How the FBI and 9/11 Commission Suppressed Key Evidence about Hani Hanjour, alleged hijack pilot of AAL 77
(ICH ) The evidence was crucial because it undermined the official explanation that Hani Hanjour crashed American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon at high speed after executing an extremely difficult top gun maneuver. But to understand how all of this played out, let us review the case in bite-size pieces…
In August 2004 when the 9/11 Commission completed its official investigation of the September 11, 2001 attack, the commission transfered custody of its voluminous records to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). There, the records remained under lock and key for four and a half years, until last January when NARA released a fraction of the total for public viewing. Each day, more of the released files are scanned and posted on the Internet, making them readily accessible. Although most of the newly-released documents are of little interest, the files I will discuss in this article contain important new information.
As we know, the 9/11 Commission did not begin its work until 2003–––more than a year after the fact. By this time a number of journalists had already done independent research and published articles about various facets of 9/11. Some of this work was of excellent quality. The Washington Post, for example, interviewed aviation experts who stated that the plane allegedly piloted by Hani Hanjour [AA Flight 77] had been flown “with extraordinary skill, making it highly likely that a trained pilot was at the helm.” Yet, strangely, when other journalists investigated Hani Hanjour they found a trail of clues indicating he was a novice pilot, wholly incapable of executing a top gun maneuver and a successful suicide attack in a Boeing 757. By early 2003 this independent research was a matter of public record, which created a serious problem for the 9/11 Commission…
By all accounts Hani Hanjour was a diminutive fellow. He stood barely five feet tall and was slight of build. As a young man in his hometown of Taif, Saudi Arabia, Hanjour cultivated no great dreams of flying airplanes. He was satisfied with a more modest ambition: he wanted to become a flight attendant. That is, until his older brother Abulrahman encouraged him to aim higher. Even so, Hani Hanjour’s aptitude for learning appears to have been rather limited. Although he resided in the US for about 38 months over a ten-year period that ended on 9/11, Hanjour never learned to speak or write English, a telling observation about his capacity for learning. As we will discover, he actually flunked a written test for a driver’s license just weeks before 9/11.
While it is true that Hanjour trained at various flight schools in the US, the evidence shows he was a perpetual novice. Hanjour dropped out of his first school, the Sierra Academy of Aeronautics, located in Oakland, after attending only a few classes. Next, he enrolled at Cockpit Resource Management (CRM), a flight school in Scottsdale, Arizona. But his performance as a student at CRM was less than adequate. Duncan K.M. Hastie, owner of the school, described Hanjour as “a weak student” who was “wasting our resources.”
After several weeks, Hanjour withdrew from the program, then returned in 1997 for another short period of instruction. This on and off pattern of behavior was typical of the man. Hastie says that over the next three years Hanjour called him at least twice a year, and each time wanted to return for more training. By this time, however, it was obvious to Hastie that his erstwhile student had no business in a cockpit. Hastie refused to let Hanjour come back. “I would recognize his voice,” Hastie said. “He was always talking about wanting more training. Yes, he wanted to be an airline pilot. That was his stated goal. That’s why I didn’t allow him to come back. I thought ‘You’re never going to make it’.”
Rejected by CRM, Hanjour enrolled at nearby Sawyer Aviation, also located in the Phoenix area. Wes Fults, a former instructor at Sawyer, later described it as the school of last resort. Said Fults: “it was a commonly held truth that, if you failed anywhere else, go to Sawyer.” Fults remembers training Hanjour, whom he describes as “a neophyte.” He says Hani “got overwhelmed with the instruments” in the school’s flight simulator. “He had only the barest understanding of what the instruments were there to do,” said Fults. “He [Hanjour] used the simulator three or four times, then disappeared like a fog.” I must emphasize to the reader, I am not making this up. Other accounts by Newsday, the New York Times, as well as the FOX network, all confirm that Hani Hanjour was at best a novice pilot.
