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Context of 'Late April 2004: FAA Manager Suspended for Destroying Tape of Controllers’ 9/11 Recollections, but Faces No Criminal Charges'

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A manager at the FAA’s New York Center begins forwarding evidence relating to the 9/11 attacks to the FBI, but he does not pass on, or reveal the existence of, a tape recording of some of the center’s air traffic controllers recalling their interactions with the hijacked aircraft. [US Department of Transportation, 5/4/2004 pdf file] Shortly after the attacks occurred, 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, giving their personal accounts 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]
Tape Not Provided to FBI - In response to verbal requests from the FBI, the FAA’s liaison to the bureau provides it with evidential material relating to the 9/11 attacks. Beginning on September 12, Delaney forwards evidence materials, as they become available, to the FBI through this liaison. But, although the tape of the controllers’ statements was logged into the New York Center’s record of evidence, neither Delaney nor Mike McCormick, the center’s manager, passes it to the FBI. Furthermore, neither of the two managers even discloses the existence of the tape to the FBI or the FAA liaison. Nor do they provide the center’s evidence log, which references the tape, to the FBI. Yet McCormick will later claim that one of his reasons for having requested the tape be made on September 11 was that he wanted a recording of the controllers’ statements that would be immediately available for law enforcement efforts. [US Department of Transportation, 5/4/2004 pdf file; Air Safety Week, 5/17/2004] He had also reassured the six controllers that the tape with their recorded statements on would be strictly for use only by law enforcement personnel (see (Shortly Before 11:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 10/1/2003 pdf file]
Tape Could Have Been Provided on Following Day - By September 13, the FAA liaison will have provided the FBI with air traffic control voice and radar data, which the bureau is most interested in receiving, as well as several written statements that have already been obtained from controllers at the FAA’s Boston and Cleveland Centers, and from personnel at Washington’s Dulles Airport. Had McCormick or Delaney notified the liaison of the tape’s existence, he could have forwarded it to the FBI along with these statements. The tape will be deliberately destroyed several months later (see Between December 2001 and February 2002), and is never made available to the FBI for its investigation. [US Department of Transportation, 5/4/2004 pdf file; Air Safety Week, 5/17/2004]

Entity Tags: Mike McCormick, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Kevin Delaney

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

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