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Officials probe stranger's visit to Logan tower

By Matthew Brelis, Globe Staff, 9/17/2001

Officials are trying to determine whether a man who gained access to the control tower at Boston's Logan International Airport, and identified himself to controllers as an airline pilot with family in Afghanistan, is one of the hijackers responsible for the destruction of the World Trade Center, aviation sources said yesterday.

Federal aviation and law enforcement officials are not certain whether the man, who used a pilot's identification to gain access to the facility, was a hijacker. But they confirmed the man visited the tower for 15 minutes on Saturday, Sept. 8, three days before two flights from Logan were hijacked and struck the twin towers in New York City.

Furthermore, the Federal Aviation Administration, which operates the tower that serves as the aviation nerve center for Logan, did not request that the facility be swept for bombs until last Friday - three days after the hijacking of the two Boeing 767s en route to Los Angeles, one source said.

The suspects in the hijackings are known to have visited Logan at least four or five times between Sept. 5 and 11, according to parking records. While there is no apparent reason why they would have needed to visit the control tower or see it in operation to carry out their plan, the visit has raised new concerns among aviation officials that security at the facility was exceedingly lax. The tower not only has radar installations but is also where controllers handle all airplane movements on the ground at Logan and within 5 miles of the airport.

The Globe reported yesterday that a hijacker may have visited the control tower, and FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown was quoted as saying ''there is no facility log, no video, and we have initiated an internal investigation to look into the allegations.''

Since then, however, officials have disclosed that two separate incidents on Sept. 8 are being reviewed. Earlier in the day, a controller left the tower and took the elevator to the public garage, where he had a cigarette. Most controllers wear their identification around their neck and as such, could easily be identified. Four men, all described by an official familiar with the incident as ''Middle Eastern,'' approached the controller and inquired about getting a tour of the tower.

''They had a brief conversation and the FAA employee gave the gentlemen a number to call to get a tour,'' said the official, who asked not to be identified.

Later in the day, an unaccompanied man, again described by the official as ''Middle Eastern,'' managed to get to the 19th floor of the tower. The official could not say if this man was one of the original four.

There are two elevators that run from the tower to the central parking garage, but access to the 19th floor is restricted. So officials believe the man waited in one of the elevators until an FAA employee on the 19th floor called for it. The FAA employee then descended after the man got off.

There is a small lobby outside the elevators on the 19th floor and a secure door with a video camera and a telephone for a visitor to pick up and request entry into the facility. The camera, however, tapes over recorded material every 24 hours, so any record of the visit was erased, according to an official familiar with tower operations.

The man picked up the telephone ''and was buzzed through the door unescorted,'' said one source.

The man then passed an FAA administrative office and went into an adjoining room where some controllers were on break. The controllers asked what he was doing and, according to one aviation source, the man said he was a pilot who wanted a tour of the tower cab, the multisided bubble that sits atop the tower.

''He showed some ID, said he was a pilot, and because it was not a busy time, they said OK,'' said a source. ''It is not that unusual for a pilot to get a tour.''

The controllers told the man where the stairs to the tower were and the man climbed up the three flights to the facility, which offers a sweeping view of the airfield and Boston.

''He got into the cab and spent about 15 minutes there and engaged the controllers in conversation,'' one source said. ''He told them he lived in Haverhill and had family in Afghanistan, and then left on his own.''

FAA spokeswoman Brown said she had no additional comment and said the matter was still under review.

Since the hijackings, the FAA is reviewing access to all of its air traffic control facilities nationwide and will not permit any visit s unless they have been arranged.

Matthew Brelis can be reached at

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 9/17/2001. Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company.

-- Martin Thompson (, September 17, 2001


Would the FAA really be that stupid as to let a man who identified himself as having family in Afghanistan have free access to its facility in Boston?

This is hard to believe.

-- Levenhall (, September 17, 2001.

"This is hard to believe."

Stupid, yes, but hard to believe? Not at all. Security in most U.S. facilities is a joke.

This was a great example of "social engineering," if you will, to circumvent the window-dressing that supposedly protected a key installation.

What if this guy was casing the place for a possible assault? Even one person with a gun and some grenades could have done massive damage. Imagine the chaos if several airport towers in a region -- say Logan, Newark, JFK, Dulles, etc, were simultaneously taken off line & the controllers killed.

This sort of story does make me worry all the more that there are more attacks coming... and they won't be the exact same M.O. as last Tuesday.

-- Andre Weltman (, September 18, 2001.

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