Archive for the ‘National Level’ Category

9-11: The August 6, 2001, PDB; in perspective

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014

Prologue

On September 11, 2012, on the 11th anniversary of 9/11, Anderson Cooper of CNN hosted a wide-ranging discussion about events of that day.  Among his guests were two that engaged in a verbal shoving match over the importance of the August 6, 2001, President’s Daily Brief (PDB).  Here is how Cooper introduced his guests.

Kurt Eichenwald joins us now. He’s a “Vanity Fair” contributing editor and author of “500 Days: Secrets and Lies in the Terror Wars.” Also with us is Ari Fleischer who is press secretary for President George W. Bush.

Eichenwald took the position that the August 6 PDB was one in a consistent series of such briefings to the President and that a higher level of alert should have been sounded.  Fleischer took the position that the PDB, in context, was not specific and that the thrust of reporting was a potential attack overseas.

None of the three–Cooper, Eichenwald, Fleisher–provided any context on what else was going on in the world that year.  It was as if that PDB and previous such briefs were the only thing that mattered in the months leading up to 9/11.

A “PDB” was and is a collection of articles, not a single item.  Further, the August 6 PDB and its expanded-distribution, executive level version, a August 7 SEIB (Senior Executive Intelligence Brief), did not energize either the President or the Intelligence Community as we might have wished, retrospectively.

Here is additional insight for academicians, historians, and serious researchers to help them understand how things happened in real time that summer.

Introduction

The August 6, 2001, President’s Daily Brief (PDB) item, “Bin Ladin Determined to Strike in US,” has had a long shelf life concerning the events of September 11, 2001. Much has been written and discussed, largely out of context, so that its place in the events leading up to the 9/11 attack has been misconstrued. My purpose here is to place that single PDB article in perspective based on my own work on the Congressional Joint Inquiry. I start, however, with the context provided by the 9/11 Commission in its final report.

The Commission Report.

The President’s Daily Brief is an accumulation of subjects, not a single topic as some of the discourse about the events of 9/11 suggests.  It is important, therefore, to explain in quantifiable terms where a single item fits in. Here is what the Commission reported:

Each PDB consists of a series of six to eight relatively short articles or briefs covering a broad array of topics; CIA staff decides which subjects are the most important on any given day. There were more than 40 intelligence articles in the PDBs from January 20 to September 10, 2001, that related to Bin Ladin. The PDB is considered highly sensitive and is distributed to only a handful of high-level officials.

The wording, “more than 40 intelligence articles,” implies a quantity that was not as great as it appears. Additional Commission report language allows a quantitative assessment.  Assuming that the PDB was provided six days a week there were 200 briefing days in the period specified. Given that the average number of articles was seven (Commission reported 6-8) there were 1400 “intelligence articles” briefed to the President, 40 of which were Bin Ladin-related. One of every 35 articles was Bin Ladin-related; not quite three in every 100. In the world of statistics and probability the odds were not good that any one article was Bin Ladin-related.

That revelation is not quite so stark, but still grim when we look at the frequency with which the President was briefed about Bin Ladin. Forty articles in 200 days is one in every five days. About once a week.  In sum, by measure of either frequency or number, the President was not briefed about Bin Ladin in any actionable, consistent way at his level.

So, what does all this mean and what was happening at a level of the intelligence community that was actionable?  And for that we turn to the Senior Executive Intelligence Briefs (SEIB).

Senior Executive Intelligence Briefs (SEIB)

Here is what the Commission report has to say about the SEIB.

The Senior Executive Intelligence Brief (SEIB), distributed to a broader group of officials, has a similar format and generally covers the same subjects as the PDB. It usually contains less information so as to protect sources and methods.

The phrase, “less information,” is a non-specific way of saying that the SEIB, an intelligence product, does not contain law enforcement information.  And it is in that specific aspect that the companion SEIB to the PDB, issued on August 7, 2001, contained the same intelligence information as was briefed to the President, but did not contain the last two paragraphs of the PDB concerning FBI information which included these statements:

    • …patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other type attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York
    • …a group of Bin Ladin supporters was in the US planning attacks with explosives.

The qualitative difference between the August 6 PDB and the August 7 SEIB has long been known in the public domain.  According to “Source Watch“, Associated Press reporter, John Solomon, had surfaced the existence of the August 7 document on April 13, 2004.  “Source Watch” went on to report the following:

Officials, who “would only discuss the senior executives’ memo on condition of anonymity because it remain[ed] classified,” reported that the August 7, 2001, brief did not mention

  • “70 FBI investigations into possible al-Qaida activity that the president had been told of a day earlier in a top-secret memo titled…”
  • “a threat received in May 2001 of possible attacks with explosives in the United States or taht that [corrected Mar 15 2014] the FBI had concerns about recent activities like the casing of buildings in New York”

All that begs an obvious question. How did the Intelligence Community react to the August 7 SEIB? The answer is it did not. We turn first to the work of the 9/11 Commission.

The Commission and the SEIB

The Commission was constrained in page count for its final report in order to meet publisher requirements. One result was that some information was pushed to the end notes and those notes, themselves, were reduced in font to allow increased content. It is in the end notes to Chapter 8, “The System Was Blinking Red” that the story of the August 6 PDB and August 7 SEIB is told.

Footnote 3 details the scope of the effort.”The CIA produced to the Commission all SEIB articles related to al Qaeda, Bin Ladin, and other subjects identified by the Commission as being relevant to its mission from January 1998 through September 20, 2001.”

Footnote 37 explains how the PDB, itself, was drafted.

The CTC [Counter-terrorism Center] analyst who drafted the briefing drew on reports over the previous four years. She also spoke with an FBI analyst to obtain additional information. The FBI material ws written up by the CIA analyst and included in the PDB. A draft of the report was sent to the FBI analyst to review. The FBI analyst did not, however, see the final version, which added the reference to the 70 investigations.

The footnote continued, “Because of the attention that has been given to the PDB, we have investigated each of the assertions mentioned in it.”  We learn, for example, that, “The only information that actually referred to a hijacking…was a walk-in at an FBI Office in the United States…The source was judged to be a fabricator.”

We further learn that, “The 70 full-field investigations number was a generous calculation that included fund-raising investigations…Many of these investigations should not have been included.”

Footnote 38 explains the difference between the PDB and the SEIB. “The Deputy Director of Central Intelligence testified that the FBI information in the PDB was omitted from the SEIB because of concerns about protecting ongoing investigations, because the information had been received from the FBI only orally, and because there were no clear, established ground rules regarding SEIB contents.”

We now turn to my work on the Joint Inquiry staff for additional insight into the impact of the difference between the PDB and the SEIB articles.

Congressional Joint Inquiry Staff Work

I was on the Other Agency team for the Inquiry. Teams were dedicated to and had office space at CIA, NSA, and the FBI. Another team did the historical review across all agencies. The Other Agency team responsibility included all of DoD, less NSA, and the Departments of Energy, State, Transportation and Treasury.

Early in our work, we determined that the volume of intelligence reporting on terrorism/counter-terrorism during 2001 was not great, on the order of a few percentage points, never more than five percent at peak. That fact caused one Representative to finally ask a rhetorical question to the room at large, “would someone please tell me what the other 95% is.” The Inquiry staff took that for action and I did the staff work.

We asked for and received all the SEIB for the period Mar 1-Sep 10, 2001. That universe of documents was a reasonable approximation of the PDB, less law enforcement information, as the Commission reported.  We did not have access to the PDB.  Concurrently, we asked for and received all the the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, intelligence briefings for the same period. My work was compiled in a memo to the Representative signed by the, then, Staff Director, Eleanor Hill.  A copy was archived in my staff work files at the conclusion of our work.

