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Thread: F.A.A. Official Scrapped Tape Of 9/11 Controllers' Statements

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jan 2005

    F.A.A. Official Scrapped Tape Of 9/11 Controllers' Statements

    F.A.A. Official Scrapped Tape of 9/11 Controllers' Statements


    WASHINGTON, May 6, 2004 — At least six air traffic controllers who dealt with two of the hijacked airliners on Sept. 11, 2001, made a tape recording that same day describing the events, but the tape was destroyed by a supervisor without anyone making a transcript or even listening to it, the Transportation Department said in a report today.

    The taping began before noon on Sept. 11 at the New York Air Route Traffic Control Center, in Ronkonkoma, on Long Island, where about 16 people met in a basement conference room known as "the Bat Cave" and passed around a microphone, each recalling his or her version of the events a few hours earlier.

    But officials at the center never told higher-ups of the tape's existence, and it was later destroyed by an F.A.A. official described in the report as a quality-assurance manager there. That manager crushed the cassette in his hand, shredded the tape and dropped the pieces into different trash cans around the building, according to a report made public today by the inspector general of the Transportation Department.

    The tape had been made under an agreement with the union that it would be destroyed after it was superseded by written statements from the controllers, according to the inspector general's report. But the quality-assurance manager asserted that making the tape had itself been a violation of accident procedures at the Federal Aviation Administration, the report said.

    The inspector general, Kenneth M. Mead, said that the officials' keeping the existence of the tape a secret and the decision by one to destroy it had not served "the interests of the F.A.A., the department or the public" and could foster suspicions among the public.

    Mr. Mead had been asked by Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican who is chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, to look into how well the aviation agency had cooperated with what is widely known as the 9/11 commission, a bipartisan, independent panel investigating the terror attacks.

    On the tape, the controllers, some of whom had spoken by radio to people on the planes and some who had tracked the aircraft on radar, gave statements of 5 to 10 minutes each, according to the report.

    The tape's value was not clear, Mr. Mead said, because no one was sure what was on it, although the written statements given later by five of the controllers were broadly consistent with "sketchy" notes taken at the time by people in the Bat Cave. (The sixth controller who spoke on the tape did not give a written statement, apparently because that controller had not spoken to either of the planes or observed it on radar.)

    One of the central questions about the events of that morning is how the F.A.A. responded to emerging clues that four planes had been hijacked. A tape made within hours of the events, as well as written statements given later, could help establish that.

    A spokesman for the 9/11 commission, Al Felzenberg, said that Mr. Mead's report was "meticulous" and "came through the efforts of a very conscientious senator." He said the commission would not comment now on the content of the report but that it "does speak to some of the issues we're interested in."

    The tape was made because the manager of the center believed that the standard post-crash procedure would be too slow for an event of the magnitude of 9/11. After an accident or other significant incident, according to officials of the union and the F.A.A., the controllers involved are relieved of duty and often go home; eventually they review the radar tapes and voice transmissions and give a written statement of what they had seen, heard and done.

    People in the Ronkonkoma center at midday on Sept. 11 concluded that that procedure would take many hours, and that the controllers' shift was ending and after a traumatic morning, they wanted to go home.

    The center manager's idea was to have the tape available overnight, in case the F.B.I. wanted something before the controllers returned to work the next day, according to people involved.

    "It was never meant as a permanent record," said Mark DiPalmo, the president of the local chapter of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, who made the deal with the center manager.

    He said the session was informal, and that sometimes more than one person at a time was speaking. "We sat everyone in a room, went around the room, said, `What do you remember?" Mr. DiPalmo said in an interview.

    Mr. Mead's report said that it was conceivable that without that deal, the tape would not have been made at all.

    The quality-assurance manager told investigators that he had destroyed the tape because he thought making it was contrary to F.A.A. policy, which calls for written statements, and because he felt that the controllers "were not in the correct frame of mind to have properly consented to the taping" because of the stress of the day, Mr. Mead reported.

    Neither the center manager nor the quality-assurance manager disclosed the tape's existence to their superiors at the F.A.A. region that covers New York, nor to the agency's Washington headquarters, according to the report, which identified none of the officials or controllers by name.

    Other tapes were preserved, including conversations on the radio frequencies used by the planes that day, and the radar tapes. In addition, the controllers later made written statements to the F.A.A., per standard procedure, and in this case, to the F.B.I. as well.

    The quality-assurance manager destroyed the tape between December 2001 and February, 2002. By that time, he and the center manager had received an e-mail message sent by the F.A.A. instructing officials to safeguard all records and adding, "If a question arises whether or not you should retain data, RETAIN IT."

    The inspector general attributed the tape's destruction to "poor judgment."

