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Hijackers' Interest in Crop Dusters Still Puzzles Terrorism Investigators
WSJ | November 19, 2001 | By JOHN J. FIALKA, TOM HAMBURGER and GARY FIELDS

Posted on 11/19/2001 11:02:42 AM PST by mombonn

Hijackers' Interest in Crop Dusters
Still Puzzles Terrorism Investigators
By JOHN J. FIALKA, TOM HAMBURGER and GARY FIELDS
Staff Reporters of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

WASHINGTON -- Seven months before he crashed an airliner into the World Trade Center, Mohamed Atta was asking crop dusters in Florida an odd question about their planes: How far can they fly?

Such aircraft normally aren't flown long distances. But this summer, a Middle Eastern man who gave his name as "Sam" hung around crop-dusting firms in Saskatchewan, Canada, for days -- and asked the same question. And sometime before he was arrested in August, suspected terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui did crop-dusting research on his computer.

The interest shown in crop dusting by the Sept. 11 hijackers and possible associates is one of the enduring mysteries of the recent terrorist attacks. Once discovered, it caused the first major post-Sept. 11 scare and prompted authorities to ground crop dusters for five days.

Yet two months later, investigators still don't know what these men were up to, despite thousands of interviews in the U.S. and Canada about their ventures into agricultural aviation. Were terrorists planning to spread anthrax from a crop duster? That would be very difficult to do effectively, because anthrax droplets need to be small enough to float, and crop dusters are designed to spray droplets that don't. Perhaps they wanted to load a crop duster's 800-gallon pesticide tank with another harmful agent, investigators speculate; or maybe they wanted to load a plane with explosives and crash it into something. Several strange inquiries, all along similar lines, have raised such concerns among authorities.

Mr. Atta's first known crop-dusting visit came in February. He and two other men who appeared to be of Middle Eastern origin drove to the municipal airport in Belle Glade, Fla., near Lake Okeechobee, and walked into South Florida Crop Care's hanger. James Lester, who cleans and loads crop dusters for the company, says Mr. Atta pointedly quizzed him about how much fuel and chemicals the planes could hold, and became pushy when Mr. Lester rebuffed his requests to sit in one of the planes. Finally, after Mr. Atta followed so closely behind that "he stepped on my heel," Mr. Lester told him he was too busy to talk anymore.

Later that month, Mr. Atta went to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farm Credit Service office in Homestead, south of Miami, and inquired about borrowing money to buy a crop duster, people familiar with the matter say. He was told to check with the nearby Community Bank of Florida, which later received a call from someone who wanted to buy a crop duster -- an unusual request, since few farms use crop dusters in the area.

Several weeks later, a man that South Florida Crop Care general manager J.D. "Will" Lee believes was Mr. Atta returned to that airfield. This time, he wanted to know how far a crop duster could fly on a tank of gas, Mr. Lee recalls. "Nobody asks about the range of crop dusters -- it doesn't make any sense," says Mr. Lee, who related his account to the FBI.

Mr. Atta and various men, apparently Middle Eastern, made repeated visits to the airfield throughout the spring and summer, employees there say. They usually stood off at a distance to watch crop dusters being loaded, taking off and landing, once videotaping them.

In March, Mr. Atta and a man investigators suspect was Marwan al-Shehhi -- the other hijacker-pilot who crashed into the World Trade Center -- landed a small plane at an airport near tiny Copperhill, Tenn., by the Georgia border. Danny Whitener, a pilot, says Mr. Atta questioned him -- again, in an aggressive manner -- about a nearby chemical plant that he had just flown over, asking what chemicals were there. Informed that it was mostly empty, Mr. Atta became angry and accused Mr. Whitener of lying, Mr. Whitener says. He also asked Mr. Whitener about a nearby dam and two nearby electric power plants, both of them nuclear.

