The Trump Revolution: 9/11 Presidential-Level Issues Considered


Forget all the election rhetoric of the past many months. The new President will face real issues, real challenges. Now is a good time, therefore, to review important lessons learned from 9/11.

Here are six such lessons, beginning with the most important, transition.

1. Terrorists struck during the transition from one administration to another, and from one party to another.

This is not about current planning being done by both candidates. It is about the actual transition of power, something that does not happen overnight. International actors, known and unknown, will test the new administration.

Transition is an inherent period of instability that requires diligence, efficiency, and collaboration. What thought have the candidates given to transition? How are they going to meld the outgoing administration, the incoming administration and the congress into an diligent, efficient and collaborative team?

A comprehensive transition should facilitate decision making, especially if the transition is from one political party to the other. And that is the second lesson learned.

2. The terrorists were able to operated well within the nation’s decision making process

It is a military imperative to operate inside the decision making cycle of an enemy.

The 9/11 attacking force, numbering just 19 members, easily stayed inside the nations’s decision making process. From the moment the first two hijackers arrived in California on January 15, 2000, until ordinary citizens took matters into their own hands and brought down United Airlines flight 93 twenty months later, the nation was always behind, strategically and tactically

The attackers commandeered commercial airliners and converted them into guided missiles that destroyed the World Trade Center complex, seriously damaged the Pentagon, and ultimately failed to strike a final target. Not once did the government under two administrations gain the upper hand, always playing catch up, and just missing a final opportunity to keep flight 93 from taking off.

What will the new President do to streamline decision processes among and within the organizations that make up the bureaucracy?

Just one system was attacked on 9/11. But there are many systems and subsystems in the bureaucracy that are supposed to keep the government functioning and the people safe. And that is the third lesson learned.

3. Government is a complex mix of systems and subsystems that need protection

9/11 was an attack on the National Airspace System (NAS), a subsystem of the National Transportation System. Two people, the National Operations Manager, and the Commander, Northeast Air Defense Sector, were responsible for the operation and defense of the NAS on the East Coast. Over time, the occupants of those positions had never met, their staffs did not know each other, and the two organizations had never exercised together. They never shared a common operating picture of the threat, or the battlefield as the attack unfolded.

What will the new President do to ensure operational information gets to where it is needed and that the operators and defenders of government systems and subsystems share critical information? Do the candidates appreciate the complex arrangement of systems and subsystems that keep the government functioning?

The operators and defenders of the systems and subsystems of government were and are the battle commanders. And that is the fourth lesson learned.

4. 9/11 was a battle in a larger war on terror

Presidents and Generals fight wars. Colonels and civilians of equivalent grade fight battles. There was no time for national level involvement. As it happened, the national level was just getting itself organized when American Airlines flight 77 slammed into the Pentagon. No National Command Authority should be so surprised.

What role can and should the President play in a fast moving battle? What are the relevant authorities of the President? What should the President further delegate and how can that be done quickly? Is the National Command Authority where it needs to be to face a national threat? And that is the fifth lesson learned.

5. The National Command Authority failed to recognized that the 9/11 attack was a threat to the nation, not a threat to the person of the President or Vice President.

The attack was a national threat. The Secret Service, with help from the White House Staff and the Pentagon, perceived a personal threat. As a result both the Vice President and President were denied the opportunity to stand and deliver, to face the threat and, if necessary, die.

The Vice President was consigned to PEOC purgatory. The President hightailed to the hinterland because that is where Air Force One took him. Neither could communicate effectively with the other.

How will a new President seek to ensure that the National Command Authority is present for duty in a chaotic situation? And that is the sixth lesson learned.

6. 9/11 and the aftermath descended into Chaos, nearly unmanageable.

Chaos is the one, near universal, word used to describe the events of September 11, 2001. Participants were recorded using the word, eyewitnesses and other commentators used it, and writers and journalists continue to use it. No one defines chaos, it is simply understood.

John Farmer, in a Team 8 memo to the Commission front office wrote:

In perhaps no aspect of the 9-11 attacks is the public record, as reflected in both news accounts and testimony before this Commission, so flatly at odds with the truth. The challenge in relating the history of one of the most chaotic days in our history…is to avoid replicating that chaos in writing about it.

On September 12, 2010, Ted Koppel, in the Washington Post, Outlook Section, wrote:

Could bin Laden in his wildest imaginings, have hoped to provoke greater chaos?” The article was titled: “Let’s stop playing into bin Laden’s hands.

Chaotic events eventually settle into a steady state. Koppel’s comment suggests we are nowhere near a new steady state. The nation and the world must be prepared to manage chaos. How will the new President do that?

Turning Washington upside down on day one is not the answer.


