9-11: The Great Internet Conspiracy; a review


On November 2, 2011, Ryan Mackey published his latest paper, “The Great Internet Conspiracy; The Role of Technology and Social Media in the 9/11 Truth Movement.”  Mackey’s paper is a serious work, one that deserves the attention of anyone interested in the events of 9/11, whether or not the factual story as investigated and reported by the 9/11 Commission, the Congressional Joint Inquiry before it, or the National Institute of Standards and Technology (including FAQ) after it, is believed.  In this article I will place Mackey’s paper in context and summarize important points for future researchers.

Two important observations need to be made before we can proceed.  First, Mackey’s work can be replicated.  He set forth a methodology and, rigorously, provided the reader the scope and limitations of his work.  Second, by establishing a body of work that addresses “The Role of Technology and Social Media in the 9/11 Truth Movement,” he has placed a burden of proof on those who disagree with him.  It is not enough, any more, to simply disagree.  The obligation is to state that disagreement in specific, logical terms and also articulate a different thesis, one with a methodology that can be replicated and a statement of scope and limitations.  Serious researchers will take those necessary steps.  Others can simply be ignored.

With those preliminaries out of the way let’s take a look at Mackey’s work.  We begin with previous work by Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan in The Eleventh Day. It should be pointed out that Summers and Swan, themselves, drew on Mackey’s earlier work, “On Debunking 9/11 Debunking.”

The Eleventh Day

Summers and Swan (p. 93-4) recount the actions of Dave Rostcheck and the results of their interview with him.  According to the authors, Rostcheck was one of the first to spread the word about 9/11 on the Internet.  “The electronic murmur that was to reach millions seems to have begun not six hours after the first strike on the Trade Center.  Boston-based David Rostcheck,…had spent the morning watching the drama on television. ‘Eventually,’ he recalled, ‘I went to see what people were saying on line.’….’Is it just me…'”

When formally interviewed, Rostcheck described “[an] American society bifurcated into two groups—-call them America 1 and America 2.”….America 2…is what I’ll roughly classify as the Internet domain…its concepts originate on the Internet….after September 11…a whole group of Americans found themselves abruptly dumped into America 2 . . . the population of America 2 became huge—likely tens of millions.”

And that is our first metric needed to discuss Mackey’s current paper.  We should also note that the Rostcheck typology ignored the reality that the Internet transcends national boundaries.  We can extend Rostcheck’s description to be ‘world 1’ and ‘world 2’ and, extrapolate his figure of  ‘tens of millions’ to ‘hundreds of millions.’  So what does Mackey say about numbers?

Mackey’s Universe

Mackey begins, in the same vein as Rostcheck, by describing “How I Got Involved.”  “My first brush with the Truth Movement, unsurprisingly, was over the Internet.  The date was late 2005.”

[A couple of editorial comments are needed at this point.  First, the word ‘Internet,’ according to usage of the word by both Summers and Swan and Mackey, has been elevated to capital letter status.  Second, Mackey elevates the words ‘Truth Movement’ to capital letter status.  Summers and Swan do not use the term; it is not even in their index. ]

By 2006, Mackey was “posting on a more diverse Internet discussion forum, namely the one hosted by the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF).”  In Mackey’s estimation, “there is perhaps no better place on the Internet to gain some perspective on the crazy things that some people accept and attempt to popularize.”    Based, in part on a focus on the World Trade Center and an Internet-based presentation called “Loose Change,” Mackey found himself drawn into an “us” versus “them” mentality, “Truther” versus “Debunker.”  Mackey went on to say, “for some reason I couldn’t clearly identify, I found myself attracted to the argument.  I was given the label of “debunker” in short order….Thus began a long association with the Truth Movement.”

Implicit in Mackey’s paper is a belief that the association was, and is, worth continuing, and that fact-based arguments, well-presented, will prevail.  He has been careful not to burn his bridges unnecessarily and more often than not leaves open lines of communications.  This trait, alone, separates Mackey from a good portion of his fellow “debunkers” and certainly sets him apart from the vast majority of “truthers,” at least those that find their way to the JREF forum.

My own inclination is to also not burn bridges and I’ve generally kept the line of communication open to those from the truth community that have approached me.  Although my truth community sample size is quite small it does allow me the observation that serious voices in the movement stay away from JREF.  Those who enter the forum from a ‘truth’ perspective are near universally what are referred to as ‘trolls.’ Certainly, none enter in their true persona.  Given that my personal sample size is small, what about the numbers?

Quantitatively Speaking

Earlier, we extrapolated Rostcheck’s “tens of millions” estimate to be “hundreds of millions” world wide.  While that may have been so in the immediate aftermath it is quite certain that the numbers are far smaller than that, but how small?  Summers and Swan (p. 94) reported, “Four years ago [2007] it was said that almost a million Web pages were devoted to “9/11 conspiracy.”  As of early 2011, entering the phrase “9/11 conspiracy” into the Google search engine returned almost seven million hits.”

From a different perspective, Mackey reported that over the years he had received emails numbering “in the hundreds.”  Most of those were from those who had become “too irritated by Truthers…”  Of those hundreds, according to Mackey, “there were the Truthers themselves, numbering about forty, who wished only to argue with me on a private channel in addition to the public debate.”  He also reported that he heard from a few people who were convinced by his efforts, “but only a very few – around ten.”

So, the number is somewhere in between the “hundreds,” including forty Truthers, who have emailed Mackey and the 3o+ million Google returns for the search term “9/11 Conspiracy.”  Before we take a look at that using Mackey’s own research let’s look at his scope and limitations.


Mackey constructed a list of 30 “conspiracy theories.”  He drew on a list maintained in Wikipedia, but argued that it had structural issues.  His revised listed was based on the proposition that “if there is someway to predict popularity [of a given theory], we should be able to approach the problem empirically using past conspiracy theories as a guide.”

Mackey added a simple, subjective method of grouping theories.  “One idea is to group conspiracy theories according to how plausible they are.  It seems reasonable to expect that, the crazier the idea, the less likely people will be to believe it or to repeat it.  This is something we should be able to check.”

Mackey’s approach was grounded in the work of David Dunning and Justin Kruger, the Dunning-Kruger Effect.   That effect established that “for any given population, a certain percentage will under-perform the rest so badly that they lack any way to critique their achievement, being effectively illiterate in a certain behavior.”  Those are strong words, especially when used by Mackey to relate to the world of conspiracy theories: “This renders them impervious to any corrective efforts or education and leaves the door wide open for self-delusion.  The Dunning-Kruger mechanism readily explains many of the so-called ‘experts’ that stand behind (and often profit from) conspiracy theories in the wild, as well as their frustrating obstinacy when faced with reality.”

