Military (13)

(8:30 am) September 11, 2001: US Military Holding 'Practice Armageddon' Nationwide Training Exercise 

As the 9/11 attacks are taking place, a large military training exercise called Global Guardian is taking place. Global Guardian is an annual exercise sponsored by US Strategic Command (Stratcom) in cooperation with US Space Command and NORAD. One military author defines Stratcom as “the single US military command responsible for the day-to-day readiness of America’s nuclear forces.” [Arkin, 2005, pp. 59]

Exercise Tests Military’s Ability to Fight a Nuclear War - Global Guardian is a global readiness exercise involving all Stratcom forces and aims to test Stratcom’s ability to fight a nuclear war. It is one of many “practice Armageddons” that the US military routinely stages. [Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 11/1/1997; Associated Press, 2/21/2002] It links with a number of other military exercises, including Crown Vigilance (an Air Combat Command exercise), Apollo Guardian (a US Space Command exercise), and the NORAD exercises Vigilant Guardian and Amalgam Warrior. [US Department of Defense, 5/1997; GlobalSecurity (.org), 4/27/2005] Global Guardian is both a command post and a field training exercise, and is based around a fictitious scenario designed to test the ability of Stratcom and its component forces to deter a military attack against the US. Hundreds of military personnel are involved. [US Congress, n.d.; Collins Center Update, 12/1999] The exercise involves “a lot of the elements of what ultimately would be the nuclear command and control system in support of a national emergency,” according to Admiral Richard Mies, the commander in chief of Stratcom. It includes an “exercise secretary of defense” and “an exercise president.” Mies will say that because of the exercise, “A lot of [Stratcom’s] command and control systems that, in peacetime, are normally not on alert were at a much, much higher state of alert [on September 11] and we had a number of aircraft, manned control aircraft that were airborne that were simulating their wartime roles.” [NET News, 12/27/2011]

Exercise Normally Held in October or November - According to a 1998 Internet article by the British American Security Information Council—an independent research organization—Global Guardian is held in October or November each year. [Kristensen, 10/1998] In his book Code Names, NBC News military analyst William Arkin dates this exercise for October 22-31, 2001. [Arkin, 2005, pp. 379] A military newspaper reported in March 2001 that Global Guardian was scheduled for October 2001. [Space Observer, 3/23/2001, pp. 2] If this is correct, then some time after March, the exercise must have been rescheduled for early September.

Exercise Includes a ‘Computer Network Attack’ - Furthermore, a 1998 Defense Department newsletter reported that for several years Stratcom had been incorporating a computer network attack (CNA) into Global Guardian. The attack involved Stratcom “red team” members and other organizations acting as enemy agents, and included attempts to penetrate the command using the Internet and a “bad” insider who had access to a key command and control system. The attackers “war dialed” the phones to tie them up and sent faxes to numerous fax machines throughout the Command. They also claimed they were able to shut down Stratcom’s systems. Reportedly, Stratcom planned to increase the level of computer network attack in future Global Guardian exercises. [IAnewsletter, 6/1998] It is unclear if a computer network attack is incorporated into Global Guardian in 2001.

(8:37 am) September 11, 2001: Boston Center Notifies NEADS of Hijacking, against Normal Procedures; Accounts Conflict over Timing 

The FAA’s Boston Center calls NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) in Rome, NY, to alert it to the suspected hijacking of Flight 11. According to the 9/11 Commission, this is “the first notification received by the military “at any level” that American 11 had been hijacked.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 13] The call is made by Joseph Cooper, an air traffic controller at the Boston Center, and answered by Jeremy Powell, a technical sergeant on the NEADS operations floor. [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006; Spencer, 2008, pp. 25] Beginning the call, Cooper says: “Hi. Boston Center TMU [traffic management unit], we have a problem here. We have a hijacked aircraft headed towards New York, and we need you guys to, we need someone to scramble some F-16s or something up there, help us out.” Powell replies, “Is this real-world or exercise?” Cooper answers, “No, this is not an exercise, not a test.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20] Shortly into the call, Powell passes the phone on to Lieutenant Colonel Dawne Deskins. Deskins identifies herself to Cooper, and he tells her, “We have a hijacked aircraft and I need you to get some sort of fighters out here to help us out.” [Newhouse News Service, 1/25/2002; ABC News, 9/11/2002; Bamford, 2004, pp. 8; Spencer, 2008, pp. 26]

Military Claims Call Goes against Procedure - The 1st Air Force’s official history of the response to the 9/11 attacks will later suggest that Boston Center is not following normal procedures when it makes this call to NEADS. It states: “If normal procedures had taken place Powell probably wouldn’t have taken that phone call. Normally, the FAA would have contacted officials at the Pentagon’s National Military Command Center who would have contacted the North American Aerospace Defense Command. The secretary of defense would have had to approve the use of military assets to assist in a hijacking, always considered a law enforcement issue.” The only explanation it gives for this departure from protocol is that “nothing was normal on Sept. 11, 2001, and many say the traditional chain of command went by the wayside to get the job done.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 51]

