Mohammed Atta and his federal loan officer
No matter how dumb he was, officialdom was always dumber
When last in this space, 10 days ago, I was writing about whether political correctness kills. This was apropos the 9/11 nutters: "Everything they did stuck out. But it didn't matter. Because the more they stuck out, the more everyone who mattered was trained to look the other way."
I didn't know the half of it. The other day, Johnelle Bryant, an official with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, gave an interview to ABC News in which she revealed that Mohammed Atta and three other September 11th terrorists had visited her Florida office seeking government loans.
America, it seems, came this close to having the World Trade Center incinerated at the taxpayers' expense.
Mr. Atta swung by in May, 2000, and Ms. Bryant remembers quite a bit about it. "At first," she says, "he refused to speak with me," on the grounds that she was, in his words, "but a female." After he'd reiterated the point, she pulled rank: "I told him that if he was interested in getting a farm-service agency loan in my servicing area, then he would need to deal with me." Throughout the hour-long interview, he continued to dismiss her as "but a female."
Ms. Bryant says the applicant was asking for $650,000 to start a crop-dusting business. His plan was to buy a six-seater twin-prop and then remove the seats. "He wanted to build a chemical tank that would fit inside the aircraft and take up every available square inch of the aircraft except for where the pilot would be sitting."
When she explained that his application would have to be processed, Mr. Atta became "very agitated." He'd apparently been expecting to leave the office with cash in hand. "He asked me," recalls Ms. Bryant, "what would prevent him from going behind my desk and cutting my throat and making off with the millions of dollars in that safe." Try this with your Royal Bank loan officer -- I find it works every time. But Ms. Bryant replied politely that there was no money in the safe because loans are never given in cash, and also that she was trained in karate.
His fiendish plan stymied at every turn, Mr. Atta then spotted an aerial view of Washington hanging on the wall behind her. He told her he particularly liked the way it got all the famous landmarks of the city in one convenient picture, pointing specifically to the Pentagon and the White House. "He pulled out a wad of cash," says Ms. Bryant, "and started throwing money on my desk. He wanted that picture really bad."
She told him it wasn't for sale, but he only tossed more dough at her. "His look on his face became very bitter at that point," Ms. Bryant remembers. "He said, 'How would America like it if another country destroyed that city and some of the monuments in it,' like the cities in his country had been destroyed?"
Mr. Atta then moved on to other prominent landmarks in other American cities, and enquired about security at the World Trade Center. Ms. Bryant had a Dallas Cowboys souvenir on her desk, and he asked her about their spectacular stadium and, specifically, the "hole in the roof."
At that point, the chit-chat turned to Mr. Atta's own country, which he claimed was Afghanistan. "He mentioned Osama bin Laden," she says. "He could have been a character on Star Wars for all I knew." So Mr. Atta helpfully explained that this bin Laden guy "would someday be known as the world's greatest leader."
Alas, the interview ended badly from the terrorists' point of view when Ms. Bryant informed her visitor that the loan program is for farm-based projects and a crop-dusting business did not qualify.
A few weeks later, another September 11th killer showed up, Marwan al- Shehhi, seeking half-a-million bucks supposedly to buy a sugar-cane farm. Accompanying him was Mr. Atta, but he was cunningly disguised with a pair of glasses and claiming to be someone else entirely, attending in his capacity as Mr. al-Shehhi's accountant. Sportingly, Ms. Bryant went along with the wheeze. I'm reminded of the time my sister tried to wangle her boyfriend a day off work. She called up the receptionist and, adopting a fake accent, told her that she was the dentist's secretary and he needed to come in immediately for critical dental work. "My God, that's terrible," said the receptionist. "I'll tell him at once." She then buzzed through to the boyfriend: "Stewart, Karen just called pretending to be the dentist's secretary. Do you think she needs to see a doctor?"
But Ms. Bryant didn't think Mr. Atta was sick. The safe-breaking, the throat- slitting, the fake specs ... why, he was just being charmingly multicultural! "I felt that he was trying to make the cultural leap from the country that he came from," she says. "I was attempting, in every manner I could, to help him make his relocation into our country as easy for him as I could." Unfortunately, his imaginative business plan for a crop-duster capable of crop-dusting Texas was frustrated by the unduly onerous restrictions and bureaucratic torpor of the USDA program. By late summer, Mr. Atta and his chums had concluded the government was never going to buy them their own twin-props and they'd have to make do with the aircraft that were already up there. So they switched their flight training courses from small planes to large jet simulators, and told their instructors to skip all that takeoff and landing stuff.
Ms. Bryant has come forward now because she thinks "it's very vital that the Americans realize that when these people come to the United States, they don't have a big 'T' on their forehead." No, indeed. In some cases, they have a big "T-E-R-R-O-R-I-S-T" flashing in neon off the end of their nose. Ten days ago, I pointed out that these fellows made virtually no effort to blend in. They weren't in "deep cover," they were barely covered at all. Atta was the brains of the operation, and he did a marginally better job of it than Leslie Nielsen would have. His one great insight into Western culture was his assumption that he could get a government grant to take out the Pentagon. Yet no matter how dumb he was, officialdom was always dumber
"If they watch this interview and they see the type of questions that Atta asked me," Ms. Bryant told ABC News, "then perhaps they will recognize a terrorist, and make the call that I didn't make." Meanwhile, here are some signs to look for:
1) He threatens to cut your throat.
2) He talks about the destruction of prominent landmarks.
3) He enquires about security at said landmarks.
4) He hails Osama bin Laden as a great leader.
There'll be more of these stories, tales of men virtually screaming their intentions but up against a culture sensitivity-trained into a coma. A stump- toothed Appalachian mountain man would get slung out on his ear if he was that misogynist and abusive in a government office. In a Hollywood movie, the guy refusing to deal with the little lady and demanding to see the real boss would be a sexist Republican Congressman. In the new motion-picture blockbuster The Sum Of All Fears, the Islamic terrorists of Tom Clancy's novel have been replaced with neo-Nazis -- a safe villain that won't offend our delicate multicultural sensibilities.
The good news is we're up against idiots. The bad news is we're also up against the suppler idiocies of current Western orthodoxy. Thus, the U.S. government's new plans to photograph and fingerprint visitors from countries "believed to harbour terrorists" have already been attacked by Mary Robinson, the UN Human Rights honcho who's never met an Arab dictator she didn't like. Islamists want to kill us in the name of Islam. Regrettable, but there it is. If we pretend otherwise, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Canadian Islamic Congress and the Islamic Society of Britain might be nice to us. But, speaking personally, I can't say I care. If Islamic lobby groups throughout the Western world really want to hitch their star to a bunch of psychopathic morons, good luck to them. It's a free country. Hey, we'll even give you a government grant to tell us how racist we are.