21 Years ago:
The tragic events of September 11, 2001 constitute a fundamental landmark in American history. a decisive watershed, a breaking point. Millions of people have been misled regarding the causes and consequences of 9/11.
September 11 2001 opens up an era of crisis, upheaval and militarization of American society.
A far-reaching overhaul of US military doctrine was launched in the wake of 9/11.
The following article was first published in August 2004, following the release of the 9/11 Commission Report. It was also published as a chapter in the author’s book: “America’s “War on Terrorism”
“We Have Some Planes”
The 9/11 Commission’s Report provides an almost visual description of the Arab hijackers. It depicts in minute detail events occurring inside the cabin of the four hijacked planes.
In the absence of surviving passengers, this “corroborating evidence”, was based on passengers’ cell and air phone conversations with their loved ones. According to the Report, the cockpit voice recorder (CVR) was only recovered in the case of one of the flights (UAL 93).
Focusing on the personal drama of the passengers, the Commission has built much of its narrative around the phone conversations. The Arabs are portrayed with their knives and box cutters, scheming in the name of Allah, to bring down the planes and turn them “into large guided missiles” (Report, Chapter 1, http://www.9-11commission.gov/report/911Report_Ch1.pdf ).
The Technology of Wireless Transmission
The Report conveys the impression that cell phone ground-to-air communication from high altitude was of reasonably good quality, and that there was no major impediment or obstruction in wireless transmission.
Some of the conversations were with onboard air phones, which contrary to the cell phones provide for good quality transmission. The report does not draw a clear demarcation between the two types of calls.
More significantly, what this carefully drafted script fails to mention is that, given the prevailing technology in September 2001, it was extremely difficult, if not impossible, to place a wireless cell call from an aircraft traveling at high speed above 8000 feet:
“Wireless communications networks weren’t designed for ground-to-air communication. Cellular experts privately admit that they’re surprised the calls were able to be placed from the hijacked planes, and that they lasted as long as they did. They speculate that the only reason that the calls went through in the first place is that the aircraft were flying so close to the ground
Expert opinion within the wireless telecom industry casts serious doubt on “the findings” of the 9/11 Commission. According to Alexa Graf, a spokesman of AT&T, commenting in the immediate wake of the 9/11 attacks:
“it was almost a fluke that the [9/11] calls reached their destinations… From high altitudes, the call quality is not very good, and most callers will experience drops. Although calls are not reliable, callers can pick up and hold calls for a little while below a certain altitude”
New Wireless Technology
While serious doubts regarding the cell calls were expressed in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, a new landmark in the wireless telecom industry has further contributed to upsetting the Commission’s credibility. Within days of the release of the 9/11 Commission Report in July 2004, American Airlines and Qualcomm, proudly announced the development of a new wireless technology –which will at some future date allow airline passengers using their cell phones to contact family and friends from a commercial aircraft (no doubt at a special rate aerial roaming charge) (see http://www.qualcomm.com/press/releases/2004/040715_aa_testflight.html )