Mohamed Atta & The Godfather of Sarasota County

partnersWhat's the connection between Mohamed Atta and  ‘The Godfather’ of Sarasota County?

Today he is all but forgotten, but David B. Lindsay Jr., long-time owner and publisher of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune,  intimate of Presidents, and arms merchant to some of the most repressive regimes on the planet,  left an indelible  mark on life in his former fiefdom of Sarasota County.

And nowhere is his stamp more visible than at the newspaper monopoly he created and ran for three decades, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune.  Coincidentally (or not), the paper's coverage area—from Sarasota through Venice and down into Charlotte County— happens to be exactly where Mohamed Atta spent most of his time in the U.S.

David Lindsay was a powerful force upholding a 70 year-old tradition of allowing covert operations to be carried out in secrecy under strict media blackout on Florida’s Gulf Coast.

The implications of this policy, especially when discussing the 9/11 terrorist cadre’s choice of flight schools in the U.S., are considerable. 

The Herald Tribune's tradition, which we call "Spook Omerta," is completely at odds with America’s traditional ideas about a free press supporting the people’s right to know.

But then being a newspaper publisher and a merchant of death—David B. Lindsay’s two chosen professions—has a few internal contradictions.

Lindsay's Legacy: The 'China Connection'

DavidLinday3_3David B. Lindsay was  the “Boss Hawg” of Sarasota County.

Lindsay was known as  “the man behind the scenes”  in Sarasota County aviation.  Officials routinely called legislation affecting the Sarasota-Bradenton Airport "Lindsay's bill."

"I’m tired of being the object of the power-mad desires of David Lindsay,” Sarasota Airport manager Dick Wolf  lashed out,  back in 1978. 

“He elects five out of five city commissioners, five out of five county commissioners. He affects 95% of all appointments. He controls this community. He controls both  political parties.  Nobody dares oppose him.”

“The Lindsay Legacy” persists to this day in Sarasota County, a fact clearly visible in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune's active complicity in suppressing a huge international story about the 9/11 attack which occurred right in the paper’s backyard.

Had the paper reported the seizure of 43 lbs of heroin aboard the Lear-jet of Wally Hilliard, owner of Huffman Aviation, where three weeks earlier Mohamed Atta began flight training, there would have been an international outcry demanding an investigation.  It would have changed history.

But no such headline exists. The story is still being kept from the paper’s readers. And the American people remain in the dark about an incident germane—to say the least—to any true understanding of the circumstances surrounding the 9/11 attack.

As the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attack approaches, the big question is:

What’s to prevent it from happening again?

"Something fishy this way comes"

Lindsay Sr. The father of Sarasota Herald-Tribine publisher David Lindsay Jr. was also a pilot.

Major David Lindsay Sr. flew in World War I. Later, between 1925 and 1955, he was the owner and publisher of the Lindsay family-owned Sarasota Herald-Tribune.

Linsay Sr. has another distinction which reverberates across Southwest Florida. At first, all we knew about his service during WWII  was what we read  in the newspapers.

According to the Dec 18 1942 Sarasota Herald-Tribune,  Major David Lindsay Sr. had been “assigned to duties abroad.”

He would be “debarking soon,” the paper reported, before the end of the year.

“Assigned to duties abroad” is a tad vague. Not to mention that we can't in living memory ever recall seeing someone “debark.”

Perhaps we were overly-suspicious because of the  active disinformation—lies, really—we discovered embedded right in the damn historical plaque  out at the Venice Municipal Airport. It was supposed to be a joke, said the Venice Historical Society. But how it might be funny eluded comprehension.  

What the historical plaque did do was hide  the primary function of the Venice Army Air Field—training squadrons of pilots, both American and Chinese, for General Claire Chennault’s Flying Tigers.

The Sarasota Air Field and the St. Petersburg Airport did the same thing.

When they’re still pulling that “need to know’ business some 60 years after the fact, our considered professional opinion is that, to use a technical term:

"Something fishy's going on."

A Tempest in Every Teapot

sarasotascandal7Even before Katherine Harris and Mohamed Atta became famous, Sarasota was an unusual place. So we kept out ears open for any future hints about what “assigned to duties abroad” really means.

There was a “tempest in a teapot” regularly in Sarasota, like during  the Teapot Dome Scandal.

Famous front page detective William Burns of the Burns Detective Agency came to Sarasota to lie low after getting cross-wise with somebody he shouldn have during the simmering scandal which inaugurated the Warren Harding Administration into the Roaring 20’s.

And John Ringling North, whose Ringling Circus wintered at the Venice Airport (while Ringling himself wintered in a huge mansion in Sarasota) was usually good for a scandal worthy of center ring.

North was the OSS Agent in WWII who cut a deal with the Sicilian Mafia to allow the U.S. invasion to cut through Sicily like… well, like butter. In return, we gave them Cuba….and a player to be named later. Actually his name was already known. It was Lucky Luciano.

Then during the 1960's new recruits in the CIA were sent from Langley to Ringling’s Clown College in Venice. Why, we wondered, when we first learned this news, would the CIA send its recruits to Clown College?

After someone told us the answer, it  seemed obvious: Why CIA recruits went to Clown College was to learn sleight-of-hand. 

"Wipe that froth off your face, freak-loon. We’ve got an election to steal!"

 pinkProbably the biggest recent Sarasota “scandalette” (don’t go to the dictionary; its a made up word) was how Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris single-handedly revived the stock of Maybelline cosmetics while making George W. Bush President of the United States at he same time.

Harris was multi-tasking… And yet we all sold her short.

For that bit of sleight-of-hand, meanies like Alan Dershkowitz called her “corrupt” and a “crook.”

