Pentagon: an interview with journalist Jamie McIntyre

by Hammer. An Italian translation is available here.

Journalist Jamie McIntyre is one of the best known eyewitnesses of the Pentagon crash scene. His words, spoken live on CNN, have often been twisted and taken out of context by conspiracy theorists, and used as support for the claim that no commercial airplane crashed into the Pentagon on 9/11.

Jamie McIntyre agreed to give Undicisettembre an interview and his words, which we offer to our readers, are very helpful in dispelling many of the myths surrounding the attack on the Pentagon.

McIntyre, for instance, clarifies his comment that no plane “crashed near the Pentagon” (which was taken out of context also by Italian conspiracy theorist Massimo Mazzucco in his video “Inganno Globale”). He rules out the existence of anti-airplane missiles on the roof of the Pentagon, which supposedly should have shot down any airplane attacking the building (as claimed by Giulietto Chiesa in his video “Zero”). But above all he brings the account of a person who saw the scene with his own eyes and never had any doubt about a commercial jetliner having crashed into the Pentagon.

We thank Jamie McIntyre for his kindness and willingness to help.

Undicisettembre: Hi Jamie, thanks for giving us this chance to speak with you. We are sure our Italian audience will be happy to hear your first-person account. First of all, can you give us a brief account of what you saw and experienced that morning? What do you recall, generally speaking?

Jamie McIntyre: Well, it will take me a long time to tell you all the events of that day. Briefly, I was in the Pentagon when the plane hit the building and I didn't feel the plane hit the building and I didn't see the plane hit the building because it's a very large building. In fact the way I found out that a plane hit the building was that I saw it on CNN, which is where I worked at the time as the senior Pentagon correspondent. My producer, who arrived at work after me, happened to arrive just as the plane hit the building and he called CNN and told them that an aircraft of some kind had hit the side of the building. I was sitting in my office making calls about the events that were going on in New York when I began to get messages from my colleagues back in Washington and in the bureau, and they asked me if I was okay. I was wondering why they were asking me because the events were going on in New York, then I looked up and saw that in fact something was going on at the Pentagon.

So then I rushed out of my office, walked down to the center courtyard where people were gathering after evacuating the building. I interviewed a bunch of people there, went back to my office, began to do a live report from my office just before ten o'clock in the morning - the plane hit at about 9:37 or 9:38 depending on exactly which clock you're looking at - and as I was doing that report the anchor on the air interrupted me and said "Wait a minute, Jamie, we have to stop because something is going on behind me". He turned around and the first of the two Towers of the World Trade Center collapsed. At that point I knew I wasn't going to get back on the air from the Pentagon anytime real soon, and so I packed up some stuff from my office and left permanently for that day.

I walked out of the building, around to the crash site, inspected the crash site, and took pictures of some of the plane wreckage. Eventually I was asked by some emergency personnel to move back to where the rest of the press were located, across the street. They had set up an area where the cameras were recording what was going on and I spent the rest of the day there reporting on the aftermath of the terrorist attack.

Undicisettembre: The second question is inevitably about that sentence of yours that keeps getting twisted by conspiracy theorists. They say you claimed there was no airplane at all at the Pentagon; can you rule out this crazy idea once and for all? What did you mean by saying no airplane crashed "near" the Pentagon?

Jamie McIntyre: In the course of my coverage that day I uttered this faithful phrase that was something along lines "From my close-up inspection, there's no evidence of a plane having crashed anywhere near the Pentagon". That sentence has been taken out of context, and within around six months that became part of a growing conspiracy theory according to which no plane hit the Pentagon. It was offered as evidence that "here is a CNN reporter who is on the scene and he says in his own words there's no evidence of a plane crashed anywhere near the Pentagon." And if you google "Jamie McIntyre" and "September 11" you can find that clip still on the internet, it's pretty easy to find. If you google a little bit more though you can find the rest of what I said that day and you can see what the context was: I was describing the plane crash to the anchor, Judy Woodruff. I was describing the scene, I was describing how I'd been up to the side of the Pentagon and seen parts of the plane, most of them were very small, so small you could pick them up and hold them in your hand. And she said to me "Jamie, what about the reports we had earlier from an eyewitness" - one of her own reporters - "that a plane crashed near the Pentagon, short of the Pentagon?". And I said "Judy I can tell you from my close up inspection" meaning that I've been up to the scene to see the plane crash "there's no sign of a plane having crashed anywhere near the Pentagon, the only crash site is the part of the building behind me that is all caved it" (pointing to the things behind me).

