Eyewitnesses to History

The old saying, “seeing is believing,” is true most of the time for most people, but it isn’t always true. A skeptic may invent alternative explanations for what he is seeing. I call this phenomenon “seeing isn’t believing.” In every Middle Eastern Islamic nation, the vast majority of those people interviewed so far think that the videotape of Osama bin Laden’s bragging was faked by the United States. It is as if they all saw the movie, Wag the Dog.

Then there is another phenomenon, less familiar, “believing is seeing.” It may be even more common that “seeing isn’t believing.” Psychology professors occasionally stage classroom events and then ask their students to summarize what they saw. The accounts vary widely.

When it comes to the events preceding and following the attack of 9-11, I would like to get to the bottom of them. I want to know what “really” happened. You do, too. Yet I know that this is highly unlikely to happen in my generation.

As a trained historian, I can assure you that sorting out any sequence of events that led up to a major historical event is no picnic. Initial reports are confused, and not all of them get published. Some reports are wrong. Others seem to be wrong, but later are shown to be accurate. By then, official stories have been set in concrete, so no one pays much attention. There is a lot of confusion from day one, and this confusion doesn’t go away. It just gets worse. Follow-up reports and new explanations are added. Various versions are presented as making sense out of the confusion. Then official versions get floated, and revised, and re-floated.

Example: Who shot President Kennedy?

What Did Bush Know, and When Did He Know It?

On September 11, two planes crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center. As surely as we know that the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, so do we know this much. But beyond this, there is not much agreement. There is not even an official version. We have had several.

The official version used to be that President Bush was in a classroom of children in Florida. He was told of the crash of the first plane — or was it two? — while he was in class. After about 30 minutes — it’s all a bit vague — he was taken to Air Force One, which flew to Shreveport, Louisiana, and then to Omaha. Is that basically the version you remember? Here is what the Washington Post reported on the afternoon of September 11.

Earlier, Bush had departed from hurriedly from an elementary school in Sarasota, leaving most of the White House press corps behind.

Bush had received the first news of the attack at 9:07 a.m., three minutes after he had stepped into a classroom to hear 18 second-graders show off their reading skills when his chief of staff, Andrew H. Card Jr., leaned over and whispered to him. Bush, whose eyes had been sparkling, looked suddenly grim. That was when officials still thought the crash at the World Trade Center was an accident, and he went ahead with the photo opportunity.

A slightly different version appeared that day in the Orlando Sentinel.

SARASOTA, Fla. — President Bush was on his way into a classroom to hear second graders read an idyllic tale from a children’s storybook when White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card whispered in his ear.

The president, smiling broadly as the children read, raised his eyebrows and sat down, a bemused smile on his face as the children of Emma E. Booker Elementary school read — the full extent of the situation in New York apparently not clear yet.

Minutes later, Bush left the classroom and appeared at the school’s library, where guests and children had gathered to here him talk about literacy. Instead, a solemn president shocked them with the announcement that America was under siege.

“Ladies and gentlemen, this is a difficult moment for America,” Bush told the hushed audience. “Two airplanes have crashed into the World Trade Center, in an apparent terrorist attack on our country.”

“I am going to conduct a full-scale investigation and hunt down and find those folks who committed this act,” Bush vowed. “Terrorism against our nation will not stand.”

With that, Bush asked for a brief moment of silence and then abruptly left — headed to Air Force One and an undisclosed location near Washington.

What began as a “photo op” had become an historic moment.

The president awoke to a day of promise for a pre-dawn, fast-paced jog around a golf course.

A little more than three hours before, the president’s day had begun with a four-and-half-mile jog, two laps around a palm tree-lined golf course on Longboat Key where he had spent the night after his first day at a Jacksonville schoolhouse. At 9:04 am, 18 children seated in two rows in the gray carpeted second grade classroom. Bush entered from a door at the left, accompanied by U.S. Education Secretary Ron Paige and Florida Lt. Gov. Frank Brogan. They paused for the photo op, and then word from Card.

