Stolen Info and Fake Addresses Complicate FBI?s Job of Naming Hijackers
By Shirley E. Perlman
October 22, 2001
In 1992, a man who gave his name as Saeed Alghamdi used the Social Security number of a Vermont woman who had been dead for almost 30 years and the address of an Air Force base in Florida that has no record of him having been there.
In 1997, the name Saeed Alghamdi turns up again, this time on a driver's license in Florida with the address of a Naval Air Base in Pensacola whose records show at least four other men by the same name.
Are they the same man? Are they different men? Are any of the men the Saeed Alghamdi named on the FBI's list of hijackers?
No one can say for sure. Almost six weeks after the Sept. 11 terror attacks, the identities of several hijackers remain uncertain, complicated by aliases, invalid Social Security numbers, multiple dates of birth and phony addresses.
Last month, FBI Director Robert Mueller said the bureau had a "fairly high level of confidence? that the 19 men named as hijackers were not using aliases. But officials concede that some of the terrorists may have stolen their identities.
One factor complicating the investigation is that the hijackers' Arabic names are remarkably common. For example, when investigators went to the Naval Air Base in Pensacola, the address listed on a Florida driver's license issued to a Saeed Alghamdi in 1997, they learned that several people by that name had attended flight school there over the past 10 years.
"What we have here is a situation of people with identical names,? said Harry White, public affairs officer at the base. He said the school has had more than 1,600 people with the first name Saeed, spelled various ways, and more than 200 with the surname Alghamdi.
White maintains, however, that none of the Saeed Alghamdi students was involved with terrorist activity. "We have found no direct connection between any of the foreign students trained at NAS Pensacola and any of the terrorist suspects,? he said.
Whether any of those Saeed Alghamdis is the man who used the Social Security number of a deceased Bennington, Vt., woman and an address at Tyndall Air Force Base in Panama City, Fla. is also a mystery. The woman, Lucy Marsden, died of a heart attack in 1965 at age 74. The connection was discovered by the Center for Public Integrity during a search of hijackers' names.
A spokesman at Tyndall could not say whether a Saeed Alghamdi had ever been at the base. In Bennington, Marsden's son, Leroy, 87, said he was "very? surprised to hear that his mother's Social Security number had been linked to a man named Saeed Alghamdi.
"I'm puzzled as to where it came from and what he used it for,? Leroy Marsden said.
Court records filed recently by the FBI show how six of the suspected hijackers swore to false information to get photo IDs. Investigators believe the hijackers used those IDs, from the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, to board the doomed flights.
The IDs were obtained six weeks before the attacks using false addresses and in some cases without the required proof of identity, according to the FBI. So far, three people have been arrested for aiding the terrorists.
According to the FBI, the six hijackers with Virginia ID cards were Abdulaziz Alomari, Ahmed Alghamdi, Hani Hanjour, Khalid al-Midhar, Majed Moqed and Salem Alhamzi. Hanjour, Moqed, al-Midhar and Alhamzi are four of the five men suspected of hijacking American Airlines Flight 77 that crashed into the Pentagon. Alhamzi was on Flight 175, and Alomari was on Flight 11, the flights that flew into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. Records show the IDs were issued on Aug. 1 and 2.
To get a photo identification card, a person must show the same proof of identity and residence that would be required for a driver's license. In the absence of that proof, the state of Virginia requires a person to submit an identity affidavit swearing to his name, address and basic biographic information. It also requires the sworn, notarized certification of a lawyer.
By tracing the addresses used by Alomari and Ahmed Alghamdi, investigators were led to a man who admitted helping the hijackers.
The man, who is now a confidential government witness, told the FBI that he had helped about 100 other people get fraudulent identification cards over a four-month period this year and that he was paid approximately $100 per card. He said he got $80 from Alomari and Alghamdi.
According to the FBI, the man said he and a friend were standing in a parking lot next to a motor vehicle office in Arlington when they were approached by three Arab men in a van who wanted help getting identification cards.
The man and his friend took the hijackers to a lawyer's office where a secretary helped complete forms that were already signed and notarized. ID cards were issued for Alomari and Ahmed Alghamdi that day, the FBI said.
A similar pattern was followed for two other suspected hijackers, Hani Hanjour and Khalid al-Midhar. They obtained ID cards with the help of a man from El Salvador, Luis Martinez-Flores, who has been in this country illegally since 1994, the FBI said. He was paid $100. In that case, no lawyer was used. Martinez-Flores certified the papers himself, the FBI said. The hijackers used an address once used by Martinez-Flores in Falls Church, Va.
The next day, Hanjour and al-Midhar, helped two of their comrades -- Moqed and Salem Alhamzi -- get identification cards by certifying the applications themselves using the same phony address.
"Hanjour certified Moqed's Virginia residence and al-Midhar certified Alhamzi's Virginia residence,? the FBI said. "Both applications were approved.? Pam Goheen, a spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles, said the state recently discontinued use of the affidavit and certification forms and replaced them with more stringent requirements.
"Those forms no longer exist effective Sept. 21,? she said. Goheen said a plan to replace the procedure was in the works prior to the attacks. "Obviously the events in September confirmed the agency's decision to do that,? she said.
Of the six hijackers with Virginia IDs, only four were in the U.S. legally. Russ Bergeron, a spokesman for the Immigration and Naturalization Service, said officials were unable to determine Hanjour's status and that Ahmed Alghamdi "appears to have overstayed his visit? in the United States.
No INS information was available for Saeed Alghamdi. "We may have found information on that name or a name similar to that, but we are unable to say definitively at this time that the record we have is actually the record for the person they say is the hijacker,? Bergeron said. (webarchive newsday)