9/11 Lawyers Seek Black-Box Data on Saudi Hijackers
by Tom Flocco
November 27, 2002
While recent reports reveal that Administration officials are considering whether to place Saudi Arabian interests above 9/11 victim families by filing a federal court motion to dismiss or delay the families’ private lawsuit accusing members of the Saudi royal family of ties to Al Qaeda, other lawyers will seek to unearth information about Saudi hijacker cockpit conversations and actions just prior to the crash disasters on September 11.
In a letter written to Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein from Douglas A. Latto, attorney at New York’s Baumeister & Samuels firm, Latto told Hellerstein that “we have been led to believe that the United States of America, through the Department of Justice (DOJ), will attempt to prevent discovery of the [9/11] black boxes.” A copy of the letter was obtained from a reliable source close to the investigation.
Latto’s July 10 letter to Hellerstein also shed more light on the fact that possible Justice Department attempts to prevent inspection of the actual contents of the recovered and original cockpit-voice and flight-data recorders “would undoubtedly lead to motion practice not present in any of the other cases.” Moreover, analysis of news reports over time indicates troubling contradictions regarding the “usefulness” of the recovered data and the true condition of the recovered black boxes currently impounded by the FBI.
Baumeister and Samuels represents in excess of 60 families who lost loved ones on September 11, including families of passengers on board all four aircraft as well as tower victims. Lead attorney Michel F. Baumeister is a 30-year aviation accident trial lawyer; and his past experience as a Manhattan Assistant District Attorney and Assistant U.S. Attorney will undoubtedly serve the victim-family lawyer team well in the face of government promulgations of “ongoing criminal investigation” strategies.
A source close to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) who asked to remain anonymous when asked about the ” ongoing [black box] investigation, ” told us that “the NTSB never closely examined the cockpit voice recorders (CVRs) and flight data recorders (FDRs) recovered from American Flight 77 which hit the Pentagon, and United flight 93 which crashed in Pennsylvania. ” This, while the FBI has continued to quietly dodge vexing questions related to its prior knowledge of the 9/11 attacks and how the Bureau’s widely-reported inept and mishandled information protocol cost so many lives.
The source added that “the [CVR and FDR] tapes were sequestered by the FBI and quickly taken to its Quantico, Virginia labs where analysis was conducted solely under the Bureau’s influence in order to maintain complete control.” However, according to the individual with knowledge of the investigation, “there were a few NTSB officials allowed to observe, but their influence on the probe and tape inspection was minimal at best.”
We also talked to Michael Thompson, chief engineer in the CVR/FDR division of Allied Signal-Honeywell Corporation in Redmond, Washington — according to his counsel, Mark Larson.
We asked Thompson if he was the person in charge of flight data recovery in the 9/11 investigation, since Honeywell manufactured the data recorders in operation on all four Boeing jets involved in the September 11 crashes. “I cannot answer that under advice from legal counsel,” he said.
Since his legal counsel, Mark Larson of Tempe, Arizona, was unavailable for a conference call, Thompson told us, “On advice of my legal counsel, I cannot answer any legal questions pertaining to that incident.” [On November 19, 2002 at 12:16 pm, Honeywell transferred our initial call to Mark Larson, corporate in-house counsel for Honeywell, who in turn told us to contact Michael Thompson regarding any questions we might have about the 9/11 CVRs and FDRs.]
When we asked Thompson if he had ever seen or been involved in any recovery analysis of the 9/11 CVRs or FDRs, he stated, “That’s a legal question, and on advice of counsel, I cannot answer any of those questions. You need to talk to Mark Larson about this.” [This surprised us, because we are aware that the memory chips from which the NTSB and/or FBI tapes are derived is raw data and cannot be manipulated. Thus, the “ongoing criminal investigation” excuse could result in either obstruction or suppression of fact.]
As a matter of fact, ABC news reported on 9-13-2001 that “Although investigators look for an entire black box, sometimes the only parts of the device that survive are the recorder’s crash-survivable memory units (CSMU). The CSMU is almost indestructible. [A former NTSB source told us that only a direct hit from a nuclear blast can destroy it] ABC also said that “it is housed within a stainless-steel shell that contains titanium or aluminum and a high-temperature insulation of dry silica material.”
