Some of the readers of this Mark Steyn column might have wondered why he seems oddly determined to dispute one date in the 9/11 Commission’s time line:
they seemed oddly determined to fix June 3, 2000, as the official date of Atta’s first landing on American soil
Of course, those people who heard how Steyn got busted by Media Watch for falling for Johnelle Bryant’s story (my posts are here and here) will know the real reason why he is determined to dispute that date—for Bryant’s story to be true, Atta would have had to have been in the US before June 2000.
Here’s Steyn’s argument:
But I do know it’s absurd to suggest he was never in the United States until June 3, 2000, simply because that’s what the INS says — especially when U.S. military intelligence says something quite different.
Well, yes it would be absurd. But then, that’s not what the 9/11 Commission did. As well as the
INS records, the Commission had multiple eye witnesses, flight records, phone records and so on.
I’ve no hard evidence of where [Atta] was in, say, April 2000. The period between late 1999 and May 2000 is, in many ways, a big blur.
Well a big blur to Steyn perhaps, but not to the 9/11 Commission:
Following Slahi’s advice,Atta and Jarrah left Hamburg during the last
week of November 1999, bound for Karachi. … [In Kandahar] Binalshibh
rejoined Atta and Jarrah, who said they already had pledged loyalty to
Bin Ladin and urged him to do the same.They also informed him that
Shehhi had pledged as well and had already left for the United Arab
Emirates to prepare for the mission. …
Atta, Jarrah, and Binalshibh then met with Atef, who told them they
were about to undertake a highly secret mission. As Binalshibh tells
it, Atef instructed the three to return to Germany and enroll in
flight training. Atta– whom Bin Ladin chose to lead the group–met
with Bin Ladin several times to receive additional instructions,
including a preliminary list of approved targets: the World Trade
Center, the Pentagon, and the U.S. Capitol. …
Bin Ladin and Atef wasted no time in assigning the Hamburg group to
the most ambitious operation yet planned by al Qaeda. Bin Ladin and
Atef also plainly judged that Atta was best suited to be the tactical
commander of the operation. Such a quick and critical judgment invites
speculation about whether they had already taken Atta’s measure at
some ear- lier meeting. To be sure, some gaps do appear in the record
of Atta’s known whereabouts during the preceding years. One such gap
is February-March 1998, a period for which there is no evidence of his
presence in Germany and when he conceivably could have been in
Yet to date, neither KSM, Binalshibh, nor any other al Qaeda figure
interrogated about the 9/11 plot has claimed that Atta or any other
member of the Hamburg group traveled to Afghanistan before the trip
in late 1999. While the four core Hamburg cell members were in
Afghanistan, their associates back in Hamburg handled their affairs
so that their trip could be kept secret. Motassadeq appears to have
done the most. He terminated Shehhi’s apartment lease, telling the
landlord that Shehhi had returned to the UAE for family reasons, and
used a power of attorney to pay bills from Shehhi’s bank account.
In early 2000,Atta, Jarrah, and Binalshibh returned to Hamburg. …
According to Binalshibh, he and Atta left Kandahar together and
proceeded first to Karachi, where they met KSM and were instructed by
him on security and on living in the United States. … Atta returned
to Hamburg in late February …
After leaving Afghanistan, the hijackers made clear efforts to avoid
appearing radical. Once back in Hamburg, they distanced themselves
from conspicuous extremists like Zammar, whom they knew attracted
unwanted attention from the authorities.
They also changed their appearance and behavior. Atta wore Western
clothing, shaved his beard, and no longer attended extremist mosques.
After leaving Afghanistan, the four began researching flight schools
and aviation training. … In March 2000, Atta emailed 31 different
U.S. flight schools on behalf of a small group of men from various
Arab countries studying in Germany who, while lacking prior training,
were interested in learning to fly in the United States. Atta
requested information about the cost of the training, potential
financing, and accommodations.
Before seeking visas to enter the United States, Atta, Shehhi, and
Jarrah obtained new passports, each claiming that his old passport had
been lost. Presumably they were concerned that the Pakistani visas
in their old passports would raise suspicions about possible travel to
Afghanistan. Shehhi obtained his visa on January 18, 2000; Atta, on
May 18; and Jarrah, on May 25.
Just a big blur, right. Steyn makes a big deal about how it is possible to sneak into the US without a passport but there is no reason why Atta would do this. He had no trouble getting a US visa so there was no need for him to sneak into the country. Atta did his travelling under his real name in the trips we know about.
All in all, a rather weak effort from Steyn. All this because he is too stubborn to admit to making a mistake when he based a column on Johnelle Bryant’s crazy story.