Earlier, I mentioned Commission Report footnote 3 to Chapter 8.  That footnote implies that I had a larger universe of SEIB reporting for the spring/summer 2001 available to me than did the Commission.  I had 100% of the SEIB during the period of my interest because the analytical question was what else was going on.  The Commission staff’s focus was different, they wanted to analyse analyze [Corrected  Mar 15, 2014] the narrower universe of reporting specific to Bin Ladin and al Qaeda.

SEIB Analysis

I looked at all articles in all SEIBs for the period of interest. I then counted each article in several different categories, mostly geographic (e. g. China, Southern Europe, Russia) but including a specific category for terrorism/counter-terrorism articles, including those mentioning Bin Ladin.

There were routinely articles of interest in areas where the US had troops in harms way; Operations Northern Watch and Southern Watch, for example. There were altogether about a dozen categories so no one category contained a majority of the reporting.  However, there was a strong plurality for one category, China.

An aggressive, assertive China was high on the interest list during 2001 prior to 9/11. Readers will recall that, apart for from [corrected Mar 15, 2014] economic and political concerns about China, there was a serious incident that year.  On April 1, 2001, China forced down a US reconnaissance aircraft and held the crew hostage for several days, a serious international event with potentially explosive ramifications.

There were many things on the nation’s intelligence plate.  Protection of US forces in harms way and concern about China competed with the emerging Bin Ladin threat for attention. As did a resurgent Russia. For insight into that threat we turn to the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS) daily intelligence briefings.

CJCS Daily Intelligence Briefings

The Chairman’s briefings were provided to us by the Defense Intelligence Agency in power point form on compact discs, which were archived in my Inquiry work files. First, let’s consider how the subject of terror/counter-terror was briefed to senior military officials.

The terrorist threat was briefed on a single slide once a week. The content was static, unchanged, before the spike in terrorist threat reporting. As the reporting increased the content of the slide became dynamic, changing each week and then the frequency changed to more than once a week. That content and frequency change lasted through the period of peak intelligence reporting.

Thereafter, in August, the briefing item returned to its previous steady state. The immediate threat had passed and attention was turning elsewhere. JCS concerns during the peak reporting period were for the safety of US troops abroad, readiness (spread of hoof and mouth disease), and, unprecedented in recent memory, Russian military activities.

A Resurgent Russia

Typically, CJCS briefing items contain an assessment as the last bullet on the last slide. Such assessments for Russian military activities were alarming.  Examples included:

  • First such activity in a decade
  • First such activity since the end of the Cold War
  • First such activity since the collapse of the Former Soviet Union

Of concern were threats to US reconnaissance aircraft and, significantly, increased scope of activity of scheduled annual Russian military exercises. Of particular concern was the first ALCM (air-launched cruise missile) live-fire exercise in many years, scheduled for September 11, 2001. Even though the exercise was properly announced and a NOTAM (notice to airmen and marines) filed, the activity had the attention of the US Government, military and civilian.

Ben Sliney, the Federal Aviation Administration’s National Operations Manger at the Air Traffic Control System Command Center was among those paying close attention.  081709 Oakland Sliney Russian Missile Shot

General Myers, Assistant Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, took the morning CJCS intelligence briefing. Included in the briefing file for that day was a slide depicting the ALCM threat to CONUS, complete with range arcs for fueled and un-fueled ranges for the launch aircraft. That was the threat to the Pentagon briefed to General Myers by 7:30 EDT that morning.

A little over two hours later a very different threat aircraft, a commercial airliner flown as a missile, slammed into the West side of the Pentagon. It was a “New Type of War,” unrecognized before the fact.

Recognition of the threat on 9/11 at the National Military Command Center (NMCC)

DoD released late last year (2013) a transcript of the Air Threat Conference convened by the NMCC on the morning of 9/11. Even though heavily redacted, the release provides explicit  detail of the national level awareness of the threat just before American Airlines 77 struck the Pentagon.

This is [redacted] DDO at the NMCC. An air attack against North America may be in progress. The vice Chairman is in this conference…NORAD, what is the situation? NORAD: Copy, National. This is NORAD. We have radar and visual indication of a possible threat to CONUS. Unknown country of origin.

By now the reader should still have this question in mind. Why was the Intelligence Community not energized by the 6 August PDB and the companion 7 August SEIB, concerning the actual threat, not the threat as perceived as late as 9:35 EST on September 11, 2011 2001 [corrected Mar 12, 2014]. The devil is in the details.

The SEIB Coordination Process

Senior Executive Intelligence Briefing items were generally coordinated in the evenings before publication with at least the five major agencies, three all-source agencies (CIA, DIA, State) and two single-source agencies (National Imagery Mapping Agency and National Security Agency). Articles could proceed to publication without coordination.  A line at the bottom of each article listed the coordination.

Neither DIA nor State Department coordinated on the 7 August SEIB article concerning Bin Ladin. Twice, on consecutive evenings, DIA refused to coordinate for specific reason.

There was no documentation for the State Department lack of coordination.  The evidence was that State was not listed on the coordination line.

The DIA refusal is documented in the logs of the National Military Intelligence Center (NMIC) for the desks of the Duty Director of Intelligence, Team Chief, and Terrorism Analyst as obtained by the Joint Inquiry Staff and archived in its document collection.

Joint Inquiry Staff twice interviewed DIA supervisors responsible for the refusal to coordinate. Their answer was straight forward, simple, and understandable.  There were two reasons.

  • The intelligence content was nothing more than an historical summary
  • The title did not match the content

The CIA used the same title for both the 6 August PDB and the 7 August SEIB.  Without the law enforcement content, the title made no sense to DIA and they could not concur in the SEIB article as presented to them for coordination.

It was the ultimate, even fatal manifestation of the “Wall” between intelligence and law enforcement information.  The President was briefed on a threat which the major players in the Intelligence Community did not receive.  The President and the Community did not, in military terms, share a common operating picture of the battlefield.

“For want of a nail…”

 

 

 

9/11: Air Threat Conference Transcript; DoD Release, in perspective

Sunday, February 2nd, 2014

Author’s Note, February 5, 2014

Minor typo corrections, bolded, have been made.

Background

On the morning of September 11, 2001, the National Military Command Center (NMCC) convened  an Air Threat Conference. The tape of that conference and accompanying transcript are among the most important primary source documents of the day. The tape has never been released. Only late last year, via a FOIA request in 2006, has a heavily redacted copy of the transcript been released. (Link added February 3, 2014, an oversight in the original posting.)

The release underwhelms and DoD has done a great disservice to the families, the public, and most of all to itself by releasing an important document in a way that confuses rather than clarifies. However, the release, while largely unhelpful, does provide some noteworthy insight.

It is my purpose in this article to provide insight for researchers and historians as they attempt to fathom what the Air Threat Conference transcript in its current public form adds to the conversation. But first, some overarching comments and then some perspective.

Overarching Comments

The initial report to the NMCC was stark, two aircraft into the World Trade Center and one confirmed hijack, AA11, headed towards the nation’s capital.  There was no mention of either AA77 or UA93. That information from the Air Threat Conference, or lack thereof, should have been a part of the DoD/NORAD preparation of General Eberhart for testimony before Congress, construction of the NORAD timeline, and preparation of General McKinley, General Arnold, Administrator Garvey, and Secretary Mineta for testimony before the Commission. None of that happened. Instead, a garbled government story emerged.

The initial NMCC attempt to switch from a Significant Events Conference to an Air Threat Conference failed because the classification level,  TOP SECRET, was too high for some intended conferees; FAA specifically, according to Commission Staff interviews with NMCC officers.  The conference was reconvened at the SECRET level but FAA was still unable to join.

Most important, the redacted transcript clearly establishes that the Air Threat Conference was “SIOP,” (Single Integrated Operations Plan).  My estimate is that this is the genesis of the national level attempt to implement Continuity of Operations (COOP) and Continuity of Government (COG) procedures.

