On Monday, June 10, UnansweredQuestions.org announced its formation to raise questions pertaining to public issues, beginning with the attacks of Sept. 11. It launched with a press conference at the National Press Club in downtown Washington, D.C.
No national news media showed up, however, to the dismay of organizer Catherine Austin Fitts. People who did attend included Derrill Bodley, of PeacefulTomorrows.org, who lost his only child, Deora, age 20, on Flight 93; Ryan Amundson, co-founder of Peaceful Tomorrows, whose brother Craig was killed at the Pentagon; Stephen and Elizabeth Alderman, whose son Peter died in the World Trade Center; and Julie Sweeney, wife of New York firefighter Brian Sweeney, who died in the South Tower.
Mrs. Sweeney was also on the first panel of speakers -- introduced jokingly but accurately by Fitts, former assistant secretary of housing (HUD) under the first Bush administration -- as "by far the better looking group" -- which also included Mary Schiavo, lawyer in a class action for 32 passengers' families from the hijacked planes; and Lorna Brett, director of media relations for Nolan Law Group, representing 9/11 families on the United Airlines planes.
Julie Sweeney led off the panel with a short but moving statement about the loss of her husband and her decision to take legal action. Saying "we can't accept money from the government" until more questions about the occurrences of Sept. 11 have been answered, she announced that the group intends to pursue litigation until they get answers. Pointing, in common with the other speakers, to a history of cost-cutting over safety concerns by the major airlines, she expressed the hope that their action "will lead to accountability" and will be a "catalyst for change, in the airline industry."
Sweeney mentioned the Sept. 11 shooting of passenger Daniel C. Lewin, aboard American Airlines Flight 11. Lewin, founder of Akamai Technologies, in Cambridge, was an American-born former Israeli commando and counter-terrorist expert (trained in Sayerat Mat Kal). An internal FAA memo on Sept. 11 said that Lewin, seated in 9B, was "shot by passenger Satam al-Suqami" in 10B, raising the possibility that Lewin, seated near three of the hijackers, put up some resistance. The FAA later called the statement about the shooting a mistake; the FAA and the FBI have stated that Lewin was stabbed; a phone call from a flight attendant referred to a business-class passenger's having his throat cut. No word yet regarding the significance, if any, of Lewin's being on the plane in the first place.
Panelist Lorna Brett spoke briefly about Nolan Law Group's participation to "help families get answers." Their filing against United Airlines states that the airline had a duty "to exercise the highest degree of care for the safety and security of its passengers"; the press release states a preference for suing the airline over having the plaintiffs' claims paid by taxpayers. Nolan Law Group is also monitoring investigation of the Nov. 12, 2001, crash of American Airlines Flight 587 in Queens NY.
Mary F. Schiavo, former inspector general for the US Department of Transportation in the first Bush and Clinton administrations, spoke third, focusing particularly on the government's and the airlines' public statements, widely cited in the news media, about the unexpectedness of the September attacks. Disputing the argument that the hijackings could not have been anticipated, she handed out a list of past airplane hijackings. Setting aside the first 50 years of air travel, Schiavo said that from 1972 through 2001 there were 682 plane hijackings worldwide. 31 of these involved bombs; 59 were shoot downs, and 101 were taken down by passengers. Declines in 1986, with only eight hijackings, and 1987, with nine, were followed by peaks in 1990, with 37 hijackings, and in 1993, with 35; there were 24 hijackings in 2000 and 9 in 2001.
[A concise history of plane hijacking is provided by retired Indian Cabinet Secretary B. Raman in "Plane Hijacking: In Perspective," published by the South Asia Analysis Group, Jan. 2, 2000. See www.saag.org/paprs2/paper103.html.]
Two speakers on the second panel -- Michael Ruppert, editor of From the Wilderness publications, and attorney Jennifer Van Bergen, managing editor of truthout.com -- presented statements long-distance, by audio. Ruppert discussed foreign intelligence reports before 9/11, transmitted to US government agencies, specifically warning of attacks, and focused on government efforts to "obstruct, block, thwart, intimidate, harass" inquiry by press and citizens after the attacks. (Ruppert's argument is available in articles at www.fromthewilderness.com and www.copvcia.com.)
Van Bergen, who opposes the PATRIOT Act, argued that the legislation is more a threat to internal freedoms -- a means to curtail dissent -- than a means to fight terrorism; the acts of Sept. 11 were already crimes under US law, and investigation would have been permitted by existing laws. "9/11 was not prevented, because of procedural failures -- not because of inadequate laws." (Van Bergen's articles are available at www.truthout.org and www.ezboard.com.)
Panelist John Judge, independent researcher and investigative reporter, focused on the timeline of events on Sept. 11. For minutes after the crash of American Airlines Flight 11 into the north tower of the World Trade Center at 8:45 am, it was possible to think an accident had taken place, Judge said, but when United Airline Flight 175 crashed into the south tower at 9:03, indisputably everyone in government and out of it knew these were deliberate acts.
Public discussion has emphasized questions about "what the President/Pentagon/CIA/FBI knew, and when they knew it" before the attacks. Judge pointed out that after 9:03 am on Sept. 11, there was indisputably something everyone knew: "For 40 minutes" -- leading up to the strike against the Pentagon by American Airlines Flight 77 at 9:43 am -- "everyone in D.C. knew it was coming, and we didn't do a thing."
