9-11: History Commons; a good compendium, not a reliable source


A correspondent recently asked me to track down a specific audio clip, the “Oh My God,” reaction by an Identification Technician at the Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS)  That search led me to the History Commons timeline and information that was at once helpful but also erroneous.  My purpose in this article is to provide insight for researchers, historians, and academicians who routinely use History Commons as a reference or source.  I personally use the timeline and have a link to it on my home page.

My 9/11 Commission Experience

The antecedent to the History Commons timeline, the Cooperative Research timeline, was the first public domain timeline we used in our staff work.  Early on, as we began to develop our own timeline, we dropped the Cooperative Research timeline because of its inherent inaccuracy.  We found it to be a conglomeration of anecdotal information, derived extensively from eyewitness accounts, participant recall, media accounts, and, as time as passed, published books.  It is not grounded in the primary source information of the day and is, therefore, not reliable.

Post Commission Interest

I followed, with interest, the hearings held by Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, primarily because one of her witnesses was Paul Thompson. Thompson was instrumental in the creation of the Cooperative Research timeline and my hope was that his testimony would extend that work in a positive direction by correcting the anecdotal record he had created. That did not happen. His testimony was a static reiteration of his understanding of events based on his timeline.  He did not move the analytical ball forward.

The Case at Hand

Here is what the History Commons timeline has to say about NEADS when it learned that American Airlines flight 11 struck the World Trade Center, North Tower.

8:51 a.m. September 11, 2001: NEADS Learns of Plane Hitting WTC, Informs FAA’s New York Center
Technicians on the operations floor at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) receive what is apparently their first notification that a plane has hit the World Trade Center, in a phone call from the FAA’s Boston Center. [VANITY FAIR, 8/1/2006] NEADS ID technicians are currently trying to locate Flight 11, when they are called by Colin Scoggins, the military liaison at the Boston Center. ID tech Stacia Rountree answers the call. In response to Scoggins’s information, Rountree says to her colleagues, “A plane just hit the World Trade Center.” She asks Scoggins, “Was it American 11?” He tells her this is not confirmed. [SPENCER, 2008, PP. 50] Another of the ID techs, Shelley Watson, starts murmuring in response to the news: “Oh my God. Oh God. Oh my God.” [VANITY FAIR, 8/1/2006] A computer maintenance technician then runs onto the operations floor and announces that CNN is broadcasting that a 737 has hit the WTC. [SPENCER, 2008, PP. 51]

Here is what I transcribed in 2003 as archived by the National Archives in my work paper “NEADS CDs.”

08:50:30 They dial New York. They show him heading, what did she say north coastal.
Coastal, I didn’t know what she meant. They show him headed coastal now. Primary
only. They’re going to give us 3 and 5 minute updates on lat lons. Dialed number didn’t
go through
08:50:03: That last lat long was 4039 7403W. They’re going to give us 3 and 5 minute
08:50:08: (In background. A plane just….) What? A 737. Like the WTC. Who’re you
talking to. Oh my God. Oh God. Oh my God. (Dooley) Update New York. See if
they lost altitude on that plane all together

With that background we can now refer to the NEADS audio files and find out what happened, in context.

First Air Force

Shortly after 0850 EDT, Sergeant Watson took a call from Sergeant Tibbets, First Air Force Public Affairs.  Tibbets was seeking information about the hijacked airplane and in the course of the conversation told Watson, “Wait a minute, a plane just hit, a plane hit the World Trade Center, I just saw that on the news.”  He then said “it may be a 737.”  [DRM1, Channel 7,cut 123030] 0850 First Air Force Call 

Here is how that call and the reaction was recorded on a different channel. [DRM1 Channel 5, cut 122917] 0851 Watson First Air Force Patch to MCC

The reaction to the call was recorded on yet another channel. [DRM1 Channel 4, cut 121806].  The “Oh God” voice is not that of Watson, she was on the call with First Air Force.  The voice is that of Stacia Rountree.  0850 Oh My God Reaction

The patch to the Mission Crew Commander was answered by Sergeant Joe McCain, the Mission Crew Commander/Technician (MCC/T).  It is his voice that sounds like Colin Scoggins when heard on the MCC channel.  Here is the continuation of the First Air Force Call as recorded at the MCC/T position.  Note that there are multiple conversations going on, to include one involving Major Nasypany, the MCC.  0852 First Air Force Call McCain  [DRM1 Channel 3, cut 123212]

And here is how all that came together as recorded at the MCC position, where, out of context, McCain’s voice sounds like that of Colin Scoggins. 0852 the MCC Perspective [DRM1, Channel 2, cut 121800]

Nearly 5 minutes later, Colin Scoggins at Boston Center became aware of the impact at the World Trade Center and that information was shared immediately in the course of a conversation between Sergeant Watson and Scoggins.  As we pick up the audio, NEADS found the Boston line to be busy but Watson persisted in dialing anyway and reached Scoggins.  In the latter part of the call we hear Master Sergeant Maureen Dooley on the phone.   Dooley Obtained a critical piece of information, the tail number for AA11, N334AA. [DRM1 Channel 7, cut 123304]  0855 Watson Scoggins Dooley AA11 


It is clear from this event that it is not possible to use the NEADS tapes out of context or in isolation, one channel from another.  It takes a concerted effort across all channels to gain an accurate picture of what is actually happening.  It is always useful to start with the MCC channel, channel two, because the MCC position was the focal point for decisionmaking.  Moreover, it was the MCC, and the MCC only, who constantly updated the Battle Cab, specifically Colonel Marr, the NEADS commanding officer.

Understanding of this single event required audio recordings from 5 different channels; the MCC, the MCC Technician, and three devoted to the Identification Technicians.

It is also clear from this event that the History Commons timeline is unreliable as a definitive source.  It is useful to gain a starting point for analysis but it cannot and should not serve as the analytical answer because of its reliance on anecdotal information.

9-11: NEADS Mission Crew Commander; a valiant effort, ultimately futile, Part II


This is the second in a series of articles describing the battle on the morning of September 11, 2001, from the perspective of the Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), Mission Crew Commander (MCC) Major Kevin Nasypany.  The account is based on primary source information, the NEADS audio tapes.

In the first article we covered the first eighteen minutes of the counterattack, from the moment the phone rang at NEADS with a request for military support from the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Boston Center to the point that NEADS tacticians, Major Nasypany and Major Fox, the Senior Director (SD) had decided to place the just airborne Otis fighters in a holding pattern in a designated offshore military training area (Whiskey 105).

As we pick up the story Majors Fox and Nasypany are continuing on the basis that AA 11 might still be airborne.  As yet, they know nothing of the situations concerning UA 175 and AA 77, both known to FAA but not to the military.

Continue to hold

Major Nasypany continued conversations with both Colonel Marr in the Battle Cab and Major Fox, the SD.  Concurrently, and heard faintly in background, Colin Scoggins, Boston Center called the Identification (ID) Technicians and reported that Boston was pretty sure the AA 11 hit the World Trade Center.

