Truth, lies, & the Sarasota Herald-Tribune
A clean-up crew, a roll-back campaign, & real Americans who would not be silenced
May 24, 2011
by Daniel Hopsicker
Not since nearly 50 years ago when the CIA tried to pass off a man shown in two black and white photographs taken outside the Cuban Embassy in Mexico City as Lee Harvey Oswald, has the truth been so openly and casually violated as during the ferocious campaign to roll back some of what was already known and on the public record about Mohamed Atta in the aftermath of the 9/11 attack.
The revelation last week that a key eyewitness to the activities in Florida of the 9/11 hijackers never changed his story about Mohamed Atta being drunk and belligerent in his bar four days before the 9/11 attack raised new questions about major news media coverage after the attack.
When former Shuckum's bar manager Tony Amos re-affirmed his initial account in an interview last week with the Miami Herald, it became strikingly apparent that, with no explanation at all, and without any retraction from him or the major news outlets which reported his account, the quickly-congealing official story had changed Mohamed Atta from a belligerent drunk pounding down Stoli and orange juice to a meek teetotaler sipping cranberry juice and playing video games.
There are only two possible explanations for the discrepancy.
Neither reflect well on the state of America's vaunted free press.
Either Amos was coerced by the FBI into retracting his initial account ten years ago, and now feels free to once again state what he saw...
Or news reports about the "Shuckum's incident" that were changed without explanation, most notably those of Los Angeles Times reporter Terry McDermott, invented new quotes from Tony Amos to fit someone's pre-determined narrative.
How could a detailed and corroborated statement which was reported in NEWSWEEK, TIME the Washington Post, and by the Associated Press have disappeared into thin air and cranberry juice less than a week later?
The spotlight is now swiveling from the credibility of the FBI’s official story of the terrorist’s movements and activities in Florida, long questioned in this space, onto the pasty acquiescent faces of certain reporters and the plausibility, truthfulness and integrity of their reporting.
Allegations made here of a massive FBI cover-up in Florida are being confirmed.
Amanda Keller & Mohamed Atta... Undercover lovers, or not?
Tony Amos wasn't the only eye-witness to leave town after undergoing grueling questioning by the FBI on three or four separate occasions... Amanda Keller, who for several months was Mohamed Atta’s American girlfriend, experienced the same treatment.
It is time to take a closer look at the brief article in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune on the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attack, headlined “LOVER: Amanda Keller” which claimed she had recanted her story, and a closer look as well at the newspaper itself, whose credibility must now be questioned.
The implausibility and lack of credence a reader can give reporter Heather Allen's Sept 10, 2006 story is established in just the story’s opening sentence and subhead, a quote purportedly from Keller: “It was my bad. I really didn’t think about it until after I did it.”
In all of the put-downs, defamation and calumny poured by the official story’s amen corner on the Internet onto the story of Mohamed Atta’s erstwhile girlfriend Amanda Keller, never once has a plausible explanation even been offered to answer, should they be right, the big unanswered question that would then be on everyone’s lips:
Why in the world would anyone claim to have been the girlfriend of the most reviled man on the face of planet Earth?
The only answer is “publicity.”
No Motive. No explanation. Just... "My bad."
Yet no one—not even debunkers like the Amazing Randi or the folks at Screw Loose Change et al—has ever claimed Keller was looking for publicity, because it is demonstrably not true.
Keller fled Venice as soon as the FBI was done with her. Her last verified quote to reporters was “I can’t really say anything. I’m afraid I’ll get in trouble.”
And when we finally found her more than a year later, here is how she felt when she learned that her apartment manager had told reporters about her fling with Atta:
"When I saw Charlie (Grapentine) talking in the newspaper I knew they were going to jump all over him. I thought, "Charlie, no! Can't you just wait?"'
The article completely fails the first burden of proof for a story claiming to disprove that she was Mohamed Atta’s girlfriend—supplying a motive. It offers no explanation at all for Keller's actions.
If Keller didn't offer the Sarasota Herald Tribune an explanation, and they didn't ask, we must now question whether the newspaper ever even spoke with her.
But that’s not the most grievous fault in the brief little article.
Blaming it on the "conspiracy theorists"
That's in the story’s disingenuous opening line, carefully crafted to be misleading while avoiding being an out-and-out lie.
"For five years Amanda Keller has been portrayed by conspiracy theorists as Mohamed Atta's lover."
