9/11: Air Threat Conference Call; Staff Transcript.

Robbyn Swan, co-author of The Eleventh Day, filed a mandatory declassification review with NARA concerning the Air Threat Conference Call convened by the National Military Command Center (NMCC) on 9-11.  That request surfaced a Commission Staff version titled, “DJH Notes.”  Swann and Summers, therefore, are the only investigators, other than the Commission Staff, who have had access to the contents of that key document.


The NMCC had a simple, inexpensive, reel-to-reel cassette recorder that resided on the Duty Director of Operations (DDO) desk.  The acting DDO, Navy Captain Leidig activated the recorder at approximately 0930 as a Significant Event Conference was being convened.  By 0939 the conference had transitioned to an Air Threat Conference.  The recording was not transcripted and there is a brief gap around the 1037 time before Leidig realized side one of the cassette had run out and he needed to turn it over.

Commission Staff learned of the air threat conference call from NORAD logs and formally requested any and all information, including tapes and transcripts.  DoD determined that a recording had been made but no transcript.  DoD made a transcript but did not time stamp it.  Further, after review of its contents, custody of both the tape and transcript were transferred to the National Security Council (NSC).

Commission Staff and at least one Commissioner listened to the tape at the NSC.  A copy of the transcript was provided to and held by the NMCC for staff use during interviews. Given that the staff could not hold a copy and given that it was not time-stamped, a Team 8 member, Dana Hyde (DJH), patiently made a working copy from her own notes, over time.  It is that copy that is now publicly available, thanks to Robbyn Swan.

My estimate is that the derived timeline is accurate within three minutes +/-.  I base that on the 1049 entry “DDO” Emergency Actions message relearned [sic should be ‘released’] at 1452Z re Def Con 3 Acknowledgements.”

The DJH Notes, explained

The notes are a reliable approximation of the original transcript.  Given clearly identifiable data points that were known from other sources, Dana Hyde set about to construct a Team 8-derived timeline.  The left-hand column contains times in the form clock time (tape time).  For example, the first line attributed to the PEOC is as follows:

0942(13) PEOC: POTUS not yet left FLA; planning to depart and head to DC. NORAD Update: Possible fourth hijacking in progress — Delta 89 [Delta 1989]

The times in parentheses are tape times paired with clock times as in the PEOC example.  The marginal notes are Hyde’s handwriting.  Note that the lead marginal note indicates that the Staff was focusing on the issue of UA 93.


At  0933 reference was made to “hijack is still airborne heading toward DC.”  That is an explicit reference to AA 11 and not to AA 77.  NORAD followed that with its “conflicting reports” input passing along the erroneous report [a possible garble of the AA 11 report] of a “possible hijacked aircraft taking off out of JFK en-route DC.”

At 9:48 the DDO summarized for the PEOC that the possible Delta hijack would be the fourth (AA 11, UA 175, the possible out of JFK, and Delta 1989)  There is no reference to AA77 in that PEOC update.

At 9:58 NORAD inputted “No update at this time — we’ll provide an ETA when fighters will be on CAP over WH.”  At that very moment the Langley fighters were establishing a CAP and at 1000 one was directly overhead the Pentagon at 23,000 feet.

At 1007 NORAD inputted “No indication of hijack heading to DC at this time.  At that same moment NEADS first learned about UA 93.  Also, at that time they were attempting to intercept a a target over the White House, one that turned out to be one of the Langley fighters.  Explicit language in the NEADS tapes at that time about “identify by type and tail,” and “negative clearance to shoot” concerned the unknown (Langley fighter) not UA 93.

At 1014 the PEOC passed along the VP confirmation that “fighters are cleared to engage the aircraft inbound…”

At 1017 FAA was finally in the conference, but not the Headquarters or even Herndon Center, per se.  The person on the line was a mid-grade employee in the CARF (Central Altitude Reservation Facility).  That was the only place found that had the necessary clearance level to join the conference.  The CARF employee confirmed that at 1019 when he said, “I’m back in a secure area in Command [Herndon] Center.”

At 1020 Dr. Rice was “in the PEOC now.”

At 1032 Hadley informed Myers of “an inbound aircraft flying low 5 miles out.”  This is the false report that caused the Andrews wing to relaunch Major Hutchison even though he was low on fuel.

