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Context of 'After September 11, 2001: Unlike Previous Incidents, NTSB Does Not Investigate 9/11 Plane Crashes'

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Gameel el-Batouti was suspected of purposely crashing Egyptair 990 (left). Wreckage of the plane (right).Gameel el-Batouti was suspected of purposely crashing Egyptair 990 (left). Wreckage of the plane (right). [Source: Mike Stewart/ Corbis, and Brian Snyder/ Reuters]EgyptAir Flight 990 crashes into the ocean off the coast of Massachusetts, killing all 217 people on board. It is immediately suspected that one of the pilots purposely crashed the plane, and this is the eventual conclusion of a National Transportation Safety Board investigation. Thirty-three Egyptian military officers were aboard the plane, leading to suspicions that killing them was the motive for crashing the plane. No connections between the supposed suicide pilot and militancy are found. [ABC News, 11/2/1999; Associated Press, 1/21/2000; Atlantic Monthly, 11/2001; Aviation Week and Space Technology, 3/25/2002] The Egyptian government publicly asserts that the crash was caused by mechanical failure. However, shortly before 9/11 it will be reported that US intelligence secretly monitored communications between Egyptian officials and hear that Egyptian investigators “privately accept” that the pilot was “probably responsible” for the crash. [CNN, 6/25/2001] Mohammed Atef, al-Qaeda’s military operations chief, is said to be inspired to use the idea of planes as weapons after learning of this incident. The US learns of Atef’s interest from the interrogation of al-Qaeda suspects in Jordan, but it hasn’t been reported if this is learned before or after 9/11. [Washington Post, 9/11/2002]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Mohammed Atef

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

From left to right: Mokhtar Haouari, Abdelmajid Dahoumane, Abdel Ghani Meskini. The picture of Meskini is from an ATM camera.From left to right: Mokhtar Haouari, Abdelmajid Dahoumane, Abdel Ghani Meskini. The picture of Meskini is from an ATM camera. [Source: Public domain, public domain, and Seattle Times]In the wake of the arrest of Ahmed Ressam (see December 14, 1999), FBI investigators work frantically to uncover more millennium plots before the end of the year. US authorities also make a number of arrests.
bullet A telephone number found in Ressam’s pocket leads to Abdel Ghani Meskini, an Algerian living in New York City who had gone to Seattle to meet Ressam. Meskini is monitored and arrested in New York on December 30.
bullet One of Ressam’s credit cards leads to the arrest of Mokhtar Haouari, an Algerian living in Montreal, Canada. Meskini later cooperates with US investigators and is never charged, while Haouari will be sentenced to 24 years in prison. [Time, 2/7/2000; CNN, 1/16/2002; Wright, 2006, pp. 298]
bullet Another Algerian associate of Ressam’s, Abdelmajid Dahoumane, escapes to Afghanistan, but will eventually be caught by the Algerian government and convicted in Algeria. [PBS Frontline, 10/25/2001]
bullet Investigators believe that Mohamedou Ould Slahi, an al-Qaeda operative whose cousin is a top al-Qaeda leader, went to Canada to give the go-ahead for Ressam’s attack. Slahi is arrested several times overseas, but never charged (see January-April 2000). [CNN, 3/6/2002]
bullet Khalid Deek, a US citizen, is arrested around this time for masterminding another al-Qaeda millennnium plot (see December 11, 1999). But counterterrorism expert Rita Katz will later say Deek was a suspected mastermind of Ressam’s Los Angeles airport plot, too. [Orange County Register, 9/12/2005] Deek’s name and phone number is found in Ressam’s telephone book. Ressam knew Deek from bin Laden training camps in Afghanistan. Both of them, like most of Ressam’s group, have links to the GIA, an Algerian militant group associated with al-Qaeda. [Newsweek (International), 3/13/2000]
Others escape the US after hearing media reports of Ressam’s arrest. However, enough people are caught to stop additional millennium attacks. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke later says, “I think a lot of the FBI leadership for the first time realized that… there probably were al-Qaeda people in the United States. They realized that only after they looked at the results of the investigation of the millennium bombing plot.” [PBS Frontline, 10/3/2002] Yet Clinton’s National Security Adviser Sandy Berger later claims that the FBI will still repeatedly assure the Clinton White House until Clinton leaves office that al-Qaeda lacks the ability to launch a domestic strike (see 2000).

