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IN THEIR OWN WORDS: THE TRUE STORY OF THE 9/11 BATTLE IN THE SKY  

IN THEIR OWN WORDS

 Back in 2011, with the cooperation of 9/11 Commission Senior Counsel John Farmer and his Commission staff colleague Miles Kara, we had first access to a Commission working paper that incorporated actual audio from the aircraft hijacked on September 11, 2001, and the FAA and military personnel who scrambled to meet the threat.

For this 15th anniversary, we have put the full story of that fateful day together – with the revealing and emotionally charged audio-taped voices of the participants.                                                           

Part 1

Late in 2004, almost three years after the attacks of September 11, the executive director of the 9/11 Commission – then in the final weeks of its work – dictated a memo. It was addressed to the inquiry’s chairman and vice-chairman, and posed a very sensitive question. “How,” Philip Zelikow wanted to know, “should the Commission handle evidence of possible false statements by U.S. officials?”

“Team 8,” he reported, “has found evidence suggesting that one or more USAF officers – and possibly FAA officials – must have known their version was false, before and after it was briefed to and relied upon by the White House, presented to the nation, and presented to us…The argument is not over details; it is about the fundamental way the story was presented. It is the most serious issue of truth/falsity in accounts to us that we have encountered so far…”

The “story” that so provoked the Commission was the military and FAA version of their response to the 9/11 attacks, a response that failed utterly to thwart the terrorists’ operation. The Commission’s belief that it had been deceived would be lost in the diplomatic language of its final Report. Zelikow’s memo on the subject would be withheld until 2009.

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The Commission’s chairman, former New Jersey governor Thomas Kean, and the vice-chairman, former congressman Lee Hamilton, however, gave a sense of their frustration in their later memoir. The military’s statements, they declared, were “not forthright or accurate.” To another commissioner, former congressman Tim Roemer, they were, quite simply, “false”. Former New Jersey attorney general John Farmer, the Commission’s senior counsel who led Team 8’s probe of the military’s performance, has said that he was shocked by the “deception”.

Farmer questions not only how the military and the FAA had functioned on 9/11, but also the actions of the President and the Vice President. In his view, “The perpetuation of the untrue official version remains a betrayal of every citizen who demanded a truthful answer to the simple question: What happened?”

 


 

Two days after the attacks, Air Force general Richard Myers testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee. Though the hearing had been scheduled before 9/11, questioning turned naturally to the crisis of the moment. For an officer of distinction, about to become chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Myers seemed confused as to when fighters had gone up to attempt to intercept the hijacked planes. Memory, he said in an oddly vague way, told him that fighters had been launched to intercept Flight 93, the plane that crashed before reaching a target. “I mean,” he said, “we had gotten somebody close to it, as I recall. I’ll have to check it out.”

Within days, another senior officer flatly contradicted Myers. Major-General Paul Weaver, commander of the Air National Guard, gave reporters a detailed timeline of the military’s reaction. According to him, no airplanes had been scrambled to chase Flight 93. “There was no notification for us to launch airplanes…We weren’t even close.”

What, moreover, asked Weaver, could a fighter pilot have done had he intercepted one of the hijacked airliners? “You’re not going to get an American pilot shooting down an American airliner. We don’t have permission to do that. The only person who could grant such permission was the President, the General pointed out, leaving the impression that Bush had not done so.

By week’s end, however, that notion was turned on its head. Vice President Cheney, speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” said that George W. Bush had indeed made the “toughest decision” – to shoot down a civilian airliner if necessary. Fighter pilots, he asserted, had been authorized to “take out” any plane that failed to obey instructions to move away from Washington.

In spite of denials by General Myers and others, there were people who thought United 93 might in fact have been shot down. Bush himself had asked Cheney, “Did we shoot it down, or did it crash?”

In the absence of good evidence to the contrary, though, few now credit the notion that any pilot shot down an airliner filled with helpless civilians on September 11. No pilot would have fired without authorization, could not have done so without fellow officers, radio operators and others being aware of it. There was no way such an action could have been kept secret.

Shootdown aside, the statements by the military and political leadership begged a host of questions. Had fighters really gone up in time to intercept any of the hijacked planes? If they did get up in time, what had they been expected to do? Could they – would they – have shot a plane down? If pilots were cleared to shoot, was the order given in the way the Vice President described? If so, when did he issue the order and when did it reach military commanders?


The most powerful military nation on the planet had been ill-prepared and ill-equipped to confront the attacks. Time was, at the height of the Cold War, when NORAD could have called on more than a hundred squadrons of fighter aircraft to defend the continental United States. By September 2001, the number had dwindled to a token force of just fourteen “alert” planes based at seven widely scattered bases. Only four of those fighters were based in the Northeast Air Defense Sector – NEADS – which covered the geographical area in which the hijackings took place.

Practice runs aside, moreover, the airplanes had never been scrambled to confront an enemy. They were used to intercept civilian aircraft that strayed off course, suspected drug traffickers, planes that failed to file a proper flight plan. Hijacks were rare, and counter-measures were based on the concept of hijacking as it had almost always been carried out since the sixties – the temporary seizure of an airliner, followed by a safe landing and the release of passengers and crew.

The cumbersome protocol in place to deal with a hijacking involved circuitous reporting, up through the FAA and on to the Pentagon, all the way up to the office of the Defense Secretary. At the end of the process, if approval was granted, NORAD would launch fighters. The pilots’ mission would then be to identify and discreetly follow the airplane until it landed. Nothing in their training or experience foresaw a need to shoot down an airliner.


September 11, 2001. Shortly before 7:30, Gen. Myers, was at the Pentagon viewing the slide presentation that comprised part of his usual morning intelligence/operations briefing.  The Air Force had deployed additional forces to Alaska and Canada in response to a major Russian military exercise in the northern Pacific that had begun the previous day. The Russians had scheduled the firing of an air-launched cruise missile as part of the exercise – the first such firing since the end of the Cold War.  A “threat-ring” graphic depicting the current range from the continental U.S. of Russian military forces – and the missiles they carried – flashed onto the screen as the briefer described them as “the current air threat to CONUS.” Within the hour, the nature of that threat was to change dramatically.

At 8:00 a.m. American Airlines Flight 11 took off from Boston’s Logan airport bound for Los Angeles with 92 people aboard. All appeared well until thirteen minutes into the flight when Air Traffic Control lost contact with the cockpit.