During that time Nasypany mused, in jest, to either Fox or Marr, or both, “think we put the exercise on hold, what do you think?”  The time was just before 0858 EDT and the morning’s exercise activity had not yet begun. That is yet more evidence that NEADS clearly separated exercise and real world activity and that exercise Vigilant Guardian did not interfere with the military response to the hijackings.  Here is the audio clip.  0911121800 Continue to hold

Continuity of operations

As of 0900 EDT. NEADS had just one issue on its plate, guarding against AA 11 assuming it was not the aircraft that struck the World Trade Center north tower.  NEADS had committed 50% of its available assets and was now faced with the task of maintaining operations.  The Otis fighters had been vectored to a holding pattern south of New York City but could not remain there indefinitely without tanker support.

Major Nasypany in a brief to the Battle Cab concluded by pointing out they had a tanker, Maine 85 in Whiskey 105 that they could use.  That capability was coordinated with Giantkiller.  0911121800 We have Maine 85

Nasypany was listening in to the weapons controllers and remarked that it looked like Maine 85 was on his way home.  Concurrently, the controllers were discussing tanker operations in general and Sergeant Beluscio called McGuire to ask about KC 10 support.  During a series of two phone calls background voices can be heard discussing the situation, including the call signs for the Otis fighters.  A comment was made that they lost the hijacked airliner when the World Trade Center was struck.  Another comment indicated that the Battle Cab was following the tanker support situation and had asked how long Maine 85 would be available.

Toward the end of the second Beluscio phone call the MCC briefed the Battle Cab about a second hijack, real world, a United.  The time was 0904 EDT; United 175 had just struck the south tower.  0911121800 Second hijack a United real world

Nasypany, still listening to the Weapons Controllers, briefed the Battle Cab while Sergeant Beluscio was arranging for tanker support. Those concurrent events are heard intermingled in the next audio clip.  The net result of Beluscio’s work was guaranteed tanker support, already airborne, Team 23 and Team 24, two DC-10s, “heavyweights.”  0911121800 Battle Cab brief and tanker support

Thereafter, Nasypany directed Major Fox to “plug in’ and then told “Foxy” to work with FAA to get the fighters over Manhattan so that they would have some kind of play if this stuff continued.  Fox’s plug in is clearly distinguishable in this next clip and, briefly, radio comms are heard in the background, most likely the controller talking to the Otis fighters.  0911121800 Over Manhattan some kind of play

Langley, Battle Stations

Nasypany continued to brief the Battle Cab and advised that he was scrambling Langley.  He was immediately given countermanding guidance to put NEADS last remaining aid defense assets on battle stations only, which he did.  While NEADS continued to work the tanker support issue Sergeant Powell issuing the battle stations order for Quit 25 and 26. He documented the time as 0910.  0911121800 Langley Battle Stations Only

Three things were ongoing concurrently as heard on the next clip.  Fox attempted to contact New York Center, unsuccessfully.  Nasypany directed that he wanted the Otis fighters south of JFK and then gave orders to the trackers to cover Boston, Manhattan, and points in between, all the while keeping the Battle Cab informed.  Powell called Langley back to further coordinate and in the process was asked for the “words,” the mission.  All he could provide was “the hijacking going on.”  There was no target and therefore no intercept mission.  0911121800 Many voices no target

Tactical Plan Completed

By 0915 Nasypany’s tactical plan was complete, in consultation with the Battle Cab.  At that time NEADS had no targets, 50% of its air defense assets aloft in a holding pattern in Whiskey 105, and the other 50% on Battle Stations.  They were positioning tankers in support, Maine 85 in Whiskey 105 to support the Otis fighters and one KC 10 in Whiskey 107 to support the Langley fighters, if scrambled.  They were ready for any additional targets originating from Boston unaware that a new threat to the nation’s capital was approaching from the West.  0911121800 Tactical plan completed


Retrospectively, a summation of what was going on, in real time, is in order.  The time was 0908 EDT.  Two planes had been identified to NEADS as hijacked, AA 11 and UA 175.  NEADS had sufficient information to know that Mode 3 3321 (United 175) impacted the World Trade Center.  NEADS understood that AA 11 may have also impacted but did not know that with clarity.

AA 77 had been hijacked, but that fact was not known to either of the two persons who were fighting the battle or their organizations; Ben Sliney at Herndon Center, the Operations Manager of the National Airspace System (NAS), and Colonel Bob Marr at NEADS, the defender of the NAS.  Nor was that fact known to the tactical officers for Marr, Major Nasypany the Mission Crew Commander and Major Fox, the Senior Director.

There is nothing that any higher echelon in the chain of command, all the way to the National Command Authority, could do.  No definitive action had yet been taken at FAA, the Pentagon, or the White House. Yes, there was an understanding that the nation was under attack, but none of the coordinating mechanism–FAA’s primary net, the NMCC’s Significant Event Conference–had been activated.

The battle would soon get more chaotic and Nasypany and Fox, with guidance from Marr would, together and separately from Ben Sliney and Herndon Center, fight the rest of battle.  Marr and Sliney never communicated; they did not know each other, had never met, and did not understand one to the other that for there to be any success at all the had to share critical information in real time.

Information concerning AA 77 was never forthcoming in a timely manner.  At the time Nasypany was directing Fox to get the Otis fighters over Manhattan Indianapolis Center was taking action to spread the word about a potential threat from the West.  Dutifully, the Center notified its next higher administrative headquarters, Great Lakes Region.  The critical information that AA 77 was lost was simply held at the Region while they tried to grapple with a situation they did not understand.

Concurrently, under the assumption that AA 77 had crashed, the Center notified the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center (RCC) at Langley AFB.  At Langley, as at Great Lakes the information simply stopped.  The RCC had no obligation to report further, its job was to take action to initiate rescue operations, which it did.

Unbeknownst to everyone, and even though AA 77 as a primary target only was not detectable at the scope level at Indianapolis Center, AA 77 came into range of the Joint Surveillance System radars supporting NEADS.  By 0910 NEADS could have refocused their search to the West and, in my assessment, would have quickly picked up the track.

I make that assessment for three reasons.  First, there was far less clutter to deal with.  Second, the JSS search algorithms would have tracked fore and aft to correlate the unknown track to the known track of AA 77 before the transponder was turned off.  Third, by that time Sergeant Richmond had sufficient trackers at his beckon to dedicate one or more to the new threat.

In sum, the time frame 0909-0910 was the critical opportunity for Herdon Center and NEADS working together to scramble the Langley fighters Westerly.  Instead, NEADS operating suboptimally with Boston Center, prudently, in my estimation given the information available to them at the time, opted to place those fighters on battle stations only, as we shall soon hear.  Further, NEADS committed the Otis fighters away from the Whiskey 105 holding pattern and they were no longer available.

With that opportunity never recognized, Nasypany and Fox continued their tactical work simply unaware that the second prong of a two-pronged attack was developing.

