January 27, 2004
Who Was Watching the Watchers?
BUZZFLASH READER COMMENTARY
For clarity, it is better to avoid thinking of 9-11 as a perfectly unified, seamless conspiracy. Even a successful plot is unlikely to be a well-oiled machine. The unsuccessful strikes on the US stock market and the Pentagon included so much bumbling that, were it not for sadness, the skyjackers could be described as having a broad strain of Keystone Kops. Their plot could have failed entirely at any one of countless junctures. As Shakespeareans say about Romeo and Juliet, the attacks of September 11, 2001, were in some ways tragedy snatched from the jaws of comedy.
Take, for instance, the skyjackersí multiple transits before convening on their respective planes. Try to imagine yourself watching these people, with the 20-20 vision of hindsight, through a one-way window. Alleged ringleader Mohamed Atta and Abdulaziz Al-Omari arrived at Bostonís Logan International Airport, where two of the jumbo jets were hijacked, on a flight from Portland, Maine, the morning of September 11. Atta had driven from Boston to Portland, for reasons unknown, the previous afternoon, before flying back, apparently cutting his connection so close that his baggage missed the flight.
The skyjackers had already transited between Florida and Baltimore, California and Baltimore, Maryland and Florida, New Jersey and Maryland, Florida and New Jersey, etc., within the previous 18 days. Their idea may have been to keep moving, but, as any old OSS hand would know, their moving around kept them visible. [LINK]
According to the FBI, during that one evening in Portland, Atta and Al-Omari registered at a Comfort Inn, were seen at a Pizza Hut, a gas station and a Wal-Mart, and were photographed by surveillance cameras at a restaurant and at least one ATM. Their Massachusetts rental car was also caught on camera, including license plate. They checked out of the Comfort Inn about 5:30 the next morning, and within 30 minutes were aboard a Colgan Air flight back to Boston. Atta and Al-Omari were also filmed going through airport security at Portland. [LINK]
How, by the way, did the hijackers bypass security and avoid being photographed at Dulles? But anyway, what was the point of all this last-minute skipping around? If it makes any sense, it gave their watchers time and opportunity to note problems, to wave hands frantically, so to speak, and call the whole thing off. But it also indisputably maximized opportunities for the subjects to trip up or be caught.
After all the passengers and skyjackers were aboard, Flight 11 took off 14 minutes late (7:59), United Flight 175 took off 16 minutes late (8:14), American Flight 77 left Dulles 10 minutes late (8:20), and United Flight 93 left Newark 41 minutes late (8:42).
Openings for intervention continued. Two flight attendants on Flight 11, Betty Ong and Amy Sweeney, independently phoned American Airlines (8:21) and told them that the plane was being hijacked. Heroically, they continued to narrate the situation by phone for 25 minutes, until the plane crashed. Meanwhile, pilot John Ogonowski periodically activated cockpit speakers from 8:24 to 8:38, during which Boston flight controllers could hear the hijacking. [LINK]
In fact, there was so much unscripted telephoning on the flights that passengers on Flight 93 deduced what was taking place, and successfully downed their plane, directly or indirectly, before it reached its target.
Unfortunately, there were puzzling delays in notifying NORAD and flight control centers about the hijackings. Once NORAD had been notified, further puzzling delays and missteps slowed the scrambling of fighter jets. A "Vigilant Guardian exercise" on that date is credited for some degree of air readiness, but reports also suggest that some personnel mistook the alarm messages for part of the exercise.
The Pentagon has not clarified how many people knew about the "Vigilant Guardian exercise" beforehand, or the identities of those hijackers who received flight training on US military bases.
The White House opposes extending the deadline for the "9-11 Commission" to complete its work. The Commission and its investigation were not mentioned in the State of the Union address, but its statutory deadline is May 27. Informed observers believe that the commission cannot finish by then, largely because of administration delays and stonewalling.
This cannot be a politically astute move by the Bush team. They are opening against themselves the most devastating of arguments, and a valid one at that: why, Mr. President, are you covering up 9-11, even while sending our young people out to die, ostensibly in response to it?
A BUZZFLASH READER COMMENTARY
Margie Burns, a freelance writer in the DC area, can be reached at email@example.com.
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