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UQ Wire: 9/11 Flight School Cover-Up (Review)

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9/11 Flight School Cover-Up
A Review Of Daniel Hopsicker's " Welcome To Terrorland "

By Len Bracken


As the result of a two-year investigation, an intrepid journalist has disclosed evidence of a cover-up concerning the flight schools in Florida that trained three of the four terrorists who piloted the hijacked planes. Daniel Hopsicker saw Venice, Fla., as the biggest unexploded crime scene in the September 11, 2001 attacks and arrived there two months later. He fearlessly pursued leads down dark alleys peopled with intelligence types and drug-running gangsters and tenaciously tracked down highly revealing witnesses, such as Mohamed Atta’s girlfriend.

The case that emerges from his multitude of facts is alarming, although not airtight. First, Hopsicker discloses evidence that shatters the FBI’s timeline of Mohamed Atta’s movements. Second, Hopsicker demonstrates that Atta’s relationship with flight school executive Rudi Dekkers was not what he testified it was under oath. Third, Hopsicker provides testimony of FBI witness intimidation. Furthermore, by personally going the extra mile with bold interviews, aviation industry research, and following up on local reporting, Hopsicker simultaneously shows, in a fairly convincing way, that the CIA “was actually running the operation” that brought Arab pilot trainees into Florida and that the national media, he notes with sarcasm, have been willfully ignorant of these scandalous facts. Hopsicker surely needed his sense of humor to sustain his quest as he wandered through this dark maze of Florida flight schools and aviation companies.

While Mohamed Atta and Marwan Al-Shehhi trained at Huffman Aviation, which was owned by the notorious Rudi Dekkers, terrorist pilot Said Al-Jarrah was at Venice’s other flight school, Florida Flight Training Center, which was owned by Arne Kruithof. Eight members of the 9/11 terrorist cadre trained at these two flight schools, as did Zacharias Moussaoui. In what Hopsicker facetiously calls the Magic Dutch Boy Theory, two Netherlands citizens, months apart, purchased flight schools at the same airport and then Arab pilots began to arrive in Venice in unprecedented numbers. An eyewitness said both flight school owners knew one another prior to Venice, although Dekkers denied this, and both worked with a German named Pascal Schreier who recruited trainees for the flight school.

“Rudi Dekkers said Atta and his sidekick just showed up at his facility one day,” Hopsicker writes. “He had, instead, been actively marketing his flight school,” according to reports in local papers, “in Germany at the exact time Mohamed Atta and his terrorist cell left Hamburg and moved to Florida.”

Dekkers asserted that Atta left Venice around Christmas 2000, and the shifty Dutchman said in sworn congressional testimony that he never saw Atta again. But in his video, Mohamed Atta’s Venice Flying Circus, and now in his book, Welcome to TerrorLand: Mohamed Atta and the 9-11 Cover-Up in Florida, Hopsicker reveals that eyewitnesses who spoke with him and with local reporters said Atta lived in nearby North Port from January 2001 until early March. And Atta lived with Amanda Keller in the Sandpiper Apartments in March and April of 2001, four months after the FBI said he left Venice. Several witnesses saw Atta with Dekkers in Venice two weeks before the attacks and another said Atta bought a sandwich from her in Venice one week before 9/11.

In the FBI biography of Atta, no mention is made of Venice, Fla., but the FBI knows from its debriefing of Venice Yellow Cab driver Bob Simpson that Atta and Dekkers shared cab rides in August 2001. “They knew each other well, really well,” Simpson told Hopsicker. “They were going to a nightclub in Sarasota, talking and very sociable with each other.” According to Hopsicker, the FBI lied to protect Dekkers, and the Dutch flight school owner lied to Congress regarding his relationship with Atta. The 9/11 Commission has conspicuously ignored the issue of flight schools in Venice.

The facts Hopsicker compiles against the shady flight school owner stagger the imagination. While running another flight school in nearby Naples, Fla., Dekkers crashed airplanes, violated air space, chartered airplanes without a license, and was reported to the FAA for several other violations. He reportedly had tax problems and was the subject of an arrest warrant for smuggling computer chips. Naples aviation executive John Vellada said that DEA and U.S. Customs had investigated him, adding, “Everything he ever did, from A to Z, was illegal.” Although he was “thrown out of Naples as a con artist,” according to a local aviation observer Rob Tillman, Dekkers was able to buy Huffman Aviation, which was Venice Airport’s fixed base operator or FBO, a position which carries with it civic responsibilities.