Nasypany, continued

AT 0916 EDT Colin Scoggins, Boston Center called with an update and a tail number for UA 175.  Scoggins asked the ID Technicians what the NEADS plan was in there were any more deviating aircraft.  The Technicians referred Scoggins to Nasypany and he picked up on DRM1 Channel 4 to brief Scoggins.  To conclude the conversation Nasypany asked Scoggins, “if you get anything…give us a yell.”  The time was 0919 EDT.  0911125341 Scoggins Nasypany Conversation

Major Nasypany then updated the Battle Cab on the Scoggins call.  He also advised on the tactics he would use, if necessary against a large aircraft, “AIM 9’s in the face.”

During the update Nasypany learned and briefed the Battle Cab that the Otis Supervisor of Flying had recalled the six aircraft on a training mission for possible use.  Nasypany misinterpreted this to mean the planes were back on the ground and were ready.  According to the 84th RADES radar files the fighters were then in the process of returning.  0911125834 Scoggins call briefed to Battle Cab

The Situation

It was 0921 and Nasypany was asking for a cup a coffee.  The NEADS counterattack had been in progress for forty minutes.  During that time they had been informed of two hijacked aircraft, AA 11 and UA 175 and knew that two aircraft had flown into the World Trade Center.  They had no targets and were arranging for tanker support and additional assets, specifically backup from Otis for Panta 45 and 46.  Their last remaining air defense fighters at Langley had been placed on battle stations.  Nasypany had tightened the relationship with Boston Center, specifically Colin Scoggins.  NEADS knew nothing of the developing situation to the West concerning AA 77, but they were about to find out, not in the form of a new plane, but an old foe reborn, AA 11. 

To be continued

9-11: NEADS Mission Crew Commander; a valiant effort, ultimately futile, Part I


This article tells the story of 9-11 by documenting the activity of then Major Kevin Nasypany, Commander, Alpha Flight, and the Mission Crew Commander (MCC) on duty at the Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) on September 11, 2001.  (Picture at link) Alpha flight comprised all duty personnel at the NEADS Sector Operations Control Center (SOCC) other than the Senior Director and the Weapons Controllers who were from Delta Flight.

Major Nasypany sat facing the front of the SOCC floor with his back to the Battle Cab.  He was supported by his immediate staff in his general vicinity, the Identification Technicians to his immediate right and the Surveillance Technicians to his left.  The Senior Director and Weapons Directors were to his front.  Large screens high on the forward wall displayed status information and, in short order, live television coverage on a continuous basis.  Diagrams of the SOCC are available in my work files released by NARA.

Nasypany had the capability of “camping on” and listening to any position on the SOCC floor and often did.  Therefore, his voice was occasionally overridden by conversations or communications taking place elsewhere on the SOCC floor.  Moreover, his own voice was sometimes heard at other positions depending on where he was tuned in.

This article complements and adds to my several previous accounts of the battle on the morning of 9-11.

The Source Material

Major Nasypany’s story is best told primarily in his voice as recorded at NEADS using the Dictaphone .wav recovered files.  Those files are available as individual records or cuts of variable length, depending on dead space.

Each record or cut has a Dictaphone identifier in Zulu time.  There is an approximate 20 minute difference (+/- 10 seconds) between the Dictaphone identifier and actual time.  For example, cut 142148 on DRM1 Channel 4 begins about 144148Z (10:41:48 EDT).  All audio clips in this article have been converted from .wav to .mp3 format which degrades the original fidelity slightly.

In this article I use times derived from the original Dictaphone files provided to the Commission.  I have been provided a copy by NARA.  Times in this article may differ slightly from times established in my Commission work files as made public by NARA.  However, it is not the precise time of a conversation that is important to us here.  What is important is the time difference between conversations and events as spoken or described by Major Nasypany.

Here is the beginning segment of the time stamp as recorded on DRM1, Channel 1 at NEADS on 9-11.  The cut is titled by Dictaphone as CO101_11_09_2001_002817.wav.  DRM1 Time Stamp Beginning


Previously, I have thrice told the story of 9-11, first as a battle in a larger war on terror, then from the point of view of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed as derived from Moussaoui trial documentation, and, finally, in terms of Chaos Theory.  This article expands on the battle in a larger war article.

In that article I established that the battle was a two-pronged attack on the National Airspace System, each prong with two prongs.  The NOM (National Operations Manager) of the NAS that morning was Benedict Sliney at the Federal Avaiation Administration’s (FAA) Air Traffic Control System Command Center (ATCSCC or, simply, Herndon Center).

The defender of the  NAS in the North East was Colonel Robert Marr, Commander, North East Air Defense Sector (NEADS).  Colonel Marr sat in the Battle Cab immediately behind Nasypany and in direct communication with him.  Major Nasypany reported directly and continuously to Colonel Marr.  We only hear Nasypany’s end of the conversations.  The positions in the Battle Cab were not recorded.

Exercise Vigilant Guardian

NEADS was in the second week of Exercise Vigilant Guardian which increased in tempo each day.  The exercise was a series of discrete events and, heretofore, NEADS had conducted the exercise with regular manning.  In other words, duty personnel were handling both real world and exercise events.  NEADS was poised to go to 24-hour manning (12-hour shifts) that evening.  They went to 24-hour manning, but not because of the exercise.  Real world events intervened.

I have told the  Vigilant Guardian story in a series of articles which established that there was no exercise activity ongoing after about 0430 EDT.  NEADS had just re-established air sovereignty over the Northeast having passed that authority to the South East Air Defense Sector while NEADS assumed air sovereignty from the Western Air Defense Sector.  That return to normal was the last exercise activity in which NEADS participated.

9-11, the early morning hours

Major Nasypany’s was destined by routine scheduling to be the Mission Crew Commander that morning.  The NEADS tapes established that the day before.  A caller to the MCC/T (Mission Crew Commander/Technician) on Sep 10, asked Sgt Perry if “Nasty” was on duty.  (Nasty was Nasypany’s nickname and he was referred to by that name on occasion on 9-11).  The caller was told that “Nasty” would be on duty the next day.  0910231330 Nasypany status

Things were quiet when Nasypany and Alpha and Delta flights assumed duty.  There was no exercise activity ongoing and real world activity was limited to just two calls.  An Identification (ID) Technician took a call from Giant Killer (The Navy facility that controlled air activity in offshore training areas) to confirm that Otis AFB would be using a training area that morning.  Nasypany took the second call, a weather update concerning the status in the Langley area.

Nasypany had just four air defense aircraft at his command, two at Otis and two at Langley.  A weather update concerning those locations was routine and, as was established in the Vigilant Guardian tapes for previous days, applied to both real world and exercise activity.  Here is that call, an introduction to the voice of Major Kevin “Nasty” Nasypany, initials “kilo november.” (The use of initials is an air traffic control identifier used by NEADS, FAA, and Giant Killer)  0911114837 Nasypany Langley Weather The time was 0809 EDT.