Mackey has thrown the gauntlet here, mincing no words, as he lays out the thesis for a challenge to conspiracy theorists in general, not just those concerned with 9/11.  He has, as readers will be quick to perceive, also thrown a gauntlet that can be picked up and thrown back at him.  Anyone inclined to do so, however, must have their own methodology and research in good order.  The Mackey gambit dominates the chessboard.  It will require a depth of fact-based knowledge not yet seen in the truth community to counter the gambit effectively, if at all.

Mackey freely states the limits of his research.  “Even constructing a list of popular conspiracy theories is problematic.”  Further, “To measure popularity we can try the naive but time-honored “Google-Fight” method…,” an approach hinted at by Summers and Swan.   Concerning plausibility, Mackey found that “much harder,” and stuck to a simple ‘high,’ ‘moderate,’ ‘low’ approach, which Mackey readily states is “subject to bias.”

We ask no more of a researcher than that he tell us what he did, why he did it, and the limitations.  Mackey has met the test.  But can his work be replicated, and what did he find?

Google, Not Everyone’s Search Engine

I replicated Mackey’s popularity findings using both Firefox and Google Chrome.  There are occasional differences in results from the two browsers.  Those differences are on the margin with some exceptions that need to be noted.

I could not replicate Mackey’s anomaly concerning the ‘Armenian International Conspiracy’ category.  I got results in the 800-900 range, depending on browser.  In part, the problem may be because Mackey doubles the word ‘conspiracy’ in both that category and the Holocaust category.

He has a repetition of the word ‘conspiracy’ in both cases since his instructions are that the words “conspiracy theory” need to be added to each category when the search is executed.  I could not replicate Mackey’s result for ‘Holocaust’ until I deleted the extraneous word, for instance.

Interestingly, I could not replicate Mackey’s results for the ‘Falklands War’ category.  Using both browsers I returned results in the 5300 range.  That would place the ‘Falklands War’ among Mackey’s “Superconspiracies” category, increasing his count to six.  However, since the probability of the Falklands category is rated “low” the addition has no practical effect on his analysis and I did not explore why that category might be so apparently popular.

I doubt there will be much quibble with Mackey’s category list.  There are other reasonable candidates–POW/MIA, Tonkin Gulf, Egypt Air–for example.  But his list of 30 should reasonably suit most researchers.  His ‘plausibility’ ratings, however, may be a different matter entirely.

Objective/Subjective, It’s In The Readers Eye

Mackey’s plausibility rankings are clearly subject to a different interpretation.  Others who may disagree, even  significantly, will need to replicate Mackey’s work using their own subjectivity to make the rankings.  My estimate is that the total list will be accepted at face value, with one exception.  The truth movement will judge the plausibility of the “9/11” entry to be ‘high.’

Mackey has rated just four other entries as ‘high,’ — ‘Reichstag Fire’,  ‘1999 Russian Bombings’, 2002 Venezuelan Coup’, and ‘Vince Foster.’  None of the four, however, has a high popularity.  So, changing the ‘9/11’ rating to ‘high’  leaves it in Mackey’s “superconspiracies” group, but at a different level of plausibility.

Therefore, the change in plausibility ranking may not make a difference.  Over the years, I have come to understand that once individual cases in a population under study get to plus/minus two or more standard deviations away from the norm the extreme cases merge together and become a universe of their own.  Based on that premise, the ‘9/11’ entry is a member of the ‘superconspiracies’ population regardless of plausibility.  Moreover, that implies that we don’t even need Mackey’s plausiblity ratings to establish the membership of the ‘superconpiracies.’  Popularity alone does the trick.

Mackey’s construct resulted in 5 out of 30 (one in six) entries being a superconspiracy.  Be changing the plausibility rating for “9/11” that low plausiblity/high popularity number becomes 4 out of 30 (one in 7.5).  If the ‘Falklands’ is included we are back to one in six.

Considering the ‘high’ plausibility category, including 9/11, the figure for that category is 1 out of 5.  We get the same order of magnitude regardless of which plausibility rating is given to 9/11.

Mackey’s own analysis supports that supposition, at least implicitly, if not explicitly.  Mackey used the half-logistic distribution.  Such a distribution depends solely on the absolute value of the popularity value.  And properly so, given that there can only be positive values.  Negative popularity (dislike) is not measurable using a Google search.


Regardless of the plausibility rating for 9/11, and how we get to the next level of Mackey’s work, the analysis thereafter is the same.  And Mackey tells us that we are in sync with him, “plausibility simply doesn’t matter.”  “Superconspiracies,” Mackey informs us, “are radically different, being about five standard deviations removed from all the rest.”  And in my own experience, once a researcher gets to five standard deviations, plus or minus, all bets are off and we dealing with a new population, not part of the original construct.

Mackey calls the superconspiracies the “rare superstars that grow beyond the ordinary.”  Moreover, he states that this is not a random state of affairs, “something drives them.”  “The 9/11 conspiracy theories are indeed special…what we need to do is find out what happened.”

Old School vs New School, Activists vs Theorists

Mackey’s main point is that the truth movement is now largely the domain of activists.  Theorists need not apply.  Activism, in and of itself, is amorphous and tends to the fad of the day approach to protest, one that seeks popularity not a theoretical construct.  In Mackey’s words, “the Truth Movement seems to have started much as any other conspiracy theory.  For a while it was merely another fringe idea, circulated and traded among a counter-culture more interested in marketing their ideas to fellow conspiracists than winning converts from the general public.”   He then suggested a “second stage…a much louder, more confrontational approach aimed at involving as many people as possible.

Mackey cites a 2006 study by “the popular alternative-thinking discussion forum Above Top Secret” which found that “the Truth Movement just wasn’t that popular.”  One forum organizer noted that “the Truth Movement was actually an annoyance to most of the membership, ‘a very loud and irritating minority.  But they do not represent the mind-space of people who consider ‘conspiracy theories.’  They are activists, not theorists.'”

Mackey’s take on all that was succinct and explicit.  “So that is it in a nutshell — there we have the secret ingredient that distinguished the 9/11 conspiracy theories from other.”  It had “mutated…into an aggressive strain of misguided activism.”  In reference back to his own methodology, Mackey wrote, “I was not measuring an increase in the number of conspiracy theorists…Instead, I was only finding the volume and rancor of arguments between a few noisy Truthers and everyone else.”

Mackey had found that the Above Top Secret poll held up after four years and that left the “question of WHY.  What made this conspiracy theory, and only this conspiracy theory, turn activist and assault the main stream?  Why hadn’t this happened before?”

