Fictoid #11:
The Terror Crop Dusters

On September 23, 2001, at the request of Attorney General John Ashcroft, the government grounded all the crop-dusters in AmericaŚ over 5,000 planes that ordinarily spray pesticides on crops. The FBI then issued an ominous nationwide alert citing the possibility of a terrorist crop-duster attacks. The next day, before the House Committee on the Judiciary, Ashcroft testified that he had ordered these actions based on information the FBI received that these crop-dusting aircraft could be used " to distribute chemical or biological weapons of mass destruction." Specifically, he reported that the FBI has confirmed that Mohammed Atta, one of the suspected hijackers, was acquiring knowledge of crop-dusting aircraft prior to the attacks on September 11th." In addition, another suspect, Zacarias Moussaoui, who had been arrested prior to September 11th, had data on his personal computer pertaining to the "aerial application of pesticides." These incidents indicated a pattern among conspirators to use crop dusters for terrorism.

Ashcroft connected these dots. In December, when Moussaoui was indicted as part of the conspiracy, two of the overt acts cited in the indictment were:

1) "in 2000 and 2001, in Florida, Mohammed Atta made inquiries regarding starting a crop dusting company."

2) "In or about June 2001, in Norman, Oklahoma, Zacarias Moussaoui made inquiries about starting a crop dusting company."

The News media greatly expanded the terror crop duster story in the next six months. It reported in great detail how Atta and his colleagues traveled around airports inspecting and video-taping crop- dusters and how Atta attempted to get a government loan to buy his own crop-duster.

As it turned out, all these news stories, as well as Ashcroft's information about Atta, were based on the recollections of two peopleŚ Johnell Bryant and James Lester.

Johnell Bryant, a loan manager in the Department of Agriculture's Florida Farm Service Office, recalled after September 11th that Atta came to her office to get a $650,000 cash loan to finance a twin-engine, six-passenger airplane (not a crop-duster.) She said that the man had told her that he intended to build a tank in the passenger plane so he could also use it for crop-dusting. She said that the meeting had occurred in 2000, between "the third week of April to the third week of May of 2000." She was able to fix the date because the Far Service subsequently moved their office to Florida City. While no doubt some Arab-looking man made an inquiry about getting a loan during this period, Mohamed Atta was in Germany during that time period, applying for his visa to come to the United States. He did not arrive in the United States until June 3rd 2000. If so, the person who came into Bryant's office to get a loan to buy a passenger plane in April or May 2000 could not have been Mohamed Atta.

James Lester, an airplane maintenance worker in Belle Glade Florida, identified Atta from photographs shown him by the FBI after the September 11th attack. He said he was one of a group of 12-15 "arab- looking" men who had visited the airport and asked about crop-dusters, including the weekend of September 9-10th 2001. But the hijackers had left Florida prior to that weekend and the FBI had charge-card receipts and car-rental records that put Atta in New York and Boston on the weekend of September 9-10th. If so, Atta could not have been part of the group of "arab-looking" men that visited the Belle Glade Airport that weekend.

When these conflicts in dates became apparent after the FBI re- interviewed the two witnesses, the Department of Justice decided to drop the terror crop-dusters from its case. On June 25 2002, it replaced the previous indictment with a new one that omitted the claim that "Mohammed Atta made inquiries regarding starting a crop dusting company," any other references to"crop dusting" encounters by anyone alleged to be part of the conspiracy.

The terror crop-dusting planes, a fictoid initially of Ashcroft and the Justice Department, is now only a fictoid of the media.

 Any further examples of uncorrected fictoids?


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