However, Major Nasypany was present for duty well before that time.  About one-half hour earlier he provided an update to the Director of Operations for the night shift.  Here is that conversation.  0911111815 Major Nasypany

That was the extent of notable activity up to the hijack notification from Boston Center.  Nasypany took the quiet time opportunity to take his morning constitutional, in the efficient words of Michael Bronner in his Vanity Fair article, “9/11 Live: The NORAD Tapes.”  And that is where he was when he was abruptly summoned to the operations floor.

The alert, Nasypany summoned

Sergeant Powell took the original call from Boston Center and immediately established that the event was real world not exercise.  I have enhanced that audio clip to emphasize Powell’s reaction as he alerted the SOCC floor on his way to find a Mission Crew Commander.  0911121716 Phone Rings Boston Calling

Immediately, Major Nasypany was summoned to the operations floor. Here is that alert over the PA system by the Mission Crew Commander/Technician (MCC/T) but from Nasypany’s console.  0911121800 Major Nasypany Pronto

During a brief quiet moment just before 0900 EDT Nasypany announced, ultimately for posterity, exactly where he was in earthy and explicit language.  Even though his first thought was exercise he hastened to the operations floor.  0911121800 Nasypany where was I

A little over four hours later at 1709 EDT Nasypany referred again to the announcement by saying he would remember it the rest of his life.  0911164701 Nasypany remember rest of life

Nasypany returns to the SOCC floor

Nasypany was on the SOCC floor by 1240Z (actually 083940 EDT) when he can be heard sitting at his console.  Immediately, Major Deskins made reference to him, “hey Nasty,” during a pause in her conversation with Joe Cooper at Boston Center.  Shortly thereafter, Nasypany plugged in to her conversation.  That activity was recorded on DRM 1 Channel 2, the MCC position, as heard in this clip.  0911121800 Nasypany returns to Ops floor

The Deskins reference was more clearly recorded on DRM1, Channel 3, the MCC/T position, as heard on this next clip.  Deskins’ voice is merged with that of Sergeant Watson who was speaking with Colin Scoggins, also at Boston Center.  0911121934 Deskins Hey Nasty

Battle stations, the NEADS immediate response

Alpha Flight immediately went to work even though their Mission Crew Commander was not on the floor, a sign of a well-trained crew that knew its job.  Sergeant Powell found a trained Mission Crew Commander, Major Deskins.  She answered the call from Joe Cooper just before 1239 EDT.  She immediately asked for both of the critical pieces of information that NEADS needed the Mode 3 (Squawk) and the location.  Cooper had neither. At about 0840 Deskins obtained  a set of coordinates which became a “Z” point 40 miles north of JFK.  The MCC/T recorded that time in the official NEADS log book as the time of notification by FAA concerning AA 11.

Here is a continuous audio clip of just over two minutes duration beginning with Powell telling Cooper someone is coming to the phone and ending with the Weapons Section putting Otis on battle stations.  0911121826 Deskins Cooper First Exchange (DRM2, Channel 14)

Elsewhere, and without hesitation, Sergeant Shelly Watson, an Identification Technician, speed-dialed the Boston military desk.  Colin Scoggins answered that call. I have amplified the following audio clip to document the relationship between Powell’s reaction as he energized the SOCC floor and the trained response by Watson to contact Boston Center without waiting for some one to tell her what to do.  0911121746 The ID Reaction

Concurrently, Master Sergeant Joe McCain, the Mission Crew Commander/Technician (MCC/T) summoned Alpha Flight to the SOCC floor.  0911121844 Alpha Flight report to Ops

While all that was going on Sergeant Kelly from Otis called to report the hijack.  That was the end result of an initial call Boston Center had made to Otis. Here is a continuous audio clip of the first nearly four minutes of recording at the MCC position.  It places Kelly’s call in perspective.  Note that Deskins’s asked if Nasypany had been summoned.  (DRM1, Channel 2).  0911121800 MCC Position first 4 minutes

Further, the Weapons Section, specifically Sergeant Beluscio,  went immediately to work to put Otis on battle stations.  That action can be heard on this next clip as Major Deskins continued her conversation with Joe Cooper.  Weapons understood the plane to be a real world hijack 40 miles north of JFK.  Immediately, Sergeant Powell issued the battle stations order.  0911121826 Powell issues order He established the time as 1241Z (0841 EDT).

In summation, the phone rang at 083716; Powell picked up at 083724 and within 15 seconds had determined that the event was real world, not exercise.  Within 30 seconds he had alerted the SOCC floor to a serious situation. By 0840  Nasypany was on the floor, Deskins was talking to Cooper, Watson was talking to Scoggins and McCain had summoned Alpha Flight personnel to the floor.  By 0841 NEADS had put Otis on battle stations and was grappling with the issue of determining where AA 11 was located.

Otis scrambled, Nasypany takes charge

With Otis on Battle Stations, Major Nasypany turned his attention to three people.  First, he camped on Major Fox’s channel so that he could work the scramble of the Otis fighters.  We hear Fox muse that he had never seen so much real world activity during an exercise..

Second, Nasypany provided direction and guidance to Sergeant Richmond and the surveillance technicians. He directed that necessary radar coverage be maintained and provided a Z point with guidance to search in a 25-mile radius.

Third, he twice briefed Colonel Marr in the battle cab.  In the first brief he received direction to scramble Otis.  That direction was passed to Major Fox who immediately responded that he needed a distance and a direction.  Scramble orders required an altitude, a distance, a direction, and a target.  Fox was told to send the fighters toward the “Z” point.  Absent complete guidance Fox mused to himself “it doesn’t matter,” and worked to execute the scramble.  In the second brief Nasypany provided a status report, to include the scramble and was directed to work with FAA. 0911121800 Naypany takes charge

By that time AA 11 had impacted the North Tower of the World Trade Center, ironically, at the same time that Powell issued the Otis scramble order.  Nevertheless, Nasypany and Alpha Flight continued a search for AA 11 that had been underway for several minutes.

The Hunt for AA 11

In the previous clip Nasypany was heard provided directions to “Steve,” (Sergeant Richmond).  Richmond had two trackers, he advised them that Boston was requesting military assistance, that they did not have a position, and to look for primaries.

His first order of business with the MCC was to inform him of the radar status.  He informed Nasypany that North Truro, J53, was down for scheduled maintenance.  Nasypany responded immediately with guidance to use three other radars.  The time was 0842, Otis had been placed on battle stations and Richmond did not yet have a “Z” point. (DRM2 Channel 15)  0911121906 Richmond radar status

Richmond did not yet have a full crew from the break room and shifted resources commenting that the “exercise was just going to have to go on a bit of a hold.”  He assigned a tracker to hit up targets within 25 miles of the location he was given.  As he was making that assignment AA 11 impacted.  0911122413 Surveillance Richmond

Despite the NEADS response and search at all positions on the SOCC floor the lack of accurate position data did not give Alpha and Delta flights enough time to locate AA 11.  It did not matter, the Otis fighters had just been scrambled and were not yet airborne when AA 11 crashed.