In short order, as was reported in the Venice Gondolier, Dekkers was repeatedly threatened by the city of Venice with eviction for not paying rent. The money he was making from training Atta and other terrorists apparently went into the improbable scheme of launching a statewide airline with slim prospects, a venture that won high praise from passengers Governor Jeb Bush and State Secretary Katherine Harris. Dekkers was, according to Hopsicker, a CIA asset and therefore somehow able to pay up his rent one month before the 9/11 attacks. While the rest of the industry suffered and were behind on payments, he never missed after that.

Hopsicker quotes local investigator Bill Warner as saying, “There are enough judgments in his name and his companies name to paper his office walls,” yet he was somehow able to pay off a series of lawsuits after the 9/11 attacks. According to Florida State’s Attorney Jonathan Greene, Dekkers was wanted in the Netherlands where he reportedly owed the government $3 million. He was also the target of a multiagency federal investigation in the mid-90s, yet not even an eyebrow of suspicion was raised when he spoke on CNN or Larry King Live, or when he testified to Congress on how to prevent more attacks. Moreover, Dekkers repeatedly changed his story to the press regarding his relationship with Atta and Al-Shehhi, although none of these accounts match those of Hopsicker’s eyewitnesses.

Hopsicker’s sobering accounts of the FBI intimidating witnesses, such as the bar manager who first said Atta drank Stolichnaya like a Russian and then retracted his story and amended it to cranberry juice, are too numerous to recount here. The case of his star witness, Amanda Keller, deserves brief mention that will not do justice to the amazing testimony in the book. She is the one Hopsicker tracked down after numerous calls to the police and child protective services workers, and she draws an intimate portrait of Mohamed Atta in Welcome to TerrorLand as a coke-snorting foot fetishist. Keller, like other Sandpiper Apartment residents, was bullied by the FBI into not talking about what she knows.

A reporter from the Sarasota Herald-Tribune’s Venice bureau, Earle Kimel, helped break the story about Atta’s American girlfriend. But the paper, which is owned by the New York Times, pulled Kimel off the case and ran a story in which Keller allowed herself to appear to have been mistaken “because of the intimidation by the FBI.” So now it was another Mohamed she had been living with for two months. When a New York Times reporter attempted to interview Keller, she put him on the line with the FBI. “I don’t know what was said,” Keller told Hopsicker, “but after that he left me alone.” The constant FBI surveillance and phone calls continued when she moved away from Venice, to the point where she was ordered by a G-man not to burn leaves because it could be evidence.

Hopsicker’s previous book-length work, Barry and the Boys, which is about Barry Seal and clandestine flights to and from Mena, Ark., gave him experience examining the aviation industry public record, and it shows. The journalist traces the ownership of flight schools, airlines and planes from Washington State, to Las Vegas, to an extremely wealthy man named Wally Hilliard. Hopsicker is being sued for Barry and the Boys so it’s no surprise that when commenting on TerrorLand and the stories on Hopsicker’s Mad Cow Morning News website, Hilliard brought up the question of libel. He told his hometown paper in Wisconsin, the Green Bay Press-Gazette, he had spoken with friends in the FBI and they said a suit was not worth the trouble because laws protect the writer.

The paper quotes him as saying he lives as morally as he can, “trying not to do anything immoral, illegal or fattening,” whereas Hopsicker sees him as the person who funded the operation that brought many bin Laden operatives to a flight school only nominally owned by Dekkers. Hilliard told his hometown paper he received thirty cents for every dollar he invested in Huffman Aviation; Hopsicker contends that part of the point about Hilliard is that so many of his operations made no business sense. To mention another example, after losing possession of a Lear Jet due to a 43-pound heroin bust, Hilliard was loaned a Beechcraft King Air 200 for a dollar by Truman Arnold, but the transaction wasn’t recorded until a year later, in January 2002.

The best link that Hopsicker can make to the CIA came via a tip from a local reporter at the Lynchburg News & Advance. Business reporter Chris Flores alerted the author to a dispute in the Virginia town regarding Britannia Aviation. Hilliard had invested heavily in Huffman Aviation and it was there that Britannia worked under Huffman’s FAA license. In another deal that did not make business sense, Lynchburg gave a contract to Britannia even though it did not have the proper FAA license and was undercapitalized. At a town hall meeting, the Britannia representative let on that the company had done aviation maintenance for Caribe Air while at Venice Airport, not realizing that it would quickly be recognized as a CIA proprietary airline by local reporters.

