|Mohamed Atta and the Venice Flying
November 13--Venice, Florida.
The first weird thing you
notice about the airport in Venice Florida is that there is a Flying Trapeze
planted down at the end of one of the runways. It is a strange juxtaposition.
While taking off or landing,
the terrorist student pilots practicing 'touch and go’s' could look over
and see tightrope walkers or aerialists dancing high above the ground while
practicing gravity-defying stunts, at a circus school which is a vestige
of Ringling Brothers & Barnum and Bailey Circus, which used to make
its winter home here.
Come to Venice. Join the
Become a Human Missile.
Until Rudi Dekkers bought
Huffman Aviation, Venice, Florida was best known as the Shark Tooth Capital
of the World. But the flight training given to terrorists out at the local
airport has now changed all that, and thrust this sleepy burg into the
middle of one of American History's worst nightmares.
Within hours of the September
11 attack authorities concluded that the terrorist pilots had shown such
unusual skill in maneuvering commercial airliners toward their targets
that at least one hijacker on each jet must have been trained right here
in the U.S.
They were right.
Cut to Venice, Florida. Middle
of the night.
The FBI swarms. Local police
do the grunt work. Under bright klieg lights they carry away boxes upon
boxes of records from Rudi Dekkers flight school.
"I don't need anything from
you, just a check to start flying," said Dekkers, who likened flying lessons
to shopping for groceries. "We're just a business."
The next day, the FBI is
back again at the Venice Airport, this time down the block at Arne Kruithof’s
"It's really just coincidence
that terrorists chose such a place (as Venice) to be their training ground
for the unspeakable," says Venice City Manager George Hunt.
Determining whether that
statement is true is complicated by the fact that the FBI has confiscated
everything in sight looking remotely like evidence.
And the FBI isn’t talking.
"The FBI took all our files,
everything," said one local law enforcement official, after shaking his
head ruefully when we asked if Rudi had any local ‘priors.’
He shrugs. He can’t tell.
His files are now All Gone.
"They loaded two Ryder trucks
right outside that (police station) window, then drove them right onto
a C130 military cargo plane at Sarasota airport which flew out with Jeb
Nobody has yet been charged
over the attacks on America. FBI chiefs talk about the agents they have
on the case, the doors they have knocked down, the thousand and more suspects
they have arrested.
They do not explain why they
have failed to catch anyone responsible.
That the terrorist cadre
had been trained right here in America opened a huge can of worms. And
before all the squiggly little creatures had been put back into a cool
dark place it had been disclosed that after establishing their terrorist
beachhead in unsuspecting Venice as many as six of the Terrorist 19 had
gone on to receive training at U.S. military bases.
Mohamed Atta, for example,
was reported to have attended the International Officers School at Maxwell
Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama.
The Pentagon quickly disputed
the reports, which had appeared in Newsweek, the Washington Post and the
Miami Herald. But their denial was vague, almost flimsy, and only raised
further questions. Still, they were apparently enough for Newsweek, the
Washington Post, and the Miami Herald.
All three dropped the story.
Was this a triumph for accuracy
in Media? Or an example of wartime censorship?
The answer is: no one knows.
If they do they aren’t telling.
Even a Senator, Bill Nelson
of Florida, couldn’t get a response from the Attorney General and the
Justice Department when he specifically inquired about the report that
three of the Terrorist 19 had listed the Pensacola Naval Air Station as
their home address.
We know of at least one woman
in Montgomery Alabama who has credibly insisted to local reporters that
she met Atta at a party on the base. She remembers because she then introduced
him to her friends.
"Mohamed, meet my friend
Arab pilots, mostly Saudis,
took up most of one of the most elite upscale apartment complexes in Montgomery,
one observer there informed us. They too are now All Gone.
"They went in and got every
one of them out of there pronto. Right after it happened."
There are dozens of terrorist
pilots out there loose that went through U.S. flight training. But of the
thousands of flight schools in this country, a mere handful of names keep
popping up. Did a covert operation at the two Venice flight schools serve
as a portal into an informal military training network?
The former head of the American
visa bureau in Jeddah from 1987 to 1989, Michael Springman, told BBC Newsnight:
"In Saudi Arabia I was repeatedly ordered by high-level State Department
officials to issue visas to unqualified applicants."
Last week the Boston Globe
reported that the NSA was destroying evidence, to the fury of other intelligence
agencies and FBI investigators.
"A crying shame."
Often mentioned in connection
with the NSA, Jackson Stephens has been a prominent figure in tiny Venice,
Florida... for decades.
From a baronial estate built
by Stephens financial empire the Boone law firm may still rule the city
today, at least according to an angry letter to the editor in the November
7th Venice Gondolier...
"I think it is a crying shame
that Dan Boone and his crowd can raise obscene sums of money to control
the election and make it impossible for a candidate without great resource
to run for city council. We might as well cancel future elections."
