German Firm Probes Final World Trade Center
By Erik Kirschbaum
- 08/06/03: PIRMASENS, Germany (Reuters) -
German computer experts are working round the clock to unlock the
truth behind an unexplained surge in financial transactions made
just before two hijacked planes crashed into New York's World Trade
Center on September 11.
- Were criminals responsible for the sharp rise in
credit card transactions that moved through some computer systems at
the WTC shortly before the planes hit the twin towers?
- Or was it coincidence that unusually large sums of
money, perhaps more than $100 million, were rushed through the
computers as the disaster unfolded?
- A world leader in retrieving data, German-based
firm Convar is trying to answer those questions and help credit card
companies, telecommunications firms and accountants in New York
recover their records from computer hard drives that have been
partially damaged by fire, water or fine dust.
- Using a pioneering laser scanning technology to
find data on damaged computer hard drives and main frames found in
the rubble of the World Trade Center and other nearby collapsed
buildings, Convar has recovered information from 32 computers that
support assumptions of dirty doomsday dealings.
- "The suspicion is that inside information
about the attack was used to send financial transaction commands and
authorizations in the belief that amid all the chaos the criminals
would have, at the very least, a good head start," said Convar
director Peter Henschel.
- "Of course it is also possible that there were
perfectly legitimate reasons for the unusual rise in business
volume," he told Reuters in an interview.
- PROFITING FROM DISASTER?
- "It could turn out that Americans went on an
absolute shopping binge on that Tuesday morning. But at this point
there are many transactions that cannot be accounted for,"
- "Not only the volume but the size of the
transactions was far higher than usual for a day like that. There is
a suspicion that these were possibly planned to take advantage of
- Nearly 3,300 people were killed in the attacks that
destroyed the World Trade Center.
- Some 30,000 people in the buildings, symbols of
America's financial might, were able to escape between the time the
planes crashed and about an hour later when they collapsed -- even
though many of the unmanned computers continued working.
- The United States blames the al Qaeda group led by
Saudi-born Osama bin Laden for the attack and has since waged war on
the Taliban regime in Afghanistan that sheltered them.
- ADVANCE KNOWLEDGE OF ATTACK?
- There are several data retrieval companies in the
United States and Europe, but Convar said it has won the lion's
share of the contracts from the World Trade Center because of its
laser scanning technology.
- Convar developed the laser scanner two years ago
that made it possible to retrieve data from badly damaged computers.
- With a staff of 30 in its high-security facility in
Pirmasens near the French border, the firm has worked with the U.S.
armed forces in Germany as well as German federal police for the
last 15 years.
- Its offices in Pirmasens, a town of 36,000 still
suffering from the departure of some 4,000 American soldiers
stationed here during the Cold War, are closely guarded behind high
fences and monitored by dozens of security cameras.
- Inside the building, an endless series of
code-operated door locks keeps unwelcome visitors away. In the
center of the facility is a 120 square meter (1,292 square foot),
dust-free "clean room" where the damaged computer drives
are coaxed back to life.
- Citing client privacy, Henschel declined to say
which companies Convar is working for, or provide details about the
data retrieved so far. But he said the raw material, up to 40
gigabytes per computer hard drive, is sent immediately by satellite
or courier back to New York.
- MONEY TRAIL
- Richard Wagner, a data retrieval expert at the
company, said illegal transfers of more than $100 million might have
been made immediately before and during the disaster.
- "There is a suspicion that some people had
advance knowledge of the approximate time of the plane crashes in
order to move out amounts exceeding $100 million," Wagner said.
""They thought that the records of their transactions
could not be traced after the main frames were destroyed."
- The companies are paying between $20,000 and
$30,000 for each computer recovered, Henschel said.
- The high recovery costs are one reason why only a
limited number of hard drives are being examined. Convar has turned
down a request by one British newspaper to try to recover personal
last hour e-mails sent by someone trapped in the doomed building.
- Henschel said the companies in the United States
were working together with the FBI to piece together what happened
on September 11 and that he was confident the destination of the
dubious transactions would one day be tracked down.
- "We have been quite surprised that so many of
the hard drives were in good enough shape to retrieve the
data," he said.
- "The contamination rate is high. The fine dust
that was everywhere in the area got pressed under high pressure into
the drives. But we've still been able to retrieve 100 percent of the
data on most of the drives we've received.
- "We're helping them find out what happened to
the computers on September 11 as quickly as possible. I'm sure that
one day they will know what happened to the money."
- Copyright Reuters
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