthur] Eberhart dispatche[s] a team of 50 agents to investigate the Dulles hijacking and provide additional security to prevent another. He sen[ds] a second team to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport as a precautionary step. At the WFO Command Center, Supervisory Special Agent (SSA) Jim Rice [is] on the telephone with the Pentagon when Flight 77 crashe[s] into the building.” (US Department of Health & Human Services 7/2002, pp. C-55) Yet according to the 9/11 Commission, NORAD is not told that Flight 77 had been hijacked at this time or any time before it crashes. However, the FAA has claimed they officially warned NORAD at 9:24 a.m. (see (9:24 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and informally warned them even earlier (see (9:24 a.m.) September 11, 2001).

The Pentagon explodes. 
The Pentagon explodes. [Source: Donley/ Sipa]Flight 77 crashes into the Pentagon. All 64 people on the plane are killed. A hundred-and-twenty-four people working in the building are killed, and a further victim will die in hospital several days later. Hijackers Hani Hanjour, Khalid Almihdhar, Majed Moqed, Nawaf Alhazmi, and Salem Alhazmi presumably are killed instantly. (Typically, they are not included in the death counts.) (CNN 9/17/2001; North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/18/2001; Ellison 10/17/2001; Vogel 11/21/2001; Levin, Adams, and Morrison 8/12/2002; Associated Press 8/21/2002; MSNBC 9/3/2002; ABC News 9/11/2002; CBS 9/11/2002) Flight 77 hits the first floor of the Pentagon’s west wall. The impact and the resulting explosion heavily damage the building’s three outer rings. The path of destruction cuts through Army accounting offices on the outer E Ring, the Navy Command Center on the D Ring, and the Defense Intelligence Agency’s comptroller’s office on the C Ring. (Vogel 2007, pp. 431 and 449) Flight 77 strikes the only side of the Pentagon that had recently been renovated—it was “within days of being totally [renovated].” (US Department of Defense 9/15/2001) “It was the only area of the Pentagon with a sprinkler system, and it had been reconstructed with a web of steel columns and bars to withstand bomb blasts. The area struck by the plane also had blast-resistant windows—two inches thick and 2,500 pounds each—that stayed intact during the crash and fire. While perhaps, 4,500 people normally would have been working in the hardest-hit areas, because of the renovation work only about 800 were there.” More than 25,000 people work at the Pentagon. (Schrader 9/16/2001) Furthermore, the plane hits an area that has no basement. As journalist Steve Vogel later points out, “If there had been one under the first floor, its occupants could easily have been trapped by fire and killed when the upper floors collapsed.” (Vogel 2007, pp. 450)

Washington’s Dulles International Airport, from where Flight 77 departed earlier this morning (see (8:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001), is locked down on the orders of the FAA. Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon at 9:37 a.m. (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001) and within two hours, the FBI, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and other authorities lock down Dulles Airport. This means no one is allowed to enter or leave, according to investigative journalists Joseph Trento and Susan Trento. (Trento and Trento 2006, pp. 36; Priska Neely 10/21/2010) However, the airport’s terminals are evacuated at around 10:00 a.m., according to Edward Cox, the airport security coordinator. The evacuation is coordinated by the FAA and airport operations. (9/11 Commission 10/16/2003 pdf file) The goal within the system is to get passengers out of the terminals as quickly as possible, according to Frank Dunn, deputy chief of police with the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. Once the terminals have been evacuated, they are closed. (9/11 Commission 9/29/2003 pdf file)

The FBI arrives at Washington’s Dulles International Airport and begins its investigation of the hijacking of Flight 77, which departed from the airport this morning. (9/11 Commission 9/29/2003 pdf file; Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 161) Flight 77 took off from Dulles Airport at 8:20 a.m. (see (8:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and crashed into the Pentagon at 9:37 a.m. (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 8, 10) The FBI’s Washington Field Office (WFO) was reportedly notified of the hijacking of Flight 77 at around 9:20 a.m. (see (9:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (US Department of Health and Human Services 7/2002, pp. C-45 pdf file) Dulles Airport has now been locked down, preventing people from entering or leaving it, and the terminals have been evacuated (see (Between 9:38 a.m. and 11:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 10/16/2003 pdf file; Trento and Trento 2006, pp. 36; Priska Neely 10/21/2010)
Fifty FBI Agents Arrive at Dulles Airport - The FBI is responsible for investigating the hijacking of Flight 77, and so Special Agent in Charge Arthur Eberhart has sent a team of 50 agents to the airport to look into it and provide additional security to prevent another hijacking. (US Department of Health and Human Services 7/2002, pp. A-23, C-45 pdf file) However, the agents only arrive there at around 12:40 p.m., according to a 9/11 Commission memorandum. (9/11 Commission 9/29/2003 pdf file) The first thing they do there is seize the security tape at the main terminal’s west checkpoint, according to Ed Nelson, a security manager at the airport. (Trento and Trento 2006, pp. 36) They also interview ticket agents, security personnel, baggage and food handlers, and other personnel, and collect evidence. (Eberhart 1/15/2002; Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 161) They order the confiscation of the 52 computer hard drives that record all electronic television and security information at the airport. The hard drives contain all of the video recorded by the airport’s surveillance cameras and all records of electronic badges used to gain access to secure areas. (Trento and Trento 2006, pp. 34)
Agents Assess the Passengers on Grounded Planes - Airport officials have received no guidance regarding how passengers on planes that have been grounded in response to the terrorist attacks this morning should be processed. But the FBI agents at the airport now take the lead in reviewing the passengers who have deboarded from planes. (9/11 Commission 9/29/2003 pdf file) The FBI will set up a command post and a substantial operation at Dulles Airport to carry out its investigation of the hijacking of Flight 77. Van Harp, head of the WFO, will assume responsibility for its response at the airport. (Harp 12/12/2001)

