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

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

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