At 1035 Secretary Rumsfeld confirmed he was in the conference.

At 1038 the Vice President believed that we’ve “already taken a couple of aircraft out.”

At 1044 the Vice President stated that he would have to run the DEFCON 3 decision by the President.  (It is odd that would have taken that position and not a similar position on the shootdown authority issue.)  Summers and Swan speak to the issue in an end note:

Commission notes released to the authors in 2011 did indicate that the Vice President felt the need to get Bush’s authorization at a later point [10:44]…it is arguable that Cheney would have felt the same need for authority to engage hijacked airliners.

At 1048 there was still no fighter escort for Air Force One.  “Verification scrambled 2 fighters out of Ellington Field to escort AF! — stand by for intercept time.”  Southeast Air Defense Sector (SEADS) radar files show that the Ellington fighters intercepted Air Force One a few minutes prior to landing at Barksdale AFB.

At 1056 NORAD made one of several references to a single E-3 on location over DC.  That is a reference to Century 40 with operational call sign Bandsaw Kilo.  According to the NEADS tapes that aircraft established an active link at 1450 (1050) off of W701 (a warning/training area).


Chaos Theory: 9-11; CRITICS, a snapshot of the national awareness


The purpose of this article is to put into perspective the National Security Agency’s (NSA) release of CRITICS concerning events of 9-11.  The article is intended primarily for historians, but modern day researchers will also be interested in what the release is and what it is not.

The released documents provide a key glimpse into the state of knowledge at the national level after the Pentagon attack and while UA 93 was an issue.

I read the NSA CRITICS during my work on the Congressional Joint Inquiry Staff and I knew that the original CRITIC was not accurate, the case with many CRITICS.  The CRITICS were not something I carried over to my work on the Commission Staff as a major issue.

What I had not remembered was the NSA summary of its NOIWON call.  That places into perspective information that has been in the public domain since the Commission’s records were released by NARA.

NOIWON correlation

I wrote about NOIWONs in a previous article which should be read first.  In that article I mentioned that we would get around to discussing a thing called “CRITIC.”

According to the FAA log that establishes CIA activation of the NOIWON line, NSA initiated a second NOIWON conference, which FAA logged at 10:20. The substance of the log entry is redacted. However, my recall from work on the Joint Inquiry Staff is that NSA was seeking additional information from other agencies concerning the CRITIC.

What is a CRITIC?

A CRITIC is a FLASH precedent message that forwards Critical intelligence (DoD definition).  Such information is by nature raw and unevaluated.  Time is of the essence and the initial CRITIC message is followed by amplifying messages as necessary and a close out or cancellation message to complete the action.

What knowledge is in the public domain that CRITICS were issued on 9-11?

An FAA log entry (see link above) shows that the FAA watch “faxed critics to the 10th floor.”  Despite the fact that the log entry indicates “faxed critics…,” there was only one critic with follow-on messages. The “critics,” plural, entry refers to one event only.  That information has been available to the public since NARA released the work files of the Commission.

The NSA CRITIC sequence

NSA did not issue the original critic.  NSA issued a LATERAL CRITIC; it simply retransmitted a CRITIC it received.  The original CRITIC was issued by NORAD.  NSA tells us that in their cover letter releasing its redacted documents.

NSA wrote, “records responsive to your request include documents containing North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) information.  NORAD is a bi-national command; therefore, it is not subject to the FOIA.”  NSA then stated, “…the NORAD information has been redacted with the notation “OGA” which stands for Other Government Agency.”

Based on the “OGA” redaction, the original CRITIC was no more than two or three lines.  It was issued by NORAD at 111349ZSEP01 (9;49).  NSA retransmitted the message three minutes later as a LATERAL CRITIC at 111352ZSEP01 (9:52).

NSA next issued FOLLOW-UP-1 at 111414ZSEP01 (10:14).  Again, the issuance was referenced to the original NORAD CRITIC in the header information and the content was no more than 4 or 5 lines, again “OGA” information.

NSA issued FOLLOW-UP-2 AND FINAL TO DIRNSA [Director, National Security Agency] CRITIC at 111448ZSEP01 (10:48).  Again, the content was all attributed to NORAD.