“American 11 [instruction…there is no response]….American 11 [instruction]….American 11, Boston…American 11, Boston…American 11, the American on the frequency. How do you hear me?…He will not respond to me now…He’s turning right….American 11, Boston…American 11, if you hear Boston Center, ident….American, if you hear Boston, ident please, or acknowledge…..American 11, if you hear Boston Center….[THERE IS NO RESPONSE

Increasingly concerned, the Boston controller tried repeatedly over the next nine minutes to raise the flight and check the status of his own equipment. At 8:21, the plane changed course and someone turned off its transponder – severely limiting controllers ability to judge its position, speed or even to identify it accurately.

At 8:18, unbeknownst at the time to the controllers, a telephone rang at an American Airlines office almost a thousand miles away, in the town of Cary, North Carolina. The woman calling was a senior Flight 11 attendant, forty-five-year-old Betty “Bee” Ong.

Using a seatback Airfone, Ong  had dialed a number  that  crews knew well – they used it to help passengers with onward travel plans. When she got through, finally, to an American Airlines ground supervisor named Nydia Gonzalez, she sounded “calm, professional, and poised. The first four and a half minutes of Ong’s call, the standard  duration  of the recording  system at American, tell the tale.

I’m in my jumpseat, that’s 3R….My name is Betty Ong, I’m number  3 on Flight 11….The cockpit’s not answering their phone. Somebody’s stabbed in business class and, ah, I think there’s Mace that we can’t breathe. I don’t know. I think we’re getting hijacked . . . Somebody is coming back from business . . . hold on for one second . . . Karen and Bobbi got stabbed. [This last sentence, the tape shows, was spoken by a fellow attendant close by.] . . . Our number 1 got stabbed . . . our galley flight attendant and our purser has been stabbed. And we can’t get into the cockpit. The door won’t open.

“Karen” was lead flight attendant Karen Martin, “Bobbi” her backup BarbaraArestegui. Martin, Ong said, lost consciousness, then came around and was being given oxygen. Arestegui appeared not to be seriously injured.  The passenger in First Class Seat 9B, however, appeared to be dead.

The  man in Seat 9B had perhaps tried to intervene  and fight the hijackers. He was Daniel Lewin, an American-Israeli who had served in a crack Israeli commando unit. Lewin spoke Arabic, and may have understood before anyone else what the hijackers intended. Ong said the passenger  in Seat 10B, directly  to his rear,  had stabbed  Lewin to death. The man in 10B was one of the five young Arabs who had boarded that  morning.  The killer and  another  hijacker,  Ong said had gotten had gotten  into the cockpit. The sound of “loud arguing” had been heard.

There is no knowing exactly how or when the hijackers erupted into the cockpit. “There was no warning to be more vigilant,” Captain Ogonowski’s wife Peg would later say ruefully. “These people come in behind him. He’s sitting low, forward, strapped in – the same with his co-pilot. No warning…”

Ogonowski and co-pilot Tom McGuiness had been trained not to respond to force with force. FAA policy instructed pilots to “refrain from trying to overpower or negotiate with hijackers, to land the aircraft as soon as possible, to communicate with authorities, and to try delaying tactics.”

At 8:32, using a borrowed calling card, Ong’s colleague Amy Sweeney placed a call back to the American office back at Logan. She began speaking with duty manager Michael Woodward.

Sweeney said the hijackers had “boxes connected with red and yellow wire” – a bomb, she thought. One, she said, spoke no English. So far, passengers in Coach seemed unaware of what was going on.

As Ong talked on,  Nydia Gonzalez passed on what she learned to American’s security office in Texas.

“American Airlines Emergency line. Please state your emergency.”

“This is Nydia, American Airlines, calling. I’m monitoring a call from a flight attendant on Flight 11. …She is advising that the pilots…everyone’s been stabbed. They can’t get into the cockpit. That’s what I’m hearing.”

“Who’s this I’m talking to?”

Raleigh, [Carolina] Ops. Center.”

“What was your name again?”

“Nydia.””

“Last name?”

“Gonzalez. [spells] We’ve got a flight attendant on the line one of our agents.”

“I’m assuming you are declaring an emergency. Let me get APC on here…”

“Betty, you’re doing a great job. Just stay calm, okay….We are absolutely. We’re contacting the flight now. We’re also contacting APC.”….

“Is there a doctor on board?” “You don’t have any doctors on board….”

“You’ve got all the First Class passengers out of First Class? “

“Have they taken everyone out of First Class?”

“Yeah. She says that they have. They’re in Coach.” “What’s going on honey?”

“The aircraft, it’s erratic again. Flying erratically…”……

“They are going to handle this as a confirmed hijacking….They seem to think he is descending.”

“They may have sprayed something. They’re having a hard time breathing.”

Now Ong’s connection was fading in and out. Her colleague Amy Sweeney said she could see they were now “over New York City.” Then Ong exclaimed, “Oh God!…Oh God!…” and began to cry.

Sweeney screamed and said, “Something is wrong. I don’t think the captain is in control. We are in a rapid descent…We are all over the place…I see water! I see buildings!…” Next, a deep breath and, slowly, calmly, “Oh my God!…We are flying low. We are flying very, very low. We are flying way too low.” Seconds later, again, “Oh my God, we are way too low…”

The American Airlines people on the ground could no longer hear either flight attendant. In Boston, duty manager Woodward got only “very, very loud static.” In North Carolina, Gonzalez hung on the line.

“What’s going on Betty. Betty, talk to me. Betty….”

“O, we’ll stay open…”

“I think we may have lost her….”

While Ong and Sweeney had been alerting their colleagues, the Boston air traffic control had picked up an ominous message from the cockpit.   Someone in the 767’s cockpit someone had keyed the mike to make an announcement to the passengers – but had instead broadcast a message to controllers.

Controller: “Is that American 11 trying to call?”

Male voice[accented]: “We have some planes. Just say quiet, and you’ll be okay. We are returning to the airport.”

Controller: “Who’s trying to call me here?…American 11, are you trying to call.”

Male voice: “Nobody move. Everything is okay. If you try to make a move you endanger yourself and the airplane. Just stay quiet.

Then seconds later, another transmission:

Male voice: Nobody move. Everything will be okay. If you try to make any moves, you’ll endanger yourself and the airplane. Just stay quiet.