The Trump Revolution: A final word


It is November 3, 2017. This is the sixth and penultimate occasional article on the Trump Revolution. We began the series with the primaries when it appeared that Trump was a new breed of revolutionary. That perspective had a short shelf life, just three articles (one, two, three). It became readily apparent that the revolution was floundering.

In the fourth article, I wrote that “my original premise has turned out wrong. Whatever Trump is, opportunist or charlatan, he is not a revolutionary.”

In the fifth article, I summarized that

Trump has so far mastered just one process of revolution, intimidation. His casual base is anachronistic (Make America Great Again). He has shown limited talent to effectively harness resources. We don’t yet know if he is capable of decisive action against his opponent.

And that is where I left things. The conventions and the three debates were fascinating theater but they added nothing that encouraged me to comment further. Events took a life of their own that enthralled and consumed pundits of all stripes.

However, the election is fast approaching and it is imperative and compelling that I document my perspective, for the record. I begin with a clear statement of what Trump has been all along.

What Trump Is

Trump is a businessman, always was, always will be. So, the question is what business approach looks like a revolution in its early stages? And the answer is hostile takeover.

Trump has, with some loose ends, completed a hostile takeover of the Republican party. Now he is attempting a hostile takeover of the nation. In Trump’s world bankruptcy has been the outcome. In Trump’s world, all others lose and he  walks away a winner.

The Republican party is a bankrupt shadow of its former existence. The nation cannot afford the same outcome.

Ted Cruz, during the primary debates, and Michael Bloomberg, during the conventions, both labeled Trump for what he is, a con man running a scam. In Bloomberg’s words: “Trump says he wants to run the nation like he’s run his business. God help us. I’m a New Yorker, and I know a con when I see one.”

The con he is running is bait and switch, the same one he used at Trump University.

Bait and Switch

The “New Yorker” describes Trump University as a bait and switch operation. The “National Review” labeled the scam as “massive.” The “bait and switch” technique was no better displayed than students having their pictures taken with a life-sized cardboard cutout of Trump.

Now Trump is running the same con on the American people during his run for President. Two examples will suffice.

First, Trump effectively took the Supreme Court nomination issue off the table by producing a list to lull his base. Those who believe Trump has any allegiance to that list have not been paying attention. That list was and is the bait.  The switch has yet to come.

Second is the wall and mass deportation. Both are bait. Only the true believers think either will happen. Trump has already foretold the switch. He set the table with the formation of an Hispanic council and with a sudden and inexplicable visit to meet the President of Mexico.

Most observers can see the switch coming. No wall, no mass deportation. Trump followers do not see that coming.

So that is where we are, today.

The State of Affairs

The Trump revolution never got off the ground after a nice start during the primary season. The Republican Party as a responsible entity in the national political system has been destroyed. Looming is a hostile takeover of the nation, fueled by incessant stories of gropings, emails, Access Hollywood tapes, and Wikileaks.Those are all depressing looks at the past.

Perspective on the future is needed in the final days leading up to the general election. The nation is at its most vulnerable as it transitions from one administration to another. A different discussion will help the electorate decide who will guide the nation next spring, summer, and fall as international actors, known and unknown, test a new administration and threaten the nation.

During a similar period 16 years ago, the nation was tested, threatened, and attacked. As we approach the 16th anniversary of 9/11 it might be helpful to review Presidential-level lessons learned from that day. That will be the subject of my last article in this series.  Stay tuned.

9-11: The PEOC Pictures; Secretary Mineta and VP Cheney

Update, August 18, 2015

An additional available photograph clearly shows that there were just four digital clocks in the PEOC on September 11, 2001.  Here is a link to that photo.

Vice President Cheney with Senior Staff in the President's Emergency Operations Center (PEOC)

The fourth clock appears to be set to NATO time, another logical possibility that I had no previously considered.

Also of note, the display, upper left, shows that the PEOC was in video-conference with four other locations.


This article updates, “9-11: Secret Service Timeline; in perspective, a most chaotic time,” written in 2011.  At the conclusion of that article I wrote:

There is just one question at issue. Why did Norman Mineta testify to a precise time, [9:20 am] 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.

On July 24, 2015, the National Archives (NARA) released 356 photographs concerning Vice President Cheney, to include activities in his office, in the PEOC (President’s Emergency Operations Center), and en route an undisclosed location on September 11, 2011. I asked NARA if the photos were date/time stamped.  Here is the response, including a link to the entire set of photos:

All of the 9/11 images we released on Friday are available via NARA’s Flickr photostream at The photographs are from film and don’t have a camera date/time stamp. The quality of the images reflect that these are film and not digital. You are able to download these images from Flickr and enlarge or sharpen the individual images in a photo-viewing application.

That set of photos allows an update to my original assessment.

