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Context of 'Between December 2001 and February 2002: Manager at FAA’s New York Center Destroys Tape of Controller’s 9/11 Accounts'

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Logo of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association.Logo of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. [Source: National Air Traffic Controllers Association]Several air traffic controllers at the FAA’s New York Center and a union official representing them express concern that the controllers are going to be recorded recalling their experiences of the morning’s attacks, but are persuaded to go ahead with the recording. [9/11 Commission, 10/1/2003 pdf file; US Department of Transportation, 5/4/2004 pdf file; Washington Post, 5/7/2004] Mike McCormick, the New York Center manager, has directed that six controllers who communicated with, or tracked, the first two hijacked aircraft participate in a session where they are recorded giving their personal accounts of what happened. [Washington Post, 5/6/2004; Air Safety Week, 5/17/2004]
Controllers Apprehensive - According to McCormick, before the session commences there is a general concern among these controllers. He will later tell the 9/11 Commission that they “didn’t want to put things in a formal way that would be used in an investigation. There was also some worry about who would receive the tape.”
Local Union President Concerned - McCormick consults with Mark DiPalmo, the local president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA)—the air traffic controllers’ union. DiPalmo is concerned because the tape recording of statements is not a standard procedure. McCormick assures him that the tape will be available only to law enforcement officers, will only serve as a temporary measure until written statements have been prepared, and the controllers will be able to use their taped statements to help them prepare written ones. [9/11 Commission, 10/1/2003 pdf file; US Department of Transportation, 5/4/2004 pdf file; New York Times, 5/6/2004] Ruth E. Marlin, the executive vice president of NATCA, will later say she cannot address the question of why DiPalmo wants the tape to be “temporary.” She will say, however, that if she were in his position, “my concern would be that if tapes were saved permanently, they might be subject to FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] request, and then controllers would be subject to hearing their own voices recounted on television over and over again.” [Washington Post, 5/7/2004]
Controllers and Union President Consent - The controllers are reassured that the tape with their recorded statements on will not be used for disciplinary purposes, and will be strictly for use only by law enforcement personnel. [9/11 Commission, 10/1/2003 pdf file] DiPalmo agrees to the recording of the controllers on the condition that the tape is only a temporary record until written statements are obtained, after which it should be destroyed. The recording session commences at 11:40 a.m. (see 11:40 a.m. September 11, 2001) and the resulting tape will be destroyed several months later (see Between December 2001 and February 2002). [US Department of Transportation, 5/4/2004 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Mike McCormick, National Air Traffic Controllers Association, Mark DiPalmo, Ruth E. Marlin