Evading the Language Requirement
In fact, because fluency in English is required to qualify for a US pilot’s license, Hanjour’s atrocious English should have barred him from ever obtaining a license. But it seems that Hanjour exploited a loophole in the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) system, which for years has outsourced the pilot certification process. According to a June 2002 story in theDallas Morning News, Hanjour was certified in April 1999 as an “Airplane Multi-Engine Land/Commercial Pilot” by Daryl Strong, one of the FAA’s 20,000 designated pilot examiners. Although an FAA official later defended the agency’s policy of using private contractors, a critic, Heather Awsumb, took issue with it. Awsumb is a spokesperson for the Professional Airways Systems Specialists (PASS) Union, which represents more than 11,000 FAA and Defense Department employees. She pointed out that the FAA does not have anywhere near enough staff to oversee its 20,000 designated inspectors, all of whom have a financial interest in certifying as many pilots as possible. It seems that Hanjour evaded the language requirement by finding an examiner willing to ignore the rule. Said Awsumb: “They receive between $200 and $300 for each flight check. If they get a reputation for being too tough, they won’t get any business.” According to Awsumb, the present system allows “safety to be sold to the lowest bidder.”
Later, Hanjour’s horrible English prompted one flight school, Jet Tech, to question the authenticity of his FAA-approved pilot’s license. Jet Tech was another school in the Phoenix area where Hanjour sought continuing instruction. Peggy Chevrette, operation manager at Jet Tech, later told FOX News: “I couldn’t believe that he had a license of any kind with the skills that he had.” She explained that Hanjour’s English was so bad it took him five hours to complete an oral exam that normally should have taken about two.
But it wasn’t just his poor English that failed to impress. In his evaluation the Jet Tech flight instructor wrote that the “student [Hanjour] made numerous errors during his performance and displayed a lack of understanding of some basic concepts. The same was true during review of systems knowledge….I doubt his ability to pass an FAA [Boeing 737] oral at this time or in the near future.” The 737 instructor concluded his evaluation with a final entry: “He [Hanjour] will need much more experience flying smaller A/C [aircraft] before he is ready to master large jets.” The 9/11 Commission Report fails to discuss or even mention this negative written evaluation, even while presenting Hanjour’s substandard performance in a Boeing 737 simulator as sufficient evidence that Hanjour could fly a Boeing 757, an even larger plane! The wording of the final report succeeds in giving this impression, however dubious, even while obscuring the facts: an amazing achievement of propaganda.
Early in 2001, Peggy Chevrette, the operation manager at Jet Tech, contacted the FAA repeatedly to convey her concerns about Hanjour. Eventually John Anthony, a federal inspector, showed up at the school and examined Hanjour’s credentials. But Anthony found them in order and took no further action. The inspector even suggested that Jet Tech provide Hanjour with an interpreter. This surprised Chevrette because it was a violation of FAA rules. “The thing that really concerned me,” she later told FOX News, “Was that John had a conversation in the hallway with Hani and realized what his skills were at that point and his ability to speak English.” Evidently, the inspector also sat in on a class with Hanjour.
FOX News was unable to reach John Anthony for comment, but FAA spokesperson Laura Brown defended the FAA employee. “There was nothing about the pilot’s actions” she said, “to signal criminal intent or that would have caused us to alert law enforcement.” This is true enough. The Jet Tech staff never suspected that Hani Hanjour was a terrorist. According to Marilyn Ladner, vice-president Pan Am International, the company that owned Jet Tech, “It was more of a very typical instructional concern that ‘you really shouldn’t be in the air’.” Although Pan Am dissolved its Jet Tech operation shortly after 9/11, a former employee who knew Hanjour expressed amazement “that he [Hanjour] could have flown into the Pentagon. [because] He could not fly at all.”