The Vice President and American Airlines Flight 77 (AA 77)

It is explicit and conclusive from the photographs released that the Vice President was in his office until shortly before AA 77 struck the Pentagon, and that the primary source account in my original article was accurate.  If the Vice President was not in the PEOC, then neither was Secretary Mineta. Therefore, Secretary Mineta could not have been where he said he was at 9:20 as he testified before the 9/11 Commission.

The PEOC Clocks

One photo establishes that a set of vertical-stacked digital clocks was directly visible to PEOC participants. The details of the photo do not directly support the presence of a clock set to Central Daylight Time.  From top to bottom, the three visible clocks display times of 1612, 1212 and 1012.  The second clock, 1212, is faintly titled “Washington DC,” and establishes the time of that photo to be 12:12 EDT.

Therefore, the top clock is set to Zulu (GMT) time and the third clock is set to Mountain Daylight Time (NORAD).  The setting of the fourth clock remains unknown. (It is conceivable there is a 5th clock in the stack).

There are two feasible, critical time zones that, in my experience, would be displayed.  One is Central Standard Time. STRATCOM is located in the Central Time Zone, it was the ultimate destination for the President, and it was an important organization concerning ongoing discussions and activities concerning COOP (Continuity of Operations) and COG (Continuity of Government).

The other critical time, again in my experience, would have been Moscow time.  Recall that, for the first time since the fall of the former Soviet Union, the Russians had scheduled a live-fire, air-launched cruise missile exercise. That was the most important exercise activity of the day at the national level.  Among other activities, there was a national-level need for the Russians to be asked to call off the exercise.

My Assessment, Unchanged

Norman Mineta’s recall was off by one hour.  The actions and activities attributed to him are consistent with the approach of United Airlines flight 93 (UA 93) to Washington D.C., not the approach of AA 77.

The national level account in the aftermath, at all levels, to include that of both Secretary Mineta and FAA Administrator, Jane Garvey, conflated and confused information about UA 93 to pertain to AA 77. That error remained unchallenged until the 9/11 Commission sorted things out.

There was no intent by national level authorities to deceive.  They simply told the story that made sense to them at the time, given the information available.  The fact that their story was distorted and nonsensical was never challenged by supporting staff at any level.

If anything, national level figures were biased to try and show that, somehow, they were alert and responsive.  The battle unfolded too swiftly for the national level to even get itself organized, let alone react.  By the time the national level did achieve some semblance of organization the only threat left with which to deal was the approach of UA 93, by then a ghost, long gone from all radar scopes, but still a track on a situation display.


9-11: The Attack; Chaos Theory, considered


This is the third and final in a series of articles dealing in military terms with the events of September 11, 2001, and the aftermath. The first article dealt specifically with the classic principles of war. The second article examined the components of the attack from a military point of view.  We turn to chaos theory in this last article to better understand why the nation was confused as to what was happening and why it remained confused, thereafter.

In the second article we established that the attack was on two axes, each with two prongs. That is a complex operation, irrespective of scale. Such an attack is intended to create chaos and confuse the opponent.

The descriptive, “chaos,” is routinely used by authors to describe the events of 9/11. The Commission report is no exception.  No author or commentator bothers to define chaos, it is simply used as shared knowledge between author and reader. Here are links to earlier articles that provide some insight.

Chaos Theory and 9-11, some preliminary thoughts

Chaos Theory: 9-11, thinking outloud

Chaos Theory: the butterfly effect, a ghostly experience

Chaos Theory: Unbuilding the World Trade Center, dealing with Chaos

Chaos Theory, Considered

We begin with a brief discussion about the definition of chaos. Here are three useful perspectives, to set the stage:

The dictionary definition is the sense that most people have when they refer to something as chaos or chaotic. And that is the shared, knowing understanding between authors and readers about the events of 9/11.

The Barlett Quotation contrasts what chaos is all about with what we do to get through day-to-day life. We instill order–habits for ourselves, and routines for our families and social groups. For the defenders on 9/11, the order was standard operating procedures or tactics, techniques and procedures, routines that were supposed to work. Even though chaos lurks daily at every turn, we hope that processes and procedures in place will stand us in good stead.

M. J. Girardot, in writing about early Taoism, (Myth and Meaning in Early Taoism) decided that the Chinese word for chaos, hun-tun, was, from Lewis and Carroll’s Humpty Dumpty, a portmanteau word, that is one packed with meaning. To Humpty, chortle was chuckle and snort packed together. To us, avionics, aviation and electronics, is a portmanteau word.

Regardless of definition or perspective, chaos is deterministic. Chaos has bounds and can be described using mathematics, the logistic equation and fractal geometry, for example. However, the mathematics of chaos cannot be applied to the events of 9/11, despite the near universal use of the word to describe what was happening and what did happen.

There is a possible exception. It is conceivable that fractal geometry could be used to map the progress of the massive cloud of dust and debris that resulted from the collapse of the two towers.  If so, some future mathematician will create the map.