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A number of air traffic controllers at the FAA’s New York Center provide accounts of their experiences of interacting with, or tracking, two of the hijacked aircraft, on a tape recording that will later be destroyed by one of the center’s managers. [New York Times, 5/6/2004; Washington Post, 5/7/2004; Air Safety Week, 5/17/2004]
Manager Directs Colleague to Record Controllers - Mike McCormick, the New York Center manager, directs the taping. He will later say he does so because he wants a contemporaneous recording of the controllers’ accounts that will be immediately available for law enforcement efforts, in case agencies like the FBI show up at the center. He is also concerned that the controllers might be taking stress-induced sickness leave in response to the attacks. They would therefore be unavailable to give conventional written witness statements in a timely manner, and their recollections would be less clear when they returned from leave. McCormick tells Kevin Delaney, the center’s quality assurance manager, to record the controllers’ statements, and a tape recorder is then set up to do this. [9/11 Commission, 10/1/2003 pdf file; US Department of Transportation, 5/4/2004 pdf file; Air Safety Week, 5/17/2004]
Controllers Gathered Together - At least six of the center’s air traffic controllers are gathered in a room at the center nicknamed the “Bat Cave” for the fact-finding session. [US Department of Transportation, 5/4/2004 pdf file; New York Times, 5/6/2004] These controllers and a union official representing them were concerned about the controllers being recorded, but have been persuaded to go ahead with the session (see (Shortly Before 11:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 10/1/2003 pdf file; US Department of Transportation, 5/4/2004 pdf file; Washington Post, 5/7/2004]
Controllers Describe Experiences - Beginning at 11:40 a.m., a recording is made on a single, standard cassette tape. The controllers, who were involved in working radar positions during the hijackings and crashes of the first two targeted aircraft, Flight 11 and Flight 175, are asked to make statements. According to Mark DiPalmo, the local president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, “We sat everyone in a room, went around the room, said, ‘What do you remember?’” The controllers give their statements in the group setting, with a microphone being passed from one of them to the next. They describe their actions interacting with, or tracking, the two hijacked aircraft. According to DiPalmo, the session is informal, and sometimes more than one person is speaking at a time. The resulting tape lasts about an hour, with each recorded statement lasting about five to 10 minutes.
Other Employees Present - As well as the six controllers, approximately 10 other FAA employees are present during the session. (A signing-in sheet will show that about 16 center personnel are there. However, some witnesses will later indicate there may be additional individuals who do not sign in.) Two quality assurance specialists take notes, but these are sketchy, amounting to just three pages in total. After the tape of the session has been made, it is logged into the New York Center’s formal record of evidence.
Recording Controllers Not Standard Procedure - Audio taping of witness statements following an accident or incident has not previously been conducted at the New York Center. [US Department of Transportation, 5/4/2004 pdf file; New York Times, 5/6/2004] However, David LaCates, the deputy operations manager there, will tell the 9/11 Commission that, “Since this was an unusual situation,” he believes McCormick wants “an immediate and accurate record of what had happened.” [9/11 Commission, 10/2/2003 pdf file]
FBI Does Not Come to Center - Although McCormick is expecting law enforcement authorities to come to the New York Center quickly, none do. Yet, even though he will later claim he wanted the tape made for the benefit of these authorities, McCormick will not reach out to the FBI himself, nor tell FAA headquarters or regional headquarters that no one has come. [9/11 Commission, 10/1/2003 pdf file; Air Safety Week, 5/17/2004]
Tape Later Destroyed - Despite its evidential value, Delaney will deliberately destroy the tape of the controllers’ statements several months later (see Between December 2001 and February 2002), before anyone has listened to, transcribed, or made a duplicate of it. [US Department of Transportation, 5/4/2004 pdf file; Washington Post, 5/7/2004] Even McCormick will say he never listens to the tape. [9/11 Commission, 10/1/2003 pdf file] Prior to an investigation by the Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General in late 2003 and early 2004 (see May 6, 2004), apparently no one outside the New York Center will be aware of the tape’s existence or its destruction. [US Department of Transportation, 5/4/2004 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Kevin Delaney, Mark DiPalmo, David LaCates, Mike McCormick

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Five of the six air traffic controllers at the FAA’s New York Center that provided tape-recorded statements where they described their actions during the 9/11 attacks subsequently prepare written statements about the attacks. However, they do not get to listen to their earlier taped accounts to help them do this. [US Department of Transportation, 5/4/2004 pdf file]
FAA Requires Written Statements - Six controllers at the New York Center who communicated with, or tracked, two of the hijacked aircraft on 9/11 have participated in a session where they were recorded giving their personal accounts of the attacks (see 11:40 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 5/6/2004] But FAA policy requires all personnel that were involved with an aircraft accident or incident to provide written statements. [US Department of Transportation, 5/4/2004 pdf file] According to David LaCates, the deputy operations manager at the New York Center, the usual procedure is for those controllers to watch a computerized recreation of the air traffic radar picture during the event while listening to an audio tape of their air traffic controller position during that event, and then compile a written statement. [9/11 Commission, 10/2/2003 pdf file]
Five Controllers Prepare Statements - One of the six controllers provides a written statement during the day of September 11, some time after giving his or her tape-recorded account; three of them provide written statements about two weeks later; the fifth does so three weeks after the attacks. All of the written statements are two pages long, except one that is four pages. According to Kevin Delaney, the New York Center’s quality assurance manager, the sixth controller does not provide a written statement because these statements are only required from the controllers that talked to the hijacked aircraft or had been working radar positions that the flight paths of the hijacked aircraft intersected.
Controllers Do Not Hear Tape - Before the controllers gave their tape-recorded accounts, Mike McCormick, the New York Center manager, told the local controllers’ union president that they would be able to use their taped statements to help them prepare their written ones (see (Shortly Before 11:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Yet the controllers never listen to the tape before they make their written statements, nor do they compare their completed written statements with their earlier taped ones. When one of the controllers asks to listen to the tape, she will be told that it is not meant for anyone to hear (see (November 2001)).
Written Statements Generally Consistent with Recorded Ones - Three of the five controllers that provide written statements will later tell Department of Transportation investigators that they believe their written statements are mostly consistent with their earlier recorded statements. The other two controllers will say they believe their written statements are more accurate or more detailed, because they were able to review radar data and transcripts of radio communications before preparing them. However, they will say they cannot be certain of this, since they never listened to the tape. In a 2004 report, the Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General will state that its “review of the controllers’ written witness statements, in comparison with two sets of sparse and sketchy notes taken during the taping, suggests some measure of consistency.” [US Department of Transportation, 5/4/2004 pdf file; Air Safety Week, 5/17/2004] The tape of the controllers’ statements will be destroyed some time between December 2001 and February 2002 (see Between December 2001 and February 2002), without any of the controllers having listened to it. [New York Times, 5/6/2004; Washington Post, 5/6/2004]

