“I never guess. It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.”
– Arthur Conan Doyle
On the morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001, we were on vacation. My wife woke me before 9 am, just in time to watch live television coverage of an aircraft flying into the New York World Trade Center’s Tower 2, at 9:03 am. Initially, we had no idea of what it was that we were seeing and now, seven years later, I’m still not sure.
Ostensibly, a terrorist attack had taken place, but who was responsible and why they did it were not so obvious. In less than two hours, four commercial jet airliners were hijacked and intentionally crashed. Two of the airliners, American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175, were flown into the World Trade Center Towers in New York City, one plane into each tower. The hijackers crashed a third airliner, American Airlines Flight 77, into the Pentagon, near Washington, D.C. The fourth aircraft, United Airlines Flight 93, crashed into a field near the town of Shanksville in rural Pennsylvania.
By the end of that day, the media was attributing responsibility for the attacks to the multi-millionaire religious extremist Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda, the terrorist organization he sponsors. Nineteen alleged members of Al-Qaeda were assumed to be the suicidal murderers on board the hijacked aircraft.
On September 13, the White House announced that there was “overwhelming evidence” that Osama bin Laden was behind the attacks. On September 16, bin Laden denied any involvement through a statement to Al Jazeera television. Speaking from Afghanistan, bin Laden said, “I would like to assure the world that I did not plan the recent attacks”.
In an Address to a Joint session of Congress and the American People on September 20, 2001, President Bush declared that “the evidence we have gathered all points to a collection of loosely affiliated terrorist organizations known as al Qaeda … This group and its leader – a person named Osama bin Laden – are linked to many other organizations in different countries … The leadership of al Qaeda has great influence in Afghanistan and supports the Taliban regime in controlling most of that country…And tonight, the United States of America makes the following demands on the Taliban: Deliver to United States authorities all the leaders of al Qaeda who hide in your land…These demands are not open to negotiation or discussion. The Taliban must act, and act immediately. They will hand over the terrorists, or they will share in their fate.”
Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar refused to do so. On October 7, the U.S. began bombing Afghanistan. On December 17, 2002, the Northern Alliance defeated Taliban and Al-Qaeda forces in the battle of Tora Bora, effectively ending the Afghan war. Most of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters involved escaped into tribally controlled areas of Pakistan in the south and the east. Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar and Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden were never found. As of September 2008, their whereabouts remain unknown.
To my surprise, Osama bin Laden did not remain the focus of America’s anger and its government’s demands for retribution for very much longer. As early as March 13, 2002, when asked about the hunt for bin Laden and where he might be during a White House press conference, President Bush replied, “Terror is bigger than one person. And he’s just – he’s a person who’s now been marginalized…I don’t know where he is. You know, I just don’t spend that much time on him…I truly am not that concerned about him.”
Osama bin Laden has been indicted in United States federal court for his alleged involvement in the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya, and is on the US Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list. In response to the 1998 United States embassy bombings, President Bill Clinton ordered a freeze on assets that could be linked to bin Laden and signed an executive order authorizing his arrest or assassination. The October 12, 2000, attack on the USS Cole is said to have been organized and directed by Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda terrorist organization.
It is believed that the first bombing attack involving bin Laden was the December 29, 1992, bombing of the Gold Mihor Hotel in Aden in which two people were killed. In the 1990s bin Laden’s al-Qaeda assisted Mujahideen causes financially and militarily in Algeria, Egypt and Afghanistan. On February 26, 1993, a car bomb was detonated below Tower One of the World Trade Center in New York City. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, a member of Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda organization, provided financing for the bombing and according to the 9/11 Commission Report he was “the principal architect of the 9/11 attacks”.
So, when I considered Osama bin Laden’s many crimes against the people of the United States as well as other countries, his connections to other terrorist organizations, his influence with them and the vast financial resources he made available to them and may provide in the future, I found it almost incomprehensible that America’s President would state, “I truly am not that concerned about him.”
Throughout 2002, conspiracy theories began appearing in the media accusing elements of the American government of complicity in the attacks. Most of the speculation I dismissed out of hand because it seemed so far fetched, and until the 9/11 Commission released its final report in 2004, stories appearing in the mainstream media were often contradictory, which only added to the general atmosphere of confusion.
I don’t recall when I first began to question the official government explanation for the successful terrorist attacks of September 11, but I do recall my growing skepticism as I read one article after another that reported on the reluctance of the Bush Administration to endorse, fund and participate in a full investigation of the attacks. Over time I began taking notice of media stories that revealed information about 9/11 and subsequent events that did not coincide with the official theory being propounded.
