Fear of Flying

Whistle-blowers say the FAA ignored a decade of pre–9-11 warnings

On 9-11, in the hours after the attacks, the FAA issued an executive summary of what went on aboard Flight 11, which hit the World Trade Center. "At approximately 9:18 a.m., it was reported that the two crew members in the cockpit were stabbed. The flight then descended with no communication from the flight crew members," the report read. "The American Airlines FAA Principal Security Inspector (PSI) was notified by Suzanne Clark of American Airlines Corporate Headquarters that an onboard flight attendant contacted American Airlines Operations Center and informed them that a passenger in seat 10B had shot and killed a passenger in seat 9B at 9:20 a.m. The passenger killed was Daniel Lewin, shot by passenger Satam al Suqami. One bullet was reported to have been fired."

That afternoon, say Dzakovic and Elson, an FAA security officer in Washington saw the word "gun" on a bulletin board set up to keep staff members abreast of what was going on in the agency's command center. The FAA subsequently changed its report, removing the reference to a gun, and the 9-11 Commission concluded there had never been one.

However, on Flight 93, passenger Tom Burnett, a medical executive, had called his wife, Deena, and, in one version of the call, said, "They've already knifed a guy. There is a bomb on board. Call the FBI." Deena immediately called emergency officials. Another version of the call had Burnett saying, "One of them has a gun." Tom's call to Deena was not recorded, but Deena's call for help was; on the tape, she says Tom told her: "They just knifed a passenger and there are guns on the plane." Deena later told the London Times, "He told me one of the hijackers had a gun. He wouldn't have made it up. Tom grew up around guns. He was an avid hunter and we have guns in our home. If he said there was a gun on board, there was."

The Rushdie connection


Say What?
"George Bush is not particularly well perceived in the world, particularly in the Middle East. Can you do something to change that?"
- The question American officials refused to allow 24-year-old Benjamin Barnier to ask Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on her visit to Paris this month

The FAA maintains it had no foreknowledge of an attack by Al Qaeda within the U.S., but there is a continuing series of suggestions that the federal authorities, including the FAA, did in fact know something was about to happen.

One little noticed example concerned novelist Salman Rushdie, who told the London Times after 9-11 that he believed U.S. authorities had known of an imminent terrorist strike when they banned him from taking domestic flights in Canada and the U.S. shortly before the attacks. According to the Times account, the FAA made an emergency ruling on September 3, 2001, to prevent Rushdie from flying unless the airline adopted new and costly security measures. The airline refused. The author's publisher said it was told by the FAA that U.S. intelligence had given a warning of "something out there," but gave no details. The FAA confirmed it had stepped up security measures around Rushdie, but would not say why.

Additional reporting: Nicole Duarte and David Botti

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