Entity Tags: David LaCates, Kevin Delaney

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The FAA’s New York Center receives an e-mail, directing it to retain all data and records for September 11, yet one of the center’s managers will later ignore this directive and deliberately destroy a tape on which six of the center’s air traffic controllers recalled their interactions with two of the hijacked aircraft. [New York Times, 5/6/2004; Washington Post, 5/6/2004; Air Safety Week, 5/17/2004]
Directive Intended to Preserve Records - The directive has been issued by the air traffic evaluations and investigations staff at the FAA’s headquarters in Washington, DC. This staff is the FAA’s policy authority on aircraft accident and incident investigations. According to its manager, the intent of the directive is to preserve all voice communications, radar data, and facility records that would have been returned to service after the normal 15-day retention period.
E-mail Says Retain All Records - The directive is communicated to the New York Center in an e-mail from the FAA’s eastern region quality assurance manager. The e-mail states: “Retain and secure until further notice ALL administrative/operational data and records.… If a question arises whether or not you should retain the data, RETAIN IT.” It includes a phone number to call, should the recipients have any questions. [US Department of Transportation, 5/4/2004 pdf file]
Manager Disregards Directive - Both Mike McCormick, the New York Center manager, and Kevin Delaney, the center’s quality assurance manager, who was instructed to tape-record the controllers’ witness accounts on September 11 (see 11:40 a.m. September 11, 2001), receive this e-mail. Yet Delaney does not follow the directive, as he will subsequently destroy the tape with the controllers’ statements on (see Between December 2001 and February 2002). [9/11 Commission, 10/1/2003 pdf file; US Department of Transportation, 5/4/2004 pdf file; Air Safety Week, 5/17/2004]
Two Reasons for Ignoring Directive - Delaney will later give Department of Transportation investigators two reasons why he ignores the directive. Firstly, he will say he did not consider it to apply to the tape of the controllers’ statements, “because he felt the tape had been created in violation of FAA air traffic policy.” Secondly, he will claim the directive “could not have been intended to apply to the tape-recorded statements, since the region and FAA headquarters did not know of the tape’s existence” (see September 12, 2001-October 2003). [US Department of Transportation, 5/4/2004 pdf file] However, Air Safety Week will state that, according to “experienced criminal investigators,” “[w]hether higher authorities were aware or not, [and] whether the tape was a temporary or permanent record, is immaterial.” [Air Safety Week, 5/17/2004]

Entity Tags: Kevin Delaney, Mike McCormick, Federal Aviation Administration, New York Air Route Traffic Control Center

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The local vice president of the air traffic controllers’ union checks with a manager at the FAA’s New York Center whether anyone has listened to an audio tape that was recorded on September 11, on which several controllers recalled their experiences of the attacks, and is assured that the tape is going to be destroyed. [US Department of Transportation, 5/4/2004 pdf file]
Union Vice President Asks about Tape - Within a few hours of the 9/11 attacks, Kevin Delaney, the New York Center’s quality assurance manager, tape-recorded witness statements from six controllers at the center that had been involved in handling or tracking two of the hijacked aircraft (see 11:40 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 10/1/2003 pdf file; Washington Post, 5/6/2004; Air Safety Week, 5/17/2004] On at least two occasions over the following few months, the local vice president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA)—the controllers’ union—asks Delaney whether anyone has listened to the tape of those statements. (Delaney will later recall that he speaks with the union vice president about the tape in October 2001 and again in February 2002.)
Delaney Says He Will Destroy Tape - Delaney, who is the custodian of the tape, assures the union vice president that no one has listened to the tape, and it is not going to be provided to anyone. He also says he will “get rid of it” once the center’s formal accident package, which will include the controllers’ written statements about the 9/11 attacks, has been completed (see November 2001-May 2002). [US Department of Transportation, 5/4/2004 pdf file]
Center Manager Gave Similar Assurance - Before the taping of the six controllers commenced on September 11, New York Center manager Mike McCormick had given similar assurances to Mark DiPalmo, the local NATCA president. DiPalmo agreed to the recording going ahead on the condition that the tape would only be a temporary record until written statements were obtained, after which it would be destroyed (see (Shortly Before 11:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 10/1/2003 pdf file; US Department of Transportation, 5/4/2004 pdf file; New York Times, 5/6/2004]
Tape-Recording Statements Not Standard Procedure - The Washington Post will report that, according to union officials representing air traffic controllers, the tape-recording of controllers’ accounts of an accident is almost unheard of, and the normal procedure is for controllers to provide written statements after reviewing radar and other data. [Washington Post, 5/7/2004]