The context was essentially that she was asking me whether a plane had crashed some distance from the Pentagon and I was saying "No, the only plane that crashed was the one that hit the Pentagon."

That was one of the many, many things and events that were taken out of context that day by people who are just predisposed to believe that the official story is not true, and they are looking for reasons not to believe it.

Coincidentally, one of the things I did that day was interview an eyewitness who saw the plane: the journalist Mike Walter. I didn't actually see the plane because, as I explained, I was in the building at the time, but Mike actually did see it, he was on the road that goes by that side of the Pentagon when the plane hit. He was describing how the plane was flying very very low to the ground and he could see it very clearly it was an American Airlines plane. He could almost see the people who were in the plane, and he described the way the plane went into the side of the Pentagon: he said it looked like a cruise missile just slamming into the side of the Pentagon, the way a cruise missile would fly. That phrase "it was like a cruise missile with wings" was also taken out of context from the interview I did with him and offered as evidence that "here's an eyewitness who says it doesn't look like a plane, it looks like a cruise missile, so it was a cruise missile which hit the Pentagon", but what he was actually describing was the way the plane hit the Pentagon that reminded him of the way a cruise missile would hit. And if you google "Mike Walter" and "September 11" you can find that clip on the internet to this day, too.

It's a very interesting phenomenon. One of the reasons people believe alternate theories that involve a government cover up or the government doing sneaky things or lying is that governments sometimes do those things: they sometimes lie, they sometimes have secret plots. It's just that you really have to look at the evidence and see what the evidence shows. Typically what these conspiracy theorists do is seize the weakest pieces of evidence and argue about them, as if we didn't have all the stronger evidence that actually tells us what happened. So one of the problems you have with conspiracy theorists is they are trying to raise some doubts about some parts of what happened but they ignore other things.

For instance, in all my discussions with conspiracy theorists, people who don't believe a plane hit the Pentagon, I ask "If the plane didn't hit the Pentagon, what do you think happened to it? There was a real plane and it took off from Dulles airport, it had real people on board. They are no longer here, the plane is no longer here. If it didn't hit the Pentagon, where is it? What happened to it? Did it fly somewhere else? Have these people been silenced? Where is it?" They can never answer that question. One of the people I talked to said "I can't explain everything, I just know that it doesn't make sense that a plane hit the Pentagon".

There's a show in the United States called "Conspiracy Theories", hosted by a fellow named Jesse Ventura (former governor of Minnesota and former professional wrestler), that investigates conspiracy theories. They investigated the idea that a plane didn't hit the Pentagon and they concluded that it did not, based on the fact that they got a professional pilot, put him in a flight simulator and he had a hard time flying the plane the way the terrorists supposedly flew it on September 11. So based on that they decided it didn't happen. But they also couldn't explain the eyewitnesses who saw the plane, so they came up with an alternate theory that a plane had flown over the Pentagon - it flew by the Pentagon but over it - and then right after that a missile or something fired by the US military hit the Pentagon.

And then they never explained what happened to the plane. If the plane flew over the Pentagon, where is it today? So it's interesting that whenever you try to decide whether you believe something, or not, there's a whole chain of evidence that you can look at - and you have to make a judgement. If you take only a couple of pieces of that evidence it might not be clear, but when you look at all the evidence there's really no question that the plane took off and hit the Pentagon.

Another example of that are the pictures that we have of the plane hitting the Pentagon from a security camera. A lot of people who believe in conspiracy theories also believe that the Pentagon was covered with security cameras and therefore there would have been hundreds of pictures of the plane. The fact is that there aren't hundreds of security cameras. There are cameras at some of the entrances and there are cameras that were at the checkpoints, nearby where the plane hit. And those cameras, directly two of them, were the only ones that actually captured the plane. But they’re not very high quality pictures. And if you didn't know what it was, if you weren't sure of what was coming in, you might be able to argue all day whether this was a plane or a missile or what it was that was coming in; because it's just a kind of a white blur. And if that was the only piece of evidence you had, reasonable people could disagree about what it was. But reality is we know it was a plane. We know it's a plane and it's completely consistent with all the accounts of what happened on September 11. So a lot of those people look at those pictures and say "These aren't clear enough to see that it is really a plane so we don't know if it's truly a plane". While it's true they are not clear, we do know it was a plane. Once we consider all the other accounts, we know what happened, and we know what the pictures are.

