WASHINGTON – Call it the mystery of the Sept. 11 gun memo.
The Federal Aviation Administration says an executive summary detailing a fatal shooting aboard hijacked American Airlines Flight 11 reflects information the airline gave it on Sept. 11. But Dallas-based American denies giving the FAA any account of a shooting.
Both now, at least publicly, agree that the memo is based on inaccurate information. They say the report of a hijacker brandishing a gun and shooting a passenger aboard the flight out of Boston, specific as it may be, is false – the result of a bizarre error no one seems able to explain.
“Someone made an assumption,” shrugged FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown.
Even some American Airlines officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, admit they are puzzled as to how such a detailed account, if indeed false, could have wended its way into a critical memo to FAA chief
Jane Garvey. Did the gun story come from the FBI? Does federal law enforcement know something they don’t?
The memo, written at 5:31 p.m. on Sept. 11, mentions information, such as the seat assignments of the alleged shooter and passenger, that could not have come from the press.
“They would not have had (passenger) manifest information at that point,” said an American Airlines executive.
But the FBI did have such information then.
“We sent the location of the bad guys (on the plane), and the whole manifest to the FBI within hours after the plane ran into the building,” the American executive told WorldNetDaily.com.
Indeed, the FAA’s summary of Flight 11 events closes with: “At 11:26 a.m., a passenger manifest was obtained.”
The FBI denies being the source of the memo.
“Nowhere in there is the FBI mentioned,” FBI spokesman Steve Berry said today in a phone interview. “A lot of information was coming from a lot of different places that day.”
The FBI leaked an account of a passenger stabbing, but not a shooting, on Flight 11 to the press in the days following the Sept. 11 attacks.
In an investigative document reviewed by the Los Angeles Times, American flight attendant Amy Sweeney is quoted by the Times on Sept. 20 as saying: “A hijacker also cut the throat of a business-class passenger, and he appears to be dead.”
The FBI report says Sweeney, who called her manager on the ground from the hijacked plane, relayed the seat numbers of hijackers in the ninth and 10th rows. The FAA memo notes hijacker Satam al-Suqami was in seat
10B and the passenger he allegedly shot in seat 9B.
Sweeney’s phone call was not recorded, and the FBI report is based on the notes of the manager who took her frantic call back at Boston’s Logan International Airport, an American spokesman said. FBI officials reconstructed the conversation from interviews on the day of the hijackings, possibly before the FAA memo was written.
FAA’s Brown says that, regardless of what was written in the memo about a gun being used, it never happened. She says the memo was a first draft, which also got the times of Flight 11 events wrong, and the final draft delivered to Garvey and other top FAA officials doesn’t contain the reference to a shooting.
Casting further doubt on the gun account, Brown argues that the summaries of the three other hijacked flights that day do not mention any guns. Just knives. If the hijackers acted as a team, why would some have guns, she asked, and not others?
And why, she also proffered, would they risk getting caught sneaking a gun aboard? The box cutters that they, by all accounts, did use were not banned at the time by the FAA, and would not alarm airport security guards.
Still, Brown said the FAA will not release the final draft of the memo, which could be compared with the first draft to prove, once and for all, that the gun account was bogus and never a part of the official briefing of top FAA managers.
The final draft is “protected information” – just like the first draft, which “should never have been released” to the press – she explained, even though she admits the final draft shouldn’t really say much more than what’s already revealed in the first draft.
“They need to release that,” an American Airlines official said, referring to the final draft.