The “Scouting” Flights
We know that in the months before the September 11, 2001 attack Hani Hanjour rented planes at several small airports on the outskirts of New York City and Washington DC. The 9/11 Commission Report mentions these local flights and suggests that Hanjour was scouting the terrain: familiarizing himself with possible suicide targets. But the record also shows the same pattern described above. For example, on May 29, 2001 Hanjour rented a plane at a small airport in Teterboro, New Jersey and flew “the Hudson Tour,” accompanied by a flight instructor. However, the next day, when Hanjour returned for a repeat flight the same instructor “would not allow it because of Hanjour’s poor piloting skills.” The 9/11 Commission Report actually cites this incident, but in a context that diminishes its significance.
The pattern played out again on August 16-17, 2001 when Hanjour attempted to rent a plane at Freeway Airport, in Bowie, Maryland, about twenty miles from Washington. Although Hanjour presented his FAA license, according to Newsday the Freeway airport manager insisted that instructors first accompany him on a test flight to evaluate his piloting skills. During three such flights over two days in a single-engine Cessna 172, instructors Sheri Baxter and Ben Conner observed what others had before them. Hanjour had trouble controlling and landing the aircraft. Afterward, Baxter interviewed Hanjour extensively about his flight training and experience, and also reviewed his flight log, which documented 600 hours of flight time. On this basis she and Conner declined to approve a current license rating until Hanjour returned for more training. On their recommendation, Freeway’s chief instructor Marcel Bernard refused to rent Hanjour a plane. Notice, this was less than a month before 9/11. When I reached Bernard by phone he confirmed the details of the story by Newsday. So did Ben Conner when I spoke with him. Conner also emphasized that the issue was not simply Hanjour’s poor English. It was everything, i.e., his general ineptitude.
Curiously, The 9/11 Commission Report acknowledges Hanjour’s poor English and sub-standard flying skills. The report even mentions that flight instructors had urged Hanjour to give up trying to become a pilot. Strangely, however, another passage (in a footnote) describes Hanjour as “the [al Qaeda] operation’s most experienced pilot,” suggesting that the commission had a mixed opinion about Hanjour. In the end the official investigation evidently interpreted Hanjour’s FAA license as sufficient proof that he had “persevered” in overcoming his issues. The word “persevered” is straight out of the report.
But why did the commission ignore the multiple open-sourced accounts cited above, all mutually corroborative, indicating that Hanjour would have been lost in the cockpit of a Boeing 757 and was barely qualified to fly a single-engine Cessna? It is notable that The 9/11 Commission Report fails to mention the negative written evaluation by Hanjour’s Jet Tech flight instructor. The omission is serious because a glance at the timeline shows that Hanjour’s 5-6 weeks of training at Jet Tech occurred in February-March 2001, that is, after he had already earned his FAA license. Perseverance obviously was not enough. The instructor’s negative evaluation was based on Hanjour’s actual skill-set at the time, license or no license. Nor does the final report so much as mention Hanjour’s test flight at Freeway airport, or the fact that he failed it. These are telling omissions. Obviously, the commission screened out testimony that conflicted with the official narrative of what happened on that terrible day. However, this is not the full story. As we are about to learn, the recently released 9/11 files have raised disturbing new questions.
The Other Flight Instructor
It turns out that just three days after Hani Hanjour failed a flight evaluation in a Cessna 172 at Freeway airport he showed up at Congressional Air Charters, located down the road at Gaithersburg airport, also in the Washington suburbs. Once again Hanjour attempted to rent a plane, and again he was asked to go up with an instructor for a flight evaluation to confirm his flight skills. The plane was the same: a Cessna 172. Yet, on this occasion Hanjour passed with flying colors and, later, this other instructor gave testimony to the commission that turned out to be crucial. The final report mentions the instructor’s name only once in a brief endnote buried at the back of the report. The note states:
Hanjour successfully conducted a challenging certification flight supervised by an instructor at Congressional Air Charter of Gaithersburg, Maryland, landing at a small airport with a difficult approach. The instructor thought Hanjour may have had training from a military pilot because he used a terrain recognition system for navigation. Eddie Shalev interview. (Apr. 9, 2004)
The note gives a name, Eddie Shalev, but no other information about him. Indeed, his identity remained a mystery until January 2009, when NARA released the 9/11 files. Nonetheless, David Ray Griffin had already identified the key questions in his 2008 book The New Pearl Harbor Revisited. Wrote Griffin: “How could an instructor in Gaithersburg [i.e., Shalev] have had such a radically different view of Hanjour’s abilities from that of all of the other flight instructors who worked with him? Who was this instructor? How could this report be verified?”