Entity Tags: Mohamedou Ould Slahi, Sandy Berger, Khalil Deek, Mokhtar Haouari, Groupe Islamique Armé, Abdel Ghani Meskini, Al-Qaeda, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Richard A. Clarke, Ahmed Ressam

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Hijackers threaten the Indian Airlines plane, under Taliban supervision.Hijackers threaten the Indian Airlines plane, under Taliban supervision. [Source: Agence France-Presse/ Getty Images]Indian Airlines Flight 814 is hijacked and flown to Afghanistan where 155 passengers are held hostage for eight days. They are freed in return for the release of three militants held in Indian prisons. One of the hostages is killed. One of the men freed in the exchange is Saeed Sheikh, who will later allegedly wire money to the 9/11 hijackers (see Early August 2001). [BBC, 12/31/1999] Another freed militant is Maulana Masood Azhar. Azhar emerges in Pakistan a few days later, and tells a crowd of 10,000, “I have come here because this is my duty to tell you that Muslims should not rest in peace until we have destroyed America and India.” [Associated Press, 1/5/2000] He then tours Pakistan for weeks under the protection of the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency. [Vanity Fair, 8/2002] The ISI and Saeed help Azhar form a new Islamic militant group called Jaish-e-Mohammed, and Azhar is soon plotting attacks again. [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 3/3/2002; Guardian, 7/16/2002; Washington Post, 2/8/2003] The hijacking plot is blamed on Harkat ul-Mujahedeen (also known as Harkat ul-Ansar), a Pakistani militant group originally formed and developed in large part due to Pervez Musharraf in the early 1990s, and led by Azhar and Sheikh before their arrests in India (see Early 1993). Musharraf has just taken power in Pakistan in a coup two months earlier (see October 12, 1999). The Indian government publicly blames the ISI for backing the hijacking. Such claims are not surprising given the longstanding animosity between Pakistan and India; however, US officials also privately say the ISI backed the hijacking and may even have helped carry it out. The US and Britain demand that Pakistan ban Harkat ul-Mujahedeen and other similar groups, but Pakistan takes no action. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 48] The five hijackers, all Pakistanis and members of Harkat ul-Mujahedeen, are released and return to Pakistan. They are never arrested. One of them will later be revealed to be Amjad Farooqi, a leader of both al-Qaeda and Pakistani militant groups who will be killed in mysterious circumstances in 2004 (see September 27, 2004). India is furious with the US for refusing to condemn Pakistan or pressure it to take action against the hijackers. According to some sources, al-Qaeda planned the hijacking in conjunction with Harkat ul-Mujahedeen. [Washington Post, 9/27/2004; Rashid, 2008, pp. 112-113] In 2001, the flight’s captain, Devi Sharan, will say that the hijackers of his plane used techniques similar to the 9/11 hijackers, suggesting a common modus operandi. The hijackers praised Osama bin Laden, had knives and slit the throat of a passenger, herded the passengers to the back of the plane where some of them used cell phones to call relatives, and one hijacker said he had trained on a simulator. [CNN, 9/26/2001]

Entity Tags: Indian Airlines Flight 814, Devi Sharan, Harkat ul-Mujahedeen, Central Intelligence Agency, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Al-Qaeda, Amjad Farooqi, Saeed Sheikh, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Maulana Masood Azhar

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke leads a meeting of the interagency Counterterrorism Security Group (CSG) devoted largely to the possibility of an airline hijacking by al-Qaeda. The meeting is said to come during a period of low threat, after the millennium alerts had ended (see December 15-31, 1999). Clarke later will recall that the possibility of a suicide hijacking would have been only one of many speculative possibilities considered. The apparent suicide hijacking of EgyptAir Flight 990 off the coast of Massachusetts in late 1999 appears to have been a concern of the CSG around this time (see October 31, 1999). Also, one month earlier, a militant group connected to al-Qaeda successfully hijacked an airplane in India, won their demands, and escaped (see December 24-31, 1999). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 345, 561]

Entity Tags: Richard A. Clarke, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Several local people believe they hear a missile overhead just before Flight 93 goes down. Barry Lichty, a US Navy veteran and mayor of Indian Lake Borough (just to the east of where Flight 93 crashes), is watching television with his wife. He says he hears “a loud roar above the house that sounded like a missile.… Shortly thereafter, we heard an explosion and a tremor. My first reaction, as a former utility employee, was that maybe someone shot a missile into the substation.” He says Flight 93 “did not come over my house. I don’t know what we heard.” [Kashurba, 2002, pp. 158-159] Joe Wilt, who lives a quarter-mile from the crash site, hears a “whistling like a missile, then a loud boom.” He says, “The first thing I thought it was, was a missile.” [Boston Globe, 9/12/2001; Washington Post, 9/12/2001] And Ernie Stuhl, the mayor of Shanksville, later says, “I know of two people - I will not mention names - that heard a missile. They both live very close, within a couple of hundred yards.… This one fellow’s served in Vietnam and he says he’s heard them, and he heard one that day.” [Philadelphia Daily News, 11/18/2001] Officials will emphatically deny that Flight 93 was shot down, as some people later suggest (see September 14, 2001). [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 9/14/2001; Longman, 2002, pp. 264] However, a number of witnesses report seeing a small, white jet plane near the crash site, around the time Flight 93 reportedly goes down (see (Before and After 10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: Barry Lichty, Joe Wilt

