Thursday, May 6, 2010

NORAD and 9/11

Robin Hordon, an experienced air traffic controller bluntly claimed, “There is absolutely no way that four large commercial airliners could have flown around off course for 30 to 60 minutes on 9/11 without being intercepted and shot completely out of the sky by our jet fighters unless very highly placed people in our government and our military wanted it to happen.”

There were two jets that made it to New York just as the first hijacked plane went into the Twin Towers. They had expended a great deal of fuel getting there and needed to be refueled. There seems to have been no effort to assess the extent to which the exercises planned for that day made response difficult. There was no plan in place to deal with an air attack on the United States. Time elapsed as the traffic controllers verified that they were dealing with a hijacking, then hijackings. Northeast Air Defense Sector of NORAD was aware of a likely hijacking of Flight 11 at 8:20. Boston lost valuable time trying to get help from Atlanta, which was no longer involved in plans for tracking efforts. Then a decision had to be made to contact NORAD, and within NORAD, there had to be conversations between at least three levels of authority. It is clear that they had trouble trying to round up F-16s and even had to seek them in Toledo, Ohio.

North American Aerospace Defense Command Air Force Gen. Ralph E. Eberhart told the 9/11 commission that NORAD could have shot down the hijacked planes had it been notified by NORAD. What either the FAA or NORAD actually did is unclear. There was a standing policy that jets already in the air routinely escort commercial liners that lose radio or transponder contact with control towers. Between September 2000 and June 2001, military aircraft had dealt with civilian breaches of flying regulations 67 times. On June 1, 2001, the Pentagon established new orders for how this was to be done , and the Secretary of Defense was even inserted in the process. There was a long standing policy of shooting down hijacked planes and those thought to be hijacked. This protocol ended the shoot-down policy and replaced it with a stand down policy that could be changed in each instance by the President, Vice Prewsident or Secretary of Defense.

One Boston Center controller said that FAA notified NORAD after it first lost communications with the first plane to be hijacked. A few minutes were lost before the FAA notified NORAD, and the information then went up three levels, one at a time. Sorting through all sorts of contradictory testimony, the 9/11 Commission investigators thought that NORAD learned about the hijacking just 9 minutes before Flight 77 ( N644AA) hit the Pentagon. One would wonder if any military people were looking at their screens or listening to the radio or tv.

Attempting to find out why NORAD did not respond effectively is nearly impossible. It is likely that the FAA was using Ptech software. To interact with the Air Force. For two years personnel from Ptech and their Ptech software had been in the basement of the FAA looking into how well the FAA and Air Force communicate with one another. An accused Al Qaeda bagman was associated with that firm. Later, when the FBI sought to probe the matter, Justice Criminal Division head Michael Chertoff intervened to derail the probe .

At one point in its deliberations, the official 9/11 commission was so alarmed by the many contradictions in the Defense Departments explanations that it considered asking the department of Justice to investigate (Post, Aug 2, 2006). In the end it simply referred its concerns to the Department’s inspector general. So many stories were floated that it is hard to keep them straight. First it was said that no planes went up until after the Pentagon was hit. The next claim was they were scrambled sooner but it was too late.

Major General Larry K. Arnold , who ran NORAD’s responses to the attacks, appears to have misled the commission. He said that NORAD learned about the lost American Airlines Flight 77, which hit the Pentgon, at 9:24, and added that it was distracted then because it was concerned with United Flight 93, which would eventually go down in Pennsylvania. Arnold said that he and “my own staff, we were orbiting over Washington D.C., by this time, and I was personally anxious to see what 93 was going to do, and our intent was to intercept it.” The fact was that NORAD command knew nothing about United 93 until after it had crashed.

When NORAD turned over information to the commission, it neglected to provide any tapes from traffic monitoring stations. When the commission’s investigators learned that those tapes existed, NORAD and the DOD at first refused to turn them over. For a time the staff director , who had friends at the Pentagon, seemed to support issuing a subpoena while also appearing to maneuver to derail that process. Eventually, the commission had to issue the subpoenas, but valuable months of research were lost.

On Tim Russert’s “Meet the Press,” Vice President Cheney said that the FAA had an open line with the White House as soon as the first plane struck. ( at about 8:46) IF the FAA was in communication with the White House by then, it clearly had time and capability to be in touch with NORAD by then. By 9:15, Richard Clarke was holding a teleconference with the Pentagon and FAA. Yet we hear that planes still could not be scrambled because there was no way for the FAA and the military to communicate.