What the CRITICS are not

Although transmitted by NSA, this set of three CRITICS, one lateral and two follow-ups, is not intelligence community information.  NSA did not collect any information to prompt the issuance of these electronic messages.  The fact that NSA used an intelligence community classification, “SECRET SPOKE,” was likely either a matter of formatting or a matter of convenience, nothing more.

The NSA NOIWON summary, my assessment

NSA’s released document, “NOIWON RECORD SHEET,” is a summation.  The “LOCAL TIME: 0913L” entry is most likely the time that NSA logged when CIA initiated the original NOIWON conference.

NSA initiated its NOIWON conference just before its first FOLLOW-UP CRITIC.  Although FAA logged that NSA convened at 10:20, the NSA summary is dated “ZULU TIME: 1413Z [10:13].”

The NSA summary documents the fact that the White House Situation Room was a participant in the NOIWON conference, as well as the National Military Command Center (NMCC), National Military Intelligence Center (NMIC), State Department (STATE/INR and STATE OPS), CIA (CIA OPS), and Department of Justice (DOJ/OPS).

Those may be formatted boxes to be checked for the ‘major players.’  Even though not listed we know that FAA’s ACI Watch on the 3d floor at FAA Headquarters was also on the NOIWON call.

The NSA summary also documents the confusion and misinformation at the time.  That includes the state of the nation-wide ground stop [inaccurate] , the unconfirmed crash of UA 93 south of Johnstown, PA, [probable] and, especially, a report that a Boeing 767 aircraft originating from JFK was hijacked and heading for DC as of 1339Z (9:39).  The summary also reported that two USAF F-16s intercepted the aircraft.

The hijack reference, time-wise, followed the false report that AA 11 was still airborne and may be related to that report.  It is possible that the reference to two F-16s intercepting that aircraft may be a reference to the content of the NORAD CRITIC, itself.

The summary e-mail

NSA also included in its release a “TRAN DESK” [most likely the Transportation Desk in the NSOC  (National SIGINT Operations  Center] e-mail that provided, as of 16:21:20 GMT (12:21), a summary from the FAA OPS center.  Of note is the continuing confusion and false information about AA 77.  As of 12:21 EDT, FAA [not Herndon Center] was, according to the NSA TRANS DESK, carrying AA 77 as “possibly crashed area Kentuckey/Ohio [sic] border.”  NSA added a note: “the a/c that crashed at the Pentagon was “NOT” regular scheduled flight, and did “NOT” file a flight plan.”

The CRITIC Summary

Two days after 9-11 at 131303ZSEP 01 (5:03 a.m. EDT, Sep 13, 2001) NSA issued a “CRITIC SUMMARY FOR DIRNSA CRITIC 1-2001.”  NSA reported: “According to Press, a hijacked 757 airliner originating from JFK crashed during the late 1300Z or early 1400Z hour…in rural Pennsylvania, apparently the fourth aircraft involved in the 11 September terrorist plot.”

NSA’s awareness of events of the day remained the same, with one exception.  The language about “interception” was dropped.

What next?

The time of the original CRITIC from NORAD, 9:49 EDT, may document the beginning of the national level’s descent into chaos, a subject I am currently researching.

9-11: FAA Tactical Net; a window into the FBI SIOC


The purpose of this article is to document primary source information concerning the Federal Aviation Agency’s (FAA) Tactical Net.  The source is Herndon Center tape 5DCC 1923 Ops Phone 5128, Position 28 13-15-1415 UTC.  Thanks to the inclination of air traffic specialists at Herndon Center to leave lines open we have a window into FAA Headquarters and, by extension, a brief window into the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Strategic Information and Operations Center (SIOC).

The Commission Staff interview with Mike Weikert established who was sitting where in the FAA’s Washington Operations Center (WOC).  Pete Falcone was running the Tactical Net, his recorder was Chuck Gaffey.  Mike Weikert was running the Primary Net, his assistant was Tom Taffe.  A sketch of the WOC positions is  in notes from the Weikert interview.

According to Weikert there was “little traffic on his net.”  According to Major Chambers at the National Military Command Center nothing was passed on the Primary Net.  From notes I took, “virtually nothing being said–dead air space–dropped at some point.”

When I interviewed Taffe he could identify everyone who was on the dais at the front of the WOC, his line of sight was through the operations position for the Primary Net.  He could not identify who was operating the Primary Net.  According to a memo I prepared, “he could not recall who manned the primary net and was reluctant to place Mike Weikert at that position.”