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

In the weeks following 9/11, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) assists the FBI in its response to the attacks. Over 60 NTSB employees work at the scenes of the crashes—the Pentagon, Pennsylvania, and New York—and at the board’s headquarters in Washington, DC, helping to identify aircraft parts, searching for and analyzing the flight recorders, and assisting the victims’ families. [National Transportation Safety Board, 9/13/2001; US Congress. Senate. Committee on Commerce, 6/25/2002] However, unusually, none of the four planes that crashed are the subject of formal NTSB investigations. According to Vern Grose, a highly respected air disaster analyst and former NTSB member: “First of all, after any aircraft crash, the NTSB [normally] launches what they call a ‘go team’ within two hours and that go team will have up to twelve people on it. Specialists in airframe, in engines, in electronics, in human factors. And these folks all go to the scene—they isolate the scene. From that point on, it’s the NTSB’s responsibility.” But with the crashes on 9/11, Grose says, “it’s my understanding that it did not occur exactly like that. They may have launched an NTSB crew, but it never took the same course a normal investigation would have.” [Lappe and Marshall, 2004, pp. 40-41] The NTSB says that, because the four crashes were “criminal acts,” the FBI is consequently the “lead investigative agency.” [National Transportation Safety Board, 9/13/2001] Therefore, the NTSB will later state that it “did not determine the probable cause” of any of the four crashes, “and does not plan to issue a report or open a public docket.” [National Transportation Safety Board, 3/7/2006; National Transportation Safety Board, 3/7/2006; National Transportation Safety Board, 3/7/2006; National Transportation Safety Board, 3/7/2006] However, even under these circumstances, Grose calls the lack of NTSB investigation “unacceptable.” He says, “Though the NTSB statute states the leadership of the investigation will defer to the FBI, the NTSB has still completed formal investigations into crashes deemed criminal acts.” It previously did so, for example, in the case of EgyptAir Flight 990, in which a pilot crashed a plane in an apparent suicide attempt (see October 31, 1999). [Lappe and Marshall, 2004, pp. 41] The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette complains about the unconventional investigative process, specifically in relation to Flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania. It says that, while the NTSB is “a small government agency whose procedures are fairly open,” with the FBI instead handling the investigation, “everything, even the most minute details, are being kept under strict lock and key.” [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 11/4/2001] As well as the lack of an NTSB investigation, attempts at conducting a precise grid search of the Flight 93 crash site will be overruled by the FBI (see September 16, 2001). [Longman, 2002, pp. 262]

Entity Tags: RobertMoomo, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Vern Grose

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Officials deny that Flight 93 was shot down, but propose the theory that the hijackers had a bomb on board and blew up the plane. [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 9/14/2001] Later in the month, it is reported that the “FBI has determined from the on site investigation that no explosive was involved.” [Associated Press, 9/25/2001]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, North American Aerospace Defense Command, RobertMoomo, Richard B. Myers

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A report suggests the crash site of Flight 93 is being searched and recorded in 60 square-foot grids. [News Journal (Wilmington, DE), 9/16/2001] This approach is preferred by Wallace Miller, the local coroner, and Dennis Dirkmaat, a forensic anthropologist involved in searching the crash site. According to journalist and author Jere Longman, “The distribution patterns developed from such precise marking of airplane parts, remains and personal effects might have told them such things as exactly how the airplane struck the ground. Theoretically, by associating the location of particular remains with the location of parts of the airplane, they may have also gained some clues about which passengers had rushed the cockpit.” However, almost a year later Longman reports that this approach was not followed: “The FBI overruled them, instead dividing the site into five large sectors. It would be too time-consuming to mark tight grids, and would serve no real investigative purpose, the bureau decided. There was no mystery to solve about the crash. Everybody knew what happened to the plane.” [Longman, 2002, pp. 262] While the FBI claims there is no mystery, some news articles suggest the plane was shot down. (For example, [Philadelphia Daily News, 11/15/2001; Independent, 8/13/2002] ) In addition, at the time of this decision, investigators are still considering the possibility that a bomb might have destroyed the plane (see September 14, 2001). Unlike every other major airplane crash in modern history, no National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigation is being conducted into the crash of Flight 93 (see After September 11, 2001). [Lappe and Marshall, 2004, pp. 40-41]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Wallace Miller, Dennis Dirkmaat

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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