History Commons Groups

October 18, 2008

Successful FOIA Request: FAA Phone Calls on Day of 9/11

Filed under: Complete 911 Timeline — kevinfenton @ 5:41 am
Tags: , , , ,

I have obtained a new document via FOIA request. It is an FAA memo comprising a transcript of calls between various FAA facilities and other institutions on the day of 9/11, and was referenced in the 9/11 Commission Report, in endnote 128 to Chapter 1 (on page 459). It is not spectacularly exciting, but touches on awareness of all four hijacks, in particular the last three. You can find it here.

Awareness of United 175

First, I’d like to explain the reason I applied for it. It is used as a source for the following section in the 9/11 Commission Report:

Between 9:01 and 9:02, a manager from New York Center told the Command Center in Herndon:

Manager, New York Center: We have several situations going on here. It’s escalating big, big time. We need to get the military involved with us…. We’re, we’re involved with something else, we have other aircraft that may have a similar situation going on here.128

The commission claimed that this was the first notification the FAA Command Center received of the hijacking of Flight 175 (which was hijacked between 8:42 a.m. and 8:46 a.m., which New York Center knew was hijacked before 8:55 a.m. and which crashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center at 9:03 a.m.). However, during a commission hearing, the extract had been presented differently, like this:

Between 9:01 and 9:02, a manager from New York Center told the Command Center in Herndon:

MANAGER, NEW YORK CENTER (from audiotape): We have several situations going on here. It’s escalating big, big time, and we need to get the military involved with us.

COMMAND CENTER: We’re — we’re involved with something else. We have other aircraft that may have a similar situation going on here.

The difference between the two versions is significant, as in the hearing version, the command center clearly indicates that it is aware of “other aircraft,” presumably a reference to United 175 and possibly also American 77 (which had also been hijacked by this time), whereas in the final report version it makes no such indication.

The FAA memo (pages 15-16) clears this up: the two statements–”We have several situations” and “We’re involved with something else”–appear to be made by the same person, Pete Mulligan, an official at New York Center. The version in the commission’s final report is right, the version in the hearing transcript is wrong; this FAA memo is not evidence the FAA’s Command Center was aware of United 175 before the 9/11 Commission says it was (timeline entry here).

One more minor point needs to be made in relation to United 175: according to the commission, NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) was first notified of the hijacking at 9:03 a.m. (practically the same time as the plane crashed) by New York Center. In the transcript, Mulligan says (at 9:02 a.m. according to the commission) that he has just informed the military liaison at New York Center of the hijack, so presumably the notification to NEADS at 9:03 a.m. was made by this military liaison. Him making a call to NEADS soon after being notified about the hijack would be a perfectly natural thing for him to do.

Awareness of American 77

The transcript (pages 19-21) also contains a call between American Airlines and the FAA (timeline entry here). In the call, an American Airlines representative informs an FAA employee that American 77 has been hijacked. This is worthy of a raised eyebrow as it was actually the FAA that informed American Airlines of the hijacking, and they had already done so twice at this point.

It is also worth raising an eyebrow at the fact that the FAA employee appears not to know of the hijacking of American 77 at this time (apparently some time between United 175 crashing at 9:03 a.m. and American 77 crashing at 9:37 a.m.). Presumably, the American Airlines representative had heard some information about American 77, but had not learned the source of the information and therefore mentioned the hijacking in a call to the FAA, not realising the FAA already knew of it. Presumably also, he just happened to talk to an FAA employee who was not yet aware of that hijacking – the FAA has many employees, perhaps it is not that surprising that one of them had not heard of it at that time.

Awareness of United 93

Even more bizarre is a later call from United Airlines to the FAA Command Center about the hijacking of United 93, seemingly around 10:00 a.m. (timeline entry here, pages 37-39 of the transcript). The United Airlines representative, Sandy Rogers, tells the FAA Command Center employee, Ellen King: “It’s over Hagerstown now and you’re not aware of it. It’s heading toward Washington, DC, and we are under a threat of a hijacking on board and this flight is out of our control now heading toward Washington, DC.” This is somewhat unusual as the FAA had been aware of the problem since shortly after the plane had been hijacked. Nevertheless, King appears not to have known this, although several other people at the FAA certainly were aware of it.

Rogers also tells King that United Airlines intends to advise the military of the plane and urges the FAA do to the same. Quite why United Airlines had waited at least half an hour to notify the military is unclear. According to the 9/11 Commission, no military facility was informed of the hijacking of United 93 until 10:07, although this is in dispute. However, the FAA did think (mistakenly according to the commission) that the military had been informed over the “hijack net” teleconference. King apparently did not know any of this, although given that she did not know the FAA had known the plane had been hijacked for half an hour, this is perhaps not surprising.

Finally, at no point was United 93 every over Hagerstown, which is in Maryland. The plane is thought to have crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and Hagerstown is between Shanksville and Washington, United 93’s presumed destination. So quite why Rogers would claim that was the plane’s location is unknown. One possibility is that there were false reports in some quarters that the plane was still airborne after it had crashed, perhaps this is in some way related – she is referring to the plane’s projected position, rather than its actual position.