At some point, the Primary Net was for all intents and purposes merged with the Tactical Net, “dropped at some point” in Chambers words.  On the tape for position 28 we hear one potential Primary Net participant, the FBI’s Jeff Bauer at the SIOC come up on the Tactical Net.  My assessment is that he did that because the net he should have been on, the Primary Net, was not available.  The Primary Net was activated at 9:20; Bauer called at 9:21 and was directed to the Tactical Net as we shall hear.

We begin by identifying position 28 as an open line to the Tactical Net.

Tactical net identified

There was confusion within FAA as to which net was which.  At 9:18 Marcus Arroyo, Eastern Region manager called Pete Falcone and asked which net he was on.  That conversation can be heard here.  091800 FAA Tactical Net That was two minutes before the Primary Net was activated, an indication that the Primary Net was redundant.

FBI calls seeking information

Immediately after the Primary Net was activated Jeff Bauer called to establish contact with FAA.  That request can be heard here. 092100 Bauer SIOC announced. Seconds later he is announced as joining the Tactical Net.  That continuation can be heard here. 092116 Jeff Bauer joined tactical net.

Bauer leaves the line open

Bauer did not hang up on the Tactical Net.  For the next nearly eight minutes background conversations at the SIOC are heard.  It is clear from those conversations that the FBI had no new information and was in the process of getting itself organized at the SIOC.  For example,  the date of the last World Trade Center attack was discussed.  At one point Bauer is heard explaining that he is on the FAA’s “Ops” net.  That statement can be heard hear.  092315 FBI on FAA Ops Net

FAA realizes there is an open mike

The window into the FBI SIOC continued for over five more minutes before someone, probably Pete Falcone, realized he had an open mike on his net.  That realization can be heard here. 092850 Open Mike on Tac Net


The time of the open window into the FBI SIOC was just under 8 minutes, from 9:21 to nearly 9:29.  That covers the time that the national level was getting itself organized.  The FAA’s Primary Net was activated at 9:20.  The White House Secure Video Teleconference, chaird by Richard Clarke, was activated at 9:25 and becaome operational at 9:40.  The NMCC was in the process of convening a Significant Events Conference which was terminated in favor of an Air Threat Conference.  Not one of the three entities, four included the FBI, knew that a fast moving unknown, AA 77, was approaching from the West.

In his testimony to the Commission, Norman Mineta cited a time of 9:20 that he was operational in the President’s Emergency Operations Center (PEOC).  Logs of the day, as reported by the Commission in its report, place both Mineta and the Vice President in the PEOC after 10:00.

Mineta was simply wrong in his recall and researchers and writers who argue from a position of accepting Mineta’s testimony have placed themselves in an untenable position.  There is no primary or secondary information that supports Mineta’s testimony.  Indeed, the convergence of evidence is conclusive that Mineta misspoke and information he claimed pertained to AA 77, in fact, pertained to UA 93.

93, Go pass that

There is one brief background conversation just before 10:15 at Operations Position 28 which suggests that erroneous information concerning UA 93 was being passed along from the FAA’s Washington Operations Center (WOC).

The background voice said, “OK, number one is 93, it’s 20 minutes outside of DC, go pass that.”  That brief transmission can be heard here. 101430 UA 93 20 minutes out.

Despite the known status of UA 93, someone at the WOC decided to pass along erroneous information, information that could only have come from a Traffic Situation Display which depicted the new flight plan for UA 93 as entered by Cleveland Center.  According to landing records at Reagan National, UA 93 “landed” at 10:28.

The Battle of 9-11, Redux

The attack began at 5:45 when Mohammed Atta entered the National Airspace System at Portland, Maine.  The counterattack began when Boston Center declared a hijack at 8:25.  The air defense response began when NEADS was notified at 8:40, according to the MCC/T log.  The FAA Tactical Net was activated at 8:50.  At 9:03 the nation knew it was under attack.

As we have learned in this article it took the national level an additional 15-45 minutes to get itself organized.  No one at any level had the situational awareness to accurately inform the National Command Authority which as of at least 10:15 was being misinformed.

To be continued….