Accounts Conflict over Time of Call - There will be some conflict between different accounts, as to when this vital call from Boston Center to NEADS occurs. An ABC News documentary will indicate it is made as early as 8:31 a.m. [ABC News, 9/11/2002] Another ABC News report will state, “Shortly after 8:30 a.m., behind the scenes, word of a possible hijacking [reaches] various stations of NORAD.” [ABC News, 9/14/2002] NEADS logs indicate the call occurs at 8:40 a.m., and NORAD will report this as the time of the call in a press release on September 18, 2001. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001; North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001] The 8:40 time will be widely reported in the media prior to the 9/11 Commission’s 2004 report. [Associated Press, 8/21/2002; BBC, 9/1/2002; CNN, 9/11/2002] But tape recordings of the NEADS operations floor that are referred to in the 9/11 Commission Report place the call at 8:37 and 52 seconds. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20; Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006] If the 8:37 a.m. time is correct, this would mean that air traffic controllers have failed to successfully notify the military until approximately 12 minutes after they became certain that Flight 11 had been hijacked (see 8:25 a.m. September 11, 2001), 16 minutes after Flight 11’s transponder signal was lost, and 24 minutes after the plane’s pilots made their last radio contact. [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] At 8:34, the Boston Center tried contacting the military through the FAA’s Cape Cod facility, which is located on Otis Air National Guard Base, but was told that it needed to call NEADS. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20; Spencer, 2008, pp. 22]

(8:46 am) September 11, 2001: Otis Fighters Launched toward Flight 11 

Two F-15 fighter jets are scrambled from Otis Air National Guard Base in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, which is 153 miles from New York City. The fighters are launched in response to the hijacked Flight 11, but this plane is already crashing into the World Trade Center at this time (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 9/15/2001; CNN, 9/17/2001; North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004]

Delay - The FAA’s Boston Center alerted NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) to the hijacking of Flight 11 and requested that fighter jets be scrambled at just before 8:38 a.m. (see (8:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001), but the mission crew commander at NEADS only instructed the leader of his weapons team to launch the Otis fighters at 8:45 a.m. [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006]

Otis Aircraft Head to Runway - As soon as the pilots at Otis Air Base are strapped into their aircraft, the green light directing them to launch goes on. They start their engines and taxi out of the hangar to the nearest runway. One of the pilots, Lt. Col. Timothy Duffy, radios his command post for guidance, asking, “Do you have words?” The response he gets is, “Possible hijack, American Flight 11, 737, flight level 290 [29,000 feet], over JFK [International Airport in New York City].” (This flight information is partly incorrect, since American 11 is a 767, not a 737.) According to the Cape Cod Times, the jets will be up in the air before their radar kicks in. [Cape Cod Times, 8/21/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 42] The Otis pilots have already been preparing for the scramble order to come since learning of the hijacking from the FAA’s Cape Cod facility, some time shortly after 8:34 a.m.. [BBC, 9/1/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 27-30] Their jets are reportedly not airborne until seven minutes after being scrambled, at 8:53 a.m. and there will be conflicting accounts of what their original destination is (see 8:53 a.m.-9:05 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004]

(8:53 am - 9:05 am) September 11, 2001: Otis Fighters Head toward New York Area; Accounts Conflict over Exact Destination 
Route of the Otis Air National Guard fighters to New York City
Route of the Otis Air National Guard fighters to New York City.
[Source: Yvonne Vermillion/]

The two F-15 fighter jets launched from Otis Air National Guard Base in Cape Cod respond to the hijacking of Flight 11, but there will be conflicting accounts regarding their initial destination. The fighters were scrambled at 8:46 (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001), and are airborne by 8:53 (see 8:53 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20]

Flying toward New York City - News reports shortly after 9/11 will say that, after taking off, the Otis fighters begin “racing towards New York City.” [CNN, 9/14/2001; Cape Cod Times, 9/15/2001] Other news reports similarly say they initially head toward New York City. [Washington Post, 9/12/2001; Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002; Fox News, 9/8/2002] Major General Larry Arnold, the commanding general of NORAD’s Continental Region, will say the fighters are “coming to New York.” [[MSNBC, 9/23/2001]; Slate, 1/16/2002] Lieutenant Colonel Timothy Duffy, the lead Otis pilot, tells the BBC, “When we took off we started climbing a 280-heading, basically towards New York City.” [BBC, 9/1/2002] In one account, Duffy recalls that, after launching, he calls for the location of his target and is told, “Your contact’s over Kennedy,” meaning New York’s JFK International Airport. Duffy will add, ”[W]e started heading right down to Long Island, basically.” [ABC News, 9/11/2002; Bamford, 2004, pp. 15] In another account, he says that he and the other Otis pilot, Major Daniel Nash, “climbed up, [and] we were supersonic going down to Long Island.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 57]