Anyway, you can read the whole transcript in the 49-page memo here.

10 Comments »

  1. Successful FOIA Request: FAA Phone Calls on Day of 9/11…

    It is an FAA memo comprising a transcript of calls between various FAA facilities and other institutions on the day of 9/11 and was referenced in the 9/11 Commission Report, in endnote 128 to Chapter 1 (on page 459). ……

    Trackback by Conspirama — October 18, 2008 @ 6:10 am | Reply

  2. […] FAA facilities and other organisations on the day of 9/11, which you can find here (summary here). The calls provide information about the FAA’s awareness of the hijacked flights. For […]

    Pingback by Successful FOIA Requests: Masterlist (updated) « History Commons Groups — October 24, 2008 @ 8:19 am | Reply

  3. What is the best way for an individual to minimize effort and maximize results, when making a FOIA request? Also, what fees (search and copying costs) is one likely to incur?

    Comment by Deb — April 20, 2009 @ 10:34 am | Reply

  4. Hi Deb,

    I’m not so sure about minimising effort and maximising results. One good idea would be to request specific documents that you know exist. Agencies tend to take a dim view of requests for “everything you have about X.” It is also good if these documents were produced by agencies that the FOIA applies to (i.e. the executive, not Congress, and documents they wrote, not documents they got from somewhere else). Some agencies are more inclined to respond positively, like the DoJ, whereas the NSA never say anything and the CIA abuse the process by slow-walking you. The effort is basically deciding what to ask for, then writing a letter (there are plenty of samples around on the net, just google “FOIA letter” or something). Plus, you might have to appeal.

    Costs can vary. If you ask for “everything you have to do with X” you will get a letter back saying it will probably cost hundreds or thousands of dollars. If you ask for a specific document, then it will usually fall within whatever is free (2 hours of search time, plus 100 pages copied). I think I’ve been successful about 5 times and the only time I had to pay anything was when I got a 300-page document from the FBI – they charged me 20 dollars for the copying.

    Comment by kevinfenton — April 21, 2009 @ 8:38 am | Reply

  5. Thank you for the response and information, Kevin. My own situation is odd enough, that I haven’t a clue where to begin. Would there be any point in retaining an attorney with FOIA expertise to guide me through this process? I’m pretty enterprising, but don’t want to spend a lot of time spinning my wheels.

    If I make one request, is there any reason that I can’t go back to the same agency with another one that is, perhaps, more specific. I’m feel like I’m about to being shooting in the dark, for lack of a better expression.

    Your response was very helpful, by the way.

    Comment by Deb — April 23, 2009 @ 12:56 pm | Reply

  6. Hi Deb, I don’t think there’s any need to retain an attorney at the start. Generally, attorneys come into it when a request has been denied, the appeal has been denied, and the requester is unhappy with this, so he/she sues the agency in court for not disclosing the document (we don’t have money for this, but the ACLU and GWU can do it, I think).

    The steps to make a request are deciding what a requester wants and then writing a letter to the relevant agency for it.

    I don’t see why you couldn’t send an agency a general request and then a specific one. Do you know what documents you’re after?

    Comment by kevinfenton — April 26, 2009 @ 5:36 am | Reply

  7. Kevin, Thank you again for the additional information. My situation involves surveillance (including surreptitious home entries). I can only speculate what might have triggered these events. Sometimes several innocent events are lumped together and, I gather, must look suspicious to someone. But why they wouldn’t just come to me – talk to me. I’m a Caucasian professional — I’m a nurse. I’m law-abiding and patriotic and I feel like I’m living in the “twilight zone.” I’ll start somewhere and hope to get something. Thank you for your kindness and your input. I’m very grateful. Deb

    Comment by Deb — April 26, 2009 @ 8:55 am | Reply

  8. at one point some one in AirTraffic Center calls Supervisor ,but, Supervisors are too busy to deal with it at this time .Whatever that was . listen to June 17 ; last hearing ,last sessions //

    Comment by joseph p bell — August 5, 2009 @ 5:00 pm | Reply

  9. […] FAA facilities and other organisations on the day of 9/11, which you can find here (summary here). The calls provide information about the FAA’s awareness of the hijacked flights. For […]

    Pingback by Successful FOIA Requests (Updated, November 2009) « History Commons Groups — November 12, 2009 @ 4:22 am | Reply

  10. That is a fantastic FOIA on FAA / ellen King . this blows the JUNE 16/17 ,2004 MEETING TO SMITHEREENS / KERREY WAS HOT UNDER THE COLLAR ABOUT THIS ,BUT LET IT GO WITH ,” YOUR LUCKY I HAVE RUN OUT OF TIME .” laughter all the way . merry xmas to FAA

    Comment by joseph p bell — December 26, 2011 @ 2:26 pm | Reply


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