Entity Tags: Kevin Delaney, National Air Traffic Controllers Association

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The FAA’s New York Center submits a “formal accident package” of evidence relating to the 9/11 attacks to FAA headquarters in Washington, DC, but a manager at the center deliberately excludes from it an audio tape on which several air traffic controllers recalled their experiences with the hijacked aircraft. [US Department of Transportation, 5/4/2004 pdf file; Washington Post, 5/6/2004] This tape was created on September 11, shortly after the attacks occurred, when six controllers at the New York Center who communicated with, or tracked, two of the hijacked aircraft were recorded giving their personal accounts of what happened (see 11:40 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 5/6/2004] The tape was then logged into the center’s formal record of evidence. [US Department of Transportation, 5/4/2004 pdf file]
Evidence Package Required for Air Accidents - FAA policy requires that a formal accident package be provided for all aircraft accident investigations, including military investigations, when FAA air traffic facilities were, or may have been, involved in the accident. A formal accident package must include “all pertinent records, personnel statements, transcriptions of voice recordings, charts, operation letters, letters of agreement, and facility memoranda.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 8/16/2000 pdf file] Kevin Delaney, the New York Center’s quality assurance manager, has had an argument with FAA headquarters over whether the events of 9/11 should be declared an aircraft accident or an incident. Less information needs to be provided in an incident package than in an accident package. But as the 9/11 attacks are deemed an accident, Delaney is supposed to provide the names of everyone involved in them, including those that died at the World Trade Center. He must also provide transcripts and other information relating to the status of the aircraft involved, which would not be included in an incident package. [9/11 Commission, 9/30/2003 pdf file]
Package Returned for Extra Work - The New York Center submits its formal accident package to FAA headquarters in November 2001, but the package is returned to the center the following month for additional work. It is re-sent and finalized in May 2002.
Delaney Decides to Omit Tape - The formal accident package includes written statements about the 9/11 attacks that have been provided by controllers whose accounts were recorded on the audio tape (see (Between September 11 and October 2, 2001)). But Delaney makes a conscious decision not to also include that tape in the package. His reason for this, he will later say, is that including it would mean losing control of the tape, thereby being unable to keep a promise he made to the National Air Traffic Controllers Association that he would “get rid of” it (see October 2001-February 2002). At some point after the initial submission of the package, between December 2001 and February 2002, Delaney deliberately destroys the tape of the controllers’ statements (see Between December 2001 and February 2002). [US Department of Transportation, 5/4/2004 pdf file]

Entity Tags: New York Air Route Traffic Control Center, Kevin Delaney, Federal Aviation Administration

