Thursday, September 14 2006 - Other Important News
9/11 Live or Fabricated: Do the NORAD Tapes Verify The 9/11 Commission Report?
Previously in two parts, now united in this one article.
David Ray Griffin
A significant stir was created by the publication in Vanity Fair of “9/11 Live: The NORAD Tapes” by Michael Bronner, the first journalist to be given access to these audiotapes--which NORAD had provided, upon demand, to the 9/11 Commission in 2004. The public impact of Bronner’s essay was increased greatly by the availability of snippets from these tapes (which could be accessed from the online version of the article) to be played on TV and radio news reports about the article.1
The stir was caused primarily by Bronner’s report of the charge by members of the 9/11 Commission--which had played excepts from these tapes during hearings in 2004--that the military had made false statements to the Commission, perhaps knowingly. This stir was increased by the publication at the same time--the first week of August 2006--of Without Precedent, a book by Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton--the chairman and vice chairman of the Commission, respectively--in which this charge is also made.2
The charge primarily involves the military’s pre-2004 claims about the responses of NEADS--the Northeast Air Defense Sector of NORAD (the North American Aerospace Defense Command)--to two flights: AA (American Airlines) 77 and UA (United Airlines) 93. (There is also, although Bronner does not deal with it, a serious discrepancy with regard to UA 175.) These claims are contradicted by the tapes, with “tapes” here meaning not only the NORAD tapes, to which Bronner refers in his essay’s subtitle, but also what he calls “the parallel recordings from the F.A.A.,”3 which he used in conjunction with the NORAD tapes. (Excerpts of these FAA tapes had also been played at the Commission’s June 2004 hearings.)
Here are the earlier claims made by the military--as represented at a Commission hearing in May of 2003 by Colonel Alan Scott and Major General Larry Arnold--followed by the contrary information provided by the tapes:
Assuming that the newly released tapes provide the definitive account of NEADS’ conversations on 9/11, the implications go far beyond the conclusion that Colonel Scott and General Arnold made false statements to the 9/11 Commission, evidently deliberately (Commission members, pointing out that the military had reviewed the tapes, dismiss the view that Scott and Arnold could have simply been confused).
The implications are more sweeping because the statements by Scott and Arnold reflected the timeline issued by NORAD on September 18, 2001, which gave the times at which, NORAD then claimed, the FAA had notified it about the four flights and then the times at which NEADS had scrambled fighters in response. Scott, in fact, had prepared this timeline in conjunction with Colonel Robert Marr, then the battle commander at NEADS. The implication of the NORAD tapes, therefore, is that virtually the entire account given by NORAD on September 18, 2001--which served as the official story from that date until the issuance of The 9/11 Commission Report in July 2004--was false.
The crucial difference is that according to the earlier story, although the FAA had been unaccountably slow in notifying the military about the possible hijacking of AA 11, UA 175, AA 77, and UA 93, it had notified it about all of them before they crashed and, at least with regard to the last three, soon enough that military jets could have intercepted them. On the basis of the tapes, The 9/11 Commission Report, while agreeing with the earlier timeline with regard to AA 11 (according to which notification came only nine minutes before it crashed), claims that the military was not notified about the other three flights until after they had crashed. The military, therefore, cannot be blamed for failing to stop them.
If this tapes-based timeline is correct, the central claims by those who give an alternative account--that the military failed to intercept UA 175 and AA 77 because of a “stand-down order” and then shot down UA 93 (perhaps to prevent survivors from talking)--are undermined. It is no wonder, then, that one general, taking the tapes-based story to be the real story, said: “The real story is actually better than the one we told.”4
Assuming the truth of the new story, the fact that it puts the military in a much better light has a staggering implication: Everyone in the military--from those in the Pentagon’s National Military Command Center (NMCC), under which NORAD operates, to high-level officers at NEADS and in NORAD more generally, to pilots and other subordinates--who knew the true course of events, whether from direct experience or from listening to the tapes, kept quiet about the inaccuracies in NORAD’s timeline, even though they knew that the true story would put the military in a better light, completely removing the possibility that the military had stood down its defenses. Why would they do this?
Addressing this issue in terms of the question of why Scott and Arnold evidently lied to the Commission, Bronner says that members of the 9/11 Commission staff to whom he spoke said that “the false story . . . had a clear purpose.” What was that purpose? It was, according to staff member John Farmer, “to obscure mistakes on the part of the F.A.A. and the military, and to overstate the readiness of the military to intercept and, if necessary, shoot down UAL 93.”5 The motivation to lie, in other words, was to cover up confusion and incompetence. That same motivation is presumably thought to explain why the military in general acquiesced in the lie from September 18, 2001, until the 9/11 hearings in June 2004, when General Arnold was confronted with evidence from NORAD’s tapes contradicting statements he had made at the hearing in May 2003.
However, although this explanation has been widely accepted, is it really believable? If our military had been guilty only of confusion and incompetence on 9/11, it would have been strange for its officials, by saying that they had been notified by the FAA earlier than they really had, to open themselves not only to the charge of criminal fraud but also to the suspicion that they had deliberately not intercepted the hijacked airliners. We are being asked to believe, in other words, that Scott, Arnold, and the others, in telling the earlier story, acted in a completely irrational manner--that, while being guilty only of confusion and a little incompetence, they told a lie that could have exposed them with being charged with murder and treason.
Nevertheless, we must conclude that they acted in this irrational way as long as we accept the unexpressed premise in Bronner’s piece, namely, that the NORAD tapes are authentic--that they were, as the VF press release states, “made in the bunker of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD)’s Northeast headquarters (NEADS) on the morning of September 11, 2001.”6 That premise is clearly presupposed in Bronner’s statement that the tapes contain “the authentic military history of 9/11.”7 It is also presupposed in stories in the mainstream press, such as a New York Times story speaking of what “the tapes demonstrate.”8
If this presupposition is false, however, the tapes do not demonstrate anything--except that the military, perhaps in collusion with members of the 9/11 Commission, went to extraordinary lengths to fabricate audiotapes that would seem to rule out the possibility that the military, and thereby the Bush-Cheney administration, were themselves complicit in the 9/11 attacks.
But is there any reason to suspect the truth of this alternative hypothesis (which to many people would seem too fanciful to take seriously)? In particular, is there any reason to believe that the 9/11 Commission would have engaged in such deceit? Are there reasons to believe that the story as reflected in the tapes is false? Is there any way in which the tapes could have been fabricated?
Although to some readers these questions may seem merely rhetorical, the answer to each one is actually “Yes.” Let us begin with the question of whether the 9/11 Commission would engage in deceit.
One fact about the Commission that most Americans still do not know is by whom its work was carried out. Although the public face of the Commission was provided by the ten commissioners led by Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton, the actual research and writing of reports was carried out by a staff of about 75 people, over half of whom were former members of the CIA, the FBI, the Department of Justice, and other governmental agencies.9
Most important, this staff was directed by Philip Zelikow, who was virtually a member of the Bush administration: He had worked with Condoleezza Rice on the National Security Council in the administration of George H. W. Bush; Rice and Zelikow later co-authored a book; then as National Security Advisor for President George W. Bush, Rice brought Zelikow on to help make the transition; he was then appointed to the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board; finally, she brought him on to be the principal drafter of the Bush administration’s 2002 version of the National Security Strategy, which used 9/11 to justify a new doctrine of preemptive (technically “preventive”) war, according to which the United States can attack other countries even if they pose no imminent threat.10 This was hardly the man to be in charge of an investigation that should have been asking, among other things, whether the Bush-Cheney administration, which had benefited so greatly from the 9/11 attacks, was itself complicit in them.
And yet in charge Zelikow was. As executive director, he decided which topics would be investigated by the staff and which ones not. The staff was divided into eight investigative teams and, one disgruntled member reportedly said at the time, seven of these eight teams “are completely controlled by Zelikow.” More generally, this staff member said, “Zelikow is calling the shots. He’s skewing the investigation and running it his own way.”11 As executive director, moreover, Zelikow was able to control what would appear in--and be excluded from--The 911 Commission Report.
To illustrate how crucial such exclusions could be and also why the Zelikow-led 9/11 Commission cannot be assumed to be above deceit, we can look at a portion of Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta’s testimony at the Commission’s hearing on May 23, 2003. Mineta testified that at 9:20 on the morning of 9/11, he went down to the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) under the White House, where Vice President Cheney was in charge. Mineta then said:
When Mineta was asked by Commissioner Timothy Roemer how long this conversation occurred after he arrived, Mineta said: “Probably about five or six minutes,” which, as Roemer pointed out, would mean “about 9:25 or 9:26.”
This story was very threatening to the account that would be provided in The 9/11 Commission Report. According to that account, Cheney did not even enter the PEOC until almost 10:00, “perhaps at 9:58,”13 but according to Mineta’s testimony, Cheney had arrived some time prior to 9:20. Mineta’s time is consistent, moreover, with many other reports about Cheney’s descent to the PEOC, including his own.14 The Commission’s time is clearly false.
