Reno, Nevada, (I.R.I.S)--Everyone has old photos laying
around and sometimes we stumble across them, sparking memories of the past, thinking about their relevancy to today and how
things have changed. That happened to me last week when I found some pictures I took of the New York skyline from Liberty
Island in 1999. The pictures prompted the following investigation that reveals never-before publicly analyzed secret State
Department cables and debunks a big 9/11 conspiracy theory.
This investigation began with he pictures I took more than a decade ago. The skyline of New York with the massive
dual towers were awe-inspiring on the horizon and I chose to shoot a picture of people enjoying that skyline. I set the pictures
aside last week, and I picked them up again today wondering what I could do with them.
Looking at this picture, I realized that I was saddened
that the legacy of the Twin Towers and the images we remember about them are not the engineering achievement, but instead
we are overwhelmed by the images of 9/11 and the horror as the buildings burned and collapsed. What could I do to change that,
I wondered. At first, I thought about looking into facts about the buildings prior to their demise. But before embarking on
that simple path, I decided to take a look at Wikileaks to see what documents the government had created the day that those iconic monoliths were to fall. There were surprisingly
few documents and only one is labeled as "Secret." But as I read that secret document and did a little research
on the secret words, I discovered that this document is key to debunking a 9-11 myth that continues to this day, that the
hijackers didn't appear on airline passenger manifests. Surprisingly, despite the very recent release of this secret document
and the 9/11 anniversary, no media agency has examined the only secret document or attempted to link it to debunk this popular
myth. So here it is.
First, the myth, and we
won't spend too much time on it. if you search "released 9-11 passenger manifests," of the 42 million results, the
first results are ones debating if the hijackers were on the airlines lists of passengers at all. The second result by a site
called "9/11 Hard Facts" says: "It has been claimed that the names of the hijackers were on the airlines' flight manifests. However, there is no public
evidence of this. Researchers who have attempted to obtain this information from the airlines have been rebuffed."
That quote is linked
to the number one search result in the query. That first result has many more citations and is about what the government and
others knew. While this is valid debate because the names were not immediately released publicly at the time, it is rather
unhealthy because it has fed conspiracy theories that there were no hijackers on the planes at all. But now, because of the
Wikileaks release, we now have conclusive evidence that the government did have the names of some of the hijackers from the
passenger manifests immediately following the tragedy.
These Wikileaks documents came out because Wikileaks was recently forced to publish thousands of pages when a password
to its site had been compromised. The recent releases include two confidential documents and one unclassified on September
11, 2011. They don't say much. There are instructions to foreign embassies lock down security, reduce staffing and they paint
a general picture of the U.S. government as struggling with wrapping its massive tentacles around the new, faceless
enemy of terrorism.
Of the 12 cables sent the
following day, most were media reports and condolences from other countries. Only one was classified as "SECRET."
Naturally that one grabbed my attention, and there are clear reasons why it was secret. Amazingly, that documents reveal that
in just 24 hours, the U.S. government had already quickly put specific names to that face of terrorism.
The cable from the Secretary of State titled "TF UNITED STATES SEPTEMBER ATTACK SITUATION" is signed by Colon Powell himself. The document was secret because it revealed travel details of President Bush and the Secretary
of State, former president Bill Clinton and other world leaders. It also clearly shows that the government not only had the
passenger manifests, contrary to the conspiracy theories, the government had the names of hijackers and was releasing them
to other governments.
(U) DOJ HAS AUTHORIZED
TO RELEASE MANIFESTS OF THE HIJACKED
AIRCRAFT TO FOREIGN GOVERNMENTS.
(TASK FORCE/DOJ TELCON)
The manifests had specific names of
the possible terrorists.
(C) FBI AND DS ARE INVESTIGATING THE
IDENTITIES OF FIVE ARAB PASSENGERS
LISTED ON THE MANIFEST FOR
MASSACHUSETTS AUTHORITIES HAVE
REPORTEDLY SEIZED A RENTAL CAR
CONTAINING ARABIC-LANGUAGE FLIGHT
TRAINING MANUALS AT LOGAN INTERNATIONAL
AIRPORT. TWO OF THE PASSENGERS HELD
PASSPORTS ISSUED BY THE UAE,
WAS A TRAINED PILOT.