While poking into more serious matters, like why young Arab men were hanging out in a town that looks like Sun City Arizona without the hard-hitting nightlife, we'd heard her called worse.

In the steamier precincts of Sarasota,  citrus heiress Katherine Harris was uncharitably known as the “town pump.”

A local doctor told us Harris had come close to breaking up his marriage at a party one night, when she'd sauntered over to him and sat down on his lap uninvited, just as his wife entered the room.

We didn't want to believe it. We felt a catch in our throat. "Oh sure," we felt like saying.  "They call her the town pump now. But she just has a really big heart."

That's the problem with Sarasota. It's hard to take seriously.

Proving once again that fact is stranger than fiction, in an earlier incarnation Katherine Harris had been the second banana in a third-rate lounge act. Her job was to get nightclub patrons to “jump out on the dance floor, and dance like chickens.”

Such is the state of our American Republic. "You can't make this s-t up," as they say.

Incidentally, the rumor after the 2000 election? The one about Katherine Harris having an affair with George W Bush?

It wasn’t true.  It was Jeb.

But back to our story.

Mohamed Atta & the deep history of Sarasota County

sara1 "Assigned to duties abroad."

Why had the Sarasota Herald-Tribune been so cagey about what publisher David Lindsay Sr. did during WWII? Was it just a case of someone who'd seen too many WWII posters reading “Loose lips sink ships?”

We poked around. Here's what we learned: Nope. It's worse that that. Much worse.  How much worse?

David Lindsay Sr. was a top aide to a man repeatedly identified as the individual responsible for creating America’s first officially-sanctioned drug trafficking pipeline, General Claire Chennault of the famous Flying Tigers.

In a book called “Sarasota: a history,” Jeff LaHurd writes, "David Lindsay Sr. served as a Major during World War II, and was stationed for two years with the Flying Tigers in China before commanding the Kunming Air Base, terminus of the "Hump" supply route from India."

Chennault has the dubious distinction of having been the pathblazer in heroin trafficking by the American military and intelligence, using the filthy lucre to fund anti-communist operations.  At least, that used to be the rationale.

Today there are no more commies. But intel agency involvement in drug trafficking is growing faster all the time.

Something hinky this way comes.

editorialboard The Sarasota Herald-Tribune's  post-9/11 coverage of the terrorist's living in our midst was distinguished only for being uniformly undistinguished…

But what can you expect from a publishing family seemingly flirting with the worst faintly-fascistic tendencies in American life?

And we haven’t even gotten to David Lindsay Jr. yet.

If there's a tin-pot General with a yen for mowing down peasants who felt thwarted, weapons-wise, during David Lindsay Jr.'s go-go counterinsurgency years in the late '60’s and 70’s, we haven't come across him.  

In Honduras. In Bolivia. In Paraguay. El Salvador. Guatemala. Indonesia. Every place in the world where poor people demanding basic services can be painted as card-carrying members of the international communist conspiracy, for fun and profit. Indiana-born Lindsay was there to help.

How sure are we about our impressions of David Lindsay Jr?

We’d bet the farm Lindsay knew Rev. Moon. And we'd be right.

American Patriot… American Heroin Trafficker

chennault330General Claire  Chennault's involvement  in Southwest Florida was outlined in a previous story.

During WWII (and even later) Chennault's Flying Tigers trained at the airport in Venice; trained at the airport in Sarasota; and trained at the airport in St. Petersburg, known today as the Clearwater-St Petersburg International Airport.

In fact all three airports which once trained Flying Tiger squadrons for Chennault have subsequent histories of almost-continual involvement in drug trafficking.

It is, no doubt, just coincidence.

Chennault's ghost-like presence is especially strong at Clearwater-St. Pete-International Airport, which has been much in the news for an aircraft broker who runs one of the two dummy front companies there, both of which are named SkyWay Aircraft. 

It is a major failure of tradecraft.

But these days the only place you can go to see heads roll is on Mexico's mean streets.  

Even in paradise the dark side gets really really dark

 In a travel essay called “China Sojourn,” Christopher Ryan of the St. Petersburg Times wrote about Kunming, where David Lindsay Sr. commanded base operations.

“Surrounded by scenic mountains, Kunming, at 6,200 feet, is nicknamed "the  city of eternal spring" for its almost year-round pleasant weather. In World War II this intriguing city was headquarters for Gen. Claire Chennault's  Flying Tigers."

"It is a city of contrasts, with a dark side, where illegal drugs stain the memory of the folklore hero.”

In the April 28 2008 Los Angeles Times, Robert Schriebman wrote “The covert U.S. effort in China "makes the Iran-Contra affair look like a small-scale operation."

Sarasota Herald Tribune publisher David Lindsay Sr., who commanded the Flying Tiger base of operations in Kunming, China, home to heroin trafficking on behalf of Chennault's boss, Nationalist Chinese warlord Chaing Kai-Shek, brought… something back to Sarasota County, but we're not prepared yet to say just what.

But when 43 lbs of heroin (a Central Florida record, according to the Orlando Sentinel)  were discovered in July 2000 aboard Wally Hilliard's Lear-jet, owner of the flight school that Atta began training at just three weeks earlier. it was business as usual in the drug trafficking industry, in the town of Venice,  in the County of Sarasota, and on and along Florida's Gulf Coast.

Except for this: the presence of lieutenants from Osama bin Laden's Islamic drug cartel, men who  will soon murder 3000 innocent people.

Alive today are Americans in high places who have skin in that game. Still.

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Daniel Hopsicker

Daniel Hopsicker is an investigative journalist and the author of two books on transnational crime, Welcome to Terrorland and Barry & the Boys.

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