The redacted transcript clearly depicts the confusion at the national level. Confusion about the threat, the attack, and its aftermath is understandable.  What is not is the consistent confusion about the disposition of friendly forces. The transcript, even in redacted form, describes chaos.

Chaos Theory Considered

In other articles I have established that Chaos Theory is useful in examining the events of the day, not in its pure mathematical form but in its language. We can use the language of Chaos Theory as a metaphor to aid in understanding what happened, retrospectively.  Specifically in this instance, chaos is nonlinear. Linear processes and procedures such as the NMCC attempt to convene a suitable conference, therefore, are largely futile and may even be counter-productive.

The series of teleconferences available to the NMCC were all linear processes, set procedures that allowed the orderly convention of the right voices at the right time to deal with a crisis. Except that never happened that morning. The attack was against the National Air Space system, a system operated by a single individual, Benedict Sliney, the FAA’s National Operations Manager, and defended on the East Coast by a single individual, Colonel Robert Marr, Commander of NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector.

For the nation to have any chance at all that morning those two individuals had to be in communication and sharing a common operating picture of the attack. Nothing the NMCC did during the actual attack and defense that morning ever assisted the operator and defender of the National Airspace System.

The Tape and Transcript

At about 9:29 EDT, as a precursor Significant Event Conference was being convened, the acting Duty Director of Operations (DDO) pushed the record button on a small, inexpensive reel-reel recorder on his desk.  That was the state of the art in the NMCC that morning.  The recording was not time stamped and the system required that the DDO turn the tape over at the end of each side.  He missed the fact that the first tapes first side had run out, according to his interview with Commission Staff. As a result, there is a period of time, perhaps a minute or so, that was not recorded.

The fact of an Air Threat Conference was determined by Commission Staff based on information contained in NORAD documents. A formal request to DoD surfaced the fact of the existence of the tape which was not released to the Commission until DoD had time to make a transcription, not a trivial process.  As DoD staff worked through the tape making the transcript they found that the equities involved in the conference exceeded DoD. Thereafter, the tape and transcript came under the purview of the National Security Council (NSC).

The Commission negotiated a protocol that allowed DoD to retain a copy of the transcript for Commission staff use during interviews. A second copy, the original as I recall, was retained at the NSC.  At no time did Commission Staff have either the transcript or tape available at our offices for a detailed contrast and comparison with other responsive information.  No copy of the transcript or tape will be found in the Commission’s archived files; we had nothing to archive.

Commission Staff was allowed to listen to the tape at the NSC under the supervision of a junior staffer whose task was to stop the tape at certain specified times and fast forward beyond brief snippets of information.  It was a boring job for the staffer and on one occasion as I listened he forgot to stop the tape.  What he was supposed to suppress in that instance was specific call sign reference to Continuity of Government (COG) helicopters.  To me, it was nonsensical. What he was suppressing was the same information I had routinely heard on air traffic control communications provided by FAA.

There is, in my estimation, no credible reason for the tape and transcript, unredacted, to be withheld beyond the minimum statutory limits for doing so.

A Note for Researchers and Historians

The redacted transcript is best used in conjunction with two other, more definitive documents. First, is the Commission Report, itself. A critical portion of the narrative concerning the events of 9/11 was based on the Air Threat Conference, as detailed in Chapter One notes. Keep the Report handy as you make your personal assessment of the DoD redacted transcript

Second, is the staff generated transcript surfaced under a Mandatory Declassification Review orchestrated by Robbyn Swan, co-author of the Eleventh Day. That document, “Air Traffic Conference Call, DJH Notes,” provides needed time correlation and should be concurrently used in order to understand the times and timing of the line entries in the redacted transcript. The staff made that transcript in order to integrate the Air Threat Conference into our own timeline.

With that background and guidance let us now consider the recently released redacted transcript.

The Situation

The national level did not start to get itself organized until 9:16 EDT, when CIA convened a NOIWON (National Operational Intelligence Watch Officer’s Network) to find out what was going on. The NOIWON, with which I had personal familiarity, is a desk/center level analyst information exchange network to quickly discuss things that go bump in the night. The network ties the WAOC consortium (Washington Area Operations Centers) together in real time.

No one on the NOIWON had any information beyond that which was being learned from news networks.  The important point is that all the key organizations, specifically the FAA and the NMCC, were on the network. The network, however, was not suited for operational coordination. The FAA node, for example, was on the 3rd floor of the FAA building, several floors below the FAA’s crisis center.

At 9:20 EDT, FAA activated its primary net, a mechanism for crisis coordination outside the FAA. One of the first entities called was the NMCC. The officer who answered told Commission Staff that he quickly learned that nothing was happening on that net.  He tasked a newly assigned non-commissioned officer, one not yet assigned to a specific NMCC watch team, to sit and listen to the network.  I interviewed her and found that nothing happened on the net that morning.

What happened was the FAA relied primarily on its internal tactical net. The NMCC was never a party to the FAA’s tactical net.

At 9:25 EDT, the SVTS (Secure Video Teleconference System) was activated. It became operational at 9:40 EDT, when the FAA Administrator and the CIA Director entered the conference. The SVTS was a cold war legacy system heavily layered with security which isolated conferees from their staffs. While both the NMCC and the FAA were active on the conference, participants had to communicate via runners to the DDO and the FAA crisis center.

Amidst all this activity the NMCC, which had simply been listening in on the NOIWON conference, decided it had to do something and a Significant Event Conference was convened at 9:29 EDT.  Staff officers told Commission Staff during interviews that they were literally pulling binders off the shelves in their effort to convene an operational conference that made sense.

The Conference Begins

The NMCC soon learned that FAA was not a party to the Significant Event Conference and decided to do something else. In response to information from the Air Force that they had established a crisis action team, the DDO said, “I concur, convene an air threat conference.”  NORAD concurred and announced it was “proceeding with an air threat conference.” Notably, NORAD also verified that “hijacked aircraft is still airborne heading toward Washington DC.”

The Threat

The threat was established immediately after the SECRET level Air Threat Conference was convened. The DDO announced, “An air attack against North America may be in progress.” NORAD concurred; “We have radar and visual indication of a possible threat to CONUS. Unknown country of origin.”

Given that a Russian air launched cruise missile exercise was scheduled, the die was cast. The nation prepared for an air attack not a terrorist attack and a COOP/COG response was required.

In NORAD’s defense it did attempt to dampen the situation. A possible hijack was mentioned. No CINC’s assessment, a critical necessary step was forthcoming; “CINC NORAD is not declaring air defense emergency at this point. And, NORAD recommends that this conference be reconvened when further information and unconflicted reports are available.”

By then it was too late.  The next communication recorded was, “This is the DDO providing an update. There’s a report that an aircraft has crashed into the Mall side of the Pentagon.”

Chaos ensued. The next threat report was that Delta flight 89 was possibly hijacked. That was followed by a report of a “possible inbound to D.C. 25 minutes out..” The NORAD response was explicit. “NORAD has no indication of a hijack heading to Washington, D.C. at this time.”

Things then took another chaotic turn for the worse. The DDO asked the Air Force for an update “on fighter cap” for the D.C. area. No one knew, Air Force or NORAD, even though three Langley fighters were in the process of establishing the ‘cap.’ The NMCC further request was, “I say again my previous request. Have any aircraft been scrambled in response to this United 93 and what is that status of fighter cap over D.C.?”

The NORAD response was nonsensical, in retrospect. “Roger, We currently have two aircraft out of Atlantic City; additional scramble pending and stand by for ETI (sic, should read ETA) to Washington, D.C. NORAD complete.”

Andrews mentioned

In other articles I have established that the Andrews fighters were not part of the air defense force that morning. They did not have the tactics, techniques, and procedures, or authentication tables to engage.  Even when finally tasked it took them well over an hour to get fighters in the air, well after the United 93 threat had been resolved.