Without a Target, Heading for Military Airspace - According to some accounts, however, the two Otis fighters do not initially head toward Manhattan. Major James Fox, the leader of the weapons team at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), will later recall: “We had no idea where [Flight 11] was. We just knew it was over land, so we scrambled [the Otis fighters] towards land.” [Newhouse News Service, 1/25/2002] The 9/11 Commission will conclude that, after taking off, because they are “Lacking a target,” the fighters are “vectored toward military-controlled airspace off the Long Island coast.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20] Colonel Robert Marr, the battle commander at NEADS, says that when the Otis fighters took off, his “intent was to scramble [them] to military airspace while we found out what was going on.” He says that, before 9:03 a.m. when the second World Trade Center tower is hit, the fighters are “heading down south toward Whiskey 105 and we don’t really have a mission for them at this point.” Whiskey 105 is military training airspace southeast of Long Island, a few minutes flying time from New York City. [Filson, 2003, pp. 56 and 58-59]

To New York, Then Redirected to Military Airspace - Other accounts will say the Otis fighters initially head toward New York City, but are subsequently redirected to the military airspace off Long Island (see 8:54 a.m.-8:55 a.m. September 11, 2001). According to author Lynn Spencer, after taking off, Duffy and Nash fly “supersonic toward New York for approximately 15 minutes.” But just after the second WTC tower is hit, Duffy suggests to the weapons controller at NEADS that the two fighters head to the Whiskey 105 training airspace off Long Island, and that is where they then go. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 83-85] Tape recordings of the NEADS operations floor will reveal that, at 8:45 a.m., Major Kevin Nasypany, the facility’s mission crew commander, gave Major Fox a coordinate north of New York City, and told him to “Head [the Otis jets] in that direction” (see 8:45 a.m. September 11, 2001). Then, at 8:52, he told one of his staff members, “Send ‘em to New York City still” (see 8:53 a.m. September 11, 2001). But, according to Vanity Fair, shortly after the second tower is hit, the NEADS weapons technicians get “pushback” from civilian FAA controllers, who are “afraid of fast-moving fighters colliding with a passenger plane,” so the two fighters are directed to a “holding area” just off the coast, near Long Island (see 9:09 a.m.-9:13 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006] Accounts are also unclear regarding what speed the Otis jets fly at after taking off (see (8:53 a.m.-9:05 a.m.) September 11, 2001).

(8:53 am - 9:05 am) September 11, 2001: Otis Fighters Fly toward New York Area; Accounts Unclear over Speed 

The two F-15 fighter jets that took off from Otis Air National Guard Base in Cape Cod head toward the New York area. But accounts will be unclear regarding what speed they fly at as they respond to the hijacking of Flight 11. The two jets were scrambled from Otis at 8:46 (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001), and are airborne by 8:53 (see 8:53 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20]

Flying Supersonic - In a number of accounts, it is claimed the fighters fly faster than the speed of sound. [Cape Cod Times, 8/21/2002] Lead pilot Lt. Col. Timothy Duffy will tell the BBC: “I was supersonic.… I don’t know what we could have done to get there any quicker.” [BBC, 9/1/2002] He tells ABC News, ”[W]e go supersonic on the way, which is kind of nonstandard for us.” [ABC News, 9/11/2002] According to author Lynn Spencer, “against regulations, [Duffy] takes his plane supersonic, breaking the sound barrier as he passes through 18,000 feet. This is a violation that can get a pilot into a good deal of trouble since the sonic boom tends to break windows in the homes down below.” When the other Otis pilot, Major Daniel Nash, radios and says, “You’re supersonic,” Duffy responds, “Yeah, I know, don’t worry about it.” Then, “Without hesitation, [Nash] follows his lead” and also goes supersonic. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 43]

Flying ‘Full Blower’ - Duffy will recall, “I was in full blower all the way,” as he flies toward New York. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002] In another account, he similarly says, “When we took off I left it in full afterburner the whole time.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 57] F-15s can fly at up to 1,875 miles per hour. [Cape Cod Times, 9/12/2001; US Air Force, 3/2008] According to an Otis Air Base spokeswoman, “An F-15 departing from Otis can reach New York City in 10 to 12 minutes.” [Cape Cod Times, 9/16/2001] But, according to the Boston Globe, while “In their prime, the planes can go Mach 2.5 [and] could have been to New York in less than 10 minutes,” Duffy and Nash are “flying F-15 Eagles that were built in 1977.… Because of their age and the three large fuel tanks they were carrying… the planes couldn’t attain that speed, both pilots said.” [Boston Globe, 9/11/2005]

