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.
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.
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.