(TASK FORCE/DS TELCON, REUTERS)
The fact that a debate continues even today about if the government knew the names of the terrorists shows that the
U.S. Government and other governments were very effective in keeping this secret for some time. However, we can also see that
the secrecy itself gave rise to unhealthy speculation, myths and conspiracy theories. All of that could have been avoided
if the names had been immediately released in the name of national security.
While Wikilileaks and its providers of this information have revealed this myth-busting information, their activities
have been labeled as illegal. And despite the hordes of 9/11 experts, the recent anniversary of the attack, a Google News
search for these exact words in the cables reveals that no news sources have published an analysis of the only secret cable
from that day.
For more on the long-term impacts
of government secrecy, read my book Silent Heroes of the Cold War.
Reno, Nevada (I.R.I.S)--A
firestorm grew on the KOLO 8 Facebook page today. I knew it would because the news story I posted was about Hispanic graduation rates, Hispanic pay, Hispanic
business ownership, all of which were low. It was a hot-button topic as it is in Nevada, known as the Mississippi of the west.
The underlying theme of the news story seemed to be even more inflammatory, that there was racial tension in America regarding
Hispanics and challenges to their rise in political power. So, I had to ask an accompanying question with the news story on
Facebook. Here it is: There seems to be a lot of tensions about Hispanics in America. What do you think we can do to improve
cultural understanding in the United States?
The response was overwhelming. Freedom-loving
Americans virtually spit fire at each other, going back and forth dozens of times with vitriol aimed at even KOLO itself for
posting such a question about cultural understanding. Then, a few hours later, the anger and discussion faded into the sunset.
Like hundreds of my other posts, it succumbed to the flood of other Internet content, to be long forgotten.
But this news post was different in more than one
way. I was called into the news director's office to talk about it. I told them I had thought deeply about the question. They
pointed out that they wanted me to moderate the discussion. Ironically, I was in a meeting about facebook at the time that
all the discussion was going on, so I couldn't respond. By the time I did get around to writing back, the fire had been
quenched and my reaction and response to the users ended up being one of the last comments on that thread. It was probably
unlikely to be read much by anyone. My response was long and searching. I was trying to make sense of why I would reach
into the hearts of our Facebook fans, squeeze their brains with a question that made some so mad and others introspective
and thoughtful. Only now do I realize that I hold in my own heart a story that could improve understanding, a story that I
have never publicly told. A story about how I wanted to improve my own understanding. Here it is.
In the summer of 1996 I took a trip to my hometown of San
Diego. I didn’t have any money so I had to find a job. That meant running rickshaws. Actually running and carrying people
in a little cart behind me. It was sympathy money. There was no “charge” for the service. Passengers would ask
you to take them somewhere, you would run like hell with them in the back and at the end of the run they would ask “how
much?” You would say in a sweaty, gaspy, raspy voice, “however much you want to pay. However much you think it
is worth.” People opened their wallets in awe that you would do such a thing as run carrying them in a cart.
I ran rickshaws for about a week before
it was time to go back to Alaska to finish up the last semester of college. I decided to go out to the home where I grew up
in Potrero, California, 42 miles east of San Diego on the border with the Mexican town of Tecate.
As I drove out there along the windy highway 94, I thought
about how I lived in that little town for more than a decade. Migrant workers sometimes drove across the border to take odd
jobs from my dad on the farm. Sometimes illegal immigrants would come on to our property and my dad would take out his gun
to keep them away. One time, as a child I was taking a nap and looking out the window when some illegal immigrants came up
to our house and tried the door. It was thankfully locked.
I have been known to take some strange journeys. I had driven the road for so many years, I wanted to see the countryside,
step by step. So one day, at age 12, I struck out on my own to hike 42 miles from San Diego to Potrero. That is another story
of another journey. That one was personal. This one was also personal and political.