The president took a seat to the left of the teacher seated in front of the children. As the children read, he praised them. . . .

In early December, a revised version of this event appeared, from a highly placed inside source: George W. Bush. This is from a December 4 press release from the White House. It is a transcript of an appearance of President Bush at a Town Hall meeting in Orlando, Florida. He took questions. Toward the end of the meeting, this exchange occurred.

THE PRESIDENT: Hi, Patricia; how are you? How old is Patricia?

Q Five, and Jordan is in 3rd grade. And Jordan has a question, if I could give him the microphone.

THE PRESIDENT: You bet. Your mother is relaying the Mike to you, Jordan.

Q One thing, Mr. President, is that you have no idea how much you’ve done for this country. And another thing is that, how did you feel when you heard about the terrorist attack? (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Jordan. Well, Jordan, you’re not going to believe what state I was in when I heard about the terrorist attack. I was in Florida. And my Chief of Staff, Andy Card — actually, I was in a classroom talking about a reading program that works. I was sitting outside the classroom waiting to go in, and I saw an airplane hit the tower — the TV was obviously on. And I used to fly, myself, and I said, well, there’s one terrible pilot. I said, it must have been a horrible accident.

But I was whisked off there, I didn’t have much time to think about it. And I was sitting in the classroom, and Andy Card, my Chief of Staff, who is sitting over here, walked in and said, “A second plane has hit the tower, America is under attack.”

Again, in his words: “I was sitting outside the classroom waiting to go in, and I saw an airplane hit the tower — the TV was obviously on. And I used to fly, myself, and I said, well, there’s one terrible pilot. I said, it must have been a horrible accident.”

Compare this account with the Washington Post version:

Bush had received the first news of the attack at 9:07 a.m., three minutes after he had stepped into a classroom to hear 18 second-graders show off their reading skills when his chief of staff, Andrew H. Card Jr., leaned over and whispered to him. Bush, whose eyes had been sparkling, looked suddenly grim. That was when officials still thought the crash at the World Trade Center was an accident, and he went ahead with the photo opportunity.

He supposedly first heard of the attack from Andy Card, at 9:07, after he was inside the classroom.

Now let’s look at a chronology of the attack. This is from the Aviation Crashes site. (Ah, the wonders of the Web: a site for every interest and taste.)

8:45 a.m. (all times are EDT): A large plane, possibly a hijacked airliner, crashes into one of the World Trade Center towers, tearing a gaping hole in the building and setting it afire.

9:03 a.m.: A second plane, apparently a passenger jet, crashes into the second World Trade Center tower and explodes. Both buildings are burning.

So, as far as I can determine from the evidence before me, the events leading up to President Bush’s flight to Shreveport were these:

8:45 a.m.: the first plane hits the tower

8:45 to 9:03?: President Bush sees the first crash on TV, then enters the classroom

9:03: a second plane hits the second tower

9:07: Andy Card tells Bush of the second crash

9:30?: President Bush departs from the school

Here is what bothers me:

Which TV network broadcast either a live shot or a video clip of the crash before 9:03 a.m.?

I’ve been searching the Web, and I can find no reference to any live broadcast of the first crash. I know there were at least two videos broadcast later in the day. I will get to these later in this report.

The President said specifically that he saw the crash on a TV set that was outside the classroom. I can’t figure out how some network got a third-party’s videotape, reviewed it, and got it on-screen within 18 minutes of the event.

So, it must have been a live broadcast or very fresh tape. Which network had a camera pointed at the WTC (and why?), got the shot, and then aired it on national TV before the President walked into that classroom?

On Monday, December 11, I offered this challenge to my 30,000 readers on my free e-mail newsletter, Gary North’s Reality Check.

Do you remember such a broadcast prior to the second plane hit? No rumors, please. Did you personally see such this broadcast? If so, let me know.

Or is it possible that the President’s memory is failing him? Did he just hear an announcement of the crash? Has his memory filled in the gap with an image of a videotape he saw hours later? Is this a case of “believing is seeing”?