It’s All About Timing

Mackey compared and contrasted the Oklahoma City Bombing wondering why that ‘conspiracy’ did not take off.  Scale alone is not a factor, he argued.  If so, he mused, ‘why [did] the Truth Movement lay relatively dormant until mid-2005.”  He again turned to the Above Top Secret poll (2011 version).  “A majority of supporters grew interested in the 9/11 conspiracy theories years later, long after the shock had begun to fade.”

Mackey continued, “The most obvious reason for the difference is in the political climate.”  He then dismissed that speculation, “if true, it suggests that the Truth Movement — and conspiracy theories in general — tend to be left-leaning…Fundamentally this doesn’t make sense.”  He then crafted a classic Mackey synthesis, one that summarizes, sensationalizes, and stimulates controversy.

The Lazy Eight Ranch, Telling It Like It Is

“Conspiracy theories, being based on delusion, should have no political affiliation.  Their proponents are so far from the political center that they are neither left nor right, but in the strange intersection of left and right in the paranoid realm of anarchy.”    And that is exactly the realm that we discussed earlier when examining Mackey’s methodology and quantitative analysis.  The superconspiracies reside at the ‘Lazy Eight’ Ranch.  Its brand is the infinity symbol, one engineering students, at least in my day, were fond of calling the ‘Lazy Eight’ Ranch.

Mackey then hammered the point home to distinguish anti-war activists from ‘Truthers.’  “[N]o anti-war activist I spoke to became a Truther, not a single one.  Most of the activists that I knew detested the Truthers, and for good reason.  They did not want their philosophically sound and perfectly legitimate political views to be tainted by association with crazy people.”

Mackey was on a roll here and continued, “Truthers, on the other hand, tried to attach temselves to mainstream protest marches…as a way to pad their numbers, but they were rarely welcome.”  Witness currently, for example, the attempt by the truth community to latch on to the Occupy Wall Street  movement to further the publicity of their ‘poster’ cause, Building Seven.

Returning to the political climate theme, Mackey then argued that “the Truth Movement should have evaporated completely on November 4th, 2008. But it did not.”  Mackey then continued his analysis by writing, “we have not adequately described this activist group of conspiracy theorists.”  He argued that political events did make the public willing to lisiten the the truth community, but “listening falls short of believing in them…”   In Mackey’s words, “I am not willing to blame the rise of the Truth Movement on an overreaction by the left.  I trust them to be smarter than that, and besides, I didn’t see it happen…The people pushing the Truth Movement were cut from an entirely different cloth.”

A Common Frame of Reference

Mackey takes the reader through the Alex Jones era — “9/11 was just another phase to him….It simply wasn’t his core interest or his best seller,” and his casual relationship with ‘Loose Change,’ “the most influential Truth Movement video of them all.”  But none of that fueled the truth movement like the release of the 9/11 Commission Report.  “It’s release…corresponds to the first significant leap in popularity of 9/11 conspiracy theories.”  It became the common frame of reference.

Mackey describes the situation as equivalent to the “fire triangle,” the inter-relationship of three ingredients, heat, a fuel source and a point of ignition.  The heat was generated by the activist members of the conspiracy crowd.  The fuel source was a “prepared and reactive public,”  one seeking information, such as the release of the Commission’s report.  The spark, according to Mackey, was “Internet technology.”

If It’s Not on YouTube, It’s Not Real

The arrival on the scene of Google Video and YouTube, who released “publicly usable versions in April and May of 2005,” was the spark.  Ready and waiting for the ignition was the “Truth Movement phenomenon, “Loose Change.””  According to Mackey, “The video was hailed as ‘the first Internet blockbuster’ of any kind, a novelty sufficient on its own to push “Loose Change” into the mainstream.”

And that resulted in the meteoric rise and fall of the 9/11 conspiracy movement.  It peaked in 2006 and has waned consistently ever since, with expected spikes each September.  The Commission Report was released in July 2004, “Loose Change” in May 2005.  The public consumption of the two fueled the movement to the five year anniversary in September 2006.  Things have not quite been the same since, despite periodic attempts to return to the glory days, mostly the release of subsequent editions of “Loose Change.”

Mackey’s own involvement is traced to that same period, predictably enough.  It is logical that interest in the subject transcended activist tendencies and that there would be a counter voice in the fuel source — public interest.  According to Mackey, “This time period, for mid-2005 through 2006, is also precisely the period when I began to get involved…it took a few months…before I was sufficiently angered to fight back.  In those few months I saw the Truth Movement go from just another crazy idea to a potential crisis.”

The 9/11 conspiracy was “simply the first conspiracy theory to go viral.”

The Party Is Over

In Mackey’s analysis we now have the 9/11 Conspiracy as unique from each and every other conspiracy, super or not.  No other such theory had gone viral.  Going viral, however, signals the end of things.  My own work on Chaos Theory informs us here.  Nature does not long tolerate chaotic, viral, conditions.  Chaos is deterministic and self-organizing.  Nature polices itself.  In the heady hey days of 2006 no one in the Truth Movement, of course, saw that.  They perceived, and still perceive, unlimited growth.  That naivete’ tinges the modest efforts of the truth community even today.

The hand writing was on the wall at the sixth anniversary of 9/11 in 2007.  In Mackey’s words, “the sixth anniversary proved to be an unqualified catastrophe….The party was over.”

Mackey then posed an interesting analytical question.  “So why did the Truth Movement stall so quickly?”  He answered, “in simplest terms, the Truth Movement had misunderstood the conversation with the public,” its fuel source.  The fire triangle as described by Mackey no longer existed.

The First Great Internet Conspiracy, Come and Gone

Mackey has an interesting and quite readable discussion of the Internet and its allure.  He informs us that “Even though we’ve long expected it, the first Great Internet Conspiracy has come and gone without being recognized.

In his dissertation Mackey argues that “only a specific word matters to the Truth Movement, not the actual meaning.  However, the public consensus, the fuel source Mackey discussed earlier, has turned in a different direction.  “Public consensus is rather strong.  And in the scientific world consensus is total – there have been many hundreds of professional science and engineering articles about the attacks and their effects, and not a single one supports any conspiracy theory.  As a result, in the actual world of science, the Truth Movement doesn’t exist at all.”

It does not exist in my world, either, even though I have generally left the lines of communication open to those from the truth community who have sought me out.  One of the first articles I wrote on my website provided “A Framework for Analysis.”  I argued that any comprehensive assessment of the events of 9/11 had to be based on a body of pre-event, event, and post-event information.  I constructed the framework as a neutral construct useful to anyone regardless of his or her thesis.  I state that there was an “event” on 9-11.  I called the “event” a terrorist attack.  Anyone is free to use that neutral construct to argue that a different event occurred.  No one has done so.  I perceive that Kevin Ryan, who I believe to be earnest in his endeavors, has and is attempting to build a pre-event body of information.  He understands the need to do so but has boxed himself in to multiple analytic box canyons from which the only escape is to retrace his steps and start over.  I remain hopeful that he will do so.