Also, the Commission would claim that no one in the government knew that an aircraft was approaching the Pentagon until 9:36, so that the military “had at most one or two minutes to react to the unidentified plane approaching Washington.”15 According to Mineta’s account, however, the vice president knew at least 10 minutes earlier, by 9:26.
Worse yet, Mineta’s account could be read as eye-witness testimony to the confirmation of a stand-down order. Mineta himself, to be sure, did not make this allegation. He assumed, he said, that “the orders” mentioned by the young man were orders to have the plane shot down. Mineta’s interpretation, however, does not fit with what actually happened: The aircraft was not shot down. Mineta’s interpretation, moreover, would make the story unintelligible: If the orders had been to shoot down the aircraft if it entered the forbidden air space over Washington, the young man would have had no reason to ask if the orders still stood. His question made sense only if the orders were to do something unexpected--not to shoot it down.
How did The 9/11 Commission Report deal with Mineta’s testimony? By simply omitting it from the final report. One can understand such a omission, of course, if the purpose of the Zelikow-led Commission was to protect the official account of 9/11. This omission is not, however, consistent with the Commission’s purpose as stated by Kean and Hamilton, namely, “to provide the fullest possible account of the events surrounding 9/11.”16
This omission of Mineta’s testimony, as serious as it is, might not be fatal to our overall judgment as to the reliability of The 9/11 Commission Report if it were an isolated example. As I have shown in a book-length critique, however, it is simply one example of a systematic pattern, in which all available evidence that contradicts the official story is systematically omitted or, in some cases, distorted.17
For another example, we can look at the Commission’s treatment of the alleged hijackers. According to the official story of 9/11, the planes were hijacked by devout Muslims ready to meet their maker. The 9/11 Commission Report supports this picture, saying of Mohamed Atta, called the ringleader, that he had become very religious, even “fanatically so.”18 However, stories by Newsweek, the San Francisco Chronicle, and investigative journalist Daniel Hopsicker had reported that Atta loved cocaine, alcohol, gambling, pork, and lap dances.19 The Wall Street Journal had reported, moreover, that several of the other alleged hijackers had indulged such tastes in Las Vegas.20 But the 9/11 Commission, simply ignoring these reports, professed to have no idea why these men met in Las Vegas several times.21
The Commission also ignored reports published by the British mainstream press that some of the alleged hijackers were still alive after 9/11. Eleven days afterwards, for example, BBC News reported that Waleed al-Shehri, after seeing his photograph in newspapers and TV programs, notified authorities and journalists in Morocco, where he worked as a pilot, that he was still alive.22 However, The 9/11 Commission Report, ignoring this evidence about al-Shehri (as well as evidence that other alleged hijackers had still been alive after 9/1123), not only named al-Shehri as one of the hijackers and reproduced the FBI’s photograph of him. It even suggested that al-Shehri stabbed one of the flight attendants shortly before Flight 11 crashed into the north tower.24
In the light of these and over a hundred other illustrations provided in my critique of The 9/11 Commission Report, we cannot rule out in advance the possibility that the Zelikow-led Commission might have engaged in deceit with regard to the NORAD tapes. We need to look closely at the 9/11 Commission’s story, based on these tapes, to see if there are reasons to believe that it contains falsehoods. One reason to suspect this is the story’s portrayal of the FAA’s behavior that morning.
2. Is the 9/11 Commission’s Tapes-Based Portrayal of the FAA Believable?
There are, I suggest, two major problems with the 9/11 Commission’s tapes-based portrayal of the FAA’s behavior. It is intrinsically incredible and it is contradicted by many prior reports, some of which we otherwise have no good reason to question.
Bronner focuses on the idea that these tapes are embarrassing to the military, showing it to have been very confused and inept on 9/11. In fact, as we have seen, that is said to have provided sufficient motive for military leaders to give a false account. However, when one looks at the actual story told by Bronner and the 9/11 Commission on the basis of the tapes, it is the FAA, not the military, that is primarily portrayed as incompetent. This portrayal of incompetence is, in fact, so extreme as to strain credulity.
This problem arises because FAA personnel, from top to bottom, are portrayed as repeatedly failing to follow standard procedures on 9/11, even though these men and women are highly competent individuals who prior to that day had carried out these procedures regularly.
According to these standard procedures, if an FAA flight controller notices anything about an airplane that suggests that it is in trouble--if radio contact is lost, if the plane’s transponder goes off, or if the plane deviates from its flight plan--the controller is to contact a superior. If the problem cannot be fixed within about a minute, the FAA is to ask the military to scramble jet fighters to intercept the airplane to find out what is going on. The FAA makes such requests routinely--over 100 times a year.25
According to the NORAD tapes and the 9/11 Commission, however, the FAA, far from following these procedures on 9/11, did not even come close.
AA Flight 11
According to the tapes, the FAA did not tell the military that AA 11 was hijacked until 8:38, although radio contact had been lost at 8:14, the transponder signal was lost at 8:21, and the voice of a hijacker was heard at 8:25. In spite of these three events, any one of which should have evoked a call to the military, the FAA’s Boston Center did not call anyone until 8:28. And then, rather than calling the military directly, Boston called the FAA Command Center in Herndon, Virginia, after which Herndon, rather than immediately calling the military, waited until 8:32 and then called FAA headquarters in Washington--which also did not contact the military. NEADS was finally contacted at 8:38 only because the Boston Center finally took the initiative to contact it directly (which raises the question of why it did not do this in the first place).26
Can we really take seriously this account, according to which gross and even criminal negligence was shown by FAA personnel at every level? Is not this portrayal rendered especially unbelievable by the lack of reports that any FAA employees at Boston, Herndon, or Washington were fired or even reprimanded for dereliction of duty? The story becomes even more incredible, moreover, when we see the same level of incompetence allegedly repeated in relation to the other flights.
UA Flight 175
We are told by the Commission that although UA 175 veered off course some minutes after 8:42 and its transponder code was changed at 8:47, the flight controller at the Boston Center did not notice anything untoward until 8:51, after which, at 8:55, he told an FAA manager in New York City. This manager then allegedly tried to contact the regional managers but “was told that they were discussing hijacked aircraft . . . and refused to be disturbed.” New York then called Herndon, saying: “We have several situations going on here. It’s escalating big, big time. We need to get the military involved with us.” But Herndon did not call the military. Finally, New York called NEADS directly--but this was not until 9:03, “at about the time the plane was hitting the South Tower.”27
Bronner, reporting on what the tapes say about events at the New York Center, states that controllers there noticed nothing until they saw UA 175 suddenly swing toward Manhattan at about 8:57, at which time they “start speculating what the hijacker is aiming at” so that it is “not until the last second, literally, that anyone from New York Center thinks to update NEADS.”28
These accounts of FAA behavior, besides being intrinsically unbelievable, are also in tension with several prior reports.
First, although Bronner’s article does not mention it, NORAD’s September 18 timeline said that it had been notified by the FAA about UA 175 at 8:43.29 Can we believe that NORAD officials would have said this--which would mean that NEADS failed to prevent this flight from crashing into the WTC even though it had 20 minutes to do so--if the truth was that the military was not notified until 9:03? Would that not have been a very irrational lie? The only other explanation would seem to be that these NORAD officials were confused. But can we believe that they would have been confused about such a major point only a few days after the event?
Second, the Commission’s tapes-based claim that the military did not know about Flight 175 until it crashed is also contradicted by a report involving Captain Michael Jellinek, a Canadian who on 9/11 was overseeing NORAD’s headquarters in Colorado. According to a story in the Toronto Star, Jellinek was on the phone with NEADS as he watched Flight 175 crash into the south tower, after which he asked NEADS, “Was that the hijacked aircraft you were dealing with?”--to which NEADS replied that it was.30 If the new timeline is accepted, that story must be regarded as a fabrication. But what motive would Jellinek or the reporter have had for making up such a story? The 9/11 Commission avoided this question by not mentioning this story.
Third, the claim that the military did not know about problems with UA 175 until NEADS received a telephone call from the FAA’s New York Center at 9:03 is in conflict with several reports about ongoing conversations; I will mention two.
A story by the Newhouse News Service contains this statement: “At 8:43 a.m., [Master Sergeant Maureen] Dooley's technicians [at NEADS], their headsets linked to Boston Center, heard of a second plane, United Flight 175, that also was not responding. It, too, was moving to New York.”31 According to this story, NEADS knew by 8:43 that UA 175 was problematic.
A memo entitled “FAA Communications with NORAD on September 11, 2001,” sent to the 9/11 Commission in 2003 by Laura Brown, the Deputy in Public Affairs at FAA headquarters, stated:
From these and other reports of ongoing contact,33 we can see that the military would not have needed to wait for a telephone call from the FAA to learn about UA 175.
