Part II: Coverage of 9/11 conference at National Press Club
This is the second part of a two-part article covering the National Press Club conference announcing the launch of UnansweredQuestions.org.
Part one of this article detailed the passionate presentation of Julie Sweeney, wife of 9/11 hijack victim Brian Sweeney, at a National Press Club conference in Washington, D.C. announcing the launch of the web site UnansweredQuestions.org. The conference featured an amazing array of researchers, family members of the victims, and lawyers involved with litigation related to 9/11.
Sweeney noted that she had given up $2 million in federal 9/11 funds to pursue litigation, in the hope that her actions might lead to greater accountability for the government and airlines, and greater safety for her fellow citizens. After she spoke, Lorna Brett, director of media relations for the Nolan Law Group in Chicago, which represents victims' families from the hijacked planes, praised her courage and motivation in pursuing litigation.
"It isn't about money," said Brett. "It's about accountability. It's amazing how many people say, 'we couldn't have stopped it. Nobody could have known.' The truth is that there are a lot of people that should have known, that had the red flags in front of them."
Brett pointed to the problem of undue influence from the airline industry on the regulatory Federal Aviation Administration.
"We have an agency that's in charge of regulating airlines," said Brett. "My question is, who is regulating that agency? Are the airlines running the FAA? Or is the FAA regulating the [airlines]?"
She concluded by decrying attempts to label those who question the government's actions related to 9/11 as "unpatriotic."
"I think it is ultimately the most patriotic thing we can do as a nation, to ask why and demand answers."
Mary Schiavo, lawyer for 32 passengers' families from all four planes hijacked on 9/11, and former Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Transportation under the first Bush administration and the Clinton administration, spoke next. She commented extensively on the politicization of 9/11, but downplayed the importance of party affiliation.
"I believe it is not a Republican/Democrat thing," said Schiavo. "I served President [George H.W.] Bush and I served President Clinton. I was the Inspector General in both administrations. I saw things that were terrible. I saw protectionism of the aviation and airline industry by both parties.
"So I really do not think if you really search and look for the facts that it will break along party lines. It might break along money and power lines, but it will never break along party lines. I fought the same battles whether I was in a Republican administration or a Democrat administration."
Schiavo echoed and reinforced Sweeney's comments about the questionable actions of the airline industry after the 9/11 attacks. According to Schiavo, the industry didn't wait long to seek help from Congress in limiting their liability.
"I learned that the airlines approached members of Congress and the Senate to get their bailout and their immunity and their protection starting on 9/11," said Schiavo. "This has been confirmed to me personally by senators and members of Congress. Why did they have to rush to the hill to change the laws?"
Armed with vast research on past hijackings and their subsequent investigations, Schiavo eviscerated the idea that an event such as 9/11 was unforeseeable by the industry or government.
"In the wake of September 11, 2001," said Schiavo, "we heard the carriers and government alike saying 'no one could have foreseen this, no one knew that this was coming, no one knew that there were any risks like this in the world.' It's absolutely false, and we knew that even before Condoleezza Rice made the shocking announcement a couple weeks ago that the carriers and the FAA were warned repeatedly.
"I love this language that 'it wasn't a specific warning.' Let me tell you, Middle Eastern terrorists hell-bent on a hijacking is pretty darn specific."
Next up was Michael C. Ruppert, a former LAPD detective, researcher and publisher of FromtheWilderness.com. Ruppert spoke by phone from Canada where he was in the midst of a highly successful speaking tour. Ruppert methodically laid out how researchers have taken advantage of the internet to develop and disseminate analysis about 9/11.
"Just a few short years ago, the world was accustomed to not learning the real historical truth about an event for many decades and perhaps centuries," said Ruppert. "But since September 11, the internet and an increasingly skeptical world population have dramatically shortened history's learning curve.
"Rather than relying on unsupported theory, it's possible to expose and focus attention on major discrepancies in the Bush administration's characterization and handling of events by using the internet as a vehicle to widely disseminate and analyze reports from respected mainstream media from all over the world, and to then compare and contrast those reports with official government statements, official records and other unquestionable documents and undisputed conduct."
Having established his methodology, Ruppert then employed it to rip apart statements from the Bush administration.
"In this manner it's possible, for example, to establish that the statements by President Bush, Ari Fleischer and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, claming that they had absolutely no idea that aircraft would be used as weapons, are absolutely false," said Ruppert. "It becomes clear that foreign intelligence services, not random callers or anonymous tipsters, were making direct and urgent pleadings to U.S. intelligence agencies that, when compared side-by-side, clearly establish that al Queda had trained as many as 25 suicide pilots who were planning to crash hijacked airliners into the World Trade Center in the week of September the 9th. Is that specific enough?
