Flight School Had Concerns About 9/11 Hijacker
W A S H I N G T O N, May 10 — Federal aviation authorities were alerted in early 2001 that an Arizona flight school believed one of the eventual Sept. 11 hijackers lacked the English and flying skills necessary for the commercial pilot's license he already held, flight school and government officials say. A Federal Aviation Administration inspector even sat next to the hijacker, Hani Hanjour, in one of the Arizona classes, checked records to ensure Hanjour's 1999 pilot's license was legitimate but concluded no other action was warranted, FAA officials told The Associated Press. Hanjour is believed to have piloted the plane that crashed into the Pentagon on Sept. 11. The Arizona flight school manager told authorities the FAA inspector called her when Hanjour's name became public after the hijackings and declared "your worst nightmare has just been realized," officials said. The operations manager for the now-defunct JetTech flight school in Phoenix said she called the FAA inspector that oversaw her school three times in January and February 2001 to express her concerns about Hanjour. "I couldn't believe he had a commercial license of any kind with the skills that he had," said Peggy Chevrette, the JetTech manager. She also has been interviewed by the FBI. Marilyn Ladner, a vice president for the Pan Am International Flight Academy that owned JetTech before it closed in the aftermath of Sept. 11, said the flight school expressed its concerns and believes the FAA official observed Hanjour's weaknesses firsthand. "We did have skill level concerns and a bit of language fluency concern and we did mention it to our FAA training center official," Ladner said. The FAA official "did observe Hani's limited knowledge of flying" and "did check his flight credentials. He did tell us they were valid, so he did follow up on our concern," she said. Hanjour did not finish his studies at JetTech and left the school. FAA officials confirm their inspector, John Anthony, was contacted by Pan Am in January and February about Hanjour and, at the request of the school, checked Hanjour's commercial pilot's license to ensure it was valid. But they said he observed nothing that warranted further action or suggested Hanjour would eventually hijack a plane. The inspector considered Hanjour just one of many students that schools routinely seek FAA reviews on, officials said. "There was nothing about the pilot's actions to signal criminal intent at the time or that would have caused us to alert law enforcement," FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown said. A few months later, another Pan Am school in Minnesota contacted the FBI about concerns about a different Arab student who also raised concerns by seeking jetliner training. That student, Zacarias Moussaoui, was immediately arrested in August and has emerged as the lone defendant charged with conspiring with the hijackers. The Arizona school's alert is the latest revelation about the extent of information the government possessed before Sept. 11 about the hijackers or concerns about a terrorist strike. Last week, AP reported the FBI in Arizona raised concerns in July 2001 that a large number of Arab students were training at a U.S. flight school and urged FBI headquarters to check all schools nationwide for such students — advice that wasn't followed until after Sept. 11. The FAA's Brown said Anthony was taking some of his own training at JetTech in January 2001 and coincidentally sat in the same classroom with Hanjour for one course. But she said Anthony didn't note any major language problems. Chevrette, the flight school manager, said she told Anthony she believed Hanjour could not write or speak English fluently as required to get a U.S. commercial pilot's license. "The thing that really concerned me was that John had a conversation in the hallway with Hani and realized what his skills were at that point and his ability to speak English," Chevrette said. Chevrette said she was surprised when the FAA official suggested the school might consider getting a translator to help Hanjour. "He offered a translator," Chevrette said. "Of course, I brought up the fact that went against the rules that require a pilot to be able to write and speak English fluently before they even get their license." Chevrette said Hanjour's English was so poor that it took him five hours to complete a section of a mock pilot oral exam that is supposed to last just a couple of hours. There was no answer this week at Anthony's home phone and FAA officials said he was out of town and unavailable to be interviewed. But Brown, the FAA spokeswoman, said Anthony did not observe any serious language problems and did not suggest a translator for Hanjour. Chevrette said she contacted Anthony twice more when Hanjour began ground training for Boeing 737 jetliners and it became clear he didn't have the skills for the commercial pilot's license. "I don't truly believe he should have had it and I questioned that. I questioned that all along," she said. Chevrette reported to federal authorities and her own bosses at Pan Am that in September, when Hanjour's name became public as one of the hijackers, the FAA inspector called her and said "your worst nightmare has been realized," officials said. The FBI has reconstructed Hanjour's path through the United States in painstaking detail. Agents have questioned and administered a lie detector test to one of Hanjour's instructors in Arizona who was an Arab American and had signed off on Hanjour's flight instruction credentials before he got his pilot's license. That instructor, who also is a pilot for a U.S. airline, told AP that he told authorities that Hanjour was "a very average pilot, maybe struggling a little bit." The instructor added, "Maybe his English wasn't very good." The instructor said he has passed an FBI polygraph exam and is not under investigation.