9-11: SVTS; a cold war system, warmed over

This is one of a continuing series of articles about the linear management processes used by the government on 9-11.  I use the term ‘linear’ deliberately.  My overall construct for analysis is chaos theory.  Chaos is non-linear and my point about linear processes is that they were ill-suited to the task at hand.  SVTS, Secure Video Teleconference System, pronounced by many as ‘civ its’ is one such linear process.

Key Points

There are two key things to know about SVTS.  First, it was–and likely still is–a closed system.  It was immune to new information in real time.

Second, it was the management process of choice for Richard Clarke; he had others as we shall discuss.  Clarke wrote in Against All Enemies; “…I want the highest-level person in Washington from each agency on-screen now, especially FAA…”  ‘On-screen meant SVTS.

In fairness to Clarke, I can’t say that I or anyone else would have reacted differently at the time.  It was an available secure means of communication.

SVTS Background

I personally watched the establishment of the SVTS system.  One node was built in my office spaces in the 1987 time frame.  I watched the building of that closed system daily as each succeeding layer of security was added, layer, by layer, by layer…you get the idea.

I then operated that node for several years and was familiar with its inner workings.  I’m sure the workings have changed over the years, but my observation while on both the Joint Inquiry and 9-11 Commission staffs was that it was little changed by 2001.

Once inside a node participants had no access to their staff or to real-time information.  They were stuck with whatever staff they had brought with them and with the information they had brought to the table.  Moreover, the layers of security were such that if a door opened at any node the conference came to a screeching halt while the identity of the entering person was established.

The operating principle was one of cold war paranoia.  It was important that everyone at every node know exactly who was privy to the subject at hand.  It was also important that there be no separate electronic inputs and that the SVTS conference, itself, not be electronically exportable.

So, when Clarke then wrote in response to a Condi Rice question; “We’re putting together a secure teleconference to manage the crisis…I’d like to get the highest-ranking official from each department,” he effectively decapitated each agency at a critical time.

Commission staff notes from our interview with Commander Gardner at the NMCC are a good summary of the situation.  According to our notes; “re SVTS, we lost principals thruout day to SVTS, no runners to SVTS other than what Principals brought back.”  In comparison with the Air Threat Conference our notes have Gardner saying, “re ATCC & SVTS, They were competing venues for C&C [command and control] & decisonmaking (sic).”

Activation vs Convening a Conference

Once staffs were alerted to bring up a secure conference the activation process took time.  SVTS was not a 24-hour operation so the key in the ignition had to be turned, so to speak.  Staff woud then work to make sure everything was functioning and that all nodes were up on the line.  That was not instantaneous,  Concurrently the principals had to be summoned from wherever they were and logged in and accounted for.  My recall is that the whole process of bringing a conference on-line took a while, on the order of 15-30 minutes.

I have read Clarke’s description of the conference and my sense is that it conflates information.

The conference was activated at 9:25 and convened at 9:40.  Here is what the Commission Report says: “At the White House, the video teleconference was conducted from the Situation Room by Richard Clarke, a special assistant to the president long involved in counterterrorism. Logs indicate that it began at 9:25 and included the CIA; the FBI; the departments of State, Justice, and Defense; the FAA; and the White House shelter. The FAA and CIA joined at 9:40.”

That  means it took 25 minutes to bring the conference on line.  Clarke wrote, “Okay, Let’s start with the facts.  FAA, FAA, go.”  That keynote statement was made no earlier than 9:40, according to information available to the Commission Staff.

What else was available?

First, we have established that a NOIWON conference was convened at 9:20 which linked together the NMCC, the White House Situation Room and the FAA.  The problem was that the phones were manned primarily by analysts, no principals and, in the case of FAA, those analysts were on the third floor, seven floors below the FAA’s operation center.  I am also familiar with NOIWON and my estimate is that it was not suited for the operational need at hand.

Second, Clarke, himself, acknowledges that an Air Threat Conference had convened.  “On my way …[the] Situation Room deputy director, grabbed me. ‘We’re on the line with NORAD, on an air threat conference call.”  As we know, FAA was never effectively on that conference until well after 10:00.  It, too, was unsuited for the purpose at hand.

Third, the FAA activated its primary net at 9:20 and secondary source information shows that the NMCC link worked.  However, as the Commission Staff learned that link was still born; it was never used.

Retrospective Comments

With the clarity of hindsight we can conclude that the FAA’s primary net was a better vehicle for Clarke to use.  He apparently didn’t know about it and Jane Garvey apparently did not suggest it.

