THE SECRETS OF POWER
by Mark Scheinbaum
American Reporter Correspondent
Boca Raton, Fla.
BOCA RATON, Fla., Dec. 19, 2005 -- President George Bush is now in full-court-press mode on issues of secrecy, national security, civil rights, and the current State of War.
Listening to the President's radio address and Oval Office television broadcast this weekend, there was something troubling about what the spin-meisters call "gravitas," in an administration which wanted war without sacrifice.
Until the past few weeks war with Iraq was mostly about the following:
Now the American people are supposed to sacrifice some Constitutional rights for "the cause," which sounds like good public relations, until you poke and squeeze at that little zit called the facts. The facts confirm that most of America's pre-Sept. 11 troubles did not involve secrets at all.
I read the 911 Committee Report, not studiously but casually, looking for some "anecdotal" stories I recalled from South Florida news coverage before and after the Twin Towers and Pentagon assassinations.
A few hours online confirmed that what I generously chalked up to anecdotes, were actually hard news stories, pretty well confirmed.
Let's put it out there, once and for all:
The national debate over secrecy, torture, and securities issue, is a ruse to distract thinking people from the fact that the bureaucrats we pay to keep us safe ignored, skimmed over, forgot, or blatantly and incompetently misinterpreted public events right in front of their face.
Read these abstracts and see if we needed secret courts, foreign jails, or new CIA and FBI rules to alert any intelligent public official that trouble was on the way, or in some cases right in our backyard.
The Ghost Plane: Killers Mohamed Atta and Marwan Al-Shehhi took flying lessons in Venice, Fla., about 70 miles south of Tampa on the Gulf Coast, got their pilots' licenses, and rented a plane for $65 an hour. They flew the plane to Miami International Airport - one of the world's busiest - landed, and while on the taxi way, had the engine sputter to a halt.
Scared, confused, worried about questions, or all of the above, they closed off the radio, turned off the ignition, and ran away, abandoning the small Piper Warrior. We'll say it again very slowly ... they just left a plane on a taxiway and left. You can read the story from Oct. 17, 2001, regarding the January, 2001 incident, on the CNN.com archives web site. Airport officials towed the plane.
A week later, it was flown back to Venice. A few days later Atta and Al-Shehhi came back to Huffman Aviation to pay their rental bill. The flight school's president wrote it off to a "rookie mistake." No one from Metro-Dade, the feds, the state, etc thought that two aliens dumping a plane should be questioned. When they walked to a rental office to rent a car for the ride back to Venice, no one questioned them.
Add to this the same duo in Lantana and Belle Glade, begging for information and training flights on crop dusters. Concerned about spreading chemicals around for no particular reason.
Willie Lee, the chief pilot and general manager of South Florida Crop Care in Belle Glade, Fla. told ABC News that he had identified Atta as the guy hanging out the Saturday before 9/11, "asking about the capabilities of crop dusters, including how big a load of chemicals it could carry." He told ABC News, according to a compilation of anthrax-related stories kept by the U.S. Postal Workers Union, "Atta was very persistent about wanting to know how much the airplane will haul, how fast it will go, what kind of range it has."
Lee told authorities that Atta kept trying to climb on the wing and get into the cockpit and finally the ground crew had to order him away from the area. He also estimated 12 or 15 men "appearing to be of Middle Eastern descent" visited the airfield which is about 30 minutes west of West Palm Beach in groups of two and three on several weekends prior to the September 11th attacks, some taking pictures of planes."
The Neighborhood Druggist: The story of 9-11 terrorists seeking medical help for skin burns consistent with anthrax handling was all over South Florida tv and in the newspapers. I did not recall much national attention, and in recent months and years, the stories are all but forgotten. Atta and Al-Shehhi were identified by local pharmacist Greg Chatterton, the owner of Huber Drugs, in Delray Beach, Fla., a few miles from the tabloid newspaper office where an editor was killed by anthrax.