Judge Hellerstein’s hand-written annotations on Latto’s ‘World Trade Center litigation’ letter said that his “views may be presented….as amices curiae [friend of the court], pending a later and different status.” [ When or if any of his clients initiate civil procedure.]
Asked about the government’s intention to impede discovery of the black boxes, Latto told us that “we used a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the contents [tapes] from the recovered [Flight 93] black boxes.” [That Latto was unaware that both the CVR and the FDR had also been recovered from the Flight 77 Pentagon crash could easily be expected since there are relatively few reports confirming their availability — and the FBI has remained tight-lipped about the issue.]
“I can’t remember to which government branch we referred the FOIA off hand,” Latto replied, adding “I’ll have to ask my paralegal to check back in my files.”
Asked to divulge the name of the official in the 9/11 case who had led him to believe that “the government would attempt to prevent discovery” of the original tapes, or what type of response he had received regarding the FOIA request, Mr. Latto again begged off, not wishing to name names, replying “I can’t remember. I’ll have to check on it.”
Douglas A. Latto : Latto revealed that his office had employed a FOIA request to obtain accurate and original recordings of the recovered black boxes; but he declined to reveal who had led him to believe that the government planned to suppress or obstruct their discovery. Latto’s letter to Judge Hellerstein also contains references to limits of airline liability insurance and potential monetary damage exposure to both passengers on board the aircraft and ground victims.
No study has yet been conducted as to whether campaign contributions and visits by airline lobbyists to key legislators on Capitol Hill just hours after the crashes played a part in the unprecedented back-door tort reform measures enacted just days later.
For instead of waiting to bail out the airlines AFTER the victim families had their day in court, Congress voted to place a cap on airline liability prior to private civil action adjudication. Thus, 9/11 victims were denied full, fair and complete due process — unfettered by “nick-of-time” legislation — potentially induced in violation of U.S. Code bribery statutes. However, the jury is still out regarding whether the denial will be litigated — in light of recent attempts to absolve airport security firms.
Latto added that ” ‘we always have to use motion practice to obtain the tapes from black boxes, with the judge having the discretion to order whole parts or portions of the material released; however, the FBI has control of the tapes because they involve an ‘ongoing criminal investigation.’ “
The CVR tapes contain radio transmissions and sounds in an airplane’s cockpit for the last 30 minutes of its flight — picking up engine noises, communications with air traffic controllers, and conversations in the cockpit. The FDR picks up altitude, heading, speed and operations of the airplane systems. The “black-boxes,” now colored bright orange in an updated visibility change from earlier usage, are located in the tail of the airplane to afford the best odds for survival in a crash.
When we asked Mr. Latto about the issue of the FBI, CIA, and White House withholding or suppressing evidence — such as the black-box tapes or documents related to prior knowledge of 9/11 — by employing the “ongoing criminal investigation” strategy — especially involving a case wherein those withholding the evidence have the most to gain from withholding it — Latto replied, “That’s a good point. We will definitely have to consider that issue.”
Of particular interest to 9/11 families and investigators is the Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR). It records the flight crew’s voices, as well as other sounds in the cockpit. Communications with air traffic controllers and conversations between the pilots and ground or cabin crew are also recorded. However, of more critical importance to victim family lawyers is the fact that normally a CVR committee consisting of members from the National Transportation Safety Board, Federal Aviation Administration, operator of the aircraft if he survived the crash, manufacturer of the airplane, manufacturer of the engines, and the pilots union is formed after a crash to listen to the recording. This committee [ not the FBI ] creates a written transcript of the tape to be used during the investigation.