Undicisettembre: Have you ever heard about the so called "North Path" theory?

Jamie McIntyre: No, I haven't. Enlighten me.

Undicisettembre: Most of the conspiracy theorists, at least in Italy, now seem to believe that an airplane hit the Pentagon but it didn't fly the route the official version says it went, but further north. And we asked them "So what?" and they replied "We don't know either, we just wanted to stress that the official version is not true because from our point of view the airplane took another route".

Jamie McIntyre: If you were on a murder trial, with someone accused of murder, and the prosecution presents its case, and the defense presents its case, in the United States in order to get off and to be found "not guilty" all you have to do is to create reasonable doubt about the account. While a lot of the evidence may point in one direction, creating reasonable doubt about one key piece of evidence is enough for somebody in the United States to be found not guilty. I think sometimes conspiracy theorists sort of take that tack, they are not looking at the weight of the evidence and the preponderance of the evidence, they are not saying "Most of the evidence looks this way". They are just trying to raise some doubt about some part of the evidence and, as with the pictures, it is sometimes something that, in and of itself, doesn’t tell the whole story.

So all I have to say about the "Northern Route" is, like you point out, it's a small consequence in the great scheme of things, but I see no reason to disbelieve the route that was calculated by the FAA and the investigators and is outlined in "The 9/11 Commision Report" as the most likely way the plane flew.

Undicisettembre: You saw the wreckage of the airplane with your own eyes and the damaged facade of the Pentagon. While watching this scene, did you or anyone else ever doubt an airplane had crashed into the Pentagon?

Jamie McIntyre: Well I certainly didn't doubt it. I saw thousands of pieces of the plane, shards of aluminum skin that were scattered all over the ground by the Pentagon. I saw parts of the plane wreckage where you could still see the painting from the paint scheme of American Airlines. I didn't have any doubt that a plane hit the Pentagon and I'm not aware of anybody there having any doubts about whether it was a plane that hit the Pentagon.

These questions arose later, really months later when people began to circulate theories according to which maybe it wasn't a plane. But, again, most of these are people who are just predisposed to believe the worst about the government, predisposed to believe the worst about the military, predisposed to believe the worst about the media. They move from healthy skepticism into a sort of unhealthy cynicism about all of these institutions, so therefore they are not willing to accept any of the evidence that clearly indicates that a plane hit the Pentagon.

Undicisettembre: Did you get a good look at the hole before the section of the building collapsed? If so, how wide did it look? Was it, according to you, big enough for an airliner?

Jamie McIntyre: By the time I got around the side had just collapsed. So I didn't see the hole before the side collapsed. But I would tell you that a lot of pictures of the hole that people point to and say "This is not big enough for a plane to have gone through" show the hole on the other side of the building.

Essentially there is an entrance point and an exit point. The Pentagon has 5 rings: the outer ring is the E ring and the inner ring is the A ring. The plane went through rings E, D and C. From the B ring - I know someone who was in his office in the B ring - you could see just where the nose of the plane sort of came through, the leading point of the wreckage to that point. And that hole on the C ring, the very last damaged point from the plane crashing, is the hole people point to and say "This hole is not big enough for an airplane to get through". It's not where the plane hit, it's where the plane stopped and created a final little hole there. And that's why I think a lot of people are confused, they look at this hole and say "It's not big enough for a plane". Yeah, but they are not looking at the point where the plane went in, they are looking at where it ended: three corridors of a building later.

Undicisettembre: How would you describe the wreckage of the plane? Did anything in particular strike you?

Jamie McIntyre: Well, the pieces that I saw were not very big, there wasn't much left of the plane. Most of the pieces were tiny little shards of aluminum. But there were pieces that were recognizable, in fact I posted some of the photographs of these on my blog. I posted them several times over the years to show people what they look like.

There were some bigger pieces of wreckage that were pulled away, and you can find pictures of those as well: some of the workers from the fire crew moving the wreckage of the plane.

