This article was first published in August 2004, following the release
of the 9/11 Commission Report.
Our findings cast doubt on the Commission's narrative regarding what actually
happened on board the planes. This narrative, which describes in detail the
9/11 Arab hijackers, is almost entirely based on recorded cell phone conversations.
The telecom industry is unequivocal. Given the wireless technology available
on September 11 2001, these cell calls could not have been placed from high
What happened on the planes is now the object of an "an exhilarating,
somber and heroic" Hollywood docu-drama entitled “United 93”.
Directed by British filmmaker Paul Greengrass, the film describes what happened
on flight UA 93, using the "findings" of the 9/11 Commission:
"At 10:00:03, Jarrah stabilized the airplane. Five seconds later, Jarrah
asked, “Is that it? Shall we finish it off?” A hijacker responded,
“No. Not yet. When they all come, we finish it off.” The sounds
of fighting continued outside the cockpit. Again, Jarrah pitched the nose
of the aircraft up and down.At 10:00:26, a passenger in the background said,
“In the cockpit. If we don’t we’ll die!” Sixteen seconds
later, a passenger yelled,“Roll it!” Jarrah stopped the violent
maneuvers at about 10:01:00 and said, “Allah is the greatest!"
The film braodly follows the Commission's narrative. It describes how the
passengers heroically challenged the Arab hijackers in the cockpit, prior
to its crash in Pennsylvania:
“United 93” respects the attempt by its passengers to take back
the cockpit and their group minded sacrifice. When the men and women attempt
to tackle a hijacker and pummel the cockpit door, you want it to crack open,
you want that prospective passenger pilot to take the controls, and you want
to see a smooth landing a la the fictional “Airport” movies.
None of these deviations and hopes for a miracle lessen efforts of what the
heroic passengers attempted to execute; they merely inscribe the director’s
mastery of the material which reaches off the screen at least fleetingly into
a ‘feel good,’ good guys prevail Hollywood climax.
"United 93" replicates the official story of 9/11. It serves to
galvanize public opinion in support of the "war on terrorism". It
is important, therefore, that the flaws contained both in the 911 Commission
Report and the movie be the object of serious debate and discussion.
"We have some planes" (quoting the alleged Arab hijackers) is the
title of the first chapter of the 9/11 Commission's Report. With the release
of "United 93", what happened on the planes is rapidly becoming
part of America's pop fiction culture.
The movie serves the interests of the Bush adminstration. It imprints in the
minds of millions of Americans that "the threat is real" and that
"America is under attack".
Michel Chossudovsky, Global Research, 1 May 2006
The article below was also published as a chapter in the author's book: "America's
"War on Terrorism"
911 Commission Report:
More Holes in the Official Story: The 9/11 Cell Phone
by Michel Chossudovsky
(original date of publication) www.globalresearch.ca
10 August 2004
"We Have Some Planes"
The 9/11 Commission's
Report provides an almost visual description of the Arab hijackers. It depicts
in minute detail events occurring inside the cabin of the four hijacked planes.
In the absence of surviving passengers, this "corroborating evidence",
was based on passengers' cell and air phone conversations with their loved ones.
According to the Report, the cockpit voice recorder (CVR) was only recovered
in the case of one of the flights (UAL 93).
Focusing on the personal drama of the passengers, the Commission has built
much of its narrative around the phone conversations. The Arabs are portrayed
with their knives and box cutters, scheming in the name of Allah, to bring down
the planes and turn them "into large guided missiles" (Report, Chapter
The Technology of Wireless Transmission
The Report conveys the impression that cell phone ground-to-air communication
from high altitude was of reasonably good quality, and that there was no major
impediment or obstruction in wireless transmission.
Some of the conversations were with onboard air phones, which contrary to the
cell phones provide for good quality transmission. The report does not draw
a clear demarcation between the two types of calls.
More significantly, what this carefully drafted script fails to mention is
that, given the prevailing technology in September 2001, it was extremely difficult,
if not impossible, to place a wireless cell call from an aircraft traveling
at high speed above 8000 feet:
"Wireless communications networks weren't designed for ground-to-air
communication. Cellular experts privately admit that they're surprised
the calls were able to be placed from the hijacked planes, and that they lasted
as long as they did. They speculate that the only reason that the calls went
through in the first place is that the aircraft were flying so close to the
ground ( http://www.elliott.org/technology/2001/cellpermit.htm
Expert opinion within the wireless telecom industry casts serious doubt on
"the findings" of the 9/11 Commission. According to Alexa Graf, a
spokesman of AT&T, commenting in the immediate wake of the 9/11 attacks:
"it was almost a fluke that the [9/11] calls reached their destinations...
