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Following the Sept. 11 money trail --- Tower computers scoured for clues to cash transfers
Erik Kirschbaum
 
12/18/2001
The Toronto Star
Ontario
Page A08
Copyright (c) 2001 The Toronto Star

German computer experts are working around 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 Sept. 11.

Were criminals responsible for the sharp rise in credit card transactions that moved through some computer systems at the center 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 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. "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," he said.

Inside Convar's ultra-high security building in Pirmasens, Germany, is a dust-free "clean room" where damaged computer drives retrieved from the rubble are coaxed back to life.

Henschel said the raw material recovered, up to 40 gigabytes per computer hard drive, is sent immediately by satellite or courier back to New York.

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."

"We have been quite surprised that so many of the hard drives were in good enough shape to retrieve the data," Henschel 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.

 

 

   

 



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