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Context of 'May 6, 2004: Report of Transportation Department Investigation Released, Blames Destruction of Tape of Controllers’ 9/11 Recollections on ‘Poor Judgment’'

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Mike McCormick.Mike McCormick. [Source: CNN]Managers at the FAA’s New York Center fail to inform their higher-ups of an audio tape that was made on September 11, on which several air traffic controllers recalled their experiences with two of the hijacked aircraft. [New York Times, 5/6/2004; Washington Post, 5/6/2004] New York Center manager Mike McCormick had directed Kevin Delaney, the quality assurance manager, to record statements from the six controllers at the center that had been involved in handling or tracking Flights 11 and 175 (see 11:40 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 10/1/2003 pdf file; US Department of Transportation, 5/4/2004 pdf file; Air Safety Week, 5/17/2004]
FAA Superiors Not Informed - However, neither of the two managers subsequently notifies authorities at the FAA’s regional office or Washington headquarters of the existence of the tape with the recorded statements on. Among others, Delaney and McCormick fail to notify the air traffic evaluations and investigations staff at headquarters, which is the FAA’s policy authority on aircraft accident and incident investigations. They also fail to inform FAA authorities of agreements they made with the National Air Traffic Controllers Association to destroy the tape at a future date (see (Shortly Before 11:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and October 2001-February 2002). Additionally, they do not inform the FBI of the tape’s existence (see September 12, 2001).
Investigations Staff Could Have Prevented Tape's Destruction - Delaney deliberately destroys the tape of the controllers’ statements at some point between December 2001 and February 2002 (see Between December 2001 and February 2002). But had he or McCormick consulted with the FAA’s air traffic evaluations and investigations staff, they would have been “instructed that the tape—as an original record—be retained, for five years, in accordance with agency retention requirements,” according to a 2004 report by the Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General (see May 6, 2004).
Tape Learned of in Late 2003 - This report will also state, “When we interviewed officials from outside of New York Center, including the then-FAA administrator, deputy administrator, and director of air traffic services, they told us they were unaware that controller statements had been taped until the issue arose following the 9/11 Commission interviews of center personnel in September and October 2003.” [US Department of Transportation, 5/4/2004 pdf file]

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

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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