Hijackers trained by US military?

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It's been claimed that several of the hijackers received training at US military bases. The possibility was first raised in a Newsweek story, only 4 days after the attacks:

It's curious that the article suggests differences in the spelling of names, or the birth dates of these individuals are only "slight discrepancies". They could well indicate that these are entirely difference people. One of the Pensacola-linked hijackers is Saeed Alghamdi, for instance:

A further problem comes in the article's naming of Saeed Alghamdi, Ahmad Alnami and Ahmed Alghamdi as undergoing training. That immediately appears odd, as none of them are suggested as being pilots in the official 9/11 account. Why would the plotters bother training Jarrah for Flight 93, say, when he would be accompanied by two more experienced, military-trained pilots on 9/11?

Age proves to be a more significant issue. The Newsweek piece says Saeed Alghamdi registered a car in March 1997, yet the hijacker's I-94 document gave his birth date as the 21st of November, 1979, which would make him 17 at the time. Perhaps 16 if he was part of the same group for the 1996 date they mention. That already seems too young to be undergoing military training in another country, but further accounts make the discrepancy even worse:

In 1992 Saeed Alghamdi would have been 12 or 13, assuming his I-94 birth date is accurate. And Ahmed al-Nami, with a claimed birth date of December 1979, is also far too young. (Of course it could be argued that this might be a different al-Nami and al-Ghamdi to the pair at Pensacola, but then that only makes the point about how common these names are.) Surely the most likely explanation is that these aren't the hijackers at all?

One way to try and attempt an answer is to check public records via a search site like Intelius.com. So on the 24th of August, 2007, we conducted a US-wide search for people named Saeed al-Ghamdi, and it returned the following (note entries #1, #2, #5 and #16/ #20 in particular).

Intelius Saeed al-Ghamdi.gif

Two or three Saeed al-Ghamdis (the first two records may refer to the same man, the last two also seem to relate to one individual), both significantly older than the alleged hijacker, all with Pensacola addresses. Another, also too old to be the hijacker, but with an address at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. Could these be the individuals who trained at Pensacola? We can't say for sure, but even if they're not, this once again shows how that Saeed al-Ghamdi is not an uncommon name. And given that the alleged hijacker Saeed al-Ghamdi is too young to match the press reports, and isn't claimed to be a pilot by anyone, we believe the most likely explanation here is one of mistaken identity.

Mohamed Atta at Maxwell Air Force Base

Mohamed Atta was named in a similar New York Times article:

There's no claim here that this is the same person, just someone with "the same name". And just to demonstrate the opportunity for confusion, having placed Saeed al-Ghamdi at Pensacola above, this article now says he attended the Defense Language Institute. Two different individuals? There's no way to tell.

You might argue (and many have) that the Government should have released more details to the public about these individuals, but under privacy and confidentiality laws that may not have been possible. Consider the case of Waleed A Alshehri, for instance, briefly confused with the hijacker Waleed M Alshehri:

Embry-Riddle couldn't even release data to the FBI without a subpoena. We don't know how different the situation is when you're talking about foreign trainees at a US military base, but it seems unlikely that the release of data would be significantly easier. Nonetheless, Daniel Hopsicker had a conversation with a Major in the Air Force's Public Affair's Office, summarised here by Nafeez Ahmed:

It's surprising how much here is derived from so little.

For example, Hopsicker reports: "Was she saying that the age of the Mohamed Atta who attended the Air Force’s International Officer’s School at Maxwell Air Force Base was different from the terrorist Atta’s age as reported? Um, er, no, the major admitted". A reply that "I am not saying his age is different" does not necessarily mean "I am saying their ages are the same". It could simply mean that the major was unable to give specific biographical details about an individual: "I am not saying his age is different, I am not saying it's the same, I just can't give you that information". It certainly does not constitute an official admission that there is no discrepancy in ages.

And then we have what Ahmed calls a "separate interview" - although Hopsicker's book Welcome to Terrorland shows it's actually the same one (see pages 138-140) - where the key claim is "“Pressed repeatedly to provide specifics, the spokesperson finally admitted, ‘I do not have the authority to tell you who (which terrorists) attended which schools.’".

Hopsicker never spells this out, but as "which terrorists" appears in brackets we're going to assume the major didn't say it, and that's merely his interpretation. But it is no more than an interpretation. Ours would be taken from the same basis as before, that the major was unable to give specific biographical details about any students. Keep that in mind, and read the relevant paragraph from Hopsicker's book, with his "(which terrorists)" removed:

We believe the most plausible explanation here is that the major is not permitted to give out specific details about any military trainee, other than under very unusual circumstances, such as a subpoena. And that, tired of being asked the same questions over and over again, she happened to respond in that way. Certainly you can also argue, as Hopsicker does, that it might have been a "backhanded confirmation" that the Maxwell Air Force Base Atta shared biographical details with the alleged hijacker, but it's only very weak evidence for that claim. And in no way is it what Nafeez Ahmed calls official confirmation "that individuals identified by the FBI as al-Qaeda’s 9-11 terrorists, whether or not those identities were aliases, were connected to US military operations".

Hopsicker does complete this chapter of his book with an additional claim, however.

This is from an anonymous source, and so tricky to evaluate, perhaps why Nafeez Ahmed ignored it. But it's something else for you to consider.

And so is this.

In June 2007 we entered the name Mohamed Atta at Intelius.com, a site specialising in producing background checks on people based on public records, just to see what would come up. And much to our surprise, we found a Mohamed Atta with a single address: Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. Suspicious? Not really. His full name was Mohamed Ragheb Atta, and his birth date was listed as 01/08/1955 (I'm reporting the US date format as used on the site, rather than my native British day/ month/ year, so take that as January 8th). Neither matches with the Atta of 9/11.

