Phone Calls from the 9/11 Airliners
Response to Questions Evoked by My Fifth Estate Interview
by Prof David Ray Griffin
Global Research, January 12, 2010
On November 27, 2009, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s Fifth Estate program aired a show entitled “9/11: The Unofficial Story,”1 for which I, along with a few other members of the 9/11 Truth Movement, was interviewed. In the most important part of my interview, I pointed out that, according to the FBI’s report on phone calls from the airliners provided in 2006 for the Moussaoui trial, Barbara Olson’s only call from Flight 77 was “unconnected” and hence lasted “0 seconds.” Although this Fifth Estate program showed only a brief portion of my discussion of alleged phone calls from the 9/11 airliners, its website subsequently made available a 22-minute video containing this discussion.2
Shortly thereafter, a portion of this video, under the title “David Ray Griffin on the 9/11 Cell Phone Calls: Exclusive CBC Interview,” was posted on You Tube,3 after which it was posted on 911 Blogger.4 This latter posting resulted in considerable discussion, during which some claims contradicting my position were made. In this essay, I respond to the most important of these claims, namely:
1. The FBI has not admitted that cell phone calls from high-altitude airliners on 9/11 were impossible.
2. There is no evidence that some of the reported 9/11 phone calls were faked.
3. American Airlines’ Boeing 757s, and hence its Flight 77, had onboard phones.
4. The FBI’s report on phone calls from the 9/11 airliners did not undermine Ted Olson’s report about receiving phone calls from his wife.
The four sections of this essay will respond to these four claims in order.
1. The FBI on the Possibility of High-Altitude Cell Phone Calls in 2001
I have suggested that the FBI’s report to the Moussaoui trial in 2006 implied its acceptance of the argument, made by some members of the 9/11 Truth Movement, that cell phone calls from high-altitude airliners would have been impossible, or at least virtually so. One critic, however, said: “The FBI hasn't admitted anything about the possibility of making cell phone calls at 30,000 feet.”5 It is true that the FBI has never explicitly stated that such calls are impossible, or at least too improbable to affirm. But its report for the Moussaoui trial, I have argued, implies an acceptance of this view.
My argument for this claim involves three points: (1) Immediately after 9/11, the FBI had described, or at least accepted the description of, about 15 of the reported calls from the airliners as cell phone calls. (2) In 2003, a prominent member of the 9/11 Truth Movement argued persuasively that, given the cell phone technology available in 2001, calls from high-altitude airliners would have been impossible. (3) The FBI report for the Moussaoui trial affirmed only two cell phone calls from the airliners, both of which were from United Flight 93 after it had descended to 5,000 feet. I will expand on each of these three points.
Reported Calls Originally Described as Cell Phone Calls
Approximately 15 of the reported phone calls from the four airliners were described at the time as cell phone calls. About 10 of those were from Flight 93. For example:
• A Washington Post story said: “[Passenger Jeremy] Glick's cell phone call from Flight 93 and others like it provide the most dramatic accounts so far of events aboard the four hijacked aircraft during the terrifying hours of Tuesday morning, and they offer clues about how the hijackings occurred.”6
• A Newsweek story about United 93 said: “Elizabeth [Honor] Wainio, 27, was speaking to her stepmother in Maryland. Another passenger, she explains, had loaned her a cell phone and told her to call her family.”7
• According to the FBI’s interview of Fred Fiumano, a close friend of UA 93 passenger Marion Britton, she called to tell him about the hijacking and then gave him the number of the phone she was using. Since this was not the number of her own cell phone, Fiumano assumed that Britton, who was traveling with a colleague from work, “had borrowed a cell phone.”8
• Reporting that UA 93 flight attendant Sandy Bradshaw had called her husband from United 93, the Greensboro News & Record, besides speaking of their “cellular phone conversation,” also reported that she had told her husband that “many passengers were making cell phone calls.”9
• A story about Deena Burnett, who reported receiving three to five calls from her husband, Tom Burnett, said: “Deena Burnett clutched the phone. ... She was at once terrified, yet strangely calmed by her husband's steady voice over his cell phone.”10
Two calls from United Flight 175 were also originally described as cell phone calls:
