Category Archives: Published Articles

My Article from last weekend’s Sydney Daily Telegraph

911 Imposter Cover 911 Imposter pg1 911 Imposter pg2

It was 8. 46 a.m at the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan. The date was Sept 11, 2001. In the South Tower on the 96th floor , Merrill Lynch employees were passing conference papers down a long table. Tania Head, a bright, ambitious 28 year old executive, was getting ready to address her team when someone yelled that the North Tower opposite them was ablaze. As her colleagues raced to the window, Tania pulled out her mobile phone and frantically punched numbers in an effort to reach her fiancée Dave, who worked for the Deloitte & Touche accountancy firm in the North Tower.

When Dave didn’t pick up, Tania ran over to the window in time to watch a terrifying sight: people in the building opposite were jumping to their deaths to escape the flames. That’s when Tania ordered her team to evacuate. Rather than wait for a local elevator, she directed them down the stairs to the express lifts on the 78th floor, known as the Sky Lobby. But as they arrived, there was a roar of jet engines followed by an explosion of glass, and an enormous airplane was suddenly plowing across the Sky Lobby killing everyone in its path.

As Tania recalled later: “It was like a horror movie, people were mounted on each other, the smell of burnt skin and people’s insides, I was gagging.” Despite being badly burned herself, Tania stopped and promised a dying man she would take his wedding ring to his wife. Another man wearing a red bandana across his lower face, staunched her still smouldering clothes and assisted her to a staircase already filled with terrified evacuees.

Injured, Tania staggered down 50 flights, often choking from the dense smoke. As a group of firefighters rushed past, she fainted , and a firefighter turned back to assist her downstairs. At the doors leading to the South Tower, a second firefighter took over. He rushed Tania towards a nearby ambulance. Suddenly there was a massive, thunderous noise. When the firefighter saw the tower about to collapse behind them, he shoved Tania under a vehicle.

“He covered me with his body” she remembered, later . “We were engulfed and soon it was pitch black and impossible to see or breathe. We shared his mask until we were rescued. Next thing I remember is waking up in the hospital.”

Only 19 other employees who worked on the floors above the 78th floor, had survived. For Tania Head, months of painful skin grafts would follow, but the horrifying memories took longer to heal. Others who escaped the Twin Towers would similarly find themselves similarly troubled. Tania Head decided to reach out to them. “I’ve seen and experienced too much to go back to my old life” she explained to a reporter. I want to make a difference in the world.”

Tania Head would go on to become a hero to those in the 9/11 Survivors’ Network. She did “make a difference”. The only problem is that the account of her escape from the South Tower was a complete fabrication.” In fact, on Sept 11, 2001 Ms Head was not even in Manhattan. She was in Barcelona, Spain

In 2003 Tania arrived in New York City from Spain, and logged onto a 9/11 internet support group. She was experiencing nightmares, she wrote, as well as intrusive thoughts, panic attacks and hyper-vigilance. These symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder were familiar to the members.

The internet support group Tania Head contacted had been organized under the umbrella of the World Trade Centre United Families Group. For survivors, it had become an uncomfortable alliance. Some family members took issue with the idea of them as victims. After all, they were lucky, they had escaped with their lives! Such criticism added to the PTSD burden of ‘survivor guilt’

Nor did survivors exist on the radar for local government officials., who in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, had focused their efforts on bereaved families and first responders. The survivors had not been invited to the memorial service at Ground Zero on the second anniversary of 9/11. One survivor wrote to the Daily News that it had taken all her courage to return to Ground Zero for the first time, and then to be turned away at the barriers felt like a punishment, for ‘exiting the buildings alive.”

Though many had lost colleagues on 9/11, survivors were also not included in the private tours of Ground Zero, where family members prayed and remembered the dead. Feeling shunned by the WTC United Families Group, some individuals talked about setting up their own group.. When they eventually gathered to discuss the idea in person, Tania, a warm, energizing presence, captivated the group.

They knew her tragic story from her postings. Being a consummate storyteller, it was filled with unforgettable images, like Tania waking up badly burned in the hospital to hear the heartbreaking news that her fiance’s body had been identified, not to mention the wedding dress still hanging in the closet, or the cancelled reception for 500 at the Plaza Hotel, and their little dog Elvis,and the couple’s beach cottage at Amagansett where she could no longer bear to set foot.

