Why are the transcripts of the cockpit recordings of the conversations between the hijackers of United Airline Flight 93 still suppressed by the government?


The cockpit recorder of Flight 93 was recovered intact by the FBI from the crime scene outside Shanksville, Pennsylvania soon after the plane crashed on September 11, 2001. It recorded whatever was said in the cockpit by the hijackers or over the radio during the last 30 minutes of that flight. Transcripts of the cockpit recorders from airplane crashes are ordinarily made public by the FAA or the NTSB, but in this case, the FBI took charge of the investigation and kept secret the full transcript of what transpired. The conversations were evidently audible as Robert S. Mueller III, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, testified to the Joint Committee of Congress that they led him to conclude that the hijackers themselves, not any invasion of the cockpit by the passengers, caused the crash. He did not, however, turn the recordings over to the Joint Committee (or it would not have had to rely on his indirect paraphrasing of the conversations.)

Such extraordinary secrecy cannot stem from the rights of the deceased victims or their relatives. On the contrary, the FBI played selected parts of the recordings for relatives in a crowded hall on condition that they keep secret the contents of what they heard. Nor can the government's motive for the secrecy be protecting the constitutional rights of the only person indicted in the US for participation in the conspiracy, Zacarias Moussaoui, since it has overridden other of his court-defined rights on grounds of national security, even after the court's order it to respect them. Moreover, the government has recently asserted its power, if the court does not drop its objection, to terminate the trial and instead put him before a military tribunal, where he would have no constitutional rights. So the issue cannot be the rights of Moussaoui.

The decision to keep this tape and its transcript secret, even from Congress, must therefore involve more than a legalistic consideration and go to the substance of what was said in the cockpit. What they discussed, whether it was their mission, their perception of some kind of pursuit or the activities of the crew and passengers, presumably goes beyond the official narrative or there would be no reason to keep it secret.

Collateral Question:

Will the Kean Commission, conducting the official investigation, be given the recordings and transcripts?

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