Different Speeds Given - Various speeds will later be given for how fast the Otis jets are traveling. Consistent with Duffy’s claims of flying “supersonic,” ABC News says the two fighters fly “at Mach 1.2, nearly 900 miles per hour.” [ABC News, 9/11/2002] According to the Boston Globe, the fighters are flying at “about Mach 1.4—more than 1,000 miles per hour.” [Boston Globe, 9/11/2005] Major General Larry Arnold, the commanding general of NORAD’s Continental Region, says they fly at “about 1.5 Mach, which is, you know, somewhere—11 or 1,200 miles an hour.” [Slate, 1/16/2002] Major General Paul Weaver, the director of the Air National Guard, says the jets fly “like a scalded ape,” but as to their exact speed, he only says they are “topping 500 mph.” [Dallas Morning News, 9/16/2001] And by 9:03 a.m., when the second World Trade Center tower is hit, the Otis fighters are still 71 miles from New York, according to NORAD. [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001] The 9/11 Commission will state that they only arrive over Manhattan at 9:25 a.m. (see 9:25 a.m. September 11, 2001), though accounts of most witnesses on the ground indicate they do not arrive until after 10:00 a.m. (see 9:45 a.m.-10:45 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 24] Accounts are contradictory regarding what exact destination the Otis jets are initially heading toward after taking off (see 8:53 a.m.-9:05 a.m. September 11, 2001).

(9:00 am) September 11, 2001: 9/11-Style Simulation Set to Commence at Agency near Pentagon 

A training exercise is scheduled to begin at a US intelligence agency located just over 20 miles from the Pentagon, based around the scenario of a small corporate jet plane experiencing a mechanical failure and crashing into a tower building there. The exercise, which has been planned for several months, is to take place at the headquarters of the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) in Chantilly, Virginia, four miles away from Washington Dulles International Airport and 24 miles from the Pentagon. [Associated Press, 8/21/2002; United Press International, 8/22/2002] Its purpose is to test the agency’s employees’ ability to respond to a small aircraft crash. [Associated Press, 8/21/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/14/2003]

Simulated Plane Crash - The exercise is set to commence at 9:00 a.m., when its observers meet to be briefed. The observers and exercise role players are to move to their positions for the exercise 10 to 15 minutes later. The plane in the exercise scenario is a Learjet 35A with two pilots and four passengers on board, which takes off at 9:30 a.m. from Dulles Airport. [9/11 Commission, 7/14/2003] This is the airport Flight 77, which crashes into the Pentagon at 9:37 a.m., took off from earlier in the morning (see 8:20 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 8-10] A minute after taking off, the Learjet is supposed to experience a mechanical failure. It then goes out of control, leading it to crash into one of the four towers at the NRO’s headquarters at around 9:32 a.m. (see 9:30 a.m.-10:30 a.m. September 11, 2001). No real plane is going to be used in the exercise, but some stairwells and exits at the NRO headquarters are to be closed off in order to simulate the damage from the crash, forcing employees to find other ways to evacuate the building. [Associated Press, 8/21/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/14/2003]

Scenario Created by War Gaming Division - The exercise scenario was imagined by the NRO’s internal war gaming division. [United Press International, 8/22/2002] The exercise is being run by John Fulton, the chief of this division, and his team at the CIA. [National Law Enforcement and Security Institute, 8/4/2002; National Law Enforcement and Security Institute, 8/6/2002]

Highly Secretive Agency - The NRO is an agency of the US Department of Defense. Its mission is “to ensure that the US has the technology and spaceborne and airborne assets needed to acquire intelligence worldwide.” [US Department of Defense, 9/18/1992] It operates many of the nation’s spy satellites. [Associated Press, 8/21/2002] According to the New York Times, “It designs, builds, and operates spy satellites that photograph and overhear what other countries are up to.” [New York Times, 8/10/1994] The NRO employs some 3,000 people. These employees are drawn from the CIA and the military. [Associated Press, 8/21/2002] The New York Times has called the NRO “probably the most secretive of the intelligence agencies.” Until 1992, its existence was not even officially disclosed. [New York Times, 8/10/1994]

Exercise Canceled - According to NRO spokesman Art Haubold, the exercise will be called off “as soon as real world events began to unfold.” However, he does not give a specific time. All but the NRO’s most essential employees will then be sent home. [United Press International, 8/22/2002] Haubold will later comment, “It was just an incredible coincidence” that the exercise scenario “happened to involve an aircraft crashing into our facility.” [Associated Press, 8/21/2002]

(9:09 am - 9:13 am) September 11, 2001: Otis Fighters Remain in Holding Pattern over Ocean instead of Defending New York City 

The two F-15 fighter jets launched from Otis Air National Guard Base in response to Flight 11 (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001) have been directed to “Whiskey 105,” a military airspace training area over the Atlantic Ocean, just south of Long Island. According to the 9/11 Commission, “To avoid New York area air traffic and uncertain about what to do, the fighters were brought down to military airspace to ‘hold as needed.’ From 9:09 to 9:13, the Otis fighters stayed in this holding pattern.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20; Spencer, 2008, pp. 85] Otis pilot Major Daniel Nash will later comment, “Neither the civilian controller or the military controller knew what they wanted us to do.” [Cape Cod Times, 8/21/2002]

‘Pushback’ from FAA Controllers - By 9:08 a.m., Major Kevin Nasypany, the NEADS mission crew commander, had learned of the second World Trade Center crash and wanted to send the Otis fighters to New York City. However, according to Vanity Fair, the NEADS “weapons techs get ‘pushback’ from civilian FAA controllers, who have final authority over the fighters as long as they are in civilian airspace. The FAA controllers are afraid of fast-moving fighters colliding with a passenger plane, of which there are hundreds in the area, still flying normal routes.” [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 25; Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006] Author Lynn Spencer will add: ”[L]ocal FAA controllers are busy shutting down New York’s airspace and are less than eager to grant the fighters access to the civilian airspace. They’re afraid of fast-moving fighters colliding with the hundreds of airliners that are still in the area. Many of those flights are doing unpredictable things just now, such as canceling their flight plans and changing course, and controllers are not convinced that they can provide adequate separation if fast-moving fighters are added to the mix. They just need a few more minutes, they keep saying.”