So, at 9:45 clock-time on 9-11, we can  link to other articles and categories and summarize what is happening.  Herndon Center has just ordered an airborne inventory and is accumulating information about possible wayward flights, to include UA 93 and AA 77.  Garvey reports to Clarke on AA 11 and UA 175, only.  She reports there are eleven other potential problems but she does not have the specificity that is rapidly being accumulated by Herndon because of the order for an air inventory.

Mineta, according to Clarke is not yet in the loop. “Jane, where’s Norm?”  Langley fighters are rapidly approaching the DC area and will be directly overhead by 10:00.  The President is en route Air Force One and will take off at 9:55 for the nation’s capital.

None of the real time information concerning the airborne inventory or the Langley fighters, or UA 93 and AA 77 is finding its way into the SVTS conference.  The only way to communicate with SVTS participants is, according to Commander Gardner, via runners, which they didn’t have.  So they waited for the principals to return with news.

On 9-11 a cold war-conceived closed system was immune to current information via electronics, semaphore, or smoke signals.  SVTS was a convenient venue to manage a crisis, it was not the right venue

9-11: The Air Threat Conference Call

The tape and transcript of the Air Threat Conference (ATC) are among the most important documents concerning events on the morning of 9-11. Without them historians and other researchers cannot accurately report on the national level response. The purpose of this article is to fill the gap; to detail what we do know and to place the ATC in perspective.

We have at least three sources of information in addition to the Commission Report; the memorandum of the Staff’s tour of the NMCC, the personal notes of an NMCC officer, Major Chambers, and the notes of interviews with NMCC personnel, specifically Commander Gardner. Interview MFRs will be forthcoming from NARA; but we have enough information to get started and we start with the orientation and tour of the NMCC.

Orientation and Tour of the NMCC (MFR)

The NMCC manages crises through a series of conferences according to established checklists. Typically, the first action is to convene a Significant Events Conference (SIEC); a ‘catch-all’ conference to address any significant event. If the event escalates the conference may transition into a threat conference. The NMCC briefly convened an SIEC but was immediately faced with a threat and a decision.  The NMCC had two courses of action available; one to continue the SIEC as an Air Event Conference; the other to terminate the event conference and convene an Air Threat Conference. The NMCC chose the latter, a serious decision with strategic level implications, as we shall see.

Major Chambers (personal memoir within a week after 9-11)

It is Major Chambers who wrote about the immediate aftermath of the second Tower impact that, “The world had just changed, forever.” He described the first NMCC action, the SIEC, as a mechanism to “ensure all the military command centers have the same information at the same time on events that aren’t a military threat.” He further wrote that, “The SIEC was taking much longer than expected to bring up. The FAA wasn’t in the conference, they couldn’t go secure, and so we couldn’t get first-hand information from them.”

Chambers also provided perspective on the ATC. “The ATC is reserved for when aircraft are considered hostile. For [NORAD], tasked with defending the U.S. and Canada against enemy aircraft, the term “hostile” carries a lot of weight.” Because of the significant high level of the participants the NMCC elected to simply drop the SIEC and start over. Some agencies did not hang up as they should have so, “as with the SIEC, it took longer than expected to convene the ATC.” According to Chambers, the ATC was convened within “a couple of minutes after the Pentagon attack.

Chambers also alluded to Continuity of Government (COG) and Continuity of Operations (COOP). “While one group was focusing on the President’s status another was putting some other plans into effect. The Speaker of the House and a few others on the chain of succession were whisked away to another secure location…” It is not clear if this draconian step would have been taken if an Air Event Conference had been convened instead of an ATC. Nevertheless, COOP/COG plans were implemented.

Chambers spoke to the issuance of the shoot down order and his memoir does not support the testimony of Norman Mineta. Chambers wrote, “I heard one of the most chilling orders I could imagine. VPOTUS passed on the order via the ATC that any aircraft confirmed to be under hijacker control was to be shot down. Instinctively I knew this was the right thing to do. Every passenger on the first three aircraft (emphasis added) were dead, along with thousands of others.”

Chambers also commented on the fighters at Andrews. He wrote, “The Air National Guard fighters at Andrews AFB, just east of D.C. weren’t part of the active air defense system, so they weren’t available.” Readers who are familiar with the ‘roles and missions’ of the military and why the specification of such duties is necessary will understand immediately why the NMCC did not consider the Andrews fighters an asset.