There wasn't much left of it. The plane was fully loaded with fuel when it took off, hadn't used much of that fuel in its flight, it exploded in a spectacular fashion as you can see from the photographs. You can see what happens when a plane hits the building with the videos of the plane in New York. So there's wasn't a whole lot left of the wreckage, but there was enough to tell it was a commercial jetliner.

Undicisettembre: You were also been arrested for taking a picture of the Pentagon behind the yellow police tape by an overreacting police officer, who also confiscated your equipment. Would you like to tell us about this weird incident?

Jamie McIntyre: Again, this is the kind of thing that could fit into a conspiracy theory; if you believe that, you might think that the Pentagon was trying to stop me from documenting what was going on. But the fact of the matter is that there was actually a ban on photography outside the Pentagon and this police officer told me I was violating that. I explained to him that I was a news reporter covering a big story (by the way, that was a picture that was broadcasted live on CNN at the time).

And in a way police officers often do, he didn't take well to anybody resisting what he had to say. He briefly arrested me and confiscated my camera, cellphone, press pass and tape recorder. Within about ten minutes, when he sort-of realized that was a silly thing to do, he let me go, keeping my camera and my press pass, but giving me back my cellphone and tape recorder.

I didn't get the camera back for a couple of days, but when I got it back all the pictures were still on: nothing had been deleted from the camera, everything that I'd taken was still on the camera and nothing had been manipulated, nothing had been changed. I got a sort-of apology from the head of the police department saying they were sorry that they arrested me that day. It was a brief episode, it was almost funny when it took place. It was just a panicked police officer who didn't know what to do, and he thought he was supposed to be enforcing the usual ban on photography. There is still a ban on photography outside the Pentagon by the way. If you go to the Pentagon today and start taking pictures in the parking lot you could probably be arrested too.

It's just that arresting a journalist covering a major story like that was probably not the smartest thing to do for the police officer.

Undicisettembre: What's your opinion on the many conspiracy theories regarding 9/11 and specifically the Pentagon incident?

Jamie McIntyre: As said I think people are suspicious of the government, I think they have a hard time sometimes looking at all of the facts and just making reasonable rational decisions. I think that 99.9% of the people are not confused about what happened on September 11 at the Pentagon. But it also shows the power of the media these days (when I say the media, I mean the internet in particular) and it shows the power of propaganda too, because if you look at some of these presentations that are used to say "no plane hit the Pentagon" you can see that some are very convincing. If you had no outside information, if you knew nothing else about it and just watched some of these presentations on the internet, you might wonder if a plane hit the Pentagon, because they are very selective in how they present the facts. It's good to be skeptical, as long as you are not too cynical, but they need to be skeptical of some of the skeptics as well.

The thing that is surprising about this is that they are not just people who have a different point of view, just looking at something in a different way; but these are people, like in the case of misrepresenting what I said on September 11, who have to know that they are taking these things out of context. They have to know that they are misrepresenting these facts. This is not something that is innocently done by people who have a different understanding of what happened. These are people who are deliberately trying to manipulate things in order to create anti-government, or anti-media, or anti-military feelings. So they are doing it on purpose, it's not just a difference of opinion. And I think people just really need to be very aware of that, especially when they’re watching things online.

It's a kind of a two edge sword: it's very good at distributing information and alternate theories and all kinds of things, but it's also pretty good at debunking things. A lot of things that aren't true get quickly spread over the internet, and then they get quickly debunked and corrected on the internet. So it's a very interesting time, and I think that the conspiracy theory around September 11 and the Pentagon in particular is evidence of how long these conspiracy theories can last, and people's fascination with them. The conspiracy theories will be with us forever. We just had this major motion picture out about the conspiracy theory that William Shakespeare didn't write any of his plays; that's been around for hundreds of years, and unlike the September 11th one, we don't have every piece of evidence to conclusively know. The key to conspiracy theories is to create enough doubt so that people believe that maybe another explanation may be true.

We are fortunate though that in the September 11th one there is plenty of real direct evidence to know what happened. We don't really have to wonder what happened on September 11, we really know what happened. We might wonder who wrote Shakespeare's plays but we don't have to worry about September 11th.

Undicisettembre: We watched Mike Walter's film "Breaking News, Breaking Down", which deals with the psychological consequences on journalists of covering tragic events. How has 9/11 affected your everyday life?

