For a definitive account of the events leading up to, during and following 9/11, reviewers say look no further than “The Eleventh Day: The Full Story of 9/11 and Osama Bin Laden,” by Robbyn Swan and Anthony Summers.
Robbyn, together with best-selling author and her husband Anthony, spent five years digging and researching the who, what, where, when and why of one of the most catastrophic events in American history.
“There has long been a huge amount of misinformation surrounding the events of September 11.” Robbyn Swan
I read an excerpt from “The Eleventh Day” in a recent issue of Vanity Fair and then had to read the book. I literally couldn’t put it down.
It is an exhaustive minute-by-minute account of the attack, a thorough debunking of the so-called “truth movement’s” conspiracy theories, an exploration of alleged involvement by foreign governments, and an examination of what exactly U.S. intelligence knew before 9/11 and when.
I spoke with Robbyn from her home in Ireland, where she addressed the controversial revelations she and Summers uncovered, working with homeless women, and how it IS possible to write best-selling books alongside your husband!…
EYE: What went through your mind on 9/11? Did you immediately think I have to investigate what is unfolding?
ROBBYN: I was at the dentist in Ireland. I quickly had to reach out to Anthony who was in the United States doing research for a previous book. I, like everyone else, was glued to the TV. I wasn’t thinking as an investigator. I was thinking as my mother’s daughter, an Italian girl from Connecticut, watching her country get attacked with horror and terrible anxiety.
But the one thing that moved me was the amazing outpouring of support for me as a human being from the people around me here in Ireland. There wasn’t a person of whom I was even remotely acquainted who didn’t check in to ask “how are you?” and “is everything OK with your family?”
One of the things that over the next few years I watched and then did compel me to study this case is the way we squandered the original feelings of empathy and support that we had from most of the world, the Arab world and European countries. How quickly we forget.
“One reader described our book as a game-changer, and we hope it is.”
EYE: “The Eleventh Day” is a result of meticulous research, investigative work, due diligence and just plain old blood, sweat and tears. Now that it is out there for the world to read, how are you feeling about what you have accomplished?
ROBBYN: We’re proud of our book. There has long been a huge amount of misinformation surrounding the events of September 11. That bad information infected the politics and the culture of the post-9/11 world in a really negative way.
One reader described our book as a game-changer, and we hope it is. We hope that by focusing attention on the best evidence of what actually happened and why and pointing up the legitimate questions that remain, we’re going some way towards honoring all those who died in the attacks and the subsequent wars.
EYE: You’ve dealt extensively with famous individuals as subjects for your investigative non-fiction work. Why did you and Anthony take on 9/11?
ROBBYN: Together Anthony and I have done biographies of J. Edgar Hoover, Richard Nixon and Frank Sinatra. Those individuals’ lives intersected with some of the biggest issues of the 20th century, everything from the FBI and the civil rights movement to the Kennedy assassination to the rise of the Mafia to Watergate.
In that sense, as the seminal event of the 21st century, an investigation of 9/11 was a natural fit for us.
ROBBYN: We’re intrigued by stories in which the truth or some part of the truth seems to have been hidden. We think that by repeatedly prodding the presumed facts we can get closer to that truth. That’s exciting.
EYE: What kind of reaction have you had with “The Eleventh Day”? Have you rattled many cages as they say?
ROBBYN: We’re delighted by the reaction the book has received thus far. There has, of course, been a rather predictable reaction from some members of the so-called 9/11 Truth Movement.
We’re dismissive of theories that suggest the Trade Center buildings were brought down by controlled demolition and the loonier theories, like the suggestion that there were no real planes involved in the attacks.
Frankly, a lot of these theories require a S.P.E.C.T.R.E.-like level of institutional evil from the American government, something of which, even at its very worst, there’s no evidence it is capable. And the wilder theories are a distraction from the legitimate lingering questions about the day.
“The day should surely be one for respectfully remembering the dead.“
EYE: As we approach the tenth anniversary of 9/11, how do you think your
book will play into all of the tributes we can surely expect?
ROBBYN: The day itself should surely be one for respectfully remembering the dead. Nothing should distract from that. We should take care, though, on an occasion that will include so many retrospective musings to differentiate between what survives of the facts of the day — the evidentiary record — and the soft-focused memories of some of those involved.
EYE: Do you know what is exactly contained in the 28 pages that have yet to be made public? Will that information ever “get out”?
ROBBYN: The 28 pages redacted from the Congressional Joint Inquiry Report are a sort of holy grail for those close to the case. The best evidence, as we lay out over two chapters in the book, is that they may contain material implicating members of the Saudi royal family in supporting al Qaeda.
They may also contain evidence of contacts by and support for two of the hijackers by a named Saudi official and others after they had arrived in the U.S. President Obama promised relatives of the 9/11 victims that the pages would be released. I hope that is a promise he will keep.
EYE: Is there a government cover-up and why? What would be the ramifications if in fact the Saudi government was involved in 9/11?