• A BBC story said: “Businessman Peter Hanson, who was with his wife and baby on the United Airlines flight 175 that hit the World Trade Center, called his father in Connecticut. Despite being cut off twice, he managed to report how men armed with knives were stabbing flight attendants.”11 An Associated Press story said that “a minister confirmed the cell phone call to Lee Hanson.”12
• A Washington Post story said: “Brian Sweeney called his wife Julie: ‘Hi, Jules,’ Brian Sweeney was saying into his cell phone. ‘It's Brian. We've been hijacked, and it doesn't look too good.’”13
It was widely reported, likewise, that two people had made cell phone calls from American Flight 77. One of these was flight attendant Renee May, about whom a story’s headline read: “Flight Attendant Made Call on Cell Phone to Mom in Las Vegas.”14
The other reported cell-phone caller from Flight 77 was CNN commentator Barbara Olson, wife of Theodore “Ted” Olson, the US solicitor general. On the afternoon of 9/11, CNN put out a story stating that, according to Ted Olson, his wife had “called him twice on a cell phone from American Airlines Flight 77.”15 Olson, who reportedly told the FBI the same day that he did not know “if the calls were made from her cell phone or the telephone on the plane,”16 went back and forth between these two positions in his public statements.17 He even endorsed the onboard phone version in what seem to have been his two final public statements on the issue, made to the Federalist Society on November 16, 2001, and to London’s Daily Telegraph on March 5, 2002.18 But these statements of the alternative version went virtually unnoticed in the American press, as shown by the fact that, a year after 9/11, CNN was still reporting, with no public contradiction from the FBI, that Barbara Olson had used a cell phone.19
Finally, there were reportedly two connected cell phone calls from American Flight 11, both made by flight attendant Madeline “Amy” Sweeney. The 9/11 Commission Report later stated:
“[Flight attendant] Amy Sweeney got through to the American flight Services Office in Boston but was cut off after she reported someone was hurt aboard the flight. Three minutes later, Sweeney was reconnected to the office and began relaying updates to the manager, Michael Woodward. . . . The phone call between Sweeney and Woodward lasted about 12 minutes.”20
An affidavit from the FBI agent who interviewed Woodward that same day stated that, according to Woodward, Sweeney had been “using a cellular telephone.”21
It is likely that, except for the Olson case and one or two others, the newspapers got the information for their stories primarily from the FBI, which gave the impression of supporting the people’s claims that they had received calls from cell phones. This was the case, as we have just seen, with regard to the reported calls from Amy Sweeney. With regard to Deena Burnett, the FBI report said:
“Starting at approximately 6:39 a.m. (PST), Burnett received a series of three to five cellular phone calls from her husband. . . . Approximately ten minutes later Deena Burnett received another call from her husband. . . . Approximately five minutes later she received another cell phone call from her husband.”22
With regard to Lee Hanson, the FBI report said: “He believed his son was calling from his cellular telephone.”23
It is clear, therefore, that the FBI was not publicly raising objections to – and even appeared to be endorsing - the notion that there were several cell phone calls from the 9/11 flights, even though these flights were reportedly at quite high altitudes when the calls were received. In the report presented to the Moussaoui trial by the FBI in 2006, however, this apparent endorsement would disappear – probably because of limitations on what cell phones could do.
Cell Phone Limitations
Given the cell phone technology available in 2001, cell phone calls from airliners at altitudes of more than a few thousand feet, especially calls lasting more than a few seconds, were virtually – and perhaps completely – impossible. And yet many of the reported cell phone calls occurred when the planes were above 25,000 or even 40,000 feet24 and also lasted a minute or more – with Amy Sweeney’s reported call even lasting for 12 minutes.25
Three problems have been pointed out: (1) The cell phone in those days had to complete a “handshake” with a cellsite on the ground, which took several seconds, so a cell phone in a high-speed plane would have had trouble staying connected to a cellsite long enough to complete a call. (2) The signals were sent out horizontally, from cellsite to cellsite, not vertically. Although there was some leakage upward, the system was not designed to activate cell phones at high altitudes.26 (3) Receiving a signal was made even more difficult by the insulation provided by the large mass of an airliner.
