The Woman Who Wasn't There: The True Story of an Incredible Deception

Posted on by Ben Rothke

Documenting the heroism that was displayed on 9/11 and weeks following will eventually fills volumes.  Many gave up their lives trying to save others; and due to the toxic dust at Ground Zero, many of the rescuers are now dying a slow death. 

While 9/11 brought out the best in many, in some limited cases, it brought out the very worst.  In The Woman Who Wasn't There: The True Story of an Incredible Deception, authors Robin Fisher and Angelo Guglielmo detail the story Tania Head, a woman who said she was a survivor of Tower 2, when in fact she was in business school in Spain on 9/11.

Head joined the World Trade Center Survivors' Network support group and a short while later became president of the group.

Now that April 15 has past and tax returns are being processed, there are many stories of tax refund fraud affecting many innocent people.  While such crimes are reprehensible, most of these victims will likely receive their money. What is so evil about what Tania Head did, is that she purloined people who were victims in need of consolation, and in her sociopathic quest for validation, lied to them.  These lies spanned the course of years. 

The survivors of 9/11 whose faith in humanity had been shattered, but who had risked trusting again and had chosen Tania to lead them out of the abyss, were left wondering how should could do what she had done.   She deliberately chose the most vulnerable people and exploited them by making up a tale so terribly heartbreaking that they couldn’t do anything but trust her, because her story was the saddest of them all.

The story that Fisher and Guglielmo so eloquently tell is both fascinating and heartbreaking.

Most books like this would include a number of pictures of the subject at hand.  My supposition is that that author’s purposely left out pictures of Ms. Head as not to predispose the read.  

Head did not look like a typical conniver, but indeed was a master manipulator. Since she appeared so legitimate, so sincere, and the story she told so compelling, no one initially thought that her story, while heartbreaking, was anything less than true.  The reality is that Head’s hog-like demeanor was simply a manifestation of her utter narcissist personality.  

Her undoing came just days before 9/11/2007, in a New York Times story that exposed her fraud.   After that point, Head was dismissed as head of the World Trade Center Survivors' Network, and has not been heard from since. 

In the vernacular of information security, Tania Head was a type of social engineer.  In the book Social Engineering: The Art of Human Hacking, Christopher Hadnagy details how attackers use social engineering techniques to manipulate people into performing actions or divulging confidential information. 

While Head did not gain any financial benefit via her deception, what she was gaining was a sense of self-worth and importance, at the expense of other people’s trust and emotions.  True, she likely violated no law, but from a moral perspective, violated the very tenets of human trust.

The Woman Who Wasn't There: The True Story of an Incredible Deception is a fascinating book.  If you do choose to read it, and you should; block out about 4 hours of your day, as once you start it, you won’t be able to put it down.

Ben Rothke

Senior Information Security Manager, Tapad

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