AA Flight 77
One of the primary targets of the Commission’s tapes-based account, as we have seen, was the military’s earlier assertion that it was notified by the FAA at 9:24 (not 9:34, as the tapes have it) that AA 77 had possibly been hijacked and appeared to be headed back toward Washington. The Commission, labeling this assertion “incorrect,” also called it “unfortunate,” because it “made it appear that the military was notified in time to respond.”34 Refuting that notification time, the Commission thereby indicated, was essential to protecting the military from the charge that it had, whether through complicity or incompetence, failed to prevent the attack on the Pentagon. The real problem, the Commission claims on the basis of the tapes, was “the FAA’s [in]ability to provide the military with timely and accurate information that morning.”35 It was, in other words, entirely the FAA’s fault, not partly the military’s.
According to the Commission’s tapes-based account, the FAA controller in Indianapolis, after seeing Flight 77 go off course at 8:54, lost its transponder signal and even its radar track. However, not knowing about the other hijackings (even though AA 11 had hit the WTC eight minutes earlier), the Indianapolis Center assumed that AA 77 had crashed. Later, after hearing about the other hijackings and coming to suspect that AA 77 may also have been hijacked, Indianapolis shared this suspicion with Herndon, which at 9:25 shared it with FAA headquarters. But no one called the military, so “NEADS never received notice that American 77 was hijacked.”36 NEADS finally did hear about this flight at 9:34, but it learned only that it was lost (not that it had been hijacked) and it learned this only by chance, during a NEADS-initiated conversation with the FAA’s Washington Center about AA 11.37
This story strains credulity and then some. Can anyone really believe that the officials at Indianapolis could have been so irresponsible and that those at Herndon and FAA headquarters, after knowing that two hijacked airplanes had already crashed into the WTC, would not have told the military that AA 77 might also have been hijacked?
This story, moreover, is challenged by earlier reports. For example, contrary to the claim that Indianapolis did not know of previous hijackings, Boston flight controllers, according to stories in the Guardian and the Village Voice that appeared shortly after 9/11, had at 8:25 notified other regional centers--one of which is Indianapolis--of the hijacking of Flight 11.38
Also, contrary to the claim that Indianapolis first noticed something amiss--AA’s 77 deviation from its flight path--at 8:54, NORAD’s earlier report and many newspaper stories said otherwise. According to these accounts, AA 77 went significantly off course for four minutes at 8:46,39 after which radio contact was lost.40 The 9/11 Commission Report did not refute these reports but simply, as usual, ignored them.
The Commission’s tapes-based story is also challenged, finally, by evidence that the FAA had first notified the military about AA 77 not at 9:24, as NORAD’s September 18 timeline said, but considerably earlier. FAA official Laura Brown’s earlier mentioned memo, after stating that a teleconference was established with the military “within minutes after the first aircraft hit the World Trade Center” (and hence by about 8:50), said that the FAA shared “real-time information” with the military about “all the flights of interest, including Flight 77“ (emphasis added). Bringing out the full implication of this assertion, she added: “NORAD logs indicate that the FAA made formal notification about American Flight 77 at 9:24 a.m., but information about the flight was conveyed continuously during the phone bridges before the formal notification.”41 In a telephone conversation I had with Laura Brown in 2004, she emphasized this distinction, saying that the formal notification was primarily a formality and hence irrelevant to the question of when the military knew about Flight 77.42
Brown’s main point, in other words, was that the FAA and the military had been talking about AA 77 long before 9:24. The implication of her memo, therefore, is that although, as Bronner and the 9/11 Commission say, the 9:24 notification time was false, it was false by being too late, not too early.
Brown’s account is supported, moreover, by a New York Times story that appeared four days after 9/11, which began: “During the hour or so that American Airlines Flight 77 was under the control of hijackers, up to the moment it struck the west side of the Pentagon, military officials in a command center on the east side of the building were urgently talking to law enforcement and air traffic control officials about what to do.”43 Laura Brown’s 2003 memo, therefore, reflects information that was available immediately after 9/11.
What did the 9/11 Commission do about Brown’s memo? It did discuss it. Richard Ben-Veniste, after reading it into the record, even said: “So now we have in question whether there was an informal real-time communication of the situation, including Flight 77's situation, to personnel at NORAD.”44 The Commission knew, therefore, that this was the FAA’s position, and it offered no rebuttal. When The 9/11 Commission Report appeared, however, it contained no mention of this memo or its account. The Commission implicitly claimed, in fact, that the memo’s account could not be true by claiming that the FAA-initiated conference--which according to Brown’s memo had begun about 8:50--did not begin until 9:20.45 As usual, inconvenient facts were simply eliminated.
If we, however, refuse to ignore all these facts, we have good reason to consider the Commission’s tapes-based account of AA 77 false--which would imply that the tapes are inauthentic. An examination of the Commission’s account of UA 93 will provide additional support for this conclusion.
UA 93: When Did the Military Learn?
Given the fact that Michael Bronner was an associate producer for the film United 93, which essentially follows the 9/11 Commission’s tapes-based account, it is not surprising that he focuses heavily on the military’s earlier statements about this flight that, assuming the accuracy of the tapes, must be false. One of those statements was the statement that the military, having learned about the hijacking of UA 93 at 9:16, was tracking it before it crashed. On the basis of the tapes, the 9/11 Commission argues that the military did not learn about the hijacking of UA at 9:16 or at any other time prior to its crash at 10:03.
This claim involves yet another tale of amazing incompetence by FAA officials. At 9:28, the Commission says, the traffic controller in Cleveland heard “sounds of possible screaming” and noticed that Flight 93 had descended 700 feet, but he did nothing. At 9:32, he heard a voice saying, “We have a bomb on board.” On this basis, not being completely brain dead, he finally notified his supervisor, who in turn notified FAA headquarters. But four minutes later at 9:36, when Cleveland asked Herndon whether the military had been called, Herndon “told Cleveland that FAA personnel well above them in the chain of command had to make the decision to seek military assistance and were working on the issue.”46
To accept this account, we must believe that the decision to call the military is a momentous, extraordinary one, not a routine one, made over a hundred times a year. We must also believe that, on a day on which hijacked airliners had already caused much death and destruction, officials at FAA headquarters had to debate whether a hijacked airliner with a bomb on board was important enough to disturb the military. We must believe, moreover, that they were still debating this 13 minutes later at 9:49, when the following conversation between Herndon and FAA headquarters occurred:
The decision, moreover, was obviously that the military should not be disturbed, because 14 minutes later, at 10:03, when Flight 93 crashed in Pennsylvania, “no one from FAA headquarters [had yet] requested military assistance regarding United 93.”47 To believe the Commission’s tapes-based report, in other words, we must believe that FAA officials acted like complete idiots.
Besides the fact that the Commission’s new story about UA 93 is intrinsically implausible in the extreme, it is challenged by some inconvenient facts. One fact is the existence of the teleconference mentioned in Laura Brown’s memo. The Commission, as we saw, claims that this FAA-initiated teleconference did not start until 9:20 (instead of about 8:50, as her memo indicated), but this claim provides no help with regard to UA 93, which did not crash until 10:03 AM, so that the time between 9:30 and 10:00 was the crucial period. Her memo said, as we saw, that “[t]he FAA shared real-time information . . . about . . . all the flights of interest,” and the Commission itself agrees that by 9:34, FAA headquarters knew about the hijacking of Flight 93 so that it was a “flight of interest.” Accordingly, the Commission’s tapes-based claim--that the military was not told about the hijacking of UA 93 until it crashed--is flatly contradicted by Laura Brown’s memo, which, although it was ignored in the Commission’s final report, had been read into the Commission’s record by Richard Ben-Veniste.
Another inconvenient fact was a videoconference being run from the White House that morning by Richard Clarke, the National Coordinator for Security and Counterterrorism, who described this videoconference in his best-selling book, Against All Enemies--which came out in 2004 while the hearings were still going on. The FAA was represented in this videoconference by its head, Jane Garvey. And although the Commissioners claimed, absurdly, that they did “not know who from Defense participated,”48 Clarke had clearly stated that the Pentagon was represented by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and General Richard Myers, who on 9/11 had been Acting Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Clarke had also reported that at about 9:35, Garvey reported on a number of “potential hijacks,” which included “United 93 over Pennsylvania.”49 Therefore, more than 25 minutes before Flight 93 crashed, according to Clarke, both Myers and Rumsfeld heard from the head of the FAA that Flight 93 was considered a potential hijack.