Well-known Canadian scientist and mathematician A. K. Dewdney, who for many years had written a column for Scientific American, reported early in 2003 on experiments showing that these difficulties would have rendered impossible at least most of the reported cell phone calls from the 911 airliners.27 His experiments involved both single- and double-engine airplanes.
Dewdney found that, in a single-engine plane, successful calls could be counted on only under 2,000 feet. Above that altitude, they became increasingly unlikely. At 20,000 feet,
“the chance of a typical cellphone call making it to ground and engaging a cellsite there is less than one in a hundred.... [T]he probability that two callers will succeed is less than one in ten thousand.”
The likelihood of 13 successful calls, Dewdney added, would be “infinitesimal.”28 In later experiments using a twin-engine plane, which has greater mass and hence provides greater insulation from electronic signals, Dewdney found that the success rate decayed to 0 percent at 7,000 feet.29 A large airliner, having much greater mass, would provide far more insulation – a fact, Dewdney added, that “is very much in harmony with many anecdotal reports ...that in large passenger jets, one loses contact during takeoff, frequently before the plane reaches 1000 feet altitude.”30 Dewdney concluded, therefore, that numerous successful cell phone calls from airliners flying above 30,000 feet would have been “flat out impossible.”31
Such calls would become possible only several years later. In 2004, Qualcomm announced a successful demonstration of a fundamentally new kind of cell phone technology, involving a “picocell,” that would allow passengers “to place and receive calls as if they were on the ground.” American Airlines announced that this new technology was expected to be commercially available in 2006.32 This technology, in fact, first became available on commercial flights in March 2008.33
In light of the fact that the 9/11 attacks occurred many years before this technology was available, the FBI faced a serious problem.
The FBI’s Revised Public Position
As will be shown later, the FBI by 2004 – the year after Dewdney reported his results – had provided an account of the reported calls from the airliners that did not affirm the occurrence of any high-altitude cell phone calls. But this account was not made public.
This account first became publicly visible in 2006 in a report on phone calls from the 9/11 airliners prepared by the FBI for the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui (who was accused of being the “20th-hijacker”). According to the McClatchy reporter at the trial, the spokesman for the FBI said: “13 of the terrified passengers and crew members made 35 air phone calls and two cell phone calls.”34
Implicit in this matter-of-fact statement was a radical change in the FBI’s public position: Previously, the FBI had supported the idea – at least by not contradicting press reports spreading it – that there were over ten cell phone calls from Flight 93 – three or four from Tom Burnett alone. Indeed, Dewdney, observing that “more alleged cell phone calls were made [from Flight 93] than from the other three flights combined,” dubbed it the "Cell phone Flight."35 But the FBI was now saying that this flight was the source of only two cell phone calls.
This statement by the FBI spokesman accurately reflected the FBI’s report on phone calls from the flights that was placed on the US government website for the Moussaoui trial.36 This form of the FBI’s report consists of graphics that summarize the information about the various reported calls. Only two of the graphics for Flight 93 indicate calls made from cell phones. One of these says: “9:58 AM: Passenger Edward Felt, using his cell phone, (732) 241-XXXX, contacts John Shaw, a 911 Operator from Westmoreland County, PA.”37 The other one, which is for flight attendant CeeCee Lyles, indicates that she made a “cell phone call” to a residential number at 9:58 AM.38 The FBI clearly said, therefore, that these two calls were the only ones from Flight 93 made on cell phones.
Moreover, none of the graphics for the other three flights describe any of the reported calls as cell phone calls. Can we safely infer from this fact that the FBI’s report was indicating that the only cell phone calls from all the 9/11 airliners combined were those by Felt and Lyles? There are several indications that we can.
