F.A.A. Official Scrapped Tape of 9/11 Controllers' Statements
May 6, 2004 1:09 PM   Subscribe

F.A.A. Official Scrapped Tape of 9/11 Controllers' Statements Shit happens? Or does it? " At least six air traffic controllers who dealt with two of the hijacked airliners on Sept. 11, 2001, made a tape recording that 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 today."
posted by Postroad (28 comments total)
May I ask why everything FAA traffic controllers say while on duty is not recorded? It seems as critical a log as the blackbox, and would not be too difficult or expensive to implement.

Though if Pushing Tin was on the level there are problems larger than this...
posted by shotsy at 1:25 PM on May 6, 2004

Couldn't possibly be of any interest to anyone, huh.

In other news, police at murder scenes have taken to cremating the bodies of the murder victims on the spot, with flamethrowers :

"It's just easier this way", they say.
posted by troutfishing at 1:28 PM on May 6, 2004

Here's a link that doesn't require that you register to NYT.
posted by armoured-ant at 1:29 PM on May 6, 2004

It's not "shit happens". The QA guy destroyed the tape essentially as a matter of principle. There's a procedure for how they do things, this stuff is always a delicate matter, and making a recording at that time wasn't how they do things.

I'm not saying I agree with his judgment, just that I understand and respect it. He said he'd make the same decision again, which the inquiry board was unhappy with, but I respect that, too. (Well, hopefully it doesn't indicate that he's like Bush and simply proud and stubborn, but that his decision was carefully thought out and principled.)
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 1:29 PM on May 6, 2004

Feh. I agree with shotsy - if flight recorders are considered so crucial to crash investigations that we're willing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars, as well as hundreds of person-weeks, recovering and reconstructing them, the recording of conversations between flight controllers and the flight itself should be considered just as valuable.

Sounds like the FAA needs to change their policy on this one, and damn the union.
posted by FormlessOne at 1:34 PM on May 6, 2004

OK, [from the article] this QA person did the following:

1. Didn't disclose the existence of a valuable piece of evidence

2. Was told, "...safeguard all records and adding, 'If a question arises whether or not you should retain data, RETAIN IT.' " and the destroyed it.

3. The QA person crushed the tape up, and then cut the tape into little pieces, and then threw it away in different trash cans.

So this was not, "Oh shit, I screwed up." but was a concentrated effort not to let this information get out. Screw procedure, this was willful destruction of information that can better assist investigators trying to figure that day out. It was not the QA's job to pass judgement and destroy this information, just because it deviated from his/her SOP.
posted by plemeljr at 1:41 PM on May 6, 2004

Ethereal Bligh: I don't see how he could possibly 'carefully think out' this decision on the same day four planes got hijacked on his watch (I'm not blaming him, but he was on duty). What was the rush? Could he not destroy the tape the next day? Shouldn't he have spoken to his supervisor? I think it was irresponsible and short sighted.

I don't think this was an effort to cover anything up and I don't have a tin hat, I just think it is best to preserve everything and let it be sorted out with a bit more focus than he may have had.
posted by shotsy at 1:47 PM on May 6, 2004

You need to read the story. This wasn'tthe recordings of the controllers and pilots, or even a recording of everything that was audible in the tower at the time.

This was a non-standard recording of oral statements that were ordered by the supervisor made immediately afterward in the hope of keeping the record as accurate as possible when the time came for written statements to be prepared (which would be later, 'cause the controllers were not expected to do it immediately). The QA guy thought that this violation of procedure, though well-intentioned, was probably not in the interests of the FAA nor the controllers whom he thought were not in a position to knowledgably give consent for the making of the recordings.

No one involved, not the inquiry committee, no one, thinks this was done to cover-up anything.

I think both the supervisor and the QA guy were very well-intentioned but came to very different conclusions about what was for the best. The FAA has come to agree with the supervisor (but, apparently, mostly for PR reasons).
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 1:47 PM on May 6, 2004

Well if he let the tapes survive we'd all know about the F-16s that tailed and shot down the plane over Pennsylvania and how the terrorists used not box cutters to subdue the passengers but the entire Friends catalog on DVD.

Then where would we be?
posted by xmutex at 1:53 PM on May 6, 2004

tapes. Watergate tapes.

don't you think he would have saved them, if only to sell on Ebay? Sounds like he got clear orders from above.
posted by Miles Long at 1:57 PM on May 6, 2004

Hey, don't let me get in the way of you guys completely misunderstanding the facts of the story. I realize that conspiracy theories are more fun.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 2:00 PM on May 6, 2004

The center manager had agreed with the president of the local union chapter that the tapes would be destroyed once the standard written statements were obtained, Mr. Mead reported.

No story here, folks....
posted by Durwood at 2:09 PM on May 6, 2004

But...it wasn't a violation of procedure.
posted by agregoli at 2:09 PM on May 6, 2004

No more tape, no more original..no way to check if the transcript (if any) is ok.. that sound so much Diebold to me, regardless of the "fact" the taping was appropriate/not appropriate/approved by general assembly of dentists.
posted by elpapacito at 2:11 PM on May 6, 2004

This story was very carefully planted to ensure that when the tapes actually do appear (having never really been destroyed) it will be easier to discredit them as being fakes.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 2:26 PM on May 6, 2004


But said tapes were never transcribed, as they were supposed to be. As I read the article, at least.
posted by tittergrrl at 2:30 PM on May 6, 2004

Ethereal Bligh, I seriously don't think there is a "conspiracy" over the events, but just the fact that what should have gone through this QA person's mind were, "Why the rush to destroy this tape?" and "Will this be useful to someone down the road?" There really is no answer to these two questions that involve destruction of the tape. And to reiterate, NO ONE MADE A TRANSCRIPT!