ROBBYN: At the very least we believe the U.S. government continues to cover up the contents of those 28 pages, very likely in an effort to protect our important strategic relationship with the Saudis.
While evidence certainly suggests to us that some Saudi individuals and even some senior members of the Saudi royal family to one degree or another gave help to bin Laden and al Qaeda, and may even have been aware of the plot, I have seen no evidence that the Saudi government as an entity was involved in or behind the 9/11 attack. There’s an important distinction.
“It’s so important for those of us lucky enough to have a public platform to try to stick to the documentable facts.”
EYE: Your book is unbelievable in its depth and revelations. Why aren’t we as a country more outraged?
ROBBYN: Thank you, that’s high praise. I’m afraid that people are overwhelmed every day with so much information, so much about which to be outraged, that they find it difficult to focus on what’s important or even true.
It’s so important for those of us lucky enough to have a public platform to try to stick to the documentable facts.
EYE: Do you remember the first time you wanted to investigate a subject? If so, when and what was the topic?
ROBBYN: I’m embarrassed to admit that I used to read the fine-print ads in the back of women’s magazines for things like magic inflatable pants that sweated off the pounds while you slept.
Even then something told me it couldn’t be true. If it were so easy, wouldn’t everyone be thin? I remember wanting to compare the claims and see if there was any way to prove or disprove them.
ROBBYN: I’d felt that I was living a life that was all about me, but at the same time that I didn’t really like the “me” that I had become. Without, I hope, sounding as if I’ve got my head up my own backside, it was a chance to sort of scrub myself off and immerse myself in the business of living, of community.
EYE: What did you ultimately learn about these women and yourself from this experience?
ROBBYN: It was hugely important to my relationship with the women in the shelter that I keep my word, not just by being honest but by following through with both promises and sanctions where necessary. There’s an importance to being reliable and straightforward in your dealings with people. Those things stuck with me.
EYE: You have written articles on the human female condition (early menopause – ugh!); women who torture; and women who must face an empty nest. Why is it important to report from the female point of view?
ROBBYN: Doing those kinds of stories gives me an opportunity to do a different sort of writing than the kind we do when we write a book. I also continue to want to challenge accepted wisdom.
“One of the most heroic women on the morning of 9/11 was Betty Ong, the flight attendant on Flt. 11.”
EYE: Was it difficult researching a book on 9/11, especially as a woman working in the Arab world?
ROBBYN: Sometimes when dealing with people in the Arab world we would choose to send Anthony. Getting the story is the bottom-line so you use the right person for the job. There are women throughout this story, women covering it and very much a part of it.
One of the most heroic women on the morning of 9/11 was Betty Ong, the flight attendant on Flt. 11. Because she kept her head she was able to identify where all the hijackers were seated, thus enabling investigators to find out who they were within hours. It set the course for the investigation that followed.
From Condoleeza Rice to women involved in enhanced interrogation tactics amounting to torture to women victims, we are a part of this and we have to continue to articulate our own history as well as possible, and that means in participating in it, making it, creating it and writing it as well.
EYE: Many people would not want to work with their spouse, but you and Anthony have made it look easy?
ROBBYN: Each of us respects what the other brings to the partnership both personally and professionally. We first began to work together more than 20 years ago. Like many people who work and live together, we hardly ever argue about work. It’s always silly misunderstandings…all of which Tony would assure you are entirely my fault.
“We are actually dogged researchers; we never leave a stone unturned.”
EYE: But how does that dynamic work?
ROBBYN: Anthony rises at 11 am and works until 4 am. I rise at 4 am and work until 11 pm. Perhaps we get along because we rarely see each other! Haha. We are actually both dogged researchers; we never leave a stone unturned; and we are each other’s biggest critics.
EYE: What do you hope to impart to your children that you have learned through all of your work?
ROBBYN: It’s far more important to me that they carry with them the essential wisdom of Pooh Bear: “Sometimes, if you stand on the bottom rail of a bridge and lean over to watch the river slipping slowly away beneath you, you will suddenly know everything there is to be known.”
That says everything, doesn’t it? About giving yourself time and space to think properly so that you can see the truths that are often right there in front of you.
EYE: It’s like being asked to pick your favorite child, but is there one piece of work that you are most proud?
ROBBYN: Trite but true. There are three — Colm, Fionn and Lara.
EYE: Are you taking a breather now or have you already started your next project?
ROBBYN: No breather yet, but we keep hoping. There seems to be no such thing as “between projects” these days. With all the free copy authors are expected to generate to get readers to notice their work, the post-publication period is hugely busy.
When we have time, we’ll kick around ideas for the next book, but nothing has yet been settled.
EYE: Robbyn, thank you for examining such a difficult time in our history. Please let us know the next subject you’ll be working on!
We leave our readers with silent animation of the new National September 11 Memorial set to open this Sunday. People with passes can visit it on Monday.