by Elias Davidsson, November 2010
Johnelle Bryant, a former loan official at a farm service agency of the Florida Department of Agriculture, was interviewed on June 6, 2002 by top journalist Brian Ross on the national program Face To Face (ABC News), and told an incredible story about her meeting with one Mohamed Atta.1
According to her, a person who presented himself as Mohamed Atta visited her office at Homestead, Florida, “somewhere between the end of April, around the third week of April to the third week of May of 2000” to seek a loan of $650,000 in order to finance a crop-dusting plane.2 Asked by the interviewer ”what name did he give you?”, she answered ”Mohamed Atta.” She said she wrote down his name and spelled it A-T-T-A-H, and he told her ”No, A-T-T-A, as in Atta boy!”
Ms. Bryant believed that Atta had told her he was originally from Egypt but had moved to Afghanistan due to poliltical pressure, but mentioned also that he had an engineering degree and had gone to school in Germany. He said he came to the United States to start his dream, which was “to go to flight school, and, and get his pilot’s license, and work both as a charter pilot, and a, a crop duster, too.” She said he believed he “could walk into the office and say that he needed $650,000 to purchase an aircraft with. And that I would give him $650,000 in cash.” As she could not give him the money, he was very disappointed. Then she added:
[W]e have a very large, very old safe. (…) After explaining what kind of security they had in his, in his country, he asked me what would prevent him (…) from going behind my desk and cutting my throat, and making off with the millions of dollars of cash in that safe. And, I told him that, well I kind of laughed. I mean I didn’t laugh at him. But I chuckled a little bit about it. (…). I told him for one thing, there’s, there’s no cash in that safe (…) And I told him number two, my, my training would prevent him from coming behind the desk and cutting my throat.
He then saw a picture of Washington, D.C., hanging on the wall and asked about the various sights in the U.S. capital, such as the Pentagon and the White House. He even offered to buy the picture. In Bryant ‘s word:
He actually tried to purchase the picture from me and he, he pulled out a wad of cash about that thick around and started throwing money on my desk. He wanted that picture really bad.
He then told her he wanted to visit the World Trade Center in New York and asked her about the security there. He also mentioned to her, out of the blue, his admiration for Osama bin Laden and that Al Qaeda needed American members. In Bryant’s words:
[H]e started talking about um, an organization that uh, back in his country (…) [H]e got really emotional when he talked about it, like really excited about it (…) [H]e said that they (…) could use memberships from Americans (…) I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about prior to Sept. 11 (…) I know now that he talking about al Qaeda, but the way pronounced it, it sounded like he was talking about a woman’s name. He kept saying uh, it sound like, Akeda, Akeda, “Surely you’ve heard. Surely you know, Akeda.” And I went, “Oh yeah, yeah, yeah right.” [LAUGHS] I mean, I didn’t know what he was talking about. (…) He, he mentioned Al Qaeda. He mentioned Osama bin Laden. (…) I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about and (…) he mentioned that um, this man would someday be known as the world’s greatest leader. I didn’t know who he was talking about.
The interview with Ms. Bryant was not the first time this episode was mentioned in the media. On September 25, 2001, the Washington Post wrote about a “man who the FBI believes flew an American Airlines plane into the World Trade Center Sept. 11 [and] apparently walked into a U.S. Department of Agriculture office in Florida last year” to ask about a loan to buy a crop-duster plane.3 At a reporter’s request, Kevin Kelley, state executive director for the USDA’s Florida Farm Service Agency, contacted Johnell (sic) Bryant to ask what had happened. Kelley said Bryant refused to comment: “She said she was told by authorities not to speak about it.” FBI officials also declined to comment4 and refused a Freedom of Information (FOIA) request by the present author to release an account of their interview with Johnelle Bryant.
