by Stan Cox
In the past five years, much has been learned about the terrible events that unfolded on September 11, 2001. But even last year's long-anticipated National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (the "9/11 Commission") failed to provide a theory that explains them adequately.
The following one-act play illustrates some of those remaining questions without drawing any conclusions or proposing any theory to explain them. It does, however, emphasize the fact that a truly comprehensive investigation remains to be done. (All links you see in the dialogue lead to mainstream news sources.)
The attacks of 9/11 continue to be used as cover for the Bush administration's military adventures in Iraq and around the world, as well as its attacks on constitutional rights. For that reason, if for no other, events surrounding the attacks require closer scrutiny. That's the opinion of the 42% of respondents who told the Zogby polling organization in May, 2006 that they believe the government and 9/11 Commission "concealed or refused to investigate critical evidence that contradicts their official explanation of the September 11th attacks."
Late 1993, New Casablanca Studios, Hollywood. Screenwriter Cindy Cheek has arrived in producer W.P. Fitzwool's top-floor office with a script to pitch.
W.P. Fitzwool: Whatcha got for me?
Cindy Cheek: Hey, W.P., you're looking great...
WPF: Ten minutes -- don't waste it.
CC: OK, ready for this? -- Terrorism!
WPF: Sure, fine, terrorists. What's the angle?
CC: World Trade Center.
WPF: Old news. You might have noticed -- it was on TV and everything.
CC: This time the towers go down - both of them.
CC: Hijacked planes.
WPF: Go on.
CC: A suicide mission. They fly one plane into each tower, high up.
WPF: And the towers collapse?
WPF: Could that happen?
CC: We can make it happen. A really big fire. Get the pyrotech guys on it...
WPF: Has it ever happened? I mean, a fire bringing down a steel skyscraper?
CC: My people say no, but...
WPF: OK, no problem; it's doable. So take me through it.
CC: The title sequence is a lot of fast cuts showing Middle Eastern guys being real busy -- having meetings in exotic Asian locations -- we'll view them through the camera lenses of CIA operatives, you know, with the shutter clicking -- moving into apartments in American cities, acting like regular guys, and also getting pilot training in various places, like flight schools, military bases ...
WPF: American military bases?
CC: Yeah, now stay with me. Some quick, semi-comedic sequences in which they try to fly planes, can't get the hang of it, almost kill their instructors. Then we get a glimpse of these fellows' everyday lives undercover in America: shopping for groceries, watching TV, going out for a drink, maybe to strip clubs for lap dances, ...
WPF: They aren't Islamic fundamentalists?
CC: Well, yeah, but, ... uh, anyway, the whole time, we see them being tailed by Army intelligence. They're also being followed by other Middle Eastern guys, but they seem different. That's because, we'll see later, they're Israeli intelligence!
WPF: Huh? Why?
CC: You'll see. Actually, I'm still working on that.
WPF: Too many spies. They'll be stumbling all over each other. Will we use the "Pink Panther" theme for background?
CC: Now we see the chief of intelligence, in a place like, say, Pakistan, nodding approval to a big payoff, at least $100,000, and then see one of the terrorists picking up the money at his bank in the US.
CC: Yeah, I'm thinking Pakistan. In fact, to end the title sequence, we'll show an undercover government agent meeting with some Pakistani arms dealers in New York, maybe a restaurant. Out of nowhere, one of the dealers points and says, "Those towers are coming down." Pan to the window, which frames the World Trade Center. "Directed by ..." And we're on our way.
WPF: (Looks at his watch) Nice. You're through the credits now and you've got seven minutes left.
CC: We're in a Wall Street boiler room where one guy's shouting to another about heavy short-selling of airline stocks. A date is typed out at the bottom of the screen -- sometime early next century. It will turn out to be the day before the attack.
We go down to the World Trade Center's main floor, where the head of security is arriving for his first day on the job, complaining that he'd been a big terrorism expert with the FBI, but had been canned for pushing the issue too hard. Now, he says, here he is protecting the WTC, and he's afraid "we're in for something big."
WPF: It's his first day at work?
CC: Yeah. But first cut to DC, and see Pentagon generals being warned to stay off commercial flights. An aide tells one of them, "Even the Attorney General's not flying today, Sir." The camera backs out of the window to a wide shot of the Pentagon from above -- because it's going to be hit, too, you see...
WPF: Come on ...