A New Location

As Nasypany completed his update to Colonel Marr word of a new location for AA 11 came in, search track only.  At the same time Nasypany talked to CONR (General Arnold’s headquarters) for the first time and told them they could not enter a track into the system so that CONR (and, by extension, NORAD) could flight follow the hijacked aircraft.  0911121800 New location and call from CONR

By 0850, Nasypany still did not have a location for AA 11 when Colonel Marr called posing that question.  Nasypany told Marr about the CONR call and reported that he told them NEADS had not yet found AA 11, a 767.  Of note, as of the time of the CONR call and Nasypany’s update to the Battle Cab there was no evidence that NEADS knew anything about UA 175.  It is clear that a post facto NORAD timeline that included an 0843 notification time for UA 175 was in error.  0911121800 0850 Battle Cab update no info on UA 175

Managing the Otis Scramble

In the aftermath and by June, 2002, the Otis fighter pilots had internalized the scramble into a public account that was at once dramatic and wrong.  In the Scott Trilogy account, Duffy was reported as saying, “[he] had a bad feeling about the suspected hijacking: something didn’t feel right.  Consequently, he jammed the F-15s throttles into afterburner and the two-ship formation devoured the 153 mi. to New York City at supersonic speeds.”  Except, they did no such thing.  The account remained uncorrected until the Commission staff went to work.

The SOCC floor exchanges between Major Nasypany and Major Fox tell us exactly what happened as the Otis fighters lifted off at 0852 EST. Nasypany and NEADS learned that something hit the World Trade Center, possibly a 737.  Nasypany asked Fox “to plug in,” and gave him specific instructions to “continue taking the fighters down to New York City, JFK area, as best as you can.”  Nasypany still has no knowledge of the UA 175 situation.  0911121800 JFK area as best you can

The Otis fighters lifted off, officially, at 0852 EDT as can be heard on this next clip.  Nasypany turned the management of the scramble over to Major Fox and he determined that it was easier to head the fighters toward a military training area and hold.  He is heard providing that direction to the weapons team controlling the Otis fighters.  Nasypany concurred.  0911121800 Otis fighters to hold

This primary source data and the pertinent radar files are explicit and conclusive evidence that the Otis fighters did not proceed directly to New York City.  That information was knowable by NEADS, NORAD, and the fighter wing at Otis.  There is no excuse for the garbled public story and the subsequent failure of NORAD at the May 23, 2003 Commission hearing to accurately inform both the public and the Commission.

The Status

The time is now 0856 EDT.  NEADS was still looking for AA 11.  FAA had not notified them of the threat of UA175.  Because of the uncertainty about AA 11, NEADS tacticians, Majors Nasypany and Fox, directed a holding pattern for the Otis fighters.  Based on the information available to them in real time that was a logical maneuver.  They knew of only one threat, AA 11, which might be continuing south.  They knew something, possibly a 737 but possibly AA 11, had struck the World Trade Center.  They had just four air defense aircraft at their disposal.  Two were airborne and were being maneuvered, two were on the ground at Langley Air Force Base, on alert, but not on battle stations.

Just eighteen minutes had passed since the phone rang with the first, and so far only request for military support.  The situation was still linear and manageable with just the Otis fighters.  All that would change as we shall hear in succeeding installments.  Unbeknownst to NEADS, New York Center was dealing with a second hijacked airplane, UA 175.

(Added June 6, 2011)  Also, unbeknownst to NEADS,  Indianapolis Center had just lost AA 77 on radar.

To be continued

9-11: The NEADS audio files; important information for Historians


I have written about the Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) audio files in two previous articles.  First, I explained  the Alderson transcripts.  Second, I addressed an issue–a non-issue really–raised about the Commission’s ability to obtain the NEADS files.  Both of those articles should be read before continuing with this article.

My purpose in this third article is to provide additional insight and guidance especially for future historians.  Modern day researchers and writers will benefit, but the intent is to facilitate work in the broad reach of history.  We start with the NEADS partial transcript.

The NEADS partial transcript

The NEADS partial transcript was the first secondary source document the Commission Staff obtained to provide insight into the activities at NEADS on 9-11.  Its direct and necessary complement is the first primary source information received, the radar files of the 84th Radar Evaluation Squadron (RADES).

Multiple copies of the partial transcript were archived as workpapers by the Commission Staff, each annotated or cut and pasted in some fashion.  I archived at least two copies.

The most useful, partially color-coded as to speaking voice, is available at this link.  Retrospectively, I believe this is the copy I took with me on the first NEADS visit, based on the annotations.

A second, earlier copy is at this link.  In that copy I specifically annotated an important point about the NEADS partial transcript; it is partial for a reason.

According to the transcript: “MEMO FOR RECORD: 21 SEP 01.  Due to an equipment malfunction, the rest of the information recorded on DRM 2, DAT 2 was lost.  The incident tape was in the data recorder for playback purposes by SSgt James D. Tollack, 305 OSS [Operations Support Squadron], McGuire AFB, who was performing the transcription, when the computer equipment failure occurred.”

SSgt Tollack was the one person designated to transcribe the NEADS audio files in the immediate aftermath of 9-11.  He did his work at the NEADS Sector Operations Center.

The Sector Operations Center (SOCC)

NEADS had two main facilities, the Headquarters and the SOCC.  The two were located on Rome Air Force Base but physically separated by a distance of several hundred yards.  Typically, the Command and primary staff were at the Headquarters, but on 9-11 Colonel Marr and key staff were in the Battle Cab at the SOCC; there was an exercise scheduled.

My SOCC work files are available to researchers and historians.

The Tollack Saga

SSgt Tollack was the only person who listened, iteratively, to the NEADS tapes prior to the Commission Staff’s first visit in late fall, 2003. A copy of notes taken during our interview document the basic story.  Tollack said that, according to Jeremy Powell, NEADS personnel did listen to the tapes prior to Tollack’s arrival.

Tollack stated he arrived at NEADS on Sep 20, 2001; (added Jul 14, 2001) his travel voucher is for the period Sep 20 – Oct 4.  If so, his work did not inform the effort of General Arnold working with Jeff Griffith at FAA to establish an agreed upon timeline, the preparation of either agency for a White House meeting, or the release of the NORAD timeline on September 18, 2001.

A copy of Tollack’s travel orders is in the Commission’s paper files; that document will establish his time on station. (para deleted Jul 14, 2001)

Tollack worked long hours to accomplish the work that led to the NEADS partial transcript.  He did not type the transcript, but did type his notes which he gaive to two secretaries dedicated to him; they created the transcript.

Because of the equipment malfunction, Colonel Marr stopped Tollack’s work on DRM 2.  According to Marr during his inbrief for our first visit, he sequestered all the NEADS tapes to preserve them.  There was no attempt to further listen to or use the tapes between the time Tollack ceased work and the time the Commission requested the tapes and transcripts.

During our interview with Tollack I asked him about “Freedom files–should not have 20 min error.”  I will return to the Freedom Files subject later.  Tollack said there was no error in the NEADS audio files and he was, in fact, the person who discovered the 25 second error in the NEADS radar files, later documented by NTSB.

