Still more specific information was reportedly conveyed during a 12-minute cell phone call from flight attendant Amy Sweeney on American Flight 11, which was to crash into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.30 After reaching American Airlines employee Michael Woodward and telling him that men of "Middle Eastern descent" had hijacked her flight, she then gave him their seat numbers, from which he was able to learn the identity of Mohamed Atta and two other hijackers.31 Amy Sweeney's call was critical, ABC News explained, because without it "the plane might have crashed with no one certain the man in charge was tied to al Qaeda."32
There was, however, a big problem with these reported calls: Given the technology available in 2001, cell phone calls from airliners at altitudes of more than a few thousand feet, especially calls lasting more than a few seconds, were not possible, and yet these calls, some of which reportedly lasted a minute or more, reportedly occurred when the planes were above 30,000 or even 40,000 feet. This problem was explained by some credible people, including scientist A.K. Dewdney, who for many years had written a column for Scientific American.33
Although some defenders of the official account, such as Popular Mechanics, have disputed the contention that high-altitude calls from airliners were impossible,34 the fact is that the FBI, after having at first supported the claims that such calls were made, withdrew this support a few years later.
With regard to the reported 12-minute call from Amy Sweeney to Michael Woodward, an affidavit signed by FBI agent James Lechner and dated September 12 (2001) stated that, according to Woodward, Sweeney had been "using a cellular telephone."35 But when the 9/11 Commission discussed this call in its Report, which appeared in July 2004, it declared that Sweeney had used an onboard phone.36
Behind that change was an implausible claim made by the FBI earlier in 2004: Although Woodward had failed to mention this when FBI agent Lechner interviewed him on 9/11, he had repeated Sweeney's call verbatim to a colleague in his office, who had in turn repeated it to another colleague at American headquarters in Dallas, who had recorded it; and this recording---which was discovered only in 2004---indicated that Sweeney had used a passenger-seat phone, thanks to "an AirFone card, given to her by another flight attendant."37
This claim is implausible because, if this relayed recording had really been made on 9/11, we cannot believe that Woodward would have failed to mention it to FBI agent Lechner later that same day. While Lechner was taking notes, Woodward would surely have said: "You don't need to rely on my memory. There is a recording of a word-for-word repetition of Sweeney's statements down in Dallas." It is also implausible that Woodward, having repeated Sweeney's statement that she had used "an AirFone card, given to her by another flight attendant," would have told Lechner, as the latter's affidavit says, that Sweeney had been "using a cellular telephone."
Lechner's affidavit shows that the FBI at first supported the claim that Sweeney had made a 12-minute cell phone call from a high-altitude airliner. Does not the FBI's change of story, after its first version had been shown to be technologically impossible, create the suspicion that the entire story was a fabrication?
This suspicion is reinforced by the FBI's change of story in relation to United Flight 93. Although we were originally told that this flight had been the source of about a dozen cell phone calls, some of them when the plane was above 40,000 feet, the FBI gave a very different report at the 2006 trial of Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called 20th hijacker. The FBI spokesman said: "13 of the terrified passengers and crew members made 35 air phone calls and two cell phone calls."38 Instead of there having been about a dozen cell phone calls from Flight 93, the FBI declared in 2005, there were really only two.
Why were two calls still said to have been possible? They were reportedly made at 9:58, when the plane was reportedly down to 5,000 feet.39 Although that was still pretty high for successful cell phone calls in 2001, these calls, unlike calls from 30,000 feet or higher, would have been at least arguably possible.
If the truth of the FBI's new account is assumed, how can one explain the fact that so many people had reported receiving cell phone calls? In most cases, it seems, these people had been told by the callers that they were using cell phones. For example, a Newsweek story about United 93 said: "Elizabeth Wainio, 27, was speaking to her stepmother in Maryland. Another passenger, she explains, had loaned her a cell phone and told her to call her family."40 In such cases, we might assume that the people receiving the calls had simply mis-heard, or mis-remembered, what they had been told. But this would mean positing that about a dozen people had made the same mistake.
An even more serious difficulty is presented by the case of Deena Burnett, who said that she had received three to five calls from her husband, Tom Burnett. She knew he was using his cell phone, she reported to the FBI that very day and then to the press and in a book, because she had recognized his cell phone number on her phone's Caller ID.41 We cannot suppose her to have been mistaken about this. We also, surely, cannot accuse her of lying.
Therefore, if we accept the FBI's report, according to which Tom Burnett did not make any cell phone calls from Flight 93, we can only conclude that the calls were faked---that Deena Burnett was duped. Although this suggestion may at first sight seem outlandish, there are three facts that, taken together, show it to be more probable than any of the alternatives.
First, voice morphing technology was sufficiently advanced at that time to make faking the calls feasible. A 1999 Washington Post article described demonstrations in which the voices of two generals, Colin Powell and Carl Steiner, were heard saying things they had never said.42
Second, there are devices with which you can fake someone's telephone number, so that it will show up on the recipient's Caller ID.43
Third, the conclusion that the person who called Deena Burnett was not her husband is suggested by various features of the calls. For example, when Deena told the caller that "the kids" were asking to talk to him, he said: "Tell them I'll talk to them later." This was 20 minutes after Tom had purportedly realized that the hijackers were on a suicide mission, planning to "crash this plane into the ground," and 10 minutes after he and other passengers had allegedly decided that as soon as they were "over a rural area" they must try to gain control of the plane. Also, the hijackers had reportedly already killed one person.44 Given all this, the real Tom Burnett would have known that he would likely die, one way or another, in the next few minutes. Is it believable that, rather than taking this probably last opportunity to speak to his children, he would say that he would "talk to them later"? Is it not more likely that "Tom" made this statement to avoid revealing that he knew nothing about "the kids," perhaps not even their names?