These are important questions because the two assessments of Hani Hanjour’s flight skills are so radically different that both cannot be correct. The evaluations, made just days apart, are contradictory, hence, mutually exclusive; which raises the disturbing possibility that someone could be lying.
The FBI File
Fortunately, another newly released document, the FBI file on Hani Hanjour, sheds additional light on the case. The file includes a timeline and evidently was compiled to document the government’s case against Hanjour. I learned about it from a source on the commission, a staffer who insisted to me in an email that it authenticates Hani Hanjour’s flight training. At a glance it appears to do that. However, on closer examination the file is much less impressive and I have to wonder if the staffer actually studied it. As we will see, the document not only falls short of confirming Hanjour’s flight skills, it shows signs of having been “enhanced” to obscure the record.
Crucially, the FBI file includes not a scintilla of evidence that Hani Hanjour ever trained in a Boeing 757. Although Hanjour did some sessions a Boeing 737 simulator, as we have already seen, the press accounts, more importantly, his own instructor’s written evaluation, offer a clear and unambiguous assessment of his actual skills. It is also important to realize that even if Hanjour had mastered the controls of a Boeing 737, this would not have qualified him to execute a high-speed suicide crash in a Boeing 757, a significantly larger and less maneuverable aircraft. Such is the view of commercial pilots who fly these planes every day.
One such pilot, Philip Marshall, who is licensed to fly Boeing 727s, 737s, 747s, as well as 757s and 767s, recently authored a book, False Flag 911, in which he states categorically that the alleged 9/11 hijacker pilots, including Hani Hanjour, could never have flown 767s and 757s into buildings at high speed without advanced training and practice flights in that same aircraft over a period of months. As Marshall put it: “Hitting a 90-foot target [i.e., the Pentagon] with a 757 at 500 mph is extremely difficult — absolutely impossible for first-time fliers of a heavy airliner. It’s like seeing Tiger Woods hit a 300-yard one-iron and someone telling you he never practiced the shot.” Marshall speculates that the hijackers may have received advanced flight lessons from Arabic-speaking instructors at a secret desert base somewhere in Arizona or Nevada, possibly arranged by complicit Saudi diplomats, or by members of the Saudi royal family. This is why Hanjour’s inability to pass a test flight evaluation at Freeway airport just weeks before 9/11 is so significant: It tends to rule out Marshall’s theory of advanced instruction.
Close inspection of the FBI file also shows that someone padded the record to put the best face on Hanjour’s flight training. This was done in a curious way. Instead of simply informing us that Hanjour took courses “x,” “y” and “z” at such-and-such a flight school between certain dates, the FBI file gives an itemized record of every single day that Hanjour showed up for training at the various schools. The effect creates the appearance of more extensive instruction than actually occurred. Even so, the enhancement is transparently obvious. Imagine the reaction of a potential employer if you or I engaged in this dubious practice in a resume. On closer examination, another reason for padding the record is also obvious. Enhancement tends to obscure Hanjour’s tendency to jump around from school to school and his inability to finish anything he started.
The FBI file also conspicuously fails to mention the Jet Tech instructor’s written evaluation of Hani Hanjour’s flying skills. The omission easily qualifies as suppression of evidence because we know the FBI had the document in its possession. It was made public at the trial of Zacharias Moussaoui when the document was submitted as evidence. This means, of course that the 9/11 Commission also surely had it and similarly suppressed it. (See note #9.)