Mathematics aside, what we can do is use chaos as a metaphor. Specifically, the language of chaos provides a useful qualitative tool for assessing what happened during the battle, in the immediate aftermath, and thereafter, to this day.

The Language of Chaos

Four terms help us “unpack” the portmanteau of chaos concerning the Battle of 9/11.

  • Strange Attractors
  • Nonlinearity
  • Cascading Bifurcation
  • Disruptive Feedback

However, there is a fifth, overarching term that we need to discuss first, sensitive dependence on initial conditions, commonly referred to as ‘the butterfly effect.’

The Butterfly Effect and 9/11

Dependent initial conditions are only knowable retrospectively. I leave it to the long reach of history to provide a refined list of initial conditions important to the events of September 11, 2001. Two candidate topics come immediately to mind; the ‘wall’ between law enforcement and intelligence, and the relaxed visa issuance process in Saudi Arabia that would become Visa Express.

Concerning the Battle of 9/11, two initial conditions stand out, the hijack protocol, and the lack of a defined relationship between the Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) and the Federal Aviation Administration’s Air Traffic Control System Command Center (Herndon Center).

The hijack protocol was obsolete. It had not been used for years and if exercised at all the exercise play was notional.  Herndon Center did facilitate a conference call with Cleveland and New York Centers and then with New York TRACON when Boston Center notified Herndon about the hijacking of Americsn Airlines Flight 11 (AA 11). However, Herndon Center simply referred the requirement to notify air defense back to Boston Center.

NEADS, the controlling organization for the four dedicated air defense aircraft, had a long established practice of dealing directly with the en route traffic control centers, specifically Boston and New York. At no time during the battle of 9/11 did NEADS ever talk to Herndon Center. NEADS simply got on with business as if Herndon Center did not exist. It is not surprising, in retrospect, that NEADS and Boston Center became “strange attractors” in the language of chaos theory.

Strange Attractors

Ian Stewart in Does God Play Dice, has it about right. “A…dynamical system…in the long run, settles down to an attractor…defined to be…what ever it settles down to.” The concept is that strange attractors cannot be predicted. Things self organize and information flows to and between specific, receptive entities.

Managers and leaders can only strive to organize things in the hopes they might get lucky in their vision of the future. Ideally, one would like the flow of information in a chaotic situation to be to the people or places that need it the most.

The fact of the matter is that information will follow the path of least resistance. If there are barriers in place, ‘The Wall,’ ‘The Green Door,’ A hijack protocol that was in  the words of a Commission Team 8 memo to the front office, “unsuited in every respect” to the events that would occur, then there is no chance in a fast-moving chaotic situation.

In a very perfect world the defense on 9/11 might have had a remote chance, if and only if the strange attractors were the operator of the NAS and its defender on the East Coast. Those were named individuals, Benedict Sliney, the National Operations Manager, and Colonel Robert Marr, the commander of NEADS. They had never met, their predecessors had likely never met, and their organizations did not communicate with each other either in the real world or in exercises.

What ever it settles down to.  Organizationally, the strange attractors became Boston Center and NEADS, but the identity of the strange attractors is far more precise than that. The flow of critical information was largely controlled by just two individuals, the Military Operations Specialist at Boston Center, Colin Scoggins, and the chief of the Identification Section at NEADS, Master Sergeant Maureen “Mo” Dooley.

That was a sub-optimum solution all around. Herndon Center and NEADS, separately, were talking to the front line of troops, the FAA’s en route air traffic control centers—New York, Washington, Indianapolis, Cleveland, and Boston. However, the two organizations never shared a common operating picture of the battlefield.

Government, by and large, operates in a linear world. In that world, NEADS focused outward and established tactics, techniques, and procedures to protect the nation’s shores. To do so it logically established working relationships with FAA en route centers that controlled overseas and off shore flights. For its part, Herndon Center focused inward to manage the flow of air traffic between en route centers.  There was no logical reason for the twain to meet. So they didn’t.

The NEADS world was linear, punctuated by occasional bursts of chaos when unidentified tracks showed up on their scopes. The Herndon Center world was largely chaotic, by necessity. Its daily foe was weather, a chaotic creature by any definition.  It is no accident that a key position at Herndon Center is called Severe Weather.  To put it another way, the NEADS world was largely linear, the Herndon Center world was decidedly nonlinear.


Nonlinearity is another difficult term to define in terms of chaos theory. Most of us have had experience trying to hit a pitched baseball or softball. If nothing else that experience teaches that we live in a nonlinear world, despite what we might have learned in high school geometry.

For perspective, we turn again to Ian Stewart in Does God Play with Dice. “Linearity…to be brutal…solves the wrong equations.” “[One hopes] that no one will notice when it’s the wrong answer.” “Nature is relentlessly nonlinear. Linearity is a trap.”