Still another inconvenient fact is the existence of military liaisons to the FAA, through whom the military, if by no other means, would have known about FAA communications. The existence of such liaisons, besides being mentioned in Laura Brown’s memo, were discussed by Monte Belger, the Acting Deputy Administrator of the FAA, during his testimony to the 9/11 Commission in 2004. After Commissioner Bob Kerrey, on the basis of the tapes, said to Belger, in relation to UA 93: “[A] plane was headed to Washington D.C. FAA Headquarters knew it and didn't let the military know,” Belger replied:
Accordingly, if FAA headquarters heard about UA 93’s approach to Washington at 9:32, as the tapes indicate, then that would be when the military learned about it. The Commission, while portraying the FAA personnel as incompetent fools who debated endlessly whether “to seek military assistance,” ignored the fact, pointed out by both Brown and Belger, that military personnel were already informed.
Another inconvenient fact is that Secret Service personnel would also have been aware of these FAA communications about UA 93 (and other flights). Laura Brown’s memo mentioned that the Secret Service was part of the teleconference established by the FAA. Richard Clarke, reporting that the Secret Service’s director told him shortly after 9:30 that radar showed the existence of an aircraft headed towards Washington, explained: “Secret Service had a system that allowed them to see what FAA’s radar was seeing.”51 This fact was also revealed inadvertently by Vice President Cheney, who during a television interview five days after 9/11 said, "The Secret Service has an arrangement with the FAA. They had open lines after the World Trade Center was . . .”--at which point he stopped himself before finishing the sentence.52
The combined force of these inconvenient facts provides powerful evidence against the Commission’s main claim about UA 93--that “[b]y the time the military learned about the flight, it had crashed.”53 This evidence becomes even stronger when we look at the next disputed question about this flight:
Whereas the main problem for the Commission with regard to the first three flights was to explain why the military did not intercept and perhaps shoot them down, its main concern in relation to UA 93 was to refute the idea that the military had shot it down. There was, in fact, considerable evidence to support this claim.
Part of this evidence consisted of a rumor to this effect within the military. Major Daniel Nash, an F–15 pilot sent to New York City that morning, reported that when he returned to base he was told that a military F-16 had shot down an airliner in Pennsylvania.54 During General Myers’ interview with the Senate Armed Services Committee on September 13, chairman Carl Levin asked him about “statements that the aircraft that crashed in Pennsylvania was shot down.” 55
This rumor was, moreover, seemingly confirmed by reports from people who lived near the spot where the airliner came down--reports of sightings of a small military airplane, of missile-like noises, of debris falling from the airliner miles from its crash site, and of part of one of the engines far from that site.56
The Commission, in seeking to refute the claim that UA 93 had been shot down, did not do so by disputing any of this evidence; it simply ignored it. It instead constructed a new timeline, based in part on the tapes, which entails that the military could not possibly have shot down UA 93.
This new timeline involves four claims: (1) Cheney, who was known to have issued the shoot-down authorization, did not get down to the Presidential Emergency Operations Center until almost 10:00. (2) Since NEADS did not learn that UA 93 had been hijacked until 10:07, it could not have been tracking it.57 (3) Cheney was not notified about UA 93 until 10:0258--”only,” Bronner emphasizes, “one minute before the airliner impacted the ground.” (4) Cheney did not give the shoot-down authorization until “some time between 10:10 and 10:15.”59
As we saw in the first section, the first claim is clearly false.
The second claim--that NEADS could not have been tracking UA 93--is challenged not only by the evidence, examined above, that the military knew about the hijacking long before it crashed, but also by evidence that UA 93 was, in fact, being tailed by US military fighters. One flight controller, ignoring a general order to controllers not to talk to the media, reportedly said that “an F-16 fighter closely pursued Flight 93.”60 On September 13, General Richard Myers said that fighters were scrambled “on the [airliner] that eventually crashed in Pennsylvania. . . [W]e had gotten somebody close to it.”61 Two days later, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz said that “the Air Force was tracking the hijacked plane that crashed in Pennsylvania . . . and had been in a position to bring it down if necessary.”62 Moreover, one on the Air Force pilots who was in the air that morning, Lt. Anthony Kuczynski, has reported that while he was flying an E-3 Sentry (a modified Boeing 707) toward Pittsburgh alongside two F-16s, they were “given direct orders to shoot down an airliner” and would have done so if UA 93 had not crashed before they could intercept it.63 For the Commission’s tapes-based account to true, the statements of all those men would have to be false.
The third and fourth claims--about when Cheney learned of UA 93’s hijacking and gave the shoot-down authorization--are challenged by many contrary reports. For example, although the Commission says that Richard Clarke did not receive the shoot-down authorization from Cheney until 10:25, Clarke himself indicated that he received it at least 35 minutes earlier, by 9:50.64
During an interview with Peter Jennings on ABC News a year later, moreover, Brigadier General Winfield Montague, Deputy Director for Operations at the Pentagon’s NMCC, made this twofold point while adding that the military had received shoot-down authorization:
Immediately afterwards, Cheney, who was also being interviewed, said: “Eventually of course, we never fired on any aircraft.” Even if that point were granted, however, Winfield’s statement said, contrary to the tapes-based account, that the military, being informed by the FAA, had fighter jets closing in on UA 93 with permission to shoot it down.
That the shoot-down authorization was actually transmitted to pilots was stated during the same interview by Colonel Marr, the commanding officer at NEADS. After receiving the order, he reports, he “passed that on to the pilots. United Airlines Flight 93 will not be allowed to reach Washington, DC.”66 However, the fighters that were sent after UA 93, Marr added, had no weapons, so they were to get very close to the hijacked airliner and try to convince its pilot to land. If that failed, one of them would have been ordered to crash into it.
Both Colonel Marr and Larry Arnold, moreover, gave more complete accounts in a book about 9/11 produced by the US Air Force, Air War over America. Arnold, reporting that they were tracking UA 93 even before it turned around--meaning before 9:36--is quoted as saying: “we watched the 93 track as it meandered around the Ohio-Pennsylvania area and started to turn south toward D.C.67 Marr, reporting that the shoot-down authorization was received that early, said: “we received the clearance to kill if need be. In fact, Major General Arnold's words almost verbatim were: 'We will take lives in the air to save lives on the ground.’”68 Leslie Filson, the author of this Air Force account, concludes his discussion with these words:
According to the Air Force’s official account in 2003, then, it knew before 9:36 that UA was in trouble; it was tracking it; and it was in position to shoot it down.
This whole account, to be sure, is said by Bronner and the 9/11 Commission to be false, since it disagrees with the story suggested by the tapes. As we have seen, however, the list of people who had been lying, if the story on the tapes is true, extends far beyond Colonel Scott and General Arnold, on whom Bronner focuses. It also includes Colonel Robert Marr, General Richard Myers, General Montague Winfield, and, as Bronner points out, Vice President Cheney: After quoting Cheney’s statement, made with “dark bravado,” that the order to a pilot “to shoot down a plane full of Americans is . . . an order that had never been given before,” Bronner adds: “And it wasn’t on 9/11, either.”70
We will return later to the implications of the fact that, if the 9/11 Commission’s tapes-based account is true, there had been massive lying throughout the military and the Bush administration from 2001 to 2004. For now, we need to examine one more issue that has led to the charge of wide-spread lying.
Phantom Flight 11
The concept of “phantom flight 11”--the name given to the nonexistent plane that, according to the tapes, was thought by the FAA and NORAD to be heading towards Washington--is absolutely crucial to the 9/11 Commission’s new story. It is so important because of the well-entrenched report that fighters were scrambled from Langley Air Force Base at 9:24 (becoming airborne at 9:30). As we saw earlier, the original NORAD timeline indicated that the Langley fighters were scrambled in response to word from the FAA at 9:24 that AA 77 had possibly been hijacked and appeared to be heading back toward Washington. General Larry Arnold, in his 2003 testimony to the Commission, gave a different account, saying that the fighters were really scrambled in response to word about UA 93. The 9/11 Commission, insisting that the military did not learn about either flight until after 9:30, needed an alternative explanation for the Langley scrambles. The tapes provide this alternative explanation: phantom AA 11.
Although the tapes-based story of phantom 11 is undoubtedly convenient, the question is whether it is true. An examination of this story--which, thanks to Bronner’s article, is now available in more detail than it was in The 9/11 Commission Report--will provide reasons to doubt its truth.