Today the survivors describe a hierarchy of suffering within the group. Tania’s story put her at the top. In retrospect says Barbara Conrad, “she had all the key elements from everyone else’s story. Everyone else had one element, she had all the elements.”

Tania told them she knew how to set up an advocacy group. In October 2003, Tania Head was elected the new president of the World Trade Centre Survivors’ Network, an honorary non paid position. Tania’s first achievement was to gain the survivors access to Ground Zero. She contacted the supervisor of the building site who agreed to a private visit.

Next, Tania Head put her formidable energy to work to transform the group into a powerful presence. Over the next few years, Head not only organized a survivor speaker’s bureau, she met with publishers about compiling a book of survivor testimony. She also explored with Angelo Guglielmo junior, a film-maker the idea of a documentary about the survivors. Guglielmo recalls being captivated by Tania’s ‘goodness and warmth ’.

She brought attention to the survivors ongoing battles with PTSD . In 2004, Time Magazine journalist Amanda Ripley wrote about: “the nearly 20,000 New Yorkers who walked, ran and crawled through smoke, fire and body parts to escape the buildings” who psychologists say are under recognized”.

Ripley quoted Head as saying. “ People cannot understand. We saw things. We had to make life-or-death decisions. I can’t get rid of my fear it’s going to happen again.”

She became the public face of 9/11 survivors. As such, Tania Head was chosen to become one of a handful of guides leading public tours of Ground Zero, and telling their stories. Mayor Michael Bloomberg explained at the fourth 9/11 memorial service: ”The volunteers leading these tours will give the experience of visiting Ground Zero the dignity and respect that it deserves. It’s heartening to know that the story will be told with accuracy, with honesty, and with a great heart.”

On September 11, 2005, Tania, the fake survivor gave the first official tour of Ground Zero to Governor Pataki, former Mayor Giuliani and Mayor Bloomberg. Afterwards the three men, moved by her heroic account, embraced and congratulated her. Cameras flashed.

Dr George K. Simon, is the international best-selling author of In Sheep’s Clothing: Understanding and Dealing with Manipulative People.” I asked him what kind of gratification Tania Head would have received from deceiving survivors, politicians, tour groups and reporters.

“Some pathological liars lie simply for the ‘thrill of the con’,” he told me. “ It makes them feel good and powerful to dupe others. And some severely impaired characters tend to see the rest of us as inferior stooges, so pulling the wool over our eyes or getting the better of us is just another way for them to bolster their sense of superiority. Perhaps Ms. Head had multiple motives. “

In March 2007 Tania Head was invited to Washington in March 2007 to testify before a congressional committee about long term health effects from Sept 11, 2001. By then another side of her emerged. Tania’s needs now came first in the group. Once warm and friendly, Tania was often intimidating. Whenever Tania suspected an individual might not be 100% loyal or perhaps had some doubts about her story, she would spread rumours about them or force them out of the group on the grounds that they were imposters. She had a good instinct about 9/11 fakes, she said.

She seemed to like playing people against each other. Dr Simon offered this perspective. “In real estate, there are 3 things that matter: location, location, location. For disturbed characters, 3 things matter: position, position, and position. These folks spend inordinate time and energy trying to achieve and maintain a position of advantage or dominance. And anyone in the way of that simply has to be taken out. ‘Looking at her actions, this appears to have been Ms. Head’s modus operandi”.

In the end it was her own growing celebrity that would prove her undoing.

In 2007 David Dunlap, a New York Times journalist, decided to write an article commemorating the 6th anniversary of the terrorist attacks. A profile of Tania Head, the face of the 9/11 survivors, seemed timely but he hit a roadblock. Tania Head wouldn’t return his calls.

Not only that, but she hastily forbade others to talk to him. Dunlap became suspicious. He started to dig and he uncovered holes in her story. He found that Tania was never employed by Merrill Lynch, nor had she attended Harvard and Stanford universities. There was more. Tania had never worked in the South Tower. Dave’s family had never heard of Tania, and friends also insisted Dave had never been engaged.

Like all con artists, she had woven some facts in with her fiction. Yes, there was a Dave employed by Deloitte & Touche who fitted the description of her fiance; but his obituary had been published in the New York Times Portraits of Grief section, so she could have found his details there. The man with the red bandana was Welles Crowther, a 24 year old equities trader who did indeed save lives on 9/11. His body was eventually found beside the bodies of several NYC firefighters. But his story was also a matter of public record.