Nevertheless, Andrews was considered. The DDO asked; “Have the assets out of Andrews been launched?” NORAD responded, “NORAD, no information on assets out of Andrews.”

The FAA joins

Sometime after 10:15 EDT, the FAA joined the conference, not from FAA headquarters but from the CARF (Central Altitude Reservation Function) at the FAA’s Air Traffic Control System Command Center, Herndon, Virginia.

The specific question to FAA was, “This is the DDO. Vice Chairman would like to know who’s controlling the aircraft over Washington D.C.”  The response: “If there are any aircraft that are airborne over the Washington area they are being controlled by our Washington Center.”

The NMCC did not have a grip on the disposition of friendly forces. The FAA voice advised that “we understand that there are some military fighters that have been launched to patrol the Washington area.” The DDO responded, “That’s correct. We have reports of two aircraft currently over Washington.”  There were actually three, from Langley.

The FAA voice responded, “That I do not know. I’m back in secure area in the command center. I’d have to go out on the floor to find out who is out there.” He reiterated that “Washington Center is controlling all aircraft in the Washington area at this time.” That was an accurate statement.

The confusion goes on and is worth reading even with the redactions keeping in mind the Commission Report and the Commission Staff version of the Air Threat Conference.

Other Interesting items

Page 62 contains a direct reference to COOP/COG operations. The DDO reported, “We’re still working the number of passengers for that first aircraft for SITE-R.”

Page 78 establishes NMCC awareness of the accurate disposition of friendly forces. CONR reported, “total of 7 airplanes over Washington D.C. right now. Four F-16s [Andrews] and three F-15s [Langley] over Washington D.C. Two F-15s [Otis] over New York City at the moment.”  That time was no earlier than 11:15 EDT, or so.

Page 93 establishes the arrival of Air Force One in Barksdale. General Arnold, CONR, reported, “ABC news, unfortunately, just announced that Air Force One is in Barksdale.”

Page 150 establishes that MOLINK was at least periodically on the conference.  During a polling of conferees, “MOLINK: this is MOLINK.”  MOLINK was/is a long existing Moscow-Washington hot line established in the early 1960’s.

It was likely a charter member any time an air threat conference was convened since the most likely threat was Soviet/Russian.  It is possible that MOLINK was used that morning in the concerted effort to convince the Russians to cancel their ongoing live fire exercise. They did.

As an example of the effort, during my work on the Congressional Joint Inquiry we established from logs of the NMIC (National Military Intelligence Center) that the Director, Defense Intelligence Agency directed the DDI (Duty Director of Intelligence) to call the Defense Attache’ in Moscow to ask the Russians to cancel the exercise.  A later log entry established that the Director, himself, made the call to the Attache’.

Page 164 establishes that “VENUS CONTROL” was responsible for Presidental movement. “VENUS CONTROL: This is Venus Control confirming that we did just talk to Air Force One and they are airborne on their way to Andrews Air Force Base.

Recall that the so called “mystery plane” was Venus 77, an E4B that took off hurriedly at 9:43 EDT, headed west and then turned back east to establish a 60-mile long racetrack orbit centered on Richmond, Virginia in support of the departure of Air Force One from Florida.  It was that turn back east which was noticed and photographed with subsequent ungrounded speculation as to its presence.

The continued DoD insistence on heavy redaction of the air threat conference ensures that unwarranted speculation will continue.

 

9-11: Air Force One; the return to DC, an uneventful flight

Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

Introduction

A correspondent asked me what I knew about the return flight of Air Force One to the nation’s capital.  I had not previously looked at the event so turned to the primary source information to analyze the situation.  Here is that analysis based on 84th Radar Evaluation Squadron radar files, air traffic control communications from the Federal Aviation Administration’s Washington Center (ZDC), and the audio files of the Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS).  The story is interesting but uneventful.  We begin with the radar files.

USAF Radar

Multiple aircraft are mentioned in the ZDC file, which we will discuss shortly.  That discussion, however, requires a picture of where the relevant aircraft were spatially during the time that Air Force One was controlled by ZDC.  I have selected a single time hack, 1809 EDT, to orient the reader.

At that time Air Force One was just completing a 360-degree turn, a holding pattern to allow its fighter escort, Cowry 45, 46 and 47, to catch up.  Even so, ZDC informed Air Force One that the escort was 90 minutes in trail, the red Xes off the chart to the west.

Caps 1 and 2, the Andrews fighters tasked to escort Air Force One on the final leg, were well to the east and had just passed The Plains, Virginia.  A Lifeguard flight, headed southwesterly, was accounted for, but did not impact the return flight.

A low level flight, Mode 3 code 0270 was discussed jointly by ZDC and NEADS; both agreed it had dropped off.  The plane was broadcasting a Mode 2 code indicating it was military-related.  The related target observed by NEADS and ZDC was at low level, 1200 feet and below and some of the returns were beacon only, not radar, hence the difficulty in tracking.

An additional pair of fighters, briefly mention by Mode 3 code, was to the south and circled back to the North and ultimately joined the escort of Air Force One.

Here is a screen shot of the 84th RADES radar file, annotated in powerpoint.

Washington Center (ZDC)

Air Force One was in ZDC airspace from 1800-1816 EDT as it returned the President to the nation’s capital.  The check-in after handoff from Cleveland Center was routine.  1800 Air Force One Checks In (ZDC audio clips come from file 148-911-3007885A-s1.mp3, as archived by NARA in 2004)

At 1802 Air Force One requested a right 360 degree turn after which it would continue on course.  That gradual turn, which covered considerable real estate when projected to the ground, served two purposes.  First, as we shall shortly hear, it allowed fighter aircraft in trail to catch up.  Second, it aligned Air Force One for a direct return just south of The Plains, Virginia, essentially parallel to Interstate I66. 1802 Right 360 Request Approved  At 1803, ZDC notified an unidentified air traffic control entity (Linden?) about the 360-degree turn.  1803 Air Force One Doing a 360  

At 1805 an Identification Technician at NEADS, Sergeant Lisa Raymond (digraph Lima Romeo), called to resolve Mode 3 code 0270.  ZDC and NEADS agreed that the track had dropped out.  It was sometimes a beacon-only (transponder return but not radar return) track at low altitude which may be why it “dropped out.”   The conversation is an example of how NEADS routinely worked with FAA en route centers to resolve tracks of potential interest.  Given the location and altitude the military-related aircraft, squawking a Mode 2 code, would have been under Dulles TRACON control and not ZDC.  1805 0270 Code NEADS ID Tech

Shortly thereafter, at 1806, two things happened simultaneously.  First, Sergeant Richmond called asking why Air Force One was turning and heading the opposite direction.  A background voice answered that “he is doing a 360 at his request.”  Concurrently, Air Force One was calling the same controller with a request.  That exchange tells us why Air Force One was turning.  It was waiting for Cowry, a flight of three F-16s likely still under Cleveland Center control.  The Air Force One cockpit voice asked that they be vectored to him.  1806 NEADS Concern and AF1 Request  

Soon after 1807, ZDC provided an answer to Air Force One.  Cowry 45 [flight lead] was 90 miles behind.  1807 Cowry 45 90 Miles Behind

A minute later, shortly after 1808 a Lifeguard flight made a routine check-in with ZDC.  1808 Lifeguard Flight Checks In  

At 1810 two things came to the attention of the ZDC controller.  First, Cowry 45 reported in and that he was “in the block” [tactical expression?] with Air Force One.  Second, another controller informed that a pair of fighters out of the national area were coming that way to “intercept the group.”  Here the term “intercept” simply means to join up.  They did just that as clearly shown on the depiction of the radar files.  They flew out, spotted and identified the aircraft, and then joined to escort Air Force One.  1810 Cowry 45 Check In Other Fighters Mentioned 

At 1812 the controller was informed by another sector of the presence of a different fighter and that “they know about it.”  That report referred to the second pair of fighters that joined the escort of Air Force One from the south, as depicted in the lower right of the graphic, above.  1812 Other Fighter Reported 

In the 1812-1814 time frame several things happened.  First, Cowry 47 reported in asking for a squawk [Mode 3] and that he was information with Cowry 45.  Second, Cowry 47 confirmed the approach of the fighters [085 direction] from the DC area.  Third, the Life Guard flight was informed and acknowledged the presence of military aircraft.  (The discussion about “Uniform” had to do with a division of labor among the Cowry flight as to who was going to monitor what frequency in which band.  A similar discussion had taken place eight hours earlier when another flight of three fighters, the Quit flight from Langley, also approached the nation’s capital.) 1813 Cowry 47 Other Fighters Life Guard 

At 1816 Air Force One was handed off routinely to Dulles TRACON.  1816 Air Force One Contact Dulles  Other than a  sweeping 360-degree turn to allow escorting fighters to catch up, it was an uneventful flight according to the available air traffic control communications, a primary source.  But we also have available additional primary source audio files, those of NEADS.

Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS)

NEADS began tracking Air Force One well before the flight entered ZDC airspace.  At 1730 EDT the track (B001) and altitude (33000) were reported to Master Sergeant Maureen Dooley (“Mo”)  The technician making the report did not observe any fighters.  He was told the track was being forward told, now, a probable reference to passing the track to Cheyenne Mountain. 1730 Track B001 Air Force One (Channel 4, DRM1, cut 210926)  Immediately, NEADS personnel decided that, according to NORAD, Air Force One was going to Andrews.  1730 Going to Andrews (Channel 4, DRM 1, cut 211022)

The NEADS tapes reveal that the first team was on duty as inferred by the reference to Sergeant Dooley.  In this next clip in the 1740 time frame we hear the voices of both the Mission Crew Commander, Major Nasypany, and the Senior Director, Major Fox.  There was an issue about a Mode 3 unknown 40 miles south of Air Force One which was resolved to be the “Omaha” flight. 1747 Some Familiar Voices (Channel 2, DRM 1 cut 212211)

Shortly after Air Force One checked in with ZDC NEADS controllers were aware of the position and were asking themselves where the fighter escort was.  They did not know. 1801 Wheres Fighter Escort  We know from the ZDC tape that the fighters were well to the west, but NEADS did not yet know they were in trail. (Channel 2, DRM 1, cut 212211)

By 1805, the observation on radar that Air Force One got NEADS attention.  This next clip, over two minutes long, captures how Major Nasypany handled that situation.  He is listening to multiple positions on the NEADS floor, but Sergeant Raymond’s voice comes through loud and clear when she reports that Air Force One is orbiting at the President’s request.  1805 Orbiting at the Presidents Request  (Channel 2, DRM 1 cut 212211)

For the record, here is the continuous conversation between Sergeant Raymond and ZDC concerning both the 0270 zero code and Air Force One.  The NEADS tapes provided to the Commission end on all channels shortly after 2208Z.  1805 Raymond and ZDC AF One 

Observation

Although it appears from the radar picture that Air Force One was unescorted while in ZDC airspace the tactical picture suggests otherwise.  The Cowry flight of three was  present to the west (trailing) and north.  The escorting fighters from the long-established DC Combat Air Patrol were present to the east and south.  In addition, there were two E3’s airborne, one in the Chicago area and one in the DC area.

I will eventually get around to telling the E3 story, one that spreads across most postions and recorded channels at NEADS.  The E3, in effect, mirrored and supported NEADS.  Each had a Mission Crew Commander working under the overall direction of Major Nasypany, the Mission Crew Commander at NEADS

9-11: Secret Service Timeline; in perspective, a most chaotic time

Sunday, March 13th, 2011

Addendum, March 15, 2011

In a previous article I discussed the Headquarters FAA actions concerning AA 77 in the days after 9-11 as they prepared a briefing book for the Administrator and senior staff.  I neglected to mention and link to that material in the article, below.

Introduction

It has been brought to my attention that my notes taken during a review of the Secret Service timeline have been made public by NARA.  Following is a link to my notes; I took them, and I archived a copy in my work files.  The notes are a compilation from disparate documents. That is my handwriting.  It should be familiar to researchers who have spent any time at all with the Commission’s work files.  My Notes

The Secret Service notes

The date “7/9″ is July 9, 2003.  We visited Secret Service for a tour and briefing and learned that that they had put together an internal timeline.  We did not get a copy but were allowed to review it in its original classified form and take notes that I believe were then sent to us later.  I see no redactions, the style and continuity are consistent with my note taking.  I believe the document to be a complete set of my notes.  The phrase “unclassified extract” is my terminology; it is unrelated to the title of the original document.

The Secret Service timeline, as I recall, was in spreadsheet format and the entries were more detailed than my notes.  The document was a patchwork of information from the divisions within the Secret Service, such as the Uniformed Services Division, Presidential Operations, JOC, etc.  It was not in any way a synthesis or analysis.  The timeline was an uneven document in its fidelity to actual events, such as the takeoff of Air Force One which the Service had wrong in its timeline.

On a subsequent visit to the Secret Service JOC (Joint Operations Center) I had a chance to talk to the scope operator who was on duty on 9-11.  The Service had a slave radar feed from National TRACON, as Clarke referred to in his book. “Stafford [Brian Stafford, Secret Service Director] slipped me a note. ‘Radar shows aircraft headed this way.’  Secret Service had a system that allowed them to see what FAA’s radar [National TRACON] was seeing.  ‘I’m going to empty out the complex.’  He was ordering the evacuation of the White House.”  That event was during the SVTS, which places it after 9:40

I’d like to say that the radar capability was established after a private plane crashed into the White House grounds.  The scope operator provided me screen prints he made on 9/11 which should be part of the Commission’s master files.

Radar-wise, the Service could see only what National TRACON could see.  The first cue that the JOC had was the alert call after Dulles TRACON sounded the alarm.  At that same time National TRACON put an “S” tag on the fast moving unknown so that it could be more easily followed.  The JOC-provided screen prints began at about 0934, as indicated in my notes and consistent with the “S” tag annotation by National TRACON

With that as background let me now place the notes in perspective.

What the notes are not

The notes are not confirmation of the Mineta testimony as some have been quick to judge.  The relevant entry to Mineta is the 1022 entry, “FAA advises a/c 5-10 miles out fm WH poss 757.”  By that time Secretary Mineta was settled in to the PEOC and receiving information from FAA HQ.  The convergence of evidence is conclusive on that point.  Moreover, my notes are implicit that the VP was not moved until 9:37.

Richard Clarke, in Against All Enemies, described events concerning the Secure Video Teleconference (SVTS) that he convened.  According to logs of the day the SVTS was activated at 9:25 and the teleconference was convened at 9:40, according to CIA and FAA timelines concerning George Tenet and Jane Garvey.  Clarke stated, “”Okay…Let’s start with the facts. FAA, FAA, go.” and then asked, “Jane, where’s Norm?” And during her brief asked, “Jane, if you haven’t found the Secretary yet, are you prepared to order a national ground stop and no fly zone?”  Garvey responded, “Yes, but it will take a while.”

Clarke then wrote, “Shortly thereafter, Mineta called in from his car and I asked him to come directly to the Situation Room.”  Therefore, according to Clarke’s account, Mineta did not arrive at the White House until after 9:40 and went to the Situation Room before he went to the PEOC.

Secretary Mineta was in his office on the top floor of the Department of Transportation building.  He accomplished the following actions after UA 175 struck the South Tower. He assimilated what he saw and conversed with his staff.  He took time to talk to CEO’s of airlines.  He descended to the ground floor and was driven to the White House West Wing gate, a minimum of eight minutes on a good day.  He then passed through security and debarked at the West Wing where he met with Richard Clarke some time after the SVTS conference, which convened at 0940.