At 9:21 (34 minutes after Flight 11 had crashed into the World Trade Center), according to Bronner’s account, NEADS received word from Colin Scoggins, the manager of the FAA’s Boston Center, that AA 11, rather than having hit the WTC, was actually still aloft and headed toward Washington. As to how this false idea came about, Scoggins reportedly told Bronner that while he was monitoring a conference call between FAA centers, “word came across--from whom or where isn’t clear--that American 11 was thought to be headed for Washington.” The problem evidently started--to quote Bronner’s paraphrase of Scoggins’ statement--”with someone overheard trying to confirm from American whether American 11 was down--that somewhere in the flurry of information zipping back and forth during the conference call this transmogrified into the idea that a different plane had hit the tower, and that American 11 was still hijacked and still in the air.” Then, after talking to a supervisor, Scoggins “made the call and said [American 11] is still in the air and it’s probably somewhere over New Jersey or Delaware heading for Washington, D.C.”71
This message then, according to the 9/11 Commission, went to the NEADS Mission Crew Commander, who issued a scramble order to Langley. So, the Commission claims, the Langley jets were scrambled in response to “a phantom aircraft,” not to “an actual hijacked aircraft.”72
This new story, however, is riddled with problems. One problem is the implausibility of the idea that Scoggins or anyone else at the FAA could have made such a huge mistake. The traffic controllers at the Boston Center were reportedly very clear about the fate of AA 11. According to a story in the Christian Science Monitor two days after 9/11, flight controllers said that they never lost sight of the flight.73 Flight controller Mark Hodgkins later told ABC News: “I watched the target of American 11 the whole way down.”74 New York Times and Newhouse News stories reported that as soon as the Boston flight controllers heard that a plane had hit the WTC, they knew that it was AA 11, because they had been tracking it continuously since it had begun behaving erratically.75 Scoggins, as the manager of the Boston Center, presumably knew all of this. How, then, could any conversation have “transmogrified” into “the idea that a different plane had hit the tower, and that American 11 was still hijacked and still in the air”?
To be sure, Bronner reports that, according to the tapes, confusion had developed at the Boston Center “over whether the plane that hit the tower really was American 11.”76 But that story sounds suspiciously like a set-up for the phantom 11 story. If the latter story was fabricated, we would expect someone to have fabricated something like the former story as well.
Another problem in this story is the claimed inability to determine the person in the FAA who originated the idea that AA 11 was headed towards Washington. Bronner, paraphrasing Scoggins, says, “word came across--from whom or where isn’t clear.” This conversation, however, should be contained on the FAA’s tapes, and nowadays the identities of people can be determined with great precision from their voices. Since the FAA must have tapes with the voices of all its controllers and managers, the claim that this alleged person’s identity could not be determined seems suspiciously convenient (since it might have been difficult to get anyone in the FAA to agree to take the blame).
In addition to the inherent implausibility of the story, another problem is that prior to 2004, phantom AA 11 had never been mentioned. As the Commission itself said, this story “was not recounted in a single public timeline or statement issued by the FAA or Department of Defense.”77 It was, for example, not in the US Air Force’s official report, Air War Over America, the foreword for which was written by General Arnold.78 If this extraordinary episode, which led NORAD to send fighters on a wild ghost chase, really happened, is it not puzzling that no one in the military ever mentioned it? We can perhaps understand that the FAA would not have wanted to publicize such an embarrassing mistake. But what motivation would the military have had for keeping silent about it?
If the episode really occurred, it is theoretically possible, to be sure, that the military, rather than deliberately concealing it, simply forgot about it. This was General Arnold’s claim at the Commission’s hearing in June 2004, at which he was berated for having failed to mention phantom 11 in his 2003 testimony to the Commission--a failure that led him to give a false report about AA 77. Commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste asked:
Arnold’s reply was that he “didn't recall those facts in May of last year.” 79
But if those alleged facts were real facts, this reply would be beyond belief. According to the Commission’s new story, AA 11, UA 175, and AA 77 struck their targets--and UA 93 would have struck its target were it not for heroic passengers--because NORAD, under Arnold’s command, failed to intercept them. And this failure, which would forevermore sully his legacy, was really the fault of the FAA, which repeatedly failed to notify NORAD about the hijackings. On top of all this, the one time that Arnold’s NORAD did get fighters scrambled in time to intercept a flight, they were sent after a phantom. Arnold would have surely been furious about this stupid error. And yet 20 months later, he “didn’t recall those facts.”
Assuming that those “facts” truly were facts, Bronner and the Commissioners would be right to be skeptical about this claim about not recalling, and not only because of the reason I just gave. After the first mention of phantom AA 11 on the NORAD tapes, Bronner reports,
So, even if something had pushed the phantom 11 episode out of the consciousness of Arnold and Scott, listening to the tapes would have jogged their memories. Accordingly, if the tapes provide “the authentic military history of 9/11,” as Bronner says, then we are led with him to conclude that Arnold and Scott--along with many other military and political leaders--must have lied in 2003.
FAA Competence and Incompetence
But do the tapes really present an authentic picture of what occurred? One major reason to doubt this, we saw earlier, is that the 9/11 Commission has proven itself willing to conceal and distort facts. Another reason for skepticism, we have just seen, is that the incompetence of the FAA on that day as portrayed by the tapes is too extreme to be believed. The task that the FAA allegedly failed to perform repeatedly that day--notifying the military when an airplane shows any of the standard signs of being in trouble--is one that the FAA had long been carrying out regularly, over 100 times a year. Can we really believe that virtually everyone--from the flight controllers to their managers to the personnel in Herndon and FAA headquarters--suddenly became ridiculously incompetent to perform this task?
This allegation becomes even more unbelievable when we reflect on the fact that the FAA successfully carried out an unprecedented operation that day: grounding all the aircraft in the country. The Commission itself says that the FAA “execut[ed] that unprecedented order flawlessly.”81 Is it plausible that FAA personnel, on the same day that they carried out an unprecedented task so flawlessly, would have failed so miserably with a task that they, decade after decade, had been performing routinely?
3. Is the Alleged Motive to Lie Credible?
The new tapes-based story also raises the question--touched on earlier but requiring further discussion--whether we can really believe that Scott, Arnold, and other military officials would have told the lies with which they have been charged. If the tapes are authentic, there is no escape from the conclusion that they lied. The claim that they had simply been confused about all these matters is completely beyond belief. But what if the charge of lying that has been leveled against them is equally beyond belief?
The charge leveled by John Farmer, as we saw, is that these officers lied “to obscure mistakes on the part of the F.A.A. and the military, and to overstate the readiness of the military to intercept and, if necessary, shoot down UAL 93.” Bronner, using his own wording, suggests that the motive was “to downplay the extent of the confusion and miscommunication flying through the ranks of the government.”82 We can, to be sure, understand that military officials might have been tempted to cover up mistakes and unpreparedness on their own part. According to the tapes, however, it was the FAA that was guilty of virtually all the confusion and incompetence. Would military officials have lied to protect the FAA?
This problem is, in fact, expressed in Bronner’s article. Reporting that Farmer has accused Arnold and others of lying, Bronner said that Farmer could not understand why they would have felt a need to do this: “The information they got [from the FAA] was bad information, but they reacted in a way that you would have wanted them to. The calls [they made] were the right ones.”83 This picture creates a big problem for the Farmer-Bronner charge. If the NORAD officials, given the information they had received from the FAA, made the right decisions, what possible motivation would they have had to lie? Are we supposed to believe that, after the FAA had repeatedly given the military late and false information, military officials would have lied to protect the FAA?
Even more unbelievable is the fuller scenario we are expected to buy: If the military had told the truth, the public would have known that the FAA never informed the military about flights 175, 77, and 93 until after they had crashed. There could, therefore, have been no suspicion that the military had been responsible for the success of the attacks on the south tower and the Pentagon and for shooting down the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania. Nevertheless (we are supposed to believe), NORAD invented a false timeline that could lead people to suspect that the military was responsible for those events. As I pointed out earlier, this would mean that military officials, to protect themselves from the charge of confusion and incompetence, invented a lie that would expose them to the charge of murder and treason. This would have been a completely unmotivated, even irrational, lie.
Let us return, in particular, to the charge that Arnold, Scott, and the military in general lied by not mentioning phantom Flight 11--that is, by failing to point out that the Langley jets had been scrambled in response to the FAA’s false information that AA 11 was still aloft and headed toward Washington. If this was really the truth, why would these military men have deliberately failed to point this out? Surely not to protect the FAA, with which the military would have been furious for, on top of everything else that day, giving it that false report. And surely not to protect itself, because upon receiving the false report, it quickly had fighters airborne. (The fighters did, to be sure, allegedly head out to sea instead of toward Washington, but that embarrassment was already part of NORAD’s old story.)
Besides having no motivation not to tell the phantom 11 story, the military officials would have had every reason to tell it instead of the story they did tell. The story told by NORAD’s old timeline--that the Langley fighters were scrambled in response to the FAA’s notification at 9:24 about AA 77--opened NORAD to the charge that it had had time to intercept this flight before it got to the Pentagon. But the story about phantom Flight 11 lets the military completely off the hook, putting all the blame on the FAA. If the story about phantom Flight 11 were true, it would have been completely irrational for the military not to have talked about it.
Is it not more plausible that the reason no one in the military mentioned phantom Flight 11 before 2004 is that this story was a late invention? The 9/11 Commission, as we saw, does not believe Arnold’s statement that when he testified in 2003, he did not remember the phantom Flight 11 episode. The Commission does not believe him because Arnold and other officers, when preparing to give testimony in 2003, listened to NORAD’s tapes, and when these tapes were played for the Commission in 2004, they made abundantly clear that the Langley fighters had been scrambled in response to a false report about AA 11. However, if in 2003 the tapes did not yet have anything on them about phantom 11, there would be no mystery about why Scott and Arnold did not “remember” this error and also why no one else in the military had ever mentioned it.