CC: Now fade to black. Then we see the date -- the following day, the fateful day, with a time stamp, real early morning. Suddenly, a big control room -- think Fail Safe, War Games -- and huge screens show intruding aircraft, shoot-down orders are being given. Then another war room, and another, all around the country. Give the audience a first jolt. It goes on for a little while before we see they're all just big fire drills by NORAD and a bunch of other agencies.
WPF: On the same day as the real disaster they're running war games?
CC: Yeah, a bunch of them. We have to compress time a bit here.
WPF: And it's just coincidence that everyone's doing it on the same day?
CC (lamely): Yeah.
WPF: OK -- go on, let's get it over with.
CC: Then here are the terrorists, boarding their planes in different cities -- Washington, Boston, ... We see a couple of the passports up close. Saudis. Meanwhile, several members of Congress are having breakfast with that same Pakistani general who we saw sending money to the terrorists.
WPF: No way. Give the audience a little credit.
CC: The terrorists get control of two planes, lots of passengers and flight attendants are on cell phones to their loved ones, not realizing how this is going to turn out...
WPF: Will cell phones work from that altitude?
CC: Uh, I'll check on that. So the ground flight controllers see the planes go off-course, toward NYC and then lose them, NORAD watches the situation ... stock stuff.
WPF: Fighters are scrambled, right?
CC: But the towers are hit before they can get there.
WPF: But aren't there bases all over the place, and aren't the jets real fast? Does the timing work?
CC: Remember, W.P., this is a chase scene. We cut real fast from the airliners to the jets to NORAD, back to the airliners. We can really stretch it out.
WPF: It'll look ridiculous.
CC: OK, how about this -- A lot of the jets are way off in some other part of the country -- maybe other countries! -- on exercises. Then NORAD gets the radar signals confused and the fighters that do scramble go after false blips. And then... yeah, I know -- they order the pilots to fly out over the ocean! All that should use up enough time.
WPF: The military will attack us if we make 'em out to be that incompetent!
CC: The towers are hit, and after an hour or so, they collapse. Thousands dead.
WPF is lost in thought, visualizing the horror.
CC: Now cut to a close family friend of the President. He's the guy who had done more than anyone to get the President his job. He's at a business meeting that includes a member of the main terrorist honcho's family.
CC: Everybody starts watching the attacks on TV as they happen. The terrorist's relative slips out. Our guy starts to worry and leaves, too, to find out where the President is.
WPF: Which is?
CC: At a photo-op somewhere in Florida, still going on. We'll whip up some suspense -- why isn't the Prez doing anything? He finally gets on Air Force One, but instead of returning to Washington, flies here and there, all over. For most of the film, all we hear from him is a voice over the phone.
CC: Meanwhile, NORAD learns that another plane's off course and probably flying toward DC. They radio the pilot of a big transport plane in the area -- something like a C-130 -- to look around for the missing plane.
WPF: That's the best defense Our Nation's Capital can come up with?
CC: Yeah, at least in this movie. Back to a wide shot of the Pentagon, so we realize where the plane's headed, but the military still doesn't. In one conference room, the Twin Towers disaster is playing out on a TV in the background, but people are ignoring it and going on with a meeting.
WPF: Come on . . .
CC: The commander in charge of emergency response at the Pentagon has taken the day off, leaving a rookie in charge.
WPF: Now that's a pretty damn well-worn device, isn't it?
CC: These things can happen. They finally get fighters in the air, but they head out over the ocean, too.
WPF: They . . .?
CC: And nobody has gotten around to telling the Defense Secretary there's a hijacked plane headed his way. He's sort of hanging out alone in his office.
WPF: You gotta build suspense, but this is silly. Look, an audience doesn't want to watch a guy sitting in an office playing with his stapler . . . How about that big impressive conference room the Joint Chiefs of Staff have? A classic crisis meeting --
CC: No, nobody's told the Joint Chiefs anything either. But we cut to the White House basement, where the Vice President does know about the plane headed for DC. An underling keeps popping into his bunker office to tell him, "The plane's 50 miles out", then, "It's 20 miles out", then when he tell him it's 10 miles out, the young guy asks, "Do the orders still stand?", and the VP -- kind of a creepy, villainous-looking guy -- snarls, "Of course the orders still stand. Have you heard anything to the contrary?"
WPF: The order to shoot the plane down, right?
CC: Well, actually, what you see will be fighter jets still cruising lazily over the Atlantic, antiaircraft guns on the White House and Pentagon sitting unmanned, and the hijacked plane closing in fast.
WPF: So the "order" was to shoot it down or not shoot it down??
CC: We'll let folks ponder that. Meanwhile, the plane does a hair-raising 270-degree downward spiral, skims a long way -- maybe in slo-mo -- at about 3 feet above the Pentagon lawn, and slams into it...
