FAA destroyed tapes

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In 2004 a report emerged that an FAA manager had destroyed tapes of interviews made by controllers involved with the events of 9/11. This has been viewed as perhaps significant by some 9/11 researchers: here's what Joseph P Firmage has written on the issue:

The concerns here appear to include the following.

  • The official's name "has not been released" (perhaps he's being protected for some reason, maybe there was no official at all).
  • We can't be sure about his motives for what happened.
  • The destruction of the tapes may have resulted in the loss of useful information (perhaps something was being covered up).
  • The official is said to have been disciplined, but we don't know how (maybe he wasn't at all).

All reasonable concerns, however as with many researchers Firmage appears to have sourced his information entirely from History Commons (aka Cooperative Research). Here's their entry on this issue as we write:

This in turn references a 6th of May Washington Post story. That's a perfectly acceptable source, but it so happens that another story from the very next day provides answers for many of these questions. Here's the article in full:

Revisiting our list of concerns, then, strictly speaking it may be accurate to say the official's name has "not been released" as it's leaked out, but the reality is we've known his name since the day after Firmage's source story appeared. He's Kevin Delaney.

There's some support here for Delaney's claim that "keeping the tape would have been a violation of union rules and accident procedures". We're told that "it is almost unheard of to tape-record an air traffic controller's account of an accident", and a "union official representing the New York controllers agreed to the tape recording on Sept. 11 because the union wanted to help law enforcement officials, but only on the condition that the tape was to be a 'temporary' document". The report says he told a union official he would get rid of the tape after written statements had been provided, and the executive vice president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association additionally said she would have concerns about such a tape.

There's no evidence that the destruction of the tape resulting in useful information being lost. The controllers provided written statements, and the FAA said they believed the tape "would not have added in any significant way to the information contained in what has already been provided to investigators and members of the 9/11 commission". Further, many of the 9/11 controllers have spoken about the events of the day elsewhere, in newspaper articles, TV documentaries like NBCs "America Remembers" and more. It's hard to imagine a detail in the tape that would be important enough to contradict some part of what we know already, yet simultaneously so trivial that the controllers would forget to mention it.

And details about the disciplinary procedure said "Delaney was last week given a 20-day suspension without pay" (although it also says he'd appealed the decision, so whether it went ahead isn't clear).

It seems to us that Delaney's actions were incorrect. They were the equivalent of destroying a policeman's notes of an incident, perhaps, so at court he could only rely on separate written reports he had made later. In theory this shouldn't lead to a problem as the reports ought to contain everything you need, but it's never going to be possible to show that there wasn't some nuance, some change of emphasis, some tiny detail in the original record that might have been relevant.

But on the other hand, if the act of making a tape was unusual, a union official requested that it be temporary only, and Delaney told them he would destroy it once written statements had been made, then it's hard to see how this is part of any great "inside job" cover up.

The reality is there's not the faintest evidence to show that these tapes were significant, or that their destruction was a part of any coverup. Even the partial version of the story used by Firmage and History Commons is in no sense damning, and once you look at the later article there are plausible answers for just about every question that has been raised. If one of the controllers comes forward and delivers some information that counters the 9/11 Commission Report then everything would change, but without that this story really isn't going anywhere.