Due to the highly sensitive nature of the verbal communications inside the cockpit, Congress has required that the Safety Board not release any part of a CVR tape recording. Because of this sensitivity, a high degree of security is provided for the CVR tape and its transcript. The content and timing of release of the written transcript are strictly regulated: under federal law, transcripts of pertinent portions of the cockpit voice recording are released at a Safety Board public hearing on the accident. (Source: www.NTSB.gov )
[ Our sources, attorney interviews, and various reports in the media indicate that the FBI has assumed total control over the contents of the CVRs recovered from 9/11 flights 77 and 93, using “an ongoing criminal investigation” as the reason for silence. So it can be safely assumed that few if any of the above-named groups or individuals have listened to or analyzed the original tapes from those flights.
Given our conversations with lawyers at the forefront of this litigation, Judge Hellerstein will undoubtedly have to wrestle with unprecedented motion practice; and 9/11 lawyers will undoubtedly have the need to insure that the original tapes have not been tampered with or altered, given the stakes involved — political and criminal.
Victim families are just coming out of a year of intense grief from their losses. This is significant because grief often turns to anger, especially as more Saudi, FBI, CIA, INS, TSA and Administration shoes continue to drop; and the political implications of “criminal” evidence suppressed by the government are enormous. And when the families decide to demonstrate inside congressional offices instead of outside in surrounding Capitol Hill parks, they will begin to fully realize the significance of their collective political weight as television cameras start to find them.
One only has to consider the multiple instances of Saudi links to the 9/11 terrorists: State Department-issued visas to Saudi hijackers, Saudi royal family members laundering checks to support Saudi terrorists in the U.S., Saudi hijackers living on a “secure” U.S. Naval Air base with a Saudi flight instructor , and tens of millions of dollars transferred from the Saudis to Al Qaeda over the last year alone according to the CIA — let alone the total failure of Congress to seal the country’s borders to protect constituents. All this, as millions of illegal aliens and more Saudi terrorists continue to roam the USA — hidden and unaccounted for in a broken but taxpayer-funded immigration disaster.]
Interviews with attorneys representing victim family members point to further inquiry and investigation via subpoena requests regarding whether data from the black box tapes has been concealed, tampered with, or destroyed.
BLACK BOXES NOT PROTECTED BY SENSITIVE SECURITY STATUTES
Mary Schiavo, lead 9/11 counsel for Los Angeles-based Baum, Hedlund, Aristei, Guilford & Schiavo, representing some 40 victim family clients related to passengers on all four planes hijacked by the Saudi nationals, says that “black boxes are not mentioned in the Sensitive Security Information (SSI) statutes as being protected as SSI; and they have never been treated that way by the courts in the past.”
Mary F. Schiavo
Ms. Schiavo adds an experienced, capable legal and public face to counteract government-promulgated courtroom challenges to suppress evidence in the coming litigation against the Bush Justice Department. The LA air disaster attorney and author’s 9/11 client roster includes Ellen Mariani, the first victim family member to initiate civil action in the September 11 attacks, and a pilot’s young widow, Julie Sweeney. Both women have appeared numerous times before television cameras to articulate their calls for truth, justice, and government accountability.
Schiavo told TomFlocco.com that “we will go after the original [VCR and FDR] tapes by requesting them from the airlines and their insurers. They, in turn, will have to go to the FBI through the courts to request the tapes.”
“The FBI will likely attempt to comply with the court by submitting transcripts,” Schiavo said, adding that “in prior legal matters of interpretation such as the TWA Flight 800 case, the judge has granted access to actual tapes [memory chips] in the past, instead of transcripts.”
Paul J. Hedlund
Veteran LA air disaster attorney will have much to say about the outcome of the 9/11 World Trade Center litigation .
Mary Schiavo’s co-counsel, Paul Hedlund, a veteran air disaster attorney and mechanical engineer, told us at a September 20 hearing in Manhattan that “in a typical air disaster, the NTSB pays for the reasonable expenses for recovery of the remains with the aircraft company reimbursing normal and reasonable expenses. The NTSB gives priority to the FBI regarding the VCR and FDR tapes, although the aircraft company and its insurers actually own them.”