In Herndon, Virginia, the FAA’s new national operations manager Ben Sliney had begun his first day on the job by fielding a routine phone call alerting him pending Russian missile shot. Ten minutes later, though, at 8:28, a call came through from Boston Center advising that American 11 had been hijacked and was heading toward New York.

The nerve center for the military on September 11 was an unprepossessing aluminum bunker, the last functional building on an otherwise abandoned Air Force base in upstate New York. From the outside, only antenna betrayed its possible importance. Inside, technicians manned rows of antiquated computers and radar screens. They did not, though, expect to have a quiet day on September 11. Their commander, Colonel Robert Marr, moreover, expected to have to respond to a hijacking.

A simulated hijacking. For the Northeast Air Defense Sector’s headquarters was gearing up for its part in the latest phase of Vigilant Guardian, one of several largescale annual exercises. This one, old-fashioned in that it tested military preparedness for an attack by Russian bombers, included a scenario in which an enemy would seize an airliner and fly it to an unnamed Caribbean island.

At 8:30 that morning, the exercise proper had not yet got under way. The colonel was munching apple fritters. His mission-control commander, Major Kevin Nasypany, was away from the Ops floor getting a coffee. The general to whom they answered, Larry Arnold, was at the NORAD Command Center in Florida.

On the Ops floor at NEADS, Master Sergeant Maureen Dooley, Technical Sergeant Shelley Watson, and Senior Airman Stacia Rountree, were chatting about furniture at the mall – wondering whether an ottoman and a love seat were on sale. To be sure, the orders for the day’s training exercise provided for the team to be capable of responding to a “Real World Unknown”, but no one expected much to happen.

Then the unknown arrived, in the form of a call from FAA controller Joe Cooper, at Boston Center, to Sergeant Jeremy Powell. It was 8:38.

Cooper: Hi, Boston Center TMU [Traffic Management Unit] We have a problem here. We have a hijacked aircraft headed towards New York, and we need you guys to, we need someone to scramble some F-16s or something up there, help us out.

Sgt. Jeremy Powell: Is this real-world or exercise?

Cooper: No, this is not an exercise, not a test.

The sergeant, and the women who moments earlier had been discussing home furnishings, needed some persuading. Phased by the advent of real-life excitement, Shelley Watson even exclaimed, “Cool!” A moment later, after an “Oh, shit…”, she was all business. “We need call-sign, type aircraft. Have you got souls on board, and all that information?…a destination?” Cooper could say only that the airplane seized was American 11 – as would become clear, the first of the four hijacks. No one could have imagined the destination its hijackers had in mind.

By 8:41, Colonel Marr had ordered the two alert jets at Otis Air National Guard base, on Cape Cod, to battle stations.

Marr immediately passed the order down the chain of command, but it was immediately clear there was a problem.

Weapons Director: I don’t know where I’m scrambling these guys to. I need a direction, a destination.”

At 8:46, having conferred with General Arnold, Marr ordered the Otis planes into the air – to no avail.

Absent any detailed data, they were assigned merely to fly to military-controlled airspace off the Long Island coast. In the same minute, a hundred and fifty-three miles away, American 11 smashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.

The NEADS technicians, who had a TV set, saw the tower in flames. “Oh, God,” Sergeant Watson said quietly. “Oh my God…”A colleague at her side cried, “God save New York.”

 

Watch for Part 2 of IN THEIR OWN WORDS: INTHE TRUE STORY OF THE 9/11 BATTLE IN THE SKY to be published in coming days

 

 

 

 

          

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September 7, 2016 · 3:44 pm

September 11 Inquiry: The Redacted 28 Pages….

The report of the congressional joint inquiry on the September 11 attacks was released in 2003. At page 396 of the report, a yawning gap appears. All 28 pages of part four of the report, a section entitled “Finding, Discussion and Narrative Regarding Certain Sensitive National Security Matters,” had been redacted in their entirety.

Inquiries established that, while withholdings were technically the responsibility of the CIA, the Agency would not have obstructed release of most of the twenty-eight pages. The order that they must remain secret had come from President Bush himself.

The Democratic and Republican chairmen of the Joint Committee, Senator Graham and Senator Richard Shelby, felt strongly that the bulk of the withheld material could and should have been made public. “I went back and read every one of those pages thoroughly,” Shelby said. “My judgment is that 95% of that information could be declassified, become uncensored, so the American people would know.”

Know what? “I can’t tell you what’s in those pages,” the Joint Committee’s staff director Eleanor Hill was to say. “I can tell you that the chapter deals with information that our Committee found in the CIA and FBI files that was very disturbing. It had to do with sources of foreign support for the hijackers.” The focus of the material, leaks to the press soon established, had been Saudi Arabia.

Within weeks of his inauguration in 2009, Bush’s successor Barack Obama made a point of receiving relatives of those bereaved on 9/11. The widow of one of those who died at the World Trade Center, Karen Breitweiser, has said that she brought the new President’s attention to the infamous censored section of the Joint Committee Report. Obama told her, she said afterwards, that he was willing to get the suppressed material released. Five years later, the victims families are still waiting.

Senator Graham has fought tirelessly for the release of those 28 pages since the report’s original publication. We, too, along with our colleague Dan Christensen of the Broward Bulldog have pushed for their release, along with other material that might shed light on the Saudi role. We are glad to see that there is now – thanks to pressure by the survivors group “9/11 Families United to Bankrupt Terrorism” – fresh political will to make the release a reality.

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Iraq, Al Qaeda & 9/11: The Connection that Wasn’t

Robbyn Swan

In the early hours of March 19, 2003, a pair of F-117 fighters launched the first salvos of Operation Iraqi Freedom, their satellite guided missiles exploding into Dora Farm, one of Saddam Hussein’s private compounds. Over the coming days, much of the news-channel addicted world sat transfixed as waves of American Tomahawk missiles thundered into Baghdad. Polls suggested that, for many of the Americans viewing those events, Iraq’s role in the September 11 attacks made it an enemy deserving retribution.

Ten years on the events of 2003 have been marked by a flurry of articles justifiably revisiting the issue of whether or not the Bush administration lied – or was simply mistaken –   about Saddam’s WMD capability. These reports have missed the first falsehood that Bush and his people conjured up to justify war against Iraq – their attempt to link Saddam to the 9/11 attacks which they did from almost the night of September 11. In the context of those frightening days, that linkage was an emotive, powerful force in making war on Iraq acceptable to the American people and the U.S. Congress. The pursuit of that lie led to the forgery of incriminating evidence and became an element in the torture of U.S. detainees.