First, the FBI clearly said this about Flight 93, as the FBI spokesman, in a statement quoted above, said that “13 of the terrified passengers and crew members made 35 air phone calls and two cell phone calls.” In other words, except for the two calls with graphics specifically indicating that they were cell phone calls, all the calls were clearly stated to have been “air phone calls.”
Second, in spite of the fact that two women from American Flight 77 – Barbara Olson and flight attendant Renee May – were generally reported to have made cell phone calls, the graphics for them did not indicate that either of them had used a cell phone. And when we look at a May 2004 FBI report on phone calls from AA Flight 77, which “was conducted in support of the U.S. Justice Department’s criminal case against Zacarias Moussaoui,” we find this statement: “All of the calls from Flight 77 were made via the onboard airphone system.”39
Third, the FBI evidently intended the same with regard to the other two flights. The two people who had been reported as having made cell phone calls on United 175 – Peter Hanson and Brian Sweeney – were said in the FBI’s Moussaoui trial report to have used onboard phones. And the call from AA 11 flight attendant Amy Sweeney to fellow employee Michael Woodward, which according to Woodward as quoted in the FBI affidavit had been made with a “cellular telephone,” was said in the FBI’s Moussaoui trial report to have been made using an onboard phone.40 In light of the fact that we have statements from the FBI about Flights 77 and 93 showing that, unless a call is explicitly designated to have been a cell phone call, it was made from an onboard phone, we can safely assume that the FBI intended the same for Flights 11 and 175.
It seems, therefore, that according to the FBI’s report for the Moussaoui trial, the only cell phone calls from the 9/11 airliners were the aforementioned calls from Edward Felt and CeeCee Lyles.
Did these two calls have something in common that set them apart from the rest of the reported calls that had originally been described as cell phone calls? Yes, they were both, as we saw above, said to have been made from Flight 93 at 9:58, and by that time it had reportedly descended to 5,000 feet.41 In the light of Dewdney’s reports, two successful cell phone calls from a high-speed airliner at 5,000 feet would have still been very improbable, but they would at least have been more likely than such calls from above 25,000 feet, so those two calls could not be so completely ruled out as impossible.
Given the fact that, of the approximately 15 calls from the 9/11 airliners that were originally described as cell phone calls, the FBI accepted this description for only the two that reportedly occurred at a relatively low altitude, it seems reasonable to conclude that the FBI implicitly agreed, in its report to the Moussaoui trial, that calls from high-altitude airliners were impossible – or at least too improbable to affirm.
2. Evidence for Faked Phone Calls
In response to the claim – made in several of my writings and repeated during my Fifth Estate interview – that at least some of the reported phone calls were almost certainly fabricated, one critic wrote: “DRG has no evidence . . . that phone calls were faked.”42 To the contrary, there is considerable evidence for this conclusion.
The Number of People Who Reported Receiving Cell Phone Calls
As we saw, people on the ground reported receiving cell phone calls from UA 93 flight attendant Sandra Bradshaw; UA 93 passengers Marion Britton, Tom Burnett, Jeremy Glick, and Elizabeth “Honor” Wainio; from UA 175 passengers Peter Hanson and Brian Sweeney; from AA 77 flight attendant Renee May; and, according to the best-known version of Ted Olson’s account, AA 77 passenger Barbara Olson. However, the FBI, in its report to the Moussaoui trial, declared that all of those calls were made from onboard phones. If that is true, how would the FBI explain why so many people reported that they had been called from cell phones?
People do, of course, make mistakes, especially in stressful situations. They may misunderstand, or misremember, what they were told. But is it plausible that so many people would have made the same mistake, wrongly thinking that they had been told by the people calling them that they were using cell phones? (Ted Olson, as we saw earlier, and Renee May’s parents, as we will see below, both said they were uncertain what kind of phone had been used, so they can be excluded from the list of people who would need to be accused of having made that mistake.) Should we not look for some more plausible explanation?