Getting the audio files

Despite Commission formal requests for a copy of the tapes and a transcript, NEADS was unable to deliver in time for our first visit the last week in October, 2003.  I arranged with our POC to obtain a copy of the tapes on site; there would be no transcript.

As agreed, NEADS provided, piecemeal, digitized copies of their tapes as Commission Staff was conducting interviews.  We worked with a copy of the partial transcript and the audio files and attempted to walk interviewees through the events of the morning of 9-11.  It quickly became apparent that the transcript was insufficient for the task at hand.  Our Team Leader, John Farmer, consulted with Colonel Marr and informed him that we were terminating the visit prior to the final interview with him.

The direct result of our termination of the visit was the issuance of a subpoena to DoD.  The audio files were delivered under a schedule provided by the Under Secretary of Defense in a November 6, 2003, memo.  There were no transcripts and Commission Staff contracted that effort, as I discussed in the Alderson article.

There was still a problem with the missing channels from DRM2.  The manufacturer, Dictaphone, took control of the tapes and was able to recover “most of the tracks,” as the Under Secretary reported in a November 25, 2003, memo.  Working with our DoD point-of-contact we were able to obtain digitized files from Dictaphone for all of the recorded channels from all three digital recording machines at NEADS.

The “Freedom Files”

The Dictaphone-provided files are the “Freedom Files,” alluded to in my question to Tollack about timing errors.  For a reason never determined, Dictaphone’s recovery process introduced a 20-minute error across the board for all NEADS audio files provided as a result of the manufacturer’s recovery process.  That error has no analytical impact except that it must be accounted for and analysts, researchers, and historians need to remember which set of files is at hand as they work.

Two sets of NEADS audio files

There are two sets of NEADS audio files in the Commission master files; the NEADS-provided set as documented in the DoD memo of November 6, 2003, and the Dictaphone-provided Freedom Files set as mentioned in the DoD memo of November 25, 2003.  Each set is useful in its own way.

The Freedom Files set has more channels, but none of the additional channels contains audio files that change anything, analytically.  The essential NEADS story is contained in the NEADS-provided files, the NEADS partial transcript, and the Alderson transcripts.

The NEADS audio files. These files are accurately time-stamped.  Researchers, however, need to make sure they line up clock time and tape time as they work with the files.  The files have the advantage of containing all the dead space, and some of the channels are just that, dead space.

It is not analytically useful to listen to the tapes using a basic media player.  A program such as Adobe Audition provides an easy way of identifying dead space, locating potential recordings of background conversations, and reducing noise and clicks.

I strongly recommend the NEADS audio files for researchers and historians, especially those examining the NEADS audio files for the first time.  Those files are in the public domain.

The Freedom Files. These files are not yet in the public domain.  They have the unique advantage of being conversation only; all dead space is eliminated.  Each conversation segment is time-annotated from the basic NEADS time clock, but does have a 20-minute offset.

Some of the conversation segments approach 30 minutes in length.  These are the information-dense segments from the MCC, ID, SD, and WD areas where conversation was near continuous.

The Freedom Files are extremely useful for researchers and historians who are familiar with the NEADS floor conversations and are looking for specific conversation segments.  Toward the end of our work I tended to use the Freedom Files almost exclusively, for example.

Two Channels not recorded

Nowhere in either set of primary source audio files from NEADS do we hear the voices of the controllers–the Weapons Director and Weapons Director/Technician–for the Otis fighters.  There is no primary source information that tells us how and why the Otis fighters established a combat air patrol over New York City, despite Lynn Spencer’s narrative in Touching History.

But that is a story for another article.  For our purpose in this article it is sufficient to identify the two channels that were not recorded.

According to my SOCC work charts, one console, ODC 19 was not recorded.  ODC 19 was the position for the Otis controllers.  The two channels missing are channels 15 and 16, DRM 2, according to the matrix on the second page of my archived work files.  That second page is a summation page and is more accurate than any following chart.

We asked Dictaphone for a determination as to why the two channels were not recorded.  Dictaphone could not make a forensic determination because the SOCC equipment suite had changed too much since 9-11.  It was, however, their judgment that the two channels were, for whatever the technical reason, not recorded on 9-11.

I agree with that assessment.  Anyone who has listened to the NEADS tapes knows that there is a cacophony of sound, especially at critical times.  It was that feature that caused Alderson to conclude that it was easier to try and follow individual voices.

That cacophony was caused, in part, because individual channels recorded side by side on the master tape bled over to each other during the process of copying individual channels to digital form.  For example, the voices of the Langley controllers are heard on multiple channels.  On the contrary, the voices of the Otis controllers are never heard, there was no bleed over because there was nothing to bleed.

What’s next?

This concludes our discussion of the NEADS files, a necessary step before the Otis scramble can be discussed, given that the military controllers for that scramble were not recorded.

I will refer back to this article when we begin our discussion of the Otis story.

9-11: NEADS MCC/T Log; a definitive secondary source

In previous articles we discussed the Mission Crew Commander/Technician (MCC/T) log kept at NEADS.  The purpose of this article is to provide historians, researchers, and other interested persons additional information about that important document.

It is the definitive secondary source document of the day to establish what NEADS knew and when they knew it.  Why definitive?  Because it is validated and verified by definitive primary sources, the NEADS and FAA tapes.

Explanation of copies of the log

My estimate is that the Commission Staff archived as many as three copies of the MCC/T log.  I archived one and it is likely that the New York office archived an additional copy.  Dana Hyde archived a third, unannotated copy.  The copy I linked in an earlier article was annotated by either Geoff Brown or John Azarrello while we were at NEADS; that is not my handwriting.

I note that we must have discussed the log with the several non-commissioned officers who performed the MCC/T duty that morning.  We established who made what entries via the handwriting.  For example, “Sgt Bianchi” made the 1324 entry.  Sgt Bianchi’s entries begin at 1240, the initial call from Boston Center.  He turned over the log to Sgt Perry sometime between 1401 and 1407.

A master copy of the log, as forwarded to the Commission via DoD, will ultimately be available when NARA uploads the Commission’s master paper files.  In the interim, the copy archived by Dana Hyde is an accurate rendition of the original log book, less redactions made by NARA.

The original log book, a general purpose ledger available in any office supply store, was and likely still is maintained in a safe at NEADS.  Each morning during our visits the NEADS staff would deliver the original to us for use during interviews; it was returned to them at the end of each day.  The approximate one-inch thick ledger was difficult to copy.  Readers familiar with the process will note that the book was opened to the relevant pages and copied under pressure to flatten the pages as much as possible.

Helpful background

Much work on the NEADS floor was accomplished by trained, experienced non-commissioned officers.  Each of the two key officers, the MCC, Major Nasypany, and the Senior Director, Major Fox, had such senior non-commissioned officers to constantly assist them.

For example, those familiar with the NEADS tapes will recognize that every scramble order that morning was broadcast by Sgt Powell, the SD/T.  Major Nasypany had three MCC/T on duty at various times, Sgt Bianchi, Sgt Perry, and Sgt McCain.

