The US indictment of Zacarias
Moussaoui lists seven conspirators who arrived
in the US in advance of the main body of hijackers:
Moussaoui, Mohamed Atta, Marwan al- Shehhi, Ziad
al-Jarrah, Khalid al-Midhar, Nawaq Alhamzi and
Hani Hanjour. These members of this advance party
prepared the way for the contingent of hijackers
who arrived in America in the Spring of 2001 by,
among other things, collecting intelligence about
the vulnerabilities of US civil aircraft and airports.
They were in a position to collect this intelligence
for at least 17 months prior to September 11th,
D-Day minus 17 months: Establishing
the Intelligence Cover
Conspirators in the advance party
began applying for admission in flight schools
in America in the Spring of 2000. First, Al-Midhar
and Alhamzi enrolled in a flight training program
in San Diego in April 2000, then, Atta, Al-Shehhi
and al-Jarrah enrolled in flight training programs
in June 2000 and Moussaoui applied in September
2000 (although his arrival was delayed.) Hanjour,
who had been in flight training program 4 year
earlier, and so could still claim the credential
as a student. briefly joined a flight training
program in Arizona in 2001.
None of these flight serving programs
would teach the conspirators to fly jet airliners,
or even allow them inside one, but they provided
them a cover that both would explain their presence
in America to immigration and law enforcement
authorities and allow them to get technical briefs
on aircraft and procedures on the planes they
were interested in without attracting suspicion.
After all, as pilots-in-training, they had a plausible
need to inform themselves about the written and
unwritten procedures and problems they might have
piloting airliners, and any such questions they
asked to trainers, pilots school executives and
FAA personnel would simply demonstrate they interest
in their chosen profession. They also had a plausible
and verifiable excuse for sending away for manuals,
computer programs and geo-positioning gear and
buying time on expensive simulators for themselves
(or others who used their credentials).
Once they established themselves as
bona fide aviation students, they remained in
these programs for a limited period. Al-Midhar
and Alhamzi attended just a few classes
and were airborne in single engine Cessna just
twice before they dropped out. Jarrah also
dropped out of his program in Venice, Florida.
Moussaoui he left his flight training in Oklahoma
after three weeks and never soloed. Hanjour did
not need to immediately joined a flight school
\since he already had his credential (and when,
later, he sought to rent a single-engine plane
at Freeway Airport in Bowie, Md., the instructors
refused to allow him to solo because they judged
his skills too poor to pilot it). Atta and al-Shehhi
remained the longest in the flight training program
at Huffman Aviation in Florida nearly six
months but Huffman required only students
train for only 8.5 hours a week.
The licenses that they received allowed
them to fly only prop planes.
D-Day minus 14 months: Targeting
Airliners For Collection
Beginning in early November 2000,
the advance party began acquiring technical briefs
of Boeing and Airbus airliners. On November 5,
2000, Atta purchased flight deck videos for the
Boeing 747 Model 200, Boeing 757 Model 200 from
a pilot store in Ohio. These videos would depict
the cockpit instrumentation of the airliners.
Five weeks later, after he or others had time
to study the data, Atta then ordered flight deck
videos for the Boeing 767 Model 300ER and the
Airbus A320 Model 200 from the same store. Subsequently,
to fill in any further gaps, Alhazmi then bought
flight deck simulator videos for the Boeing 747
and 777 while Moussaoui bought similar videos
for the two other models of the Boeing 747s. In
addition, the conspirators acquired flight manuals
for these type aircraft.
The videos and manuals, though helpful,
would not reveal how the planes would react under
extreme conditions, such as, for example, the
180 degree turn while rapidly descending that
was later used on the attack on the Pentagon.
Nor would their flight school training (which
was not on multi-engine jets.) To find out such
specific data about the maneuverability of Boeing
airliners under real world conditions, they needed
access to sophisticated flight simulators. In
last week in December, Atta and Al-Shehhi paid
$1,500 for three-hour apiece in the Boeing 727
flight simulator at SimCenter Inc. in Opa-locka
, Florida. Their status as pilots-in-training
was the only credential they needed to test different
maneuvers on different routes. (Moussaoui subsequently
attempted to book time on a Boeing 747 flight
simulator in Minnesota).