Two stories published years apart finally convinced me that something somewhere was terribly wrong, and compelled me to pursue the facts of 9/11 in greater detail.
The first story was entitled, “F.A.A. Official Scrapped Tape of 9/11 Controllers’ Statements”, published on Thursday, May 6, 2004, in the New York Times [reproduced at the end of this Blog entry].
Inspector General Kenneth M. Mead of the Federal Aviation Administration revealed to the 9/11 Commission that a tape recording made of “at least six air traffic controllers who dealt with two of the hijacked airliners…was destroyed without anyone making a transcript or even listening to it.”
An F.A.A. official described as a “quality-assurance manager” told investigators that he had destroyed the tape because “he thought making it was contrary to F.A.A. policy, which calls for written statements, and because he felt that the controllers were not in the correct frame of mind to have properly consented to the taping.” Mead explained, “The tape had been made under an agreement with the union that it would be destroyed after it was superseded by written statements from the controllers.”
However, the recollections of “about 16 people” working at the New York Air Route Traffic Control Center, in Ronkonkoma, on Long Island, were recorded that morning, not just air traffic controllers. The taping had begun before noon on September 11, 2001.
The quality-assurance manager had destroyed the tape “between December 2001 and February 2002,” despite having received an email instructing him that “if a question arises whether or not you should retain data, RETAIN IT.” Just as inexplicable was the method by which the manager was reported to have destroyed the tape. According to the Inspector General’s report, the manager “crushed the cassette in his hand, shredded the tape and dropped the pieces into different trash cans around the building.”
The Inspector General attributed the tape’s destruction to “poor judgment.”
F.A.A. spokesman Greg Martin stated his belief that the tape “would not have added in any way to the information…already…provided to the investigators and the members of the 9/11 Commission.” Nonetheless, Mr. Martin said that the F.A.A. had “taken appropriate disciplinary action” against the quality-assurance manager. For “privacy reasons”, however, Martin could not say what those actions were, or identify the employees involved.
The entire story was almost too bizarre to be believable, and left me asking myself many questions which would never be answered.
I was perplexed by the almost casual indifference of F.A.A. officials to what had happened, and could not accept Greg Martin’s statement that due to “privacy reasons” the public was not entitled to know what “disciplinary action” was taken.
I wanted to know what the 9/11 Commission’s response was to these revelations. Were the Commission members provided with the identities of all of the employees involved? Did they investigate further and conduct their own interviews, or resolve to accept the Inspector General’s report as it was presented?
What possessed the quality-assurance manager to destroy the tape the way he did and why could he not be more specific as to when it was destroyed? After all, according to his own explanation he intended to destroy the tape recording after it was “superseded by written statements from the controllers”, which would have been a matter of days at most, not months.
I wanted to know why the other employees aside from the air traffic controllers had been recorded in the first place. Why record them if statements were only required from the controllers? Did these other employees eventually provide written statements, as did the controllers? How could an F.A.A. spokesman know that the destroyed tape recording “would not have added in any way” to the information already provided to the Commission when it was “destroyed without anyone making a transcript or even listening to it”?
I was both angry and indignant as time went by and no follow-up to this report appeared anywhere in the media.
The other story that finally convinced me to question the conventional wisdom was published by the Washington Post, on Wednesday, August 2, 2006, entitled, “9/11 Panel suspected deception by Pentagon” [also reproduced below].
According to the Post’s story, for more than two years after the attacks officials from NORAD [North American Aerospace Defense Command] and the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] provided “inaccurate information” regarding their response to the hijackings. Some staff members and commissioners “concluded that the Pentagon’s initial story of how it reacted to the 2001 terrorist attacks may have been part of a deliberate effort to mislead the commission and the public.”
This did not become clear until the 9/11 Commission obtained audiotapes from NORAD and the FAA that were recorded on September 11. In fact, the commission was “forced to use subpoenas” in order to secure the tapes due to “the agencies’ reluctance to release the tapes.”
“I was shocked at how different the truth was,” said John Farmer, a former New Jersey attorney general who led the staff inquiry into events on September 11. “The tapes told a radically different story from what had been told to us and the public for two years.”
It was thought that the available evidence “provided enough probable cause to believe that military and aviation officials violated the law by making false statements to Congress and the commission.” In a secret meeting at the end of its tenure in the summer of 2004, the 10-member commission debated whether or not to refer the matter to the Justice Department for criminal investigation. In the end they decided not to, turning over the allegations to the Inspectors General for the Defense and Transportation departments. Spokeswoman Laura Brown said she “could not comment” on FAA Inspector General Kenneth M. Mead’s inquiry into the matter.