In the eighteen months before the war the Bush administration persistently seeded the notion that there was an Iraqi connection to 9/11. While never alleging a direct Iraqi role, President Bush repeatedly linked Hussein’s name to that of bin Laden.

In his address to the nation of October 7, 2002, for example, Bush said: “We know that Iraq and al Qaeda  have had high-level  contacts  that go back a decade. . . . After September 11, Saddam Hussein’s regime gleefully celebrated the terrorist attacks on America.” The President mentioned 9/11 eight times at his press conference just before the invasion of Iraq.

“The White House played endless semantic games on the issue,” The New York Times’ Philip Shenon later wrote.  “When pressed, Bush was careful not to allege that Iraq had any role in the 9/11 attacks, at least no direct role. But he insisted that if Saddam Hussein had remained in power, he…would have been tempted  to hand over [weapons of mass destruction]  to his supposed ally Osama bin Laden. Vice President Cheney went further…suggesting repeatedly, almost obsessively, that Iraq may in fact have been involved in the September 11 plot.”

Polls from the time reveal how effective the PR campaign was. One found that 57 percent of Americans believed Hussein had helped the 9/11 terrorists, another that 44 percent thought that “most” or “some” of the hijackers had been Iraqi. (In fact, none were.) Another, six months into the war, revealed that 69 percent of Americans believed Saddam Hussein had been personally involved in 9/11.

In his first address to the nation after the September 11 attacks, George W. Bush had hinted at what was to come.  “Evil, despicable acts of terror,” the President  had said, “have filled us with disbelief, terrible sadness, and a quiet, unyielding anger.” In a line the he himself scripted, Bush emphasized that the U.S. would henceforth make “no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbour them.”

Afterward, Bush met with key officials, the group he was to call his “war council.” The words “al Qaeda” and “Osama bin Laden” had been on everyone’s lips for hours. Amid the talk of reprisals and push-back, CIA director George Tenet stressed the link between al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. Then, according to counterterrorism coordinator Richard Clarke, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld came out with the comment.  “You know,” he said, “we’ve got to do Iraq.”

“Everyone looked at him…like, ‘What the hell are you talking about?’ ” Clarke was to recall. “And I made the point certainly that night…that Iraq had nothing  to do with 9/11.

“That didn’t seem to faze Rumsfeld…It shouldn’t have come as a surprise. It really didn’t, because from the first weeks of the administration they were talking about Iraq.”

On the evening of September 12th, Clarke recalled, Bush quietly took him aside to say, “Look . . . I want you, as soon as you can, to go back over everything, everything. See if Saddam did this. See if he’s linked in any way…Just look. I want to know any shred.”

“Absolutely, we will look . . .” Clarke responded.  “But, you know, we have looked several times for state sponsorship of al Qaeda and not  found  any real linkages to Iraq.”

“Look into Iraq, Saddam,” the President reiterated, and walked away.

In the days following the attack, a report linking Mohammed Atta to Iraqi intelligence made headlines. An informant had reported to Czech intelligence that photographs of lead hijacker Atta resembled a man he had seen meeting with an Iraqi diplomat  and suspected  spy, Ahmad al-Ani,  in Prague on April 9, 2001. Investigation indicated that neither Atta nor al-Ani had been in Prague  at the time alleged. Atta was recorded  on closed-circuit  TV  footage in Florida on April 4, and his cell phone was used in the state on the 6th, 9th, 10th, and 11th. Atta and fellow hijacker Marwan al-Shehhi, moreover, apparently signed a lease on an apartment on the 11th. This information, while not certain proof, strongly suggests that Atta was in the United States on date in question. CIA analysts characterized the alleged Prague sighting as “highly unlikely.”

“Unlikely” or not, the report crept into pre-war intelligence briefings as having been a “known contact” between al Qaeda and Iraq.

A second allegation, propagated by Laurie  Mylroie,  a scholar associated with the conservative American Enterprise Institute,  proposed that Ramzi Yousef – the terrorist responsible for the 1993 WorldTradeCenter  bombing – had been an Iraqi agent using a stolen  identity.  Investigation by the FBI and others indicates that the theory is unsupported by hard evidence. Nevertheless, the claim proved durable.

None of the leads suggesting an Iraqi link to the attacks proved out.  “We went back ten years,” said former CIA bin Laden unit chief Michael Scheuer, who looked into the matter at the request of Director Tenet. “We examined about 20,000 documents, probably something along the  line of 75,000 pages of information, and there was no connection between [al Qaeda] and Saddam.”

A January 2003 report entitled “Iraqi Support for Terrorism,” was the last in-depth analysis the CIA produced prior to the beginning of hostilities.  “The intelligence community,” it concluded, “has no credible information that Baghdad had foreknowledge of the 11 September  attacks…”

Nevertheless, on the weekend before the U.S. launched its attack on Iraq, Vice President Cheney appeared on “Meet the Press” to make a final pitch about the threat posed by Saddam Hussein. “We know,” Cheney said, “he has a long standing relationship with various terrorist groups, including the al Qaeda organization.”

*          *            *

After exhaustive trawls of the record, official probes concluded that senior Bush administration officials applied inordinate pressure to try to establish that there was an Iraqi connection to 9/11, and that American torture of al Qaeda prisoners was a result of such pressure.  CIA  analysts noted  that  “questions  regarding  al Qaeda’s ties to the Iraqi regime were among the first presented  to senior operational  planner  Khalid Sheikh Mohammed  following his capture.” KSM, whose case  is currently before a military tribunal at Guantanamo, was one of those most persistently subjected to torture.

The  CIA’s Charles  Duelfer,  who was in charge of interrogations of Iraqi officials after the invasion, recalled being “asked if enhanced measures, such as waterboarding, should be used” on a detainee who might have knowledge of links between the Hussein regime and al Qaeda.

The  notion  was turned  down.  Duelfer  noted,  however,  that  it had originated “in Washington at very senior levels (not in the CIA).”  Two U.S. intelligence  officers, meanwhile,  have said flatly that the suggestion came from Vice President  Cheney’s office.

