The story about Mohamed Atta’s

The story about Mohamed Atta’s attempt to borrow money from the federal government to buy an airplane is hilarious. The guy sounds like one of the characters in Mad magazine’s “Spy vs. Spy” comics of the 1960’s. The only thing he was lacking was one of those round black bombs with a burning fuse. I suppose the story must be true, even though it reads like something in the Onion, since no one would dare to make it up. Atta apparently went to a US Department of Agriculture loan office in Florida and said he wanted to borrow $650,000 so he could buy a six-seat airplane (that’s a mighty big crop duster); he said he intended to take out all of the seats except the pilot’s, and anything else inside the plane, so that it could be completely filled with chemicals. In the course of his conversation with the office manager, he tried to buy an aerial photograph of Washington, D.C., that had especially good views of the White House and the Pentagon; wondered aloud why someone didn’t leap across the desk, slit the manager’s throat, and steal the “millions of dollars” that must be in the safe; speculated about how Americans would like it if their cities were to be destroyed like those in Atta’s native land; and said that Osama bin Laden was the greatest man in the world. The office manager thought he was a little odd but apparently conversed with him pleasantly. The story’s crowning touch is when Atta returns to the same office for a second time, now “slightly disguised” by wearing glasses, gives a different name, and pretends to be an accountant applying for a loan on behalf of a client. Apparently none of this seemed suspicious to the office manager. A number of the Sept. 11 hijackers applied for loans from this same office; it doesn’t seem to have sunk in that the USDA only lends money to American citizens. One oddity is Atta’s purported reference to the destruction of the cities of his homeland. Atta comes from Egypt, and I believe you’d have to go back quite a few centuries to find Egyptian cities destroyed–was he still mad because the library got burned? Maybe he was delusional, or maybe the office manager didn’t remember that part right. The office manager went public with the story because she wants people to know that it isn’t easy to spot terrorists. That’s really what she said.

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