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ERROR: 'The Phone Calls were Fake'

The idea that phone calls from passengers on the targeted flights were fake and actually created with voice-morphing technology has been promoted by several "no Boeing" advocates and in particular detail by author David Ray Griffin in his numerous books, talks, interviews, and essays.

The case for the 'fake phone calls theory' as articulated by Griffin has become ever more nuanced and complex as government and airline disclosures have undermined the simplicity of the original set of claims surrounding the calls, and other researchers have pointed out flaws in that case. However, the theory remains rooted in the premise, seemingly calculated to be offensive attack survivors, that the last voices heard from victims on the planes were faked.

Origins

The original form of the fake phone calls theory as promoted by A.K. Dewdney in his 2002 article Ghostriders in the Sky focused on Flight 93, from which passengers reportedly made a score of cell phone calls. It had two major tenets:

  1. Cell phones in aircraft at altitude can't communicate with ground stations, where most of the reported calls would have been at altitude.
  2. Statements reportedly made by passengers had peculiarities suggesting that they weren't genuine.

Dewdney, Mathematical Recreations columnist for Scientific American from 1984 to 1993, gave these arguments a veneer of credibility with his vivid style of writing, and publication of experiments showing limitations of cell phone reception from a light plane in Canada. However, rational examination of both tenets show that they are based on multiple fallacies, foremost being the presentation of a theory as the only explanation for alleged anomalies that in fact have many possible explanations.

For years, "no Boeing" advocates such as A.K. Dewdney, Eric Hufschmid, David Griffin, Jim Fetzer, and the Loose Change filmmakers have used victim Mark Bingham as poster child for the fake calls claims by highlighting his use of his full name in addressing his mother. During his one call from Flight 93 to his mother, Bingham reportedly says "Hi Mom, this is Mark Bingham". Frequently overlooked in these accounts are the facts that Mark Bingham's mother has a different last name, that she herself relayed the excerpt, and that she has no doubt that the caller was her son. Furthermore, adducing as evidence of fakery perceived anomalies in the reported behavior of people in highly stressful life-threatening circumstances is unscientific at best.

The first tenet appeals to a claim that a key element of the official story was physically impossible. However, even after years of debate, the parameters of cell phone function on the 9/11/2001 flights remain unclear, Dewdney's experiment in Canada notwithstanding.

But even supposing that cell phone calls from cruising altitude were impossible that day, and that there was no other way for the calls to have been legitimate -- such their having been from airphones rather than cell phones -- there is still a logical fallacy in the first tenet that is exposed by a simple thought experiment dubbed the Cell Phone Repeater Hypothesis.

e x c e r p t
title: Phone Calls: Alleged Oddities of Phone Calls from Doomed Flights
authors: Jim Hoffman

The Cell Phone Repeater Hypothesis

To review, the main argument used to support the theory that the cell phone calls attributed to Flight 93 passengers were faked goes like this:

Given that several calls from the jetliner when at altitude were reportedly from cell phones; and that cell phone calls on a plane above 10,000 feet cannot communicate with ground cell stations; it follows that the reported calls were not made by the victims but were faked.

A fatal flaw in this syllogism is exposed by the following simple hypothesis, apparently first published on this page in June of 2009.

HYPOTHESIS:
A self-powered cell phone repeater the size of a shoe box is placed on board Flight 93 within a piece of luggage. The repeater is sufficiently powerful to establish reliable connections with ground stations for several minutes at a time, and forwards all the communications between the cell phones aboard the plane and ground stations. The repeater is programmed to broadcast on a separate encrypted channel a duplicate of all the call data in real time, which is monitored by operatives who have ability to block any of the calls at any time.

Besides being technically straightforward, this method would have afforded the attack planners great benefits with little risk of exposure. Genuine reports of the theatrics of the red-bandanna-wearing bomb-displaying Arabic-looking patsies aboard Flight 93 could be allowed to get through as long as the operatives wanted, adding realism to the hijackings so central to the official account. But the same operatives could "cut the feed" at the moment events took a turn threatening to evince something other than that account.

Devolution

The fake phone calls theory has become increasingly isolated within the community of skeptics, first with the discrediting of the "no-jetliners" claims dovetailing with the fake calls theory, and subsequently with the release of documents finally articulating the government's position that most of the calls were from airphones rather than cell phones. For example, a prosecution exhibit from the 2006 Zacarias Moussaoui trial indicated that only two of the phone calls from Flight 93 were from cell phones, and both were made late in the flight, when the jetliner was at low altitude.

With the first tenet of the fake calls theory undermined by the government's position that most of the calls were from airphones, and its flaws exposed by simple logic, the defense of the fake calls theory has become increasingly convoluted. Undeterred, David Griffin featured the theory in lengthy lectures, essays, and books. Griffin's 2011 essay was the subject of Erik Larson's Critique of David Ray Griffin’s 9/11 Fake Calls Theory.

e x c e r p t
title: Critique of David Ray Griffin’s 9/11 Fake Calls Theory
authors: Erik Larson
One victim, Linda Gronlund, even left the combination to her safe on her sister’s voice mail. None of the family members who spoke with the passengers, or heard the messages they left, had any doubts it was their loved ones who called. . . some of those who made calls hadn’t booked their flights until the day before 9/11, meaning it would have been extremely difficult, if not impossible, to get an adequate voice sample, even assuming the perpetrators could tap anyone’s phone at anytime: Jeremy Glick, Mark Bingham, Honor Elizabeth Wainio and possibly Ed Felt. Some, including Griffin in previous essays, have suggested that Mark Bingham’s use of his full name when speaking to his mother is suspicious. First, it would be very unlikely that persons faking phone calls would introduce an element that would be a red flag to their family and outside observers. Second, Bingham’s mother (who has a different last name: Hoglan) has said that he did this on occasion; is it realistic to think voice-morphing perps learned this idiosyncrasy at the last minute and exploited it, let alone base accusations on it?

page last modified: 2011-09-08
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