The FBI’s Amazing Treatment of Amy Sweeney’s Calls
What appears to be the FBI’s most elaborate effort to change a story occurred in relation to the phone calls reportedly made by flight attendant Amy Sweeney from American Flight 11. As we saw earlier, an FBI affidavit, dated September 11, said that AA employee Michael Woodward, who reportedly talked to Sweeney for 12 minutes, said she had been using “a cellular telephone.”43
Strangely, the summary of an FBI interview with AA Vice President for Flight Services Jane Allen, who reported that she had conducted a “flight service system conference call” involving Woodward the day after the 9/11 attacks, indicated that she said: “According to Woodward, Sweeny’s [sic] call came from either a cell telephone or an airphone on the aircraft.”44 Surely, however, Lechner’s affidavit, according to which Woodward said simply that Sweeney used a “cellular telephone,” must be considered more authoritative than this indirect quotation of Jane Allen, for four reasons: First, Lechner would have been trained to be precise about such matters when writing affidavits, whereas Allen’s focus during the conference call would have been on flight services; second, Lechner had a one-on-one interview with Woodward, whereas Allen talked to him during a conference call involving other people; third, Lechner’s interview took place on 9/11 itself, whereas Allen’s conference call occurred the following day; and fourth, Lechner received his information directly from Woodward himself, whereas the FBI summary was reporting a second-hand statement of what Woodward had said. The FBI’s summary of Allen’s summary of Woodward’s statement provides, therefore, no reason to question FBI Special Agent James Lechner’s affidavit, according to which Woodward said that Amy Sweeney had been “using a cellular telephone.”
It appears, moreover, that this view was almost universally held for the first two years after 9/11. Except for a New York Times editorial in December 2001 saying that Amy Sweeney had called “by air phone,”45 reports that mentioned the kind of phone she used referred to it as a cell phone. For example, former flight attendant Elizabeth Kilkenny wrote in a tribute to Sweeney: “I recognized her name from a newspaper account which said she was on a cell phone with her scheduler in Boston.”46 A memoriam by the Association of Flight Attendants said that Sweeney “relayed information about the hijacking to her supervisor by cell phone.”47 A biography at the Astro Databank said that she “was able to get through on her cell phone.”48
The fact that there was this near-unanimity about her having used a cell phone is not surprising, given the fact that Lechner’s affidavit to this effect was, in October 2001, made known in an Associated Press story entitled “Flight Affidavit: Flight Attendant Made Call to Report Hijacking,” which said:
“An American Airlines employee received a cell phone call from a flight attendant aboard doomed Flight 11 shortly before it crashed into the World Trade Center, according to newly unsealed court documents. . . . The FBI cited its interview with the American Airlines employee in an affidavit.”49
However, in spite of Lechner’s affidavit and the resulting near unanimity of opinion that Sweeney had used a cell phone, the 9/11 Commission’s report, which appeared in July 2004, said that she had used an onboard phone. It did not state this in the text, where it would have been widely noticed, but an endnote said:
“Amy Sweeney attempted by airphone to contact the American Airlines flight services desk at Logan. . . . The phone call between Sweeney and Woodward lasted about 12 minutes (8:32-8:44).”50
What had happened to produce this change in the official story?
In August 2004, shortly after the appearance of the 9/11 Commission’s report, New York Press journalist Alan Cabal, in an article entitled “Miracles and Wonders,” wrote:
“Last week, USA Today reported a joint effort between Qualcomm and American Airlines to allow passengers to make cell phone calls from aircraft in flight. . . . [T]he satellite-based system employs a ‘Pico cell’ to act as a small cellular tower. . . . Before this new ‘Pico cell,’ it was nigh on impossible to make a call from a passenger aircraft in flight. Connection is impossible at altitudes over 8000 feet or speeds in excess of 230 mph. Yet despite this, passengers Todd Beamer [and] Jeremy Glick . . . managed to place calls from Flight 93 on the morning of September 11. Peter Hanson . . . phoned his dad from Flight 175. Madeline Amy Sweeney, a flight attendant, made a very dramatic call from Flight 11. . . . Each call was initially reported as coming from a cell phone. Later, when skepticism reared its ugly head and the Grassy Knollers arrived, the narrative became fuzzy; it was suggested that $10-a-minute Airfones were involved.”51
As this statement shows, Cabal, having realized by August 2004 that the official story had been changed, suggested that this change had been made in response to doubts about the possibility of the reported cell phone calls raised by members of the 9/11 Truth Movement. (Although his reference to them as “Grassy Knollers” might seem like ridicule, the rest of his story shows that it was the official story that Cabal considered ridiculous.52) Since otherwise the 9/11 Commission’s report did not specify the type of phone used by any of the people who had originally been described as cell phone callers, its endnote statement about Amy Sweeney – that she had used an “airphone”53 – may have been what led Cabal to say that the story had been changed.