Now in my 20’s I had begun to understand that there was a lot of tension
about illegal immigration and Hispanics in America and a lot of it had to do with the porous borders. As a child my parents
and I had driven across the border illegally before when the border closed. But how was it that nearly a half-million illegal
immigrants were doing that every year, running across the border? I wanted to know if it really was that easy and the only
way to know, was to try. It was easier than you could ever imagine to escape from one of the poorest nations in the world
to one of the most prosperous, the United States of America.
That was the mission. I drove to the border town of Tecate on the U.S. side as I had done many times before as a
child with my parents. This time I parked next to a supermarket, picked up a small pack with some food and began walking across
to the Mexican side. I was on foot, carrying everything I had on my person including my passport. In an instant, I was in
a country where poverty was rampant, work, water, food and justice were hard to come by.
As I walked along the border, on
one side of me were common bright-colored Mexican homes, and on the other, was the rusty 13-foot high solid steel fence. The
grass truly was greener on the other side. I could see it through bullet holes in the fence. Trash littered the ground beneath
my feet. Then, the fence ended. Parked right there at the end of the fence was a border patrol truck. That was it. It seemed
like the agent inside was the only thing that stood between me and America.
Trying to cross right then and there would lead to who knows what. So I walked
up a mountain and sat there on the ridge just to watch. Every 5 minutes U.S. military vehicles drove down the frontage border
road. I sat down near a pillar that commemorated the Mexican-American treaty and ate a sandwich waiting for some other brilliant
No great ideas came.
Some border patrol agents drove up to the fence below. I took out my binoculars to watch them and could see them kicking the
dirt next to the fence. They seemed to want to talk to me. Then, I noticed a glimmer up on the hill, there was another border
patrol agent inside a car directly across from me. He was looking at me with binoculars as I was looking at him with binoculars.
Then more military trucks drove by and other border patrol cars seemed to suddenly be stationed everywhere. They were all
watching me: this lonely guy sitting on a hill next to the fence. The only barrier between us was communication. One word
and they would know I was American. But they didn’t know and they couldn’t touch me and I couldn’t touch
them. We were in different political worlds.
I knew there was no way to cross so I packed up and headed back the way I came. As I headed down, I saw below, on
the railroad tracks some men walking away from the city, toward Mexicali along the U.S. border. I ran down to the tracks and
then followed them for a while until they got to a spot where the tracks cut through a hillside. They put their backs against
the hillside and waited for me to walk between them. When I got to them I asked if they were going to cross the border. They
were evasive. I explained that I am a journalist and I wanted to know how they cross the border. They said they thought I
was a coyote there to rob them. But once it was clear I was no threat, they continued on, ignoring me mostly. They let me
continue walking with them and they were very nervous about the camera I was carrying. I asked if we would cross that day,
they said, “it depends on if they (the border patrol) let us.” That answer baffled me but it would soon be clear.
I continued walking with them for a few
minutes but they were very quiet and they wouldn’t say how far they were going. Then, as we were walking I noticed a
valley that seemed to run right up to the border fence. I split off and followed it. I stayed low and crouched there by the
fence. No one was coming, so I made a break for it, jumping over the low barbed wire fence and across the road. And just like
that, I was in America.
didn’t stop running until I got to highway 94. Now that I think about it, this could have easily turned into a foot-chase,
not that I would have run from the border patrol. I really had not thought that part through. But as I was running for miles
up and over hills, I didn’t see a single border patrol agent the entire time. The border patrol had let me through I
guess, as the would-be illegal immigrants said they might. When I got to highway 94 exhausted, I had miles and miles to go
to get back to my car. I thought about, what would you do if you were an illegal immigrant, where would you go and how would
you survive? It quickly became clear that you had to have help. The side of the road was the last place an illegal immigrant
would want to be, or would they? Check any Home Depot parking lot in Las Vegas and they are right there. But, being on the
side of the road was completely legal for me, not scary at all. For the illegal immigrants, it’s a daily struggle, breaking
the law in order to find work. Not for me, I stood on the side of the mountain road and stuck out my thumb to hitch a ride.
Who drove up? A border patrol agent with his lights on. He gave me a ride back to the border and my car. He asked what I was
doing out there. I told him I was hiking. He never asked for my proof of citizenship or searched me. Speaking English was
I am not sure
why I never got around to publishing this story, but now I have.