A month later, Mr. Atta and a companion returned by car, says John Rutkosky, then the airport's manager. This time, Mr. Atta asked Mr. Rutkosky about the range and fuel capacity of a British-made Hawker jet and a Gulfstream turboprop parked there.

In Canada, a Middle Eastern man started showing up at crop-duster businesses in June, first visiting Farmair Ltd., in Regina, Saskatchewan, where he spoke to owner Norm Colhoun. He had an Arab-sounding name, but the men he encountered cannot remember it; they said he told them to call him Sam. Mr. Colhoun says the man asked for a pilot's job, claiming to have flown crop dusters in Syria and Russian passenger jets. Told there were no openings, he hung around for the day, observing and asking "funny questions" -- including the planes' range, says Mr. Colhoun.

Later in June, the same man turned up 60 miles south at Arndt Air Ltd., a crop-dusting company in Weyburn. It didn't have any pilot openings, either, but he showed up every day for a week, says maintenance director Dan McGonigle. Messrs. McGonigle and Mr. Colhoun compared recollections, and both concluded they'd encountered the same man. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police are continuing to look for him.

"He watched what we did, how we operated," recalls Mr. McGonigle, who figured Sam was "an airport bum" who liked to hang around airplanes. The company offered him a job as a ground-crew member, but he was only interested in a pilot's job. After studying flight manuals he found lying around, he persuaded company officials to let him fly a crop duster. But as Sam taxied onto the runway, it was obvious he was having trouble steering. Halfway down the runway, he stopped, jumped out and ran into a nearby grass field, Mr. McGonigle says.

Meanwhile, Mr. Moussaoui was trying to learn to fly in Norman, Okla. A French citizen of Moroccan descent, he had paid Airman Flight School $5,000 in February for a three-month course. Investigators since have determined that he was in contact with suspected terrorists overseas at the time. At some point, he downloaded a complete crop-dusting manual onto his laptop computer, including information about wind patterns and chemical dispersal. On Aug. 17, after he aroused suspicions at a flight school near Minneapolis for insisting on paying $8,300 in cash to learn to fly a Boeing 747 before he knew how to fly a small plane, the FBI arrested Mr. Moussaoui on immigration charges. He remains in custody in New York as a material witness in the hijacking investigation; his lawyer's identity isn't known.

In Florida, Mr. Atta continued visiting South Florida Crop Care. Then, in late summer, he went to a Delray Beach pharmacy in search of treatment for reddened, burning hands, which pharmacist Greg Chatterton says appeared irritated by chemicals, though Mr. Atta wouldn't say what had happened. Mr. Lee, the Belle Glade crop duster, says Mr. Atta's last visit was several days before the Sept. 11 attacks.

Right around that time, Mr. Colhoun in Saskatchewan received a strange call. It wasn't Sam, Mr. Colhoun says, but his accent was similar. The caller was inquiring about a crop duster Mr. Colhoun had for sale. Among the questions: "How far will this fly on a tank of gas?"

Mr. McGonigle says Sam himself called on Sept. 15 and said he was just checking in. When Mr. McGonigle mentioned the terrorist attacks, he says, Sam only mumbled in response. After a bit more small talk, the call ended. Sam hasn't called back since.


TOPICS: News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: corpdusting; cropduster; cropdusters
Interesting new tidbits, I hadn't heard that they were asking about how far it would fly on a tank of gas before. I HATE crop dusters - we have one that buzzes the house every fall.
1 posted on 11/19/2001 11:02:42 AM PST by mombonn
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To: mombonn
What's so puzzling about them wanting to fly something that is designed to hold a large amount of liquid?

They didn't want them to spray anthrax or any other biological or chemical hazard.

They wanted them so they could turn them into flying bombs just like the big jets. For the love of god how f'ing confusing is it?

The fact that they wanted to know how far it went on a single tank is a red flag to me that they had no intentions of making a round trip.

They were gonna fill the tanks with airplane fuel and play kamikaze.

2 posted on 11/19/2001 11:08:46 AM PST by Bikers4Bush
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To: mombonn
Fascinating.