The FBI file also grossly mischaracterizes what happened at Freeway airport. The file mentions Hanjour’s visits but wrongly indicates that Hanjour received flight instruction. Not true. When I specifically asked Marcel Bernard about this he denied the fact and emphasized that Hanjour’s test flights included no lessons and were strictly for the purpose of evaluation. The FBI should have known as much because after 9/11 Bernard and his two flight instructors notified the FBI about Hanjour’s visit and were subsequently interviewed by FBI agents. The file also conspicuously fails to mention that Hanjour flunked his test flight evaluation! Whether through incompetence or deception, the FBI failed on every point to state the facts correctly.
The FBI file does offer some fresh insights into Hani Hanjour the man. On August 2, 2001, according to the timeline, Hanjour showed up at the Virginia Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in Arlington, where he flunked a standard written test for a Virginia driver’s license. The fact is astonishing and ought to make us wonder how Hanjour ever managed to acquire his previous Arizona driver’s license issued in 1991 and his Florida license issued in 1996, let alone master the controls of a Boeing 757.
There is another interesting item. The record indicates that on September 5, 2001, just six days before 9/11, Hanjour showed up at the First Union National Bank in Laurel, Maryland where he made four failed bank transactions. The file cites bank records showing that Hanjour was unable to make balance inquiries and withdraw funds from his account because he failed to enter the correct pin number, which he evidently had forgotten! Two days later, Hanjour returned to the bank, this time accompanied by an unidentified male, and made another unsuccessful attempt to withdraw $4900.
It is astonishing the FBI file was ever touted as authenticating Hanjour’s flight credentials. The document falls short on that score and actually raises new questions. How likely is it that a man who was unable to remember his own pin number, and who just weeks before 9/11 flunked a simple test for a driver’s license, could have executed a top gun maneuver in a commercial airliner? The odds, I would submit, are approximately zero.
The FBI file includes one other curious entry. On August 20, 2001 Hanjour shopped at Travelocity.com for information about September 5, 2001 flights from Dulles International Airport to Los Angeles. This suggests that as of August 20 Hanjour did not yet know the date of the planned attack, either because he had not been briefed or because the date had not yet been selected. By the end of the month, however, the die was cast. On August 31 Hanjour and another “middle-eastern male” purchased one-way tickets for AA Flight 77 from a New Jersey travel agent. The date of departure: September 11, 2001. Yet, given Hanjour’s level of skill, one has to wonder what the waif from Taif believed was supposed to happen on that fateful morning.
So, Who is Eddie Shalev?
The record compiled by the FBI for the purpose of to authenticating Hani Hanjour‘s flight skills fails to provide convincing substantiation. Notice, for this reason it also fails to support the testimony of the other flight instructor, Eddie Shalev, who certified Hanjour to rent a Cessna 172 from Congressional Air Charters just three days after Marcel Bernard, the chief instructor at Freeway, refused to rent Hanjour the very same plane. The 9/11 Commission Report makes no mention of the incident at Freeway airport, nor does it discuss Eddie Shalev, other than alluding to Hanjour’s certification flight in a brief endnote. This is curious, since it now appears that Shalev’s testimony was crucial. By telling the commission what it was predisposed to hear, Shalev gave the official investigation an excuse to ignore the preponderance of evidence, which pointed to the unthinkable.
So, who is Eddie Shalev? His identity remained unknown for more than seven years, but was finally revealed in one of the files released in January 2009 by the National Archives. The document, labelled a “Memorandum for the Record,” is a summary of the April 2004 interview with Eddie Shalev conducted by commission staffer Quinn John Tamm. The document confirms that Shalev went on record: “Mr Shalev stated that based on his observations Hanjour was a ‘good’ pilot.” It is noteworthy that Tamm also spoke with Freeway instructors Sheri Baxter and Ben Conner, as revealed by yet another recently-released document. Although I was unable to reach Tamm or Baxter for comment, I did talk with Conner, who confirmed the conversation. Conner says he fully expected to testify before the commission. Perhaps not surprisingly, the call never came.
