There it is. The hangar where the ill-fated passengers of United flight 93 were deboarded on September 11, 2001, before they were gassed and their bodies disposed of over the middle of the Atlantic. So close
"I'd love to get a picture of that hangar," I say.
"Sure," says Laurie Rachul. She works in media relations for NASA Glenn Research Center. She set up an interview for me with the head of NASA Glenn security before taking me on a driving tour of the base. But this hangar is what I really came for. This is where everything happened almost five years ago.
Rachul pulls her minivan into a parking lot next to the hangar and hands me a souvenir decal I can attach to my car.
"Nobody's going to shoot me if I take pictures of that hangar?" I ask.
Rachul laughs. "No," she says. "It'll be fine."
Stepping from the minivan, I pull a digital camera from the leather satchel slung around my left shoulder. I push the power button and walk forward, slowly, toward the hangar doors, which are closed tight. With shaky hands, I raise the Sony Cyber-shot and begin taking pictures.
As I turn back to the van, I see the guard running toward me, hand on his gun. I slip the camera back in the satchel and show him that my hands are now empty.
"Who are you?" he demands, still 50 feet away but closing. He is an imposing fellow. Short, stocky, all muscle.
"I'm a reporter."
"Who gave you permission to take those pictures?"
I point to the minivan. Rachul is climbing out of the driver's seat, looking displeased and frightened. "I didn't know he would get that close," she says to the guard.
The radio attached to his shoulder squawks to life. An imposing male voice is heard: "Report of a male standing by the main hangar taking pictures. Can we confirm? Come back?"
I look to Rachul, then back to the guard. I wait for the bullet.
"Okay, you can go," the guard says. "Just be sure to sign out with security."
That was nearly two weeks ago. If I'm to believe the conspiracies posted on the Internet, the feds have surely tapped my phones by now. They want to know what I know. They're going through my trash, and tracking my movements through a GPS device some G-man attached to the bottom of my car. After all, they murdered nearly 3,000 American citizens on 9/11. They can easily make one Cleveland reporter disappear.
You mean you haven't heard?
You didn't know that the World Trade Center's collapse was a controlled demolition?
That no evidence of a plane was found among the wreckage at the Pentagon?
It's all over the Internet. The truth about 9/11: that it was orchestrated by a dangerous cabal with a plan for world domination. A growing number of people now believe that the planes that crashed into the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, were actually unmanned drones dressed up to look like commercial jetliners. The real planes were destroyed, the civilian passengers gassed, their bodies flown out to sea and deposited beneath the waves in the middle of the ocean.
The goal? To scare the American public into supporting an invasion of the Middle East, the first step toward controlling the bulk of the world's oil supply.
It gets worse. According to some, the cover-up to disguise what really happened to the passengers of United 93 — the plane whose crash has officially been attributed to patriotic citizens who fought back against their hijackers — began right here in Ohio.
Rumor One: Cleveland Mayor Mike White told reporters that United 93 haD landed safely at Hopkins on 9/11.
Evidence For: At 11:43 a.m. the morning of 9/11, the following Associated Press news bulletin appeared on the Web site for Cincinnati ABC affiliate station WCPO, Channel 9: "A Boeing 767 out of Boston made an emergency landing Tuesday at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport due to concerns that it may have a bomb aboard, said Mayor Michael R. White. White said the plane had been moved to a secure area of the airport, and was evacuated. United identified the plane as Flight 93."
This lone article remains a holy grail of sorts for Jason Bermas and his filmmaking buddies. The 26-year-old Bermas was a graphic designer in upstate New York before he began researching 9/11 for the documentary Loose Change. Sales of the 90-minute DVD have been so brisk that Bermas quit his day job. There's talk of submitting to Sundance, but in the meantime Bermas and director Dylan Avery, 22, are busy scheduling interviews with CNN and newspapers across the planet for the fifth anniversary of the attacks.
Bermas believes that the article on WCPO's Web site got it right. United 93 landed safely at Hopkins International Airport, he says, and was wheeled into a hangar at the NASA Glenn Research Center next door.
Evidence Against: Former Mayor White hardly ever talks to the media now, so Free Times contacted his former press secretary Della Homenik.
"It has always been my understanding that United flight 93 diverted from its intended flight plan while it was in Cleveland air space," Homenik writes in an e-mail. "I never heard a single report, from any source, either on September 11 or in its aftermath, that flight 93 landed in Cleveland."
A review of WEWS Cleveland Channel 5's live coverage of White's comments that day show that he never suggested that the grounded plane parked at the end of a Hopkins runway was United 93.