“There were two reasons why these interrogations were so persistent and why extreme methods  were used,” a former senior intelligence official said in 2009. “The main one is that everyone was worried about some kind of follow-up attack [after 9/11]. But for most of 2002 and into 2003, Cheney  and Rumsfeld, especially, were also demanding proof of the links between  al Qaeda  and Iraq….”

A former U.S. Army psychiatrist, Major Paul Burney, told military investigators  that  interrogators at Guantánamo were under “pressure to resort to measures that might produce” evidence of ties between al Qaeda  and Iraq.

In the absence of real evidence, according  to Pulitzer Prize winning author Ron Suskind’s 2008 book, The Way of the World, it was in one instance  fabricated.  Suskind has reported  that in fall 2003 – when the U.S. administration was struggling to justify the invasion of Iraq – the White  House asked the CIA to collaborate  in the forgery of a document  stating that hijacker leader Atta had spent time training in Iraq.

The forgery took the form of a purported memo to Saddam Hussein from the former head of the Iraqi intelligence service, Tahir Habbusch al-Tikriti, dated  two months  before  9/11.  Signed by Habbusch, the memo stated  that  Atta had spent  time  in Iraq learning “to lead the team which will be responsible  for attacking  the targets that we have agreed to destroy.”

The  story of fakery provoked vigorous  denials from the CIA. Rebuttals  included  a carefully phrased  statement  from Suskind’s  primary  source,  a former  head of the  CIA’s  Near  East  Division named Rob Richer – to  which Suskind responded  by publishing a transcript  of one of his interviews with Richer.

In contrast to Suskind’s allegation, CIA analyst Nada Bakos wrote in the March edition of Wired magazine, the Agency itself vigorously examined the Habbusch letter and concluded that it was a forgery. “Our Branch Chief, Karen, walked into Cheney’s office with everything we’d uncovered…It seemed airtight. These were forgeries.” Bakos recalled. “I wasn’t there, but I heard the vice president was gracious and thanked her.”

Another former CIA officer, Philip Giraldi, meanwhile, placed responsibility  for  the  fabrication  on  the  Pentagon’s  Office  of Special Plans, and said it had been done at the instigation  of Vice President  Cheney.  According to Giraldi, the Pentagon, unlike the CIA, had “no restrictions on it regarding  the  production of false information to mislead the  public” and had “its own false documents  center.”

If it happened, the forgery was the most flagrant attempt to blame 9/11  on Iraq.

In 2008, the Senate Intelligence Committee produced its “Report on Whether Public Statements  Regarding Iraq by U.S. Government Officials Were Substantiated by Intelligence  Information.” “It’s my belief that the Bush administration was fixated on Iraq and used the 9/11 attacks by al Qaeda as justification for overthrowing Saddam  Hussein,” said its chairman, John D. Rockefeller.  “To accomplish  this, top  administration officials made repeated statements  that falsely linked Iraq and al Qaeda as a single threat and insinuated that Iraq played a role in 9/11. Sadly, the Bush administration led the nation into war under false pretences.

In the ten years since the invasion of Iraq, reputable estimates indicate, almost 5,000 coalition servicemen and women have died. That number is dwarfed by the almost 150, 000 Iraqis – more than 80% of them civilians – who have also lost their lives. They died as the result of an attack on a nation that many Americans had been falsely led to believe bore some if not all of the responsibility for the attacks of September  11.

As former Bush speechwriter David Frum wrote in an article for the Daily Beast on March 18, “mobilizing Congress and the American people” to go to war against Iraq, “required a considerable messaging effort.” That messaging effort began with a spurious linkage to 9/11.

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The Pulitzer…and Those Lingering Questions About 9/11

April 19, 2012

Welcome news for us this week. Our 9/11 book, The Eleventh Day, is one of three finalists for this year’s Pulitzer Prize in History. The committee cites our “painstaking look at the catastrophic attacks and the nagging questions that have swirled around it.”

 Foremost, for us, of those remaining questions is: Was there foreign support for the 9/11 hijackers?

 That subject was blurred in the 9/11 Commission Report and hidden from the public by President Bush’s censorship of a key 28-page section of Congress’ earlier Joint Inquiry. We continue to pursue indications that elements of one Middle Eastern regime may have given the terrorists real assistance – a Saudi Arabia.

In The Eleventh Day, we raised some of the questions surrounding a San Diego-based Saudi named Omar al-Bayoumi. Bayoumi assisted future hijackers Nawaf al Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar in early 2000, within days of their arrival in the United States.  Bayoumi claimed to investigators that he became involved with the terrorists only because he heard them speaking Arabic in a Los Angeles-area restaurant. But did they really meet by chance? The Los Angeles Times has reported that the men began conversing after Bayoumi – like someone in a bad spy novel – dropped a newspaper on the floor and bent to retrieve it.

 The Bayoumi episode is shot through with oddities. The witness who said that, before the supposedly chance meeting, Bayoumi said he was on his way “to pick  up visitors”; the phone records that indicate frequent contact between Bayoumi and a Saudi diplomat – said to have arranged for the two future hijackers to take a car tour of the city; other phone records showing that the pair used Bayoumi’s cell phone for weeks; information indicating that Bayoumi’s salary – paid by a subsidiary of a contractor for the Saudi Civil Aviation Authority – was approved by the father of a man whose photo was found in a raid on a terrorist safe house in Afghanistan; a mark in Bayoumi’s passport that investigators associated with possible al Qaeda affiliation.   

 Omar al-Bayoumi left theUnited Statestwo months before the 9/11 attacks. He stuck to his “chance encounter” claim when, in 2003 and 2004, 9/11 Commission staff were allowed to interview him in Saudi Arabia – under the watchful eye of Saudi interior ministry officials. Commission memos show that staff who questioned Bayoumi and others linked to him – also under Saudi supervision – emerged from the interrogation sessions filled with suspicion. Fahad al-Thumairy, the Saudi diplomat in Los Angeles with whom Bayoumi was in touch, was thought to have been “deceptive in both interviews.” Osama Basnan, a close Bayoumi associate who at one point lived across the street from the two al Qaeda operatives, was held to have shown an “utter lack of credibility.”

 As recently reported in the Daily Beast, former Sen. Bob Graham has described California as “ground zero in terms of the connections between the terrorists and the Saudi government.”