WPF: Who's flying the plane? You said the hijackers are lousy pilots. Are there any pilots who can do a stunt like that?
CC: We can animate it if we need to -- So anyway, the plane plows into the Pentagon . . .
WPF: Killing the Defense Secretary at his desk?
CC: No, it hits way over on the other side.
WPF: I think your time's up.
CC: No! There's another plane.
WPF: Not today, there's not.
CC: You have to hear this. On this flight, several of the passengers have heard about the other hijackings by cell phone. They get organized and go after the terrorists.
WPF: Now you're talkin'.
CC: OK, so we don't see it -- we hear it unfold over the phones. This time, a fighter is scrambled in time. We see, from the point of view of that same C-130 pilot from DC, who also happens to be near this action, that the jet is closing on the plane, ...
WPF: Who is this C-130 guy ... ?
CC: Sshhh -- we hear a passenger saying, "We're getting into the cockpit!", we see the fighter jet, we hear another person say, "I think we can do it," then we hear a loud wind,...
CC: And we cut to a news reports of the plane's crash. Were they shot down just as they were about to prevail over the terrorists? Or did they crash? Let the audience chew on it.
WPF: They've already got more than a mouthful.
CC: Anyway, we move to the investigation sequence. The Feds identify all of the terrorists from all the planes almost immediately...
WPF: Well, they should! You said they've been tailing them.
CC: ... For one thing, a passport belonging to one of these guys has landed, undamaged, on the sidewalk in Manhattan.
WPF (rolling his eyes): Sure, why not?
CC: Meantime, Feds bust into the hijackers' apartments, swoop in on their cars where they left them in airport garages, where they find stuff like Arabic flight manuals, copies of the Koran, maps of NYC and DC, stuff from their flight schools, lists of names of the terrorists, hijacking instructions,...
WPF: I guess when the FBI's involved, you gotta make it easy for them? Is that the idea?
CC: The ringleader happens to be the only passenger whose luggage doesn't make it onto his flight; investigators find that it contains a Koran, a 757 flight manual, a religious cassette tape, a note to the other hijackers, his last will and testament.
WPF: Lotta good that stuff would do him on that flight!
CC: We see a pizza delivery guy tell the Feds, "They used to pay for their order with a card instead of cash. That's pretty unusual. Just a second -- I've got the slip right here." We see a bartender in a strip club telling the cops, "They were here, all right. One of 'em left his business card and a copy of the Koran at the bar." Then ...
WPF: People can watch "Law and Order" for free, you know, if they wanna see that kinda stuff.
CC: OK, but here's a twist. We show a guy in the Mideast, sitting down to read about the attacks in the paper. He looks at the front page, we see the hijackers' photos, and when he turns, alarmed, to call out to his wife, we see one of the pictures is of him! The same happens to a couple of other guys, just so the audience gets the point.
WPF: Which is?
CC: It keeps them wondering. Now, US agents, disguised as Saudis, manage to capture a terrorist who was involved in the plot but wasn't a hijacker. He's a real namedropper, gives them the phone numbers of several Saudi royalty, says they'll vouch for him.
WPF: So we attack Saudi Arabia? That's handy -- don't we have bases there already?
CC: No, we invade Afghanistan. I haven't told you . . .
WPF: Afghanistan? Look, Cindy, you've left loose ends everywhere, and now you're tying them all with this made-for-TV, so-called investigation. You've got a concept here, but you've got unexplained Israelis running around, you've got Pakistanis, Saudis, dimwitted officials, wandering pilots, wild coincidences ... you've got it raining passports. You can't insult the audience. I'm late for lunch.
CC: Wait! Give me thirty more seconds! Dig this epilogue. It's a montage of TV news footage, you know, slightly grainy images. America, the proverbial "sleeping giant", has been awakened. Even the Defense Secretary finally gets stirred up. That same afternoon, we see him tell his people, "Go massive. Sweep it all up. Things related and not."
The President, previously a sort of nonentity, rises to the occasion and orders the invasion of Afganistan. We flatten the place, wipe out some terrorists, install a democratic government. It goes so well, we roll on through the Mideast, tossing out tyrants and bringing democracy to country after country. Their people are happy, our people are happy, oil and gas are safe from dictators. Tragedy paves the way for a bright future for all the world, ...
WPF: That's no epilogue -- it's your story! Let's make that movie! Have something ready for me this time next week, right here!
A BUZZFLASH GUEST CONTRIBUTION