"Let me walk through the most current situation that we are grappling with," says White at the brief press conference. "At this moment, we have a Boeing 767 in a secure area of Hopkins International Airport. The initial reports were that this plane was hijacked and that there was a bomb on board. There was, before this, an additional plane in our airspace. I am told through unconfirmed reports that we could hear screaming in the control tower. This plane has been diverted from Cleveland and at last report was in the Toledo airspace."
Later, we would learn that this 767 was Delta flight 1989. It had originated from the same Boston airport as United 93, but was cleared by inspectors after landing at Hopkins. It had not been hijacked, and there was no bomb. And United 93, by the way, was a 757.
WCPO's Liz Foreman posted the original news report stating that United 93 had landed in Cleveland, but says the whole thing was just a simple mistake on a very confusing day.
"The story stated that flight 93 landed in Cleveland," admits Foreman on her station's blog. "This was not true." She claims it was an error in the Associated Press wire report that was corrected in later updates. After she discovered the mistake, she removed the link to the story, but not the story itself; Google searches still found it on WCPO's site until 2003, when someone alerted her to the number of conspiracy blogs that had picked it up. Foreman deleted it, but the damage was done.
"Messages and phone calls started coming in about "Why did the government make me remove the story?'" she writes. "So, in the interest of media transparency, this is my attempt to clear the air."
United Airlines did not respond to calls for comment.
Rumor Two: United 93 deboarded at NASA Glenn Research Center and its passengers were taken away in an unmarked shuttle.
Evidence For: Newspaper articles published after 9/11 suggest there were two planes, not one, that were forced to land in Cleveland. One was Delta 1989. The other is often referred to as "Flight X" but is assumed by many to be United 93.
The Web site 911review.org cites real articles from the Plain Dealer, Akron Beacon Journal and USA Today to establish these facts:
A plane landed in Cleveland at 10:10 a.m.
Delta 1989 landed here at 10:45 a.m., and its 69 passengers and nine crew members were loaded onto buses and taken to Federal Aviation Administration headquarters at Hopkins.
At 11:15 a.m., 200 passengers from the other plane were taken to NASA Glenn, whose employees had already evacuated, to be interviewed by FBI agents. (While United 93 is known to have carried 37 passengers and seven crew members, conspiracy theorists are quick to point out that if the passengers and crew of all four flights that crashed on 9/11 had been consolidated at some secret location, the number would be right about 200.)
Bloggers claims that eyewitnesses saw civilians being loaded onto military bus ses at NASA Glenn. They were whisked away to some undisclosed location, never to be seen again.
The FAA refused Free Times' repeated requests for interviews. The media department at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport stopped returning our calls when we asked to speak with the safety director who worked at the airport on 9/11.
During a recent layover in Cleveland, Loose Change producer Jason Bermas questioned an airport employee about the events of 9/11. "She said, "Well, that one Delta flight was grounded here and another was grounded at NASA Glenn,'" Bermas recalls. "We told her we had heard the plane at NASA was United 93. But then she just went into the official version of events and said it was definitely not United 93. But there was another plane at NASA Glenn that day and no one has ever explained that. I'm hoping a news agency will go over and follow up on that."
Evidence Against: We did. And Bermas is right, there was another plane grounded at NASA Glenn on 9/11. But it wasn't United 93.
Vernon "Bill" Wessel is the director of safety and mission assurance at NASA Glenn. He was in his office the morning of 9/11 when an employee called him from home. "He says, "Bill, I don't know if this is a hoax or what, but I just saw a plane crash into the World Trade Center.'" Wessel says he hung up and raced downstairs to a conference room. Center Director Don Campbell joined him. A projector beamed the television's image onto a large screen just as United Airlines flight 175 crashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center.
An emergency meeting of directors was called, and an order to evacuate NASA was issued. When Wessel learned that Delta 1989 was stuck on the tarmac at Hopkins and that it might contain explosives, he decided it would be unwise to use the front gate, closest to the airport, to evacuate the 3,500 NASA Glenn employees under his watch. E-mails and phone calls were sent out to different departments at the research facility, informing everyone to leave via the back gate. "It took about an hour and a half to evacuate everybody," Wessel recalls.
So what about the so-called Flight X?
"A KC-135 had to come back to the hangar," says Wessel, as if realizing for the first time that this aircraft may have caused some undue confusion. A team of scientists from the Johnson Space Center in Houston had flown to Cleveland on this KC-135 to conduct micro-gravity experiments. (Also known as "the vomit comet," KC-135's are used to simulate weightlessness. The plane soars to high altitudes, then falls back toward the ground, giving passengers a few seconds of zero-G experience. Scenes for the Tom Hanks movie Apollo 13 were filmed in one.)