If the President of the United States can’t recall correctly what happened to him at the defining moment of his career, whose memory can we trust?

But if his memory is reliable, what was he watching that morning? What channel was it?

My intent in covering this story was only partially to figure out what the President saw, when he saw it, or whether he saw it. More important to this exercise was to demonstrate to readers the problem of eyewitness accounts, especially when they grow stale due to time. My real goal was to introduce them to the problem of the eyewitness accounts regarding American Airlines Flight 587 to Santo Domingo on November 12.

Eyewitness News

On the evening of September 11, I saw a video of the crash of Flight 11. It was memorable. It was an amateur video shot at street level. It was a scene of a man sitting at a table at an outdoor restaurant. The camera angle was aimed upward. The person holding the camera may have been kneeling. In the distance was one of the WTC towers. There was no smoke, so it had to be before Flight 11 hit the north tower. Without warning, a plane hit the building and exploded. I recall the man at the table looking up and to his left, toward the tower. Then he stood up and rapidly walked away. I don’t recall that he paid for his meal. But I could be wrong about his response. Maybe my mind is filling in a gap. But the sight of the plane hitting the tower is not my imagination.

I have not been able to locate that video clip on the Web. I did locate another one. Someone was filming a fireman, who was standing in the middle of the street. The fireman looks up at the sky. Then the camera shifted rapidly up and to the left. At a distance, you can see the North Tower. The plane’s crash is barely visible. In a one-square-inch section of my computer monitor, “barely visible” barely describes it. The camera zooms in closer after the plane has hit the building. A cloud of dust is visible where the plane hit the building. This is a live-action shot. Presumably, the camera man heard the roar of the engines, and then aimed the camera in the general direction of where the sound was coming from.

This video was also seen by subscriber Ron C. The problem is, he does not say when he saw it. I cannot imagine how any network got this tape on-screen within 18 minutes of the crash. I can find no report of its being broadcast before the second plane hit. Ron says:

I do not think the video of the first plane was what you refer to as an “amateur video”. What I remember hearing was that there was a local TV station doing a public service piece with a (here I don’t remember) fireman or police officer at street level with the towers in the back to the right.

You hear the roar of the jet engine, the fireman or police officer looks up and then you see the jet smash into the building and the cameraman begins focusing on the first tower.

Again, I do remember distinctly someone saying that it was a local tv station and it was either a public service announcement they were filming or some other piece relating to the fireman or police officer.

Hope that helps.

It helped a great deal. This video is on the BBC’s Website. Look for these words: Click here to watch the first crash.

I also found this video on several other sites. I could locate no other network video of Flight 11, nor could I locate even a photo of its impact — only its results: a burning building. Here are links to what I did find. Every photo on every site I visited was post-8:45. This includes the major networks’ sites.




What My Subscribers Remember Having Seen

I received about two dozen letters. I have selected the ones that are most specific. Let’s see what people remember seeing. I begin with the most detailed report. It comes from a high school student, I assume, because he takes AP (advanced placement) physics. (Anyone who reads my newsletter is not your average high school student.)

I recall exactly when I first saw coverage of the 9/11 crash. I recall this so well because 9/11 is my birthday. I remember first hearing the news at the time of morning announcements in my Business Management class (At about 8:50). In my next class (AP Physics) the television was on and before class began (Sometime between 8:55 and 9:05 AM) I saw footage of the first plane hitting one of the towers. It seems to me that there was television coverage before 9:05 AM. I believe the coverage was on CNN.

Blessings . . . Daniel H.

I sent back two additional questions, which he answered specifically.

What angle was the shot?

It seems to me that the shot was from another tall building but still a lower than the crash itself.

You saw the plane hit the building, and the other tower was not smoking — is this correct?

This is how I remember it.

This could not have been the video that Ron C. saw, which was ground-level.

The next report is also quite specific. I have removed the ID on where he works.