That sequence of events places Mineta in the West Wing after the time that the Vice President was being moved to the PEOC.  Mineta had to then cross to the East Wing and descend to the PEOC.  Once there, he had to get acclimated, in position, and in communication with someone, most likely Monte Belger.  Jane Garvey was in the SVTS conference.  According to the Commission Report, “At 10:02, the communicators in the shelter began receiving reports from the Secret Service of an inbound aircraft.”  That aircraft was not AA 77.

What the notes are

The notes–taken together with the radar and the FAA and NEADS audio files–simply hint at the tip of the chaotic iceberg of information that confounded the national level.  I have written extensively about Chaos Theory and about the national level.  Specifically, I have described the events of 9-11 using the cascading bifurcation aspect of Chaos Theory.

The 0925 entry is most likely a reference to the work of Van Steenburgen and Garabito as they worked the movement of Air Force One.  The clue here is “FAA Pres Ops.”  Their focus was on Air Force One and the President, not on the Vice President, the PEOC, or Secretary Mineta.

“FAA PO [Van Steenburgen] advises “2 a/c unaccounted for” is an incomplete reference to the information available within FAA that there were, at that point in time–in real time–three aircraft unaccounted for:  AA11, AA 77, and UA 175, as we shall hear in clips later in the article.  The notation “one of [2 a/c] approaching WDC” is a possible reference to either AA 11, AA 77 or UA 175; it is not conclusive.  My estimate is that it is a reference to the false report that AA 11 was still airborne.

Dean John Farmer and I believe, post facto to our Commission work, that the AA 11 false story was a conflation of emerging information that AA 77 was lost.  That conflation, although erroneous, was sufficient information for NEADS to order the Langley scramble.

The notation, “not communicating w/ tower,” is a possible reference to AA 77 or UA 175 or, by this time, UA 93.  Air traffic control communications do not support one over the other.  All we know from my notes is that the information came from FAA Pres Ops.

The notation, “advises a/c is 30 miles out fm WH,” is a possible reference to either AA 77 or AA 11.  Again the notes and supporting air traffic control tapes are not conclusive.  While it is an easy judgment, post-facto, to line up the radar track for AA 77, that is not a case that can be made in real time when the totality of evidence is considered.

The notations for 0934, 0935, and 0936 are consistent with the fast-moving unknown which turned out to be AA 77, and are supported by radar, air traffic control communications, visual observation at National Tower, and the screen prints provided to the Commission Staff by the JOC.

A caution to researchers and historians.  Don’t be hasty to conflate the entries from 0925-0931 with the entries from 0934-0936 and conclude that the “a/c” referred to is always AA 77.  There is a conflation of the false report of AA 11, the unknown status of UA 175, the unknown status of AA 77, and the emerging status of UA 93 at this point in time.  It was a most chaotic point in the events that day.  So why the caution?

The next entry

My notes show “0937 VP.”  That was my short hand for the Secret Service’s movement of the Vice President to the PEOC, according to their own time line.  That time is consistent with all other documentation concerning the arrival of both the Vice President and Secretary Mineta in the PEOC.  The Commission Report is conclusive on this issue.

The Audio Files

Note to historians and researchers.  The audio clips embedded below are off the V-Drive of the Commission’s file server at our GSA office.  The NARA notation is “RG 148 Records of 9/11 Commission V-drive (audio clips from audio monograph).”

It was our intention to publish an audio monograph.  We got as far as final draft but did not have time to transcribe the audio files into the text of the monograph.  My colleague, John Farmer, in his Introduction to Ground Truth, stated, “An ‘audio monograph’ of the day’s events that we prepared…did not survive the vetting process.”

I completed and stored a master file “061604” of over 500 audio clips concerning events of the day.  I also stored a master addendum “071504” containing 40 additional clips of interest.  The titles of the clips, below, are as I archived them in 2004.

The Audio Record

About 0916 a conversation took place between Ellen King at Herndon Center and Bill Halleck at American Airlines.  That was the first mention by anyone outside of FAA to FAA that AA 77 was missing.

Internally to FAA the only air traffic control entity that knew of the loss of AA 77 was Indianapolis Center.  At about 9;10, the Center reported that fact to FAA’s Great Lakes Region and to the Air Force’s Rescue Coordination Center at Langley AFB, Virginia.

American Airlines was under the mistaken idea that both planes into the Trade Center were American.  Note that King briefly mentioned a data tag in her remarks.  091626 AA11 AA77 ATCSCC King with Halleck AAL Pos 34B Line 5149

Concurrently, Cary Johnson, Operations Manager at ZDC called his counterpart John Thomas at ZID.  Johnson had noticed the ghost TSD track of AA 77 and called to inquire about it because Region (Eastern) was calling him.  Johnson was told that “he’s turned around and heading somewhere else.” Here is that call in its entirety.  091654 AA77 Johnson ZDC Thomas ZID Conversation ZID TMU

As that call was in process Herndon Center called ZID for any and all information about AA 77.  As soon as Thomas hung up the phone with ZDC he picked up on the call from Herndon. The information provided was going to be immediately passed “to the NOM and everybody that’s  standing up there.”  ZID had notified search and rescue and had no evidence of a hijacking.  One key element passed was the altitude, flight level 350 .  Here is that conversation in two parts because of file size.  091836 AA77 Summersall to ZID from ATCSCC ZID TMU.mp3 Part I 091836 AA77 Summersall to ZID from ATCSCC ZID TMU.mp3 Part II

Johnson then had the word spread at ZDC to look for AA 77 and for UA 175.  The file name with the words “primary search” is as I originally stored it.  That is a misnomer.  ZDC was instructed to look for limited data tags at altitude, 35K for AA 77 and 31K for UA 175.  092035 ZDC Primary Search ZDC OMIC The time was 9:21, the time that Secretary Mineta testified he was in the PEOC and receiving real time information.

Shortly thereafter, NEADS called ZDC asking for a mode 3 for AA 11.  There was no mention of AA 77 by either party.  The time was then 0924 and ZDC was talking directly to the air defenders.  The only mention of a plane approaching Washington was by NEADS and it was a reference to AA 11.  092310 AA11 ID First call to ZDC They have nothing

Concurrently, Colin Scoggins, ZBW, called NEADS.  Scoggins was explicit that they did hear from Washington that there is an aircraft they believe it is American 11, southwest.  That is a problematic reference.  Air traffic communications do not equate that reference to AA 77. There is a brief mention of a “no tag” at an IAD controller position about that time but no evidence that became actionable.  According to my notes from the Secret Service time line, the first mention of an aircraft approaching Washington was 0930, five minutes later.  In context, the “approaching” language is applicable to either AA 11 or AA 77 and not definitive for either.