“We to this day don’t know why NORAD told us what they told us,” said Thomas H. Kean, the former New Jersey Republican governor who led the commission. “It was just so far from the truth…It’s one of the loose ends that never got tied.”
According to “sources involved in the debate”, it was assumed that false statements were made “hoping to hide the bungled response to the hijackings.” Republican John F. Lehman, commission member and former Secretary of the Navy, said that he believed the panel may have been lied to, but that he did not believe the evidence was sufficient to support a criminal referral. “My view of that was that whether it was willful or just the fog of stupid bureaucracy, I don’t know, but in the order of magnitude of things, going after bureaucrats because they misled the commission didn’t seem to make sense to me.”
I found it hard to believe what I was reading. Investigators of the most heinous attack ever perpetrated against Americans had discovered in the course of their inquiry that witnesses had lied to them and withheld evidence, yet no effort was made to find out why. The 9/11 Commission Chairman, Thomas Kean, dismissed this fact as “one of the loose ends that never got tied.”
Officials representing the FAA and NORAD refused to cooperate with the 9/11 Commission, forcing the commission “to use subpoenas” to obtain physical evidence, yet commission member John Lehman suggested this may have been “just the fog of stupid bureaucrats”. In his estimation, trying to find out who had “misled the commission” and why “didn’t seem to make sense.”
It was the reaction of the commission itself that did not make sense to me.
It was also the same FAA Inspector General, Kenneth M. Mead, investigating this potential obstruction of justice case in 2004 that concluded the willful destruction of physical evidence by an unidentified FAA manager in 2002 was simply due to “poor judgment”. I have been unable to find any published results of Mead’s inquiry on the FAA website or elsewhere, and so have been left wondering if his concerns were as great as my own.
Among the witnesses who testified before the 9/11 Commission were career military officers. These included then acting Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Richard B. Myers, General Ralph E. Eberhart, commander of NORAD during the September 11 attacks, Rear Admiral Charles Leidig, then acting Deputy Director for Operations, National Military Command Center, and Major General Larry K. Arnold, commander of the 1st Air Force, Air Combat Command.
These officers were called to testify under oath before the 9/11 Commission during the Twelfth Public Hearing on the morning of Thursday, June 17, 2004. They were responsible for establishing the military’s official rendition of events that was subsequently determined to be inaccurate.
The only documented reference to the subpoenaed audiotapes came during questioning of General Arnold (retired), by Commission member Richard Ben-Veniste. Arnold was simply asked to confirm testimony made earlier to the Commission in which he said that he had no knowledge of the recordings.
Mr. Arnold stated, “the Northeast Air Defense Sector apparently had a tape that we were unaware of at the time. And your – to the best of my knowledge, what I’ve been told by your staff is that they were unable to make that tape run. But they were later able to – your staff was able, through a contractor, to get that tape to run. And so, to the best of my knowledge, that was an accurate statement in May that I did not know of any tape recordings. If I had had them available to me, I certainly would have been able to give you more accurate information.”
No follow-up questions were asked. No public inquiry was made into determining how subordinates could keep the country’s top military leaders misinformed for more than two years. The individuals responsible for making false statements to the commission were never identified and why the tapes needed to be subpoenaed after their existence was uncovered was never explained.
Why the Commission’s staff was “unable to make the tape run” when they first took possession of it also remains unexplained.
To the best of my knowledge, no one employed by NORAD or the United States military has ever been punished, reprimanded, demoted or fired for having committed any kind of professional misconduct or dereliction of duty. No individual employed by the federal government has ever been identified publicly and accused of negligence or subjected to criminal charges for their actions, or inactions, relating to the events of September 11, 2001.
In the 9/11 Commission’s final report of 2004, it was stated in the introduction: “Our aim has not been to assign individual blame. Our aim has been to provide the fullest possible account of the events surrounding 9/11 and to identify lessons learned.” (Preface, xvi) “We believe the 9/11 attacks revealed four kinds of failures: in imagination, policy, capabilities, and management.” (11. Foresight – and Hindsight, 339)
I could not accept the Commission’s official conclusions and was compelled to learn more. It would not be long before I discovered just how much more there was to learn.
By MATTHEW L. WALD
New York Times
Published: May 6, 2004
WASHINGTON, May 6 — At least six air traffic controllers who dealt with two of the hijacked airliners on Sept. 11, 2001, made a tape recording that same day describing the events, but the tape was destroyed by a supervisor without anyone making a transcript or even listening to it, the Transportation Department said in a report today.
The taping began before noon on Sept. 11 at the New York Air Route Traffic Control Center, in Ronkonkoma, on Long Island, where about 16 people met in a basement conference room known as “the Bat Cave” and passed around a microphone, each recalling his or her version of the events a few hours earlier.