 Though Graham was generous with his help while we were researching our book, it was clear that there were areas that he could not discuss freely. One appeared to concern a man named Dr Abdusattar Shaikh, in whose San Diego home both the first two terrorists to arrive lived after their early encounter with Bayoumi. Shaikh is not mentioned at all in published parts of either of the official reports on 9/11, and is identified in an internal Commission memo only as Dr. Xxxxxxxxxxx Xxxxxx. Keeping him unidentified was deemed important, it seems, because – astonishingly – Shaikh had all along been an FBI informant.

 In recent months we have further pursued information at which we could only hint in The Eleventh Day. With our colleague Dan Christensen of the Broward Bulldog, we have reported on it for the London Daily Telegraph and in a series of articles for MSNBC, (here, here, & here) and it further calls into question the behavior of the FBI. These latest developments link the hijackers to a Saudi family based in Sarasota, Florida and to purported al Qaeda operative Adnan Shukrijumah, in the months before the 9/11 attacks.

The FBI has claimed that it investigated these alleged links and passed on its findings to both Congress’ Joint Inquiry and to the 9/11 Commission. Graham, who as a two-time Florida governor has a special interest, maintains that the information never reached either him or his 9/11 Commission counterparts. A search of 9/11 Commission files this past month located no relevant FBI records.

Many more strands go to a putative Saudi connection to 9/11 – some so far flimsy, some highly disquieting. The recollection of a Miami immigration inspector that further supports the notion that the hijackers were in contact with suspect Shukrijumah. She thinks Atta was accompanied by Shukrijumah when he came to her office to discuss a visa problem; the interview with a former CIA officer who says a captured bin Laden aide, himself involved in 9/11, said – naming three princes – that he had official Saudi support; and hard evidence that, the very night before the attacks, a senior Saudi religious official stayed at the same Virginia hotel as Bayoumi’s two hijacker associates. An FBI attempt to interview the official, Saleh al-Hussayen, was cut short when – in the view of a Bureau agent – he “feigned a seizure.”

 We report in The Eleventh Day – naming names – claims that millions in Saudi official money flowed to Osama bin Laden over a period of years before 9/11. During the preceding half-century, oil-richSaudi Arabia had enjoyed a mutually beneficial friendship with theUnited States. What reason, then for powerful Saudis to make contributions that fueled bin Laden’s terrorist feud with America? Is the explanation that Saudi royals, fearing overthrow by bin Laden-inspired extremists, saw help for bin Laden before 9/11 as an insurance tactic, self-preservation. In the West, we call this paying protection money.

The censored 28-page section of Congress’ Joint Inquiry Report is still withheld, in spite of an outcry from senators and a decade-long effort to get it released. Graham, and others who were privy to the suppressed material when it was written have revealed that it concerns Saudi Arabia. President Obama was quoted as having said soon after taking office that he was prepared to have the material released. Even so, it still remains withheld. A National Security Council spokesperson, asked by a colleague of ours last year about the censored pages, came back with a novel response. “I have been asked to convey to you, off the record, that we decline comment.”

 There is a limit, one would like to think, to how long Americans are prepared to wait for their government to come clean about possible foreign involvement in 9/11 –  facts gathered by their elected representatives but withheld from them by order of former President Bush. President Obama should move promptly to release those 28 redacted pages – and to insist that the FBI makes public everything it learned about links between the terrorists and Saudi citizens in California and Florida.

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A New Piece of the 9/11 Jigsaw

                                                                                                                                                                                                            September 20, 2011

An abbreviated version of this post appeared last week on Salon. We take this opportunity to fill in extra detail.

Two sentences in a 9/11 Commission document, previously withheld from the public but released in recent weeks, offer a tantalizing glimpse of a nugget of intelligence that has long been concealed from the public. The sentences read:

            “OnJuly 20, 2001, there was a call between KSM and Binalshibh.

              They used the codewords Teresa and Sally.”

            Those nineteen words, seen now for the first time, indicate that – just seven weeks before the attacks – a Western intelligence service intercepted  a coded phone call between two key 9/11 conspirators. The words now released appear in a three-page memorandum, in a passage describing an exchange between KSM – self-confessed mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed – and Ramzi Binalshibh, his go-between to the terrorists preparing the operation in the States. The pair discussed – improbably – sending “skirts” to “Sally.”

“Skirts,” according to the document, was a reference to money. “Sally,” the designated recipient, was their accomplice Zacarias Moussaoui, the would-be hijacker pilot apprehended before 9/11 for behaving suspiciously at a flying school – and since convicted and sentenced to life in prison. “Teresa,” investigators thought, referred to Ziad Jarrah, who was to pilot a hijacked airliner on 9/11 but who – the conspirators feared for some time – might drop out of the operation.

            It is not the detail of the exchange between the plotters that is striking today, though, so much as the revelation that someone was eavesdropping on it. The two telltale sentences, released to us by the National Archives shortly before publication of our book The Eleventh Day, throw up new questions about the role of Western intelligence agencies in the run-up to the attacks.

            Which intelligence service tapped the call? The agencies most likely to have made the intercept are those of theUnited States or Germany. While KSM was almost certainly in Afghanistanon July 20, Binalshibh is believed to have been in Hamburg.

            If the conversation was intercepted by the Germans, did they share it in timely fashion with their American counterparts? Whichever country’s service made the intercept, was work done promptly to translate it or figure out what it might mean? Was it apparent that the exchange related to terrorism, and if so what was done about it?

            As important, were other contacts between the two men monitored before 9/11?

            The search for answers to those questions means going back as far as 1998, when German federal and regional intelligence services were focusing on Islamic extremist activity. They were interested especially in a Syrian-born citizen named Mohammed Zammar, because he appeared to be facilitating jihadi travel to Afghanistan. Zammar was surveilled, his telephone tapped.

            At the start of 1999, calls on Zammar’s line in turn drew attention to aHamburgarea address that was to become infamous after 9/11, the first floor apartment at 54, Marienstrasse. Those who lived there or frequented it would include hijack leader Mohamed Atta, his companion and fellow future hijack pilot Marwan al-Shehhi, Mounir Motassadeq, who is today serving fifteen years inGermanyfor allegedly helping in the plot – and Ramzi Binalshibh himself.