There have been occasional attempts by the truth movement to cloak its work with some degree of respectability, the establishment of a journal, for example.  The movement understands very well the concept of peer review and painfully tried to establish its bona fides that way using a vanity publication house as a base.  Both the journal and the peer review have come up short.

More recently, the truth movement held inconclusive “hearings” in Toronto which simply plowed old ground and has failed to report out.  I was invited by Kevin Ryan to attend Toronto to defend the work of the Commission.  I saw no utility in attending but did place in evidence, for the record through Ryan, the Commission Report, Team 8 Staff Statement 17, and multiple articles from my own website.  It will be interesting to see how that plays out, if at all.

The Future

Those of use interested in 9/11 are largely confined to the internet.  Once we walk away from our computers the subject has passed into history, to be revisited annually.

Mackey wrote a chapter on what he called “The Conspiracy Hangover.”  It is difficult for anyone who has invested months if not years into an analysis of 9/11 to simply walk away.  I cannot yet do that, for one.  Mackey, in reference to the truth community says of their behavior, “if anything, it more closely resembles an addiction.”   In that vein, both Mackey and I are also addicted, we are member so a truth community, but one very different that that of the so-called “9-11 truthers.”  Our search for truth is fact-based and a willingness to correct the story in the light of new, credible information.

Mackey believes of the truth movement that “every one of them is to some degree sincere.”  And in that sincerity some will see the light.  I leave open the lines of communication to anyone seriously interested in events of 9/11.  Elsewhere, I have referred to the “young and talented” Dylan Avery.  Youth and talent and a serious search for the facts of the day are a potent combination.

In the end, Mackey postulates that “it may take an entirely new conspiracy theory to distract [the truth community] from 9/11 Truth.”

Birthers and Deathers

By Mackey’s account the next two new conspiracies have already happened, the question of President Obama’s birth certificate and the facts surrounding the death of Osama bin Laden.  He then speculates that we may be seeing the third emerge from, the “99% Movement.”  Those still addicted to 9/11 will, predictably, try to latch on as best they can, if at all.

Mackey then concludes in philosophical mode for a couple of chapters, almost a script from a counselor.  At the end he simply says “Get out there and enjoy the day.  It’s easy.”



Book Review: “Disconnecting the Dots; How CIA and FBI officials helped enable 9/11 and evaded government investigations”


Kevin Fenton has spent several years studying events leading up to 9/11. His book has little to do with events of the day and a great deal to do with the inability of the government to take preemptive action. He argues that the government could not “connect the dots” because those dots had been deliberately and systematically disconnected. Fenton makes serious claims about the integrity of institutions, organizations, and, specifically, named individuals who took deliberate action to make sure the government failed. That is a serious charge, one so serious that Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan in The Eleventh Day had this to say in a footnote:

Fenton…suggest[s] that CIA officers may have been aware of the 9/11 plot and “desired the outcome we saw on our television screens.” Fenton has done an intriguing analysis, but the authors do not accept that there is sufficient evidence or rationale to accept such a heinous possibility.

For the record, I corresponded occasionally with Fenton during his research primarily concerning the National Security Agency’s “SIGINT Retrospective,” a compendium of responsive published and unpublished SIGINT reports provided to the Congressional Joint Inquiry.

In addition to the work of the Inquiry’s NSA team, one with offices at NSA Headquarters, I spent considerable hours working with the “Retrospective” to correlate the actual reporting with everything else that was happening, to include the government’s actions and reactions and the activities of the hijackers, themselves.  Based on my own work, the work of the Inquiry staff and what I know of the work of the Commission Staff, I cannot support Fenton’s charge.

The basic charge

Fenton levies this charge in his Prologue.  “What is less well known is that most, or perhaps all, of these particular failures were the fault of one small coterie of intelligence officials grouped around Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit.”

The particular failures center, primarily, on a single individual, Khalid Almihdhar [as spelled by Fenton].  According to the author, “…the failures concerned a small group of people—Almihdhar, Alhazmi, and a few associates—and were perpetrated by another small group of people—centered on, but apparently not headed by, Tom Wilshire.”

Specifically, “…over the Summer of 2001, the Alec Station group worked diligently to prevent any but the most limited distribution of the information.  Then, after 9/11 they actively participated in a whitewash of their actions.”

Fenton also apportions blame to “the official bodies” that issued reports.  There are four: the Congressional Joint Inquiry, the 9/11 Commission, the Department of Justice (DoJ) Inspector General, and the CIA Inspector General.  Fenton goes further and assigns blame to a named individual who worked on both the DoJ report and the Commission Report.

Concerning his own work, in perspective, Fenton has this to say.  “All the information could have been put together by others, including media and government agencies with resources dwarfing those of a solitary author.”

So what are we to make of this extraordinary charge and Fenton’s own work?  We start with what Fenton is and is not.

Fenton’s work

Fenton is not a conventional conspiracy theorist or “truther.”  Nor does not readily fall into the LIHOP (let it happen on purpose) category as it was discussed and dismissed in a concurrent book, The Eleventh Day, by Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan. Although he suggests that events were LIHOP at some level he limits his thesis to a small group of mid-level officials and only tentatively and tenuously suggests higher level involvement.

He accepts the factual event that 19 terrorists hijacked four commercial aircraft and flew them to catastrophic fate.  He pays no attention to the myriad analytical box canyons into which conspiracy theorists and the truth movement have consigned themselves, destined to ride in circles without end.  Kevin Fenton has staked out different ground with a specific thesis and, to him, a logical conclusion.  He has done so with his work, a effort measured in years, and has reported his findings.

Fenton is a diligent, persistent, and detailed researcher, but not an investigator, by his own admission.  With minor exception, (possibly including me) he did not speak to officials or interview sources.  What he did do was detailed research; an extensive data mining of the public record.  As a researcher, therefore he must avoid four pitfalls to which researchers are prone without due diligence.  Those four are:

  1. compression of time
  2. conflation of events
  3. imposition of  post facto awareness and understanding of events to those events in real time
  4. extrapolation of a fragment of information to a larger whole, with meaning

Refreshingly, Fenton does not compress time or conflate events.  That, alone sets him well above and apart from the truth movement and the conspiracy theorists.  He is more than diligent in that regard.