Bumping for FR brainiacs' contributions.

3 posted on 11/19/2001 11:09:46 AM PST by aculeus
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To: mombonn
I wonder if crop dusters were "Plan B" for flying bombs if airline hijacking didn't work out. Inquiries seem to have been made in many places in a disorganized way, by stupid rather than clever people. I bet a group of cells were flooded with the instruction to get this info and pass it back up the chain. I wonder if this thought has occurred to anyone in the know. I would think about going after every Sam and checking out their comings and goings, and their associates.

An alternate thought is to use them as dusters--maybe it is possible to alter droplet sizing with minor pressure and orifice changes. Maybe its nigh-impossible (as I hope). I dunno.

4 posted on 11/19/2001 11:10:30 AM PST by Pearls Before Swine
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To: aculeus
Thanks for the bump - I'm off to ballet class. I'll be interested to see replies later on.
5 posted on 11/19/2001 11:11:37 AM PST by mombonn
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To: mombonn
"Were terrorists planning to spread anthrax from a crop duster? That would be very difficult to do effectively, because anthrax droplets need to be small enough to float, and crop dusters are designed to spray droplets that don't."

Assumptions: The terrorists were informed enough to know that the crop dusters would not do this "effectively." Terrs would not do it because it would be "difficult." Terrs would not have knowledge to make it more "effective."

6 posted on 11/19/2001 11:12:08 AM PST by Shermy
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To: mombonn
There is a govt owned cropduster which has been missing since 10/1.
7 posted on 11/19/2001 11:12:37 AM PST by Lady GOP
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To: Bikers4Bush
They wanted them so they could turn them into flying bombs just like the big jets. For the love of god how f'ing confusing is it?

Don't waste your time on FR. Volunteer for the FBI, Sherlock.

8 posted on 11/19/2001 11:13:05 AM PST by aculeus
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To: Bikers4Bush
Yes, almost certainly that's what they wanted to do. For targets even "softer" and less structurally sound than WTC. Think Sky Needle in Seattle, St. Louis Arch or maybe just a crowd of people at a sporting event or similar gathering.
9 posted on 11/19/2001 11:14:52 AM PST by motexva
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To: motexva
I'd be interested to see the proximity of nuclear reactors to the places where the questions were asked.

My thought would be that they'd want something more disruptive to the stability of our way of life.

Taking out a nuclear plant or two would definately de-stabalize our energy system and drive the cost of oil up.

10 posted on 11/19/2001 11:19:51 AM PST by Bikers4Bush
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To: Bikers4Bush
Your argument that the crop dusters' tanks were to be filled with fuel seems plausible, except for the fact that even if you want to fly a round trip, you want to know a plane's range. Also, coupled with the hazardous materials trucking anecdotes, it seems to me as if they were in part simply accumulating a diverse set of skills and capabilities to be used as Osama later decided.
11 posted on 11/19/2001 11:20:10 AM PST by Starrgaizr
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To: Bikers4Bush
They didn't want them to spray anthrax or any other biological or chemical hazard.

Since Moussaoui was also interested in “wind patterns” relating to crop-dusters , your theory doesn't make much sense.

One thing I'm not clear on, and somebody may be able to cast light on this issue, is whether crop-dusters would have any utility in spreading the anthrax sent to Daschle. It would seem to me that mixing that anthrax with a liquid would defeat the object of the milling and anti-static coating that was applied o it -- it would actually be more effective to just toss the powder out of the side of a plane. If the crop dusters weren't for dispersing anthrax, what were they for?

12 posted on 11/19/2001 11:22:09 AM PST by Clinton's a rapist
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To: Bikers4Bush
Another scenario: spray a large crowd or large area target with avgas, then crash into it if it doesnt catch fire spontaneously.
13 posted on 11/19/2001 11:23:02 AM PST by Starrgaizr
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To: Lady GOP
"There is a govt owned cropduster which has been missing since 10/1."