Not leaving anything to chance, Ms. Schiavo also told us that “we will require all individuals having access to [listening / examining / analyzing] the VCR and FDR tapes of Flights 93 and 77 to testify under oath as to what they heard on the tapes and how they conducted their analyses; and we will also require all individuals connected to the investigation of and search for the un-recovered tapes from the Twin Towers crashes to testify under oath that those tapes were never found.”
An attorney from another firm representing 9/11 victim-families told TomFlocco.com that he will also press for discovery of the black-box cockpit voice recorders and flight data recorders.
James Kreindler, lead 9/11 counsel at New York’s Kreindler and Kreindler firm, told us that “we will be working with other 9/11 attorneys within the discovery committee to draw up subpoena requests for black box discovery, but I was unaware that FBI Director Mueller had listened to the original tapes from all four recovered boxes from flights 77 and 93.”
The Kreindler firm has filed a civil lawsuit on behalf of over 1,400 victims of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks seeking $1 trillion in damages from Al Qaeda, Iraq and other 9/11 terrorist sponsors.
Kreindler represents a sizable number of the September 11 families, mostly those involving deaths in the towers, with a number of airline passengers as well. He will be an important face in the coming 9/11 litigation.
Interestingly, the Kreindler firm also includes in its client roster two of the most outspoken activists among all the victim families: Sally Regenhard and Monica Gabrielle. Both have attended congressional hearings and are leaders in the Skyscraper Safety Campaign, where Regenhard literally and personally forced the government to hold hearings in New York City regarding tall-building safety — even though a number of respectable journalists have made an interesting case that the buildings could have been blown off their foundations by terrorist-planted plastic explosives.
DEENA BURNETT’S BLACK BOX BATTLE
TomFlocco.com also interviewed Michael Elsner, associate attorney at Ronald Motley’s Ness – Motley firm in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, representing nearly all victim families in a civil action primarily against members of the Saudi royal family and other prominent Saudi businessmen involved in funding radical Muslim terrorist operations in the United States.
Motley’s lead 9/11 client Deena Burnett — whose husband Tom had called her four times from doomed United Flight 93 prior to becoming involved with other passengers in an attempt to take back the plane from Saudi hijackers — started calling the FBI on September 12, 2002, asking to listen to the tapes constructed from the cockpit voice recorder’s memory chips, according to Elsner.
Elsner also told us that “Deena wrote letters to United Airlines and to FBI Director Robert Mueller, both of whom fought her attempts to hear clues” implicating other individuals who may have been involved, whether Al-Quada was mentioned, conversations about other attacks, or whether there was mention of steering and control problems as a possible explanation for the crash.
Ron Motley is a veteran trial attorney who handled most of the recent tobacco litigation, settling some of the largest civil cases in the history of the legal profession.
We asked whether Ness – Motley’s attorneys had verified through an independent and expert source that the Flight 93 VCR transcription tape the FBI played for the families was complete, unaltered, authentic and was constructed from the actual raw data on the memory chips in the VCR. “None of the lawyers have had access to the tapes, transcriptions, or the actual raw data in the recorders,” Elsner replied.
“I am sure that [when this case reaches the courtroom], any jury will want to hear authentic tapes directly transcribed from the VCR’s [from United 93 and American 77],” Elsner told us, adding that “Ness – Motley will also want to independently verify that any 9/11 VCR conversations we are listening to in court are complete, unaltered and derived from the actual [memory chips] inside the VCRs — those in operation in the planes that day. We are litigating this matter on behalf of our clients to find out the truth.”
In a Flight 93 side-bar issue sure to be addressed during the newly formed 9/11 Independent Investigation Commission’s proceedings, another Reuters report (9-13-2001) immediately following the attacks said that “Pentagon officials vigorously denied initial reports [from whom?] that a military fighter had shot down the United Airlines  jet.”
Curiously — and initially, FBI agent Bill Crowley, at the scene for the investigation, had told reporters that the Bureau “had not ruled out that possibility.” [Why not?] According to Reuters reporter David Morgan, Crowley later retracted the statement, saying unequivocally, “There was no military involvement in what happened here.”
