08 September 2011

Things Our Government Still Isn’t Telling Us

At the end of today’s New York Times article about newly released recordings of air traffic control transmissions on 11 Sept 2001 (which are innocuous and add little to the historic record) are these paragraphs:

The account published this week is missing two essential pieces that remain restricted or classified, according to Mr. [Miles] Kara. One is about 30 minutes of the cockpit recording of United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed into the ground after passengers tried to storm the cockpit as hijackers flew across Pennsylvania toward Washington, D.C. Families of some of those onboard have objected to the release of that recording, Mr. Kara said.

The other still-secret recording is of a high-level conference call that began at 9:28 and grew, over the course of the morning, to include senior figures like Mr. [Dick] Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard B. Myers.

The recording was turned over to the National Security Council. The 9/11 Commission was not permitted to keep a copy of it or of the transcript, Mr. Kara said, and investigators were closely monitored when they listened to it. Mr. Kara said he believed that the only truly sensitive material on the recordings were small portions that concerned the provisions being made to continue government operations if the attacks took out some national leadership or facilities.

“There was a staffer who was designated to sit with us, who would stop and start the tape, in my estimation to mask continuity of operations,” Mr. Kara said.

Nevertheless, he noted, the commission ended up with hours and hours of recordings that it initially did not have access to or had been told did not exist, a point Mr. Farmer echoed in the preface to the Rutgers Law Review article.

When the commission began taking testimony, military and civil aviation officials said “that no tapes were made, and we were told at one point that a technical malfunction would prevent us from hearing them,” Mr. Farmer wrote. “If we had not pushed as hard as we did — ultimately persuading the commission to use its subpoena power to obtain the records — many of the critical conversations from that morning may have been lost to history.”
The issue of how “to continue government operations” is very sensitive, of course, both militarily and politically (as Alexander Haig discovered). But that may be secondary to the issue of who was really in charge that day.

As we recall, the US executive branch also forced the commission to interview Cheney and George W. Bush together, so they could match their stories, and not under oath. People took notes on either side of the phone conversations between Cheney and Bush on 11 September, and neither one recorded Bush approving Cheney’s order to shoot down planes. Former chief of staff to the Secretary of State Lawence Wilkerson has recently acknowledged that Cheney “was president for all practical purposes for the first term of the Bush administration.”

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