S. Tremaine Nelson
January 23, 2005
I do not believe in conspiracy theories. But I haven't been sleeping well lately, and now I'm afraid to quit my job. To give you the background: after graduating from Vanderbilt in the summer of 2000, I decided to work for Senator Bill Frist in Nashville, Tennessee. Teach for America had rejected my application, and politics seemed like a reasonable Plan-B at the time—especially for someone without any direction in life. Frist got sixty percent of the vote that fall, enough to catapult him into the Senate Majority Leader's seat, and, after the election, enough to get me a political appointment at the Federal Aviation Administration in Washington, D.C. Back then, that was where you went if your elected member didn't need you on his staff.
There were several "politicals" in the Office of the Administrator. You were either a "political," i.e. short-timer like me, or a "lifer," someone counting down their thirty years. I worked for the Chief Privacy Officer, who is only mentionable because her acrid personality served to channel all mundane tasks straight from her desk to mine. Federal law mandates that all Executive Branch agencies perform certain exercises to protect sensitive personal information, and—please bear with these background details—our core responsibility was to ensure that all personally identifiable information (P.I.I.) belonging to "the public" was adequately secured: emails, physical papers, etc.
None of this was interesting work, which is why they gave it to me. In September of 2001, the F.A.A. headquarters—the glassy building on 7th Street S.W.—had a back log of literally hundreds of boxes containing letters from members of the public. My job was to sort through the letters and identify the ones that we were legally required to respond to. People send mail to the Federal Government for all kinds of reasons. Most of the letters were complaints about getting stuck in an airport or stuck on a plane, et cetera, et cetera. Lots of them were litigation threats. Sometimes there were letters written by children who wanted to be pilots when they grew up. Once we got a box full of porn. 9/11 happened that fall, and, as you can imagine, things got busy.
I did not come across the affidavit of Stephen Crow, which appears in the latter half of this note, until early October of 2004, roughly six weeks after the publication of the 9/11 Commission's Report. Like many people working in politics, I read quite a bit of the report. It reads like an action movie, except that everything allegedly really happened. I won't go into how things really were at the F.A.A. on that morning; suffice it to say many employees went home by 11:00 a.m. and were drinking heavily in their homes by noon. What I will say is that the nature of the letters we received drastically changed after the report's publication.
The conspiracy theory letters started coming en masse, or—in some cases—we received letters from people who claimed to have knowledge of how the attacks had been planned within the F.A.A. They were disturbingly accurate in their details. Some people, former F.A.A. lifers, claimed to have been interviewed by the Commission only to have their recollection of September 11th grossly distorted in the Report. The manila folder containing Stephen Crow's letter was marked CLASSIFIED, like many of them. You have to understand that we had a little joke about the word CLASSIFIED in the Executive Branch. It meant nothing, or, rather, it meant the exact opposite of what it intended. I would frequently write letters on the Administrator's letter head, things like: "I am currently intoxicated," or "I will sell government secrets in exchange for a double-decker taco," stamp it CLASSIFIED, and have it sent via inter-office mail to a friend who worked on another floor of the building. We did things like this every day of the week. The box containing Stephen Crow's letter came up from the mail room late in the afternoon, and I was annoyed at having to sort through one last stack of papers before heading up to the Hawk and Dove for beers. I don't know where it came from or how it was tossed in with the other letters from members of the public. His D.C.P.D. mug shot was paper-clipped to the top of the letter. He was a Native American with long black hair and cheekbones that pushed hard like knuckles through the wall of his smooth skin. He had large black eyes and a small red mouth, lips pressed tightly shut, his jaw lifted defiantly towards the camera.
In retrospect, I shouldn't have taken all of this so lightly. The inconclusiveness of the 9/11 Commission's Report—that it does not mention the collapse of Building #7, among other things—should have given me cause to review our mail more carefully. I don't presume to know what we should do with these letters, especially those that feel so truthful, but something has to be done. Someone needs to find these people that were interviewed by the Commission and then make their stories, the true stories of what happened, available to the public.
In the original box with Crow's affidavit there were also fragments of a court-appointed psychiatric evaluation, the full text of which had disappeared before I opened the envelope. I have scanned and xeroxed the affidavit, along with what appear to be comments (author unknown) handwritten several months after Crow's arrest. I have typed up the handwritten comments and footnotes and included them here as part of the full text. If nothing more, this should serve as a call to action for the rest of us who haven't slept as well since the Commission published its report:
of the confessions were more psychotic .
This is not to say they were untrue; rather, the manifestations of Crow's psychosis tainted the veracity of his details.
Morning became night, for instance, hours were condensed into minutes, and they arrested him at the gallery with an obsidian knife, instead of a dull rock from the fountain. That his voice sounds florid, almost theatrical, does not negate the brutality of his actions, and yet it has always been difficult to dislike the man in person.
The textbook symptoms of Crow's Histrionic Personality Disorder, peripheral to his psychoses (and Native American heritage), indeed worked on the jurors at his hearing. His motives were evidently sympathetic enough to warrant a second mistrial. In an interview with the Washington Post, one juror even insisted that Crow had "simply [been] misguided and deceived by several men who [must have] threatened his life."
Like many of the documents originally submitted to the Commission, the first three pages of his psychiatrist's letter have since disappeared. As per our request, Sen. Graham included fragments from his old D.O.J. emails because they address some of the issues Crowe [sic] himself raises throughout his deposition. Follow up with R. Neal.
Goldstein, J. Washington Post: "Assailant Released After Mistrial"; Vol. 89, A3. Mar. 28, 2002.
Apparently added by whomever combed over this before mailing it to the F.A.A. The return address on the box had 400 C Street, N.W. Washington, D.C. 20591, which, as it is the Department of State's Headquarters, must be considered purely symbolic.