On September 11th, 2001, CNN published a story late in the day that began: "Barbara Olson, a conservative commentator and attorney, alerted her husband, Solicitor General Ted Olson, that the plane she was on was being hijacked Tuesday morning, Ted Olson told CNN." In this story, Olson reported that his wife had "called him twice on a cell phone from American Airlines Flight 77," saying that "all passengers and flight personnel, including the pilots, were herded to the back of the plane by armed hijackers. The only weapons she mentioned were knives and cardboard cutters."(2)
This report was very important. First, it provided the only evidence that American Flight 77, which was claimed to have hit the Pentagon, had still been aloft after it had disappeared from FAA radar around 9:00 AM (there had been reports, after this disappearance, that an airliner had crashed on the Ohio-Kentucky border). Second, Barbara Olson had been a very well-known commentator on CNN. The report that she died in a plane hijacked by Arab Muslims was of great importance in gaining the country’s support for the Bush administration’s "war on terror." Ted Olson’s report was important in yet another way, having been the sole source of the widely accepted idea that the hijackers had box cutters.(3)
However, although Ted Olson’s report of phone calls from his wife has been central to the official account of 9/11, this report has now been completely undermined.
Olson Repeatedly Contradicts Himself
This process of undermining began by means of Olson’s self-contradictions. He initially told CNN, as we have seen, that his wife had "called him twice on a cell phone." But he contradicted this statement on September 14, telling Hannity and Colmes that she had reached him by calling the Department of Justice collect. Therefore, she must have been using the "airplane phone," he surmised, because "she somehow didn’t have access to her credit cards."(4) However, this version of Olson’s story, besides contradicting his first version, was even self-contradictory, because a credit card is needed to activate a passenger-seat phone.
Later that same day, moreover, Olson told Larry King Live that the second call from his wife suddenly went dead because "the signals from cell phones coming from airplanes don’t work that well."(5) After this return to his first account, he finally settled on his second account, saying that his wife had called collect and therefore must have used "the phone in the passengers’ seats" because she did not have her purse.(6)
By finally settling on this story, Olson avoided a technological pitfall. Given the cell phone system in use in 2001, high-altitude cell phone calls from airliners were impossible, or at least virtually so (Olson’s statement that "the signals from cell phones coming from airplanes don’t work that well" was a considerable understatement). The technology enabling cell phone calls from high-altitude airline flights was not created until 2004.(7)
However, Olson’s second story, besides being self-contradictory, was also contradicted by American Airlines.
Olson’s Second Account Contradicted by American Airlines
One 9/11 researcher, who knew that AA Flight 77 was a Boeing 757, noticed that AA’s website showed that its 757s do not have passenger-seat phones. He wrote to ask if this had been true on September 11, 2001, and an AA customer service representative replied: "That is correct; we do not have phones on our Boeing 757. The passengers on flight 77 used their own personal cellular phones to make out calls during the terrorist attack."(8)
Defenders of the official story might argue against this revelation by replyng that Ted Olson was evidently right the first time: she had used her cell phone. However, this possibility is not only rendered unlikely by the cell phone technology of 2001; it has also been contradicted by the FBI.
FBI Contradicts Olson’s Story in Court
The most serious official contradiction of Ted Olson’s story came in 2006 at the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called 20th hijacker. The evidence the FBI presented to this trial included a report on phone calls from all four 9/11 flights. The FBI report on American Flight 77 attributed only one call to Barbara Olson and it was an "unconnected call," which (of course) lasted "0 seconds."(9) According to the FBI, therefore, Ted Olson did not receive a single call from his wife using either a cell phone or an onboard phone.
Back on 9/11, the FBI itself had interviewed Olson. A report of that interview indicates that Olson told the FBI agents that his wife had called him twice from Flight 77.(10) And yet the FBI’s report on calls from Flight 77, presented in 2006, indicated that no such calls occurred.
This was an extraordinary development: The FBI is part of the Department of Justice, and yet its report undermined the well-publicized claim of the DOJ’s former solicitor general that he had received two calls from his wife on 9/11.
Pentagon Historians also Reject Olson’s Account