However, if that is the case, so that Scott, Arnold, and others are being falsely charged on the basis of the Commission’s tapes-based new story, why do not they just say so? Why have they publicly accepted the new story, thereby publicly agreeing that their previous testimony was incorrect? There are several possible reasons.
One reason is simply military discipline. Even in retirement, military officers would be very reluctant to challenge an official story being promulgated by the Pentagon, especially on an issue as important and potentially explosive as the military’s response on 9/11.
Also, Scott, Arnold, and other officers would go along with the new tapes-based story, even while knowing it to be false, if the story contained in NORAD’s earlier timeline was itself a lie. And there is much evidence that it was.
Part of this evidence is the fact that it was already the military’s second account of its response that morning. According to the first account, given immediately after 9/11 by both Mike Snyder, a spokesman for NORAD, and General Richard Myers, then Acting Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, no military jets were sent up until after the strike on the Pentagon.84 This first account, which was quickly seen to have the unfortunate effect of suggesting that the military had stood down its defenses, was quickly replaced by a second account, reported by CBS News on September 14 and then reflected in NORAD’s timeline of September 18.85 This second account hence had a very suspicious beginning, because it was hard to believe either that both Myers and Snyder could have been misinformed about such a matter or that they would knowingly have given a false account that could easily be interpreted as reflecting a military stand-down.
Besides having a suspicious beginning, this second account also could not withstand scrutiny, because even if the FAA had given notification as late as NORAD claimed, the fighters could still have intercepted the airliners.86
Accordingly, there was, even before the 9/11 Commission’s tapes-based account, good reason to believe that the story told by Scott, Arnold, and the NORAD timeline was a lie.
If that is the case, then it is understandable that Scott and Arnold would go along with the new story, even if it causes some embarrassment to them and the military in general. Knowing that both the second and the third accounts are false, they would not challenge the third in the name of the second, thereby opening them both up to public scrutiny.
The third and surely most decisive reason why these officers would go along with the new story is that, insofar as the press and the public accept the third story, the military as a whole will avoid the charge of having been criminally complicit or even terribly incompetent. Scott, Arnold, and the other officers accused of lying, recognizing that someone needs to serve as scapegoats for the sake of this greater good, would understandably go along with the role assigned to them--except for insisting that they were not deceitful, merely confused and forgetful.87
The fact that the officers accused of lying have not publicly challenged the new tapes-based story, therefore, does not count against the conclusion that the tapes must have been fabricated.
4. How Could the Tapes Have Been Fabricated?
That conclusion can be sensibly held, of course, only if someone would have had the motivation, means, and opportunity to fabricate the tapes.
Any doubt about sufficient motivation can be quickly dismissed. If the 9/11 attacks were orchestrated or at least deliberately allowed by the Bush-Cheney administration and its Pentagon, then the motivation to cover up this murderous and treasonous act would be unlimited. No expenditure of time and money would be considered too great.
Although that is obvious, the question of the means to fabricate the tapes may appear less so. The tapes have evidently seemed authentic to all who have listened to them. The voices of the main players in the drama are clearly recognizable. If these people did not say in real time everything that is presently on the tapes, how could they now be heard saying these things?
Relevant here is the fairly new technology of “voice morphing” (which is one of the forms of “digital morphing,” with others being video and photo morphing). This technology has been available for several years, as shown in a 1999 Washington Post article by William Arkin.88 As an example of what was already possible at that time, Arkin described a demonstration in which General Carl Steiner, former Commander-in-Chief of the US Special Operations Command, was heard making a statement that began: “Gentlemen! We have called you together to inform you that we are going to overthrow the United States government.” In another demonstration, the voice of Colin Powell was heard to say: “I am being treated well by my captors.” Neither Steiner nor Powell had ever uttered those statements. They were complete fabrications.
What is required to produce such fabrications? “By taking just a 10-minute digital recording of [anyone’s] voice,” Arkin reported, voice morphing experts can “clone speech patterns and develop an accurate facsimile,” causing people to appear to have said things that they “would never otherwise have said.” Although earlier voice morphing techniques required cutting and pasting, often producing robotic intonations, the new software “can far more accurately replicate the way one actually speaks.”
This new technology, developed in the Los Alamos National Laboratory, can be used equally by Hollywood and by military and intelligence agencies. “For Hollywood, it is special effects. For covert operators in the U.S. military and intelligence agencies, it is a weapon of the future.” One agency interested in this weapon, Arkin reports, is “the Information Operations department of the National Defense University in Washington, the military's school for information warfare.”
Referring to what the military calls PSYOPS, meaning psychological operations, Arkin explains that these operations “seek to exploit human vulnerabilities in enemy governments, militaries and populations.” But voice morphing, I would add, could equally well be used as a weapon to exploit human vulnerabilities in a government’s own population. The “human vulnerabilities” in the US population could include the public’s ignorance of such technologies plus its tendency to trust its political and military leaders and to reject “conspiracy theories.”
Arkin, pointing out that video and photo manipulation had already “raised profound questions of authenticity for the journalistic world,” teaching it that “seeing isn’t necessarily believing,” points out that the addition of voice morphing means that “hearing isn’t either.” Or at least it shouldn’t be. Surely, given the existence of this technology plus the manifold problems in the 9/11 Commission’s story based on the NORAD tapes, our media should be questioning the authenticity of these tapes.
If the means existed to fabricate the tapes, what about the opportunity? This is also no problem. The NORAD tapes were under the military’s control all the time. Of course, given the fact that when Arnold, Scott, and others listened to the tapes in 2003, they apparently did not hear many of the things that are on the tapes now, it is likely that the fabrication process did not begin until some time in 2003--perhaps after some members of 9/11 Commission realized that the story NORAD had been telling since 2001 was not good enough to defend the military against the charge of complicity in the attacks. But because excerpts of the tapes were not played in public until the Commission’s hearing on June 17, 2004--over a year after the hearing at which Arnold and the others first testified--there would have been plenty of time to get the tapes modified.
However, it might be objected, although the modification of the NORAD tapes can be thus explained, it is quite otherwise with the FAA tapes--to which Bronner referred as “parallel recordings,” thereby indicating that they agreed with the NORAD tapes. Excerpts from these tapes were also played at that hearing in 2004. We can suppose, indeed, that any skepticism about the authenticity of the NORAD tapes would have been overcome by the fact that the FAA tapes agreed with them. Could anyone believe that the FAA, knowing that it had done its job properly and that only the military had fouled up, would have doctored its own tapes to exonerate the military by making itself look completely incompetent?
That would indeed be a good rhetorical question if the FAA’s tapes from 9/11 had been in its possession all the time. But that was evidently not the case. In the telephone conversation I had with Laura Brown in 2004, she told me that immediately after 9/11, the FAA had to turn over all its records from that day to the FBI. Although it was not unusual, she added, for the FAA to turn over its records after a major disaster, they were normally turned over to the National Transportation Safety Board. This time, however, they had to be turned over to the FBI.89
In light of this information plus the voice morphing techniques that have been available to intelligence agencies since at least 1999, the agreement of the tapes with each other poses no problem for the fabrication hypothesis.
There is reason to believe, moreover, that voice morphing had already been used at least once before in the process of creating the official story about the 9/11 attacks. I refer to the alleged cellphone calls made by passengers on United Flight 93 before it crashed in Pennsylvania. (Although there were also alleged cellphone calls from the other flights, there were more from UA 93 than the other three combined, making it, as Professor A. K. Dewdney says, the “Cellphone Flight.”)90 There are good reasons to believe that these calls were fabricated.
One problem with the official story is the simple fact that calls from cellphones (as distinct from airfones) would evidently have been impossible. Given the cellphone technology at that time, successful calls at an altitude of 2000 feet were possible but unlikely; between 2000 and 8000 feet, highly unlikely; and above 8000 feet, essentially impossible. At the altitude UA 93 was reportedly flying, above 30,000 feet, successful calls would have been completely impossible.91 The new technology that would make such calls possible was successfully tested only in 2004. A Washington Post story, reporting this test, said: ““Travelers could be talking on their personal cellphones as early as 2006.”92
In addition to the question of the feasibility of cellphone calls from UA 93, the content of some of the messages makes their authenticity seem highly improbable. In the most notorious case, a man claiming to be Mark Bingham called Bingham’s mother. When she answered, he said: “Mom? This is Mark Bingham.” Have any of us, even in the most stressful situation, identified ourselves to our own mothers by giving our last name?