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A manager at the FAA’s New York Center deliberately destroys an audio tape that was made on September 11, on which several of the center’s air traffic controllers recounted their interactions with the hijacked aircraft. [New York Times, 5/6/2004; Washington Post, 5/7/2004] Within hours of the 9/11 attacks, Kevin Delaney, the New York Center’s quality assurance manager, was instructed to make the tape recording, on which six controllers at the center involved in handling or tracking two of the hijacked aircraft recalled their experiences of what happened (see 11:40 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 10/1/2003 pdf file; Washington Post, 5/6/2004; Air Safety Week, 5/17/2004]
Crushes Cassette, Cuts Tape into Small Pieces - But a few months later, some time between December 2001 and February 2002, Delaney destroys the tape. He will later recall that he does so by “crushing the cassette case in his hand, cutting the tape into small pieces, and depositing the pieces in trash cans throughout the center.” A Department of Transportation (DOT) report in 2004 will point out, “It is clear [Delaney] went to great lengths to destroy the tape so that it would never leave the center intact.”
Superiors Not Consulted - Delaney disposes of the tape of his own volition, and without consulting his superiors. However, Mike McCormick, the New York Center manager, will later say that, had Delaney asked for his permission to destroy the tape, he would have given it, since he viewed the tape as only a temporary record.
Two Reasons for Destroying Tape - Delaney will later tell DOT investigators that he destroys the tape for two reasons. Firstly, he considers the creation of the tape to have been contrary to FAA policy for aircraft accidents and incidents, which requires that handwritten statements be made after controllers are able to review certain materials, such as radio transmissions and radar data. (The DOT investigators will dispute this conclusion (see May 6, 2004).) He therefore feels the tape is of limited value relative to the controllers’ written statements (see (Between September 11 and October 2, 2001)). Secondly, Delaney feels the controllers were distressed on 9/11, and therefore not in the correct frame of mind to properly consent to the taping. He bases this assessment partly on what he has seen on television crime shows, about due process and legal rights associated with investigations. But the 2004 DOT report will state, “Under FAA policy, and as supported by air traffic policy experts at FAA headquarters, the tape should have been considered an original record and retained for five years.” A former criminal investigator will comment, “Ray Charles [the blind musician] could see that this was a cover-up.”
Others Not Notified - Delaney destroys the tape without anyone having listened to, copied, or transcribed it. He will not inform the New York Center’s management that he has destroyed the tape until he is asked about it in September 2003, following inquiries by the 9/11 Commission. Materials the New York Center prepares for submission to the Commission will even include a chain-of-custody index that mistakenly indicates the tape still exists. And prior to an investigation by the DOT’s Office of Inspector General in late 2003 and early 2004, apparently no one outside the New York Center will be aware of the existence of the tape, or of its destruction.
Union Told Tape Would Be Destroyed - Delaney previously assured the local vice president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA) that he would “get rid of” the tape once the center’s formal accident package had been completed (see October 2001-February 2002). (This package has now been submitted to FAA headquarters (see November 2001-May 2002).) But Delaney will tell DOT investigators that he did not feel under any pressure from NATCA to destroy the tape. McCormick made a similar agreement with the local NATCA president, that the tape would be destroyed after written statements had been obtained from the controllers (see (Shortly Before 11:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001), but Delaney is unaware of this.
No Regrets - Delaney apparently has no subsequent regrets about destroying the tape. He will later say that, under similar circumstances, he would again follow the same course of action. [US Department of Transportation, 5/4/2004 pdf file; Air Safety Week, 5/17/2004]

Entity Tags: Kevin Delaney, Mike McCormick

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The FAA takes disciplinary action against a manager at its New York Center who deliberately destroyed an audio tape containing the recorded accounts of six of the center’s air traffic controllers, describing their experiences with the hijacked aircraft on 9/11, but this manager does not face criminal prosecution for destroying the tape. [Washington Post, 5/7/2004; Air Safety Week, 5/17/2004]
Department of Transportation Investigation - The Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) has been investigating how well the FAA cooperated with the 9/11 Commission’s requests for agency documents and other materials. A particular allegation is that the FAA destroyed an audio tape that was made on September 11, of New York Center controllers recounting their actions and observations during that day’s attacks.
Quality Assurance Manager Suspended - The OIG recommended to the FAA administrator that the conduct of the two key figures in the matter—New York Center manager Mike McCormick and quality assurance manager Kevin Delaney—be reviewed and appropriate action taken against them. Delaney, who was responsible for destroying the tape (see Between December 2001 and February 2002), is now given a 20-day suspension without pay. He will appeal the decision, though whether his appeal is successful is unstated. McCormick, who directed that the tape be made on September 11 (see 11:40 a.m. September 11, 2001), is not subjected to any disciplinary action.
No Criminal Prosecution - The OIG also referred the details of its investigation to the US Attorney’s office in the Eastern District of New York for review as to whether any criminal statutes had been violated. But after considering the facts, the US Attorney’s office decided not to pursue any potential prosecution due to what it considered a lack of criminal intent. [US Department of Transportation, 5/4/2004 pdf file; Washington Post, 5/7/2004; Air Safety Week, 5/17/2004]