    "The destruction of evidence in the government's possession, in this case an audiotape particularly during times of a national crisis, has the effect of fostering an appearance that information is being withheld from the public," the inspector general's report said. "We do not ascribe motivations to the managers in this case of attempting to cover up, and we have no indication that there was anything on the tape that would lead anyone to conclude that they had something to hide or that the controllers did not carry out their duties."

    The inspector general also noted that the official who destroyed the tape had no regrets or second thoughts: "The quality-assurance manager told us that if presented with similar circumstances, he would again take the same course of action."

    Mr. Mead wrote that this attitude was "especially troubling" and that supervisors should take "appropriate administrative action."

    Although the matter had been referred to the Justice Department, the Mead report added, prosecutors said they had found no basis for criminal charges.

    An F.A.A. spokesman, Greg Martin, said that his agency had cooperated with the 9/11 commission and that that was how the tape's existence had become known at the agency's headquarters.

    "We believe it would not have added in any way to the information contained in all of the other materials that have already been provided to the investigators and the members of the 9/11 commission," he said.

    Nonetheless, Mr. Martin said that "we have taken appropriate disciplinary action" against the quality-assurance manager. For privacy reasons, he said, he could not say what those actions were or identify any of the employees involved.
    No One Knows Everything. Only Together May We Find The Truth JG

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jan 2005
    Cassette Tape of 9/11 Controllers' Recollections Destroyed

    Air Safety Week, May 17, 2004

    If in doubt, do not destroy evidence that may be important in an investigation. If directed not to destroy evidence, but the directive's applicability seems doubtful, obey the order.

    This is the essence of a report covering the destruction of an audiotape of air traffic controllers' recollections taken hours after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The dismay and disbelief of the sequence of events comes through clearly in the May 6 report by the Department of Transportation Office of the Inspector General (DOT/IG). With respect to the two Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) managers involved, their unauthorized actions clearly impeded the investigation, since any material evidence should have been properly secured and retained.

    The controversial case reinforces the need to capture and document all evidence related to a security or safety-related accident at the outset.

    This is the second time in recent years when authorities have challenged the destruction of evidence.

    The general sequence of events of the audiotape saga is as follows:

    Sept. 11, 2001, terrorists seized four airliners and flew two of them into the twin towers of the World Trade Center. Those airplanes, American Airlines [AMR] Flight 11 and United Air Lines [UALAQ] Flight 175 were tracked by controllers at the New York Air Route Traffic Control Center (ARTCC, hereinafter, the Center).

    The Center manager, Mike McCormick, asked six controllers involved to participate in the making of a cassette tape recording, providing their firsthand accounts of the morning's actions interacting with, or tracking, the two hijacked airplanes. McCormick knew that the six would have to prepare written statements, but those writings might not be undertaken until the controllers returned from stress-induced sick leave. He was seeking an immediate "contemporaneous recording" which could assist the controllers later in preparing their written statements. The tape also could assist law enforcement officials who might have an immediate need for controller information about the hijackings. The DOT/IG considered the manager's taping initiative "prudent under the circumstances."

    McCormick coordinated this initiative with the controller's local union president. The local union president agreed to the taping, on the condition that the taping was temporary, and that the tape was to be destroyed once standard written statements were obtained. This agreement was never relayed to the proper authorities. More on this below.

    At about 11:30 a.m., the controllers met in a room known as the "Bat Cave" - because of its lack of windows - at the Center and participated in the recording of the morning's events. Each talked for about 5-10 minutes. The tape was about an hour long, in total.

    After the recording session, the tape was handed to Kevin Delaney, the Center's quality assurance manager. Its existence was entered in the Center's evidence log. However, neither Delaney nor McCormick informed FAA regional or national headquarters authorities of the tape's existence, or of their separate agreement with the union to destroy it. If higher authorities had been aware of the tape, it would have been regarded as an original record requiring five-year retention, the DOT/IG said.

    September 12. Delaney began forwarding evidence materials (e.g., voice radio and radar data) to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), through the FAA's liaison. Despite one of the stated purposes of the taping to assist law enforcement, the tape was not forwarded and its existence was not disclosed to the FBI.

    September 14. The Center received a regional e-mail directing that all data and records for September 11 be retained and secured. The e-mail stressed, "If a question arises whether or not you should retain the data, RETAIN IT. If any questions, please call." Delaney told DOT/IG investigators he believed the e-mail did not apply to the tape-recorded statements since higher headquarters were unaware of its existence. Whether higher authorities were aware or not, whether the tape was a temporary or permanent record, is immaterial, according to experienced criminal investigators.

    November 2001. The tape was not included in the Center's "Formal Accident Package" finalized that month. Delaney did not do so, apprehending that he would lose control of the tape and thus be unable to keep his word to the union to "get rid" of it once the "Formal Accident Package" was submitted.

    No one ever listened to, transcribed, or duplicated the tape. When one of the six controllers asked to listen to the tape that month in order to prepare her written statement, her request was denied. As the DOT/IG noted, "Per FAA policy, controllers are afforded the opportunity to review radar data and radio transcripts before submitting written statements; however, this manager declined this controller's request to listen to her own oral statement."