[ Will 9/11 lawyers seek testimony under oath from the Air Force pilots and their commanders, ground crew and their officers, the pilot of the mysterious un-marked plane, and missile ordinance officers? Will they request access to all military “after-action” reports? ]
Pennsylvania state police reported debris fields as far as eight miles away near a residential area where “local media quoted residents as seeing flaming debris from the sky.” But according to Reuters, “[FBI] investigators were unwilling to say whether the presence of debris in separate places evinced an explosion.”
Accuracy in Media’s Reed Irvine wrote in the Philadelphia Daily News (12-28-2001) that the Mayor of Shanksville near the [Flight 93] crash site, “said that F-16 Fighters were very, very close and two men he knew claimed they had heard a missile,” adding that “the FBI acknowledges that a half-ton piece of one of the engines was found west of the crash site.” [hitting the ground well before the plane]
Another investigative report in the Philadelphia Daily News (9-16-2001) revealed that “a three-minute gap between the time the tape [produced for the victim families last spring by the FBI] goes silent — according to government-prepared transcripts — and the time that top scientists have pinpointed for the crash.” But the American people have accepted the smoke and mirrors presentation as if it were a Rosemary Woods Presidential production.
Thus, complete and unaltered transcripts from the memory chips become all the more important in determining answers regarding “bomb-on-board” and “military shoot-down” hypotheses — totally un-addressed by Congress during recent sham hearings. [But such compliance has likely not been provided to the families thus far, since attorney Mike Elsner revealed to us that no lawyer has had access to the original memory chips, boxes, or FBI-transcribed tapes.]
TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES
“It’s extremely rare that we don’t get the recorders back. I can’t recall another domestic case in which we did not recover the recorders,” said Ted Lopatkiewicz, spokesman for the NTSB. And FBI spokesman Joseph Valiquette said “We don‘t know what was said in the cockpits, by the crew members or by the hijackers.” (Associated Press, 2-24-2002)
FBI Director Robert Mueller said Flight 77’s FDR provided altitude, speed, headings, and other information, but the cockpit voice recorder “contained nothing useful,” and he originally declined to say what was gleaned from both recorders on Flight 93 — before Deena Burnett started her campaign described above. On September 15, 2001, Mueller told the Arizona Star that “the agency had gotten no information from the voice data recorder from Flight 77.”
Mueller said the [voice] recorder from the plane that rammed into the Pentagon was so badly damaged by fire that it would not yield any information. But the flight data recorder [from Flight 77] was recovered in usable condition as was the flight data recorder from the Pennsylvania crash. (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9-21-2001)
However, in a Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) report on September 14, 2001, Dick Bridges, spokesman for Arlington County, Virginia authorities, told the Associated Press “the voice recorder was damaged on the outside and the flight data recorder was charred in fires that broke out following the crash.” This report directly contradicts statements made by FBI Director Robert Mueller; but no one has questioned the inconsistency.
Perhaps the main reason that Director Mueller should be subpoenaed by 9/11 lawyers to testify regarding the black box issue is a troubling television appearance from his past.
Award-winning Time Magazine reporters Jonathan Beaty and S.C. Gwynne [John Hancock and Gerald Loeb award for business reporting and Jack Anderson Award for investigative reporting] detailed an interview appearance by Mueller on a 1991 ABC Nightline Show with host Ted Koppel wherein the authors caught Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division, Robert Mueller, not realizing that he had changed his story before the television cameras.
The Outlaw Bank — Jacket Design: Andy Carpenter, Random House, Inc. FBI Director Robert Mueller, Photo: Dennis Cook, Associated Press
In an amazing portent for the future and how Mueller might handle critical investigations down-the-road [like 9/11], this troubling interview also centered around the existence of critically important tapes like those surrounding the current investigation.
But 9/11 victim families are unaware that an individual known for his talents in “damage control“ is managing the evidence needed to extract the answers to 9/11‘s unanswered questions. [The Outlaw Bank: A Wild Ride Into The Heart Of The BCCI, Jonathan Beaty & S.C. Gwynne, Random House, NY, 1993, pp.118-121] Beaty and Gwynne reported:
“A Financial Times story also raised the stakes: The financial minister had also said that the CIA and other American intelligence agencies had maintained slush funds at BCCI branches and that these funds were used for payoffs of Pakistani military officers and Afghan rebel leaders.”