New York Center Not Answering Phone - Nasypany tries contacting the military liaison at the FAA’s New York Center, but no one is answering the phone. According to Spencer, “He wants the Otis fighters over New York, not in military airspace 100 miles off the coast, but he has little choice. Without permission from the FAA to penetrate the civil airspace over New York, NEADS must advise the Otis F-15 pilots… to continue to remain clear of the city.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 111-112]

Director Wants Jets ‘Closer In’ - At 9:10 a.m., the senior director on the NEADS operations floor tells the weapons director, “I want those fighters closer in.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 459] NEADS weapons controller Major Steve Hedrick asks Major James Fox, the weapons team leader, “Can we give [the fighters] a mission?” Fox replies, “Right now their mission is to hold.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 111] Then, at around 9:11 a.m., either the senior weapons director at NEADS or his technician instructs the Otis fighters to “remain at current position [holding pattern] until FAA requests assistance.”

Fighters Exit Holding Pattern for New York - Just before 9:13 a.m., the Otis pilots tell their controller at the FAA’s Boston Center that they need to establish a combat air patrol over New York. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 459] According to the 9/11 Commission, “Radar data show that at 9:13, when the Otis fighters were about 115 miles away from the city, the fighters exited their holding pattern and set a course direct for Manhattan” (see 9:13 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 24]

(9:09 am - 12:00 am) September 11, 2001: Numerous False Reports of Hijacked Aircraft Cause Confusion 
NEADS commander Robert Marr.
NEADS commander Robert Marr.
[Source: Dick Blume]

Numerous reports incorrectly claiming that aircraft have been hijacked are received while the terrorist attacks are taking place and into the afternoon. [Code One Magazine, 1/2002; Newhouse News Service, 3/31/2005; Politico Magazine, 9/9/2016] There are “multiple erroneous reports of hijacked aircraft” during the morning, according to the 9/11 Commission Report. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 28] At around 9:09 a.m., the FAA Command Center reports that 11 aircraft are either not communicating with FAA facilities or flying unexpected routes. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002] Major General Larry Arnold, the commander of the Continental United States NORAD Region, will later claim that during the “four-hour ordeal” of the attacks, a total of 21 planes are identified as possible hijackings. [Filson, 2002; Code One Magazine, 1/2002; Filson, 2003, pp. 71] Colonel Robert Marr, the battle commander at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), will say, “At one time I was told that across the nation there were some 29 different reports of hijackings.” [Newhouse News Service, 3/31/2005] Secret Service agent Dave Wilkinson, who travels with President Bush on Air Force One after it leaves Sarasota, Florida (see 9:54 a.m. September 11, 2001), will recall that by the time the plane reaches Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, at 2:50 p.m. (see 2:50 p.m. September 11, 2001), “there were like 15 to 20 planes still unaccounted for” nationwide. “For everything we knew, they were all hijacked,” he will say. [Politico Magazine, 9/9/2016] Officials will claim that these false reports cause considerable confusion. Arnold will recall that particularly during the time between the Pentagon being hit at, 9:37 a.m., and Flight 93 going down, at around 10:03 a.m., “a number of aircraft are being called possibly hijacked.… There was a lot of confusion, as you can imagine.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 71-73] He will say: “We were receiving many reports of hijacked aircraft. When we received those calls, we might not know from where the aircraft had departed. We also didn’t know the location of the airplane.” [Code One Magazine, 1/2002] Marr will comment: “There were a number of false reports out there. What was valid? What was a guess? We just didn’t know.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 73] Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Victoria Clarke, who is in the Pentagon during the attacks and for most of the rest of the day, will recall: “There were lots of false signals out there. There were false hijack squawks, and a great part of the challenge was sorting through what was a legitimate threat and what wasn’t.” [CNN, 6/17/2004; Clarke, 2006, pp. 215-231]

(9:25 am - 9:30 am) September 11, 2001: Langley Jets Take off, but Are Delayed during Launch 

The three F-16 fighter jets ordered to scramble from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia (see 9:24 a.m. September 11, 2001) take off and, radar data will show, are airborne by 9:30 a.m. [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001; Christian Science Monitor, 4/16/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 27]