In any case, the story had indeed been changed before the 9/11 Commission wrote its final report. In a 9/11 Commission staff report of 2004 that was reflected in the Commission’s final report, only the 9:58 calls by Edward Felt and CeeCee Lyles were referred to as cell phone calls.54 This staff report also indicated that the calls (supposedly) made from AA 11 by Amy Sweeney and from UA Flight 175 by Peter Hanson and Brian Sweeney had employed onboard phones - even though the 9/11 Commission’s report itself would not indicate what kind of phone was supposedly used by these two men.55
With regard the description of the phone used by Amy Sweeney as an onboard phone (“airphone”), the evidence said to support this description appears to have emerged in May 2004. Amy Sweeney’s widowed husband, Mike Sweeney, was evidently informed two weeks prior to June 4 – when there was to be a special presentation for family members of the victims – that a tape existed containing the contents of his wife’s phone calls to Michael Woodward of American Airlines. According to reporter Gail Sheehy, Mike Sweeney said:
"I was shocked that I'm finding out, almost three years later, there was a tape with information given by my wife that was very crucial to the happenings of 9/11. Suddenly it miraculously appears and falls into the hands of FBI? . . . Why did it surface now?”56
The answer to his question may have something to do with the fact that the 9/11 Commission was about to complete its report, combined with the fact that this tape provided a basis for changing the story about the kind of phone used by Amy Sweeney. According to Sheehy’s summary of this part of the tape:
“The young blond mother of two had secreted herself in the next-to-last passenger row and used an AirFone card, given to her by another flight attendant, Sara Low, to call the airline's flight-services office at Boston's Logan airport.”
Accordingly, the information that Amy Sweeney had used an “airphone” – rather than a cell phone, as the FBI’s affidavit had said – was provided by this tape, which had “miraculously appear[ed].” How had it been produced? Here is the story, as summarized by Sheehy:
“Since there was no tape machine in his office, Woodward began repeating the flight attendant's alarming account to a colleague, Nancy Wyatt, the supervisor of pursers at Logan. On another phone, Ms. Wyatt was simultaneously transmitting Ms. Sweeney's words to the airline's Fort Worth headquarters [where Wyatt’s words were recorded]. It was that relayed account that was played for the families.”57
This story is reflected in the aforementioned 9/11 Commission staff report, which said:
“[A]t 8:40 AM, an American Airlines employee in Boston who was standing next to Michael Woodward as he talked to Sweeney contacted an employee in American Airlines' SOC [Systems Operations Control]. She reported the content of the ongoing call between Woodward and Sweeney.”58
This new story is also reflected, albeit very opaquely, in The 9/11 Commission Report itself, which in endnotes repeatedly cited, with no explanation: “AAL transcript, telephone call from Nancy Wyatt to Ray Howland, Sept. 11, 2001.”59 This reference tells us that the SOC person at American Airlines’ headquarters who reportedly received the call from Nancy Wyatt was Ray Howland.
