Did the Bush Administration Lie to Congress and the 9/11 Commission?
One of the more puzzling mysteries of 9-11 is what ever happened to the flight
recorders of the two planes that hit the World Trade Center towers. Now it appears
that they may not be missing at all.
Counterpunch has learned that the FBI has them.
Flight recorders (commonly known as black boxes, though these days they are
generally bright orange) are required on all passenger planes. There are always
two-a flight data recorder that keeps track of a plane's speed, altitude, course
and maneuvers, and a cockpit voice recorder which keeps a continuous record
of the last 30 minutes of conversation inside a plane's cockpit. These devices
are constructed to be extremely durable, and are installed in a plane's tail
section, where they are least likely suffer damaged on impact. They are designed
to withstand up to 30 minutes of 1800-degree heat (more than they would have
faced in the twin towers crashes), and to survive a crash at full speed into
All four of the devices were recovered from the two planes that hit the Pentagon
and that crashed in rural Pennsylvania. In the case of American Airlines Flight
77, which hit the Pentagon, the FBI reports that the flight data recorder survived
and had recoverable information, but the voice recorder was allegedly too damaged
to provide any record. In the case of United Airlines Flight 93, which hit the
ground at 500 mph in Pennsylvania, the situation was reversed: the voice recorder
survived but the flight data box was allegedly damaged beyond recovery.
But the FBI states, and also reported to the 9-11 Commission, that none of
the recording devices from the two planes that hit the World Trade Center were
There has always been some skepticism about this assertion, particularly as
two N.Y. City firefighters, Mike Bellone and Nicholas De Masi, claimed in 2004
that they had found three of the four boxes, and that Federal agents took them
and told the two men not to mention having found them. (The FBI denies the whole
story.) Moreover, these devices are almost always located after crashes, even
if not in useable condition (and the cleanup of the World Trade Center was meticulous,
with even tiny bone fragments and bits of human tissue being discovered so that
almost all the victims were ultimately identified). As Ted Lopatkiewicz, director
of public affairs at the National Transportation Safety Agency which has the
job of analyzing the boxes' data, says, "It's very unusual not to find
a recorder after a crash, although it's also very unusual to have jets flying
Now there is stronger evidence that something is amiss than simply the alleged
non-recovery of all four of those boxes. A source at the National Transportation
Safety Board, the agency that has the task of deciphering the date from the
black boxes retrieved from crash sites-including those that are being handled
as crimes and fall under the jurisdiction of the FBI-says the boxes were in
fact recovered and were analyzed by the NTSB.
"Off the record, we had the boxes," the source says. "You'd
have to get the official word from the FBI as to where they are, but we worked
on them here."
The official word from the NTSB is that the WTC crash site black boxes never
turned up. "No recorders were recovered from the World Trade Center,"
says the NTSB's Lopatkiewicz. "At least none were delivered to us by the
FBI." He adds that the agency has "always had a good relationship'
with the FBI and that in all prior crime-related crashes or flight incidents,
they have brought the boxes to the NTSB for analysis.
For its part, the FBI is still denying everything, though with curious bit
of linguistic wiggle room. "To the best of my knowledge, the flight recording
devices from the World Trade Center crashes were never recovered. At least we
never had them," says FBI spokesman Stephen Kodak.
What the apparent existence of the black boxes in government hands means is
If the information in those boxes is recoverable, or if, as is likely, it has
been recovered already, it could give crucial evidence regarding the skill of
the hijacker/pilots, perhaps of their strategy, of whether they were getting
outside help in guiding them to their targets, of how fast they were flying
and a host of other things.
Why would the main intelligence and law enforcement arm of the U.S. government
want to hide from the public not just the available information about the two
hijacked flights that provided the motivation and justification for the nation's
"War on Terror" and for its two wars against Afghanistan and Iraq,
but even the fact that it has the devices which could contain that information?
Conspiracy theories abound, with some claiming the planes were actually pilotless
military aircraft, or that they had little or nothing to do with the building
collapses. The easiest way to quash such rumors and such fevered thinking would
Instead we have the opposite: a dark secrecy that invites many questions regarding
the potentially embarrassing or perhaps even sinister information that might
be on those tapes.
Dave Lindorff is the author of Killing
Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. His
new book of CounterPunch columns titled "This
Can't be Happening!" is published by Common Courage Press. Information
about both books and other work by Lindorff can be found at www.thiscantbehappening.net.
He can be reached at: email@example.com