Delayed during Launch - Major Dean Eckmann will recall that, after receiving the scramble order, he and the two other pilots have “a pretty quick response time. I believe it was four to five minutes we were airborne from that point.” [BBC, 9/1/2002] According to the 1st Air Force’s book about 9/11, the three fighters are “given highest priority over all other air traffic at Langley Air Force Base” as they are launching. [Filson, 2003, pp. 63] But, according to author Lynn Spencer, in spite of this, the jets are delayed. As Eckmann is approaching the runway, he calls the control tower for clearance to take off, but the tower controller tells him, “Hold for an air traffic delay.” Air traffic controllers at the FAA’s Washington Center “have not had time to clear airliners out of the way for the northerly heading. Dozens of aircraft at various altitudes fill the jets’ route.” After having to wait two minutes, Eckmann complains: “We’re an active air scramble. We need to go now!” Finally, the tower controller tells him, “Roger, Quit flight is cleared for takeoff, 090 for 60,” meaning the fighters are to fly due east for 60 miles (see 9:30 a.m. September 11, 2001).

Taking Off - The three jets launch 15 seconds apart, with Eckmann in front and the two other jets following. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 143-144] Pilot Craig Borgstrom will later recall, ”[W]e took off, the three of us, and basically the formation we always brief on alert, we’ll stay in a two- to three-mile trail from the guy in front.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 63] According to the BBC, the pilots get a signal over their planes’ transponders, indicating an emergency wartime situation. [BBC, 9/1/2002]

Could Reach Washington before Pentagon Attack - F-16s have a maximum speed of 1,500 mph at high altitude, or 915 mph at sea level, so the three fighters could plausibly travel the 130 miles from Langley Air Force Base to Washington in just minutes. [Chant, 1987, pp. 404; Associated Press, 6/16/2000; USA Today, 9/16/2001; US Air Force, 10/2007] Major General Larry Arnold, the commanding general of NORAD’s Continental US Region, will tell the 9/11 Commission, “I think if those aircraft had gotten airborne immediately, if we were operating under something other than peacetime rules, where they could have turned immediately toward Washington, DC, and gone into burner, it is physically possible that they could have gotten over Washington” before 9:37, when the Pentagon is hit. [9/11 Commission, 5/23/2003] Yet according to the 9/11 Commission, the jets are redirected east over the Atlantic Ocean and will be 150 miles from the Pentagon when it is hit (see 9:30 a.m.-9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 27]

Conflicting Times - Some early news reports after 9/11 will say the Langley jets take off at the later time of 9:35 a.m. [Washington Post, 9/12/2001; CNN, 9/14/2001; Washington Post, 9/15/2001; CNN, 9/17/2001] But according to Colonel Alan Scott, the former vice commander of the Continental US NORAD Region, though the jets are airborne at 9:30, the report of this does not come down until 9:35, so this fact may account for the conflicting times. [9/11 Commission, 5/23/2003]

(9:30 am - 9:37 am) September 11, 2001: Langley Fighters Fly East over Ocean instead of North toward Washington 
Route of the Langley Air Base fighters to Washington.
Route of the Langley Air Base fighters to Washington.
[Source: Yvonne Vermillion/]

The three F-16s that took off from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia (see 9:25 a.m.-9:30 a.m. September 11, 2001) head east, out over the Atlantic Ocean, instead of north toward the Baltimore area, as NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) instructed when it issued the scramble order (see 9:24 a.m. September 11, 2001). [New York Times, 11/15/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 27]

Three Reasons Jets Head East - The 9/11 Commission will give three reasons why the Langley jets go east instead of north: “First, unlike a normal scramble order, this order did not include a distance to the target or the target’s location. Second, a ‘generic’ flight plan—prepared to get the aircraft airborne and out of local airspace quickly—incorrectly led the Langley fighters to believe they were ordered to fly due east (090) for 60 miles. Third, the lead pilot and local FAA controller incorrectly assumed the flight plan instruction to go ‘090 for 60’ superseded the original scramble order.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 27]

NORAD Commander Blames ‘Peacetime Rules’ - In his testimony before the 9/11 Commission in May 2003, Larry Arnold, the commanding general of NORAD’s Continental US Region, will address the question of why the Langley jets head out over the sea. He says, “When we scramble an aircraft… the aircraft take off and they have a predetermined departure route.” According to Arnold, NORAD is “looking outward,” and so “our mission, unlike law enforcement’s mission, is to protect things coming towards the United States.” He concludes, “So our peacetime procedures, to de-conflict with civil aviation’s, so as to not have endanger[ed] civil aviation in any particular way.” Arnold will also suggest that “peacetime rules” might be partly to blame for the Langley jets heading in the wrong direction. He says, ”[I]f we were operating under something other than peacetime rules… they could have turned immediately toward Washington, DC.” [9/11 Commission, 5/23/2003] According to the Wall Street Journal, the “peacetime rules” Arnold refers to are “noise restrictions requiring that [the Langley jets] fly more slowly than supersonic speed and take off over water, pointed away from Washington.” [Wall Street Journal, 3/22/2004] One of the Langley pilots, Captain Craig Borgstrom, will later recall that, shortly after the jets take off, NEADS “gave us max-subsonic,” which is “as fast as you can go without breaking the sound barrier.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 65]