But the shocker is the revelation that Eddie Shalev is an Israeli and served in the Israeli army. The file states that “Mr. Shalev served in the Israeli Defense Forces in a paratroop regiment. He was a jumpmaster on a Boeing C-130. Mr. Shalev moved to the Gaithersburg area in April 2001 and was sponsored for employment by Congressional Air Charters…[which] has subsequently gone out of business.”
The memorandum raises disturbing questions. Consider the staffer’s strange choice of words in describing Shalev’s employment. What did Quinn John Tamm mean when he wrote that Shalev “was sponsored for employment”? Did the commission bother to investigate Congressional Air Charters? It is curious that the charter service subsequently went out of business. But the most important question is: just how thoroughly, if at all, did the commission vet Eddie Shalev?Does his military record include service in the Israeli intelligence community?
Real people have known addresses. But the whereabouts of Eddie Shalev has been unknown for years. As reported by David Griffin, a 2007 search of the national telephone directory, plus Google searches by research librarian Elizabeth Woodworth, turned up no trace of him. A LexisNexis search by Matthew Everett also came up dry. Recent searches by Woodworth and myself indicate that an “Eddy Shalev” resided in Rockville, Maryland as recently as 2007. However, the associated phone number is no longer in service. The 9/11 memorandum raises the possibility that Shalev may have returned to Israel. Clearly, the man needs to be found, subpoenaed and made to testify under oath before a new investigation, even if this necessitates extradition. Quinn John Tamm and the two Freeway instructors, Sheri Baxter and Ben Conner, should also be subpoenaed. All are key witnesses and obvious starting points for a new 9/11 investigation.
Given his identity, the search for and possible extradition of Eddie Shalev could become controversial. But 9/11 investigators must not be turned aside. We must follow the trail of evidence, regardless. Should it lead into a dark wood, we must resolve to go there; and if it takes us to the gates of hell, so be it. When our search obtains a certain critical mass, momentum will shift decisively in our favor. Public support for a new 9/11 investigation will become irresistible. The light of truth will do the rest.
Mark Gaffney is the author of The 9/11 Mystery Plane (2008). For more details check out Mark’s web site www.the911mysteryplane.com Mark can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org
2 Marc Fisher and Don Phillips, “On Flight 77: ‘Our Plane is Being Hijacked’,” Washington Post, September 12, 2001.
3 Amy Goldstein, Lena H. Sun and George Lardner Jr., “Hanjour an Unlikely Terrorist,” The Cape Cod Times, October 21, 2001.
7 Kellie Lunney, “FAA contractors approved flight licenses for Sept. 11 suspect,” GovernmentExecutive.com, June 13, 2002.
8 “FAA Probed, Cleared Sept. 11 Hijacker in Early 2001,” FOX News, May 10, 2002.
9 Hani’s Jet Tech evaluation and other documentation were entered as evidence during the trial of Zacharias Moussaoui. Training Records, Hani Hanjour, B-737 Initial Ground Training, Class 01-3-021, Date: 2/8/01, Jet Tech International, posted at http://www.vaed.uscourts.gov/notablecases/moussaoui/exhibits/prosecution/PX00021.pdf
11 “FAA Probed, Cleared Sept. 11 Hijacker in Early 2001,” FOX News, May 10, 2002.
13 Jim Yardley, “A Trainee Noted for Incompetence,” New York Times, May 4, 2002.
14 “Report: 9/11 Hijacker Bypassed FAA,” AP story, June 13, 2002.
18 Thomas Frank, “Tracing Trail of Hijackers,” Newsday, September 23, 2001. This story was confirmed by one of the newly-released 9/11 files. See http://www.scribd.com/doc/15103091/Contents-of-John-Tamm-Memos-Folder-Memos-Notes-and-Withdrawal-Notices
21 The 9/11 Commission Report, pp. 226-227.