That aside, NEADS learned that there were three aircraft missing, according to Scoggins.  Boston did not know the call sign of the third aircraft even though they were listening in to the Eastern Region bridge.  092401 AA11 Scoggins 3 Aircraft Missing

Shortly before, Jeff Griffith directed the establishment of an open line between Herndon and FAA Headquarters.  Subsequently, among other things, he directed an inventory from the various centers of any unusual circumstances.  092505 Inventory Griffith Directs Any Unusual Circumstances

At the same time, the AA 11 story became convoluted and ZNY, Bruce Barrett, called NEADS trying to get a straight answer.  NEADS, of course, only knew what they had been told by ZBW.  092518 AA11 AST call from Barrett not TRACON

Also concurrently, the orders for an inventory immediately surfaced AA 77 as an issue.  The time was now 9:25 and all FAA HQ knew at an actionable level, one that would have been in communication with Secretary Mineta, is that AA 77 was lost, they didn’t have a primary or anything.  Here is the report from Herndon Center to FAA Headquarters.  092524 AA77 One such report AA77 reported lost Line 4530

Two minutes later, NEADS persistently called ZDC again about AA 11.  NEADS had confused “Washington” with ZDC.  The ZDC recipient of the call became frustrated and ordered his military desk to “call Boston military guy.”  The time was nearly 9:29 and, again, FAA at a knowledgeable level, was talking to NEADS, the air defenders.  AA 77 as an aircraft approaching the nation’s capital was not mentioned.  092721 AA11 3d ID Call to ZDC Becker

By 9:30, ZID was still attempting to contact AA 77,  as heard in this exchange between Indianapolis Center and an unknown entity.  093019 AA77 ZID Hold of AA77 Not Yet

The NEADS Identification Technicians persisted in their contacts to FAA Centers, specifically Boston Center.  In my work on chaos theory I have described NEADS and Boston Center as “strange attractors.”  There is a reason for that as the Vigilant Guardian tapes from NEADS reveal.  To NEADS, FAA meant “Center,” as in “Air Route Traffic Control Center.” In this next clip we hear NEADS again talking to Colin Scoggins, who again confirms that there are three aircraft missing.  As NEADS discusses the call we hear a possible genesis of the D 1989 story.  NEADS believes all three missing aircraft are “out of Boston.”  093116 AA11 ID call to Scoggins 3 missing

The cross communications between NEADS and FAA persisted as NEADS continued to try and find actionable information.  Again the Identification Technicians communicated with ZDC.  ZDC listened patiently to the NEADS rundown and then told them about AA 77, the first time NEADS learned that it was missing.  Here is that complete conversation, in two parts because of file size.  093212 Part I AA11 AA77 ID Summary ZDC loss of AA77 093212 Part II AA11 AA77 ID Summary ZDC loss of AA77

NEADS was provided no specificity on location, ZDC did not know, but soon would.  That awareness came from Danielle O’Brien at Dulles TRACON, Final West position.  Here is her alarm as recorded at both Dulles TRACON and National TRACON.  093337 AA77 Danielle Sounds Alert Dulles Tape Final West 093222 AA77 Danielle Heard at Reagan We See Him Krant Tape

The first clip starts with O’Brien’s normal air traffic control communications.  She then dropped off for 35 seconds before she sounded the alarm.  That 35-second period is when she (and others) became fully aware of the fast moving unknown.  When I talked to her she told me she wheeled her chair to the person at the next scope to compare notes before she alerted National on the 62 line.  Concurrently, her supervisor called his counterpart at National alerting him that the target was headed for P56 .   National TRACON soon added an “S” symbol to the track; it was then, and only then, that anyone in FAA tagged the track for the Secret Service.

Some Things That Need To Be Said

First, it is not possible to take a snippet of information about 9-11 and/or a snapshot of the Commission’s work and extrapolate that information to a larger whole, with meaning. It is possible to extend the work of the Commission, building on the body of information accumulated by the Commission and the Joint Inquiry before it and the reports both entities filed.

Historians and responsible researchers have done that and continue to do so.  Others are less diligent and rely on eye witness statements, participant recall, and media accounts to build inaccurate and in some cases outright false explanations for events of the day.  And they continue to do so, ignoring the explicit and implicit pitfalls of that approach.

The Pitfalls

Second, there are two primary pitfalls, conflation of events and compression of time.  I started my work on this website with the “Scott Trilogy,”  primarily to deal with both as evidenced in Scott’s articles.  Readers familiar with Richard Clarke’s account will recognize both pitfalls in his narrative, as well.

The Scott series of early articles, together with the Cooperative Research timeline and a few other sources, was the public story as the Commission Staff knew it when we started work.  It did not take us long to figure out that the public story was grossly inaccurate and misleading.  It was based on eyewitness statements, participant recall, and media accounts, most of which, in the aggregate, conflated events and compressed time.  Contemporary work with that same basis is and will be equally inaccurate and misleading.

The Ultimate Question

There is just one question at issue.  Why did Norman Mineta testify to a precise time that was inaccurate?  We may never know the answer.  For anyone that has worked in an operations or command center with world-wide responsibilities there is a logical explanation.  He looked at the wrong clock; Central Time.

9-11: Herndon Center-FAA HQ open line; a story continued

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

Introduction

In a previous article, “9-11: FAA Tactical Net; a window into the FBI SIOC,” I discussed the open line at the FAA’s Herndon Center that provided a window into both FAA Headquarters and the FBI’s SIOC and ended the article, “to be continued.”

I now have the continuation audio file, “5 DCC 1923 Ops Phone #5128, pos 28, 1415-1515 UTC.”  We pick up the story with the following from my first article.

“There is one brief background conversation at about 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.

Setting the stage

The FAA’s tactical and primary nets merged soon after the primary net was activated at 9:20.  None of the positions at the FAA’s Washington Operation Center (WOC) were recorded.  However, thanks to personnel at the Air Traffic Control System Command Center (Herndon Center) the line at position 28 was left open thus providing the only known primary source information concerning actions taken at FAA Headquarters on September 11, 2001.

The person on position at the WOC received information from the Herndon Center and other sources and passed that information along to others to pass up the chain of command, most likely using the Secure Video Teleconference System (SVTS).

In another previous article I described the SVTS (pronounced “civ its”) as a closed system, a cold war relic that did not allow the input of information in real time.  Participants in a SVTS conference were limited to the information they brought with them to the table.  Additional information had to be passed using runners.

It is probable that the information received at the WOC was being passed to either Monty Belger or Jane Garvery who, in turn, passed that information to Norman Mineta.  No alternate explanation is plausible, given the chain of command in place that morning.

Picking up the story

There were three pieces of information that the WOC wanted passed as we pick up the tape continuation: United 93, 20 minutes out; all inbound international flights diverted to Canada; and the launch of Air Force One and a Secret Service request for fighter support from Andrews.  Here are the audio clips, in order, and we begin with the time stamp.

1415-1515 Pos 28 Time Stamp

101500 UA 93 20 minutes out pos 28

101545 Internationals diverted to Canada Pos 28

101654 AF One launched request fighter escort

The last clip contains an example of how confused and chaotic the situational awareness was at FAA Headquarters.  The person on position erroneously stated that Air Force One was going to take off from Andrews.  It was the fighter escort that was to launch from Andrews.

A brief explanation about the times

The audio recordings at all Herndon positions were forwarded to the Commission on reel-reel cassette tapes, one hour per side.  There is a few second overlap as the quality assurance specialist copying the tapes turned the cassette tape over.  This tape is typical of all FAA-provided cassette tapes; there is an introductory certification by the quality assurance specialist.  On the first tape in a series that certification lasts nearly a minute.  On the continuation tapes, such as this one, the certification is on the order of 30 seconds or less.  I have taken the certification into account as I adjusted tape time to actual time.  I have included the actual time in the title of each clip.

Source of information to the chain of command

As would be expected, the recipient of the information being passed from the WOC wanted a source he/she could pass along.  The WOC established the source to be the FAA TAC NET, T A C NET.”  101800 Source is TACNET

In the background a person is heard saying the people down there in the “big room” want to know the source of the information.

Another situational awareness bifurcation.

Immediately after the three items are detailed for passing and the identification of the source is established, New York TRACON came up on the net to report, erroneously, that they had determined that a Sikorsky helicopter from Poughkeepsie flew into the trade center at 1227 (0827 EDT).  The following audio clip documents an excellent example of disruptive feedback entering the system.  101826 Sikorsky helicopter

The Attorney General, a disruptive flight home

Another example of disruptive feedback into the system was the saga of the Attorney General who was attempting to return to the capital from the midwest. His attempt to return to Washington was elevated to the WOC at about 10:27.  This saga can be heard on multiple FAA audio files and the NEADS tapes.  The Attorney General was insistent that he be allowed to return and he wanted a fighter escort.  The episode was continuously disruptive to other ongoing actions.