Risk of Midair Collision - NORAD official Major General Craig McKinley will tell the 9/11 Commission that “another reason why” the Langley jets are “vectored east originally” is that “the air traffic over the Northeast corridor is so complex that to just launch fighters… into that air traffic system can cause potential damage or midair collision. So we rely on the FAA to de-conflict those corridors.” [9/11 Commission, 5/23/2003]

Jets Far Away from Pentagon - When the Pentagon is hit at 9:37 a.m., the Langley jets have flown nearly 60 miles out over the ocean and are 150 miles from Washington (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 27; Spencer, 2008, pp. 151]

(9:36 am - 10:06 am) September 11, 2001: Military Claims It Is Tracking Flight 93 and Ready to Shoot It Down; 9/11 Commission Says Otherwise 

According to the later claims of several senior officials, the US military is tracking Flight 93 as it heads east and is ready to shoot it down if necessary.

  • According to Brigadier General Montague Winfield, the Pentagon’s National Military Command Center (NMCC) has “received the report from the FAA that Flight 93 had turned off its transponder, had turned, and was now heading towards Washington, DC.” Winfield will add, “The decision was made to try to go intercept Flight 93.” [ABC News, 9/11/2002]
  • General Richard Myers, the acting chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will write that in the NMCC, “We learned that there was apparently a fourth hijacked aircraft, United Airlines Flight 93 out of Newark, bound nonstop for San Francisco. Like the other planes, it had switched off its transponder, making it much harder if not impossible to track on ground radar.” [Myers, 2009, pp. 152]
  • Major General Larry Arnold, the commander of the Continental United States NORAD Region, will say, “I was personally anxious to see what 93 was going to do, and our intent was to intercept it.” Three fighters have taken off from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia (see 9:25 a.m.-9:30 a.m. September 11, 2001). According to Arnold, “we launched the aircraft out of Langley to put them over top of Washington, DC, not in response to American Airline 77, but really to put them in position in case United 93 were to head that way.” [9/11 Commission, 5/23/2003] He says, “as we discussed it in the conference call, we decided not to move fighters toward 93 until it was closer because there could have been other aircraft coming in,” but adds, “I had every intention of shooting down United 93 if it continued to progress toward Washington, DC… whether we had authority or not.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 73]
  • Colonel Robert Marr, the battle commander at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), is reportedly “focused on United Flight 93, headed straight toward Washington.” He will concur with Arnold, saying: “United Airlines Flight 93 would not have hit Washington, DC. He would have been engaged and shot down before he got there.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 73] Marr and Arnold will both say they were tracking Flight 93 even earlier on, while it was still heading west (see Shortly Before 9:36 a.m. September 11, 2001).

Yet, contradicting these claims, the 9/11 Commission will conclude that the military only learns about Flight 93 around the time it crashes. It says the NMCC learns of the hijacking at 10:03 a.m. (see 10:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). Based upon official records, including recordings of the NEADS operations floor, it says NEADS never follows Flight 93 on radar and is first alerted to it at 10:07 a.m. (see 10:05 a.m.-10:08 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 30-31, 34 and 42; Washington Post, 4/30/2006; Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006]

(10:05 am - 10:08 am) September 11, 2001: NEADS Alerted to Flight 93, Reportedly for the First Time 

The military liaison at the FAA’s Cleveland Center calls NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) and alerts it to the hijacked Flight 93. According to the 9/11 Commission, this is the first notification NEADS receives about Flight 93, but it comes too late, since the plane has already crashed (see 10:06 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 30; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 46]

‘Bomb on Board’ Flight 93 - At 10:05 a.m., the military liaison at the Cleveland Center, who is unaware that Flight 93 has just crashed, calls NEADS to inform it that Flight 93 is heading toward Washington, DC. Even though communicating with NEADS is not one of his responsibilities, he wants to make sure it is in the loop. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 224] At NEADS, the call is answered by Tech Sergeant Shelley Watson. Shortly into the call, at 10:07, the military liaison tells her: “We got a United 93 out here. Are you aware of that?” He continues, “That has a bomb on board.” Watson asks: “A bomb on board? And this is confirmed? You have a mode three [beacon code], sir?” The military liaison replies, “No, we lost his transponder” (see 9:40 a.m. September 11, 2001). The news about Flight 93 is shouted out to Major Kevin Nasypany, the NEADS mission crew commander. Nasypany responds: “Gimme the call sign. Gimme the whole nine yards.… Let’s get some info, real quick. They got a bomb?”

