After four attempts to address William B. Scott’s three 2002 articles written for Aviation Week & Space Technology let me cut to the chase and get some things off my mind. Scott wrote at a time when accurate information was not available, the emerging story was incomplete, and the voices of the day had internalized events in their own way. His was an honest effort and is particularly useful to address three barriers, pitfalls if you will, to accurately understanding the events of September 11, 2001.
The barriers are: time compression; event conflation; and the imposition of post-facto understanding and conditions on both facto and pre-facto events. The Staff of both the 9-11 Commission and the Congressional Joint Inquiry that preceded it grappled constantly with these barriers to understanding. Most people writing objectively about the events of the day, the work of the 9-11 Commission Staff, or the work of authors, such as Scott, will remember to ‘walk in their shoes.’ And that especially means not looking through a post-facto lens. Setting aside the post-facto lens barrier lets look a bit further at the other two barriers.
A good example of time compression is the difficulty the well-researched author, Lynn Spencer, encountered. Hers was another honest effort. In Touching History she established a reader’s road map by time-stamping each section; a chronological approach. That worked well until she attempted to tell the Andrews fighter story. Spencer struggled to get the Andrews fighters back from the skies over North Carolina to Washington D.C. in time and space to deal with UA 93. The compression of time problem was such that Spencer had to abandon her reader’s road map and did not time-stamp that section of her book
In another example, Richard Clarke’s compression of time in “Against All Enemies” is not helpful in understanding the sequence of events that morning. Clarke’s is also an honest effort, one which highlights the fact that participant recall is much like an eye witness account, helpful but not definitive. And Clarke’s problems with time compression lead to the second barrier, event conflation.
Clarke established a time hack for his readers, “It was now 9:28.” That time was in reference to establishing an air defense “CAP over D.C.” That meant that by that time, according to Clarke, General Myers was in the Pentagon, the Air Threat Conference Call was underway, and “eleven aircraft [were] off course or out of communications.” [attributed to Garvey] Actually, Clarke conflated events as he compressed them in time, leaping nimbly over both barriers at once. He also established that Norman Mineta was not in the loop by 9:28, despite Mineta’s own account.
Mineta, then Secretary of Transportation established in multiple accounts, including testimony before the 9-11 Commission, that he was there before 9:28 and that an aircraft “50 miles out” was AA 77. Mineta’s story is the definitive example of event conflation. The plane in question was UA 93. Mineta and Clarke cannot both be right at the same time in terms of Mineta’s location in space and time.
Even the events of the day were conflated in at least two instances as they occurred; Delta 1989 was conflated with UA 93, and AA 77 was conflated with AA 11. NEADS perpetuated the first conflation in its own story of the day. The plane that ‘meandered’ that day was not UA 93, it was Delta 1989. We may never know the details of the second conflation other than the fact that it occurred and that it did prompt the Langley scramble.
Looking ahead to the Scott Trilogy
Researchers, writers, analysts, and investigators have the capability to overcome time compression and event conflation by using primary and secondary source information as an aid to recall during interviews. Spencer and Scott, especially, did not have the primary source information they needed to deal with either barrier. And as we will discover in the first Scott article some conflated events were also time compressed by Scott’s sources.
Okay, with that off my mind we can move on to Scott’s trilogy. And as we do, let me mention that is was from Scott that the Commission Staff obtained the lead about the Air Threat Conference Call. The tape of that conference is the single most important primary source of the day. For now, Commission Report footnotes stand as the best available secondary source of the day concerning that conference call.