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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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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

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

An air traffic controller at the FAA’s New York Center who was recorded recalling her actions during the 9/11 attacks is denied a request to listen to her taped statement, possibly while she is preparing a written statement about the attacks. [US Department of Transportation, 5/4/2004 pdf file] Six controllers at the New York Center who communicated with, or tracked, two of the hijacked aircraft on 9/11 were recorded later that day giving their personal accounts of what happened (see 11:40 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 5/6/2004] Mike McCormick, the center’s manager, told the union official representing these controllers that they would be able to use their taped statements to help them prepare written ones (see (Shortly Before 11:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001).
Controller Told No One Can Hear Tape - However, when one of the controllers asks to listen to her own oral statement, she is told by Kevin Delaney—the New York Center’s quality assurance manager, who is the tape’s custodian—that the tape is not meant for anyone to hear. It is unclear if the controller wants to hear the tape to help her prepare a written statement about the attacks. According to a 2004 report by the Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General (see May 6, 2004), she asks “to listen to the tape in preparing her written statement.” The five controllers that were recorded on September 11 who subsequently provide written statements prepare those statements within three weeks of 9/11 (see (Between September 11 and October 2, 2001)), but, according to Delaney, this controller asks to listen to the tape in November 2001, which would be after the written statements are provided.
Controller Requests Tape Again in 2003 - The tape of the controllers’ statements will be destroyed at some point between December 2001 and February 2002 (see Between December 2001 and February 2002), without any of the controllers having listened to it. The controller who requests to hear her own recorded statement will again ask to listen to the tape around September or October 2003, when she is to be interviewed by the 9/11 Commission, but, as it has already been destroyed by then, the tape cannot be located. [US Department of Transportation, 5/4/2004 pdf file; Air Safety Week, 5/17/2004]

Entity Tags: 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

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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