9-11: Conflation of Events; the Brian Williams situation, considered


News anchor Brian Williams has been suspended for conflating events.  Conflation has become a common word as his colleagues and others attempt to grapple with his abrupt fall from grace.  Conflation of events is apparently more common than one might think.

Certainly, it was common in the immediate aftermath of 9-11 and it continues to be common today as researchers and historians sort out and refine their understanding of the events of September 11, 2001.  It might be useful at this point, therefore, to briefly discuss conflation and the events of 9-11.

A Cascade of Conflations

The single most important conflation took place immediately, perhaps as early as the evening of 9-11. The Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) staff misread its own log, the Mission Crew Commander/Technician (MCC/T) Log, the most important document of the day concerning the military response. An entry that pertained to American Airlines Flight 11 (AA 11) was conflated to be a reference to American Airlines Flight 77 (AA 77). The handwritten notes in the margin are mine.

Thereafter, NORAD, in its own press release timeline, incorrectly reported a time of 9:24 EDT, for notification to the military concerning the hijacking of AA 77.

That single error cascaded into the understanding of senior government officials as they grappled with their own recall of events of the day. For example, the next month, General Eberhart, NORAD Commander, testified to Congress that the military was notified about AA 77 at 9:24 EDT, consistent with the NORAD timeline.

The May, 2003, 9/11 Commission testimony of, in order, Jane Garvey, Administrator, Federal Aviation Administration, Norman Mineta, Secretary, Department of Transportation, and the NORAD delegation, conflated information concerning United Airlines Flight 93 (UA 93) to pertain to AA 77.

Why? Because the testimony had to fit the flawed NORAD timeline.  The confusion began with Garvey’s testimony and got progressively worse with Mineta’s testimony. When asked what the time was concerning his knowledge of the threat to the nation’s capital he responded, “9:20,” a reference to AA 77.

The NORAD delegation, for its part, continued the original conflation of the log entry pertaining to AA 11 to be an AA 77 entry. Even worse, the delegation then conflated a MCC/T log entry pertaining to United Airlines Flight 175 (UA 175) to be an entry pertaining to UA 93. That new conflated time was 9:16 EDT.

Commission Staff informed, in turn, Colonel Robert Marr, NEADS Commander; General Larry Arnold, Continental Region (CONR) Commander on 9/11; General Craig McKinley, Arnold’s successor; and General Ralph Eberhart, NORAD Commander, about the conflation. NORAD did correct its timeline, but to my knowledge no one at NEADS or anywhere else in NORAD has acknowledged the original staff error.

Mineta Considered

Mineta’s testimony is taken as gospel in the 9/11 truth community. However, his stated time of 9:20 is an aberration, unsupported by all other primary source information and contemporary documents of the day.

Not only did Mineta conflate events he also compressed time, another common error made by participants in any incident as they try and recall what happened.

The time of 9:20 is not possible. Mineta was in his office at the Department of Transportation at 9:03 EDT, when UA 175 struck the World Trade Center South Tower.

For the 9:20 time to be accurate Mineta had to do the following in a short 17 minutes: assimilate what was happening, give orders to staff, field calls from air carrier senior executives, move to the elevators, descend and move to his car, motor to the White House (7 minutes according to MapQuest), pass through security, disembark at the West Wing and enter, speak to Richard Clarke, cross the White House to the East Wing, descend to the President’s Emergency Operations Center, take his position and possess immediate situation awareness. That is an impossible scenario.

The Commission Report, and Commission Staff Statement 17, prepared for a June, 2004, hearing, provide an accurate account of events of the morning. Mineta was dealing with UA 93, not AA 77.

Final Comment

We have discussed two common errors routinely made by eyewitnesses and participants in their recall of significant events, conflation and time compression. There is a third common error, a cautionary note for those who would judge Brian Williams or those who fought the battle on 9-11. Monday morning quarterbacking is easy. Describing events as they actually  happened without imposing current knowledge or understanding is difficult.

Miles Kara, Commission Staff, Team 8