It wasn't "conspiracy theorists" (read: Daniel Hopsicker) who first broke the story about Mohamed Atta's American squeeze. That honor belongs to Heather Allen's own Sarasota Herald Tribune, as well as several other local newspapers, notably the Charlotte Sun.
Reporter Allen had only to search her own computer to see these stories.
The paper would like to suggest that the notion that Amanda Keller lived with Mohamed Atta had sprung full-blown out of the mind of someone with eyes spinning like pinwheels as he claims contact with extraterrestrials.
But, of course, the paper can't say that. That would be wrong.
So the Sarasota Herald-Tribune merely deliberately conceals from its readers the fact that the paper itself was the first source of the report, and that all the "conspiracy theorists" did was keep it from falling into that "memory hole" where inconvenient information goes to die.
It turns out Heather Allen's heady foray into international obfuscation was not the first on this particular story by a reporter for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. More on that shortly...
From the Sept 14th Charlotte Sun:
"Paula Grapentine immediately recognized the face of a suspected terrorist who may have trained for the World Trade Center attack at Huffman Aviation in Venice. He was her next-door neighbor. Postal carrier Neil Patton also recollects the names and faces of Mohamed Atta, 33, and Marwan Al-Shehhi, 23, and four other Middle Eastern flight school students. They lived at the Sandpiper apartments in Venice until earlier this year."
That same day the Charlotte Sun ran a second story by Elaine Allen-Emrich, based on an interview with Tony and Vonnie Laconca of nearby Northport, who had rented a place to a man named Mohamed "who was training at Huffman Aviation, was 5'10" tall, and had perfect dark skin."
"Mohamed was associated with a local woman believed to be Amanda Keller, a local restaurant manager, (Tony) LaConca said... "Mohamed bailed her out of South County Jail," Vonnie LaConca said.... After meeting Mohamed and Keller on Feb. 21, (another young woman) joined the couple on an adventure to Key West the following day.
"Two men from Germany"
"They were gone for three days," said Tony LaConca. "They didn't sleep -- it was a continuous party."
LaConca said Mohamed footed the entire bill for the weekend including buying Keller and the unnamed employee new clothes, alcohol, & drugs...
"The two girls were introduced to two men from Germany that they said were Mohamed's friends," Tony LaConca continued. "I thought it was strange, because Mohamed didn't appear to be French-Canadian or German."
Reporter Emrich was probably wondering the same thing we were... Who were the two mysterious German men?
She called the FBI in Tampa.
"The FBI in Tampa would neither confirm nor deny that any agents were interviewing people in the North Port area," Charlotte Sun reporter Elaine Allen-Emrich wrote.
Exemplifiying the news blackout which has prevailed from that day to this, she wrote:
"Asked for more information about Atta's wild weekend, an FBI spokesperson identified only as Pam stated “We recommend that you check in with CNN for current information. Any press statements can be found on televised stations like CNN.”
As opposed, we presume, to untelevised stations.
The Sandpiper Apartment Skeleton Key
After the number of terrorists believed to have trained in Venice rose to three several days later, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune took note, in a story headlined FBI links 3rd terrorist to Venice.
“Detectives also suspect Atta lived for several months in rural Charlotte County before moving to Venice, Sheriff Bill Clement said at a news conference Tuesday.
Clement said the Sheriff’s Office has forwarded several tips to the FBI about Atta, who used an alias in Charlotte County.
By September 22nd, the paper was beside itself. The fingers counting terrorists had used up almost one whole hand already! And there was no end in sight! Still, they gamely announced the figure they were up to... right in the headline: (4th Terrorist Suspect May Have Ties to Venice )
It turned out Hamburg co-conspirator Ramzi Bin Alshibh had also wanted to come to Venice. (He didn’t. His visa request was denied, it was later learned.)
“Atta patronized local bars and businesses. He told the manager of the Outlook bar he was from Germany and came to Venice to learn to fly. Atta and several friends were regulars at a Venice bar (at the Venice Airport) called the 44th Aero Squadron.”
“I never had any problem with them,” said owner Ken Schortzmann. “He had a fanny pack with a fat roll of cash in it.”
Remember the fanny pack. It will come up again.
“A dancer at the Cheetah Lounge (in Sarasota) also reported seeing one of the alleged terrorists at the strip club… A club manager escorted a Herald reporter out of the club shortly afterward, saying the Cheetah had no comment.”
Now we hear what will soon become the official story.