But officials at the center never told higher-ups of the tape’s existence, and it was later destroyed by an F.A.A. official described in the report as a quality-assurance manager there. That manager crushed the cassette in his hand, shredded the tape and dropped the pieces into different trash cans around the building, according to a report made public today by the inspector general of the Transportation Department.
The tape had been made under an agreement with the union that it would be destroyed after it was superseded by written statements from the controllers, according to the inspector general’s report. But the quality-assurance manager asserted that making the tape had itself been a violation of accident procedures at the Federal Aviation Administration, the report said.
The inspector general, Kenneth M. Mead, said that the officials’ keeping the existence of the tape a secret and the decision by one to destroy it had not served “the interests of the F.A.A., the department or the public” and could foster suspicions among the public.
Mr. Mead had been asked by Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican who is chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, to look into how well the aviation agency had cooperated with what is widely known as the 9/11 commission, a bipartisan, independent panel investigating the terror attacks.
On the tape, the controllers, some of whom had spoken by radio to people on the planes and some who had tracked the aircraft on radar gave statements of 5 to 10 minutes each, according to the report.
The tape’s value was not clear, Mr. Mead said, because no one was sure what was on it, although the written statements given later by five of the controllers were broadly consistent with “sketchy” notes taken at the time by people in the Bat Cave. (The sixth controller who spoke on the tape did not give a written statement, apparently because that controller had not spoken to either of the planes or observed it on radar.)
One of the central questions about the events of that morning is how the F.A.A. responded to emerging clues that four planes had been hijacked. A tape made within hours of the events, as well as written statements given later, could help establish that.
A spokesman for the 9/11 commission, Al Felzenberg, said that Mr. Mead’s report was “meticulous” and “came through the efforts of a very conscientious senator.” He said the commission would not comment now on the content of the report but that it “does speak to some of the issues we’re interested in.”
The tape was made because the manager of the center believed that the standard post-crash procedure would be too slow for an event of the magnitude of 9/11. After an accident or other significant incident, according to officials of the union and the F.A.A., the controllers involved are relieved of duty and often go home; eventually they review the radar tapes and voice transmissions and give a written statement of what they had seen, heard and done.
People in the Ronkonkoma center at midday on Sept. 11 concluded that that procedure would take many hours, and that the controllers’ shift was ending and after a traumatic morning, they wanted to go home.
The center manager’s idea was to have the tape available overnight, in case the F.B.I. wanted something before the controllers returned to work the next day, according to people involved.
“It was never meant as a permanent record,” said Mark DiPalmo, the president of the local chapter of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, who made the deal with the center manager.
He said the session was informal, and that sometimes more than one person at a time was speaking. “We sat everyone in a room, went around the room, said, `what do you remember?” Mr. DiPalmo said in an interview.
Mr. Mead’s report said that it was conceivable that without that deal, the tape would not have been made at all.
The quality-assurance manager told investigators that he had destroyed the tape because he thought making it was contrary to F.A.A. policy, which calls for written statements, and because he felt that the controllers “were not in the correct frame of mind to have properly consented to the taping” because of the stress of the day, Mr. Mead reported.
Neither the center manager nor the quality-assurance manager disclosed the tape’s existence to their superiors at the F.A.A. region that covers New York, nor to the agency’s Washington headquarters, according to the report, which identified none of the officials or controllers by name.
Other tapes were preserved; including conversations on the radio frequencies used by the planes that day, and the radar tapes. In addition, the controllers later made written statements to the F.A.A., per standard procedure, and in this case, to the F.B.I. as well.
The quality-assurance manager destroyed the tape between December 2001 and February 2002. By that time, he and the center manager had received an e-mail message sent by the F.A.A. instructing officials to safeguard all records and adding, “If a question arises whether or not you should retain data, RETAIN IT.”
The inspector general attributed the tape’s destruction to “poor judgment.”
“The destruction of evidence in the government’s possession, in this case an audiotape particularly during times of a national crisis, has the effect of fostering an appearance that information is being withheld from the public,” the inspector general’s report said. “We do not ascribe motivations to the managers in this case of attempting to cover up, and we have no indication that there was anything on the tape that would lead anyone to conclude that they had something to hide or that the controllers did not carry out their duties.”
The inspector general also noted that the official who destroyed the tape had no regrets or second thoughts: “The quality-assurance manager told us that if presented with similar circumstances, he would again take the same course of action.”
Mr. Mead wrote that this attitude was “especially troubling” and that supervisors should take “appropriate administrative action.”
Although the matter had been referred to the Justice Department, the Mead report added, prosecutors said they had found no basis for criminal charges.