Judge, a D.C. native whose parents were career civilian employees of the Pentagon, pointed out anecdotally that even unarmed citizens demonstrating near the Pentagon have to get permits and are monitored by radar and video from the building: Flight 77 "was coming into the most restricted air space in the country and perhaps in the world." "Shoot down orders" have existed for decades as part of US law and procedure for planes entering restricted air space, but -- although the FAA had notified NORAD of the second hijacking at 8:43, and F-15s had taken off from Otis National Guard Base in Falmouth Mass. -- no shoot down order was issued until 9:40 am.
When fighter planes were eventually scrambled, they were not scrambled from Andrews Air Force Base, about 15 minutes away from the Pentagon. Instead, planes were scrambled from Langley Air Force Base, 120 miles away, and even then they were "flying at subsonic speeds."
Panelist Tom Flocco -- independent journalist, teacher, and former coach and US Army Band conductor -- mentioned that "Congress is currently conducting a soft insider trading probe," not highly publicized, regarding the exceptionally large number of "put orders" of stock in American and United Airlines (orders betting that the stock price would drop) just before Sept. 11.
Many of the United Airline "puts" were purchased through Deutsche Bank Alex. Brown, a securities dealer and investment bank whose former executive, A. B. "Buzzy" Krongard, is now executive director of the CIA.
Flocco lost his own son, 21, in an accident two years ago. He is co-chair of UnansweredQuestions.org with Kyle F. Hence, a freelance journalist and photographer. In common with other speakers, he warned that finance can be causality; follow the money, and you find out who benefits from the acts and omissions noted. Among entities with a stake in US military strikes following Sept. 11, he said, are Deutsche Bank and its law firm Mayer, Brown, Rowe and Maw (formerly Mayer, Brown, and Platt), "involved in Russia, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan," according to the firm, which has an office in Uzbekistan. Mayer, Brown also represents United Airlines in the lawsuit filed by Schiavo.
[Bush judicial nominee Michael McConnell, nominated for the 10th Circuit, is a law professor affiliated with Mayer, Brown. Other firm clients include Dow Chemical, Novartis AG -- parent to crop-dusting companies -- and Arthur Andersen, also a co-defendant with Mayer, Brown in litigation filed by the Bank of Scotland. Nothing in this tangle of corporate relations and federal power suggests an inevitability of swift and efficient investigation.]
Panelist J. Michael Springmann, former chief of the visa section in the US Embassy in Saudi Arabia, narrated some of his experiences in the Jedda office. Instances of procedural failures included seeing the then-Consul General in Jedda, in his office, "filling out visa applications for Pakistanis who had forged passports." He describes US strategy at the time as "people being rounded up to come to the US for training" against the Soviet Union during its invasion of Afghanistan. As the man in charge of visas in Jedda, "there I issued visas to terrorists recruited by the CIA." In one anecdote, "two Pakistanis came to me one day" to apply for visas, presenting forged documents in the application. Springmann denied the application, but his superior "reversed me" after a phone call, "issued the visas, then they took off."
Now in private law practice in Maryland and D.C., Springmann mentioned attempting to publicize the problem after returning to the US but, he said, "Nobody in Washington, D.C., wants to hear about this."
Dr. Stephen Camerado, director of research at the nonprofit Center for Immigration Studies, also discussed the lapses of Sept. 11 as procedural failures. According to Camerado, under US law and US policy even before Sept. 11, the hijackers "shouldn't have gotten a visa." Much recent debate over racial profiling has overlooked the mundane safeguards already theoretically available in existing policy: If a foreign visa applicant shows "characteristics of an 'intending immigrant,'" then the visa application should be denied. At least some of the hijackers displayed exactly the "intending immigrant" characteristics: at the time of application, they were unemployed, unmarried, and living outside their home country.
The last panelist was Richard Ochs, freelance writer, who discussed the anthrax attacks and subsequent investigation. Ochs argued that the anthrax letters helped pass the PATRIOT Act, and detailed some of the failures of the investigation, which -- although authorities early decided that the source was domestic -- has still not found the culprit.
The press conference was attended by about 50 people, including at least one man identified by name tag as a member of Accuracy in Media, who observed but did not participate in the discussion. Mr. and Mrs. Alderman, parents of Peter, asked what action could be taken when the government seems to oppose investigation; the panel response recommended persistence in attempting to get the government to respond and in raising public concern. Other audience members suggested avenues for investigation; one criticized US policies of "empire."
Questioners in the audience were generally sympathetic, with the exception of a man who asked about panelists' wanting to "get money." His question was answered pleasantly by Julie Sweeney, who stated that she has not received money and that she wanted answers more than money.
Catherine Fitts stated in closing remarks that the inquiry into the events of Sept. 11 is not about money, but litigating for money -- in a matter being stonewalled -- gets the powers that be to pay attention. "Eighty percent of what happens in Washington is about money," Fitts said. "Cui bono ... you always have to look at who benefits."
Margie Burns is a writer in Washington, D.C. Email firstname.lastname@example.org. A transcript and audio of the June 10 press conference are available at UnansweredQuestions.org.