Entity Tags: Mike McCormick, Kevin Delaney, Federal Aviation Administration

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Kenneth M. Mead, the Department of Transportation inspector general.Kenneth M. Mead, the Department of Transportation inspector general. [Source: Patriots Question 9/11]The Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) releases a report on its investigation into how well the FAA cooperated with the 9/11 Commission, which focuses on the deliberate destruction of a tape recording of air traffic controllers’ recollections of the 9/11 attacks, and blames this on “poor judgment.” [New York Times, 5/6/2004; Air Safety Week, 5/17/2004]
Senator Requested Investigation - In October 2003, Senator John McCain (R-AZ), the chairman of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, asked the OIG to investigate how well the FAA responded to the 9/11 Commission’s requests for agency documents and other materials. [US Department of Transportation, 5/4/2004 pdf file]
FAA Cooperated, but Managers Criticized - Having conducted its investigation, the OIG now issues a report, which finds that the FAA generally cooperated with the Commission by providing documents about its activities on September 11. [Washington Post, 5/6/2004] However, the report criticizes two managers at the FAA’s New York Center, over the destruction of an audio tape that was made on September 11. [US Department of Transportation, 5/4/2004 pdf file] Within a few hours of the 9/11 attacks, Kevin Delaney, the New York Center’s quality assurance manager, was instructed to make a tape recording of six controllers at the center who had been involved in handling or tracking two of the hijacked aircraft, recalling their experiences of the attacks (see 11:40 a.m. September 11, 2001). But Delaney destroyed the tape of the controllers’ statements a few months later (see Between December 2001 and February 2002). [9/11 Commission, 10/1/2003 pdf file; Washington Post, 5/6/2004; Air Safety Week, 5/17/2004] The 9/11 Commission learned of the tape and its destruction during interviews with New York Center employees in September and October 2003.
Actions Not in the Best Interest of FAA, Transportation Department, and Public - The OIG’s report criticizes Delaney for destroying the tape, and Mike McCormick, the New York Center manager, for not telling his superiors about the tape and an agreement he made with the air traffic controllers’ union to destroy it (see (Shortly Before 11:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The report says the two men “did not, in our view, act in the best interest of FAA, the Department [of Transportation], or the public,” and adds, “Their actions in this case do not reflect proper judgment expected of professionals in those management positions.”
FAA Policy Does Not Prohibit Taped Statements - Delaney told OIG investigators that one reason he destroyed the tape was that he considered its creation to be against FAA policy, which requires that controllers provide written statements. However, the OIG’s report disputes this. It states, “[W]e reviewed the FAA order that prescribes policy for the investigation of aircraft accidents and incidents, finding that it does not specifically prohibit tape-recorded statements, but rather is silent with regard to this specific issue.” The report adds, “We interviewed staff from the FAA air traffic evaluations and investigations staff (policy experts on aircraft accident/incident investigations), who advised that while the order does provide for only written statements, the tape—once created—should have been treated as an original record and thus kept in accordance with agency retention requirements—five years.”
FAA Authorities Should Have Been Consulted - Delaney destroyed the tape of his own volition and without consulting his superiors. But the report states that he “had no authority to decide whether the taping violated FAA policy or the rights of the controllers. The proper course of action for [Delaney] would have been to communicate his concerns to appropriate levels of authority, as opposed to substituting his own judgment and summarily destroying the tape.” Specifically, “he should have sought advice and counsel from the evaluations and investigations staff and/or FAA’s chief counsel, which he told us he had not done.”
Managers Created Impression of Evidence Being Withheld - The report criticizes Delaney and McCormick for creating the impression that they were hiding something. It states: “The destruction of evidence in the government’s possession… has the effect of fostering an appearance that information is being withheld from the public. We do not ascribe motivations to the managers in this case of attempting to cover up, and we have no indication there was anything on the tape that would lead anyone to conclude that they had something to hide or that the controllers did not properly carry out their duties on September 11. The actions of these managers, particularly the quality assurance manager, nonetheless, do little to dispel such appearances.”
Tape Now Unavailable to Assist Investigations - The OIG’s report concludes: “As a result of the judgments rendered by these managers, no one will ever know for certain the content of the tape or its intrinsic value, nor be able to compare the audio taped statements with the controllers’ written witness statements—one of which was prepared three weeks later—for purposes of ensuring completeness.… [W]hat those six controllers recounted on September 11, in their own voices, about what transpired that morning, are no longer available to assist any investigation or inform the public.” [US Department of Transportation, 5/4/2004 pdf file]
Tape's Destruction 'Was a Cover-Up' - While the OIG’s report only accuses Delaney and McCormick of having “exercised poor judgment concerning the issue of retention of the audio tape,” one former criminal investigator will be more forthright, commenting, “Ray Charles [the blind musician] could see that this was a cover-up.” [US Department of Transportation, 5/4/2004 pdf file; Air Safety Week, 5/17/2004]

Entity Tags: 9/11 Commission, Kevin Delaney, Federal Aviation Administration, US Department of Transportation, Mike McCormick

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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