Who Trained the Terrorists?

Tuesday, October 30, 2001

President Bush’s words to the American people, spoken hours after the attack on the World Trade Center, contained a warning to countries that serve as staging areas for terrorists. He said that America "will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbored them." Mr. Bush’s warning was incomplete because it omitted an important third party: How about the country that first supplies the essential knowledge and training of future terrorists against the West and against the United States? Harboring and training go together, but they need not necessarily be in the same territory or sovereign nation-state.

To take off and land a modern jetliner takes skill, years of training, and an ability to read and understand the instrument panel. But to fly either a Boeing 737, 757, 767 or, for that matter, any modern passenger jet once it is airborne and weather conditions are CAVU (ceiling and visibility unlimited) is no big deal. Anybody with a little training can engage the autopilot of a hijacked plane to go to the GPS (Global Positioning System) coordinates for the World Trade Center towers–and the target is in your gunsights.

Even better training would be assured if it included a simulator. In fact, simulator training would be an essential "fail-safe" asset once the plane were hijacked. The simulator, an expensive piece of machinery, is a ground cockpit with a wide-screen visual technology that simulates with startling realism the sensation of motion–takeoff, cross-country flight, landing, emergencies, night flight, bad weather, fuel management, wind shear–in short everything a pilot could possibly experience. Every transport pilot, whether employed by an airline or a private corporation, has simulator time in his logbook. Such simulator training would be invaluable in case of low visibility.

"The words of the nineteenth-century Prussian statesman Otto von Bismarck are more apt today than ever: ‘We live in a wondrous time in which the strong is weak because of his moral scruples and the weak grows strong because of his audacity.’"

Now the question: Who could have access to a simulator and supply a trained simulator operator? Could Osama bin Laden in his Afghani lair provide the kind of training not merely for hijacking a plane but also for learning when and how to pick the right time to steer the hijacked plane to a new destination, one different from the original flight plans filed by the four jetliners and know to keep it on course and altitude? Simulator training time in the hidden valleys of Afghanistan? Surely not.

There aren’t many places in the world where the pilot-killers could get such training. It has been revealed that they got their training at a Florida aeronautical school. That wouldn’t be enough. The final polishing up would have to be on commercial airliner equipment, which would not be readily available in Florida to non-citizens; it might even raise suspicions. But in countries like Iraq and Iran there would be young men who might willingly accept martyrdom or who could be coerced–family protection?–into accepting such a mortal role. Both countries support terrorist cabals and have national airlines of the most modern kind. Iraq is my candidate for such training. Let us remember that Ramsi Yussef, a Pakistani who was a leader in the effort to bring down the World Trade Center in 1993, was traveling on an Iraqi passport. And Iraqi television on September 11 officially cheered the bombings in these words:

"The American cowboy is reaping the fruits of his crimes against humanity. It is a black day in the history of America, which is tasting the bitter defeat of its crimes and disregard for peoples’ will to lead a free, decent life. . . . The collapse of U.S. centers of power is a collapse of the U.S. policy, which deviates from human values and stands by world Zionism at all international forums to continue to slaughter the Palestinian Arab people and implement U.S. plans to dominate the world under the cover of what is called the new [world] order. These are the fruits of the new U.S. order."

Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein exemplify an observation uttered by Otto von Bismarck, the Prussian statesman, uttered more than a century ago: "We live in a wondrous time in which the strong is weak because of his moral scruples and the weak grows strong because of his audacity."

Never were truer words spoken. In light of at least four aggressions against the United States and its citizens probably by the allied forces of Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein–the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the 1998 U.S. embassy bombing in Kenya and Tanzania, the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen, and September 11, 2001, a day in the twenty-first century that will live in infamy–isn’t it time for a little audacity as well as moral scruples?

– September 18, 2001