From high altitudes, the call quality is not very good, and most callers will
experience drops. Although calls are not reliable, callers can pick up and
hold calls for a little while below a certain altitude" ( http://wirelessreview.com/ar/wireless_final_contact/
New Wireless Technology
While serious doubts regarding the cell calls were expressed in the immediate
aftermath of 9/11, a new landmark in the wireless telecom industry has further
contributed to upsetting the Commission's credibility. Within days of the release
of the 9/11 Commission Report in July, American Airlines and Qualcomm,
proudly announced the development of a new wireless technology --which will
at some future date allow airline passengers using their cell phones to contact
family and friends from a commercial aircraft (no doubt at a special
rate aerial roaming charge) (see http://www.qualcomm.com/press/releases/2004/040715_aa_testflight.html
"Travelers could be talking on their personal cellphones as early as
2006. Earlier this month [July 2004], American Airlines conducted a trial
run on a modified aircraft that permitted cell phone calls." (WP, July
Aviation Week (07/20/04) described
this new technology in an authoritative report published in July 2004:
"Qualcomm and American Airlines are exploring [July 2004] ways for passengers
to use commercial cell phones inflight for air-to-ground communication. In
a recent 2-hr. proof-of-concept flight, representatives from government and
the media used commercial Code
Division Multiple Access (CDMA) third-generation cell phones to place
and receive calls and text messages from friends on the ground.
For the test flight from Dallas-Fort Worth, the aircraft was equipped with
an antenna in the front and rear of the cabin to transmit cell phone calls
to a small in-cabin CDMA cellular base station. This "pico cell"
transmitted cell phone calls from the aircraft via a Globalstar satellite
to the worldwide terrestrial phone network"
Needless to say, neither the service, nor the "third generation"
hardware, nor the "Picco cell" CDMA base station inside the cabin
(which so to speak mimics a cell phone communication tower inside the plane)
were available on the morning of September 11, 2001.
The 911 Commission points to the clarity and detail of these telephone conversations.
In substance, the Aviation Week
report creates yet another embarrassing hitch in the official story.
The untimely July American Airlines / Qualcomm announcement acted as a cold
shower. Barely acknowledged in press reports, it confirms that the Bush administration
had embroidered the cell phone narrative (similar to what they did with WMDs)
and that the 9/11 Commission's account was either flawed or grossly exaggerated.
Altitude and Cellphone Transmission
According to industry experts, the crucial link in wireless cell phone transmission
from an aircraft is altitude. Beyond a certain altitude which is usually reached
within a few minutes after takeoff, cell phone calls are no longer possible.
In other words, given the wireless technology available on September
11 2001, these cell calls could not have been placed from high altitude.
The only way passengers could have got through to family and friends using
their cell phones, is if the planes were flying below 8000 feet. Yet even at
low altitude, below 8000 feet, cell phone communication is of poor quality.
The crucial question: at what altitude were the planes traveling, when the
calls were placed?
While the information provided by the Commission is scanty, the Report's timeline
does not suggest that the planes were consistently traveling at low altitude.
In fact the Report confirms that a fair number of the cell phone calls were
placed while the plane was traveling at altitudes above 8000 feet, which is
considered as the cutoff altitude for cell phone transmission.
Let us review the timeline of these calls in relation to the information provided
by the Report on flight paths and altitude.
United Airlines Flight 175
United Airlines Flight 175 departed for Los Angeles at 8:00:
"It pushed back from its gate at 7:58 and departed Logan Airport at
The Report confirms that by 8:33, "it had reached its assigned cruising
altitude of 31,000 feet." According to the Report, it maintained this cruising
altitude until 8.51, when it "deviated from its assigned altitude":
"The first operational evidence that something was abnormal on United
175 came at 8:47, when the aircraft changed beacon codes twice within a minute.
At 8:51, the flight deviated from its assigned altitude, and a minute later
New York air traffic controllers began repeatedly and unsuccessfully trying
to contact it."
And one minute later at 8.52, Lee Hanson receives a call from his son
[Flight UAL 175] "At 8:52, in Easton, Connecticut,
a man named Lee Hanson received a phone call from his son Peter, a passenger
on United 175. His son told him: “I think they’ve taken over the
cockpit—An attendant has been stabbed— and someone else up front
may have been killed. The plane is making strange moves. Call United Airlines—Tell
them it’s Flight 175, Boston to LA.
