FBI Response to ALPA on Airing United Flight 93 CVR Recording

The FBI on April 26 responded to Capt. Woerth’s April 17 letter voicing ALPA’s concerns about playing the CVR recording from United Flight 93 to the families of the attack’s victims.

The Bureau wrote that it and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia tried to address those concerns in several ways:

1. Playing the CVR recording was limited to the families of the victims. The only other persons in the room at the time were "those people who had an operational role in the presentation," the FBI said. "These individuals were employees of the FBI or the U.S. Attorney’s Office, with the exception of three individuals who were carefully selected and screened to provide emergency mental health care and translation services for one of the passenger families.

2. "Each family member and the three non-U.S. government individuals were required to sign a release form that included a nondisclosure statement. The nondisclosure statement references a protective order issued by Judge Brinkema. In addition, families were strongly urged to not disclose the contents of the CVR [recording] outside their own families in order to comply with the judicial protective order and to respect the private pain of other affected families, especially those with children.

3. "The FBI implemented strict security measures with regard to the physical presentation of the CVR [recording]. Everyone entering the area went through a scanning process. In addition, they were required to temporarily surrender cell phones and other electronic equipment. No written copies of the transcript were given out, and the FBI used a hand-operated overhead projector to present the transcript for families to follow as they listened to the CVR [recording]. Infrared headsets were used by families rather than playing the CVR through open speakers. The ballroom in which the presentation took place, as well as surrounding rooms, were carefully ‘swept’ to prevent any unauthorized interception of the CVR [recording]."

The Bureau added, "The factor over which we had the least amount of control was potential disclosure of the CVR [recording] contents by victim[s’] families to the [news] media, but the families appear to be complying with the request to not divulge this information to the public. Several family members have publicly expressed their appreciation for the respectful and noncoercive way in which the request for nondisclosure was presented by the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the FBI.

"The September 11 terrorist attacks," the FBI concluded, "continue to present us with unprecedented situations and challenges, not the least of which has been the need to balance the needs and rights of many groups and individuals. The decision to allow the families of the 40 people who died on Flight 93 to hear the most important audio record of the last minutes of the flight was appropriate once it became clear that the CVR may be presented in the criminal trial of Zacarias Moussaoui. The families of the victims needed to have an opportunity to hear this information in a safe and secure setting, rather than hearing it for the first time during the trial. We believe we were able to accomplish that goal with the presentation of the CVR on April 18."