Since druggust Chatterton keeps his prescriptions in little plastic boxes instead of the national computer databases used by Walgreens or CVS, he thinks the hijackers intentionally wanted to use his store. They were frequent customers while living in an apartment complex owned by the wife of an editor at that tabloid paper.
From post-Sept. 11th photos, Chatterton now knows it was Atta who showed up one day with reddened hands from a chemical burn or perhaps raw from construction work. Chatterton (as reported in the Milwaukee Journal, Oct 11, 2001) asked Atta about his job, and was told he worked "in computers." when queried, Atta denied that he had been working with solvents or ammonia, or perhaps chlorine.
Chatterton asked employee Joanna Chappel to show Atta a tube of Acid Mantle, a cream which restores acidity to hands damaged by base substances, and Atta bought the tube for $5.49. Atta's buddy, later I.D.'d as Al-Shehhi seemed to have a more severe problem with a cough. He kept thumping on his chest to indicate congestion and cough. Chatterton suggested Robitussin and "urged the man to seek treatment at Urgi-Med, a nearby walk-in clinic."
A day or two later Al-Shehhi, apparently using a phoney name, showed up with a prescription, but Chatterton can't recall what drug, only that it was not for Cipro, the anthrax drug of choice. But he said many other antibiotics can work against anthrax.
Chatterton said that he, along with FBI Agent Robert Errickson and Edward J. Lewis of the U.S.DA, have combed his prescription files and concluded only that Al-Shehhi used an alias. They apparently could not find the original prescription record, "That's why they came here. Think about it - you go to a small-town pharmacy, not part of a computer bank," Chatterton said.
An Urgi-Med worker first confirmed to the press that one of the hijackers had been treated in her office, but later the clinic's manager said there is no official comment on the matter. The FBI and U.S.DA officially claim that they can't really prove that Chatterton filled any prescription.
Would Your Mailman Lie? Obviously the postal workers and their union have a vested interest in finding the anthrax attackers and protecting their members, but at _www.postalworkers.com_ (http://www.postalworkers.com/) from Sept. 7, 2002 there is a persuasive compilation of articles from the Washington Post, CBS News, the New York Times and elsewhere dealing with public incidents linking plotter Zacarias Moussaoui, Atta and others to an aerial anthrax plan. Included are reports from an unnamed Florida doctor who told investigators that he indeed treated one of the hijackers for skin anthrax in June, 2001.
The patient had "an ugly, dark lesion on his leg and claimed that he got it from bumping a suitcase months earlier. The antibiotic that the doctor prescribed was found in the hijacker's possession, which led the FBI to the doctor. After reviewing the case, the doctor was certain that it was a case of skin (cutaneous) anthrax," the postal site said.
Interested parties, such as postal workers, give credit to the FBI profilers and the difficult job they have, when sometimes they only have a word or a phrase, written on an envelope to work with. And, the trained journalist in me knows that an initial police report, picked up by a weekly or daily paper, then given to a wire service, then misquoted or embellished on a television news show, and then repackaged and re-quoted as gospel, is a thin tack upon which to hang your news hat.
But this rehash of Sept. 11 items has significance during the current debate. Each of these stories involved enough confirmed truth to generate alarms from that one cop on the beat, that one State pharmacy inspector, that one rental agent, that one airport security guard, who has a healthy dose of suspicion and conspiracy in his or her heart.
Isn't this the reason you tell your teenagers, "I don't care what the hell the other kids do. When the movie is over you will call me and tell me exactly when you're coming home."
Or, "No, if his parents are out of town, you can not sleep over!"
The professors of constitutional Law, some bipartisan patriots of the far Left and far Right will come together on anti "Big Brother" issues, and at least one U.S. senator who actually was imprisoned and tortured will demand and command the moral high ground.
Yet isn't it time that a few smaller voices join together and reminded the American people that in the biggest enemy attack against our soil in history, the knee-jerk controls and restrictions, the need for secrecy and inceased wiretaps came after the incident?
Before any of these measures were needed there were dozens or perhaps hundreds of opportunities in plain view to the blow the whistle and nail these guys.