Press reports confirm that Peter Hanson was using his cell (i.e it was not
an air phone). Unless the plane had suddenly nose-dived, the plane was
still at high altitude at 8.52. (Moreover, Hanson's call could have
been initiated at least a minute prior to his father Lee Hanson picking up the
Another call was received at 8.52 (one minute after it deviated from its assigned
altitude of 31,000 feet). The Report does not say whether this is an air phone
or a cell phone call:
Also at 8:52, a male flight attendant called a United office in San Francisco,
reaching Marc Policastro. The flight attendant reported that the flight had
been hijacked, both pilots had been killed, a flight attendant had been stabbed,
and the hijackers were probably flying the plane. The call lasted about two
minutes, after which Policastro and a colleague tried unsuccessfully to contact
It is not clear whether this was a call to Policastro's cell phone or to the
At 8:58, UAL 175 "took a heading toward New York City.":
"At 8:59, Flight 175 passenger Brian David Sweeney tried to call his
wife, Julie. He left a message on their home answering machine that the plane
had been hijacked. He then called his mother, Louise Sweeney, told her the
flight had been hijacked, and added that the passengers were thinking about
storming the cockpit to take control of the plane away from the hijackers.
At 9:00, Lee Hanson received a second call from his son Peter:
It’s getting bad, Dad—A stewardess was stabbed—They seem
to have knives and Mace—They said they have a bomb—It’s
getting very bad on the plane—Passengers are throwing up and getting
sick—The plane is making jerky movements—I don’t think
the pilot is flying the plane—I think we are going down—I think
they intend to go to Chicago or someplace and fly into a building—Don’t
worry, Dad— If it happens, it’ll be very fast—My God,
The call ended abruptly. Lee Hanson had heard a woman scream just before
it cut off. He turned on a television, and in her home so did Louise Sweeney.
Both then saw the second aircraft hit the World Trade Center.50 At 9:03:11,
United Airlines Flight 175 struck the South Tower of the World Trade Center.
All on board, along with an unknown number of people in the tower, were killed
American Airlines Flight 77
American Airlines Flight 77 was scheduled to depart from Washington Dulles
for Los Angeles at 8:10... "At 8:46, the flight reached its assigned
cruising altitude of 35,000 feet."
At 8:51, American 77 transmitted its last routine radio communication. The
hijacking began between 8:51 and 8:54. As on American 11 and United 175, the
hijackers used knives (reported by one passenger) and moved all the passengers
(and possibly crew) to the rear of the aircraft (reported by one flight attendant
and one passenger). Unlike the earlier flights, the Flight 77 hijackers were
reported by a passenger to have box cutters. Finally, a passenger reported
that an announcement had been made by the “pilot” that the plane
had been hijacked....
On flight AA 77, which allegedly crashed into the Pentagon, the transponder
was turned off at 8:56am; the recorded altitude at the time the transponder
was turned off is not mentioned. According to the Commission's Report, cell
calls started 16 minutes later, at 9:12am, twenty minutes before it (allegedly)
crashed into the Pentagon at 9.32am:
" [at 9.12] Renee May called her mother, Nancy May, in Las Vegas. She
said her flight was being hijacked by six individuals who had moved them to
the rear of the plane."
According to the Report, when the autopilot was disengaged at 9:29am, the aircraft
was at 7,000 feet and some 38 miles west of the Pentagon. This happened two
minutes before the crash.
Most of the calls on Flight 77 were placed between 9.12am and 9.26am,
prior to the disengagement of automatic piloting at 9.29am. The plane
could indeed have been traveling at either a higher or a lower altitude to that
reached at 9.29. Yet, at the same time there is no indication in the Report
that the plane had been traveling below the 7000 feet level, which it reached
At some point between 9:16 and 9:26, Barbara Olson called her husband, Ted
Olson, the solicitor general of the United States. [using an airphone]
7, see http://www.9-11commission.gov/report/911Report_Ch1.pdf )
United Airlines Flight 93
UAL flight 93 was the only one of the four planes that, according to the official
story, did not crash into a building. Flight 93 passengers, apparently: "alerted
through phone calls, attempted to subdue the hijackers. and the hijackers crashed
the plane [in Pennsylvania] to prevent the passengers gaining control."
). Another version of events, was that UAL 93 was shot down.