And that’s the problem with linear processes or procedures. They provide the wrong answer in a dynamic situation. Yet, with minor exception, the nation’s response on 9/11 was linear. Here is a list of linear processes that solved the wrong equations leading to a series of wrong answers.

  • Hijack Protocol
  • FAA Primary Net
  • National Military Command Center (NMCC) Conferences
  • Secure Video Teleconference System (SVTS)
  • Rescue Coordination Center
  • Continuity of Government

Every process listed was attempted and failed during the battle of 9/11. Why? Each process brought with it the baggage of linearity—things were done by rote, by SOP, or by tactics, techniques and procedures.

The hijack protocol wasn’t even used. It failed when Herndon Center turned the responsibility to notify the military back to Boston Center.

The FAA primary net and the two NMCC conferences that were convened failed to connect the FAA and the military in any meaningful way.

The SVTS, a cold-war, isolated system, to put it bluntly, decapitated the leadership of national level organizations by separating them from their staffs.

The Rescue Coordination Center at Langley knew that American flight 77 (AA 77) was lost at 9:10. That information never made it to Base Operations, a party to the battle stations and scramble calls from NEADS to the air defense detachment at Langley.

The NMCC’s convention of an Air Threat Conference, at NORAD request, brought with it SIOP (Single Integrated Operations Plan)  baggage and facilitated a rapid government decision to implement unnecessary Continuity of Government and Continuity of Operations procedures.

Accurate, controlled feedback was needed all along the line. Uncontrolled feedback becomes disruptive and that is what happened on 9/11. Once it was known Mohammed Atta said, “we have some planes,” and New York Center confirmed,”planes as in plural,” the situation became nonlinear. The nation had no dynamic response. Instead, linear procedures continued and the President and Vice President were summarily dispatched from the battlefield, one to PEOC (President’s Emergency Operations Center) purgatory, the other to hightail it to the hinterlands.

Boston Center and Herndon Center, two notable exceptions

Boston Center, left to its own devices, called Otis Command Post directly in an attempt to get air defense fighters involved. Even so, they ran squarely into linearity and were told that had to work through NEADS.  Later, the Center appealed to Herndon Center to direct cockpit notifications to flights in the air. Boston did not wait for that direction and began calling flights in its air space directly.

Herndon Center, habitually conditioned to handle chaos because of weather, did not wait for guidance from above. Benedict Sliney directed a nationwide ground stop and then grounded all commercial flights in the air. Chaos is deterministic, it can be bounded. And Herndon Center did just that, it bounded a chaotic situation, just as it does every heavy weather day.

Those simple and swift decisions put a stop to cascading bifurcation, the next term on our discussion list.

Cascading Bifurcation

We don’t need a detailed discussion when a picture will do, derived from the work of Ian Stewart.

Cascading Bifurcation Stewart Derivation

In a chaotic situation bifurcation continues until things self-organize differently than they were before. The first two bifurcations should be immediately recognizable. They represent an attack on two axes of advance, each axis with two prongs. For the offense the bifurcation stopped there. For the defense the bifurcation continued as false information, misinformation, and lack of information brought about chaos. And that chaos continued during the battle of 9/11 until Benedict Sliney brought things back to order, certainly much different than they were before. But not before disruptive feedback produced a discordant chorus of information that simply overwhelmed the national level.

Disruptive Feedback

For insight we turn, in this instance, to Jim Lesurf, Chaos on the Circuit Board, “New Scientist, June 1990.” According to Lesurf, “feedback must be added with care….Adding feedback to a nonlinear [situation] with gain is a recipe for chaos.”  Here are the important examples of disruptive feedback that became ingredients for the 9/11 chaos recipe.

  • A new track, AA 11 Alpha
  • False report that AA 11 was still airborne
  • Report that Delta Flight 1989 was hijacked
  • A new flight plan for United Flight 93 (UA 93)
  • Report of an unknown aircraft over the White House

New York Center added a new track because the standard procedure was that Boston Center had to ‘hand off’ AA 11, something it thought it could not do. The new track, combined with a late report that American Flight 77 was lost, may have contributed to erroneous information that AA 11 was still airborne. Delta 1989 was presumed hijacked because it fit the sketchy profile concerning AA 11 and United Flight 175 (UA 175). A sudden change in the flight plan for UA 93 created a track in the Traffic Display System (TSD) that became notional but was perceived as real. The “unknown” over the White House was one of the Langley fighters. In the ensuing chaos, one Langley Fighter was sent to intercept another. Two of the three Langley fighters were squawking identical codes and neither Washington Center nor NEADS could tell one from the other.

