- 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
- Were criminals responsible for the sharp rise in credit
card transactions that moved through some computer systems at the WTC
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
- "The suspicion is that inside information about
the attack was used to send financial transaction commands and
in the belief that amid all the chaos the criminals would have, at the
very least, a good head start," said Convar director Peter
- "Of course it is also possible that there were
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
shopping binge on that Tuesday morning. But at this point there are many
transactions that cannot be accounted for," Henschel said.
- "Not only the volume but the size of the
was far higher than usual for a day like that. There is a suspicion that
these were possibly planned to take advantage of the chaos."
- Nearly 3,300 people were killed in the attacks that
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
Osama bin Laden (news - web sites) for the attack and has since waged war
on the Taliban regime in Afghanistan (news - web sites) that sheltered
- 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
from the World Trade Center because of its laser scanning
- 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
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
from the departure of some 4,000 American soldiers stationed here during
the Cold War, are closely guarded behind high fences and monitored by
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
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
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 (news - web sites) 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
- "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."