            The first known call of relevance to the 9/11 plot came when a male caller identified at the time only as “Marwan” phoned Zammar’s number from the United Arab Emirates. Weeks later, a caller looking for Zammar was given the number of the Marienstrasse apartment – and both Atta and Binalshibh were mentioned by their first names. Later in the year, when Zammar phoned Marienstrasse, a transcript shows, he sent his regards to Atta.

            When the content of the “Marwan” call was revealed three years after 9/11, a senior German intelligence source described the information on the call as particularly valuable, and said it had been passed – along with the U.A.E. number from which the call had been made – to the CIA. U.A.E. security officials have said the number could have been traced in five minutes, but insisted the CIA never asked them to do so.

            Then CIA Director George Tenet, for his part, would tell the Senate Intelligence Committee, however, that “We didn’t sit on our hands” on receiving the information. “I’m not going to go through the rest of it in open session,” but “we did some things to go find out some things…Okay?…That’s all I want to say in open session.” Is it possible that one of the things done by the CIA was an attempt to monitor the number from which Shehhi called Germany?

            In Germany, meanwhile, the surveillance had expanded beyond Zammar’s phone. Two of the men who used the Marienstrasse apartment were surveilled and their names were put on a border watch list. If such attention was paid to their activity and movements, was none given to that of the apartment’s other denizens, Atta, Shehhi, and Binalshibh?

            An Islamic affairs specialist with German domestic intelligence inStuttgart, Dr. Herbert Müller, told us that Atta was “going through the focus of our colleagues…He came to their notice.”

            If Atta at some stage came to the Germans’ notice, was Binalshibh also in their sights? Can it be that he and the phone he used were being monitored when the July 2001 phone intercept was made? If so, then the July call – if recognized as a terrorists’ conspiratorial communication – could conceivably have begun a series of steps leading to the core of the plot.

            Whatever suspicions there may have been about Binalshibh, his telephone interlocutor KSM had been a wanted man since as early as 1996, when he had been indicted for his role in a plot to blow up airliners – an early concept of his that foreshadowed 9/11.

In June 2001, the month before the intercepted call with Binalshibh, a CIA cable from the field reported that a “Khaled” was “actively recruiting people to travel…including to theUnited Stateswhere colleagues were reportedly already in the country to meet them, to carry out terrorist-related activities for bin Laden.” Weeks later, just before the intercept that is the focus of this article, “Khaled” was identified as KSM.

            The information in that cable from the field was of course almost precisely accurate. Can it be that the July 20 Binalshibh-KSM intercept now in question was made by the Germans, shared with the CIA – and became part of the skein of intelligence that, Director Tenet has said, made summer 2001 a time when “the system was blinking red”?

            Approached by us for interview either on possible pre-9/11 monitoring of the terrorists or on the relations withU.S.intelligence agencies, German federal officials were unhelpful. “Sadly,” a Bundesnachrichtendienst official responded, “due to considerations of principle, your request cannot be granted.”

            The then and now deputy chief of domestic intelligence inHamburg, Manfred Murck, told in late August that it was not his Hamburg region agency that intercepted the Binalshibh/KSM call. The last contact his service had withU.S.officials relevant to 9/11 individuals and issues, he added, had been two years before the attacks.

            “Some countries,” a 9/11 Commission staff statement stated tartly, “did not support U.S.efforts to collect intelligence information on terrorist cells in their countries…This was especially true of some of the European countries.” The report of Congress’ Joint Inquiry, whose mandate it was to investigate the intelligence community’s pre-9/11 performance, stated that pressure had been brought on “foreign authorities” to target “Zammar and other radicals [REDACTION]…” but that “it became apparent only after September 11, 2001 that the foreign authorities had been watching some of those persons before that date.”

            The former U.S. deputy head of mission in Berlin Michael Polt, however, told the 9/11 Commission that his impression was always that “our level of interaction with counterterrorism and cooperation with the Germans was extremely high and well coordinated…the reason the Germans would want to share those concerns with us [was] because they were expecting from us some information that they could use to go after these people.”

            If the July 2001 intercept of the Binalshibh/KSM call was not made by a German agency, the most likely other service to have either made it or been privy to it isAmerica’s National Security Agency, whose remit includes the collection of telephonic traffic. Whether by eavesdropping on Osama bin Laden’s satellite phone, while he still risked using one, or by picking up calls between al Qaeda associates, the NSA had been listening in where possible on the terrorists for years.

The NSA willingly offered cooperation with the 9/11 Commission. Yet Philip Shenon, in his study of the investigation, reported that Commission staff conducted no thorough review of al Qaeda-related material supplied by the NSA. Though some were eager to delve more deeply, they ran out of time.

            That there were concerns within the NSA about its pre-9/11 performance, however, does surface in the record. Toward the end of her interview with Commission staff, a former NSA chief of counterintelligence said concerned agency staff “thought they might have been guilty of missing ‘warning’ information.” For that reason, she added, the NSA had done “a 9/11 retrospective [REDACTION] to insure they knew everything they had.”

            Approached for this article, the NSA did not respond to a request for comment. A Commission staffer present at the interview with the chief of counterintelligence, Lorry Fenner, said she could throw no further light on the nature of the “retrospective.”

            Miles Kara, an analyst for Congress’ Joint Inquiry, who spent dozens of hours reviewing the NSA Retrospective, told us in early September about what he saw of the agency’s post-9/11 trawl. Kara, himself a former senior intelligence officer, says the retrospective was created at the direction of then Director General Michael Hayden and signed by him. “It was delivered to us in a binder,” Kara recalls, “It was created to put in one place everything the agency knew about the warnings leading up to the attack…It sought no conclusions or inferences, it was simply a compilation of primary source (intercepted traffic) information.”

            Asked specifically whether he remembered reference to a July 20 intercept, Kara could say only that the “the ‘Sally’ and ‘Teresa’ language sounds familiar.” Asked whether the retrospective included intercepts made by agencies other than the NSA, he mentioned that there may have been foreign input. “I was focused on the content more than the originating agency, but I’m fairly confident,” Kara told us, “that I recall GCHQ [British communications intelligence] headers…I don’t specifically recall a German header.”

            “Nothing I’ve dredged up from my memory,” he added, “inclines me to support a real-time understanding [by NSA]. “No real-time understanding,” for those unfamiliar with the language of intelligence, suggests the possibility that the NSA – even if it did have the July 20 intercept of the two key 9/11 plotters – did not realize that it had drilled into the mother lode.