—The Associated Press
Monitoring System for Foreign Students
W A S H I N G T O N, May 10 — The Immigration and Naturalization Service has developed a Web-based system to track hundreds of thousands of foreign students. The system will link every U.S. consulate with every INS port of entry and all 74,000 educational institutions eligible to host foreign students, Terry Hartle, senior vice president of the American Council on Education, said today. The institutions include colleges, universities, technical schools and high schools. Hartle has met with INS and educational officials to discuss the plan, which Attorney General John Ashcroft planned to announce today. INS officials say a version of the system will be available July 1 and all schools should be participating by Jan. 30. "What INS is trying to do on a very compressed timetable is orders of magnitude harder than any federal agency has attempted to do before with colleges and universities and other schools," said Hartle, whose organization represents 1,800 private and public colleges and universities. The INS has acknowledged major gaps in tracking foreign students. Last month it imposed new restrictions on student visas, requiring any foreigner wishing to study in the United States to have an approved student visa before taking courses. Students previously could begin classes while waiting for visa applications to be approved. The INS for three decades has required colleges and universities to compile information on international students. But because of the volume of paper it received, INS told schools in 1988 to keep the files on campus. The INS has been under pressure from Congress since the Sept. 11 attacks to get the computerized system running. Three of the 19 hijackers were in the country on student visas — one had entered on such a visa, while two others, including alleged ringleader Mohammed Atta, entered on travel visas and switched to student visas. Hartle said that when the new system is operational, foreign students accepted by a U.S. school will be sent an INS form I-20. The school will enter the student's information into the INS tracking system. The student then will have to pay a $95 registration fee and will be given a paper receipt. The student must show that receipt and a completed I-20 form to apply for a visa at a consulate. If the visa is granted, the consulate will note it in the INS tracking system. When the student arrives in America, INS will note that in the database, which will notify the school to expect the student on campus within 30 days. If the student doesn't show, the campus must contact INS within 24 hours.
Engineers Learn from WTC Collapse
C H A R L O T T E, N.C., May 10 — While many view the Sept. 11 attack and collapse of the World Trade Center towers as a total disaster, a leading architectural engineer sees a silver lining. "The twin towers performed marvelously that day," Tod Rittenhouse told more than 250 architects, engineers and builders Thursday at the annual meeting of the American Institute of Architects. Rittenhouse and colleague Peter DiMaggio, who work for New York-based Weidlinger Associates, both noted that while some 3,000 people died in the terror attacks in lower Manhattan, about 25,000 escaped before the towers collapsed after being struck by airplanes. Much of the men's presentation, "Fighting Terrorism Through Architecture," focused on balancing the desire for security with the need to keep buildings accessible to the public. Weidlinger has worked closely with the federal government on so-called "protective designs" for courthouses, federal buildings and U.S. embassies in such high-risk countries as Russia, Kenya, Tanzania and Croatia. Since Sept. 11, Rittenhouse said, the company is increasingly in demand as a consultant to owners of commercial buildings looking to tighten security. "You don't have to be an icon building" to be affected by terrorism, Rittenhouse said. "You can be across the street from the Empire State Building. You can be across the street from the White House." Rittenhouse said two decades of terrorist attacks prior to Sept. 11 — from Beirut to Oklahoma City to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia — have taught valuable lessons about designing buildings to minimize bombing losses. Architects should use vehicle barriers and restricted access to parking garages and loading docks to keep large-sized bombs as far away from the building as possible, he said. Security against smaller, parcel-sized explosives comes from separating unsecured public places — like atriums and lobbies, loading docks and mail rooms — from occupied parts of the building, he said. Extensive use of glass in modern architecture poses a problem, Rittenhouse said. "You want a place that people feel comfortable. You want to bring in a lot of glazing and openness, so you can feel your freedom," he said. "We like atriums, we like curtain walls" — large glass walls that let in natural light. The problem, Rittenhouse said, is that 80 percent of deaths and injuries in bomb attacks are caused by blunt trauma from flying glass and debris. Financial damage also can be severe: When an IRA truck bomb went off in London's Bishopsgate area in 1993, shattered glass was sucked into one building's air system and spewed throughout, forcing owners to gut the building to its skeleton and rebuild. The solution, Rittenhouse said, is laminated glass. Like a car windshield, laminated windows absorb blast impact and fracture, but stay intact and do not spray a building's interior with glass particles. Super-strong fabric liners, made of materials such as Kevlar, also can be attached to the interior of masonry block walls, keeping shattered walls from blowing inward under a blast's force, DiMaggio said. Ultimately, DiMaggio said, making buildings secure in the post-Sept. 11 world is a balancing act. "You want the largest benefit for occupants, while having the least-detrimental effect on cost and aesthetics," he said. DiMaggio said the lesson of Sept. 11 is not to stop building skyscrapers, but to build them stronger and smarter. "I don't think we should go into a shell here in the United States and stop designing high-rise buildings," he said. "We're never going to design them such that the airplane hits and there's no damage. … But maybe we do it so that it stands up for three or four hours, instead of one hour."
Feds Give Guidelines to Guard Building Ventilation
W A S H I N G T O N, May 10 — Prompted by warnings from experts that an attacker could make thousands of people sick by dumping anthrax spores into a building's air conditioning system, the government issued new guidelines today for preventing it from happening.
Chemical and biological weapons experts have for years been saying the United States is spectacularly unprepared for a chemical or biological weapons attack, and the series of anthrax-laced letters that killed five people and made 13 others sick in October put the entire country on edge.
Letter attacks were always a possibility, but terrorism experts such as Michael Osterholm, now an adviser to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, had also sketched out scenarios in which toxic agents were put into the ventilation systems of buildings.
He has warned in the past that an attack on Minnesota's Mall of America, visited by people from all over the country and the world, could infect 350,000 people in a single day.
The Department of Health and Human Services issued new guidelines for building managers aimed at making sure that does not happen.
The advisory, available on the Internet at http://www.cdc.gov/niosh, starts out with advice on what not to do.
"Do not permanently seal outdoor air intakes," it says. "Buildings require a steady supply of outdoor air appropriate to their occupancy and function."
—The Associated Press