The long run of Rudi Dekkers, 56, the Dutch national who first passed out bunks to Mohamed Atta and Marwan Al-Shehhi when they arrived in the United States to enroll at Huffman Aviation in Venice, Florida, ended last week when he was arrested for drug trafficking in Houston.(read the criminal complaint .pdf)
Before relating the details of 'what went down in Houston,' a little 'back story' on Dekkers, who is an historically important figure:
In the aftermath of the 9/11 attack, it was Rudi Dekkers' running account of the character and personality of Mohamed Atta and the other terrorists which transfixed a nation and the world. He was everywhere on television.
Even though it seemed to many observers that he was making it up as he went along, Dekkers fixed an image of the hijackers that changed remarkably little in the years that followed.
Marwan was the jolly one. Atta was rude. Dekkers' didn't like him, he asserted, ever more emphatically. He just didn't.
"I just had this funny feeling"
On the day after the attack, Dekkers denied to reporters that he'd ever talked to Atta or Al-Shehhi, There were dozens of foreign students at the school, he said, and he was a very busy man. But his memory shortly seemed to improve.
Later, the operations manager at the second Dekkers/Hilliard flight school (in Naples) told me someone she thought was an FBI agent had been coaching him behind the scenes.
It didn't matter. It was of no consequence.
While Dekkers was getting more face time on TV than anyone since O.J. Simpson, he was simultaneously being sought on felony fraud, I learned exclusively, in his native Netherlands.
This was thought to be unremarkable.
Over the next decade I filed dozens of stories presenting evidence that Huffman Aviation in Venice Florida was like no other flight school in America; that while the terrorist hijackers were practicing “touch and go’s” on the runway outside, what owner Wally Hilliard and manager Rudi Dekkers were running looked very much like a continuing criminal enterprise. (On Sunday, a representative sampling of those stories will be re-published here.)
For example, three weeks after Atta showed up at Huffman Aviation, the flight school's owner, Wally Hilliard, had his Learjet (N351WB) seized on a runway at Orlando Executive Airport. It carrying 43 lbs of heroin. In the drug business, that amount of heroin is what is known as "heavy weight."
At the time of the bust, July of 2001, something like 80% of the world's heroin came from Afganistan, where Atta is known to have spent time. Osama bin Laden still lived there.
But no alarm bells went off. It didn't matter. It was of no consequence. It was thought unremarkable.
Runs out of 'get out of jail free' cards
Dekkers first came to the attention of U.S. law enforcement in 1996, according to sources who worked with him at the Naples Airport. He was the subject of a multi-agency Federal task force, investigating allegations, and numerous sources said they were much more than mere allegations, that Dekkers was exporting state-of-the-art computer memory chips out of the U.S. illegally.
However, no charges were ever filed. In the case of someone who’s been the subject of a multiple agency task force, this is highly unusual. An executive who worked at Naples Airport, directly under Wally Hilliard, said, "You don't get the FBI, US Customs, and the DEA, on your ass all at once for singing too loud in church."
The suspicion among aviation observers in SW Florida was, and remains, that Dekkers was offered—and accepted—some kind of deal. Last week, in Houston, for an as-yet unknown reason Rudi Dekkers' finally ran out of “get out of jail free” cards.
It had been a long run.
Hooray for Halloween…in Houston
According to the affidavit filed with the criminal complaint, a drug kingpin named Arturo Astorquiza, described as “the head of an international drug trafficking organization (DTO),” introduced Rudi Dekkers to an associate of his, who he did not yet know was an undercover agent.
Dekkers told the agent, quoting the affidavit, that he was “involved in narcotics transportation using private aircraft and that he has flown narcotics and currency previously without any problem.”
What Dekkers actually said was probably phrased in a considerably less bureaucratic fashion. Something like, “I’ve been a drug pilot for years. Drugs. Money. No problem. What do you need?”
A week later, agents arrested “drug kingpin” Astorquiza in the parking lot of his Houston condo.
Agents must be able to suppress snickering at all times
At hearing this unsurprising "news," the undercover agent must have been successful in suppressing a snicker, because Dekkers then went on to inform him he would soon be flying in to Houston Intercontinental Airport on his way to do a drug flight, and would still be interested in working something out. Dekkers said he would be picking up 6 kilos of cocaine, for which he was to be paid $9000.
This is interesting, and seems to indicate that in the drug business, over the past 30 years, little has changed, because $3000 a key was exactly what Barry Seal charged for transportation way back during the 1980’s.
In Houston, Dekkers was placed under round-the-clock surveillance. He was spotted meeting with Rogelio Martinez-Flores, who proceeded to hand Dekkers something the affidavit refers to in all caps as THE BLUE ROLLING SUITCASE.
Moments later, agents moved in. They brought with them a K-9 unit. Jack the dog, grinning from ear to ear, did a little canine dance all over THE BLUE ROLLING SUITCASE.
One surprise: Instead of the 9 kilos Dekkers said he’d be transporting, in the suitcase was 18 kilos of cocaine, as well as 860 grams of heroin.
The news that Rudi Dekkers has finally been caught trafficking drugs, after years of credible reports (see stories on Sunday) does not fill me with elation. I confess to being somewhat surprised at my own response. I felt not even a little schadenfreude—taking satisfaction another’s misfortune.
I’m no saint. I'm human. Spending a decade as a non-person for telling the truth has been no walk in the park. But “I told you so” is not an ennobling sentiment. And I've also been thinking about something that happened almost 20 years ago.
The late John Kennedy, Jr., during a press conference announcing the launch of his new publication "George," was asked if he'd use the magazine as a platform to investigate his father’s assassination.
No, he said Too much time had passed. He said, “Time is the great enemy of the truth.”
Meaning that by the time the general public figured out that the people who killed John Fitzgerald Kennedy had shot their way into power, just like Hitler's Nazis did, it was too late to do anything about it but grieve.
Time is the enemy of the truth. By the time we figure out we've been successfully lied to about what Mohamed Atta's presence in the U.S.had to do with importing heroin from Afghanistan, it will be, already, too late.
Too late for the 4000 American soldiers killed in a needless war in Iraq, that might not have been rammed through so easily if the truth about the terrorist conspiracy in Florida had been better understood.
And too late for all the Iraqis who died in the U.S. invasion, even though the blood that was spilled on September 11 2001 was not on their hands.
Some of that blood, though, is on Rudi Dekkers' hands.
My guess is he knows it. And that he'll have to live with that.
ON SUNDAY: WE'LL RE-PUBLISH SOME STORIES AND VIDEO FROM THE RUDI DEKKERS ARCHIVE