The serious government interest in 9-11 now is not who is to be held responsible but how to make sure the airlines get off the hook. Shortly after the attack, the companies turned to Capitol Hill for a bailout. Now they are faced with lawsuits from victims’ families, and a key question will be whether any of the hijackers had smuggled a gun aboard one of the planes. It’s one thing to move through security with a legal box cutter in a pocket—quite another to make it through with a firearm. The presence of a gun would clearly illustrate a lack of security. And if a gun had been planted aboard a plane, it could be an indication that Al Qaeda had breached our security system even further than previously supposed.
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.”
Additional reporting: Nicole Duarte and David Botti