The remainder of the call, moreover, provides nothing to assure us that the call was authentic. The caller next said: “I want you to know that I love you. I'm on a flight from Newark to San Francisco and there are three guys who have taken over the plane and they say they have a bomb.” His mother then asked, “Who are these guys?” After a pause, the caller said: “You believe me, don't you?” After she said, “Yes, Mark. I believe you. But who are these guys?” the line went dead.
Given the caller’s failure to respond to any questions, we might assume this to have been a pre-recorded statement. If it had been pre-recorded, however, the “Mark Bingham” goof would surely have been corrected. Also, some of the other alleged calls did seem to contain a little genuine interaction.
But these two facts present no problem, given the existence, since at least the mid-1990s, of voice transformers. Dewdney, explaining how they work, writes: “One speaks into a microphone, the sound pattern is digitized and, in real time the computer within the device produces a signal that is reconstituted as sound, a voice that can be entirely different from your own. Everything you say will be spoken by the synthesized voice and with . . . the specific ‘sound’ of a particular person's voice.”93 We can thus understand how callers were able to interact--albeit in limited ways--with the people who were called.
If voices were morphed to produce apparent cellphone calls from UA 93 (and other flights), this gives us additional reason to suspect that the NORAD and FAA tapes have also been produced by means of such technology. Also, given the fact that Bronner was involved in the production of United 93, in which cellphone calls play a major role, the fact that his article raises no question about the authenticity of the tapes provides no evidence against this hypothesis.
There is, to be sure, a rather obvious objection to this hypothesis: If the NORAD and FAA tapes as described by Bronner have both been altered, then many military and FAA personnel would know this. Surely at least some of them would speak up? Surely not everyone would be willing to be complicit in such an enormous fraud by remaining silent!
However--and this could turn out to be the most important implication of the new story--it is now known that members of both the FAA and the military are capable of such deceit and complicity. On the one hand, if the new story is true, then many people in both the FAA and the military knew the old story to be false and yet supported it--whether actively or by their silence--from 2001 to 2004. On the other hand, if the new story is false, then many people in both the FAA and the military know this and yet have supported it--whether verbally or merely by not challenging it--since the publication of The 9/11 Commission Report in July 2004. Given Bronner’s portrayal of some of the people at NEADS, to be sure, it is not pleasant to think of them as consciously participating in an enormous lie. But we have no choice, because if the new story is true, then they were complicit in an enormous lie between 2001 and 2004. And if so, we have no reason to believe they would not participate in a new, improved lie.
On the basis of this awareness, it could be argued that there is really no need for the suggestion that the tapes were fabricated by means of voice morphing. If the FAA and military personnel have been involved in a complicity of silence about the tapes, there was no need to morph their voices. Those who were fabricating the tapes could have simply ordered the various people to read the new lines that had been written for them.
That is, to be sure, possible. But there is a big difference, at least for basically honest people, between actively participating in a fraud and merely remaining silent--under orders--about one. Many people who would do the latter would not do the former. It would seem more likely, therefore, that if the tapes were fabricated, voice morphing technology was used, at least in most cases. There is no need, in any case, to settle this question in advance of an investigation. All that is needed at this stage is awareness that the government agents would have had both the means and the opportunity, as well as the motivation, to produce fraudulent tapes.
Motivation for producing fraudulent tapes would have been provided by the American public’s growing rejection of the government’s conspiracy theory in favor of the alternative view, according to which 9/11 was an inside job--only the latter of which, of course, can in polite company be called a “conspiracy theory.” The effectiveness of these tapes in undermining this alternative conspiracy theory is suggested by a New York Times editorial, which begins:
The effectiveness of these publications in getting the new story accepted is illustrated by the remainder of the Times editorial, which says:
As can be seen, every major point of the new story is accepted as gospel truth. There is no mention of the fact that this new story is riddled with problems or of the possibility that the tapes, first played publicly almost three years after the event, might have been doctored. There is no puzzling about what could have motivated military officials to say that “the F.A.A. had alerted the military more promptly than it actually had.” From the perspective of the Times, all these things must be true, because they are on the tapes.
This attitude will surely be widespread, in spite of all the problems in the new official story. The question of the authenticity of the tapes is, accordingly, of utmost importance.
I will conclude by returning to the significance of the 9/11 Commission’s charge, made on the basis of the new story, that the military had previously lied about 9/11. Many commentators who have mentioned this fact have assumed, with the New York Times, that this charge is a big embarrassment to the military, which would not “come up with the real story until the 9/11 commission forced it to admit the truth.” What is really going on, however, is that the military is briefly suffering a little embarrassment, experienced primarily by a few scapegoats, for the sake of the new story, which, if accepted, permanently removes the suspicion of guilt--for treason and murder--from everyone in the military. The new story is hence best seen as the military’s replacement of its old story, which did not fully get it off the hook, with its new story, which does.
Seen in this light, the now established fact that the military has lied about 9/11 has a perhaps unforeseen implication--that there is no good reason to take the military’s new story on faith. For if the military was lying to us between 2001 and 2004, we have no basis for trusting what it says now. To appreciate this point, it is important to get the logic of the situation right. The truth of the new story would imply the falsity of the old story. But the falsity of the old story would not imply the truth of the new story: they could both be false. And if the previous story, which only partly absolved the military from suspicion, was a lie, should we not suspect that the new story, which fully absolves it, is also a lie?
This implication will not be seen, to be sure, as long as one accepts the narrative promulgated by the 9/11 Commission and repeated by the Times--that the military had to be “forced” to tell this story, to its great embarrassment, by the 9/11 Commission. But once we see that this is the military’s new story, which it used the 9/11 Commission to tell (albeit perhaps with some coaching from this Zelikow-led body), then we have reason not to accept this new tale without examining its inherent plausibility, its conflict with prior reports, and the possibility of fraudulently produced tapes.
And when this tale is examined with those questions in mind, I have suggested, there are many reasons to consider it a lie.95 That is, of course, a conclusion with enormous implications, some of which I have discussed elsewhere.96
1. Michael Bronner, “9/11 Live: The NORAD Tapes,” Vanity Fair, September 2006, 262-285 (http://www.vanityfair.com/pdf/pressroom/advance_Air_Force_9-11.pdf). Henceforth cited as “Bronner.”
2. Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton, Without Precedent (New York: Knopf, 2006).
3. Bronner 282.
4. Bronner 264.
5. Bronner 285.
6. Vanity Fair, Press Release, “Vanity Fair Obtains Complete Set of NORAD 9/11 Audiotapes,” Aug. 2, 2006.
7. Bronner 264.
8. Philip Shenon, “New Tapes Disclose Confusion Within the Military on Sept. 11,” New York Times, August 3, 2006 (http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/03/us/03norad.html).
9. See David Ray Griffin, The 9/11 Commission Report: Omissions and Distortions (Northampton: Olive Branch [Interlink Books], 2005), 282-95. Henceforth cited as 9/11CROD.
10. James Mann, Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush’s War Cabinet (New York: Viking, 2004), 316, 327-31.
11. These statements are quoted in Peter Lance, Cover Up: What the Government is Still Hiding about the War on Terror (New York: Harper-Collins/ReganBooks, 2004), 139-40.
12. Quoting “Statement of Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta before the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, May 23, 2003” (available at www.cooperativeresearch.org/timeline/2003/commissiontestimony052303.htm).
13. The 9/11 Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, Authorized Edition (New York: W. W. Norton, 2004), 241. Henceforth cited as 9/11CR.
14. See Griffin, 9/11CROD 241-44.
15. 9/11CR 27, 34.
16. 9/11CR xvi.
17. Griffin, 9/11CROD (see note 9, above).
18. 9/11CR 116.
19. Newsweek, October 15, 2001; San Francisco Chronicle, October 4, 2001. Daniel Hopsicker, Welcome to Terrorland: Mohamed Atta and the 9/11 Cover-up in Florida (Eugene: MacCowPress, 2004).
20. “Terrorist Stag Parties,” Wall Street Journal, October 10, 2001 (http://www.opinionjournal.com/best/?id=95001298).
21. 9/11CR 248.
22. David Bamford, “Hijack ‘Suspect’ Alive in Morocco,” BBC News, Sept. 22, 2001 (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/1558669.stm).
23. See David Harrison, “Revealed: The Men with Stolen Identities,” Telegraph, September 23, 2001 (www.portal.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2001/09/23/widen23.xml).
24. 9/11CR 19-20.
25. According to the FAA, the military scrambled fighters at its request 67 times between September 2000 and June 2001 (FAA News Release, August 9, 2002). According to the Calgary Herald (Oct. 13, 2001), NORAD scrambled fighters 129 times in 2000. According to a report by the US General Accounting Office in 1994, moreover, NORAD scrambled fighters 1518 times during the previous four years, which would have been an average of 379 times per year (http://www.fas.org/man/gao/gao9476.htm).
26. 9/11CR 18-20.
27. 9/11CR 22-23.
