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: NSA; setting the record straight


Today, Sep 10, 2010, my Google alerts surfaced a post by Phil Shenon in “The Daily Beast” titled, “The Secret Files 9/11 Investigators Missed.”  Here Shenon extends an argument he first made in his book The Commission, the uncensored history of the 9/11 investigation. His reference is to the National Security Agency (NSA).

I was interviewed by Shenon, I don’t recall us discussing  the subject of his “secret files,” the NSA.  Retrospectively, I wish we had shared more fully his NSA agenda; I could have put this issue in perspective for him and for his reading public.

The Congressional Joint Inquiry

Shenon doesn’t mention the fact that the Joint Inquiry staff had a team dedicated to NSA; it lived and worked at NSA headquarters during the course of the Inquiry.  That team thoroughly explored the Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) holdings concerning the reporting leading up to the events of 9-11.

The Staff Director, Eleanor Hill, discussed the SIGINT issue fully in her final report.  As reported by Hill and by the 9-11 Commission, the only three individuals linked to the events of 9-11 in the SIGINT reporting were Khalid al-Midhar, Nawaf al-Hazmi, and Salem al-Hazmi.

The NSA provided a “SIGINT Retrospective” and an “Addendum” to the Inquiry Staff.  Those document resides in the paper files of the Congressional Joint Inquiry.  The Retrospective and Addendum included every relevant SIGINT report published and unpublished, unilateral and third-party, concerning the intelligence leading up to the attacks.

I, personally, spent hours sifting through the Retrospective.  I was not directly involved in the writing of the final report and had time to do a thorough analysis of the SIGINT reporting.

I created a work paper that included the text from every one of the SIGINT messages, some three dozen or so, in total.  I then integrated in time sequence all information concerning what the government knew, what government actions had been taken, and what was known about the activities of the 19 hijackers, apart from the SIGINT information.  That work paper resides in the Inquiry files in three variations.  I printed out iterative paper copies.  There are companion electronic files to the paper copies.  I copied all my substantive work files, including my work on the Retrospective, to compact discs.

The Commission

One task of the Commission was to build on the work of the Congressional Joint Inquiry.  In addition to NSA the Joint Inquiry had teams dedicated to and working at CIA and the FBI.  My team, the Other Agency Team, had offices at DIA (Defense Intelligence Agency) and at NIMA (National Imagery and Mapping Agency).

The Commission knew about and did build upon the prior work of the Joint Inquiry.

Updating Shenon

In his blog Shenon wrote: the Commission “failed to conduct a thorough inspection of the government’s most important library of raw intelligence on al Qaeda and the 9/11 plot.  And nobody appears to have inspected that intelligence since.”  And, “There is no sign that anyone from Capitol Hill or elsewhere in the government has attempted to get back into the NSA to review its pre-9/11 terrorism archives…”

Capitol Hill did thoroughly investigate and review the pre-9/11 terrorism archives of the NSA.  That information was shared with the Commission.  I personally examined the SIGINT holdings in detail and archived that work.

The 9-11 Compendium

All researchers and historians know–and Shenon knows this–that the public body of investigative knowledge about 9-11 includes the Commission Report, the Joint Inquiry Report, the records of hearings by both entities, the multiple staff statements by both Staff Directors, and, in the case of the Commission, the separately published monographs.  It also includes the Commission’s referral to the Inspectors General of the Department of Transportation and the Department of Defense and the formal reports by both.

To focus on a single component of that body of knowledge and extrapolate a narrow conclusion is misleading, incomplete, and counter-productive to the public’s understanding of the events of the day.

Chatted with Phil Shenon

This morning, I sent a quick email to the “Daily Beast” for forwarding to Shenon.  He called me as I was finishing up this article.  He is aware I am posting this article and he raised the issue of Iran.

I reviewed the Commission Report (the search engine link is invaluable) and Shenon’s treatment of the issue.  My recall of the SIGINT files and the additional work of the Inquiry NSA team is that this issue has been substantively addressed; there is no smoking gun.