“Huffman flight instructors have said they believe Atta left the area shortly after receiving his pilot’s certification.”
But Sarasota Herald-Tribune reporter Earle Kimel had already noted a discrepancy.
“However, Atta may have been in Venice as recently as April. Charles Grapentine, the manager of Sandpiper Apartments on Airport Avenue in Venice, said he remembers seeing Atta at the complex for about three weeks in April.
“He said Atta was living in the apartment of Amanda Keller.”
It was just two days after the attack.
A frosty response from the boys in Florsheim shoes
The story went on to recount making contact with Amanda Keller, who had already fled 160 miles north to her mother’s house in Lady Lake, FL.
“Keller said she met Atta through a friend and let him stay in her apartment with her and her then-boyfriend because she felt sorry for him. She said authorities told her not to say anything at all about Atta.”
Then she spoke her final words, until we found her over a year later. “I cant’ really discuss anything,” she said. “I’m afraid I’ll get in trouble.”
We later interviewed Sandpiper apartment manager Charley Grapentine, a grizzled ex-Marine, with tattooed forearms. Remember Atta’s fanny pack?
“Atta always carried a fanny pack around his waist,”
Grapentine told us, “I remember Amanda once telling him that she needed some new clothes, and he reached in and peeled off a few hundreds from a thick roll of cash he had stuffed inside the fanny pack.”
The FBI did not receive apartment manager Charley Grapentine’s recollections kindly. Their response, says Grapentine, was positively frosty, especially on the subject of talking to reporters.
“They called me a liar, and told me to keep my mouth shut,” stated the ex-marine grimly. “Nobody likes to hear that; that they didn’t see something they know they saw.”
Wolf cookies strewn across the landscape of the American mind
Even before Heather Allen weighed in, another reporter from the Sarasota Herald-Tribune had been caught selling wolf cookies to the Great Unwashed about Amanda Keller.
Reporter Chris Grierauthored the Herald-Tribune's first attempt to discredit Amanda Keller, by literally camped out on her mother's doorstep until being ordered to leave by a momentarily-merciful FBI Agent.
Later, a source at the paper, requesting either anonymity or a bullet-proof Kevlar vest able to repel rocket-launched grenades, told us Grier was fired for spying on other reporters in the newsroom and rifling through the paper's databases....Shazaam!
But well before leaving he had launched his very own trial balloon, an unconvincing attempt to break the connection between Atta and Amanda bearing the headline 5th Terrorist Pilot Vanishes.
“A reporter named Chris...young, tall, kind of heavy, dark hair and a dark goatee, came to my Mom’s house," Keller explained. "He was mad because I wouldn’t talk to him."
"The Chris dude, his dark goatee, and everything."
"This dude would NOT leave me alone!"
Said Amanda, "I stood outside arguing with him forever, and he was trying to trip me up, to get me to say something, and I said, I don’t know what the hell you’re trying to do, but it isn’t going to work.”
“So I called the FBI agent that had been talking to me, right while this reporter guy was standing there, and told him, this guy won't leave me alone. And the FBI agent said let me talk to him, and I handed him the phone, and I don’t know what was said, but after that he left.”
From this paparazzi-like sortie into 9/11 witness harassment, Grier spun a fanciful tale. He was a Terry McDermott-in-training, or on training wheels, but was unfortunately tripping over himself the whole time. Grier wrote: "In an interview at her mother's house, Keller wouldn't talk about the man who stayed on her couch."
That was okay, but, moments later, Grier was inspired to write something else, which became his downfall. About this girl who wouldn't talk, he wrote that she "said that comments attributed to her in the Herald-Tribune on Saturday were wrong."
You see the problem. This isn't brain surgery. We could almost hear faint voices all the way from Wahington, exclaiming "Thank God we've got Terry McDermott!"
"Unconcerned with trifling concerns, like plausibility"
Grier's "fifth pilot" fantasy, while totally implausible, was vastly more entertaining than anything ever written by boring old "Three yards and a cloud of dust" Terry McD.
From that day until this, in all of the in-depth news accounts about the Hamburg cadre’s key members, Grier's "5th Pilot" has never been mentioned again.
Grier's "Fifth Pilot" was an Everyman Terrorist, an Unknown Terrorist, whose name will be forever a mystery, cause, it's, like, Unknown. Like, kind of, some kind of Ghost Terrorist.
He was Mohamed LNU (Last Name Unknown.) The record of his existence consisted entirely of Grier's speculation in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune about him staying with Amanda.
