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Following the Sept. 11 money trail --- Tower computers scoured for
clues to cash transfers
The Toronto Star
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
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
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
"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
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
"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