    December 2001 and February 2002. Sometime during this period Delaney, acting on his own initiative, destroyed the tape by breaking up the plastic housing and cutting the tape into small fragments, depositing the remnants in trash cans throughout the Center. McCormick told DOT/IG investigators if Delaney had asked permission to destroy the tape, he would have granted it.

    As a former criminal investigator remarked, "[blind musician] Ray Charles could see that this was a cover-up."

    In justifying his action to the DOT/IG, Delaney said he felt the controllers - due to the distress of that day - were not in the correct frame of mind to have properly consented to the taping. The DOT/IG report noted, "His assessment was based on his experience, in part, on watching crime shows he had seen on television about due process and legal rights associated with investigations."

    September - October 2003. The Center's evidence log was provided to the independent 9/11 Commission, in response to its probe for all records surrounding the 9/11 events. Examination of this document, plus 9/11 Commission interviews with Center personnel, brought to light the fact that the tape recording had been made. Up to this point, the then-FAA administrator, deputy administrator, and director of air traffic services had been unaware that controller statements had been taped in the immediate aftermath of the attacks.

    The DOT/IG said, "We found in the group of materials the Center prepared for submission to the 9/11 Commission a chain-of-custody index indicating that the tape still existed, when in fact it had been destroyed about a year-and-a-half earlier."

    The DOT/IG's palpable disappointment in the actions of the two Center managers is evident in its report:

    "As a result of the judgments rendered by these managers, no one will know for certain the content of the tape or its intrinsic value, nor be able to compare the audiotaped statements with the controllers' written statements - one of which was prepared three weeks later - for purposes of ensuring completeness.

    "Though technical details of the hijacked flights are well known based on radar data and pilot-controller radio communications, what those six controllers recounted in a group setting on September 11, in their own voices, about what transpired that morning, are no longer available to assist any investigation or inform the public."

    Moreover, the DOT/IG found "fundamental procedural problems" with the way evidence is handled. The relevant document is FAA Order 8020.11b, "Aircraft Accident and Incident Notification, Investigation, and Reporting." The order does not provide for documenting the chain-of-custody of potential evidence, or of the disposition of any such evidence.

    In addition, the order is silent on the issue of taping controller statements. "FAA policy calls for all personnel that were either involved or had knowledge of the accident to provide a written statement, hence, taped statements are outside of the requirement," the DOT/IG found. Nonetheless, FAA officials interviewed as part of the DOT/IG inquiry affirmed that the tape, once created, should have been treated as an original record and kept in accordance with records retention requirements.

    The DOT/IG referred the facts of its investigation to the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Eastern District of New York for review as to whether the two Center managers had violated any criminal statues. The U.S. Attorney's Office declined to prosecute based on the evident lack of criminal intent.

    However, given their seniority, the two Center managers should have exercised better judgment, the DOT/IG said. In late April, McCormick was suspended for 20 days without pay. He appealed the action. Disciplinary action is still under consideration for Delaney, an official at FAA headquarters said.

    This is not the first time the destruction of evidence has created controversy. On Nov. 29, 2000, an AirTran Airways [AAI] DC-9 made an emergency landing at Atlanta, Ga. An in-flight electrical fire had burned a hole through the floor. AirTran employees removed a prominent streak of black soot on the outside of the fuselage. At a press conference the next day, then-National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Chairman James Hall charged the airline "should know better than to tamper with evidence of a federal investigation." A sharp exchange of letters followed. On Dec. 1, 2000, AirTran general counsel Richard Magurno wrote to the NTSB, complaining that "Chairman Hall's statements were factually inaccurate."

    NTSB general counsel Ronald Battochi responded in a Dec. 13, 2000, letter to AirTran:

    "We are deeply troubled that AirTran destroyed the soot patterns from the fuselage of the accident aircraft without the express consent of NTSB or FAA officials.

    "Other actions by AirTran personnel contributed to the tenor of the Chairman's remarks. For example, despite the fact that the crew and passengers were compelled to conduct an emergency evacuation ... emergency exits were reinstalled ... without express permission."

    The basic lesson from both cases is plain: do not destroy evidence. Whether it's soot or sound, or anything else, leave it alone.
    No One Knows Everything. Only Together May We Find The Truth JG

  3. #3
    AuGmENTor Guest
    The quality-assurance manager told investigators that he had destroyed the tape because he thought making it was contrary to F.A.A. policy, which calls for written statements, and because he felt that the controllers "were not in the correct frame of mind to have properly consented to the taping" because of the stress of the day, Mr. Mead reported.
    That doesn't explain the sneaky quality of making sure it could not be reconstructed.

    The inspector general attributed the tape's destruction to "poor judgment."
    I would have called it at LEAST an act of incompetence. More like a criminal act.

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