The visiting scientists could not return to Houston as scheduled on 9/11 once the FAA ordered all planes to land. "After the facility closed, we had to take those scientists to a hotel." The scientists, dressed as civilians, were boarded onto shuttle buses.
Rumor Three: Covert ops replaced the real United 93 and the other hijacked airplanes with remote-controlled drones.
Evidence For: A similar operation was proposed before.
In 1962, then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Lyman Louis Lemnitzer suggested to President John F. Kennedy a plan that could drum up public support for an invasion of Cuba. Operation Northwoods, as the plan was dubbed, called for staging a terrorist hijacking of an American airliner and blaming the attack on Cuba.
The proposal was kept secret until 1997, when it was released by members of the Kennedy Assassination Records Review Board. The 44-year-old memo, written by senior U.S. Department of Defense leaders, is a chilling read: "The desired resultant from the execution of this plan would be to place the United States in the apparent position of suffering defensible grievances from a rash and irresponsible government of Cuba and to develop an international image of a Cuban threat to peace in the Western Hemisphere.
" It is possible to create an incident which will demonstrate convincingly that a Cuban aircraft has attacked and shot down a chartered civilian airliner The passengers could be a group of college students off on a holiday."
It goes on to detail the plan. "An aircraft at Eglin [Air Force Base] would be painted and numbered as an exact duplicate for a civil registered aircraft belonging to a CIA proprietary organization in the Miami area. At a designated time the duplicate would be substituted for the actual civil aircraft and would be loaded with the selected passengers, all boarded under carefully prepared aliases. The actual registered aircraft would be converted to a drone."
The drone aircraft and the actual aircraft would rendezvous in the air. The civilian plane would then land at a secure facility, while the drone would continue to follow the real plane's flight plan.
"When over Cuba, the drone will begin transmitting on the international distress frequency a "MAY DAY' message stating he is under attack by Cuban MIG aircraft. The transmission will be interrupted by destruction of the aircraft which will be triggered by radio signal. This will allow radio stations in the Western Hemisphere to tell the United States what has happened to the aircraft instead of the United States trying to "sell' the incident."
Shortly after Kennedy read the proposal, he sacked Lemnitzer.
The year the memo was released, 1997, is also the year the Project for a New American Century was established. The Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit organization's stated goal is to promote American global leadership. Its membership roster reads like the invitation list for President Bush's birthday bash: Dick Cheney, John Bolton, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Jeb Bush.
In 2000, the Project for a New American Century issued a report titled Rebuilding America's Defenses. Here's a snippet: "Further, the process of transformation [to worldwide American dominance], even if it brings revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event — like a new Pearl Harbor."
The morning of 9/11, the Department of Defense was conducting a training exercise to test America's air defenses in response to a simulated Russian attack. A co-sponsor of this annual exercise was the Air Force Space Command. When the hijackings began to occur, according to the 9/11 Commission Report, FAA controllers were confused. They wondered if it was part of the ongoing military drill.
Evidence Against: The best evidence against this mind-blowing theory is the phone calls made by passengers and crew of the hijacked flights. In real time, they relayed what was happening on the planes to relatives and friends on the ground.
Rumor Four: Government agents faked the phone calls coming from United 93.
Evidence For: On February 1, 1999, the Washington Post Web site published an incredible story about a new trick up the military's sleeve. Scientist George Papcun, of the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, claimed that he could clone speech patterns from a 10-minute digital recording of anyone's voice. To demonstrate, Papcun's team cloned then-Secretary of State Colin Powell's voice using clips from public speeches.
Powell's voice was heard, clearly saying: "I am being treated well by my captors."
Another test mimicked Gen. Carl Steiner, former commander of U.S. Special Operations Command. This is what Papcun had Steiner say: "Gentlemen! We have called you together to inform you that we are going to overthrow the United States government."
The filmmakers behind Loose Change believe this software was used on 9/11 to mimic the voices of those passengers who contacted their families from the hijacked planes. Studies, he says, show that at that time, most cell phones would not have worked onboard airplanes.
Bermas points out that the only civilians who have been allowed to listen to the voices captured by the data recorder of United 93 are the families of the victims. And that happened only once. No one was allowed to take notes, and they first had to sign an agreement not to discuss what they heard.
Evidence Against: We know that cell phones worked aboard Delta 1989 that day, at least according to a woman who was on it. Free Times tracked her down through a blogger (whose blog is not related to 9/11), and to our knowledge she is the only passenger from that flight who has ever been interviewed. Mary — she spoke on condition that we not use her last name — is a lawyer living on the Boston area.