While there IS a missing govt.-owned crop-duster missing, the airplane in question had all of its spraying gear and tanks removed before it set out from Colombia to the US. As it sits now, it's just a cramped single-seat, single-engine plane that's slow but maneuverable. Not suited to much of anything.

BTW, anyone who would inquire about a crop duster's performance would ask how long the craft could remain aloft and in service on a tank of fuel - definitely NOT how far it could fly.

Michael

14 posted on 11/19/2001 11:25:33 AM PST by Wright is right!
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To: Starrgaizr
Or simply fire a flare into it in a low pass...
15 posted on 11/19/2001 11:26:19 AM PST by Starrgaizr
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To: Starrgaizr
My personal thought is that we've been putting too much emphasis on the terrorists using biological or chemical weapons.

Not that they didn't want to or weren't developing those methods. Everytime they hit us it was with bombs. Bombs at embassy's, bombing the Cole and in essence bombing the WTC's and Pentagon.

I would have thought that they'd be pushing the development of dirty nukes or worse for use against us in the U.S. instead of working with more difficult methods.

16 posted on 11/19/2001 11:26:43 AM PST by Bikers4Bush
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To: mombonn
!!!!

I have an idea!!

Nuclear waste dispersal.

17 posted on 11/19/2001 11:26:58 AM PST by Lazamataz
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To: Bikers4Bush
Nah! I think I just hit it.

800 lbs of nuclear waste, spread thinly and uniformly, would sure mess up a lot of property values.

18 posted on 11/19/2001 11:28:21 AM PST by Lazamataz
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To: Lazamataz
Well, how does one handle waste radioactive enough to cause a major problem and not too much to survive long enough to gather the stuff, get it in tanks, and fly the mission? Someone might want to try, but think of the crop duster as the poor man's fuel-air explosive warhead.
19 posted on 11/19/2001 11:30:04 AM PST by Starrgaizr
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To: Lazamataz
What better way to meet allah than to be glowing?
20 posted on 11/19/2001 11:32:33 AM PST by Bikers4Bush
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To: Bikers4Bush
They were gonna fill the tanks with airplane fuel and play kamikaze.

I wonder if you could spray the gasoline out the nozzles and then fly back into it to ignite it, thus immolating yourself in the equivalent of a really monstrous FAE?

21 posted on 11/19/2001 11:33:02 AM PST by N00dleN0gg1n
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To: N00dleN0gg1n
Well, we think alike. But suicide is not needed to do this. And one plane can make multiple passes on multiple targets, then fire a flare or something into each.
22 posted on 11/19/2001 11:35:53 AM PST by Starrgaizr
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To: N00dleN0gg1n; Starrgaizr
It looks like you and Starrgaizr are on the same page.

Definately plausible. They question is would it have dispersed too much to be ignighted? You'd have to fly low and pretty much saturate an area to get it to catch before it all managed to evaporate I would think.

And if all these attacks were to be coordinated at the same time (Monday morning) the most likely targets would be infrastructure stuff as opposed to stadiums or other public gathering places.

23 posted on 11/19/2001 11:37:34 AM PST by Bikers4Bush
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To: mombonn
On the bright side of the 9-11 attacks, we are no longer subject to those damn annoying planes pulling advertising banners over major sporting events.

Damn they were a pain in the butt.