Even if it is a run-on sentence,
this tells us something. Stephens was a big player in tiny Venice. Could
be, he still is.
Then on Tuesday the BBC reported
that there had always been "constraints" on investigating Saudis, but that
under President George W Bush it had become much worse, according to "a
highly-placed source in a US intelligence agency."
The Bush Family has had a
number of connections with Saudi Arabia's prominent Bin Laden family.
We have even heard one source
we consider reputable claim that President Bush knows Osama Bin Laden personally.
They met in Texas in the 80’s, when the CIA was pouring money into Bin
Laden’s efforts, says this source.
True or not, it's at least
plausible. The only thing inherently wrong about Bush having known Bin
Laden would be concealment of it if it were true.
Because we need to know this
time. We need to know everything.
Otherwise how will we be
sure that we have avenged the poor people we saw that day who were much
like ourselves... except we were watching television while they were holding
hands in twos and threes and jumping out of 110th story windows?
How long does it take a 200-pound
body to fall 100 stories?
What prior dealings with
U.S. officials might the terrorists individually or collectively have had?
What was the nature of those
deals? Did they compromise U.S. security?
Did money change hands?
One way to get some answers,
we figured, might be to go to Venice, tucked on the Florida Coast between
Tampa and Fort Myers, where the terrorists began their U.S. training, and
walk in their footsteps.
The terrorist cadre came
here to train at two flight schools, each purchased independently by two
Dutch nationals in 1998.
Some found that a little
"One damn Dutch boy too many,"
muttered one longtime national investigator.
Perhaps they were just seeing
things. Dutch people are free to buy businesses in the U.S., aren’t they?
Even if the companies being
bought up are located next door to one another, and each of our two supposedly-competing
Magic Dutch Boys are partners with the same man?
Even if the businesses are
shortly thereafter used to train the Bin Laden Air Force? What of it?
"We're just a business."
The only explanation offered
as to why the terrorists picked Venice has been a vague assertion that
flight training in Florida is cheaper than in Europe.
Cheaper than Europe, maybe.
But is it cheaper than in the Sudan?
And even if true it does
nothing to answer questions about why, with more than 200 flight schools
to choose from in Florida alone, Atta’s deadly pilot cadre from Hamburg
had begun their U.S. flight training in the same podunk town at adjacent
flight schools owned by Dutch nationals.
As it turns out, even the
"cheaper by the terrorist squadron" explanation breaks down upon closer
Typical training fees for
a private pilot’s license are in the $10,000 range. Yet Atta and his
sidekick together paid almost $40,000 to Dekker’s Huffman Aviation.
That’s almost double the
The Rudi Dekkers Surcharge.
Atta didn’t care. Atta
was flush. Atta flashed a Big Roll. Ask the girls who dance at the Cheetah
club in Sarasota. Cash was no problemo.
A young man with money to
burn, Mohammed Atta enjoyed very Un-Islamic lap dances in the Pink Pony
Strip Club in Florida, and stuffing $20 bills into the panties of topless
dancers at the Olympic Garden, a dreary nightclub at the seedier end of
Las Vegas' Strip.
When not ogling infidel flesh,
he had a taste for the finer things as well, like hanging out at Harry’s
Bar in New York, for example, where he preferred a table near the piano.
Life in Venice must have
been hell for someone with those tastes. The median age is 69. Dinnertime
begins at 4 PM. Almost everyone gets in on the early bird specials.
Atta must have chafed. No
wonder everyone ragged on his bad attitude. Six months in Venice must have
been an eternity. But was Venice his choice? Or someone else's? Why did
Mohamed Atta come here?
Coincidence? Mere happenstance?
Do the American people have
a right to know the true nature of the threat which has so suddenly changed
all our lives?
Might we be better off not
Maybe these questions are
being answered in meetings being held right now in Hollywood, between Bush
aide Karl Rove and studio honchos.
Back in Venice, even the
circus that made its winter home there begins taking on sinister associations.
Headquartered in Vienna, Virginia, it is owned by the Feld family of Washington
According to a recent two-part
story in Salon magazine, Kenneth Feld hired former top CIA honcho Clair
George to torment a hapless freelance writer for eight years.
Why would the head of Ringling
Bros.-Barnum & Bailey want to spend eight years tormenting a hapless
Let's assume, just for the
sake of argument, that he may have had his reasons.
Still, how did he know 'CIA
honcho' Clair George, who ran Latin America for the Agency under then-Vice
President Bush during the period of Iran Contra during the '80’s?
Jackson Stephens, Clair George...have
we mentioned Good Old Boy and CIA Agent Miles Copeland Jr. yet?
No? Next time, then.
We are coming to you live
at five from the runways of the airport in Venice Florida...
And we have a funny feeling
that we will be here for a while.