It is worth noting that McCain, Powell, Fox, and the Commander, Colonel Bob Marr, were all on duty the day of the Lufthansa hijacking a decade earlier.  This was an experienced crew, they knew what they were doing.

MCC/T log accuracy

Each critical entry was accurately posted, probably no longer than a minute or two after the fact.  For example, consider the first notification of the day, the call from Boston Center concerning AA 11.  That call was picked up by Sgt Powell a few seconds before 9:38.  It took a minute or two to gain actionable information.  We do not know when Sgt Bianchi actually made the log entry, but we do know that he determined the entry to be 8:40.

That pattern of accurate log entries by Sgt Bianchi continued.  He established the notification time for UA 175 as 9:05 and the notification time for AA 77 as 9:34; both consistent with the primary source audio files.  That pattern continued with Sgt Perry who recorded a notification time for UA 93 as 10:07.

Serious researchers, writers, and historians will appreciate and accept the work done by the non-commissioned officers, the ‘Technicians,’ at NEADS.

A key document thrice misinterpreted.

NEADS staff misread the MCC/T log in their initial review and established a notification time for AA 77 as 9:24, despite primary and secondary source information to the contrary.

NEADS staff again misread the MCC/T log  five days later under questioning by CONR and failed to accurately inform General Moore about the AA 77 notification as he was consulting with FAA, which knew the 9:24 time was not supportable.

NEADS staff, together with Col Scott, again misread the MCC/T log in preparation for the May 23, 2003 air defense hearing before the Commission.  It is then that an erroneous hijack time of 9:16 for UA93 was entered into the public record by NORAD.

9-11: NEADS tapes and logs; an update

This update provides additional information concerning NEADS primary source information, the NEADS tapes, and secondary source information, the NEADS logs.  Specifically it addresses the question of whether NORAD/CONR/NEADS reviewed relevant documents prior to the White House meeting on September 17, 2001 and the subsequent release of the NORAD timeline on September 18, 2001.  The answer is yes they did.

The Moore email and response

John Farmer in The Ground Truth wrote that “the Commission staff obtained the e-mail…sent late in the evening of September 16, 2001, from Brigadier General Doug Moore at CONR, under General Arnold’s command, to NEADS.”  That email exchange is available at the History Commons Scribd web site.

Moore was asking for additional clarification to pass to FAA to use “to brief the White House tomorrow.”  The night Director of Operations (DO) at NEADS, Clark Speicher, did the research and provided the answer.  At the time, Col Clark Speicher was the Deputy Commander, NEADS.  He reported directly to the NEADS Commander, Col Bob Marr.

AA 77 notification time to NEADS

Moore posed this question: “AA 77 1324Z, Which FAA organization passes notification of ‘a possible track heading to DC’?”  Clearly, CONR/NORAD wanted that pinned down.  Speicher responded, citing , in part, his research: “I have reviewed the crew MCC log book…The MCC log reveled (sic) the following:  “1st question: AA 77, 1342Z: (emphasis added) Boston FAA says another A/c is missing AA77 flight to LA lost unable to contact.”  However, my notes taken directly from the MCC/T log book reflect that the time was actually 13:34 (9:34), as recorded at NEADS.  Col Speicher and NEADS got the entry right, but not the time.

Further, the MCC/T log book never mentioned AA 77 at 9:24 and Speicher did not confirm to Moore a 9:24 entry concerning the tail number of AA 11 which NEADS originally conflated to be AA 77.  That original conflation is what Moore was now questioning.  He did not get a direct answer to his original question.

In the rush of the moment NEADS and CONR made two errors.  First, Col Speicher provided an incorrect time to Col Moore which appeared to simply transpose two digits.  Second, Col Moore was in contact with FAA and knew that they could not support a notification time of 9:24, as we have discussed in recent articles concerning AA 77.  Moore stayed with the original time of 9:24; he was not given a true reading  of the accurate 1334 (9:34) entry.  FAA apparently did not force the issue.

Additional information concerning the NEADS tapes

Col Speicher provided this additional information on the NEADS review.  First, he established that NEADS did review the tapes.  “…one of our MCC’s and I reviewed the audio tapes to answer your questions.”

Second, he detailed the difficulty and complexity of the tape review process.  “We spent six hours trying to retrieve data from the voice tapes but the system has 24 channels recording two postions each channel and four tapes total from the llth.”  He further elaborated: “the system is complex…it is rather cumbersome so analyzing the information is difficult to say the least.”

In the latter part of September, 2001, NEADS brought in a technician to try and transcribe the tapes.  It is his work that became the NEADS partial transcript provided to the Commission.  During his work one of the tapes was thought to be accidentally erased and his task was terminated and never completed.

Additional information about NORAD preparation for the May 2003 air defense hearing

A detailed radar review was accomplished by NORAD Headquarters to assist General McKinley, General Arnold, and, specifically, Col Scott in preparation for their May 23, 2003, testimony.  Graphics related to that review have been made available by NARA.

Two things are noteworthy.  First the FAA notification time for AA 77 continued to be 9:24.  Second, accurate paths for the Otis and Langley fighters were provided to Col Scott.  He blurred them as I wrote in a previous article.

My perspective

I told both Michael Bronner and Phil Shenon during interview that my personal estimate was that the NORAD Generals were victims of shoddy staff work.  That remains my perspective.  The Colonels let the Generals down.  The Generals did not put the Colonels ‘through the hoops,’ they trusted them to get it right.

9-11: NEADS Tapes; an interesting quest

Correspondents have called to my attention that Kevin Fenton has blogged about the Commission Staff’s quest to obtain the NEADS tapes.  Let me state up front that I have no quarrel with Kevin or the History Commons Scribd initiative to make available the Commission files.  I have personally found that initiative invaluable.  I have met Erik Larson and applaud the many hours he has devoted to a necessary and critical task.

I have also in other articles cautioned about applying post facto clarity and understanding to facto events.  Here, the caution applies to both the events of 9-11 and to the Commission’s quest to understand and report on those events.  I also cautioned about taking snapshots of the Commission’s work. One such quest was the effort to obtain all available NEADS tapes, which we ultimately did.  One such snapshot is the History Commons glance at a segment of staff work.

Kevin wrote me a private email laying out his analysis which is both interesting and informative.  It is a snapshot of the Commission’s work, one that has the beneficial effect of showing that the Commission Staff was working formal and informal channels at the same time.  That should come as no surprise to anyone who has engaged in such research.  I did respond to Kevin.

Insight provided to Kevin Fenton

I began by stating, “Kevin, that is a fair question.  Let me say up front that, ultimately, it [NEADS production of the tapes] was not nefarious.  So, please don’t try to make anything out of something that is not there.”

I continued: “In several discussions with our DoD POC we worked out how we would proceed.  NEADS would digitize the remaining channels and provide them to us on site during our first visit.  The original tapes were analog, reel-reel.  We found that delivery [on site] to be insufficient for our purposes and we called a halt to the first visit.  NEADS was offering up all the tapes, but it was piecemeal.”