24 posted on 11/19/2001 11:38:55 AM PST by SGCOS
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To: Bikers4Bush
Evaporation = ready to explode, if it hasn't dispersed too much. This would also explain wind pattern studies, etc. If dusters are good to get drops onto crops, they might be ideal to get a lot of explosive vapor over a target.
25 posted on 11/19/2001 11:39:36 AM PST by Starrgaizr
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To: mombonn
Here's a frightening THOUGHT.... Could OBL Loonies have SOMEHOW found a why to AEROSOLIZE EBOLA????? Now THAT a TRUELY frightening Thought!!!!
26 posted on 11/19/2001 11:44:48 AM PST by Roger_W_Isom
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To: Bikers4Bush
Oh please, they are not that stupid or without resources. They could probably buy as much high explosive as they could stuff into any size plane. If they wanted a kamikaze bomb, they would buy cheap and big. If they want a cropduster, they have something nastier in mind. I find it very disturbing that lost cropduster has not been found. It's also BS that crop dusters are short-range: the Ayers can be reconfigured to hold fuel in the spray tank, and was flown between South America and the U.S. on anti-drug missions. And it is lightly armored. Very unpleasant in the wrong hands.
27 posted on 11/19/2001 11:45:17 AM PST by eno_
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To: aculeus
Sounds like an episode from the KEYSTONE COPS!
28 posted on 11/19/2001 11:47:12 AM PST by TiaS
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To: Shermy
More frightening still... How about a weaponized versiom of Bubonic plague?????? Remember the Japs in WWII was studying Weaponizing Bubonic Plague in their INFAMOUS Unit 731A believe....
29 posted on 11/19/2001 11:47:51 AM PST by Roger_W_Isom
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To: Bikers4Bush
Hijackers' Interest in Crop Dusters Still Puzzles Terrorism Investigators

Tell Larry, Moe, and Curly to retire now!
30 posted on 11/19/2001 11:50:11 AM PST by balrog666
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To: motexva
Thats SPACE NEEDLE in Seattle WA.. Also I Goofed earlier The Jap unit was 713 It was stationed in China... and made Mengele at Aushwitz look like a SAINT... they were that ruthless
31 posted on 11/19/2001 11:51:13 AM PST by Roger_W_Isom
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To: Bikers4Bush
Then again, one of the murdered journalists in Afghanistan had just found--and published a story about--vials of sarin in one a lab deserted by the Taliban.
32 posted on 11/19/2001 11:53:09 AM PST by MizSterious
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To: eno_
And I'm sure they could have obtained that much high explosives without attracting any attention at all right?

Much easier to fill them with fuel.

33 posted on 11/19/2001 11:57:01 AM PST by Bikers4Bush
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To: Roger_W_Isom
Ken Abilek says the Russians crossed smallpox with Ebola. He felt this was the deadliest bioagent anyone had discovered.
34 posted on 11/19/2001 12:02:52 PM PST by motexva
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To: eno_
I think there are plenty of easier ways to spread some sort of biological toxin. Use of a cropduster as a kamikaze missile fits the facts. It seems like Atta and Co. were researching this topic around the time they were preparing the 9-11 attack. No terrorists outside the 9-11 cell have been linked with cropdusters, I think they were considering use of them as bombs at some point.
35 posted on 11/19/2001 12:07:00 PM PST by motexva
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To: Bikers4Bush
Or even if they crashed, say a half dozen crop dusters loaded with kerosene or gas into 6 transformer stations out in the SW. Lightly defended targets accessible from air, and you don't have to hit too many at once to bring down 3/4s to 1/2 of the nationwide grid.

You seem to see the key angle of this campaign - the high body counts are frosting on the cake, which is an assault on the US economic infrastructure, which is the main things these nuts really hate about us. Transportation systems, mail systems, power grids, computer networks - these are the likely targets of the evil ones.

36 posted on 11/19/2001 12:11:32 PM PST by motexva
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To: mombonn
Here's you know who, practicing. Get out the SAMs.


37 posted on 11/19/2001 12:17:52 PM PST by jws3sticks
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To: motexva
Maybe it's connected to the 20 "Suitcases" these guys are suspected to have in their possession -- by way of the Russian Mafia.
38 posted on 11/19/2001 12:20:18 PM PST by TiaS
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To: TiaS
Would it be asier to drop those or drive them? I thought I read somewhere that they're the size of a fridge.

I was just wondering whether it's still possible to drive across the large dams in the U.S.

That may be something we need to stop for the time being.

