What some 911 families have to say about the official story

Charlotte Dennett
7 min readSep 16, 2021


To all who still have questions about the events surrounding 9/11 and the US invasion of Afghanistan that followed that day of infamy— despite several weeks of saturated 20th anniversary media coverage which continues to roll out the same old explanations for a failed US foreign policy — you can thank some stalwart 911 families for continuing to challenge the official narrative — and author Ray McGinnis for documenting their efforts in his new book, Unanswered Questions: What the September Eleventh Families Asked and the 911 Commission Ignored. A Canadian who teaches journal writing to sick and hospitalized patients to help them recover, he got to wondering why no one was talking about the 9/11 families. He raised this to some of his friends, who were incredulous that families would have questions.

Amazed but undeterred, he decided to follow the work of the “Family Steering Committee for the Independent 9/11 Commission, or FSC for short. The result is a moving — and highly credible — account of their decades’ long quest for the truth, for who could dismiss as “conspiracy theorists” the very people who tried to find meaning to the deaths of their loved ones?

Which is not to say that these family questioners were able to escape the smear of “conspiracy theorists.” They got branded as well, and still fought back.

“If there are conspiracy theorists out there, then it is the government’s fault,” FAC’s Lorie Van Auken insists, “because they did not ever really explain or show, or want us to know what happened.”

I was pleased to read that Lorie and Mindy Kleinberg, two of the so-called Jersey Girls who began to question the official story early on, had continued their fight for transparency, answers, and ultimately, accountability. Back in 2009, I sat down with them at a New Jersey diner. I figured we had a lot in common, even though our quest for the truth was separated by over 60 years. “They wanted to know what happened to their husbands,” I would later write. “I wanted to know what happened to my master-spy father (who died in a mysterious plane crashed after his top secret mission to Saudi Arabia in March, 1947). Each of us had experienced the pain and frustration of stonewalling by government officials.

Lorie Van Auken, pictured here with her husband and children

At the end of our conversation, the two Jersey girls half-jokingly said that we were all suffering from a diagnosable disorder: Political Betrayal Syndrome. “PBS — that’s what happened to us.” But they kept pressing for answers

As for McGinnis, he persevered with his step- by- step account of the 9/11 families’ agonizing efforts to get real answers. They were aided by a comprehensive 911 timeline by independent investigator Paul Thompson, which details over 5,000 articles from mainstream media on 911. This helped them prepare questions to ask the 911 Commission, as the chronology (an indispensable investigative tool) showed inconsistencies and omissions as valuable as the information it revealed.

Here is just some of the ground covered in this book:

· The commissioners’ decision to choose Philip Zelikow to head up the Commission, causing counter-terrorism chief Richard Clarke to comment, “the fix is in.” Zelikow had been a member of the Bush White House transition team and was cozy with Karl Rover, Bush’s senior political advisor, and National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice. The FSC called for his resignation due to his conflicts of interest, noting he “could potentially be held culpable for failing to heed warnings about the threat Al Qaeda posed prior to September Eleventh.” To the FSC’s dismay, the commissioners ignored its concerns. Zelikow controlled the agenda from the outset, deciding who could be interviewed, what areas would be investigated and what the line of questioning would be.

· The nagging question of why the four hijacked planes were not immediately intercepted. “Routine military responses to intercepting hijacked planes failed on four occasions,” noted McGinnis. “The most defended building in the country, the Pentagon, was not defended.” This raised numerous questions for the FSC, among them whether there was a dereliction of duty on the part of certain personnel. Did their actions or omissions rise to the level of criminally negligent behavior?

Mindy Kleinberg took the lead in questioning NORAD (North American Aeorospace Defense Command), which eventually presented a timeline that “raised more questions than answers” and conflicted with the statement of Air Force General Richard Meyers that no jets were scrambled until after the Pentagon was hit.

The FSC posed similar questions to President Bush as Commander in Chief, Vice President Dick Cheney, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld about the failure to intercept and why they ignored forewarnings of a pending terrorist attack. The FSC never got answers. Bush and Cheney met in secret with the Commission on April 29, 2004. Their testimony was not under oath and no transcript was made available.

When Commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste asked Rumsfeld in a hearing whether he ordered jets to be scrambled to protect the Pentagon, Rumsfeld simply repeated the question and ran out the clock. Chairman Thomas Kean banged the gavel and said, “Times up. Next question.”

· Questions to Mayor Rudy Giuliani as to why he opposed the creation of the 911 commission and why he prevented the FBI from accessing Ground Zero, where their agents could have protected all the rubble until an investigation was complete. Instead, according to FEMA (also denied access) “more than 350,000 tons of steel were extracted from Ground Zero and barged or trucked to salvage yards where it was cut up for recycling” and shipped to foreign countries.

The FSC told the Commission that the debris was crime-scene evidence and “should have been examined, catalogued, and stored in a secure location.” According to an editorial in Fire Engineering, “members of the New York Fire Department who were first responders on 9/11 reported explosions from within both of the towers before and after the planes hit the tops of the towers [and “before the towers collapsed.”]….If explosives were planted in the Twin Towers,” the FSC wanted to know, “how did this happen?” Again, no answers. Giuliani’s records were sealed for 25 years. Yet theories that the towers were brought down by controlled demolitions abound, included in Spike Lee’s latest movie (then deleted under pressure) and most recently admitted to by a self-proclaimed demolitions expert (although referred to as satire at the end of the piece, thus ridiculing the controlled demolition theory. “People will believe what they want to believe,” the author told me.

A related question: Why did the City of New York and the Port Authority refuse to turn over oral histories (tapes) of the firemen on the scene? This was especially important Jersey widow Pati Casazza, since her husband, John, talked about bombs going off in his final phone call to her. The New York Times sued and eventually succeeded in getting their tapes released in August, 2005.

· Who was involved in placing “put” orders on American Airlines and United Airlines for the three weeks prior to 9/11? The FSC was guided in part by an article in the San Francisco Chronicle that “there is evidence that a number of transactions in financial markets indicated specific (criminal) foreknowledge of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.” McGinnis noted that Counterpunch in May 2002 also revealed that there were put options for Morgan Stanley and Merrill Lynch,”two of the biggest occupants of the World Trade Center.” The FBI was actually able to trace one of the put orders to Mr. and Mrs. Wirt Walker, a relative of President George W. Bush and a business partner of Jeb Bush. Yet the FBI chose not to interview the Walkers, “even though Wirt Walker was a board member of the Carlyle Group, which had several board members related to Osama bin Laden.” The 9/11 Commission was not interested in pursing possible foreknowledge of the attacks, let alone insider trading.

· As for Osama bin Laden, the FSC read stories in the press about how Bush was no longer interested in pursuing him six months after 9/11 –or in determining if he was still alive while US troops patrolled Afghanistan. (McGinnis provides an extensive footnote on bin Laden’s death ten years later in Abbottobad, including a Sixty Minutes interview with a Navy Seal member who admitted that the person he shot did not look like bin Laden).

By the 10th anniversary of 9/11, Lorie Van Auken bemoaned the fact that the real investigation of 9/11 had never been done. “This is incredible, considering the direction we have taken.” She noted that wars in Afghanistan and the Middle East were launched, “along with the Patriot Act and the War on Terror, forever changing America.”

“For some,” McGinnis concludes, “it was hard enough to have to deal with the grief of losing loved ones from a terrorist attack: the spectacle of a government resisting any attempt to investigate the attacks, stonewalling the investigation, and starving it of funds necessary to succeed, was sobering for many 9/11 families.”

At least President Biden made good on his promise to order the FBI to declassify and release more documents on its investigation into September 11. Yet the first to be released on the 20th anniversary, a 16-page partially redacted document showing contacts between the highjackers and Saudi officials, “did not draw a definitive conclusion,”according to Reuters, “whether the government in Riyadh was complicit in the attacks.” It remains to be seen whether the Saudi-US “special relationship,” baked in the vast riches derived from Saudi oil, will continue to be sacrosanct.



Charlotte Dennett

Author, investigative journalist, and attorney. Her book, Follow the Pipelines, has just been published in paperback.