            Almost two months before 9/11, U.S intelligence may have had in its hands the treasure that the intercept represented – and simply not understood what it was.

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Bush & Cheney: 9/11 Questions Still Unanswered

The next couple of weeks will be filled with 9/11 remembrances. Best to remind ourselves, though, that ten years after the fact they’re a poor substitute in evidential terms for the contemporary records of the day.  We’ve been giving this a lot of thought, wondering what, if anything, any of the talk will add to our understanding of the day’s events. Two of those notably doing the talking this past week were former President George W. Bush and his Vice President Dick Cheney – Bush in an “intimate” interview for National Geographic, Cheney in his just-released memoir, In My Time.

We blogged about this issue last week for The Daily Beast, before having heard Bush’s much-publicized 9/11 interview for National Geographic.  In our Beast piece we pointed out that neither Bush nor Cheney has ever submitted to questioning alone and under oath on the events of September 11.  Bush and Cheney instead granted a “private interview” to 9/11 Commission members but without recorders or stenographers present.

As a test, we’ve analysed their latest comments on one significant question about their own behaviour as the attacks unfolded – the matter of who authorized the shooting down of civilian airliners.

While the fire and smoke of the attacks was still in the air, top Bush administration officials hurried out statements on who issued that momentous order, and when. First there had been a flat statement  by Deputy  Defense  Secretary Wolfowitz that—had  United  93 not crashed—Air Force pilots had been poised to shoot it down. Next, on the Sunday after 9/11, had come Vice President Cheney’s account, in a Meet the Press interview, of how the shooting down of hijacked airliners had been authorized.  Cheney said the “horrendous decision” had been made—with his wholehearted agreement—by the President himself. There had been moments, he said, when he thought a shoot-down might be necessary

Bush took the decision during  one of their  phone  calls that day, Cheney told Newsweek’s Evan Thomas, “I recommended to the President that  we authorize . . . I said, ‘We’ve got to give the pilots rules of engagement, and I recommend we authorize  them  to shoot.’ We talked about it briefly, and he said, ‘OK, I’ll sign up to that.’ He made the decision.”

Bush himself, speaking with The Washington Post’s  Bob Woodward, said Cheney  had indeed suggested that he issue the order.  His response, as he remembered it in late 2001, had  been  monosyllabic.  Just, “You bet.” Later still, speaking with the 9/11 commissioners,  Bush recalled having discussed the matter in a call made to him by Cheney, and “emphasized”  that  it was he who authorized  the shootdown  of hijacked aircraft.

By the time the President wrote his 2010 memoir,  that call from the Vice President had become a call  he made to Cheney. Bush’s monosyllabic authorization, moreover, had transmogrified into a well thought-out plan.

“I called Dick Cheney as Air Force One climbed rapidly to forty-five thousand  feet . . . ,” the President  wrote. “He had been taken to the underground Presidential Emergency Operations Center—the PEOC—when the Secret Service thought a plane might be coming at the White  House. I told him that I would make decisions from the air and count on him to implement them on the ground.”

“Two big decisions came quickly. The military had dispatched Combat Air Patrols—teams of fighter  aircraft  assigned to intercept unresponsive  airplanes—over  Washington  and  New  York. . . .  We needed to clarify the rules of engagement. I told Dick that our pilots should contact suspicious planes and try to get them to land peace- fully. If that failed, they had my authority to shoot them down.”

Have Bush and Cheney’s most recent utterances shed any new light? In his Nat Geo interview this past week, President Bush gave a truncated account of the event, echoing the notion that it was “a decision” he alone had made, but this time entirely leaving out any mention of Cheney. Cheney, for his part, reiterates in his memoir that the President had “approved my recommendation” that the military be authorized to “fire on a civilian airliner if it had been hijacked and would not divert.” No clarity there.

It would have been unthinkable  for the  U.S.  military to  down a civilian airliner without a clear order from the President,  as commander-in-chief. In his absence, the authority belonged to the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld. “The operational chain of command,” relevant law decreed, ran “from the President  to the Secretary of Defense,” and on through the chairman of the Joint Chiefs to individual commanders.  The Vice President  was not in the chain of command.

That was well understood by U.S. military on September 11. In an earlier exercise, one that postulated a suicide mission involving a jet aimed at Washington, they had said shooting it down would require an “executive” order. The defense secretary’s authority, General Arnold told the Commission, was necessary to shoot down even a “derelict balloon.” Only the President, he thought, had the authority  to shoot down a civilian airliner.

The 9/11 Commission  made no overt statement  as to whether  it be- lieved Cheney’s assertion—that he recommended and Bush decided. Shown the final draft of the Report’s passage on the shoot-down decision, however, Cheney was furious. For all its careful language, the Report  dropped a clear hint that its staff had found Cheney’s account—and Bush’s—less than convincing.

“We  just didn’t  believe it,” general  counsel  Daniel  Marcus  de- clared long afterward. “The official version,” John Farmer would say, “insisted  that  President  Bush had  issued an authorization to  shoot down hijacked commercial flights, and that that order had been pro- cessed through the chain of command and passed to the fighters. This was untrue.”

Why  might a phony  scenario have been created? “The administration version,” Farmer  noted,  “implied, where it did not state explicitly, that  the chain of command  had been functioning on 9/11, and that the critical decisions had been made by the appropriate top officials. . . . None of this captures how things actually unfolded on the day.”

As we said in the Beast, we believe we come close in The Eleventh Day to establishing that shoot-down authorization originated not with Bush but with the Vice President. Nothing that either man has revealed in the past week changes that.

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Truthers and Consequences: The Trouble with Dean Hartwell’s “Perspective”

In his review of our book, The Eleventh Day: The Full Story of 9/11 and Osama bin Laden, 9/11 skeptic Dean Hartwell charges that we make “questionable assertions and omissions of fact.”

Any reading of Mr. Hartwell’s review, [which can be found on his website “Hartwell Perspective – Truth & Relevance“] however, must begin with the understanding that he himself is a “No Planer” – his own contribution to the canon of research on the attacks is a book entitled “Planes without Passengers: The Faked Hijackings of 9/11.”

In any event, Hartwell claims, in the first instance, that we have not analyzed the work of  AK Dewdney on the use of cell phones on airplanes. Not true. We deal specifically with Dewedney’s claims – at p. 113 and in two notes on p. 476. Continue reading

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