I was in a food study at the [city name] Human Nutrition lab Eating breakfast and the TV was set to CNN news which cut to the LIVE broadcast of the first plane hit. I was sitting there and the NEXT plane hit the building as I watched, it was all live! G.W. Bush could have been in the teachers lounge where they have T.V. on for the teacher to relax during there breaks.

Check it out,

Diamond P.

The problem here is that he does not say that he saw the plane crash. If they cut to a scene of the tower, live, then the crash had already taken place. If there was a video, then it was taken by an independent viewer, and CNN got it on-screen fast. I still ask: How?

I did what he said. I checked it out at the CNN site, to see if there is a video or even a photo of the first plane crash. I found none. The video and the still photos begin with the second plane.



The next report also identifies CNN, sort of. It’s second hand, but real-time second hand.

There was such a video, played prior to the second crash. I was sitting in the office that morning, and my colleague across the aisle exclaimed out loud that a plane had hit the world trade centre, and a few minutes later the second one hit. He was watching on his computer. Unfortunately he can’t remember which channel, but he thinks it was CNN. I remember clearly his exclamation, and that it was prior to the second crash. Perhaps President Bush saw this on a school computer too?

Julian W.

I was watching CNBC at my breakfast counter when they broke in with pictures of the first crash on the twin towers. While I was watching the horror of the first crash, several minutes later, I watched the second plane crash into the other tower. . . . Regards, Dick E.

I saw the crash and was apparently about 10 min after actual crash, (replay of a video tape of the first crash.) I turned on ABC or maybe NBC here in Detroit.

Someone had to have run the tape over to NBC right away in NYC and then everyone else copied it and broadcast it.

Ron B

Well, my faculties are fading and I am not good with details. But let me say that I watched (it was CNBC not MSNBC) and the shot of the plane came up and the anchor said something to the effect that a smallish plane had crashed into one of the towers. His name was Mark.

I’m sorry about the fuzziness of the details. But either it showed footage of the plane crashing into the tower or a shot of part of the plane sticking out of the building. There was a shot of the plane, I wasn’t just looking at a hole.

Sorry I can’t give you certainty. But CNBC For Sure has the footage.

Robert P.

If CNBC has the footage, they don’t have it displayed on their Website.

So, we still have no solution. President Bush said that he saw the first plane crash into the North Tower. Here are his words:

I was sitting outside the classroom waiting to go in, and I saw an airplane hit the tower — the TV was obviously on. And I used to fly, myself, and I said, well, there’s one terrible pilot. I said, it must have been a horrible accident.

He was not alone in describing what he saw. There are confirmations from readers of my newsletter. I do not think these people are crazy or lying. But I have to ask myself: Did they see what they remember seeing? If they did, then how did these different tapes get on the air within 18 minutes?

But verbal testimony is only the beginning. If I wanted to pursue this matter, which I don’t, I would spend weeks contacting each network in an attempt to see which one, if any, broadcast which video.

This is my real point. When eyewitness accounts are at odds with what seems possible, a serious investigator should spend a lot of time following through before people’s memories get old, and witnesses start talking to each other, comparing stories.

This is what is not being done with respect to Flight 587.

“The Tail Fell Off!”

The next major aircraft disaster took place on November 12 in New York City: American Airlines Flight 587 to Santo Domingo. It crashed a few minutes after take-off. Its tail fell off. That’s the official word.

There was no videotape this time. Well, actually, there was. The FBI is sitting on it.

A videotape that could show exactly what happened to American Airlines Flight 587, which crashed three minutes after taking off from New York’s JFK airport on Monday, is in the hands of the FBI – but the bureau has thus far declined to release it.

New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority spokesman Tom Kelly confirmed to the Daily News Friday that the agency has given surveillance videotapes from Cross Bay Blvd. and Marine Parkway bridges to the FBI.

“One tape captures the plane taking off from JFK,” the News said. . . .

Dozens of eyewitnesses have told media outlets they saw an explosion and/or a fire at the juncture of Flight 587’s wing and fuselage moments before it began to break up, losing its tail first, then both its engines.