“Acting CIA Director Richard Kerr appeared before a group of high-school students and admitted for the first time that BCCI did in fact hold CIA accounts. With no one to ask hostile questions, Kerr asserted that these were normal accounts….After denying it for months, the Agency had found what it thought was a graceful, quiet way of letting the cat out of the bag.”
“The day after it appeared [CIA’s BCCI slush funds charge in Time Magazine], Attorney General Richard Thornburgh dispatched the head of his criminal division, Assistant Attorney General Robert Mueller, to ABC’s Nightline show, with Ted Koppel, to refute Time’s charges. It would prove a tactical mistake.”
“Koppel invited Beaty, Gwynne, Jack Blum, and Senator John Kerry to appear on the same show….Mueller, Kerry and Beaty sat in the same studio in Washington during the live coverage. Mueller insisted that the Justice Department had won a major victory. He also disputed any charges that his department had not proceeded vigorously with further investigations, and he ignored Senator Kerry’s attempt to bring up the subject of the missing tapes of Blum’s interviews with the former BCCI bankers who talked about political payoffs and BCCI’s secret ownership of First American Bank.”
“When Koppel tried to point out that the assistant attorney general had not answered the senator’s question about the missing tapes, Mueller ignored him too….Kerry was beginning to sputter, and Beaty, outraged enough at Mueller’s deceptive tactics to forget that he was on national television, jumped in.”
” ‘But Mr. Mueller — I’m sorry, but the senator is quite accurate. You may have provided the reason for shutting down the bank by convicting it of money laundering, but then a very high-level person in your own department turned around and asked the State of Florida to keep this bank open, despite the fact that your own prosecutors had testified that drug-money laundering was a policy of the bank and that it wasn’t a matter of employees taking some kind of independent action. When you plea-bargained out, you let the bank go and took the low-level employees, which is kind of in reverse.’ “
“Mueller came back strongly. ‘I adamantly disagree with that‘….‘Mr. Mueller,’ Beaty cut back in, ‘We haven’t made the accusation that this has been shaped by the intelligence community. All we have tried to do is point out the rather stunning lack of curiosity and aggression of the part of the Justice Department.’ ”
” ‘And I can cite you, sir, numerous occasions when witnesses have come forward and been ignored by you. The very tapes that Senator Kerry has referred to, of witnesses talking about the link between First American Bank and BCCI and of payments to American officials, disappeared. Those tapes had been listened to by U.S. attorneys from your own office.’ “
” ‘Mr. Beaty, the tapes have not disappeared,’ Mueller replied.”
” ‘Two months ago you denied to Mr. [NY District Attorney Robert] Morganthau and his department that those tapes even existed!’ Beaty shot back.”
“Mueller’s last statement to him was awesome in its implications: Beaty had not brought either information or sources to the Justice Department. To Morgenthau, yes. To Justice, no. It could only mean, it seemed, that the CIA had passed on his notes of his interview with Sami Masri to Mueller at Justice.”
The portions above are quoted directly from the transcripts of Nightline and Beaty and Gwynne’s book.But the implications for current 9/11 obstruction are self-instructive. _________________________________________________
According to a Reuters report (11-27-2001), “the Justice Department and the FBI have so far declined to release even anedited transcript of Flight 93’s cockpit voice recorder, saying that it is evidence in a criminal investigation” — indicating early-on the extreme reticence of the government to let the public have full access to complete and authentic transcripts compiled from raw memory chip data as to what was said in the cockpit.
Gail Dunham, president of Washington, DC-based advocacy group — The National Air Disaster Alliance/Foundation, said “tapes from earlier crashes had been released upon court order, or after prosecutors conclude that there is no information in them crucial to build a criminal case.” (Reuters — 11-27-2001) It would seem that such a time period has long passed.
