Nearly 10 years after 19 hijackers took over four flights on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, state Sen. Kevin O’Toole wants to remind people of what some of those terrorists used to carry out the attacks: a New Jersey driver’s license.
O’Toole (R-Essex) provided that history lesson in an Aug. 21 opinion piece in the Times of Trenton about the need for technology upgrades in the state’s Motor Vehicle Commission. A computer failure in July affected commission offices and other state agencies.
"Updating the technological capabilities of the MVC is of critical importance and should not be used for political gain," O’Toole wrote. "As we near the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, we should not forget that some of the hijackers used New Jersey driver’s licenses to board those aircraft."
But PolitiFact New Jersey found that the 9/11 hijackers did not have New Jersey driver’s licenses. According to reports by the FBI and the 9/11 Commission staff, the hijackers had gathered driver’s licenses and state identification cards from five states, but not New Jersey.
First, let’s explain the documents cited by O’Toole as the basis for his claim.
The senator referred us to 13 documents, including news articles and columns. Two of the documents appear on websites of organizations focused on opposing illegal immigration, and two columns were written by conservative author Phyllis Schlafly. Another document appears on the website for Free Republic, which bills itself as the "Premier Conservative Site on the Net!"
The news articles included items published in the New York Times and the Philadelphia Inquirer.
The only government document cited by O’Toole was a portion of the 9/11 Commission report, which states "several (hijackers) also obtained new photo identification, first in New Jersey and then at the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles."
But that section only states hijackers obtained "photo identification" in New Jersey, not driver’s licenses.
A separate report entitled "9/11 and Terrorist Travel," which was released in August 2004 by the commission’s staff, provides a breakdown of the identification documents of the 9/11 hijackers.
According to that report, the hijackers collectively obtained driver’s licenses from Arizona, California and Florida, and state identification cards from Florida, Virginia and Maryland. Those same findings were presented in FBI reports in 2003.
Janice Kephart, former counsel to the 9/11 Commission and an author of "9/11 and Terrorist Travel," confirmed to PolitiFact New Jersey that it is wrong to claim any of the hijackers had New Jersey’s driver’s licenses.
Kephart suggested the misunderstanding about the driver’s licenses may stem from the fact that some hijackers obtained USA identification cards in New Jersey. A USA identification card does not represent any state or the U.S. government, Kephart said.
"They don’t mean anything," Kephart said in a phone interview. "It’s meant to be deceptive."
Less than two years before the 9/11 Commission completed its work, the FBI had already debunked the myth about New Jersey driver’s licenses being used on Sept. 11.
The story about the licenses became so widely accepted that the administration of former Gov. Jim McGreevey used the claim to boost support for its plans to overhaul the motor vehicle agency.
But in December 2002, the FBI said a lengthy investigation found no evidence that any of the hijackers had New Jersey licenses, according to a Star-Ledger article at the time. The McGreevey administration backed off from using the hijackers to tout its proposal.
"As a result of the discrepancies raised, we no longer have sufficient confidence to say that there were New Jersey driver’s licenses involved," Eric Shuffler, chief of staff for state Transportation Commissioner Jamie Fox, said at the time.
Some of the documents cited by O’Toole were published before the Star-Ledger revealed the results of that FBI investigation -- and before the 9/11 Commission did its job.
In an opinion piece about Motor Vehicle Commission upgrades, O’Toole claimed "some of the hijackers used New Jersey driver’s licenses to board those aircraft." To back up his point, the senator provided various sources, some of which had a conservative bias and/or were published before the 9/11 Commission completed its investigation.
But the claim has been refuted by research done by the FBI and the 9/11 Commission. The 9/11 hijackers obtained driver’s licenses and state identification cards from five states, but New Jersey wasn’t one of them.
We rate the statement False.
To comment on this ruling, go to NJ.com.