39 posted on 11/19/2001 12:28:20 PM PST by Bikers4Bush
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To: mombonn
Lets look at this in a different manner, what if you weren't going to use say bacterialogical, but insted maybe gas or kerosene. crash into michigan statium on a sunday afternoon and ?? There are many ways to use an ag plane as a weapon and it doesn't have to be used only when the wind isn't blowing or too humid or too hot.
40 posted on 11/19/2001 1:23:06 PM PST by Joe Boucher
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To: nobody in particular
One of the articles about the four journalists being killed brought up the Japanese terrorists putting sarin gas into a Tokyo subway system.

The author wrote that to test the gas, the terrorists drove down a small street 'spraying' the gas behind them.

Can Sarin Gas be sprayed from a crop duster?

41 posted on 11/20/2001 9:19:34 AM PST by SGCOS
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To: Clinton's a rapist
"It would seem to me that mixing that anthrax with a liquid would defeat the object of the milling and anti-static coating that was applied to it ..."

If they used water, the anthrax would still be a danger once it evaporated. Everything in the area they spayed would be evenly coated. I still wonder what happened to the government crop duster that disappeared from the Keys.

42 posted on 11/20/2001 9:37:53 AM PST by Bill Rice
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To: mombonn
Interesting new tidbits, I hadn't heard that they were asking about how far it would fly on a tank of gas before. I HATE crop dusters - we have one that buzzes the house every fall.

Crop dusters are some of the best stunt pilots there are. There is a company not to far from where I live and we see them all the time. Even when they aren't dusting. Just out for a fun flight. We take our lawn chairs out and watch the show. They are good. That could have been some of the interest of the terrorists..

43 posted on 11/20/2001 10:02:27 AM PST by Texas Mom
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To: Clinton's a rapist
One thing I'm not clear on, and somebody may be able to cast light on this issue, is whether crop-dusters would have any utility in spreading the anthrax sent to Daschle.
Yes, they would and all of those people telling you otherwise, including the so called experts in the media are wrong.

There have been numerous studies performed by the Department of Defense and by the World Health Organization that studied the effects of chemical/bio weapons being spread in the air. Many of these tests were performed using cropdusters and showed horrific results.

If you can still catch a show that I saw recently on the History Channel, something like The History of Chemical and Biological Warfare, It specifically showed cropdusters spreading both simulated Anthrax in tests and actually spreading mustard gas (I believe in Ethiopoia)
Given appropriate weather and wind conditions, 50 kilograms of anthrax released from an aircraft along a 2 kilometer line could create a lethal cloud of anthrax spores that would extend beyond 20 kilometers downwind. The aerosol cloud would be colorless, odorless and invisible following its release. Given the small size of the spores, people indoors would receive the same amount of exposure as people on the street.

There are currently no atmospheric warning systems to detect an aerosol cloud of anthrax spores. The first sign of a bioterrorist attack would most likely be patients presenting with symptoms of inhalation anthrax.

A 1970 analysis by the World Health Organization concluded that the release of aerosolized anthrax upwind of a population of 5,000,000 could lead to an estimated 250,000 casualties, of whom as many as 100,000 could be expected to die.

A later analysis, by the Office of Technology Assessment of the U.S. Congress, estimated that 130,000 to 3 million deaths could occur following the release of 100 kilograms of aerosolized anthrax over Washington D.C., making such an attack as lethal as a hydrogen bomb. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that such a bioterrorist attack would carry an economic burden of $26.2 billion per 100,000 people exposed to the spores.
IMHO, the terrorists wanted these planes for one and one reason only and that is to spread chemical/biological agents. No offense intended but the people who are suggestign that they may have wanted these particular planes simply so that they could load them with fuel and use them as small bombs must be ignoring the fact that it would be much easier to simply rent a standard prop plane equipped with a long range fuel bladder. This theory then does not hold up very well...

Anthrax
44 posted on 11/20/2001 10:31:18 AM PST by RebelDawg
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