However, his entire work, unfortunately, is an imposition of retrospective awareness and understanding.  He imposes meaning and intent with the crystal clarity of hindsight to events that in real time were not nearly what he portrays them to be.  Moreover, he applies that harsh, retrospective judgment to the work of four organizations with little understanding of how they went about their work and why they worked the way they did.  His assertions require that people working in real time do so with vision and near-perfect situational awareness.  He does not describe reality as I know it.

The words of the 9/11 Commissioners are important here.  Here is what they said in the preface to the Commission Report:

We want to note what we have done and not done…The final report is only a summary…citing only a fraction of the sources we have consulted. But in an event of this scale, touching so many issues and organizations we are conscious of our limits. We have not interviewed every knowledgeable person or found every relevant piece of paper. New information inevitably will come to light. We present this report as a foundation for a better understanding of a landmark in the history of our nation.

It is up to current and future researchers to build upon that foundation responsibly and accurately.  Kevin Fenton earnestly believes he has done so.  He does so with the full weight of history ahead of him.  At some point the full records of both the Commission and the Joint Inquiry  will be released.  In them, I believe, researchers and historians will find audio files of interviews for which MFRs were not made.  They will find, ultimately, the prose in the 28-page redaction in the Joint Inquiry report.  They will find a detailed, iterative analysis of the “SIGINT Retrospective,” as well as the entirety of the messages that make up that compilation.  In short, they will find specific and detailed information that counter the claim made by Fenton.

Kevin Fenton has also extrapolated a fragment of information to a larger whole with meaning.  In fact, it is the centerpiece of his argument.  That fragment is the handwritten notes of Stephen Cambone, the Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence.  Those notes were released in redacted form by the Department of Defense on February 6, 2006 as a result of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.  They have been in the public domain for over five years and, clearly, a part of Fenton’s literature search for most of that time.

The Cambone notes

Fenton concentrates specifically on jotted notes concerning American Airlines flight 77.  Here is what the notes contain: (bullet points not part of notes)

  • 2. AA 77 – 3 indiv have been followed
  • Since Millenium + Cole
  • 1 guy is assoc of Cole bomber
  • 3 Entered US in early July
  • (2 of 3 pulled aside & interrogated?)

From those notes Fenton argues that the word “followed” means “surveillance,” continuously in his narrative.  While that contention is possible it is unlikely based on my own intelligence background and experience.

The Cambone notes are the jotted summation of a senior level executive who received information from other senior level officials who, in turn, received information from analysts, staff assistants and investigators.  At best, the jotted notes are third-hand information.  Moreover, two of the four lines of information concerning flight 77 are inaccurate, as Fenton described.

Based on my background, experience, and understanding of the language of intelligence the word “followed” is a point in time reference, not a sweeping reference as Fenton has speculated.  Further, it is twice a point in time reference as Cambone clearly signals in his notes.  The entry, “Since Millenium + Cole,” in my analysis, is a jotted reference to two separate pieces of information he was receiving concerning alMihdhar.

There is a better—equally, if not more plausible—definition for the word “followed.”  It logically means “a record of,” or “known about,” or, simply, “persons of concern.”  There is no evidence that Nawaf al Hazmi’s brother was specifically identified, at the time.  Post facto, the equation can be made.  It cannot be made in real time.  Further, the equation of Almidhar, in real time is also tenuous.

At this point it is important to know about a conversation I had with the NSA Team while on the Inquiry Staff.  I had spent multiple hours parsing the “SIGINT Retrospective” and was beginning to impart unwarranted meaning to the occurrence of the names “Khalid” (and its variations) and “Salim” (and its variations) in SIGINT reports.  The NSA team told me that, based on their many weeks work on site at NSA, it was not possible, in real time, to be definitive about either name.  The references to each name were multiple and only had precise meaning, retrospectively.  The only name that was clearly evident in real time was “Nawaf al Hazmi.”

Fenton, of course, sees things differently.  He pursues the notion of “followed” being “surveillance” to flesh out his thesis through each chapter.  Nowhere is that more explicit then in his Epilogue.

First, Almidhar and Alahzmi must have been under surveillance in the US, either officially or by Alec Station, or some parallel group. It makes no sense to assume that the Alec Station group hid the two men from the FBI so that they could ignore them in the US. The point of keeping the Bureau away from the case can only have been for the group to monitor them without having FBI agents get in their way. This applies no matter what the ultimate aim of the operation was; whether the point was to recruit them, to discover their contacts by monitoring them, or to let them attack the US, surveillance must have been involved.

There is much wrong with that summation.  First, Alec Station (and CIA) had neither the manpower nor the charter to conduct such a surveillance.  A surveillance of the magnitude Fenton suggests is manpower intensive and leaves a large footprint that would have been noticed by state, local, and other federal agencies, especially the FBI.  No agency at any level noticed, if indeed such an operation was conducted.  Second, there is no evidence in the FBI’s PENTBOM investigation of such an operation.  Third, there is no evidence uncovered by the Congressional Joint Inquiry or, separately, the Commission to support Fenton.  Concerning the Joint Inquiry, it had on-site teams dedicated to CIA, NSA, and the FBI.  It also had available to it the joint resources of the staffs of the House and Senate select committees.

Fenton is wrong, his thesis is built on a fragment of information unsupported by the vast body of information collected by the Joint Inquiry and the Commission.  Fenton owes an apology to the people he has named as wrong doers.

Overall, Kevin Fenton’s diligent parsing of the four key investigative documents is a valuable piece of work. While much of his analysis is sound, the conclusions he has drawn do not forward the work of the Joint Inquiry and the Commission in a positive direction.

Book Review: “The Eleventh Day; The Full Story of 9/11 and Osama Bin Laden”

A disclaimer for the record.  I was interviewed by Robbyn Swan and have maintained a continuous dialogue with her since, including a meeting recently in Washington D.C.  I was a reader for a final version of the Summers/Swan book prior to a late revision to account for the death of bin Laden.

The Eleventh Day, by “New York Times” best selling authors Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan, is a game changer.  Published by Ballantine Books, Random House Publishing Group, the book, according to the publishers,  “is the first panoramic, authoritative account of 9/11.”

The Eleventh Day is the new definitive timeline for 9/11, a superb and detailed extension of the work of the 9/11 Commission and the Congressional Joint Inquiry.  Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan’s work is peerless in the depth, breadth, and accuracy of their research and reporting. Together, this experienced team has cleared the air of suspect research and speculation, an invaluable service to future researchers and historians.

The game change comes on page 118.  Citing investigative writer David Corn, the author’s conclude a detailed examination of conspiracy theories with this summary:

The legacy of the spurious doubts, though, has been that far too little attention has been given to the very real omissions and distortions in the official reporting. The conspiracy theorizing in which the skeptics indulged, David Corn has rightly said, “distracts people from the actual malfeasance, mistakes and misdeeds of the U.S. government and the intelligence community.” There were certainly mistakes, and there may have been wrong doing.