Jamie McIntyre: Well, I watched it too and I have to say I didn't feel any particular psychological effect on me. My life changed dramatically after September 11 but just because the beat I was covering, which is the US Military, became very, very busy, and I was in a high profile, stressful job. But witnessing the tragedy of September 11 didn't bring me bad dreams or flashbacks. My mood didn't change. I think it's similar to experiences that soldiers have when returning home. Some soldiers come back profoundly changed, and they have a hard time readjusting, and others just resume their life and it doesn't seem to have had much effect on them.

For whatever reason I never felt any particular psychological impact from September 11. I was profoundly moved by what happened, I was saddened by what happened, I knew that the world had changed and this was going to have profound effects on my country. I knew there would have been a war. The impact of all of that wasn't lost on me, but psychologically I was just a journalist covering a story, a big story that kept unfolding (it kept me employed for years after that).

I never felt any particular psychological impact, at least not that I'm aware of.

Undicisettembre: Many Italians have this mythical impression of the Pentagon as some sort of impregnable fortress, like Cheyenne Mountain. As a Pentagon correspondent, you were familiar with the reality of the building. Without compromising security, what can you say to dispel this myth?

Jamie McIntyre: First of all I can say that security is a lot better now than it was before September 11. Since September 11 they spent millions of dollars improving it. They have moved roads that are now not as close to the Pentagon, so that it's not as vulnerable to truck bombs. They have installed new detection devices to sniff out chemicals and explosives. They have put more armed guards at each entrance, behind bulletproof glass. They have installed more security cameras. They have implemented all this kind of things that didn't exist before September 11.

But before September 11, particularly before the Oklahoma City bombing, which is actually when security began to be ramped up, the Pentagon was just a big office building. In fact you could actually walk right up to it. For a long time there was a shopping mall inside the Pentagon, and people from the outside could come and go shopping there. Buses used to drive into the Pentagon, and underneath the Pentagon, and let people off. Over the years security got better and better, but there wasn't really much security back in September 11; they had only just started to figure out that maybe they should put some barriers up so that you couldn't drive so close to the building. For a long time you only had to flash a badge to get in the building, and once inside you could walk around the building without any identification. That's all changed, you have to have ID to go anywhere in the Pentagon these days.

There is also this myth that the Pentagon had surface-to-air and anti-aircraft missiles on the roof that would shoot down anything that attacked the Pentagon. That is not the case, there are no missiles on the roof of the Pentagon, there still aren't any missiles on the roof of the Pentagon.

It was just another big government building, essentially, a solid building which was built out of concrete during World War II. It's not just girders and glass, it's solid concrete. In that sense, it is somewhat fortress-like but it didn't have all the security that it has now. And even now it's not an impregnable fortress, there are no defenses at the Pentagon against another plane flying in. Sometimes it's kind of eerie, frankly, because the Pentagon is just a short distance away from Washington's Reagan National Airport, and you see planes flying over the Pentagon all the time. You can stand in the parking lot and see commercial planes flying right over the top of the Pentagon and you think "Wow, what if one of these planes was hijacked?!". Security is based on keeping hijackers off the plane, not protecting building from hijacked planes. And there was a short discussion after September 11 about closing the airport that is near the Pentagon and near Washington. But after a while that idea was discarded. It would have been a huge inconvenience, because that is the most convenient airport to Washington: Washington National, which is right on the Potomac, just a short distance away from the Pentagon.

Undicisettembre: Do you think the country and its people have recovered from the tragedy? Do you feel like the nation is still living in fear, or has it regained its standing in the world?

Jamie McIntyre: Well, that's a very subjective opinion. I think people overcame the trauma. I think some people are beginning to question how much time we spend every September 11 commemorating and remembering what happened on that day. Obviously nobody wants to forget what happened on September 11. But one of the family members of one of the people who died on the plane at the Pentagon said she felt she had to go to a funeral for her husband every year, because of all the ceremonies. I think people have started to move on from that. I don't think people are as afraid, as I think there is a lot more frustration for the security things that we've done. All the money that we've spent, all the things we've done in order to try to protect ourselves against terrorists. Almost seems like terrorists have succeeded in changing our way of life. Of course the most obvious example is flying on an airplane these days is not a very enjoyable experience, with all the security measures, and all the hassles you have go through at the airport. Flying isn’t very glamorous any more.

But the short answer is I think we've recovered.

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