Immediately after they completed assembling
this data on the performance of Boeings, Atta,
al-Shehhi and al-Jarrah departed for unknown destinations
in Europe and the Middle east. Here the conspirators
involved in the intelligence-collection of the
Boeings would be in a position to be debriefed
in depth and, if gaps remained, provided with
D-Day minus 8 ½ months:
Unlocking the Cockpits
As early as January 2001, the advance
team had begun the final stage of the intelligence
operation: reconnoitering actual Boeing Flights.
They criss-crossed the country on Boeing 767 and
757, often flying in the first class cabins where
they could observe entry into the cockpit. This
scouting did not go unnoticed by flight attendants
who, after September 11th, reported to the FBI
that they recalled men resembling the alleged
hijackers photographing the cockpits and taking
copious notes. The FBI subsequently estimated
from their interviews of flight personnel that
their been at least a dozen such observation mission
by the conspirators.
One intelligence issue the conspirators
had to resolve was how a rapid surprise assault
could be made on the cockpits. The FAA requires
that all cockpit doors be locked before take-
off. But since 1997 the National Transportation
Safety Board had held that the FAA should require
that each flight\attendant have a cockpit key
in his/her possession at all times," or,
if airlines consider that the mass distribution
of keys is too risky, the cockpit keys must be
stored "in a place convenient to the cockpit."
It also advised airlines that the flight attendants
should have pre-arranged signals, such as a pattern
of knocks, to summon the pilots to open the door.
Since the FAA and NTSB requirements
and policy on cockpit keys, key boxes and pre-
arranged signals and publically disseminated documents,
and easily available to pilots-in- training, the
conspirators riding in the first-class compartment
would have a good idea of what to keep their eyes
peeled for aboard these flights. Once they located
the key boxes aboard American Airlines 767 and
United Airlines 757, or, noted the signals, they
had solved the problem of cockpit entry.
Another intelligence issue the conspirators
had to resolve was how the assault teams would
get weapons and other equipment aboard the planes.
In making their reconnaissance flights, they passed
though the checkpoints of many different major
airports, including Logan and Newark. Here they
had the opportunity to test passenger identification,
hand baggage scanning, ethnic profiling and other
security measures. They could also case the transit
lounges for places to cache weapons that other
co-conspirators might smuggle past checkpoints
so as not to endanger the assault crews. Presumably,
bu June when the assault teams were dispatched
to the US, they had found security breaches or
other means to get the required gear aboard.
D-Day minus 28 days: Unwinding
On August 17, 2001, Moussaoui pilot-in-training
legend had failed to convince personnel at a Boeing
747 flight simulator in Minnesota, who reported
him to the FBI, and he was taken into custody.
By this time, through their liaison work abroad,
many of the other conspirators had been compromised
in one way or another. Al-Midhar and Alhamzi were
photographed meeting suspected terrorists in Malaysia,
and their names turned over to the CIA. Al-Jarrah
was temporarily detained by police in the United
Arab Emirates and Atta was identified by Czech
counter-intelligence meeting an officer of Iraqi
intelligence in Prague.
They had also left a wide paper trail
in getting photo identification for the hijackers,
supplying credit cards and establishing residencies
for the hijackers cocooned in motel rooms and
By the week of August 24th, the intelligence
mission had been completed. Logan airport had
been chosen as the airport from which two assault
teams would launch the attack on the World Trade.
They would seize the cockpits of American Airlines
Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175, both
of which kept sets of cockpit keys in the first-class
passenger cabin, and crash them into the two towers
of the World Trade Center. Since Logan Airport
had no security camera, none of the 10 hijackers
on those assault teams could be visually identified.
All that would be known about them would be the
names under which their tickets were booked. Dulles
International Airport had also been selected.
An assault team there would seize the cockpit
of American Airlines 77 and crash it into the
Pentagon. So had Newark Airport. A fourth team
there would seize the cockpit United Airlines
Flight 93 and crash it into another target in
the Washington area. Reservations were made over
the Internet, where no ID was needed.
As D-Day approached, the members of the advance
team had two options: they could escape by changing
their identities or, if they chose suicide, they
could die on the planes.