Mohamed Ragheb Atta background check.gif

So could this be the Atta who also attended Maxwell Air Force Base? It must be at least possible, although we have no way to tell for sure. Would he have shown up with an address there, too? No idea. However, even if it's yet another Atta, this illustrates the point that it's not such an uncommon name, and there's still a distinct lack of evidence to show that the 9/11 Mohamed Atta received any form of US military training.

Ahmed al-Ghamdi

Some people point to this New York Times story as support for the "trained by the military" claim:

However, it's worth noting that the story appeared very early, on September 15th, before most of the hijackers photos had been released. Where's the evidence that this is the same man?

Note also that he's specifically named as Ahmed A. al-Ghamdi. The hijacker is Ahmad Salih Said al-Kurshi al-Ghamdi; we've seen no other record of him using A as a middle initial.

Search at Google for the name Ahmed A. Alghamdi, though, and you'll find this:

No-one's ever said that the hijacker Ahmed al-Ghamdi was a pilot (or Fayez Ahmed, actually), and as far as we know they weren't connected with Tulsa. You could argue that this has all been covered up, but a simpler explanation may just be that Ahmed A al-Ghamdi is an entirely different man.

Answering Objections

The usual reply to our analysis here invokes one particular sentence from the original Newsweek story: "Three of the alleged hijackers listed their address on drivers licenses and car registrations as the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Fla.—known as the “Cradle of U.S. Navy Aviation,” according to a high-ranking U.S. Navy source." And so these must indeed have been the hijackers, so the argument goes. But look again at the context in which this line appears.

This is not the FBI saying that the alleged hijackers listed their address as the Pensacola Naval Air Station (and in fact no documentation showing this has ever been provided): it's the Navy talking about three individuals who may be the alleged hijackers, but equally may not be, and they explicitly state that these may be entirely different people. Something that, as we've seen, appears to be by far the most likely explanation.

Others may object to our interpretation as it's so different to the version they've heard elsewhere. Nafeez Ahmed presents the claims in a much more positive light, for instance, and he's generally highly regarded as a 9/11 author. And so why should you believe this site over anything he says?

Of course in reality it's not a matter of choosing to believe one side, or the other. It's more important to look at claims, track them to their source, and see if they really stand up. And so, with that in mind let's review Ahmed's version of events as presented in The War on Truth. Here's how he starts.

Note the very definitive tone. No room for doubt here. And so you'd expect the article from which Ahmed took the last quote to verify what he's saying. But, unfortunately, you'd be disappointed. The relevant sentence in the article Ahmed is quoting actually reads "The Newsweek article says U.S. military officials gave the FBI information suggesting that five of the alleged hijackers received training in the 1990s at secure U.S. military installations" (source). And it then adds an additional warning, "Complicating the effort to learn if the suspects ever trained in Pensacola is the fact that Alghamdi is an extremely common name. Scores of people with that name live throughout Florida" (source).

The article Ahmed is quoting does not "confirm" that any of the hijackers received US military training, then, and to claim it does, without even mentioning the qualifications provided, is highly deceptive. But Ahmed isn't finished yet. Here's his version of the Newsweek article.

Seems a little shorter? You're right. Compare it with the full version at the top of the page, and you'll see Ahmed has made the following inconvenient qualifications to the story disappear entirely, with only an ellipsis to show where they were:

By removing this Ahmed is giving his readers the impression that these claims have been accepted as true, when the reality is very different. But there's a reason he's doing this.

By avoiding any consideration of doubts over names and identities, Ahmed can avoid having to say "a man called Mohamed Atta had attended International Officers School at Maxwell Air Force Base", and pretend it's certain that they're all talking about the alleged hijacker Atta. Frequent use of terms like "confirmed" helps create the same impression. But look what the New York Times article actually said:

The article talks of "shared names" only. The New York Times was not "confirming" that any of the alleged hijackers were trained by the US military, and to pretend otherwise is again deceptive.

Ahmed follows this with more details:

Again, Ahmed omits the fact that the article he's quoting includes an important qualification.

"We are probably not talking about the same people".

There's also no comment on the fact that we have Saeed Alghamdi placed both at Pensacola Naval Air Station and Lackland Air Force Base. Are these both supposed to be the alleged hijacker? Ahmed isn't saying. But his strategy is made clear by the next paragraph.

What Ahmed has done is to present the idea that it's been confirmed by multiple sources that the alleged hijackers did, indeed attend US military bases. This allows him then to pretend that issues of identity were first raised by the Air Force, perhaps creating in the readers mind the impression that it's all part of a desperate coverup. When in reality, doubts were raised from the very beginning.

What Ahmed does not do is investigate whether it's legally permissible for the Government to release more information about the military students. Nor has he bothered to check the dates in the original Newsweek article and others against the birth dates of the hijackers, as we did above, something which strongly supports the idea that at least two of them are different people.

Instead Ahmed goes on to complain that "even Senate inquiries were simultaneously stonewalled by government officials from three agencies and departments", a reference to Senator Bill Nelson's inquiries regarding these issues (whether the alleged hijackers really did attend Pensacola), and the fact that he didn't get an answer. He's referring to information a Daniel Hopsicker article (please go read it to ensure you understand the arguments), though, written only in October 2001. And we already know that the FBI had initial doubts over the hijacker's identities, not resolving them until November, which would suggest to us that they were unlikely to confirm anything until after that date, at the very earliest:

Perhaps finding out whether the Senator got an answer later, and discovering whether it's legally permissible for him to get one, would be more productive. Certainly for all his deceptions, Ahmed has failed to prove his case that the alleged hijackers were trained by the US military, and we believe that mistaken identity is a much more plausible explanation for these accounts.