After a front page story in the New York Times exposed her fabricated background, and the inconsistencies in her story, the survivors felt shattered by her betrayal. But rather than apologize to the group she led, Tania Head, reacted defiantly: “ I have done nothing illegal.”

“All of the suffering Tania had caused” muses Guglielmo. “Yet not a shred of contrition.”

Dr Simon says her lack of remorse indicates she never had any empathy for the survivors in the first place.

“Real remorse is rooted in empathy, allowing a person to appreciate the injury caused another. When you have a person who harbors a sense of superiority as well as a diminished capacity for empathy, they’re capable of the most unconscionable things. And when they’re caught, they almost always seem to feel indignant as opposed to remorseful, because their inflated opinion of themselves was challenged”

“The person I saw after the story broke” says Angelo Guglielmo, “wasn’t the Tania I had known and cared for. She was harder, calculating and bitter.” .

Since she had never taken money, there appeared to be nothing for the D.A’s office to charge her with. And a few weeks later, Tania simply disappeared.

But who was the 9/11 imposter?

It turns out her real name was Alicia Esteve Head. She was the only daughter of wealthy Spanish parents. As a child she had riding and tennis lessons, and attended prestigious Opus Dei schools in Barcelona where she had learned her impeccable English. Her father and oldest brother were found guilty of embezzlement and served short prison terms.

Alicia Head was notorious for lying according to her old school friends. Whenever she was bored or frustrated she made up stories. If challenged, she would react with rage.

When the 9/11 attacks happened, she was in a classroom at Esade, a prestigious business school in Barcelona, Spain. It was only after graduating with her Masters in Business Administration that Tania Head set out for New York City in 2003 to make her mark in history..

Obviously she was a pathological liar. Does that make her a psychopath? Probably, says Dr Simon.

“ I think it would be fair to say that Ms. Head appears to fall somewhere along the continuum of character disturbance, probably toward the more severe end.

“These are the folks who see themselves as above us, despise what they see as weakness in us (usually, our conscience), and feel entitled to prey on us, manipulating us, exploiting us, and toying with us.”

Today the 9/11 survivors community are doing their best to forget Tania Head. Just before the tenth anniversary, Linda Gormley, a founding member. addressed the group online: “Yes, we were devastated by Tania’s actions. However, let’s not give her or anyone else any more power. As we look back over the past 10 years, let’s remember why we came together in the first place. We came here FOR EACH OTHER.”

In 2012 Angelo Guglielmo published a book: The Woman Who Wasn’t There (co-written with Robin Fisher). He recounts a sighting of Tania around Christmas time, 2010. As she crossed Broadway at 48th she recognized her former friend. As he got closer, her face contorted with rage. He tried to speak wit her. She yelled at him to get away, and as he did, defiantly gave him the finger. At that moment, he says, he knew the Tania he had loved never existed:
“I realized I was looking at a stranger.”


How to keep your kids safe from harm – The Adelaide Advertiser

 Alison Summers

When they’re little, parents warn children about the ploys kidnappers use: the lost puppy, the offer of lollies, the pretend message from Mum or Dad’s hospital bed.
My two kids knew I would never send someone to pick them up in an emergency without the secret password. (Big Bear, a favourite stuffed animal). We created a list of things considered inappropriate for strangers to ask kids, like directions to the school, or help carrying shopping bags.

We invented rowdy scenarios of strangers trying to grab them. The boys liked the parts where they ran away, shouting “This is not my parent!” Or (pretend) bite the stranger’s hand, or kick the stranger’s leg rather hard sometimes! I thought I had done a good job. I could relax, right?

But then not so long ago I read about an experiment the FBI conducted with college students. Princeton undergraduates were approached by a man claiming to be lost. After each student gave him directions, the man (an FBI agent) would offer $100 if the student would get into his van and direct him en route. Every student got into the van.

When the experiment was repeated at the John Jay School for Criminal Justice in New York City, once again every student hopped into the stranger’s van. Over breakfast I told my own college age son about the experiment. Charley’s response was to whistle: “$100? That’s a lot of money!”

For a Mum hoping to hear: “Those crazy kids! What were they thinking!” this was like a bucket of cold water. But it got me thinking. What should parents say to adolescents that replaces the lost puppies, and strangers offering lollies? What do FBI criminal profilers teach their kids?