According to the Commission's account:
"the first 46 minutes of Flight 93’s cross-country trip proceeded
routinely. Radio communications from the plane were normal. Heading, speed,
and altitude ran according to plan. At 9:24, Ballinger’s warning to
United 93 was received in the cockpit. Within two minutes, at 9:26, the pilot,
Jason Dahl, responded with a note of puzzlement: “Ed, confirm latest
mssg plz—Jason.”70 The hijackers attacked at 9:28. While traveling
35,000 feet above eastern Ohio, United 93 suddenly dropped 700 feet. Eleven
seconds into the descent, the FAA’s air traffic control center in Cleveland
received the first of two radio transmissions from the aircraft...."
At least ten cell calls are reported to have taken place on flight 93.
The Report confirms that passengers started placing calls with cell and air
phones shortly after 9.32am, four minutes after the Report's confirmation of
the plane's attitude of 35,000 feet. In other words, the calls started
some 9 minutes before the Cleveland Center lost UAL 93’s transponder signal
(9.41) and approximately 30 minutes before the crash in Pennsylvania (10.03)
"At 9:41, Cleveland Center lost United 93’s transponder signal.
The controller located it on primary radar, matched its position with visual
sightings from other aircraft, and tracked the flight as it turned east, then
This suggests that the altitude was known to air traffic control up until the
time when the transponder signal was lost by the Cleveland Center. (Radar and
visual sightings provided information on its flight path from 9.41 to 10.03.)
Moreover, there was no indication from the Report that the aircraft had swooped
down to a lower level of altitude, apart from the 700 feet drop recorded at
9.28. from a cruising altitude of 35,000 feet:
"At 9:32, a hijacker, probably Jarrah, made or attempted to make the
following announcement to the passengers of Flight 93:“Ladies and Gentlemen:
Here the captain, please sit down keep remaining sitting.
We have a bomb on board. So, sit.” The flight data recorder (also recovered)
indicates that Jarrah then instructed the plane’s autopilot to turn
the aircraft around and head east. The cockpit voice recorder data indicate
that a woman, most likely a flight attendant, was being held captive in the
cockpit. She struggled with one of the hijackers who killed or otherwise silenced
Shortly thereafter, the passengers and flight crew began a series
of calls from GTE airphones and cellular phones. These calls between family,
friends, and colleagues took place until the end of the flight and provided
those on the ground with firsthand accounts. They enabled the passengers
to gain critical information, including the news that two aircraft had slammed
into the World Trade Center.77...At least two callers from the flight reported
that the hijackers knew that passengers were making calls but did not seem
The hijackers were wearing red bandanas, and they forced the passengers to
the back of the aircraft.80 Callers reported that a passenger had been stabbed
and that two people were lying on the floor of the cabin, injured or dead—possibly
the captain and first officer. One caller reported that a flight attendant
had been killed.81 One of the callers from United 93 also reported that he
thought the hijackers might possess a gun. But none of the other callers reported
the presence of a firearm. One recipient of a call from the aircraft recounted
specifically asking her caller whether the hijackers had guns.
The passenger replied that he did not see one. No evidence of firearms or
of their identifiable remains was found at the aircraft’s crash site,
and the cockpit voice recorder gives no indication of a gun being fired or
mentioned at any time.
We believe that if the hijackers had possessed a gun, they would have used
it in the flight’s last minutes as the passengers fought back.82 Passengers
on three flights reported the hijackers’ claim of having a bomb. The
FBI told us they found no trace of explosives at the crash sites. One of the
passengers who mentioned a bomb expressed his belief that it was not real.
Lacking any evidence that the hijackers attempted to smuggle such illegal
items past the security screening checkpoints, we believe the bombs were probably
fake. During at least five of the passengers’ phone calls, information
was shared about the attacks that had occurred earlier that morning at the
World Trade Center. Five calls described the intent of passengers and surviving
crew members to revolt against the hijackers. According to one call, they
voted on whether to rush the terrorists in an attempt to retake the plane.
They decided, and acted. At 9:57, the passenger assault began. Several passengers
had terminated phone calls with loved ones in order to join the revolt. One
of the callers ended her message as follows:
“Everyone’s running up to first class. I’ve got to go.
Bye.” The cockpit voice recorder captured the sounds of the passenger
assault muffled by the intervening cockpit door. Some family members who listened
to the recording report that they can hear the voice of a loved one among
We cannot identify whose voices can be heard. But the assault was sustained.
In response, Jarrah immediately began to roll the airplane to the left and
right, attempting to knock the passengers off balance. At 9:58:57, Jarrah
told another hijacker in the cockpit to block the door. Jarrah continued to
roll the airplane sharply left and right, but the assault continued. At 9:59,
Jarrah changed tactics and pitched the nose of the airplane up and down to
disrupt the assault. The recorder captured the sounds of loud thumps, crashes,
shouts, and breaking glasses and plates.