I then explained what we did after we received the audio files.  “Once we received the digitized files then we contracted out a transcription effort.  One firm, Alderson, decided to use a technique of tracking individual voices, which is OK as long as folks understand what they were doing.  I posted an article on this on my website one I realized that [other researchers] were totally askew in their analysis of the Alderson tapes vis D1989.”

I then elaborated on the original transcription effort by NEADS.  “In the course of the NCO’s work [specialist brought in by NEADS to transcribe the tapes immediately after 9-11] NEADS thought it had lost the contents of one recording machine.  Together with DoD we approached the manufacturer, Dictaphone [General Dynamics], and they were able to not only recover all the files but provide them to us in a format which was useful and effective.”

I then summarized: “Bottom line, we ultimately got all the NEADS tapes, it took a while.  In the course of all our work we determined that the two channels that recorded the voices of the WD [Weapons Director, i.e. controller] and the WD/T for the Otis fighters were not recorded.  My work files that run all that to ground have been uploaded by Erik.  We know that the channels were never recorded because we never hear those two voices bleeding over into other tapes.  Please don’t try to make more out of this then is there.”

I concluded: “Kevin, thanks for your continued interest and dedication.  NEADS performed very well that day; not so well in the aftermath.  They had a good story to tell [see Bronner, Vanity Fair] and the blew it, as General Arnold acknowledged.

For The Record

The resolution of the NEADS tapes is documented by DoD in its rolling production spreadsheet.  Let me hasten to caution that this, itself, is a snapshot; the DoD spreadsheet was iterative, at least weekly.  A relevant version of the  spreadsheet is included in this file available on the History Commons Scribd site.  Here is the embedded documentation.

NQRAD/NEADS/Department of the Air Force Materials
The NORAD tapes of interest to the Commission contain 46 channels.
NORAD is currently transferring the information on those channels to compact
disks. Those CDs are scheduled to be delivered to the Commission as indicated
below. The schedule is determined by the real-time process by which each 6-hour,
40-minute channel can be recorded onto a CD.
CDs containing:
• 10 channels were delivered November 5, 2003
• 8 channels are scheduled for delivery by close of business November 10,
• 4 channels are scheduled for delivery by close of business November 12,
• 6 channels are scheduled for delivery by close of business November 14,
• 18 channels are scheduled for delivery by close of business November
19, 2003

Even after we determined the difficulties DoD and  NEADS were having in copying the tapes and a subpoena was issued, it still took weeks for the audio files of all channels to be delivered.  Retrospectively, NEADS could not make a complete delivery during our first visit.

The important question for historians, researchers and writers is: “Were all available tapes provided and considered?”  How the Staff got to an answer of “Yes” is perhaps interesting and informative but it is of no probative value.

9-11: NEADS tapes and trancripts; a tutorial

While working on a Delta 1989 article it became apparent that a tutorial is in order concerning the NEADS primary source information of the day.  Fragmented attempts to describe events using something other than what the intelligence community calls “all source analysis” are prone to error, if not outright failure.  The same can be said for FAA tapes and transcripts, by the way.

The complete set of information needed to attempt any analysis of events in real time includes the radar files and the software to run them, time-stamped tapes, and any transcripts that were made.  It is possible to overcome the lack of a transcript by making your own.  In this article we will focus on NEADS tapes and transcripts and the 84th RADES radar files.  A helpful start is to recount events from a Commission perspective.

The Commission Experience

Early DoD document requests surfaced the RADES files and software and a partial NEADS transcript, the only transcript prepared by NEADS after the events of 9-11.  We understood that on the first trip to NEADS the organization would make tapes available.  When we arrived NEADS was in the process of making digital files and they were fed to us piecemeal as we began the interview process.  It quickly become clear that the partial transcript and provision of piecemeal tapes was not sufficient; we terminated the visit and caused DoD to be subpoenaed for all relevant files.

DoD provided the audio files but none of them had been transcribed.  The Commission Staff determined that the best way to proceed was to farm the audio files out to professional transcribing organizations.  One organization, Alderson Reporting, found the audio to be so confusing as to who was speaking that they opted to identify speaking voices and try and provide continuity of conversation on that basis.  In practical terms than means that no Alderson transcript is time continuous, although Alderson did insert time benchmarks to assist the reader.  The transcripts are helpful, but it takes “all soure analysis” techniques to get at the underlying events.

The technique the Staff used was to listen to the recordings using Adobe Audition so that individual conversations and transmissions could be accurately time stamped.  Alderson was careful to provide a NEADS-recorded time stamp in each of its transcriptions.  Concurrently, the Staff used the RADES RS3 software to display the radar files relevant to each transcript and tape.  In sum, it took then, and it takes now, all three techniques–transcript, tape, and radar–to understand the events of the day as they occurred.

A Specific Example

Currently, for the Delta 1989 article, I am reading the Alderson transcript for NEADS position DRM 1, Channel 19 SD2 OP, the channel for Major Anderson, as depicted on a schematic of who was at what position.  This is where Adobe Audition comes in handy.  It is clear that the recording on the tape is not continuous, although the tape itself is.  Nor is the transcript continuous.  And the obvious question is why does that come about?

There are two reasons.  First, because of the  voice identification methodology,  Alderson grouped together conversational fragments as if they cohered in real time, time gaps were simply omitted.  The duration of the gaps, some in minutes not seconds, can be determined using a program such as Adobe Audtion.

Second, Major Anderson was free to move about and plug into any given console, as needed.  When he unplugged from his primarly console there was no recording on the corresponding channel.  For example, just before 9:31 (1:00:02 tape run time)  a voice asked, “Major Anderson, you got a second?”  And sure enough, Major Anderson unplugged and the recording stopped.

Moreover, certain members of the crew, Major Fox, for example, were free to plug in anywhere they needed.  So, there is no specific channel for Major Fox, but his voice is heard throughout most tapes in at least background.  Further, the MCC, Major Nasypany, was free to “camp” on any channel he wanted to, so his voice is also heard on many tapes.  Even more confusing is that the three DRM “bled over” to each other during the copying process.

The net result on most NEADS tapes is a confusing blend of voices, background and foreground across the four main centers of activity–Surveillance, Identification, Weapons/Senior Director, and MCC.  So, researchers must take the time to become familiar with the SOCC layout, the participant voices, the radar picture, and the tactical situation at any given time.  Concerning the latter, it is also important to not impose post-facto awareness and understanding on facto (and pre-facto) conditions.

A few specifics from the SD2 transcript and tape (times rounded)

9:14:  NEADS to Langley asking how many aircraft they can sortie

9:23: An American Airliner (3d aircraft headed toward Washington)

9:24:  Scramble order heard in background

9:28:  American 11 mentioned

9:42: Delta what?

9:55: Over Lake Erie

10:07: MCC we got an air track…over the White House [radar needed here]

10:09:  ID type and tail

10:14:  Washington [Center] was reporting our guys…no aircraft over Washington

To be continued

I will add to and refine this article as I relearn more of what I thought I knew 5 years ago.