The Authors’ Road Map

“The Attack,” Part I. is a succinct retelling of a by now familiar story as first told by the Commission in Staff Statement 17 and then in its final report. Those familiar with the past work of, first, Summers and then Summers and Swan, as a team, will recognize a familiar pattern of detail after detail woven together in a compelling story that leaves no room for doubt as to the thoroughness of the underlying research.

The authors then pause their story for two chapters to undertake a necessary chore at the beginning of Part II, “Distrust and Deceit.”  Their impeccable writing style is nowhere more evident than in the bridge to Part II.  Concluding Part I, they wrote: “An American apocalyse,  a catastrophe with consequences–in blood spilled and global political upheaval–that continues to this day.”

Part II begins: “One consequence, a national and international phenomenon, is that countless citizens do not believe the story of September 11 as we have just told it.”  Here, Summers and Swan take direct aim at the conspiracy theorists. The necessary chore was to sweep the decks clean of the detritus from years of innuendo, speculation, and, in some cases, outright intellectual dishonesty.  Again in their words, “9/11 is mired in “conspiracy theory” like no previous event in American history…”

In rapier-sharp strokes they skewer the conspiracy theories with authority, leaving no stones unturned.  They borrowed a useful construct from David Rostcheck, a software consultant with a physics degree.  Rostcheck described a bifurcated America, “America 1 and America 2,” the first shaped by “broadcast media,” the latter by the “Internet domain.”  One gets the distinct impression from the authors that the two Americas are like ships passing in the night, each unaware of the other.

Citing their demonstrably thorough research after more than four years of work Summers and Swan conclude:

Wonder one may, but the authors have seen not a jot of evidence that anything like a false flag scenario was used on 9/11.  Nor…have we encountered a shred of real information indicating that the Bush administration was complicit in 9/11.  Subjected to any serious probing, the suspicions raised by Professor Griffin and his fellow “truthers” simply vanish on the wind.

That housecleaning, a high-powered vacuuming, set the stage for their own thesis, the game change described earlier. They spend the remainder of part II concluding the story of the day of 9/11 but with a specific predicate, a Team 8 (my team) memo to the front office questioning the accuracy of FAA and NORAD statements. They also draw extensively on the published work of the Team 8 leader, John Farmer, the author of Ground Truth.

The author’s conclude Part II with a direct quote from Farmer.  “‘”History,” Farmer wrote later in his book, “should record that, whether through unprecedented administrative incompetence or orchestrated mendacity, the American people were misled about the nation’s response to the 9/11 attacks.””

In Part III, “America Responds,” the authors focus on “The Arabs,” faulting the Commission Report and Commission Staff supplemental documents for failure to speak to a found document, a  “Spiritual Manual.”  “The omission in extraordinary, unconscionable, for the telltale pages were important evidence.”  The authors consider the “Manual” or “Handbook” the key piece of evidence, concluding that, “the “Spiritual Manual” must surely close off all doubt as to whether Atta and his comrades committed the hijacking.”

I cannot speak to the omission from the Commission Report.  I do recall from my work on both staffs that the document was known and considered.  It was not as central, then, as the author’s have it now.  They use it as a springboard to discuss the equivocation of bin Laden, himself, about whether or not he was ultimately responsible.

“The truth,” beginning chapter 15, “that officialdom gave us, that young men loyal to al Qaeda and bin Laden were responsible…is not the full story. The 9/11 Commission varnished the story for public consumption…”

Here, the author’s strip away the facade of “skeptics’ ramblings.”  They, again, cite David Corn, “Without conspiracy theories…there is much to wonder about September 11…”  Summers and Swan then patiently build the case that there was a support network in the United States for the hijackers and, ultimately that network extended to Saudi Arabia, to include members of the royal family.  “The Saudi factor is one of the wild cards….The possibility of Saudi involvement, a vital issue, will be a major focus in the closing chapters of this book.”

First, though, the authors take us through the hunt for bin Laden and a resultant “sea change” when by March 2002 the focus turned from that hunt to “a war plan for Iraq.”  And that led to a discussion of “The Plotters” in part IV.

The authors begin Part IV by recounting in precise detail a story told by others, the life of bin Laden and his father before him.  In that recounting they established a relationship between bin Laden and Abdullah Azzam, a lecturer and prayer leader at King Abdul Aiz University in Jeddah.  Azzam was a Palestinian who was “on his way to becoming the “Emir of Jihad.”  According to the authors, bin Laden met with Azzam in Los Angeles in 1979 during a visit not firmly established until 2009.

The year 1979 was critical.  It “marked the start of a new century in the Islamic calendar, a time said to herald change.”  And change there was.  Religious zealots seized the Grand Mosque in Mecca, a revolt that was crushed.  A month later Soviet troops poured into Afghanistan which began a secret war to “push back communism.”  According to the authors, the conflict was “orchestrated by the intelligence agencies of three nations: America, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia.”  And that was when “the nightmare started,” quoting a friend of bin Laden.

Thereafter in their narrative, the authors establish a relationship between bin Laden and the GID (Saudi intelligence service), and a trilateral relationship among the CIA, the GID, and the ISI (Pakistani Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence), intertwined with the activities of the jihadist, Abdullah Azzam, bin Laden’s mentor.

Azzam, assassinated along with his sons in a murder with no known assailant or motive, had already passed the “vanguard” of leadership to bin Laden.  According to the authors, “Azzam had said jihad needed a “vanguard” that would give a dreamed-of future Islamic society a “strong foundation.””  That foundation was “al-qaeda al-sulbah” and its military base “al-qa’ida al’askariyya.” Al-qaeda was neither a foundation or a base.  The authors credit bin Laden as telling a journalist that “al Qaeda was an organization to record the names of the mujahideen and all their contact details: a database.”

After a detailing of the future cast of 9/11 characters–bin Laden, Mohammed Atef, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, et. al.–the authors move to the principle grievance, one “at least as large as Palestine,” the Saudi response to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.  Oil was the issue and it brought the United States to the defense of Saudi Arabia and the introduction of “a foreign and overwhelmingly Christian army” to the “sacred land of the prophet.”  It was a “cultural thunderbolt” for bin Laden.

In the end it was not the United States that left Saudi Arabia, it was bin Laden.  His departure for Sudan left him “free to pursue jihad.  That, in the context of fighting for Islam, would be very much in line with Saudi foreign policy.”  The authors pose the question of “just who did launch bin Laden on his career as international terroist?”  Citing the Commission Report the answer is “he had gotten out of Saudi Arabia “with the help from a dissident member of the royal family.””