Liaison Wants Fighters Sent toward Flight 93 - The military liaison continues, asking Watson if NEADS scrambled fighter jets in response to Delta 1989, an aircraft that was mistakenly reported as having been hijacked (see 9:28 a.m.-9:33 a.m. September 11, 2001 and 9:39 a.m. September 11, 2001). Watson replies: “We did. Out of Selfridge and Toledo” (see 9:55 a.m. September 11, 2001 and 10:01 a.m. September 11, 2001), and says these jets are airborne. When the military liaison asks if the fighters can be directed to where Flight 93 is, Watson asks him if the Cleveland Center has latitude and longitude coordinates for this aircraft. The military liaison replies that he has not got this information available right now. All he knows is that Flight 93 has “got a confirmed bomb on board… and right now, his last known position was in the Westmoreland area.… Which is… in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, area.” [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001; Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006]

NEADS Searches on Radar - The news of a bomb on board Flight 93 spreads quickly at NEADS, and personnel there search for the aircraft’s primary return on their radar screens. But because the plane has already crashed, they will be unable to locate it. NEADS will only learn that Flight 93 has crashed at 10:15 a.m., during a call with the FAA’s Washington Center (see 10:15 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 30-31]

FAA Failed to Notify Military Earlier - The Cleveland Center’s notification to NEADS about Flight 93 comes 39 minutes after the plane was hijacked (see 9:28 a.m. September 11, 2001) and 33 minutes after FAA headquarters was alerted to the hijacking (see 9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 11, 28] At the time NEADS is alerted to Flight 93, NORAD is similarly uninformed about this aircraft, according to the 9/11 Commission. The Commission will state, “At 10:07, its representative on the air threat conference call stated that NORAD had ‘no indication of a hijack heading to DC at this time.‘” According to the Commission, the National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon learned about the Flight 93 hijacking slightly earlier on, at 10:03 a.m. (see 10:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). However, the NMCC was notified by the White House, not the FAA. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 42] A former senior FAA executive, speaking on condition of anonymity, will later try to explain why it takes the FAA so long to alert NEADS to Flight 93. He will say, “Our whole procedures prior to 9/11 were that you turned everything [regarding a hijacking] over to the FBI.” [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006] Yet military instructions contradict this, stating, “In the event of a hijacking, the NMCC will be notified by the most expeditious means by the FAA.” [US Department of Defense, 7/31/1997; US Department of Defense, 6/1/2001]

NORAD Commanders Claim Earlier Awareness of Flight 93 - Two senior NORAD officials will contradict the 9/11 Commission’s conclusion, and claim they were aware of Flight 93 well before it crashed (see Shortly Before 9:36 a.m. September 11, 2001 and 9:36 a.m.-10:06 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Filson, 2003, pp. 68, 71-73] Colonel Robert Marr, the NEADS battle commander, will tell the Commission that, while the flight was still airborne, “his focus was on UAL 93, which was circling over Chicago,” and he “distinctly remembers watching the flight UAL 93 come west, and turn over Cleveland.” [9/11 Commission, 10/27/2003; 9/11 Commission, 1/23/2004] Major General Larry Arnold, the commander of the Continental US NORAD Region, will recall, ”[W]e watched the [Flight] 93 track as it meandered around the Ohio-Pennsylvania area and started to turn south toward DC.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 71]

(10:18 am - 10:20 am) September 11, 2001: Cheney Calls Bush; Receives Shootdown Authorization, According to 9/11 Commission 

In a phone call with Vice President Dick Cheney, President Bush authorizes the military to shoot down hostile aircraft. Minutes earlier, in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House, a military aide had asked Cheney for the authority to engage what appeared to be an inbound aircraft, and Cheney had promptly given it (see (Between 10:10 a.m. and 10:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001). During a subsequent quiet moment, deputy White House chief of staff Josh Bolten, who is also in the PEOC, suggested to Cheney that he contact the president to confirm the engage order. Therefore at 10:18 a.m., according to White House logs, Cheney calls Bush, who is on board Air Force One, and speaks with him for two minutes. White House press secretary Ari Fleischer notes that at 10:20 a.m., Bush informs him that he has authorized the shootdown of aircraft, if necessary. According to the 9/11 Commission, “Fleischer’s 10:20 note is the first mention of shootdown authority.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 41 and 465] Bush’s senior adviser Karl Rove, who is also on Air Force One, gives a similar account, later telling NBC News that “at about 10:20,” Bush goes from his office into the private cabin in front of it, “and took a phone call, and came back in and said that he had talked to the vice president and to the secretary of defense and gave the authorization that [the] military could shoot down any planes not under control of their crews that were gearing critical targets.” [MSNBC, 9/11/2002] But other accounts indicate the president gives the shootdown authorization earlier than this. Bush and Cheney will claim that Bush gives the authorization during a call estimated to occur between about 10:00 and 10:15 (see (Between 10:00 a.m. and 10:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 40] Similarly, according to journalists Bob Woodward and Bill Sammon, Bush gives it in a call with Cheney soon after 9:56, when Air Force One takes off (see (Shortly After 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Sammon, 2002, pp. 102; Woodward, 2002, pp. 17-18; Washington Post, 1/27/2002] Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke says it is given even earlier. He states that, at some point between about 9:38 and 9:56, he is instructed to tell the Pentagon it has authorization from the president to shoot down hostile aircraft (see 9:38 a.m. September 11, 2001 and (Between 9:45 a.m. and 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [ABC News, 11/29/2003; Clarke, 2004, pp. 8]