At 10:00:03, Jarrah stabilized the airplane. Five seconds later, Jarrah asked,
“Is that it? Shall we finish it off?” A hijacker responded, “No.
Not yet. When they all come, we finish it off.” The sounds of fighting
continued outside the cockpit. Again, Jarrah pitched the nose of the aircraft
up and down.At 10:00:26, a passenger in the background said, “In the
cockpit. If we don’t we’ll die!” Sixteen seconds later,
a passenger yelled,“Roll it!” Jarrah stopped the violent maneuvers
at about 10:01:00 and said, “Allah is the greatest! Allah is the greatest!”
He then asked another hijacker in the cockpit,“ Is that it? I mean,
shall we put it down?” to which the other replied, “Yes, put it
in it, and pull it down.” The passengers continued their assault and
at 10:02:23, a hijacker said, “Pull it down! Pull it down!” The
hijackers remained at the controls but must have judged that the passengers
were only seconds from overcoming them. The airplane headed down; the control
wheel was turned hard to the right.
The airplane rolled onto its back, and one of the hijackers began shouting
“Allah is the greatest. Allah is the greatest. ”With the sounds
of the passenger counterattack continuing, the aircraft plowed into an empty
field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, at 580 miles per hour, about 20 minutes’
flying time from Washington D.C. Jarrah’s objective was to crash his
airliner into symbols of the American Republic, the Capitol or the White House.
He was defeated by the alerted, unarmed passengers of United"
The Mysterious Call of Edward Felt from UAL 93
Earlier coverage of the fate of UAL 93 was based in part on a reported cell
call from a passenger named Edward Felt, who managed to reach an emergency official
in Pennsylvania. How he got the emergency supervisor's number and managed to
reach him remains unclear.
The call was apparently received at 9.58 am, eight minutes before the reported
time of the crash at 10.06 am in Pennsylvania:
"Local emergency officials said they received a cell phone call at 9.58
am from a man who said he was a passenger aboard the flight. The man said
he had locked himself in the bathroom and told emergency dispatchers that
the plane had been hijacked. "We are being hijacked! We are being hijacked!"
he was quoted as saying. A California man identified as Tom Burnett reportedly
called his wife and told her that somebody on the plane had been stabbed.
"We're all going to die, but three of us are going to do something,"
he told her. "I love you honey."
The alleged call by Edward Felt from the toilet of the aircraft of UAL 93 was
answered by Glenn Cramer, the emergency supervisor in Pennsylvania who took
It is worth noting that Glenn Cramer was subsequently gagged by the FBI."
(See Robert Wallace`s incisive analysis published in Sept 2002 by the Daily
Ironically, this high profile cell call by Ed Felt, which would have provided
crucial evidence to the 9/11 Commission was, for some reason, not mentioned
in the Report.
American Airlines Flight 11
Flight 11 took off at 7:59. Just before 8:14. The Report outlines an airphone
conversation of flight attendant Betty Ong and much of the narrative hinges
upon this airphone conversation
There are no clear-cut reports on the use of cell phones on Flight AA11. According
to the Report, American 11 crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center
A large part of the description, regarding the 19 hijackers relies on cell
phone conversations with family and friends.
While a few of these calls (placed at low altitude) could have got through,
the wireless technology was not available. On this issue, expert opinion within
the wireless telecom industry is unequivocal.
In other words, at least part of the Commission's script in Chapter 1 on the
cell phone conversations, is fabricated.
According to the American Airline / Qualcomm announcement, the technology
for cell phone transmission at high altitude will only be available aboard commercial
aircraft in 2006. This is an inescapable fact.
In the eyes of public opinion, the cell phone conversations on the Arab hijackers
is needed to sustain the illusion that America is under attack.
The "war on terrorism" underlying the National Security doctrine
relies on real time "evidence" concerning the Arab hijackers. The
latter personify, so to speak, this illusive "outside enemy" (Al Qaeda),
which is threatening the homeland.
Embodied into the Commission's "script" of 911, the narrative of
what happened on the plane with the Arab hijackers is therefore crucial. It
is an integral part of the Administration's disinformation and propaganda program.
It constitutes a justification for the anti-terror legislation under the Patriot
acts and the waging of America's pre-emptive wars against Afghanistan and Iraq.
Emphasis added in bold font.
Michel Chossudovsky is the author of War
and Globalization, The Truth behind September 11 , which can be ordered
or online from the CRG.