Skip to comments.FBI checking crop-dusting planes and pilots, still worried about possible terror use
Posted on 04/22/2004 12:28:33 PM PDT by Oldeconomybuyer
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The FBI has questioned more than 3,000 pilots and aircraft owners, most of them in the past year, amid persistent concerns that terrorists might use crop-dusting planes to mount a biological or chemical attack, newly released documents show.
The interviews have not produced any arrests, according to a senior law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity, but have resulted in terrorism investigations that are still under way.
The effort, outlined in documents submitted to the commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks, is more extensive than previously disclosed and underscores how seriously the threat is viewed by U.S. authorities. [snip] Most of the crop-duster interviews were conducted after the March 2003 start of the war in Iraq, which triggered new concerns about terrorists acquiring and using weapons of mass destruction. The law enforcement official who described the initiative, known as the Agricultural Aviation Threat Project, said it was continuing.
(Excerpt) Read more at sfgate.com ...
Barely two weeks before his arrest outside an Eagan hotel, Zacarias Moussaoui inquired about the University of Minnesota's crop-dusting program, a move suggesting the terror suspect might have considered staying in the state for a year or more.
Moussaoui e-mailed the university's Crookston, Minn., campus on July 31, 2001, seeking information on a "short course you offer to become a crop duster (6 month, 1 years max.)"
Moussaoui made a fleeting reference to the e-mail in a court filing late last month in Alexandria, Va., where he is awaiting trial on six federal charges, including conspiracy to commit air piracy and conspiring to kill Americans. Four of the charges could carry the death penalty.
The importance of Moussaoui's interest in the program is open to interpretation. His motion attempts to cast doubt on his involvement in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
The 34-year-old French citizen is the only person charged in connection with last year's terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C. Jury selection in his trial is scheduled to begin Sept. 30.
In the e-mail, Moussaoui said that he was in the United States working toward a commercial pilot's license and that he hoped someday to start a crop-dusting business in Morocco or France. His message also asked for advice on setting up such a business.
"I am interested to know what type of aircraft, material, equipment, something in detail, a kind of business plan," he wrote.
Larry Leake, director of the university's agricultural aviation program, didn't pay much attention to the note. The writer, who identified himself only as "Zacarias," was looking for a much shorter course than the university's two- and four-year programs.
"We didn't have what he was looking for," Leake said, "so I just sort of disregarded it." ...Immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks, federal agents talked to Leake as part of their nationwide canvassing of flight schools. The e-mail never came up, because Leake didn't know whom it was from until agents discovered Leake's name in a notebook or computer file of Moussaoui's. When agents contacted Leake a second time, he provided a copy of the e-mail.
Leake said he hasn't given much thought since to the message, even as Moussaoui became a central figure in the government's Sept. 11 investigation.
"I haven't heard anything since I sent (federal agents) that note. The FBI hasn't talked to me once," he said.
Moussaoui used the same e-mail account and screen name he used when corresponding with Airman Flight School in Norman, Okla., in the fall of 2000. He arrived at that school in February 2001 and logged nearly 60 hours of flight time but never flew solo and left after two months without earning a license.
He arrived in Minnesota about Aug. 12 to train on a 747-400 jet simulator owned by Northwest Airlines and administered by Pan Am International Flight Academy in Eagan.
Flight-school officials have said that Moussaoui was unqualified for the training he requested. They also described him as unusually insistent on learning how to steer a jetliner in the air rather than how to take off and land. His behavior prompted a school official to contact the FBI and Moussaoui was taken into custody Aug. 15, before logging any simulator time. ...
A ping from you...
Bad actors with terrorist intent are going to have to get their aircraft up in the air totally independent of the small aircraft industry if they expect to be undetected.
If Ben-Veniste client Truman Arnold's business dealings with terror flight school owner Wally Hilliard come under scrutiny in the 9/11 probe, the slick Washington lawyer may find himself involved in a major national scandal from two different sides.