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Monday, May 12, 2008

Todd Beamer's Cell Phone

A couple of people have e-mailed me now about the item linked below, so I thought I would just save us all some time and briefly post my thoughts about the issues it raises.

This 9/29/2001 FBI lead sheet details phone calls made in relation to the cell phone of Todd Beamer, a passenger on United 93, the airplane hijacked on September 11 that crashed in Pennsylvania. Beamer is famously remembered for reporting that the passengers were planning to storm the cockpit and for issuing the call to that action: "Let's roll."

Todd Beamer cell phone log

The document is confusing. At first glance it appears to list calls that were made by Beamer using the cell phone. What raised questions with my correspondents is the fact that the log shows almost 20 calls after United 93 crashed. All of the calls related to a number in Woodbridge, NJ, and all of them are listed as exactly one minute (suggesting the call was not completed).

My best guess here is that the log represents calls to Beamer's cell, in which case the post-crash calls might have been someone with the phone company or the government pinging to locate the phone in the wreckage, or frantic calls from a friend or family member who was trying to ascertain whether Beamer had been on the flight. The latter theory might make more sense, since the calls start pretty early.

More confusingly, there is a call shortly before the flight took off listed as an "incoming call" with the "number called" being the same number that the document identifies as Beamer's cell phone. (This could be a call to listen to voicemail, or a call to voicemail paired with using the "reply to message" function that most voicemail offers.)

Even if you're of a conspiratorial bent on this issue (which I am not), it's difficult to believe the FBI would release a document showing that Beamer's cell phone was in use after the crash. The 9/11 Commission cites the document but doesn't comment on the post-crash entries.

I'm open to hearing an explanation. If you have actual and specific knowledge of how to read this document, feel free to drop me a line and I'll update this posting.

If you're just guessing, well, you're welcome to speculate and/or investigate-and-publish away, but this post represents the sum total of my insight on the document at this time, and I don't currently have a lot of time to devote to this (either in terms of investigating further or debating it via e-mail). If I get better information, I will post it here. Happy hunting...

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INTELWIRE is a web site edited by J.M. Berger. a researcher, analyst and consultant covering extremism, with a special focus on extremist activities in the U.S. and extremist use of social media. He is a non-resident fellow with the Brookings Institution, Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World, and author of the critically acclaimed Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam, the only definitive history of the U.S. jihadist movement, and co-author of ISIS: The State of Terror with Jessica Stern.


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