The fact that the London-headquartered Reuters News Service is in the forefront of much of the 9/11 black-box investigation should of itself say something about corporate control of U.S. media, for Reuters again reported (12-21-2001) that “FBI Director Robert Mueller has personally listened to the recording from the hijacked (Flight 93) and advised that the FBI will not be releasing the tape at this time.
Curiously, a report only found in the New Delhi Indian Express (10-17-2001) revealed that “people involved in air traffic control said the FBI seized the air traffic tapes of the conversations with that airplane [Flight 93], and no transcript was made available of air-to-ground communications for the flight. Thus, lawyers may also need to hear the original recordings between the air traffic controllers and the cockpit.
WIDOW ON THE WARPATH
Mariani vs. United Airlines, et. al., brought by Schiavo and Hedlund on behalf of Mariani’s husband Neil, who was killed when his United 175 jet crashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center, is the collective umbrella name for the current World Trade Center litigation being conducted in Judge Hellerstein’s Lower District of Manhattan courtroom.
Mrs. Mariani told us that she is concerned that the government may have tampered with evidence in her case, as the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) had [through lawyers in the Ashcroft Justice Department] contacted her witnesses and diverted evidence subpoenaed by her previous attorney without a court order — and prior to the judge allowing government inclusion in her private civil action.
Ellen and Neil Mariani — Neil Mariani could not obtain a ticket on Ellen’s plane as they traveled to their daughter’s wedding in California. So Neil purchased a ticket on United flight 175 which was hijacked by Saudi nationals living at the supposedly secure Pensacola Naval Air Base in Florida where the terrorists registered their cars and residences — but also where a recent and mysteriously-deceased Saudi military flight instructor lived. Mrs. Mariani attends every hearing — sitting next to her attorneys and usually staring at Judge Hellerstein.
So intent upon holding United Airlines and the government accountable for her husband’s death, Mrs. Mariani abruptly fired her original attorney, Chicago’s well-known airline disaster specialist Donald Nolan, for not being aggressive enough in allowing her case to drag on since December 20 — delayed for some unknown reason well into the summer.
“I was not pleased that my previous attorney — within a few weeks after I had hired him to represent my interests, not the government’s — had contacted 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund Special Master Kenneth Fineberg to negotiate dropping my lawsuit and bringing me into the victim fund after I had told the world I wanted no part of that fund,” said Mariani during a phone interview yesterday.
Highly displeased that airport gate security was so poor after she found out that the State Department had been violating existing federal law while issuing U.S. visas to Saudi terrorists, Mariani said “while our country was under attack and people were dying, highly-paid airline lobbyists were running from congressional office to office, lining up votes for an Airline “Stabilization” Bill that would set limits on compensation in private jury trials in spite of their atrocious negligence and incompetence.”
Mariani had continually referred to the Compensation Fund as the “Shut-up and go-away Fund,” adding that “without my day in court, I’ll never learn the truth and who did this to my husband — let alone get justice and accountability.”
Never one to mince her words, Mrs. Mariani told us “I want to know what Governor Jeb Bush and the FBI were doing as they flew off from Florida in a military cargo plane with the terrorists’ airport flight-lesson records and other evidence connecting the Saudi hijackers to the events that killed my husband and hundreds of others. I want answers.”
“And what were [Intelligence Committee Chairmen] Senator Graham and Congressmen Goss doing having breakfast together the morning of the attacks with the Pakistani Intelligence leader who was writing checks to support the hijackers’ living expenses in the United States”,” said the irrepressible Mariani. “It was even reported that Secretary of State Powell and CIA Director Tenet also met with the terrorist sponsor,” she added.
“The government may have just played the voters for a bunch of fools — but not me,” Mariani said, promising she would “never give up, give in, or give out.”
“We live in a dirty and dangerous world. There are some things the general public does not need to know, and should not. I believe that democracy flourishes when the government can take legitimate steps to keep its secrets and when the press can decide whether to print what it knows.” (Katherine Graham, owner — The Washington Post, speech to CIA, 1988)
Michael Thomas contributed additional research and reporting for this story.