Destroyed 9/11 Tape
Recording Contained Accounts of Communications
With Hijacked Planes
By Sara Kehaulani
Washington Post Staff
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
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 Greg Martin.
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 report stated.
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
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
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 saying.
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
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."
© 2004 The Washington Post