A Quick Summary

At this point the reader likely needs time to digest what we’ve covered so far. There are heavy seas ahead as we steer the narrative deeper into chaos by bringing cascading bifurcation back into the conversation. So before we do that, what have we learned?  First, we have learned that the military model we discussed in the first two articles in this series continues to be useful.  Second, we now have a grasp, however tenuous, on the use of chaos as a metaphor, specifically the language of chaos.  Interested readers may want to devote time to Ian Stewart’s book, Does God Play Dice.

Okay, now that we’ve caught our breath let’s return to cascading bifurcation and see what effect the attack on two axes of advance, each axis with two prongs, had on the defense on the morning of September 11, 2001. We start with a timeline of the attack and the national response, a highly condensed but straightforward and expanded depiction of Chapter One of the Commission Report, “We Have Some Planes.”

The Attack, Retrospectively

The Attack, Retrospectively

The base time line represents national level actions. A NOIWON was convened at 9:16, the FAA’s primary net was activated at 9:20, the NMCC’s air threat conference was activated about the time the Pentagon was struck. An SVTS conference was convened at 9:40. The critical 9:10 time, in green was nowhere recognized as an opportunity.

The progression of the attack is depicted above the timeline. Clearly, by the time the national level achieved some semblance of organization, the only plane left to deal with was UA 93.  And it is on this very point that the national level account in the aftermath was incoherent.  The account, which focused on AA 77, was fatally flawed from inception.

The attack began at 5:45 when Mohammed Atta and abdul Azziz al Omari entered the National Airspace System at Portland, Maine.

Chaos was introduced during the period 8:42 to 8:51, the approximate times that UA 175 and AA 77 were hijacked. Bifurcation had begun, but had not yet cascaded.

AA 11 was hijacked at 8:14 and crashed into the World Trade Center, North Tower, thirty-two minutes later, at 8:46. UA 175 was hijacked at 0842 and crashed into the south tower twenty-one minutes later at 0903. The Northern axis of the attack was over and the southern axis overlapped and was in progress.

AA77 was hijacked at 8:51 and slammed into the Pentagon forty-seven minutes later at 0938. The timing of the second prong of the southern axis was delayed by the late takeoff of UA 93 from Newark. That plane was not hijacked until 9:28 and plummeted to ground at Shanksville thirty-five minutes later.

From time of takeover of AA 11 to the demise of UA93, the attack lasted just one hour and forty-nine minutes. The most chaotic time was from 8:42 to 9:03. During that twenty-one minute period two planes were hijacked (UA 175 and AA 77) and two planes crashed into the World Trade Center (AA 11 and UA 175). It was a double bifurcation. The main attack bifurcated into two axes and the northern axis bifurcated into a two-pronged attack.

Dimly aware of the complexity of a single two-pronged attack, and unaware of the developing of a second axis of attack, the national level response was to activate cumbersome linear response systems. While UA 93 was being hijacked the nation was struggling to activate its three primary response processes, the FAA primary net, an NMCC conference of some sort, and an SVTS conference.

No one at the national level realized that all the key agencies were already communicating via secure phone. At 9:16 the CIA convened a NOIWON conference to try and find out what was going on. Every member of the WAOC (Washington Area Operations Centers) was on the line, including the FAA.

The net result of the persistence in following established procedures was that the nation’s leadership and crisis management system had no chance to take advantage of the single time at which actionable information became available, 9:10.

At that time, Indianapolis Center reported the loss of AA 77 to Great Lakes Region and the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center. NEADS made a critical tactical decision to keep Langley fighters on battle stations and not scramble. The Otis fighters had reached their closest point to Washington D.C. Most important, and undetected because no one cued NEADS, AA 77 was reacquired by the Joint Surveillance System supporting NEADS.

And that is what happened, or rather did not happen. From the attackers’ perspective the attack was over. Now, let’s add cascading bifurcation to the depiction and see what the defense was seeing and doing.

Cascading Bifurcation

Chaotic Situational Awarness

Here is the attack, as observed by the defenders. Situational awareness bifurcated in every case. Three of the four planes changed identities because of the terrorist tactic of manipulating the four transponders in four different ways. AA11 became AA11A, UA175 became code 3321, and AA77 became a fast-moving, non-transponding, intruder.

The tracks for  AA 11 and UA 175 continued, notionally, on their original flight plans in the TSD system. AA 77 also continued notionally, on its original flight plan, and was also reported lost.

In the Northern attack, AA11 flew into the North WTC Tower, but became reborn to the defenders, most likely because of a garbled misunderstanding of the reported loss of AA 77. Mode C Intruder, 3321 (UA 175), flew into the South World Trade Center Tower.

In the Southern attack, the fast-moving unknown (AA 77), itself, became two threats, one to the Pentagon (actual) and one to the White House as perceived by air traffic controllers.

