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Context of 'October 2001-February 2002: Union Official Concerned Whether Anyone Has Heard Controllers’ Recorded Statements from 9/11'

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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

The local vice president of the air traffic controllers’ union checks with a manager at the FAA’s New York Center whether anyone has listened to an audio tape that was recorded on September 11, on which several controllers recalled their experiences of the attacks, and is assured that the tape is going to be destroyed. [US Department of Transportation, 5/4/2004 pdf file]
Union Vice President Asks about Tape - Within a few hours of the 9/11 attacks, Kevin Delaney, the New York Center’s quality assurance manager, tape-recorded witness statements from six controllers at the center that had been involved in handling or tracking two of the hijacked aircraft (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] On at least two occasions over the following few months, the local vice president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA)—the controllers’ union—asks Delaney whether anyone has listened to the tape of those statements. (Delaney will later recall that he speaks with the union vice president about the tape in October 2001 and again in February 2002.)
Delaney Says He Will Destroy Tape - Delaney, who is the custodian of the tape, assures the union vice president that no one has listened to the tape, and it is not going to be provided to anyone. He also says he will “get rid of it” once the center’s formal accident package, which will include the controllers’ written statements about the 9/11 attacks, has been completed (see November 2001-May 2002). [US Department of Transportation, 5/4/2004 pdf file]
Center Manager Gave Similar Assurance - Before the taping of the six controllers commenced on September 11, New York Center manager Mike McCormick had given similar assurances to Mark DiPalmo, the local NATCA president. DiPalmo agreed to the recording going ahead on the condition that the tape would only be a temporary record until written statements were obtained, after which it would be destroyed (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; New York Times, 5/6/2004]
Tape-Recording Statements Not Standard Procedure - The Washington Post will report that, according to union officials representing air traffic controllers, the tape-recording of controllers’ accounts of an accident is almost unheard of, and the normal procedure is for controllers to provide written statements after reviewing radar and other data. [Washington Post, 5/7/2004]

Entity Tags: Kevin Delaney, National Air Traffic Controllers Association

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The FAA’s New York Center submits a “formal accident package” of evidence relating to the 9/11 attacks to FAA headquarters in Washington, DC, but a manager at the center deliberately excludes from it an audio tape on which several air traffic controllers recalled their experiences with the hijacked aircraft. [US Department of Transportation, 5/4/2004 pdf file; Washington Post, 5/6/2004] This tape was created on September 11, shortly after the attacks occurred, when six controllers at the New York Center who communicated with, or tracked, two of the hijacked aircraft were recorded giving their personal accounts of what happened (see 11:40 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 5/6/2004] The tape was then logged into the center’s formal record of evidence. [US Department of Transportation, 5/4/2004 pdf file]
Evidence Package Required for Air Accidents - FAA policy requires that a formal accident package be provided for all aircraft accident investigations, including military investigations, when FAA air traffic facilities were, or may have been, involved in the accident. A formal accident package must include “all pertinent records, personnel statements, transcriptions of voice recordings, charts, operation letters, letters of agreement, and facility memoranda.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 8/16/2000 pdf file] Kevin Delaney, the New York Center’s quality assurance manager, has had an argument with FAA headquarters over whether the events of 9/11 should be declared an aircraft accident or an incident. Less information needs to be provided in an incident package than in an accident package. But as the 9/11 attacks are deemed an accident, Delaney is supposed to provide the names of everyone involved in them, including those that died at the World Trade Center. He must also provide transcripts and other information relating to the status of the aircraft involved, which would not be included in an incident package. [9/11 Commission, 9/30/2003 pdf file]
Package Returned for Extra Work - The New York Center submits its formal accident package to FAA headquarters in November 2001, but the package is returned to the center the following month for additional work. It is re-sent and finalized in May 2002.
Delaney Decides to Omit Tape - The formal accident package includes written statements about the 9/11 attacks that have been provided by controllers whose accounts were recorded on the audio tape (see (Between September 11 and October 2, 2001)). But Delaney makes a conscious decision not to also include that tape in the package. His reason for this, he will later say, is that including it would mean losing control of the tape, thereby being unable to keep a promise he made to the National Air Traffic Controllers Association that he would “get rid of” it (see October 2001-February 2002). At some point after the initial submission of the package, between December 2001 and February 2002, Delaney deliberately destroys the tape of the controllers’ statements (see Between December 2001 and February 2002). [US Department of Transportation, 5/4/2004 pdf file]

Entity Tags: New York Air Route Traffic Control Center, Kevin Delaney, Federal Aviation Administration

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

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