"I was flying to California with my husband and eight co-workers," Mary recalls. "We were told that we would have to make an emergency landing but that it was not for technical reasons. [Over Cleveland] we were obviously in some kind of holding pattern and it was taking forever. Then at some point, I don't remember exactly when, the pilot came on and said that we could make a phone call. People began making calls to family and friends and then learning that these horrendous things were happening. There were ripples of conversation around the plane. And then, I remember this person saying that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center. Someone else said the Trade Center had just collapsed. I got angry and thought people were just exaggerating. I mean, let's not be alarmists."
That's when her husband called the stewardess over and asked, "How do we know there's nobody up there in the cockpit with the pilot right now? Are we sure everything's okay?"
The pilot came back on the radio, assured everyone the plane had not been hijacked, and shortly thereafter, made the descent into Cleveland.
"I know someone who actually believes a plane did not crash into the Pentagon," she says. "My husband and I, we knew a doctor who was on that flight. He was supposed to meet us later in California. He died."
Rumor Five: There were no passengers aboard United 93 when it crashed.
Evidence For: Before United 93 crashed smack-dab into his jurisdiction, Somerset County Coroner Wallace Miller was probably most known for being a local Civil War buff. But today, he's known nationally as the official who implied that there were no bodies on the plane that crashed into a Shanksville, Pennsylvania field.
"This is the most eerie thing," he told a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reporter for an article on the first anniversary of the attacks. "I have not, to this day, seen a single drop of blood. Not a drop."
Bermas, of Loose Change, says, "If you look at pictures of the crash site in Shanksville, there's no evidence of a crash. No parts from an airplane. No body parts. Just a hole in the ground with some tiny bits of metal. Then the government shows us a bandana that one of the hijackers wore, which they said was recovered from the crash site. It's folded perfectly. No blood on it. It looks like the government is manufacturing evidence."
Evidence Against: Miller is still the coroner. Last week, he was found at his funeral home, pulling dandelions from his lawn.
A tall, lanky fellow, Miller is at first hesitant to speak on the subject. But then the anger spills over.
"It's all bullshit," says Miller. "I'm not saying I was misquoted, but the quote was taken out of context. There were pieces of people. Trust me. I cleaned it up. The plane hit the ground doing 575 miles per hour. The rest of the remains were vaporized on impact. But we did ID everyone onboard."
He has received calls from strangers demanding to know why he's covering for the government. "These people are extremely adversarial," he says. "It's just getting annoying. It speaks for the need for better regulation of the Internet. But I guess that's the sort of freedom we're fighting for." (That last sentence is soaked in sarcasm.)
But did the plane crash or was it shot down?
"I don't know anything about that," he says, turning back to the lawn. "You need to take that up with the government."
Rumor Six: The military shot down United 93.
Evidence For: In August 2002, FAA officials invited Cleveland-area reporters on an abbreviated tour of the Oberlin control tower that had handled traffic for Hopkins on 9/11. In a simulator room, a radar screen displaying that day's air traffic was replayed for the journalists to give them an idea of the chaos that the controllers had to deal with that day.
As the blips representing United 93 neared Shanksville, a reporter from a Lorain County paper (Dan Harkins, who now works at the Free Times) noticed a few new "blips" appearing onscreen a few states away after commercial aircraft had been ordered from the sky, converging quickly on the commercial airliner's position. "What are those?" a broadcast reporter asked. An FAA official said they could have been military aircraft taking off but noted how Flight 93's blip had extinguished long before the other blips got even close.
Then there is the possible admission of a shoot-down by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. During a visit to Iraq on Christmas Eve in 2004, Rumsfeld addressed the meaning of the word "terror", saying, "I think all of us have a sense if we imagine the kind of world we would face if the people who bombed the mess hall in Mosul, or the people who did the bombing in Spain, or the people who attacked the United States in New York, shot down the plane over Pennsylvania and attacked the Pentagon, the people who cut off peoples' heads on television to intimidate, to frighten — indeed the word "terrorized' is just that."
Rumsfeld later claimed he misspoke.
evidence Against: Lee Purbaugh was breaking apart steel beams at Rollock Scrap in Shanksville when the plane flew over him, barely clearing the tops of nearby trees. He is the only known witness to United 93's final moments.
"I heard the jet engines," he recalls, sitting on a plastic chair at the top of a wrought-iron staircase that leads to his Somerset apartment. As he speaks, his daughter, Hannah, flits about his feet. She was born September 11, 2002.
"It looks like it's coming in for a landing. All of a sudden, it started rocking back and forth." He moves his hand in the air, in the shape of a plane, and twists it first to the right, then to the left. "Then it turned upside down and went nose down at a slight angle. When it hit it just broke up into tiny pieces. Flames shot up and it disappeared into the ground. It looked like footage I saw once on World's Greatest Disasters. I felt the ground shaking. I saw no [fighter] jets."
