FAA Managers Destroyed 9/11 Tape
Recording Contained Accounts of Communications With Hijacked Planes
By Sara Kehaulani Goo
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 6, 2004; 6:16 PM
Six air traffic
controllers provided accounts of their communications with hijacked
planes on Sept. 11, 2001, on a tape recording that was later destroyed
by Federal Aviation Administration managers, according to a government
investigative report issued today.
It is unclear
what information was on the tape because no one ever listened to,
transcribed or duplicated it, the report by the Department of
Transportation inspector general said.
The report concluded that the FAA generally cooperated
with the independent panel investigating the terrorist attacks by
providing documents about its activities on Sept. 11, but the actions
of two FAA managers "did not, in our view, serve the interests of the
FAA, the Department [of Transportation] or the public."
The report was conducted at the request of Sen. John
McCain (R-Ariz.) after the panel investigating the Sept. 11 attacks,
officially known as the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon
the United States, complained that the FAA had been less than
forthcoming in turning over documents and issued a subpoena to the
agency for more information.
The FAA said it was cooperating fully with the 9/11
panel. The agency said it took disciplinary action against the employee
who destroyed the tape but declined to elaborate on what kind of action
they took. [Earlier, an FAA official incorrectly stated that the agency
took action against two employees in the case.]
"We believe the audiotape in question appears to be
consistent with written statements and other materials provided to FBI
investigators and would not have added in any significant way to the
information contained in what has already been provided to
investigators and members of the 9/11 commission," said FAA spokesman
Hours after the hijacked planes flew into the World Trade
Center Towers, the Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field, an FAA manager at
the New York Air Route Traffic Control Center gathered six controllers
who communicated or tracked two of the hijacked planes and recorded in
a one-hour interview their personal accounts of what occurred, the
The manager, who is not named in the report, said that
his intentions were to provide quick information to federal officials
investigating the attack before the air traffic controllers involved
took sick leave for the stress of their experiences, as is common
According to the report, a second manager at the New York
center promised a union official representing the controllers that he
would "get rid of" the tape after controllers used it to provide
written statements to federal officials about the events of the day.
Instead, the second manager said he destroyed the tape
between December 2001 and January 2002 by crushing the tape with his
hand, cutting it into small pieces and depositing the pieces into trash
cans around the building, the report said.
The tape's existence was never made known to federal
officials investigating the attack, nor to FAA officials in Washington.
Staff members of the 9/11 panel found out about the tape during
interviews with some controllers who participated in the recording.
One controller said she asked to listen to the tape in
order to prepare her written account of her experience, but one of the
managers denied her request.
The New York managers acknowledged that they received an
e-mail from FAA officials instructing them to retain all materials
related to the Sept. 11 attacks. "If a question arises whether or not
you should retain the data, RETAIN IT," the report quoted the e-mail as
But the managers decided not to include the tape in a
November 2001 "Formal Accident Package" report the office prepared
because one manager said he did not want to break his word to the union
official and he did not think the tape should ever have been made.
The inspector general concluded today that the managers'
actions resulted in the loss of potential evidence that would allow the
9/11 commission to compare controllers' recollection of the events
immediately after the attacks with the written statements prepared
three weeks later.
"The destruction of evidence in the Government's
possession, in this case an audiotape -- particularly during times of
national crisis -- has the effect of fostering an appearance that
information is being withheld from the public."
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