"Are we to assume that a direct warning from Russian President [Vladamir] Putin to the highest levels of the U.S. government - that's George W. Bush - somehow fell through the cracks? The U.S. government has not denied a single one of these press reports. Neither have any of the intelligence services mentioned."
Ruppert then brought up the revelations from FBI Special Agents Coleen Rowley and Robert Wright concerning obstruction by the FBI hierarchy of terrorism investigations.
"In light of what the world is now seeing was done with reports of possible hijackings from the FBI in Arizona and Minnesota, and the utterly disingenuous and unpersuasive proffering of the administration and its managers," said Ruppert, "we're now being asked to believe in some kind of a grand and colossally-contageous incompetence that any sentient being is not even capable of.
"As I read through Rowley's memo or watch the Wright conference, I see words that tell me negligence or stupidity are not the issue. The words are obstruct, block, thwart, threaten, intimidate, rewrite, harass, punish, dishonest and integrity. These are not words describing ignorant or careless behavior. They are words describing intentional and malicious behavior. And that is ultimately what must be addressed before the families and the victims of 9/11, the American people and the world will be satisfied."
Ruppert hammered home the contention that Bush must be called to account for what was allowed to happen on 9/11.
"The Bush administration must be forced to admit that they knew hijacked planes were going to be used as weapons. Why else would terrorists take flight training lessons? You can't crop dust with a 757 that you don't know how to land or even take off. Why else would the G8 Conference in Genoa less than a year ago have had extensive preparations to prevent hijacked aircraft from being used as weapons? President Bush was there, surrounded by anti-aircraft weapons. Was he not briefed on it?"
And in concluding, Ruppert endorsed the use of litigation as a primary tool to force the facts out into the open.
"I'm one who believes that the last true vestige of an uncompromised rule of law in this country is in the civil courts," said Ruppert. "It is only there where discovery can compel the release of documents and the production of evidence which newly formed congressional committees, operating partly in secret and party in the open, will only try to hide."
John Judge, an author, researcher and co-founder of the Coalition on Political Assassinations, spoke next. He related how his parents served as civilians in the Pentagon for 30 years, and this gave him a unique perspective on the Pentagon attack.
"A Pentagon spokesperson said we had no mechanism to respond," said Judge. "I would suggest if you're an investigative reporter, that they have a very extensive mechanism to respond."
Judge said that once, while having lunch in the Pentagon courtyard with his father, he pointed out a structure and asked what it was. His father told him that it was a surface-to-air missile battery. Judge also related the story of how he led a peace march to the Pentagon as an activist in his adult life, and had an interesting conversation with the head of Pentagon security.
Judge said that he was told that the Pentagon was receiving bomb threats from Muslims daily. When pointing out the defensive precautions taken by the Pentagon, Judge said the security head pointed to the roof of the Pentagon and said "we have radar up there to see if any planes are coming."
The lack of response from Andrews Air Force Base, 10 miles from the Pentagon, was one of Judge's main points of contention, along with the strange path of Flight 77 before it slammed into the side of the Pentagon. Instead of heading directly for the building, the plane did a 270-degree turn as it descended 5000 feet, and struck the side of the Pentagon that was being refurbished.
"The simplest thing to do would be to go to the closest side," said Judge. "It went out of its way to hit the empty side of the Pentagon."
UnansweredQuestions.org co-founder Tom Flocco was the next to speak, and he used the occasion to speak forcefully on his own topic of research, criminal insider trading on airline and other stock in the days leading up to 9/11.
"Congress is currently conducting a soft insider trading probe with growing evidence that the FBI and the government intelligence entities are more closely linked to the documented accumulation of 9/11 insider trading profits than was originally thought," said Flocco.
"But thus far the joint congressional intelligence committee has not publicly referred to prior knowledge of the attacks as it relates to stock transaction profits," continued Flocco, "while also failing after nine months to publicize the critical Securities and Exchange Commission control list report that is tracing what in effect were stock trading 'profits of death.'"
Flocco made reference to the recent criminal indictments of FBI agents in a separate insider-trading scam, but said that case was not entirely unrelated to 9/11. Citing open court documents in his possession and mainstream news reports, he said that a stock advisor also indicted in the case dumped $300,000 in stock on September 10 after he was warned of an upcoming drop in the Dow.
"If you knew that the stock market was going to crash, you'd just sell your stocks," said Flocco. "How many people sold huge chunks? Well, we don't know, but that's out there."
Flocco also stays in contact with others who are passionate on this issue.
"I did an interview about a month ago with former Washington D.C. U.S. Attorney Joe de Genova," said Flocco. "He said if the Congress does not want to get answers to these critical questions regarding who profited from prior knowledge of these attacks, then it needs to be litigated, period."