Ed Nelson.Ed Nelson. [Source: DC Bureau]FBI and Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) agents at Washington’s Dulles International Airport, from where Flight 77 departed earlier this morning (see (8:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001), are apparently uninterested in the alleged hijackers of Flight 77 when they interview airport personnel. (Trento and Trento 2006, pp. 36) The FBI 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) FBI agents and INS agents then interview screeners there. However, nothing they are asking the screeners makes sense to Ed Nelson, a security manager at the airport, and he feels that “something [isn’t] adding up.” “They were not asking about the hijackers—they were focusing on what my screeners might have done wrong,” he will later comment. “It was as if they were working off a script,” he will add. FBI agents assigned to Dulles Airport will indicate that their actions are based on instructions they received from their superiors. One FBI supervisor will recall: “The orders came from headquarters through the local Washington-area FBI field offices and the Joint Task Force on Terrorism. The teams of agents were told to ‘get the screeners to admit they had violated FAA recommended procedures.’” (Trento and Trento 2006, pp. 36)

FBI agents are apparently unwilling to look into the account of Eric Gill, an employee at Washington’s Dulles International Airport, from where Flight 77 took off this morning, regarding a confrontation he had at the airport yesterday evening with five suspicious Middle Eastern men. (Trento and Trento 2006, pp. 38-39) The confrontation occurred sometime between 8:00 p.m. and 8:45 p.m. on September 10 while Gill was supervising the west checkpoint in Dulles Airport’s main terminal. Gill became suspicious of the men as they tried to get to a secure area of the airport (see (Between 8:00 p.m. and 8:45 p.m.) September 10, 2001).
Employee Reported the Suspicious Incident to His Supervisor - He reported the incident after coming into work at around 1:00 p.m. today and hearing about the hijacking of Flight 77. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 9/14/2002; 9/11 Commission 1/19/2004 pdf file; Trento and Trento 2006, pp. 1-6) Thinking the men he’d confronted might be involved, he went to his supervisor, Chandresh Patel, and let him know what happened. He also let Patel know that his colleague, Nicholas DeSilva, was at the checkpoint when the incident occurred. Patel therefore arranged for him and DeSilva to be interviewed immediately by FBI agents who had come to the airport to investigate the hijacking (see (12:40 p.m.) September 11, 2001).
Employee Isn't Shown Video of the Hijackers - Gill is interviewed for about two hours by two agents. The agents seem to consider his confrontation with the Middle Eastern men to be significant. DeSilva, meanwhile, is able to confirm in his interview with the FBI that the confrontation took place. However, the two agents never show Gill video the FBI has taken possession of that shows the alleged hijackers passing through the west checkpoint on their way to boarding Flight 77 this morning, to determine if any of the hijackers were among the men he encountered. (Trento and Trento 2006, pp. 38-39) And yet the FBI shows the video to every employee who works on the security checkpoints at Dulles Airport apart from Gill and DeSilva, according to Ed Nelson, a security manager at the airport. (Trento and Trento 2006, pp. 43)
Employee Will Be Visited at Home by the FBI - The FBI will subsequently visit Gill at his home to show him some photos and ask if any of the Middle Eastern men he encountered are on them. Gill will later give conflicting accounts of this visit. In 2004, he will tell the 9/11 Commission that a young female agent visited him at his home a few days after the attacks and showed him about five photos, but he did not recognize the men he’d encountered in them. 9/11 Commission staffers will determine, however, that the men in the photos did not include any of the alleged 9/11 hijackers. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 9/14/2002; 9/11 Commission 1/19/2004 pdf file) A couple of years later, Gill will tell investigative journalists Joseph Trento and Susan Trento that FBI agents visited him and showed him some photos a couple of days after the attacks. The agents said they were in a hurry to find out what actually happened, and so the images they had were just photocopies and of poor quality. All the same, he recognized two of the men he’d encountered in them. “The picture was bad… but I told them [one of the men in the pictures] looked like he could be the one who had been dressed in a ramp uniform with the ID card on the night of the 10th,” he will tell the Trentos.
Employee Will Identify Two Men He Encountered as Hijackers - Gill will never hear from the FBI again after this visit. (Trento and Trento 2006, pp. 39-40) However, a superior will subsequently show him the photos of the alleged hijackers that are published on the FBI website, and from looking at these he will identify two of the men he confronted as Flight 77 hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi and Flight 175 hijacker Marwan Alshehhi. A source in the FBI will say one reason the bureau did not take Gill’s account seriously was that it had trouble understanding how and why one of the Flight 175 hijackers could have been at Dulles Airport on the evening before he took an early morning flight from Boston. (Trento and Trento 2006, pp. 43-44)


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