< Newly Released 9/11 Audio

Transcript

Friday, September 09, 2011

BROOKE GLADSTONE:

This is On the Media. I’m Brooke Gladstone.

BOB GARFIELD:

And I’m Bob Garfield.

[RECORDING]:

AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLER:

Hey, can you look out your window right

now?

AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLER:

Yeah.

AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLER:

Can you, can you see a guy at about 4,000

 

feet, about 5 east of the airport right now?

 

It looks like he’s –

 

AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLER:

 

Yeah, I see him.

 

[9/11 RECORDING IN BACKGROUND]

BOB GARFIELD:

The recording you're listening to is from a conversation between two air traffic controllers on September 11th, 2001, at 9:02 a.m., seconds before the second airplane hit the World Trade Center.

[RECORDING]:

AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLER:

Another one just hit the building.

AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLER:

Wow!

[VOICES IN BACKGROUND/INDISTINCT]

AIRTRAFFIC CONTROLLER:

Oh my God –

AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLER:

Wow –

AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLER:

Another one hit it hard –

AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLER:

Another one just hit the World Trade.

AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLER:

The whole building just – came apart.

 

AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLER:

Oh my God!

AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLER:

Holy smokes!

[END RECORDING]

BOB GARFIELD:

The recording was published this week by Rutgers Law Review, part of a newly public archive of recordings from September 11th.  They document the conversations among air traffic controllers, other government workers and, in some cases, the passengers and hijackers on the planes as the events of the day unfold.

 

The recordings don't contain new information exactly. They were gathered by investigators for 2004’s 9/11 Commission Report. This time is the first time, however, that the audio itself has been released to the public.

New York Times reporter Jim Dwyer wrote about the archive. He says that being able to hear the voices gives us a more vivid picture of September 11th. He also says that the recordings reveal an infrastructure that was even more unprepared for the attacks than anybody realized at the time.

 

For instance, Dwyer says that the military barely knew that the hijacked planes were in the air before the Twin Towers had been struck.

JIM DWYER:

The military had notification of one of the four flights, Flight 11 that flew into the Trade Center at 8:46 in the morning. And they had nine minutes’ notice on that, so there was no way they were gonna catch up with that flight, with nine minutes’ notice.

 

The other flights they learned about after they had already either crashed into the Trade Center or crashed into the Pentagon or – out at Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

BOB GARFIELD:

Something else cleared up by the Rutgers Report is the narrative over the shoot-down order, which we had long been told was issued, after some agonizing by the President. It turns out what we heard from the government is not what actually took place.

JIM DWYER:

It appears that the only documented shoot-down orders that were given while the hijackings were still in process, or while the buildings were still standing – let’s even say that - apparently was issued by Vice President Cheney.

 

And when it reached military controllers and they understood it to have originated with Cheney, they did not pass it along to the fighter pilots. The chain of command calls for that kind of order to come through the secretary of defense from the President directly.

 

Now, Cheney and Bush both said that Bush had approved it, but all of the contemporaneous records reflect that there was no conversation between Bush and Cheney on that subject, prior to the order being issued.

 

There were later conversations and, indeed, there were those orders later transmitted down the line to the pilots, but it was sort of irrelevant at that point, ‘cause there was no longer hijackers in the air.

 

BOB GARFIELD:

One of the most interesting things about the report, at least as I understand it from the piece that you wrote, is not what's in it, but what isn't in it. Tell me what's missing.

JIM DWYER:

One thing that has not been released is the tape of a fairly long and very high level telephone conference that was held over the entire course of the morning and eventually came to involve Vice President Cheney,  Secretary Rumsfeld and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Vice Chairman Richard Myers.

 

There is an in formal transcript made by one of the Commission investigators that's online in various places, but there’s no authoritative transcript or copy of the tape.

BOB GARFIELD:

What's the explanation for not permitting them to include this material in - in the report? Any national security issues that came up?

JIM DWYER:

Exactly why it was classified I can't say for sure, but Miles Kara, who was an investigator with the 9/11 Commission, a retired Army colonel, who listened to the tape as part of the investigation, said that he believes it’s because parts of the conversation include discussions of continuation of the government in the event that certain key figures were killed.

BOB GARFIELD:

Was there anything else to explain why the White House put the kibosh on its release?

JIM DWYER:

You know for sure that the shoot-down order did not go through the chain of command, from this conference. You also know that various other escalating orders, like going to DEFCON 3, that did not take place until 11 o'clock.

BOB GARFIELD:

So it impeaches the administration's narrative of what took place that morning.

JIM DWYER:

It does impeach the administration's narrative, to some extent, but at this point the Commission, having heard the reality, you know, that information is out. And so, keeping the tape secret seems like – pointless at this time.

BOB GARFIELD:

Doesn't that bring us right back around to where we started this conversation, about the impact of the audio in adding a dimension to what we already well understood?

JIM DWYER:

Yes, you can read a transcript of this, and it's a flat one-dimensional experience. If you read a narrative that says, now you are going to hear an air traffic controller try to get in touch with a military commander, those pieces working in tandem have a great deal of power and historical value.

[RECORDING]:

AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLER JOSEPH COOPER:

Hi, Boston Center, T.M.U. We have a, a problem here. We have a hijacked aircraft headed towards New Y - New York, and we need you guys to - we need someone to scramble some F-16’s or something up there to help us out.

SGT. JEREMY POWELL [NORAD]:

This - is this real world or exercise?
    AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLER JOSEPH COOPER:

No, this is not an exercise, not a test.

SGT. JEREMY POWELL [NORAD]:

Okay. Hey, hold on one second, okay?

       

AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLER JOSEPH COOPER:

Yep.

JIM DWYER:

You know, when they had hearings on the Titanic, They had the Morse Code from all the other ships come in with their records:  What did they write down, what messages did they get? It’s that experience of the actual contemporaneous indisputable document that the audio brings to the history.

BOB GARFIELD:

All right, Jim. Thanks very much, and thanks for your story.

JIM DWYER:

You’re welcome.

BOB GARFIELD:

Jim Dwyer is a columnist for The New York Times and author of 102 Minutes:  The Unforgettable Story of the Fight to Survive. in the Twin Towers.