Commander Gardner interview notes

After the second WTC strike he and the ADDO (Leidig) knew they needed a national conference. They arrived at the need for an SIEC and were frustrated that it was not brought up more quickly. According to notes of Gardner’s interview the ADDO directed an SEIC at 9:20, the same time that FAA activated its primary net.

Gardner was concerned about convening a threat conference.  According to him a threat conference would have conveyed SIOP overtones that weren’t needed. SIOP stands for Single Integrated Operational Plan, the nuclear scenario. SIOP is serious business and perhaps the ATC did, in part, drive the national level to implement COOP/COG with no clear understanding of what the threat was.

Gardner further explained his concern by stating that threat conferences were for external attacks, however, there was no good domestic conference to convene.

Looking ahead to an SVTS article, Gardner commented that “we lost principals throughout the day to SVTS.” There were no runners [courier] or connectivity to the SVTS. All the NMCC knew was what the principals brought back. In his words, the ATC and SVTS were “competing venues for command and control and for decision making.” He was further frustrated that they lost principals to COG.

Commission Report

Commissioners and Staff had access to both the ATC tape and the transcript, and a copy of the transcript was made available during interviews of key NMCC personnel.  Considering all information received, including the source material cited above, the Commission established and reported the following details.

The FAA primary net was activated at 9:20 and Major Chambers answered the phone at the NMCC. However, that net never became operational. The NMCC convened a Significant Event Conference at 9:29 and immediately learned of the a reborn AA 11 as a threat. The event conference was terminated at 9:34 in favor of a threat conference call which convened at 9:37 as an Air Threat Conference, at the same time that AA 77 slammed into the Pentagon.

Ultimately, the ATC prevailed as the dominant means of communication among government agencies but the battle had passed them by.

In Summary

The NMCC did not have an adequate mechanism in place to address the threat that day. Given that a threat conference was needed they turned to the air threat conference.  By doing so they apparently complicated matters at the national level driving the NCA to SIOP-like decisions it perhaps did not want to make, included a COOP/COG decision.

Readers should consider this article a work in progress.  It serves to get some things on the record and to establish the Air Threat Conference as another in a series of linear processes the government used on 9-11 to try and deal with the situation.

NOIWON, additional considerations

As the NMCC was preparing for an SIEC, CIA convened a NOIWON conference. According to the orientation MRF; “The NMCC abandoned its attempt to convene a SIEC so its Watch officers could participate in the NOIWON Conference. After the NOIWON call the NMCC briefly considered convening an Air Event Conference, but decided to go directly to an Air Threat Conference.”

Ironically FAA was on the NOIWON call but at the Intelligence Watch on the 3d floor at FAA Headquarters. We need to note at this point that FAA participants in the NOIWON, themselves, did not have first-hand information either, so the NOIWON could not have been a source of FAA air traffic control information at that point. The fact that the NOIWON was a potential connectivity workaround, however, did not register at either FAA or the NMCC.

Gardner recalled the NOIWON as both a source of information and a detractor, it kept the ADDO involved. According to the MFR from the NMCC orientation the White House Situation Room insisted on having a flag officer on an open line to them. As we described in another article BG Seipe, a trained DDO who happened to be present was that flag officer and he had continuous line-of-sight to the DDO on duty. Gardner did not remember with “any fidelity” what he learned from the NOIWON and did not recall if FAA participated.

Chaos Theory: 9-11; NOIWON, a linear process you may not know about

In a previous article I said: “At the most crucial time national level entities were pulling standard operating procedures off the shelf and attempting to jump start antiquated and outmoded linear processes.”  That list of processes includes the FAA’s primary net, the NMCC’s significant event conference/air threat conference call, Richard Clarke’s secure video teleconference (hereafter SVTS), and something we have not previously discussed, NOIWON.

This is the first in a series of three articles that deal with  national level processes that worked but were either irrelevant or non-productive, or both on 9-11.  In the next two articles we will adress SVTS and a thing called CRITIC.


Sometime in the 9:20 timeframe on 9-11 the Central Intelligence Agency initiated a NOIWON conference call. That simple act accomplished what the NMCC’s Significant Event Conference and the FAA’s Primary Net could not do, it linked DoD and FAA together in a secure multi-agency conference.