More disruptive feedback and FAA inability to keep its phone bridges straight

About 10:30 a voice on the TACNET, possibly Rich Ducharme, Eastern Region, announced an unconfirmed report that a hijacked aircraft out of the Washington area was headed to New York, another example of the lack of situational awareness at the national level.

During this time and beginning with the Sikorsky helicopter report there is continuing evidence that the FAA bridges were interfering with each other.  Nevertheless, information concerning planes of interest, by this time just UA 93 and D 1989, was received and passed along.

Delta 1989 status

At about 10:33 the TACNET received a report, most likely from Herndon Center, that Delta 1989 was on the ground in Cleveland and that it landed with the flaps up.  Police were responding.

NORAD and NMCC not on the bridge

At about 1035 the Air Traffic Services Cell (ATSC) at Herndon Center asked if NORAD was up on the bridge.  The answer was negative, neither NORAD or the NMCC was on.  The ATSC was given the task of bringing them up on the net.

This time is consistent with the findings of the Commission Staff concerning the efforts at Herndon Center to get FAA and the NMCC connected.  This effort most likely began shortly after 0930 at NEADS when the FAA representative asked to use the SOCC Director’s STU-III (secure phone).  Here is the audio file, as recorded at Herndon Center, confirming that the military was not on the FAA net as of 10:35.  103434 NORAD and NMCC not on bridge

Diversity of information under discussion, examples

Even though the military was not on or did not have access to the FAA TACNET and to FAA Heaquarters other entities did. In this next audio clip the New York Port Authority passed along information concerning the attack on the AA 11 cockpit.  103800 Port Authority AA11

In a clip shortly thereafter we hear in the background that UA 93 was down, the report concerning AA 11 was passed along, landing of all aircraft was discussed, and a question about ATC Zero was asked.  The context for the latter was a Boston Center decision to evacuate.  Herndon also reported that in Indianapolis Center a voice at Elkins flight service was warning planes that they would be shot down if they didn’t land.  103900 Herndon FAA Discussion

A third clip is notable because there is an indication that the line was still open all the way through to the FBI SIOC.  It is possible that some of the background chatter heard on this tape may have originated from that location.

In this clip we learn that the Attorney General has been cleared to land in Richmond (he will later reject that option) and that D 1989 was on the ground and authorities were responding.  The information about Indianapolis Center was passed along.  104700 More Discussion

Delta 1989 Status

Given that D 1989 was on the ground it became a matter of further interest as to how it was to be handled.  FAA HQ reached out to Great Lakes Region security for an update.  (Readers who have been following my articles on NEADS Vigilant Guardian will note the similarity to the exercise vignette of the defecting Aeroflot plane.) The issue was who notifies the FBI and other authorities.  In this real world example the answer was FAA.  104824 D 1989 Status

It’s Chaos out there

In this clip we learn that in California, Long Beach, Ontario, and LAX facilities were evacuated.  A background voice said “it’s chaos out there,” referring to the possibility that terrorists were on the ground as well.  105132 chaos out there

UA 93 Update

FAA HQ asked for and received an update on UA 93 from Herndon Center.  It was equated to the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania.  Note at the end of the clip a background voice says they are on the national net.  105405 UA 93 status

Delta 1989 updates and Attorney General updates intermixed

Concerning D 1989, Great Lakes security advised that no one had yet approached the aircraft.  105542 Further D1989 update

Concerning the Attorney General, the FBI SIOC confirmed that November 4 was the Attorney General’s plane and that he was allowed to land at DCA (Reagan National).  In other ATC tapes the Attorney General had rejected all other landing destinations, to include Richmond.  He was insistent that he be allowed to return to the capital.  This audio clip confirms the Attorney General’s persistence.  However, the Attorney General was not finished with his demands as we shall soon see.  111100 Attorney General confirmed for DCA

In the interim, FAA received an additional update on D 1989.  There was still no breach of the aircraft by law enforcement. Note the garbled exchange that led to D 1989 being tagged a hijack.  We know from Cleveland ATC tapes that D 1989 was under positive air traffic control and was not considered a hijack.  So how did that change?

Great Lakes security stated that according to the Cleveland Airport Commissioner, Cleveland Tower reported D 1989 “was under hijack conditions.”  The HQ FAA recipient of that information immediately made the leap in logic to state that “we have a report of hijacked 1989 on the ground, nothing further.” 111217 Additional D1989 update

Finally, in the last substantive conversation on this tape, we learn that the Attorney General now wanted a fighter escort.  111250 AG wants fighter escort

Summation

We learned that during the hour from 10:15 to 11:15 that FAA headquarters initially passed three issues up the chain of command–UA93, international flights, and fighter escort for Air Force One.

During the course of the hour just two commercial aircraft of continuing interest were discussed–UA 93 and D 1989.  AA 11 was briefly mentioned with information about how the cockpit was breached.  There were two erroneous reports, one from New York TRACON concerning a helicopter and another concerning a report of a potential hijack headed from Washington to New York.

We learned that the military–NMCC and NORAD–were not on the FAA’s “national net,” and that the tactical net was also the primary net.

A Final Comment

At some point, if I have time, I will tell the primary source story of the Attorney General.  It is a fascinating battle of wills between a senior official who was insistent he needed to get to DC and FAA air traffic control officials who were just as insistent that he land somewhere else.


9-11: The National Level; descent into chaos, disposition of friendly forces

Monday, August 30th, 2010

Introduction

This article is the first in a series.  It sets the stage for a discussion of the national level’s descent into chaos as it pursued a plane which no longer existed, UA 93.  I will show that, threat aircraft aside, real or imagined, the national level had little situation awareness of friendly forces.

National Level

I define the national level as the National Command Authority; the Vice President; relevant Departments of government, specifically Defense and Transportation (including the FAA); and certain supporting organizations, specifically the National Military Command Center and the White House Situation Room.

The national level did not start getting organized until 9:20–I will speak to that in a later article-and never gained situational awareness of the threat during the terrorist attack.  What is little understood is that decision makers and their supporting staff apparently had little awareness of the friendly situation.

The Decision

The decision at hand was whether or not to allow Air Force One to continue north and return the President to the nation’s capital.  The collective wisdom dictated that the President not return, that he seek safe haven to the west, ultimately Omaha, Nebraska, with a short stop in Louisiana.

The danger was knowledge of another hijacked aircraft (UA 93) and a vague, false threat to Air Force One.  Yet, there were adequate friendly forces available to support the President’s return.

Friendly Force Disposition

At 10:10 EDT, the moment Air Force One turned west just south of Ocala, Florida, there were at least six fighters in the air that could have provided protection or escort, and there was an E4B, Venus 77, that had been positioned south of Washington D.C. specifically to support Air Force One.

Friendly Forces 10:10 EDT, September 11, 2001

Three Langley air defense fighters, two fully armed, had established a combat air patrol over the nation’s capital at 10:00.  Three Andrews fighters had just been recalled from scheduled training over Dare range in North Carolina.  One, Bully 2, was already en route home base, the other two were just beginning the flight north.

Other military aircraft, Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine, were active in Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia.  Here is a powerpoint screen print of the Mode 2 (military) tracks during the period 10:00-10:30, as contained in the 84th RADES radar files from the Southeast Air Defense Sector.

Military Air Activity (view as slide show for better clarity)

Although the Andrews fighters had training ammunition only, they did have tanker support and could have escorted Air Force One until the Langley fighters, also supported by tankers, could take over.

Retrospectively, it is clear that the National Military Command Center and, by extension, the White House Situation Room, was not able to accurately advise the National Command Authority concerning either the enemy or the friendly situation.  That was more than a failure of imagination it was a failure of execution.