UA 93 was conflated with Delta 1989. That conflation continued in the aftermath. NEADS did establish a track on Delta 1989, the only viable track it established during the battle. Moreover, Delta 1989 was the only plane reported to be hijacked, by NORAD, in the national level Air Threat Conference. UA 93 crashed at Shanksville, a fact known at Cleveland Center, Herndon Center, NEADS, and Washington Center. That fact was reported to FAA Headquarters, but that is as far as national level awareness got. The track continued, notionally,  in the TSD system and “landed” at Reagan National at 10:28. That was the track that Norman Mineta was following.

The national level did not sort out accurate information concerning AA 77 and UA 93. Therefore, those who testified to the 9/11 Commission in May 2003 (Corrected, April 22, 2015) 1993–Garvey, Mineta, McKinley– conflated information concerning UA 93 to apply to AA 77.

Three different threats–AA 11 reborn, the fast moving threat to the White House, a notional UA 93– became added “gain,” disruptive feedback, our next topic for discussion.

Disruptive Feedback

Feedback, in two cases, facilitated the counterattack, but became chaotic thereafter.  The AA 11 reborn false report caused NORAD to launch the Langley fighters, but with an interim destination of Baltimore Washington International airport. The objective was to defend against an attack from the North against the nation’s capital.  The threat, however, was fast approaching from the West; NEADS was unaware until the final moments.

The false Delta 1989 report caused NEADS to expand operations in the sector operations center. NEADS quickly acquired Delta 1989 as a track, which it followed continuously. The disruption came in the aftermath when NEADS conflated its tracking of Delta 1989 to pertain to UA 93.

The disruptive feedback of a notional UA 93 threatening the National Capital Region resulted in the launch of an expeditionary force, the Andrews fighters, into an existing air defense combat air patrol (CAP) established by NEADS using the Langley fighters.  Chaos ensued as air traffic controllers and NEADS tried to sort things out. There were ultimately seven fighters in the CAP, three from Langley and four from Andrews. There was nothing against which to defend.

NORAD and the nation transitioned from that rough beginning to Operation Noble Eagle, a costly, nation-wide effort to patrol empty skies. Concurrently, staffs in the FAA and NORAD chains-of-command set about trying to figure out what had happened. The cascading bifurcation and disruptive feedback we have discussed were never figured out. Critical staff errors made at NEADS were never corrected. Therefore, the national explanation, itself, became a chaotic mess.

It was left to the 9/11 Commission to uncover that mess and get it sorted.  During discovery, Team 8 Team Leader, John Farmer crafted a memo to the front office. There is no better description of what the Commission staff found and what the task was.  Farmer wrote:

“In perhaps no aspect of the 9-11 attacks is the public record, as reflected in both news accounts and testimony before this Commission, so flatly at odds with the truth.” “The challenge in relating the history of one of the most chaotic days in our history…is to avoid replicating that chaos in writing about it.”

Chaos in the aftermath

Tsunami-like, is one way to describe the effect of the tidal wave of chaos that has swept the world since 9/11.  Ted Koppel well described the state of affairs nearly five years ago. Here is what I wrote in 2010.

Ted Koppel

Today’s (Sep 12, 2010) Washington Post featured an above-the-fold editorial in the “Outlook” section by Ted Koppel; “Let’s stop playing into bin Laden’s hands.”  At the end of the continuation, “Our overreaction to 9/11 continues,” Koppel posed a rhetorical question.  “Could bin Laden in his wildest imaginings, have hoped to provoke greater chaos?”

Readers will pardon me from leaping ahead of my own story; that question by Koppel is too good to resist.  (Koppel, as does nearly every other writer, researcher, and historian, uses the word “chaos” without definition.)

I need to speak to his use of the term in the context of his article, my own understanding of chaos, and my understanding of political revolutionary warfare.

As I am writing, David Gregory on “Meet the Press,” (Sep 12, 2010) is discussing the Koppel article with Rudy Giuliani.  Gregory quotes Koppel extensively including the text: “Through the initial spending of a few hundred thousand dollars, training and then sacrificing 19 of his foot soldiers, bin Laden has watched [al Qaeda] turn into the most recognized international franchise since McDonald’s.”

My initial intent

It was, and remains, my intention to write a series of articles detailing the national level’s descent into chaos the morning of 9-11.  I have posted an initial article depicting the friendly situation at 10:10, the time that Air Force One turned away from a return to the capital.

A paradigm shift

Koppel’s narrative is a game changer.  He extends the chaos metaphor far beyond the events of 9-11 by stating that we have “played into bin Laden’s hands.”  And that leads me to the subject of political revolutionary warfare.

My experience

For six years (1974-1980) I was the lead instructor and course manager for the Navy’s Counterinsurgency Orientation (COIN) course at the Naval Amphibious School, Coronado.  During those six years we changed the focus of the course to revolutionary warfare.  The course name changed as well to become a political revolutionary warfare seminar, “Political Warfare Studies.”