The NOIWON (National Operational Intelligence Watch Officer’s Network) has been around for a long time. It is a hotline that allows the several WAOC (Washington Area Operations Centers) 24-hour alert centers to informally discuss things that go bump in the night. Among its subscribers on 9-11 were the CIA, NSA, DIA, State Department, NMCC, FAA, and the White House Situation Room (WHSR). I knew from previous experience as a user of the NOIWON that it was not a recorded line. Nevertheless, the Commission Staff persistently asked agencies, specifically DoD, if the line was recorded that day. The ultimate answer was that it was not.

Any node on the network could activate the line at any time. Typically it was used to quickly share information and ask questions about untoward events. It was, primarily, an intelligence/information sharing line not an operational line. Despite its fancy sounding name and despite the fact it linked multiple locations together it did not play a major role on 9-11.

Twice Activated

We know from secondary source information that the NOIWON hotline was at least twice used on the morning on 9-11. A Log from the FAA’s Intelligence Watch shows that the line was activated by the CIA sometime after 9:16 and before 9:25. According to interviews with concerned FAA personnel CIA was asking what was going on, the line was left open, and subsequent conversations consisted mostly of people asking questions; what little information was exchanged was second hand. None of the primary source information from NEADS or the FAA’s Herndon Center was directly fed into the NOIWON conference.

NSA initiated a second NOIWON conference at 10:20.  We will speak to that conference in a subsequent article on CRITICS.

NOIWON treated seriously by the NMCC

The NMCC considered the NOIWON link a primary source of information and devoted a general officer solely to the line. Brig Gen Seipe, himself a trained DDO, was present that day attending the same closed door promotion board meeting as did the designated DDO, BG Winfield. In fact the NMCC had four trained DDO’s available for duty that morning; Winfield, Seipe, Navy Capt Leidig (the ADDO), and Army Colonel Susan Kuehl, the supervisor of day-day operations at the NMCC.

The NOIWON line rang in the DDO’s office and later after Winfield relieved Leidig he always had line-of-sight contact with Seipe.

NOIWON not recognized by FAA as a secure line of communication

By contrast, the FAA’s node was in the Intelligence Watch several floors below the Washington Operations Center and there was no direct secure communication link even within FAA headquarters. The Watch did maintain a small secure room off of the Operations Center but that capability was not immediately activated.  The NOIWON conference was never a factor in FAA’s attempt to gain operational contact with FAA DoD (corrected Oct 22, 2009).

Chaos not managed

We have consistently shown that linear processes, the default government solution across the board that morning, were ineffective if not counter-productive.  The government’s habitual reference to checklists, SOPs, and established protocols was not just a ‘failure of imagination’ it was a failure of performance.  No one at any level solved the ‘strange attractor’ equation and linked Herdon Command Center and NEADS together to fight the battle.

NOIWON was one status quo linear process available to share information.  It was not value added to the battle fought by  Colonel Bob Marr at NEADS and Ben Sliney at the Herndon Command Center.

Chaos Theory: 9-11 Linear Processes/Functions, a listing

Added cockpit notifications on Feb 23, 2010

The list of linear processes or functions in place on 9-11 is growing; a running list is needed. A qualitative analytic approach using descriptors may be appropriate, TBD.

  1. Air Traffic Control procedures for airplanes that deviated from the norm. Ineffective
  2. Airline lock-down procedures. Counter-productive
  3. The Hijack Protocol between FAA and DoD. Irrelevant
  4. Rescue Coordination Center Procedures. Counter-productive
  5. FAA Primary Net. Ineffective
  6. Air Threat Conference Call. Ultimately dominated
  7. NOIWON Conference. Irrelevant
  8. SVTS Conference. Disruptive
  9. Air Traffic Service Cell Function, Effective later in the day, not relevant during the battle
  10. Central Altitude Reservation Function, Effective later in the day, became the FAA secure node on the Air Threat Conference Call
  11. FAA/NORAD Liaison Officer Function, Effective later in the day, facilitated the linking of FAA to the Air Threat Conference Call
  12. Secret Service VIP Protection. Disruptive
  13. COOP/COG. Counter-Productive
  14. Cockpit notification, belated (added this item on Feb 23, 2010