Catastrophic engine failure, which was first suspected to have caused the explosion, was ruled out Tuesday after NTSB investigators examined the engines and found no evidence of mechanical failure.

Since discovering the engines were working properly, NTSB spokeswoman Marion Blakely – along with most media outlets – have quietly dropped references to witness accounts of a midair explosion.

The NTSB now says that wind turbulence from another plane is the most likely cause of the crash. One former jumbo jet veteran pilot was highly skeptical of the turbulence theory.

“If wind turbulence caused that accident, I’ll never fly again,” Barry Schiff, who flew 747s for TWA, told the New York Post. . . .

It’s not clear why the FBI has not yet released the MTA video – or even commented on what it shows. It’s also not clear why the Flight 587 video was not turned over to the NTSB instead of the FBI, which had reportedly adopted a secondary role in the wake of NTSB claims that the crash was an accident.

This was reported on Newsmax.

Anyway, you and I did not see what happened. But some people did. Anyway, they say they did. But they don’t count, officially speaking. They were suffering from delusions. The New York Post (Dec. 2) ran a story on their jointly perceived memories.

“No tail fell off, not before the explosion. I swear to that,” said retired firefighter Tom Lynch, who was doing his exercise march along Rockaway Beach Boulevard on Nov. 12.

“I had my head up taking in that beautiful, clear day and was staring straight at the plane.

“It made a bank turn and suddenly there was an explosion, orange and black, on the righthand side of the fuselage. It was a small explosion, about half the size of a car.

“The plane kept on going straight for about two or three seconds as if nothing had happened, then ‘vwoof’ — the second, big explosion on the right wing, orange and black.

“It was only then that the plane fell apart. It was after the explosion and I’m telling you, the tail was there until the second explosion.”

Lynch, who lives near the crash site in Belle Harbor, claims he has 13 people who saw the plane on fire before the breakup. Until the explosion the tail was intact.

He contacted the FBI, NTSB, Rep. Anthony Weiner, and Sens. Chuck Schumer and Hillary Clinton.

“I got no response from anyone,” said Lynch, “Sabotage? That’s for other people to decide. At first, we hear there were seagulls in the engine, the plane was caught in a jet stream and the tail fell off. No damn tail fell off until after the second explosion.”

Jim Conrad, who retired last month as a police lieutenant after 34 years, accidentally met Lynch in a dentist’s office one week after the crash.

“I saw exactly what Tom saw. I was near a stop light at the Marine Parkway Bridge. First, the small explosion. The plane kept on going, tail intact, then the big explosion and the plane nose-dived. The first thing I said was: ‘The bastards did it again.'” . . .

As far as the major news media are concerned — but not the Post — these people are delusional. They have to be. Because, if there really were a pair of explosions, that plane was probably destroyed by terrorists. These terrorists must have been on the inside. This is the opinion of Joel Skousen, and I agree with him. They did this two months after airport security was supposedly tightened. Such an interpretation of the breakup of Flight 587 is not what the airline industry wants, nor is it politically correct today in light of the successful anti-terrorism efforts of the government. So, the explosions never happened. They couldn’t have.

I have never heard of such a midair breakup of a plane in normal weather. Here is the official preliminary explanation from the National Transportation Safety Board.

Based on radar data, flight 587 took off approximately 105 seconds behind Japan Airlines flight 47, a Boeing 747. The FDR [flight data recorder] indicates that flight 587 encountered two wake vortices generated by JAL flight 47.

My unofficial view: If flying in a normal pattern behind a jumbo jet threatens to break up a safety-certified commercial jetliner, then we should fly on jumbo jets only.

My official view: Until witnesses such as Tom Lynch are interviewed in depth by the authorities, I prefer to think that something other than wind vortices caused this crash.

The news media should follow through on this story. So far, there has been little interest. At this late date, there probably won’t be. It’s old news. So, what are we to believe? Witnesses who say they saw one thing, or the official statements of a government agency? It is as if the evening TV news promo began with “Eyewitness non-news! No report at 11!”

