April 8, 2001: Supposedly, Atta flies from the US to Prague, Czech Republic, and meets with Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani, an Iraqi spy. He returns on April 9 or 10. [New York Times, 10/27/01] But did he actually fly to Prague? A US official later states, "Neither we nor the Czechs nor anybody else has any information [Atta] was coming or going [to Prague] at that time." [Newsweek, 4/28/02] FBI Director Mueller states, "We ran down literally hundreds of thousands of leads and checked every record we could get our hands on, from flight reservations to car rentals to bank accounts," yet no evidence that he left the country was found. [Washington Post, 5/1/02] Investigators believe Atta was in Florida the whole time, and the Czech government eventually agrees. [BBC, 5/1/02, UPI, 10/20/02, New York Times, 10/21/02] But assuming al-Ani met with someone, could it be someone other than Atta, perhaps someone impersonating him? "After months of investigation, the Czechs [say] they [are] no longer certain that Atta was the person who met al-Ani, saying 'he may be different from Atta.'" [Washington Post, 5/1/02] "Some in Prague who knew the diplomat say he met with a used car salesman named Saleh from Nuremberg, Germany, who looked like Mr. Atta. 'He is a perfect double for Atta,' said a Syrian businessman who has lived in Prague for 35 years and says he knew the diplomat and the car salesman. 'I saw him several times with [al-Ani].' ... Czech intelligence officials offered still another theory: the Mohamed Atta who came to Prague last April was not the hijacker but a Pakistani of the same name. 'He didn't have the same identity card number,' an unidentified Interior Ministry official told the newspaper Mlada Fronta Dnes. 'There was a great difference in their ages, their nationalities didn't match, basically nothing — it was someone else.'" [New York Times, 12/16/01] Could the use of an impersonator explain why some Czech officials remained convinced so long that Atta came to this meeting [AP, 12/17/01], while FBI investigators remained convinced that he never left Florida? [Washington Post, 5/1/02] See September 19, 2001-October 20, 2002 for the remarkable way coverage of this story has changed over time.

September 19, 2001-October 20, 2002: The coverage of whether a purported meeting between Atta and an Iraqi spy named Ahmed al-Ani took place in Prague, Czech Republic (see April 8, 2001) has changed repeatedly over time (a Slate article also outlines many of the twists and turns of this story [Slate, 9/3/02]):
1) September 19: It is first reported that a meeting took place; Atta is named later. [Los Angeles Times, 9/19/01, CNN, 10/11/01]
2) October 20: The story is denied. [New York Times, 10/20/01]
3) October 27: The story is confirmed. [New York Times, 10/27/01]
4) October 27: It is claimed Atta met with Iraqi agents four times in Prague, plus in Germany, Spain, and Italy. [London Times, 10/27/01]
5) November 12: Columnist William Safire calls the meeting an "undisputed fact." [New York Times, 11/12/01]
6) December 9: Vice President Cheney calls the meeting "pretty well confirmed." [Washington Post, 12/9/01]
7) December 16: The identities of both al-Ani and Atta are disputed. [New York Times, 12/16/01]
8)
January 12, 2002: It is claimed at least two meetings took place, including one a year earlier. [Telegraph, 1/12/02]
9) February 6: It's reported that the meeting probably took place, but wasn't connected to the 9/11 attacks. [New York Times, 2/6/02]
10) March 15: Evidence for the meeting is considered between "slim" and "none." [Washington Post, 3/15/02]
11) March 18: William Safire strongly asserts the meeting took place. [New York Times, 3/18/02]
12)
April 28 - May 2: The meeting is largely discredited. [Newsweek, 4/28/02, Washington Post, 5/1/02, New York Times, 5/2/02]
13)
May 8: Some Czech officials continue to affirm the meeting took place. [Prague Post, 5/8/02]
14) May 9: William Safire refuses to give up the story, claiming a "protect-Saddam cabal" in the high levels of the US government is burying the story. [New York Times, 5/9/02]
15) August 2: With a war against Iraq growing more likely, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer suggests the meeting did happen, "despite deep doubts by the CIA and FBI." [Los Angeles Times, 8/2/02]
16) August 19: Newsweek states: "The sole evidence for the alleged meeting is the uncorroborated claim of a Czech informant." It claims that Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz is nonetheless pushing the FBI to have the meeting accepted as fact. [Newsweek, 8/19/02]
17) September 10: The Bush administration is no longer pushing the meeting. [Washington Post, 9/10/02]
18) September 17: Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld "accept reports from Czech diplomats" that the meeting took place. [USA Today, 9/17/02]
19) September 23: Newsweek reports that the CIA is resisting Pentagon demands to get pictures of the meeting from Iraqi exiles. One official says: "We do not shy away from evidence. But we also don’t make it up." [Newsweek, 9/23/02]
20) October 6: Bush gives a big speech about why the US should attack Iraq. Slate notes if Bush had evidence linking Iraq to 9/11, "this was his last plausible chance to divulge it. He didn't." [Slate, 10/7/02]
21) A poll taken between October 2-6 shows 66% of Americans believe Iraq was involved in the 9/11 attacks. [Reuters, 10/10/02] On October 10, Congress passes a resolution authorizing Bush to declare war on Iraq. [AP, 10/11/02]
22) October 20: This story seemingly ends when Czech officials, including the
President Vaclav Havel, conclusively deny the meeting, suggesting the entire story was made up by one unreliable source well after 9/11, and after stories in the press that Atta had traveled to Prague. It now appears Atta wasn't even in the Czech Republic during the month the meeting was supposed to have taken place. President Havel told Bush the meeting didn't happen "quietly some time earlier this year." [UPI, 10/20/02, New York Times, 10/21/02] Why did Bush wait to reveal this information until after the Congressional vote for war with Iraq? Considering the way this meeting has seemingly been used as a political football, how can other reporting on the 9/11 story be trusted?