The claim by the FBI and the 9/11 Commission that Sweeney had used an onboard phone is evidently based entirely on this story. But this story is completely unbelievable, for six reasons:
First, it appears that until May 2004, there had been no word of the existence of this tape. Sheehy wrote:
“David Novak, an assistant U.S. attorney involved in prosecuting the Moussaoui case, told Mr. Sweeney [when he notified him about it in May 2004] that the existence of the tape was news to him. . . . ‘We, the prosecution team and the F.B.I. agents that have been assigned to assist us, were not aware of that tape,’ Mr. Novak told me. He says he only learned of it two weeks ago while he was briefing 9/11 commissioners on what he knows about the two hijacked American flights. He believes the commission got the tape from the airline.”60
This widespread ignorance about the tape creates the suspicion that it did not exist.
Second, this suspicion is increased by reflection on the question of why the 9/11 Commission had not received this tape from American Airlines until 2004. If that were true, then presumably someone at American headquarters in Fort Worth, Texas, where the recording was made, would have just discovered it. But it is inconceivable that the existence of this tape had been forgotten by Ray Howland and other people at American Headquarters, given the dramatic way in which this tape had been produced - with Nancy Wyatt from Boston relaying to Howland in Texas a virtually verbatim account of one of the first phone calls from the hijacked airliners.
Third, the suspicion that the tape was not made in 2001 is further increased by a Los Angeles Times story of September 20, 2001, which said:
“FBI officials in Dallas [-Fort Worth], where American Airlines is based, were able, on the day of the terrorist attacks, to piece together a partial transcript and an account of the phone call. American Airlines officials said such calls are not typically recorded, suggesting that the FBI may have reconstructed the conversation from interviews.”61
Why would FBI officials have needed to “piece together a partial transcript” if officials at AA headquarters had a recording of Wyatt’s virtually verbatim account of Woodward’s virtually word-for-word account of what Sweeney had said? Surely, even if these AA officials had somehow forgotten about the existence of this recording over the years, they could not have already forgotten about it later in the day on 9/11 itself. Also, why would AA officials have said “such calls are not typically recorded” if, in this case, they did have a recording – albeit an indirect one – of the call? Finally, it is also inconceivable that the AA officials would, while knowing about this recording, have withheld it from the FBI.62
Fourth, there is no indication that Michael Woodward mentioned the creation of this recording when he was interviewed by FBI agent James Lechner on 9/11. Besides not being mentioned in Lechner’s affidavit, the existence of such a tape is also not mentioned in the summary of the FBI interview with Woodward the following day, which ends by saying: “Woodward took notes while he was talking to Sweeney which he signed and dated and gave to the interviewing Agent.”63 But surely, if Woodward had, only hours earlier, repeated Sweeney’s report to Nancy Wyatt, who had in turn repeated it to Ray Howland down in Texas, Woodward would have said something like: “You don’t need to rely entirely on my notes, because there is a recording of a virtually verbatim repetition of Sweeney’s statements down in Texas at American headquarters.”
Fifth, if Woodward had repeated to Nancy Wyatt Sweeney’s statement that she had used “an AirFone card, given to her by another flight attendant,” he surely would not have told Lechner, only a few hours later, that she had been “using a cellular telephone.”
Finally, the new story is even internally inconsistent. The conversation between Sweeney and Woodward, we were told, lasted from 8:32 until 8:44 AM. And yet, according to the aforementioned staff report of the 9/11 Commission, Nancy Wyatt did not start relaying the call to American headquarters in Texas until 8:40 AM.64 If she was on the phone with Ray Howland in Texas for only the final 4 minutes of the 12-minute call, during which she was, as Gail Sheehy reported, “simultaneously transmitting Ms. Sweeney's words to the airline's Fort Worth headquarters,” how could this call have resulted in a virtually verbatim transcript of the entire Sweeney-Woodward call – rather than simply the final four minutes?
To sum up: We have six good reasons to conclude that the alleged recording of Nancy Wyatt’s verbatim repetition of Amy Sweeney’s alleged phone call from American Flight 11 is a late fabrication, which was created in order – perhaps among other reasons – to change the description of this 12-minute call, so that it would no longer be portrayed as a cell phone call. By thus implicitly admitting that the call as portrayed in the FBI’s 2001 affidavit could not have happened, the FBI in 2004 implicitly admitted, it seems to me, that the reported call from Sweeney to Woodward was fabricated.