Purbaugh and his boss were the first people on the scene. "We were looking for survivors. But when we saw the hole, we knew there wouldn't be any. You could smell the fuel cooking. The biggest piece of debris we found was about 5 feet in diameter. And I found somebody's boot."
Bill Keaton was responsible for the airspace in which United 93 disappeared from radar on 9/11, or at least for those airplanes flying between 24,000 and 33,000 feet. Keaton worked for Cleveland Center, the Oberlin-based control tower that monitors a huge swatch of airspace over middle America for the FAA. Today, he is a spokesman for his union, the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, but still logs many hours in front of those radar screens.
"I was told not to let anyone within 20 miles of that plane," says Keaton. "It was coming right through the middle of my sector. I just watched it march through the scope on a line heading toward Washington."
Someone had turned off United 93's transponder, so it was impossible to tell at what altitude the plane was flying. Keaton kept other aircraft as far from its radar signal as possible.
"Once  disappeared from my scope, I asked another pilot if he could go down and take a look. He said he saw black smoke coming from the area where United 93 lost signal. I heard a confirmation of the crash [from another pilot] as well."
Keaton firmly believes that United 93 was not shot down. But when asked if there were fighter jets in the vicinity of the plane when it crashed, he answers carefully. "I know what you're getting at. But that goes beyond the scope of what I can comment on. I'm sorry to be evasive. There were a few little things that happened that day that I can't comment on."
Air traffic controllers can lose their security clearances if they talk about the movements of military aircraft or military exercises.
Lee H. Hamilton is a legendary Democrat. Elected to the House of Representatives in 1965, he remained in Congress until 1999 and was one of Bill Clinton's top picks for vice president. Later he was co-chair of the Commission to Investigate Certain Security Issues at Los Alamos, and currently is working with the Iraq Study Group, an organization headed by former Secretary of State James Baker.
He was also co-chairman of the 9/11 Commission.
"It was a huge amount of data to sort through," says Hamilton in a phone interview. "We put a tremendous weight on the facts. But doing something this complex in the amount of time we were given was difficult. Oh, there were loose ends. This is only the first draft of history. It's held up well. But I don't believe we have written the final draft. There's bound to be some information that comes out which we didn't have then."
Hamilton remains troubled by the fact that the government lied to the commission repeatedly during the investigation.
"We were misled by the FAA and NORAD [North American Aerospace Defense Command]," he says. Neither wanted the American people to know how unprepared they'd been. "When we went to NORAD command center in New York, we found tapes that had not been furnished to the commission. By listening to those tapes, we discovered that their official story didn't add up. So we issued subpoenas and started from scratch."
Regarding United 93, Hamilton says that there is a gap in the accounts of the president's and vice president's actions that day; several minutes at the time that shooting down hijacked planes was discussed have not been accounted for.
"When you have that, you obviously leave an opening for the conspiracy questions," Hamilton notes. "But sometimes you cannot answer every question that is raised. We made a lot of judgments. I don't know if we made all the judgments correctly. The American people demanded from us a kind of airtight evidence. What we ask is that the standard be applied both ways."
Later, without provocation, Hamilton brings up Building 7, a 47-story skyscraper located next to the World Trade Center that caught fire when the towers fell. It housed offices of government agencies, including the Defense Department, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, the IRS and the CIA. Its oddly neat collapse — straight down, as if dropping into a hole that suddenly opened in the ground — has led some to argue that it was a controlled demolition intended to bury the secrets of the government's involvement in the terrorist attacks.
"We consulted with expert architects," says Hamilton. "You simply cannot answer every question about why Building 7 collapsed."
Marvin Bush, George W.'s younger brother, worked for the company in charge of security for Building 7 on 9/11.
Five years later, the temporary memorial to the passengers of United 93 is the busiest place in Shanksville. Roxanne Sullivan, whose name tag refers to her as a "Flight 93 Ambassador" passes out pamphlets to visitors. The booklets show off the winning design for the permanent memorial, which should be finished by 2011.
There is a wall nearby where people can leave mementos. A Cub Scout T-shirt hangs from one two-by-four, signed by each young pack member. Many visitors leave coins. Others leave rosaries. A row of Happy Meal toys lines one shelf.
Messages are scrawled on every available surface. May the angels in Heaven always watch over you, wrote Sally Whiteman of Hollywood, Maryland. Let's Roll is written everywhere.
This is a somber place, an open tomb.
It's no place for theories.
For more information visit:
jrenner at freetimes dot com