Browsing the blog archivesfor the day Wednesday, August 2nd, 2006.

9/11 Unanswered Questions

Bush Administration, Terrorism

There are unanswered questions about what happened on September 11 that, unfortunately, are being eclipsed by the “controlled detonation” nonsense. Today Dan Eggen of the Washington Post wrote about some big ones —

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.

These questions dwell mainly on what NORAD and the FAA were up to on September 11. Someone painstakingly put together this moment-by-moment timeline that reveals the dropped balls and miscommunications that went on that day. (Caveat: I have not fact-checked the timeline point by point, but it appears to be well researched and it jives with what I remember, so I’m linking to it. If anyone spots any discrepancies feel free to speak up. I have no idea who put it together. The site it’s on is, um, odd.) For example, Boston air traffic control realized that one airplane, American Airlines 11, had been hijacked at 8:25. Air traffic control informed NORAD Command Center at 8:28. NORAD Command Center told NORAD headquarters at 8:32 that an airplane may have been hijacked. NORAD headquarters was supposed to inform the military, but did not. At 8:34 Boston air traffic control called the military. There was some confusion about whether this emergency is real or part of a drill. At 8:46, NORAD finally got two F-15s in the air. At exactly the same time AA 11 crashed into WTC Tower 1. At this time, neither the President nor Vice President had been informed of the emergency.

And on and on. The FAA in particular was haplessly receiving information but not passing it on. The air traffic controllers of various airports were not told what was going on and had to figure it out for themselves. With no direction coming from their superiors (Bush appointees? We should check that.), middle managers at the FAA and NORAD were making decisions themselves. As the disaster progressed White House and top intelligence officials were getting all their information about what was going on from television news. Even after NORAD pilots were in the air, they were not receiving directions or information and were circling aimlessly over Long Island while the President sat in an elementary school classroom listening to children read.

The timeline is actually an entertaining bit of literature, as is the same author’s September 11 Conspiracy Theory page.

Back to Dan Eggen:

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.

Already some “controlled detonation” people have caught wind of “making false statements to Congress” and “criminal referrals” and are hailing this story as vindication of their beloved controlled detonation theory, which of course it isn’t. What it is, is a documentation of utter disarray, most likely caused by incompetence. But I think it is extremely important to understand exactly what went wrong and exactly where balls were dropped and who dropped them. I want to know if corrections have been made. And I want to know if any Bush crony appointees were involved, even though I doubt Shrub had been president long enough to utterly screw up the FAA the way he screwed up FEMA. I’ve misunderestimated him before.

In August 2002 the BBC reported that some of the few military pilots who did get into the air that day were so unprepared they had no ammunition. The pilots were afraid that they’d have to crash their jets into commercial airplanes to stop them. I have yet to hear a word of this breathed on America media.

It’s been almost five years. Of course, they’re still finding bone fragment of victims, mostly on the roof of the Deutsche Bank building. Better late than never.

Update: Some still blame Bill Clinton.

Update update: See also Michael Bronner, “9/11 Live: The NORAD Tapes,” Vanity Fair.

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A Narrow Victory for Science in Kansas

conservatism, Education, science

[Update: Sally Cauble defeated Connie Morris by 54.15 to 45.85 percent of the vote. This means the anti-science board members will have no more than four members out of ten on the next board, even if the anti-science candidates all win in the general election.]

Here’s a spot of good news to start the day. Yesterday in a Republican primary election, anti-science conservatives lost control of the Kansas State Board of Education. But, so far, just barely. One anti-science incumbent lost to a pro-science challenger, which will deprive the right-wingers of their majority on the board. Another pro-science challenger is winning, but as of this morning that election hasn’t been called yet.

The Kansas Board of Education, which oversees statewide education policy, has ten members, and anti-science conservatives have held a six to four majority for the past two years. The six have blighted education in Kansas with right-wing policies on teaching evolution, sex education, and charter schools. Yesterday’s election results mean that the right-wingers will have no more than half of the seats, assuming they all win in the general election, and if the votes still being counted go to the pro-science challenger, the anti-science members of the board will be a minority.

From the Kansas City Star:

Kansas has long been a key front in the war over evolution and creationism, and Tuesday’s vote attracted national attention once again: National and international media covered the races, and in the weeks leading up to the election, out-of-state groups on both sides of the fray joined the debate.

This year, 16 candidates filed for five seats on the board; in previous years’ elections the field was less than half that number.

Last year, the board’s six conservatives pushed through science curriculum standards criticizing the theory of evolution. They hired Bob Corkins, an anti-tax lobbyist with no experience in the education field, as education commissioner.

This year, the board’s conservatives voted to encourage local schools to require permission slips for sex-education class and stress the teaching of abstinence.

As bad as the board is, apparently it used to be worse.

All the controversy had moderates hoping for a repeat of 2000, when voters kicked out of office board members who had voted to minimize the teaching of evolution, the age of the Earth and the big-bang theory. The new board members reversed those decisions.

Of the five seats up for re-election, only one was held by a pro-science Republican Democrat, Janet Waugh. Mrs. Waugh won her primary yesterday. [Update: Waugh is unopposed in the general election.] Pro-science moderate challenger Jana Shaver beat anti-science incumbent Brad Patzer. Pro-science challenger Sally Cauble is hanging on to a 54 to 46 percent lead over anti-science incumbent Connie Morris, according to the most recent news stories. The two remaining right-wing incumbents won their primaries.

The five Republican primary winners will face five pro-science Democrats in the general election in November, so it’s possible the anti-science portion of the board will shrink even further if some Democrats win. But Ms. Shaver’s primary win means that, no matter what happens in the general election, the anti-science members will hold no more than half the seats.

Of the election yet to be determined between Sally Cauble and Connie Morris, John Hanna of the Associated Press writes:

Morris’ race in western Kansas was the most closely watched. The former teacher has described evolution as “an age-old fairy tale” and “a nice bedtime story” unsupported by science.

Go, Sally Cauble!

The Big Issue appears to be the standards adopted by the current board for teaching evolution:

The standards say that the evolutionary theory that all life had a common origin has been challenged by fossils and molecular biology. And they say there is controversy over whether changes over time in one species can lead to a new species.

In other words, the “standards” mandate teaching children lies.

The school board contest was part of a larger effort by the intelligent design movement to introduce its ideas in public schools.

A suburban Atlanta school district is locked in a legal dispute over its putting stickers in 35,000 biology textbooks declaring evolution “a theory, not a fact.”

Last year, in Dover, Pa., voters ousted school board members who had required the biology curriculum to include mention of intelligent design. A federal judge struck down the policy, declaring intelligent design is religion in disguise.

A poll by six news organizations last year suggested about half of Kansans thought evolution should be taught alongside intelligent design. …

… Control of the school board has slipped into, out of and back into conservative Republicans’ hands since 1998, resulting in anti-evolution standards in 1999, evolution-friendly ones in 2001 and anti-evolution ones again last year.

Late-night comedians have been making cracks about Kansas, portraying it as backward and ignorant. Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” broadcast a four-part series titled, “Evolution Schmevolution.”

I’ll update with the result of the Cauble-Morris election as soon as I know it. [Update at top of post — Cauble wins!]

Update: Another story on the election, from the New York Times. See also commentary from The Talking Dog (a highly evolved critter, I must say).

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