An F.A.A. spokesman, Greg Martin, said that his agency had cooperated with the 9/11 commission and that that was how the tape’s existence had become known at the agency’s headquarters.
“We believe it would not have added in any way to the information contained in all of the other materials that have already been provided to the investigators and the members of the 9/11 commission,” he said.
Nonetheless, Mr. Martin said that “we have taken appropriate disciplinary action” against the quality-assurance manager. For privacy reasons, he said, he could not say what those actions were or identify any of the employees involved.
By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 2, 2006; Page A03
Some staff members and commissioners of the Sept. 11 panel concluded that the Pentagon’s initial story of how it reacted to the 2001 terrorist attacks may have been part of a deliberate effort to mislead the commission and the public rather than a reflection of the fog of events on that day, according to sources involved in the debate.
Suspicion of wrongdoing ran so deep that the 10-member commission, in a secret meeting at the end of its tenure in summer 2004, debated referring the matter to the Justice Department for criminal investigation, according to several commission sources. Staff members and some commissioners thought that e-mails and other evidence provided enough probable cause to believe that military and aviation officials violated the law by making false statements to Congress and to the commission, hoping to hide the bungled response to the hijackings, these sources said.
In the end, the panel agreed to a compromise, turning over the allegations to the inspectors general for the Defense and Transportation departments, who can make criminal referrals if they believe they are warranted, officials said.
“We to this day don’t know why NORAD [the North American Aerospace Command] told us what they told us,” said Thomas H. Kean, the former New Jersey Republican governor who led the commission. “It was just so far from the truth. . . . It’s one of those loose ends that never got tied.”
Although the commission’s landmark report made it clear that the Defense Department’s early versions of events on the day of the attacks were inaccurate, the revelation that it considered criminal referrals reveals how skeptically those reports were viewed by the panel and provides a glimpse of the tension between it and the Bush administration.
A Pentagon spokesman said yesterday that the inspector general’s office will soon release a report addressing whether testimony delivered to the commission was “knowingly false.” A separate report, delivered secretly to Congress in May 2005, blamed inaccuracies in part on problems with the way the Defense Department kept its records, according to a summary released yesterday
A spokesman for the Transportation Department’s inspector general’s office said its investigation is complete and that a final report is being drafted. Laura Brown, a spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation Administration, said she could not comment on the inspector general’s inquiry.
In an article scheduled to be on newsstands today, Vanity Fair magazine reports aspects of the commission debate — though it does not mention the possible criminal referrals — and publishes lengthy excerpts from military audiotapes recorded on Sept. 11. ABC News aired excerpts last night.
For more than two years after the attacks, officials with NORAD and the FAA provided inaccurate information about the response to the hijackings in testimony and media appearances. Authorities suggested that U.S. air defenses had reacted quickly, that jets had been scrambled in response to the last two hijackings and that fighters were prepared to shoot down United Airlines Flight 93 if it threatened Washington.
In fact, the commission reported a year later, audiotapes from NORAD’s Northeast headquarters and other evidence showed clearly that the military never had any of the hijacked airliners in its sights and at one point chased a phantom aircraft — American Airlines Flight 11 — long after it had crashed into the World Trade Center.
Maj. Gen. Larry Arnold and Col. Alan Scott told the commission that NORAD had begun tracking United 93 at 9:16 a.m., but the commission determined that the airliner was not hijacked until 12 minutes later. The military was not aware of the flight until after it had crashed in Pennsylvania.
These and other discrepancies did not become clear until the commission, forced to use subpoenas, obtained audiotapes from the FAA and NORAD, officials said. The agencies’ reluctance to release the tapes — along with e-mails, erroneous public statements and other evidence — led some of the panel’s staff members and commissioners to believe that authorities sought to mislead the commission and the public about what happened on Sept. 11.
“I was shocked at how different the truth was from the way it was described,” John Farmer, a former New Jersey attorney general who led the staff inquiry into events on Sept. 11, said in a recent interview. “The tapes told a radically different story from what had been told to us and the public for two years. . . . This is not spin. This is not true.”
Arnold, who could not be reached for comment yesterday, told the commission in 2004 that he did not have all the information unearthed by the panel when he testified earlier. Other military officials also denied any intent to mislead the panel.
John F. Lehman, a Republican commission member and former Navy secretary, said in a recent interview that he believed the panel may have been lied to but that he did not believe the evidence was sufficient to support a criminal referral.
“My view of that was that whether it was willful or just the fog of stupid bureaucracy, I don’t know,” Lehman said. “But in the order of magnitude of things, going after bureaucrats because they misled the commission didn’t seem to make sense to me.”