If you want to follow the Flight 587 story, put this site in your Favorites or Bookmarks.


You may ask: “So what?” As I see it, the government’s policy of instantaneous analysis — just another random event — is a case of “Don’t worry; we’ve got things under control.” The FBI did this with TWA Flight 800. The NTSB is doing it with Flight 587. Witnesses in both cases saw things that the authorities refuse to pursue publicly. This moves the cause of the event from terrorism to accident. Accidents happen. Americans accept this.

What would have happened to airline stocks if the NTSM had released a report saying that several witnesses saw explosions under the wings before the plane crashed? What if the FBI had publicly announced that “We have a video of the plane in the air, but we are not going to release it”?

Could the plane have suffered a mechanical failure? Yes. A pilot friend of mine has a theory: the rudder failed. The plane’s yaw increased. It was no longer flying straight into the wind. The engines then went into a compressor stall because they were not drawing air properly. This condition can produce harmless bursts of flame from the front end of an engine. Perhaps this was what the witnesses saw as explosions. The disruption of the rudder somehow snapped off the tail.

There are many possible theories, but every witness should be quizzed, not ignored. In the light of how the FBI and NTSM have handled previous incidents, the accent is on secrecy, not full-scale investigation.

The Terrorists’ Dilemma

Assume that terrorists think that the crash of Flight 587 was the result of a terrorist act. There was no hue and cry from the American public. There was no panic. The authorities, despite having no explanation to offer, shrugged off all theories of sabotage. The public ignored the event.

Terrorists now face a major problem: statistics. They must commit atrocities that cannot easily be covered by a statistical blanket of “accidental.” They must up the ante if their efforts are to achieve their propaganda goals.

American bombers can pulverize Afghan villages. There is nothing accidental about this. This nation fights the war against terrorism visibly. This gets the world’s attention — and a new batch of Muslim recruits. For the terrorists to fight back, they must now do spectacular things.

I think they will. What have they got to lose, other than their lives? In Israel, there are daily incidents that prove that this loss is a price that a stream of self-destructive bombers are ready to pay.

Terrorists won’t adopt the “blow up an Israeli disco” tactic here. There aren’t enough Muslim terrorists in the United States to inflict sufficient damage this way. They must seek more bang for each buck.

This war has only just begun. The terrorists will have to target something more critical than commercial jetliners if they are to make their point. They must get beyond our government’s assurances that everything is under control.


The President sees a live TV broadcast of the first crash. How? Is this a problem with his memory? If it is, then what about my subscribers who recall seeing it, too?

Eyewitnesses see explosions under the wings of Flight 587, just before it disintegrates in the air. There is one local newspaper report about these eyewitnesses, and then the story disappears.

The cockpit voice recorder tape for Flight 93 — the “let’s roll” flight — never gets released by the FBI. Seven other “black boxes” are missing or that have nothing on them.

All nineteen hijackers had their real names on their photo ID’s, and were all identified, with photos, within 36 hours of the attack. Problem: at least four of them are still alive. This was known as early as September 23, according to the BBC, but this fact received little attention in the United States.

An amateur Arab pilot who was not able to graduate from a flight school because he could not handle a one-engine propeller-driven plane somehow flew complex maneuvers in aiming a commercial jetliner at the Pentagon.

A U.S.-Russian invasion of Afghanistan was planned as early as last March.

Osama bin Laden spent 10 days in an American hospital in Dubai last July, along with his entourage.

The Air Force did not scramble defensive fighter planes above Washington D.C. in the 37 minutes after the second plane hit the second tower, meaning 33 minutes after Andy Card whispered in the President’s ear that the nation was under attack. Then the Pentagon gets hit by plane number three.

Put them all together, and what have you got? “News stories that are somehow not worth pursuing.”

If it weren’t for the Web. . . .

December 18, 2001

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© 2001 LewRockwell.com

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