He was The Terrorist Who Was Not There. In his own way, he was a pure thing.
There will never be a follow-up story about him published anywhere.
There will never a headline reading “Fifth Pilot Finally Identified.”
And there are no innocent explanations for this. Make of it what you will.
When Seal Team 6 choppered into Osama Bin Laden's compound in Pakistan, interpreters may have appeared uninterested in whether Grier's 5th Pilot had been seen in the vicinity.
But who knows? That may have just been for show.
More on Mohamed Atta Wannabe
Backing up momentarily to an earlier trial balloon...
Since Mohamed Atta's pathological loathing of women was attested to by numerous eyewitnesses in Venice, including Amanda Keller herself, making the idea that anyone might mistake the man at left for Atta even sadder.
A few examples: Atta and Al-Shehhi often stopped into The Outlook, a local Venice bar. Female bartender Liz Lehman told newspaper that
"He (Atta) didn't like the fact that women were behind the bar. It was almost like he was offended that we would stand and talk to them."
Then there was the time Atta stopped by the Grapentine’s apartment to discuss something regarding the complex, Paula Grapentine told reporters.
“He came to talk about something and said, 'I don't talk to women and you're supposed to look down when you talk to me. He was very unfriendly," she said. "He wouldn't talk to women. He treated women like they were under him.”
Or an anecdote told to us byAtta and Amanda's next-door neighbor Stephanie Frederickson...
"One day I remember, it was raining out, and I came out of my apartment at the same time he came out of his. He didn’t have a car that day, for some reason, so I offered him a ride,” she told us.
"He got furious, and shouted at me, ‘You do not speak to me unless I speak to you first!'"
"I said get over yourself, bub," says Stephanie Frederickson today, with some little relish. "I said, you're in America now. The least you cand do is thank me for offering you a ride."
Mohamed Atta's pot-smoking German associates
Astute observers of the post-9/11 scene in Florida may recall that the owner of the Sandpiper Apartments, a certain Vicky Kyser, was quoted telling authorities that the Arab flight students clumped around Atta smoked a strange tobacco which smelled to her like marijuana.
This was far from the only reference to drugs in the saga of the terrorist hijackers. Despite there clearly being nothing to the stories (pace, Terry McD!) we prided ourselves on following up on every one.
But when we contacted her to learn if she knew more than she'd told (since other than a brief interview just after the attack, she'd said nothing more) we were unable to find her, until recalling the old FBI trick of mis-spelling names they are a little leery about letting outsiders talk to who might, you know, sully the permanent record.
After trying different combinations, we discovered her real name is Vikki Keyser, and a prominent real estate broker in the area. But when we called her she sounded more horrified to hear from us than if we had been an ex-husband of hers just released from prison... against whom she had just filed a restraining order earlier that day.
She'd promised the FBI, she said, before saying no more, that she would keep silent. And not for the first time we wondered: What the hell is that all about?
We could go on. In fact, we find, to our chagrin, we already have.
Nobody's idea of a conspiracy theorist
In the apartment next door to Amanda and Atta’s apartment on the second floor of the Sandpiper Apartments lived a pleasant-looking 50ish housewife named Stephanie Frederickson, at least until recently.
Ms Frederickson is nobody’s idea of a ‘conspiracy theorist.’
She spends her days caring for the baby of a friend needing help. Her husband is a Maytag repairman. It doesn't get any more ordinary than that. She did not seek publicity. She did not speak to the press.
But when we met her, there was one burning topic which she wanted to discuss—something both she and Charlie Grapentine were fairly bursting to talk about.
It wasn't Mohamed Atta. It was how she had been harassed and intimidated by agents of the FBI.
"At first, right after the attack, they told me I must have been mistaken in my identification," she stated. "Or they would insinuate that I was lying. Finally they stopped trying to get me to change my story, and just stopped by once a week to make sure I hadn’t been talking to anyone.”
For at least six months after the 9/11 attack, Frederickson says, she received weekly visits from an agent in the FBI’s Sarasota office. "The question they asked was always the same," she says. "You aren’t saying anything to anybody, are you?"
She shrugs. “Who was I going to tell? Most everyone around here already knew."
Stephanie Frederickson, Charley Grapentine (who's no longer with us) and even—no, make that especially—Amanda Keller, are real American heroes. In the middle of a very dark time, they showed us that at least something about who we are hasn't changed...
Real Americans won’t be silenced.
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