And that began the Sudan exodus, a “place and a time for training—and hatching plots.” Among the budding jihadists, according to the authors was an individual who said he was an “emissary from bin Laden,” Ramzi Yousef, who led the first attempt to bring down the World Trade Center in 1993.  Yousef was also responsible for a plot against the Pope and a plot against American airlines, bojinka.

The authors linked Yousef to his uncle, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who credits the Manila-based plot to down airliners as giving him the “idea of using planes as missiles.”  Mohammed is then linked with Ramsi Binalshibh and the authors relate a meeting between the two and an Arab television journalist, Yosri Fouda.  The important point made is that story told to Fouda “largely matches the version subsequent extracted from Mohammed by the CIA under interrogation.  The authors consider Fouda’s interview as “breakthrough” and take the Commission to task for “unaccountably” failing to interview him.  Important to the interview was the presence of a mystery man, Sheikh Abu Abdullah, a name used to refer to Osama bin Laden.

Concerning the plot and the plotters, the authors conclude that had al Qaeda been a company KSM would have been the CEO and bin Laden the Chairman.  But the plotters were not the perpetrators, a different story which the authors tell in Part V.

In Part V, “Perpetrators,” the authors build the case that bin Laden was, in the words of Michael Scheuer, the chief of the uniquely chartered “Alec Station,” “a truly, dangerous, dangerous, man.”  After the Embassy bombing in Africa the bin Laden threat was raised to the highest level, “Tier Zero.”  And it was soon thereafter that CIA Director George Tenet said “we are at war.”

Thereafter, the authors lead us through the development of the planes operation and the recruitment and formation of the individuals who would carry it out, the perpetrators.

While it is a familiar story, Summers and Swan uniquely tell it with the advantage of four years of research across multiple countries and languages, leaving few, if any leads not followed.  They interviewed two of the most knowledgeable investigators, Eleanor Hill, the staff Director of the Joint Inquiry and her primary investigator for the San Diego story, Michael Jacobson, who was also a member of the Commission staff.  They portray, as have others before them, a dysfunctional national level effort, one that transcended administrations.  Nevertheless, the attack did occur on President Bush’s watch and the new administration proceeded by fits and starts (and stops) as spelled out in detail by the authors.

The authors summed things up nicely near the end of Chapter 27.  Quoting Michael Hirsh and Michael Isikoff of Newsweek: “The question is…not so much what the President knew and when he knew it.  The question is whether the administration was really paying attention.”

As the tempo of hijacker activity picked up in late August and early September, the administration was just then getting started with a “long-delayed, very first meeting [of Principals] to discuss the bin Laden problem.”  Under consideration was a draft National Security Presidential Directive agreed upon well before by the Deputies.  There was considerable discussion about use of the Predator, who had the mission and, more importantly, who was going to pay for it.  There was no substantive resolution.  In the end, the Directive was approved, “it would be ready for the president’s signature—soon.”

In a short Part VI, “Twenty-Four Hours,” the authors take us through the final hours before the attack, detailing a series of facts that, retrospectively in the aggregate, are far more ominous than they were in real time.

Among the events were: the Moussaoui probe running “into the ground;” a last ditch attempt by Senator Feinstein to get the Vice President’s attention; the assassination of Ahmed Shad Massoud, which triggered a personal call to President Bush from President Putin; the leisurely search for Hazmi and Mihdhar; and, most seriously, late intercept of two critical messages by NSA that went untranslated.”  The gist was, “Tomorrow is zero hour,” and “The match begins tomorrow.”

The authors tied things together in a concluding Part VII, “Unanswered Questions.”  Recall that they earlier said that, “The Saudi factor is one of the wild cards….The possibility of Saudi involvement, a vital issue, will be a major focus in the closing chapters of this book.”  They did weave that theme in their subsequent narrative and returned to it in Part VII.

First, however, their summation of earlier chapters is worth a verbatim quote.

The story of September 11, 2001 — that of the victims and of the terrorists — is told. The identify of the perpetrators is not in doubt. As told in these pages, the essential elements are as described in the conclusions of the two official inquiries.

The authors define two areas in which the 9/11 Commission “fudged or dodged” the issue:  “the full truth about U.S. and Western intelligence before the attacks; and whether the terrorist operation…had the support of other nation-states or of powerful individuals within those nation-states.”  Here, “Western intelligence” refers primarily to Germany.

And it is on those points that the authors establish themselves as the pre-eminent 9/11 investigators.  Agree with them, or not, they are meticulous in their sourcing, fearless in their analysis, and precise in their prose.

I remain personally skeptical of the story that “U. S. intelligence officials had had a face-to-face meeting with Osama bin Laden [in Dubai] in early July 2001.” First, there is no accounting for the movement of a bin Laden entourage to and from Dubai other than that he “traveled secretly from Pakistan to Dubai…”  Second, to my knowledge, the staffs of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and Joint Inquiry staff knew nothing about this event, even though the Inquiry had a team devoted to CIA with office space at CIA Headquarters.

Dubai aside, the authors speak briefly to Iran and Iraq as potential nation-state sponsors and then focus on their real candidate, Saudi Arabia.  Summers and Swan conclude Chapter 32 with this statement as a partial summation of their investigation: “In 2001, sympathy for al Qaeda and bin Laden was widespread across the spectrum of Saudi society.  It extended, even, to approval of the strikes on America.”  That is an unequivocal statement with no caveats.

The authors continued the Saudi thesis as they discuss the aftermath of the attacks.  There was a “struggle” by both the Saudis and the Bush administration to “keep the fabled U.S.-Saudi “friendship” from falling apart.”  Oil flowed, to the tune of nine million barrels over two weeks.  The President met with Prince Bandar.  Saudi nationals hastened to depart the county midstream of the FBI’s investigative work.  The Bush administration sought “rapprochement” not confrontation.  And, in 2002, Crown Prince Abdullah was the President’s guest in Texas.

There were five key Saudi individuals: Fahad al-Thumairy, an accredited diplomat; the San Diego resident Omar al-Bayoumi; on the money front, Osama Basnan; a Saudi religious official, Saleh al-Hussayen; and the American-born imam, Anwar Aulaqi.

The authors conclude: “Taken together the roles and activities [of the five]…heightened suspicion that the perpetrators of 9/11 had support and sponsorship from backers never clearly identified.”

Summers and Swan consulted extensively with Senator Bob Graham, a co-chair of the Joint Inquiry. In Graham’s opinion, “9/11 could not have occurred but for the existence of an infrastructure of support within the United States.  By ‘the Saudis,’ I mean the Saudi government….[and that] included the royal family.”