Early in the Bush administration, in May 2001, Vice President Cheney was assigned oversight of NORAD and control of all drills and war games. Some involved simulated airline hijackings, and the games involved placing false blims on controllers’ radar screens. At the time of the attacks, Cheney was controlling the war games in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center. He was most probably working through a very top secret computer network called PDAS ( the meaning of which is unkinown). About a hundred people have access to it, and it is reached from about sventy terminals. There were only eight fighters available to the NY-DC area, and the blips seemed to paralyze an effective response. Many planes had been diverted to Alaska and Canada. Only one exercise was mentioned in the 9/11 Commission report footnote.

On 9/11 NORAD, along with elements under Central Command, was training on how to deal with planes crashing into important buildings. NORAD was simulating multiple hijackings on 9/11 Radar screens were showing up to 22 hijacked airliners. This was one of five or six training exercises were going on that day. In Operation Northern Vigilance ( Vigilant Guardian), jets were moved from the east coast to Canada and Alaska. One was the annual testing of Global Guardian, the system that coordinates use of the nuclear arsenal. In the Global Guardian of 1999, the system reacted to airplanes being used to crash into the World Trade Center—something the Bush administration claimed had been unthinkable. In March, a military paper reported it had been scheduled for October 2001. In Tripod II, a biowarfare exercise, FEMA staff were prepositioned in New York City on September 10. In another, F-16s were simulating bombing runs near Atlantic City.

Some might find the fact that multiple war games and disaster drills were planned for that day a “bizarre coincidence.” One of the people coordinating these activities was John Fulton of the Reconnaissance Office. His expertise was in satellite data and very sophisticated global positioning systems, or the’smart GPS.” Another figure with similar expertise was Under Secretary of the Air Force Peter B. Teets, who could report directly to the Secretary of Defense and the Director of Central Intelligence.

According to Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta, Vice President Richard Cheney was already in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center. They knew a hijacked plane was approaching Washington, and someone was announcing that it was 50 miles out, then 30, and then. Cheney was operating a command, control, and communications center that could override the National Military Command Center (NMCC) and the White House situation room.
On a television interview, Cheney said that through a standing arrangement the Secret Service had open lines with the FAA immediately after the World Trade Center was hit. This means that Cheney would have known about the strike almost immediately. NORAD claimed it had no knowledge of the hits for some time—something that is very hard to believe. 10. A young man asked Cheney “do the orders still stand?’ and Cheney whipped his neck around and said “Of course, the orders still stand, have you heard anything to the contrary?” There is no way to determine what this meant. Did it mean should the training exercises continue? Was there a standing order that the plane should not be shut down? Mineta’s testimony about what went on in that room was not included in the 9/11 Commission report, which said that Cheney was rushed to the PEOC when after the attacks began. After the Pentagon was hit, Cheney was moved to another bunker.

Perhaps the exercises occupied so many jets that nothing could be done about the hijackers. Some argue that the multiple (9) war games occurring at once created so much confusion that NORAD could not respond to a real threat. In fact, the US has intercept procedures that work flawlessly about 100 times a year. The evidence seems to indicate that NORAD stood down that day for exercises. Why couldn’t the exercises have been interrupted to intercept these planes. If the US intercept procedures had been in place only a few years, it might be understandable why a complete and unalterable stand down was needed. One of the exercises was Vigilant Guardian,” which should have had the effect of shortening response times, as the planes and pilots were on the ready.

There is some confusion about whether Andrews Air Force Base was capable of defending Washington on September 11. Normally two units of fighter jets --the 121st Fighter Squadron and the 321st Marine Fighter Attack Squadron . The day after the attack, the Base removed those two units from its web site, only to subsequently restore them.

Some airplane parts were found near the World Trade Center. Those parts are numbered and time-tracked, so it would be possible to prove once and for all that they came off the planes said to have hit the towers. That would dispose of some of the outrageous theories that some sort of constructs, looking like Boeings, hit the towers. But if the FBI released that information, it would also have to be as precise about material found at the Pentagon. For whatever reason, full data on parts at the three locations has not been released.

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