Robert Epling, president of Community Bank of Florida, said he received a call from the FBI between the 15th and the 18th of September (2001) saying that Mohamed Atta had gone into a USDA office that until then had been located in the bank’s building. The Washington Post added that “several USDA employees had (…) identified Atta to the FBI, and recalled that he wore Tommy Hilfiger clothes and a lot of cologne, according to the FBI version of events provided to the bank.”5
According to Brian Ross, Johnelle “went to the FBI once she recognized Atta’s pictures after September 11th, and hours after she passed a polygraph test, they grounded all crop dusters and began to investigate general aviation. She decided to talk to us to despite an order from the Department of Agriculture that she could lose her job if she did. She feels it’s important for people to know that terrorists could show up, they don’t have a ‘T’ on their forehead.”6
The BBC published a report about Johnelle Bryant’s meeting with Mohamed Atta on June 7, 2002.7 According to the Guardian, ”Ms Bryant said she never reported the incident before September 11, saying there was no way she or anyone else could have detected Atta was a terrorist. Shortly after September 11, Ms Bryant recognised Atta’s photo and alerted authorities. A federal law enforcement official told the Associated Press that Ms Bryant’s information had contributed to an FBI warning about possible terrorist use of crop dusters.”8 Robert Epling of Community Bank of Florida, cited by Associated Press of September 25, 2001, said he was told that Mohamed Atta, one of the suspected hijackers, sought a USDA loan for a crop duster. The USDA was a tenant in the bank, which checked its files about Atta at the request of the FBI.9
* * * * *
Johnelle Bryant’s account shows unmistakenly that her visitor wanted to leave a number of distinct and strong impressions on her: (a) that his name was Mohamed Atta; (b) that he was a rather sinister person ready to “cut the throat” of people (a theme later encountered in the 9/11 legend); (c) that he had a similar background as Mohamed el-Amir; (d) that he was particularly interested in the future targets of the 9/11 attacks; (e) that he was interested in learning to fly; (f) that he admired Osama bin Laden; and (g) that he was somehow connected to Al Qaeda. Any such visitor would expect her to report their meeting to colleagues and superiors.
What are we to make of this story? The following explanations spring to mind:
(a) Johnelle Bryant invented a story
This explanation can be rejected out of hand because ABC News would certainly check Bryant’s credentials and credibility before putting her on a national programme. The FBI subjected Bryant to a polygraph test and apparently acted on Bryant’s story by temporarily banning all crop-duster flights.
(b) Johnelle Bryant was tasked by the authorities to tell a fake story
In order for this explanation to be credible, one would have to believe (a) that Johnelle Bryant would accept to play such a role and expose herself to national ridicule; (b) that she was able to play that role as if she were a professional actress; (c) that the U.S. authorities would benefit from such a staged interview. It is particularly difficult to see any benefit accruing to the U.S. authorities from Bryant’s interview. In addition, we note that mainstream media did not critically follow-up Bryant’s interview. The interview was, if anything, embarrassing to the official legend of Mohamed Atta.
(c) The meeting between Bryant and Atta took place after Mohamed’s official entry into the United States on June 3, 2000.
But even if the interview had taken place after June 3, 2000, and not before the middle of May, as reported by Johnelle Bryant, this fact would not significanlly affect the extraordinary nature of this interview and the questions it gives rise to.
(d) The person who visited Johnelle Bryant was a hired impersonator of Mohamed el-Amir (his doubleganger)
It defies common sense that a person planning to commit a terrorist act in the United States would volunteer to a federal employee that he admires Osama bin Laden, that Al Qaeda needs American members and tell her his name. It defies common sense that a terrorist conspirator would on his own promote suspicion about his violent inclinations and mention the targets of his planned attacks to an unknown federal employee, as Bryant’s visitor did. The person who did so, clearly planned to mention these facts to her in order to leave an impression.
We know from all of Mohamed el-Amir’s acqaintances that he was a highly intelligent and reserved person. He certainly was neither a fool nor someone prone to blabber. We are, therefore, compelled to conclude that the person who presented himself to Johnelle Bryant as Mohamed Atta, was an impersonator tasked to leave specific impressions on Ms. Bryant, and who acted on behalf of an agency that had previously collected biographic information on Mohamed el-Amir.
It should be further noted that Bryant was “told by authorities not to speak” about this episode. She said that she went public against the wishes of the FBI and of her agency.
The suppression of the Bryant-Atta episode by the 9/11 Commission is not surprising, because revealing the contents of their meeting would have undermined the myth that the plotters of 9/11 acted conspirationally. It would have given rise to questions about the reason Atta could have had to disclose so much information about himself, his views and his intentions, in advance of his alleged plot. It would have raised the question whether Mohamed el-Amir had actually come to the United States earlier than officially claimed, or whether he at all came to the United States. It would, finally, give rise to sinister questions about the fate of the real Mohamed el-Amir, who was last seen alive in May 2000 in Germany. Shortly after the ABC interview, Ms. Johnelle Bryant stopped working for the USDA and could not be located.10
The entire interview is cached here:
6 USDA Employee Says Atta Sought Government Loan To Finance Terror Plot, Bulletin Frontrunner, June 7, 2002, http://www.bulletinnews.com/frontrunner.aspx
7 Twin towers hijacker ‘sought US loan’, BBC, 7 June 2002, at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/2031563.stm
10 In an email of October 13, 2004, responding to the author’s inquiry, Hal Dawkins, Administrative Program Director at USDA, Florida, wrote that Ms. Bryant “is no longer employed with USDA. I have no further information as to Ms. Bryant’s whereabouts.”