28. Bronner 268.
29. “NORAD’s Response Times,” September 18, 2001 (available at www.standdown.net/noradseptember182001pressrelease.htm).
30. Toronto Star, December 9, 2001.
31. Hart Seely, “Amid Crisis Simulation, 'We Were Suddenly No-Kidding Under Attack,’” Newhouse News Service, January 25, 2002.
32. Laura Brown’s memo is available at www.911truth.org/article.php?story=2004081200421797.
33. See Griffin, 9/11CROD 182-88.
34. 9/11CR 34.
35. 9/11CR 34.
36. 9/11CR 24-25.
37. 9/11CR 27.
38. Village Voice, September 13, 2001; Guardian, October 17, 2001.
39. This deviation was shown in the flight course for AA 77 provided by USA Today (available at www.cooperativeresearch.org/timeline.jsp?timeline=complete_911_timeline&day_of_911=aa77).
40. Guardian, October 17, 2001; New York Times, October 17, 2001; Boston Globe, November 23, 2001.
41. For Laura Brown’s memo, see note 33.
42. Telephone conversation between Laura Brown and David Ray Griffin on Sunday, August 15, 2004.
43. Matthew Wald, “After the Attacks: Sky Rules; Pentagon Tracked Deadly Jet but Found No Way to Stop It,” New York Times, September 15, 2001.
44. National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, May 23, 2003 (http://www.911commission.gov/archive/hearing2/9-11Commission_Hearing_2003-05-23.htm). In introducing the memo, Ben-Veniste said he was told it had been authored by two “high level individuals at FAA, Mr. Asmus and Ms. Schuessler.” That it was in reality written by Laura Brown, however, was confirmed during a telephone conversation I had with her on Sunday, August 15, 2004.
45. 9/11CR 36.
46. 9/11CR 28-29.
47. 9/11CR 29-30.
48. 9/11CR 36.
49. Richard A. Clarke, Against All Enemies: Inside America’s War on Terror (New York: Free Press, 2004), 7.
50. National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, 12th Public Hearing, June 17, 2004.
51. Clarke, Against All Enemies, 7.
52. “Meet the Press,” NBC News, Sept. 16, 2001.
53. 9/11CR 34.
54. William B. Scott, “Exercise Jump-Starts Response to Attacks,” Aviation Week and Space Technology, June 3, 2002; Cape Cod Times, August 21, 2002.
55. This exchange is quoted in Meyssan, 9/11: The Big Lie, 162.
56. Griffin, 9/11CROD 150-51.
57. 9/11CR 30.
58. 9/11CR 41.
59. 9/11CR 41. Bronner, who says that the shoot-down authorization was not given by President Bush until 10:18 (282)--a claim with which United 93 ends--diverges here somewhat from the 9/11 Commission. Whereas the Commission says that Cheney talked to the president at 10:18, it also, besides saying that Cheney gave the authorization earlier, expresses skepticism about the claim, made by both Bush and Cheney, that Bush gave Cheney the authorization shortly after 10:00 (see 9/11CR 40-41 and Griffin, 9/11CROD 245-46).
60. Associated Press, September 13, 2001.
61. General Myers Confirmation Hearing, Senate Armed Services Committee, Washington D.C., September 13, 2001 (http://emperors-clothes.com/9-11backups/mycon.htm).
62. Boston Herald, September 15, 2001. Wolfowitz’s statement was also referred to in Matthew Wald’s New York Times article of that day, “After the Attacks: Sky Rules.”
63. Dave Foster, “UST grad guides bombers in war,” Aquin, December 4, 2002 (http://www.stthomas.edu/aquin/archive/041202/anaconda.html).
64. 9/11CR 37; Clarke, Against All Enemies, 6-7.
65. “9/11: Interviews by Peter Jennings,” ABC News, September 11, 2002.
67. Leslie Filson, Air War over America: Sept. 11 Alters Face of Air Defense Mission, Foreword by Larry K. Arnold (Public Affairs: Tyndall Air Force Base, 2003), 72.
68. Ibid., 68.
69. Ibid., 71.
70. Bronner 282.
71. Bronner 275. In The 9/11 Commission Report, the statement reads: “I just had a report that American 11 is still in the air, and it’s on its way towards--heading towards Washington” (26).
72. 9/11CR 34.
73. Christian Science Monitor, September 13, 2001.
74. ABC News, September 6, 2002.
75. New York Times, September 13, 2001; Hart Seely, “Amid Crisis Simulation, 'We Were Suddenly No-Kidding Under Attack,’” Newhouse News Service, January 25, 2002.
76. Bronner 267.
77. 9/11CR 34.
78. Leslie Filson, Air War over America: Sept. 11 Alters Face of Air Defense Mission, Foreword by Larry K. Arnold (Public Affairs: Tyndall Air Force Base, 2003).
79. National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, 12th Public Hearing, June 17, 2004 (www.9-11commission.gov/archive/hearing12/9-11Commission_Hearing_2004-06-17.htm).
80. Bronner 275.
81. 9/11CR 31.
82. Bronner 285, 264.
83. Bronner 282.
84. Glen Johnson, “Otis Fighter Jets Scrambled Too Late to Halt the Attacks,” Boston Globe, September 15 (http://nl.newsbank.com/nl-search/we/Archives?p_action=print); General Myers Confirmation Hearing, Senate Armed Services Committee, Washington D.C., September 13, 2001 (http://emperors-clothes.com/9-11backups/mycon.htm).
85. CBS News, September 14, 2001.
86. See David Ray Griffin, The New Pearl Harbor: Disturbing Questions about the Bush Administration and 9/11 (Northampton: Olive Branch, 2004), Chs. 1-2.
87. Philip Shenon and Jim Dwyer, “Agency Says Military Did Not Lie to 9/11 Panel,” New York Times, August 4, 2006 (http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/s/philip_shenon/index.html?inline=nyt-per).
88. William M. Arkin, “When Seeing and Hearing Isn't Believing, Washington Post, Feb. 1, 1999 (http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn?pagename=article&node=&contentId=A45085-2000Feb28).
89. Telephone interview with Laura Brown on Sunday, August 15, 2004.
90. A. K. Dewdney, “The Cellphone and Airfone Calls from Flight UA93,” Physics 911 (http://physics911.net/cellphoneflight93.htm).
91. See Dewdney, “The Cellphone and Airfone Calls”; Michel Chossudovsky, “More Holes in the Official Story: The 9/11 Cell Phone Calls,” Centre for Research on Globalisation, August 10, 2004 (http://globalresearch.ca/articles/CHO408B.html); and “QUALCOMM Press Release, “American Airlines and QUALCOMM Complete Test Flight to Evaluate In-Cabin Mobile Phone Use,” July 15, 2004 (http://www.qualcomm.com/press/releases/2004/040715_aa_testflight.html).
92. Washington Post, July 27, 2004.
93. Dewdney, “The Cellphone and Airfone Calls.”
94. Editorial, “Our Porous Air Defenses on 9/11,” New York Times, August 13, 2006 (http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/13/opinion/13sun2.html?_r=1&oref=slogin)
95. I have, moreover, not mentioned several other problems in the tapes, such as their claim that there were only four fighters on alert for NEADS to call on, which means, preposterously, that there were none at Andrews Air Force Base, which has the task of protecting Washington D.C. (see Griffin, 9/11CROD 159-64); their claim that the military could not track a plane whose transponder is turned off (see ibid., 166-67); and its apparent claim that there was only one war-game being run that day (see “Complete 911 Timeline: Military Exercises up to 9/11,” Cooperative Research [http://www.cooperativeresearch.org/timeline.jsp?timeline=complete_911_timeline&before_9/11=militaryExercises]).
96. David Ray Griffin, Christian Faith and the Truth behind 9/11 (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2006). I wish to thank Daniel Athearn, Matthew Everett, and Tod Fletcher for several valuable suggestions in relation to the present essay.
David Ray Griffin is professor emeritus of philosophy of religion and theology at the Claremont School of Theology and Claremont Graduate University, where he taught 31 years. He has published some 30 books, including 9/11 and American Empire: Intellectuals Speak Out, Ed. with Peter Dale Scott (Olive Branch Press /Interlink Books); Christian Faith and the Truth Behind 9/11: A Call to Reflection and Action, (Westminster John Knox Press); The New Pearl Harbor: Disturbing Questions about the Bush Administration and 9/11 (Interlink Books, 2004); and The 9/11 Commission Report: Omissions and Distortions (Interlink Books, 2005).
© David Ray Griffin.
Permission granted to all readers of this website to link to any and all articles found in the public areas of the website, www.911truth.org, so long as the full source URL (http://www.911truth.org/article.php?story=2006091418303369, in this case) is posted with the article.
The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author, who is solely responsible for its content, and do not necessarily reflect those of 911Truth.org. 911Truth.org will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article.
|home | about us | contact | research | grassroots | calendar | links | search|