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 jibes 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.