BEFORE he retired to write books, author John Douglas investigated hundreds of cases for the FBI, including the Atlanta child murders.
“I try not to obsess about the safety of my loved ones,” says Douglas, upon whom Thomas Harris based the character of Jack Crawford in Silence of the Lambs, “but I can tell you from personal experience as the father of three that you can’t be involved with this kind of work without having it affect your perceptions of your own children’s safety and well-being.”

FBI profiler Candice DeLong was a single mother. She insisted Seth lock doors and windows when he was home alone. “His father accused me of promoting ‘fearfulness’ but it’s basic common sense,” she says. “You’d be amazed how many assailants simply waltz into unsecured homes. Having worked in child abduction cases, she gave Seth clear instructions about escaping a kidnapper.
“The time to plan what to do if your child is accosted is right now, not when the attack is under way, when most people will be too panicky to think straight.”

Coaching a child, says DeLong, builds confidence and shows them they have options.
DeLong told Seth about a child who didn’t make any noise as he was being dragged from a mall, “because his parents taught him to respect adults – any adults – too much”. “So when you’re around people, scream like hell,” she says.

Gavin de Becker is widely regarded as the leading expert in the USA on predicting violent behavior. He says sometimes onlookers assume the adult struggling with the child is a parent, so the child should also scream: “This is not my father.”

For DeLong, whose cases included the arrest of the Unabomber, mobile phones are the most “super-powerful, crime-fighting weapon in existence”. She advised her son “Make eye contact with individuals, not the whole mass, who can retreat into anonymity, and beg those people individually to call the police”.

Absent of onlookers, he should shout “Fire!”. “Children at play scream ‘Help!’ all the time,” explains DeLong. “It is all too easy to justify ignoring a cry for help. But we all know exactly what to do when someone yells ‘Fire!’”

In Strong on Defense former police supervisor Sanford Strong points out even if an assailant shows a weapon, children should know “initial injury is far from the worst consequence of a violent crime”. The attacker is unlikely to use the weapon, since it is in their best interest to escape the crowd without being noticed.

Sometimes children think if they do as they’re told, they won’t be hurt. Experts say children should always fight back and that twisting, rather than pulling out of an abductor’s hold is more effective.

During the 1980s when Roger Depue was at the helm of the FBI’s Behavioral Sciences Unit, the father of three recalls visits to the mall where the hardest thing was “watching as a little kid wandered away from an inattentive parent”.

“It was all I could do to restrain myself from going over like a crazy person and warning them not to let their kids out of their sight.” Depue instructed his own kids if they became lost not to wait for a stranger to offer assistance, but to choose someone themselves.

Parents used to recommend children ask a police officer if they need help but today experts are skeptical that children can distinguish between a security guard and a cop.

Gavin de Becker, who frequently spoke about safety on television chat show Oprah, says this employment pool has yielded more than its share of violent individuals, so “you certainly don’t want your child’s first choice to be a security guard”.

He suggests that if your children are ever lost to teach them to go to a woman. “It’s highly unlikely that a woman will be a sexual predator,” continues de Becker. “Is what I’ve said politically incorrect? Maybe so, but the luxury of not running for office, is that I don’t care if it’s politically incorrect.”

John Douglas agrees: “By definition, this is sexist, but by definition, men are the problem.”

FOR decades parents have been warning their children not to speak to strangers. But this advice can backfire, according to de Becker who says when a child is lost “the ability to talk to strangers is actually the single greatest asset he could have”. He needs to be able to describe his situation, give his phone number, and ask for assistance.

“Talking is just talking,” he says. “What we really want to avoid is our child going somewhere with someone.”

De Becker believes it’s more critical that parents teach “privacy and control”. A dangerous man is not dangerous in a crowd. He is dangerous when he gets to have “privacy and control”.

It was when the students got into the FBI agent’s van, not when they were on the footpath chatting, that they put themselves at risk. If the child can’t escape, the experts’ advice is never give up.

DeLong, who says the highlight of her career was rescuing a nine-year-old kidnap victim, urges: “You don’t want them to be paralyzed by the kidnapper’s threats to kill them if they try to escape. Their goal is to survive. They may have to wait and watch for that right moment to break free.”

Experts recommend parents give an updated age-appropriate talk each year. It should be delivered as matter of factly as a traffic safety discussion. Just as much a part of life.

What about parents who worry about their child losing their innocence? De Becker suggests they consider this question: “Of all the approaches you might take to enhance the safety of your child, do you suppose that ignorance about violence is an effective one?”