Central to the author’s thesis, apart from input from Senator Graham, is the 28-page redaction in the Joint Inquiry report.  I read the pages in the final draft report and my vague recall is that they had to do, in part, with the San Diego events.  I’m with Eleanor Hill on this one.  “Know what,” she told the authors, “I can’t tell you [this far removed] what’s in those pages.”

Summers and Swan report a bipartisan finding.  Both co-chairs of the Joint Inquiry, Senators Graham and Shelby, considered the pages withheld for reasons other than national security.  Graham was explicit, according to the authors.  “In Graham’s view, Bush’s role in suppressing important information…should have led to his impeachment and removal from office.”  The pages remain unreleased to this day, despite a President Obama  expression of willingness to Kristin Breitweiser to “get the suppressed material released.”

Bluntly, Summers and Swan concluded that “The 9/11 Commission Report blurred the truth about the Saudi role…[but also reported that Iraq] had nothing to do with 9/11.”  And because of Iraq, “the real evidence that linked other nations to Osama bin Laden and 9/11 faded from the public consciousness.”

After covering “Saudi Arabia’s murky role,” Summers and Swan turn their final attention to a nation “deserv[ing] equally close scrutiny,” Pakistan.  Not long into that narrative they tied everything together in the words of former U.S. special envoy Peter Tomsen.  According to the authors, “Tomsen told the 9/11 Commission that the Taliban “actually were the junior partners in an unholy alliance” —ISI, al Qaeda, and the Taliban.  As it grew in influence the ISI liaised closely with Saudi intelligence…”

Things in perspective

The authors, consistent with the state of other current research and writing about 9/11, do not place the event in the context of what else was happening in the world.  Terrorism, to include al Qaeda, was just one of multiple issues on the nation’s and the President’s plate.  They do provide a metric that allows some insight into the larger context.  On page 309, they wrote: “Every day, too, the President received a CIA briefing knows as the PDB—the President’s Daily Brief.  Between the inauguration and September 10, bin Laden was mentioned in forty PDBs.”

There were, therefore, some 234 PDBs.  In perspective, bin Laden was mentioned in one of every six or so PDB, approximately once a week.  Further, each PDB contained multiple articles.  Assuming a low figure of six articles per PDB, there were about 1400 articles, about three in one hundred mentioned bin Laden.  That small percentage is consistent with an analysis of the SEIB (Senior Executive Intelligence Brief) I did while a member of the Joint Inquiry.  The SEIB is a PDB-like document for a slightly larger audience, but one without law enforcement information.  I found that terrorism articles, whether or not they mentioned bin Laden, were a small percentage of the total SEIB articles.

So what was going on?  There were the continuing international situations, generally briefed daily, including the Middle East, Iran and Iraq separately, Central Europe and so forth.  There was the matter of a resurgent Russia that,  according to the Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff intelligence briefings for the same period (which I also reviewed), was flexing a military muscle not seen for ten years or not seen since the fall of the former Soviet Union.  That flexing was a front burner issue on 9-11, the Russians had scheduled an air-launched cruise missile live-fire launch for the day and for which a NOTAM had been issued.  However, above all other issues the one that garnered the plurality of SEIB articles (and, by extension, PDB articles) was an emerging China.  Of specific importance, on April 1, 2001, the Chinese forced down an U.S. reconnaissance aircraft, a serious international event.

International events aside, there was also the domestic issue of transition.  While the authors wrote about bits and pieces of the transition from Clinton to Bush, they did not address the larger issue of transition time, in general.  Each inauguration year, spring and well beyond, brings with it a struggle between a new administration to get its team in place and the Senate to confirm the key members of that team.  2001 was no different, with an additional constraint.  Because of the contested election the whole nomination and confirmation process was delayed.  There is no evidence that bin Laden’s insistence that the date of the attack be moved up had to do with the transition, but it would have been helpful if the authors had addressed the subject in a larger context.

In military terms, bin Laden was operating within the decision cycle of his enemy, a fundamental advantage, one that virtually assures success.  When Mihdhar reentered the United States on Independence Day, July 4, 2001, the perpetrators swung into action.  Six days later the administration met to discuss things.  My recall is that one outcome was a request to put things in perspective for the President.  The answer to that request became the August 6 PDB, in my recollection.  Thereafter, the administration’s leisurely pace stands in stark contrast to the accelerated pace of the preparation for the attack.  It is that contrast and comparison, discussed implicitly in The Eleventh Day, that warrants separate treatment.

Depth of research

In my estimation, no one knows more about the day of 9/11 than Robbyn Swan and no one knows more about the body of information, pre-event, event, and post-event necessary to competently discuss 9/11 than Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan.

Here are just a few examples of the thoroughness of their meticulous work.

  • Obtained, prior to publication, a copy of Kevin Fenton’s contemporary book, Disconnecting the Dots
  • Filed multiple FOIA actions, to include a critical request for a mandatory declassification review. That action surfaced a Commission staff iteration of the Air Threat Conference transcript
  • Developed a close and continuing relationship with NARA staff to facilitate exploitation of Commission files
  • Sought out Erik Larson, the single public person most knowledgeable about the contents of the 9/11 Commission files as uploaded to the History Commons Scribd account, and obtained a searchable DVD that greatly facilitated exploitation of the Commission files
  • Sought and obtained responsive foreign language documents and interviewed comprable sources, if at all possible
  • Called on a vast number of sources cultivated over the decades of previous work
  • In March 2010, printed out every document in the archives of my website and added to that compilation over time

Chaos considered

As is the universal case, the authors use the word chaos, or quote others who do, without definition.  Chaos is a word whose meaning is simply understood without explanation.  My purpose here is to document for future reference their mention of the word.

On page 50, in the context of a discussion of the fate of UA 93, the authors wrote: “FAR BELOW, ALL WAS CHAOS [capitalized by the authors].  At the very moment that the attendant in 93’s cockpit had fallen ominously silent…Flight 77 had slammed into the Pentagon.  On his first day of duty in the post, FAA national operations manager, Ben Sliney and his senior colleagues had no way of knowing what new calamity might be imminent.”

On page 125 they cite a Commission analyst.  “The challenge in relating the history of one of the most chaotic days in our history…is to avoid replicating that chaos in writing about it.”

On page 128, in the context of the false report of AA 11 still airborne, the authors wrote, “The information was a red herring.  In the chaos of the moment, however, no one knew for certain that is was Flight 11…”

On page 268 they cite the writer Peggy Noonan.  “If someone does  the terrible big thing to New York or Washington, there will be a lot of chaos….The psychic blow—and that is what it will be to the people who absorb it, a blow, an insult that reorders and changes—will shift our perspective and priorities, dramatically, and for longer than a while….”