I just want to know why.
posted by plemeljr at 2:50 PM on May 6, 2004

How anyone could possibly justify this guy's actions is beyond my comprehension. He was moved to crush the tape in his fist and walk around to different garbage cans to dispose of it. I'd be willing to bet that it wasn't his anger over the fact that procedures weren't properly followed. . .
posted by ajr at 3:24 PM on May 6, 2004

The hell?

Look, say you were a hostage negiator who has spent three hours negotiating with a murderer who's taken some hostages.

He kills all the hostages and himself. There's a recording of everything that was said between you and the murdered, along with records of everything else that was done as you did it. But your boss comes up, while they're taking the bodies away, and asks you to sit down and speak into a tape recorder and make a statement about everything that happened. He says that he is requesting this unusual step (it's not that there isn't a record of your conversations and what happens, there. He's asking for your statement about what happened. The way this normally works is that you will write a report, along with a statement and perhaps an interview the next day or very soon thereafter) because he wants to get everything as accurately as possible.

You say, "okay", because your supervisor asks for it, you're emotional, tired, and it doesn't seem like a bad idea.

On the tape, you say many things off the top of your head, along with breaking down and crying, possibly.

This other guy comes along, in charge of overseeing such things, and says, "Wait a second. This is the wrong time to be doing this. There's a complete record available of what happened, it's not policy to make everyone record statements immediately, and this is a very emotional situation. It's not fair to put these people in this difficult spot, because there's many judgment calls that have been made here, they're going to be grilled about them in the future, and mostly what you've done is to record a bunch of off-the-cuff thoughts of someone who's emotionally a wreck. I'm going to destroy the tapes."

So you do.

Since he went to such extremes, I suspect that the controllers were very emotional and said some very emotional things that he felt were likely to be inflammatory or used against them or someone else. He thinks the record of everything, including recordings of all the conversations, provide all the documentation necessary and the taped statements, so soon after the event, are less reilable than the accumulated documentation along with what the controllers will make as a statement later.

Or, there was a conspiracy. If you want to believe there was a conspiracy, fine.

I don't think there was, and given what we know and what has been said, his decision was a defensible decision, though it well may have been the wrong decision.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 4:40 PM on May 6, 2004

Plenty of people don't believe this guy. That's why it's front page news in the New York Times.

You'd think that with one of the most important events in the last 100 years they would be able to withstand a little criticism over what they did.

This is VERY FUCKING IMPORTANT STUFF. The tender emotions of FAA controllers are minimal compared to the events that happened that day.
posted by destro at 5:33 PM on May 6, 2004

Frankly, 9/11 was good for Republicans and they know it.
posted by skallas at 4:13 PM PST on May 6

i don't think it's this so much as that they're opportunists. They used it to get their pet projects approved. Would they have dared to push the Iraq war on us if 9/11 hadn't happened? Less likely.

That's not a conspiracy theory, it's more like human nature. i'll believe stupidity before evil.
posted by Miles Long at 5:41 PM on May 6, 2004

So are the original controllers dead or something?

Is there any reason why they can't just tell their story again?
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:13 PM on May 6, 2004

No. And they did, in fact. They gave their statements the way that they normally would have.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 8:30 PM on May 6, 2004

Sure, Civil. Right after you tell us everything you did and said that morning. Or have your memories of that day become a little vague?
posted by digaman at 8:32 PM on May 6, 2004

There are some things, digaman, you don't forget.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:56 PM on May 6, 2004

There are some things, digaman, you don't forget.

Which is exactly the point. Why were the tapes destroyed if they only confirmed the control room recordings, written statements, etc. This guy's decision to destroy the tapes accomplished nothing but to add fuel to the conspiracy fires. The fact that he had orders not to destroy such evidence only compounds the problem. It was a stupid decision and it reflects poorly on everyone involved because it makes it look like they were trying to cover something up--regardless of whether or not that was the case.
posted by ajr at 9:16 PM on May 6, 2004

OK, I've read the article twice. The only way I can buy into your conclusions, Ethereal Bligh, is to suppose that you are either a mind reader, or that you were there. Other than that, why this tape was destroyed in the manner it was doesn't seem to easy to explain away without further info.
posted by Neologian at 10:21 PM on May 6, 2004

I read the article only once, and earlier today. That was the impression I got. But I don't automatically think the worse of people, I give them the benefit of the doubt. And all the other FAA people said that they didn't think there was anything nefarious about him making that decision. As well as him saying he'd do the same again, which really makes it sound like a personal, principled decision.

Aren't the negative conclusions people are drawing also mind-reading and speculative?

I agree that it seems like the wrong decision now. But it is not, prima facie, necessarily a wrong decision for someone at the time, given what we know from the article.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 10:36 PM on May 6, 2004

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