Concluded Flocco, "but even if Congress comes out of its secret, soundproof Capitol bunker into the light of open hearings, the question still remains as to whether the members of Congress have the courage to forcibly seek answers to the real unanswered questions."
After Flocco's rousing call to action, the conference took a dark turn toward discussion of our government's most questionable actions before and after 9/11. Next to speak was attorney J. Michael Springman, former chief of the visa section at the U.S. Embassy in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia and veteran of 20 years in the U.S. Foreign Service. Springman went into great detail about how his decisions to deny visas to questionable applicants were consistently overridden by his superiors.
"At the time I basically thought it was visa fraud... that somebody was paying $2500 bribes to State Department officials," related Springman. "I was ordered by these same high State Department officials to issue the visas, to shut up, to do my job and to ask no questions."
Later, Springman's own research would lead him to fear that something far worse than simple fraud had been perpetrated by officials from the CIA and State Department in Jeddah.
"From what I read in the Los Angeles Times, 15 of the 19 people who allegedly flew airplanes into buildings in the United States got their visas from the same CIA consulate in Jeddah."
Dr. Stephen Camerota, director of research for the Center for Immigration Studies, also spoke on the subject of immigration enforcement. His main contention was that enforcement was lax in most immigration cases, and thus terrorists were able to slip through gaping holes created by systematic incompetence.
"The large number of terrorists who violate immigration laws both in [the case of] 9/11 and in the past is important because it suggests that if we enforced immigration, we might well trip up a lot of terrorists."
Jennifer Van Bergen, an editor and contributing writer for Truthout.org, faculty member at the New School for Social Research in New York and graduate of the distinguished Cardozo School of Law, introduced the topic of post-9/11 legislation into the discourse. Van Bergen has extensively researched the abrogation of civil rights contained within the Patriot Bill. She contended that the bill not only does grave violence to the Bill of Rights, but that it has the opposite of the effect it was intended to have on terrorism.
"The Patriot Act does not... help us to fight terrorism better," said Van Bergen. "But what it does do is it increases the administrative burden on already overburdened intelligence agencies, making terrorism even harder for them to fight.
"It intrudes upon many of our hard-won civil liberties, liberties which many of our ancestors fought and died for; and it affects the balance of powers in our government. It puts unnecessarily greater power in the hands of the executive, and brings us one step closer to what a colleague of mine called the National Security States of America."
Many will have undoubtedly grown tired of hearing the concerns about the Patriot Bill that have been voiced over and over again in the media. But Van Bergen's intensive research of the law allowed her to voice the contention that the dangers posed to civil liberties by the bill are far worse than commonly thought.
"Section 802 creates the crime of domestic terrorism," said Van Bergen. "This criminalizes acts that 'appear to be intended to influence the policy of the government by intimidation or coercion, or to intimidate or coerce the civil population.'"
Observed Van Bergen, "this section would make just about any act of civil disobedience in protest against government policy into an act of domestic terrorism."
Last, and perhaps most frightening of all, came the presentation of freelance writer, researcher and activist Richard Ochs. As an activist, Ochs has served as a watchdog over military installations in the District and Maryland. His concern over the environmental danger posed by chemical and biological weapons lead him to ask a lot of questions about the anthrax scare.
"A friend of mine told me that right after Sen. [Patrick] Leahy called for hearings on military tribunals he got an anthrax threat," said Ochs. "The timing and targeting of the anthrax letters suggests that the motivation of the perpetrator was to promote legislation, namely the USA Patriot Act."
Ochs' evidence is circumstantial by his own admission, but he nevertheless produced a frightening narrative of the scene in D.C. while the bill was being rammed through Congress.
"Anthrax letters were mailed to the Democratic Senate leadership on the same day that they blocked an attempt to rush the bill through without debate or amendments," said Ochs. "These threats frightened Congress in general and intimidated certain opponents of the Patriot Bill in particular. No Republican received an anthrax letter."
The anthrax scare had the further affect of making critical analysis of the bill's contents all but impossible.
"The closing of the House and Senate office buildings made it difficult for members to read the bill," said Ochs. "Many members didn't even get a chance to read most of the bill, and it's like 350 pages. After the letters were received, the Democrats gave up their insistence on a two-year 'sunset clause.'"
The event concluded with a question and answer period, during which members of the press and family members of 9/11 victims addressed further questions to the panelists. Ruppert had stayed on the line from Canada throughout, and responded to the question of a mother who had lost her son on 9/11, who wanted to know how to go about actually getting answers to all these questions.
"I for one am convinced," said Ruppert, "that no tangible results will be achieved without public activity, including mass demonstrations."
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