In his December 29, 2003 interview on PowerHour, Hopsicker is quite explicit: “I discovered that we were dealing with flight school owners who are CIA assets. … Mohamed Atta was in this country as a result of a program being run through the Central Intelligence Agency.” He is so confident of his evidence that he wants his day in court. “Sue me,” Hopsicker said on radio, “if this is incorrect information.” On the same broadcast, the journalist told listeners what he thought were the broad strategic considerations: “Somebody in the U.S. government was trading with Osama bin Laden and the deal, almost, very likely, was oil and heroin for guns and training. Either the CIA was secretly trading with Osama bin Laden or people who were able to manipulate the CIA were trading with Osama bin Laden. And his people, the representatives of his drug-trafficking Islamic organization, turned around and double-crossed us.”

Hopsicker doesn’t speculate much about this double cross possibility in his book, although he does go into Atta’s early work for a US government program in Hamburg. On a trip back to Egypt during this period, Atta made unconvincing indications that he had gone through an Islamic conversion. Hopsicker’s unnamed source places Atta at Maxwell Air Force Base’s International Officer’s Training School, and the author covers the significant leaks made by individuals in the military regarding these connections. The Air Force’s partial denial that covered all of the purported hijackers explicitly did not rule out Atta’s attendance at Maxwell. If, after so much effort went into training the hijackers, the CIA or DIA or the Secret Team as Fletcher Prouty identifies it, was double crossed, then this is the main point – once again the people who are so intent on spying, for example, intent on having assets as pilots on Arabic airlines, do more harm than good.

Such a colossal failure by the intelligence community is never mentioned in the mainstream press or in the hearings of the 9/11 Commission. The reason is simple. Instead of being a positive asset - which is already more than the intelligence community wants to admit - Atta and his ilk were more likely negative assets, which is to say they were al-Qaeda infiltrators who actually or only purportedly wanted to directly attack the United States. To his credit as an investigative journalist, Hopsicker steers clear of speculating on this, although someone must ask, in light of these assertions, a key question: Was Atta led to believe that he could get away with his conspiracy, that he could double-cross his case officers, or was he aware that the US government backed the operation and perhaps helped plan aspects of it?

In his May 3, 2004 dispatch on Hilliard, on his Mad Cow Morning News website, Hopsicker writes that Hilliard and Dekkers were implicated in a federal complaint accusing them of making “unauthorized and unsupervised flights,” without an operating certificate, during April and May of 1999. Hopsicker’s sources tell him that Hilliard and Dekkers were “ferrying Saudi princes” all over the United States. The government claims that the complaint is unrelated to 9/11, but this appears to be another unconvincing denial given that these covert flights were never investigated by any of the oversight committees looking into the attacks.

It will come as little surprise to readers of My Times: A Memoir of Dissent by veteran newspaperman John Hess that major dailies such as the New York Times play by national security rules. Hopsicker, who effectively used local papers in his research, writes it was just a strange coincidence that of the over 220 flight schools in Florida, the Times ran an article about only two particular ones for its two-year anniversary story on 9/11. One was Arne Kruithof’s Florida Flight Training Center and the other, Pelican Flight Training Center, is where Pascal Shchreirer’s wife works. These well-connected schools may still cater to the same Europeans - the Germans, Swiss and others - who were close to Atta, the drug-smuggling pilots or sinister people like them.

Although his self-produced book and video, which, inevitably, would benefit from more editorial and directorial oversight, don’t outline a perfect case so much as reshape his Internet essays with the colorings of hard-hitting journalism with what are at times self-mocking and distracting tones, the investigation by Daniel Hopsicker takes on increased significance given at least three considerations: 1) the FBI’s investigation of 9/11, according to a regional FBI office, was directed from the White House; 2) the investigation was impeded by the shift of resources to the subsequent anthrax attacks; and 3) the records from the Venice police station and from Huffman Aviation were deemed so sensitive that the president’s brother, Governor Jeb Bush, personally escorted them to Washington immediately after the attacks.

The 9/11 Commission must investigate Hopsicker’s accusations of covert CIA activity with the hijackers and the cover-up of the facts by the FBI using witness intimidation and other underhanded tactics. Each commissioner should at least watch Mohamed Atta and the Venice Flying Circus to sample the journalist’s bemused indignation at the spies from the famous clown school. Even for someone like Hopsicker, who has seen plenty of government corruption, the goings on in Florida were extraordinarily shameful because of their terrible consequences. If the 9/11 Commission fails to investigate the CIA and its use of flight schools in Venice for training Arabs as kamikazes, it will have been complicit in the cover-up.


Len Bracken is the author of Shadow Government: 9-11 and State Terror (Adventures Unlimited Press, 2002).



STANDARD DISCLAIMER FROM UQ.ORG: does not necessarily endorse the views expressed in the above article. We present this in the interests of research -for the relevant information we believe it contains. We hope that the reader finds in it inspiration to work with us further, in helping to build bridges between our various investigative communities, towards a greater, common understanding of the unanswered questions which now lie before us.

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