We developed a detailed framework to analyze revolutionary and political movements.  I will write about that framework in the future.  For those interested, I did address the framework in this thread on the Small Wars Council forum.

For now it is sufficient to simply state two things that are inherent in any qualitative revolutionary movement.

First, the goal of any revolutionary movement that knows what it is doing is to give the opposition every opportunity to believe in the myth of a military victory.

Second, in the words of Dr. Tom Grassey, Capt (USN-retired), one of our lecturers, an objective of revolutionaries is to encourage the status quo to “strangle in its own strength.”  (Tom Grassey is the former James B. Stockdale Professor of Leadership and Ethics, Naval War College; and former Editor, Naval War College Review.)

Today, Ted Koppel said, “The goal of any organized terrorist attack is to goad a vastly more powerful enemy into an excessive response.”  He  is saying the same thing that Grassey articulated a quarter century ago.

Have we learned nothing?  I will have much, much more to say.

Interested readers may want to review my article “Sudden an Eagle Tarnished,” for additional perspective.

Forward to the present

It has taken me five years to pull everything together in this article. Missing until recently was the clear understanding that the battle of 9/11 was a military action not a terrorist attack, one which triggered a massive military response that continues to this day, with no end in sight.

In our discussion of chaos and chaos theory we have learned that chaos can be bounded. That lesson was learned on 9/11 when Benedict Sliney and his staff at Herndon Center ordered all commercial aircraft to land. The lesson did not resonate at the national level, however.

Thereafter, national actions, specifically the invasion of Iraq, unleashed chaos in the Arab world. What began as an optimistic Arab Spring has bifurcated multiple times and out of that cascade the Islamic State emerged. Ultimately, a new order of things will emerge. Chaos will eventually bound itself; it must. And things will never be the way they were before.

Scholars far more learned will try to tell us about that, but it remains for historians well into the future to try and get the story right.  Hopefully, they will do better than those in government who came up with a nonsensical account of the day of September 11, 2001.


So, we have come to the end of my main work that began with what I felt, heard, and saw when AA 77 slammed into the west side of the Pentagon. The road traveled was interesting, including staff assignments to both the Congressional Joint Inquiry and the 9/11 Commission.

There is remaining work to do on bits and pieces scattered here and there in my posts and pages. I will get at those loose ends at a leisurely pace. I will also continue to monitor things via a 9/11 Google Alert and post when the mood strikes.

Alert readers will know that I have left an interesting story yet untold, one that I promised to include in this article.  Didn’t happen, but I will get around to it.

Amidst the near total chaos during the battle of 9/11 the Otis air defense fighters broke military formation and headed for New York City, leaving the nation’s capital undefended in the process.  The question is did they do that on their own recognizance or were they ordered to do so? The definitive answer is lost in the fog of war and the chaos of the morning. But it is an interesting story that needs to be told.

9-11: Conflation of Events; the Brian Williams situation, considered


News anchor Brian Williams has been suspended for conflating events.  Conflation has become a common word as his colleagues and others attempt to grapple with his abrupt fall from grace.  Conflation of events is apparently more common than one might think.

Certainly, it was common in the immediate aftermath of 9-11 and it continues to be common today as researchers and historians sort out and refine their understanding of the events of September 11, 2001.  It might be useful at this point, therefore, to briefly discuss conflation and the events of 9-11.

A Cascade of Conflations

The single most important conflation took place immediately, perhaps as early as the evening of 9-11. The Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) staff misread its own log, the Mission Crew Commander/Technician (MCC/T) Log, the most important document of the day concerning the military response. An entry that pertained to American Airlines Flight 11 (AA 11) was conflated to be a reference to American Airlines Flight 77 (AA 77). The handwritten notes in the margin are mine.

Thereafter, NORAD, in its own press release timeline, incorrectly reported a time of 9:24 EDT, for notification to the military concerning the hijacking of AA 77.

That single error cascaded into the understanding of senior government officials as they grappled with their own recall of events of the day. For example, the next month, General Eberhart, NORAD Commander, testified to Congress that the military was notified about AA 77 at 9:24 EDT, consistent with the NORAD timeline.

The May, 2003, 9/11 Commission testimony of, in order, Jane Garvey, Administrator, Federal Aviation Administration, Norman Mineta, Secretary, Department of Transportation, and the NORAD delegation, conflated information concerning United Airlines Flight 93 (UA 93) to pertain to AA 77.

Why? Because the testimony had to fit the flawed NORAD timeline.  The confusion began with Garvey’s testimony and got progressively worse with Mineta’s testimony. When asked what the time was concerning his knowledge of the threat to the nation’s capital he responded, “9:20,” a reference to AA 77.

The NORAD delegation, for its part, continued the original conflation of the log entry pertaining to AA 11 to be an AA 77 entry. Even worse, the delegation then conflated a MCC/T log entry pertaining to United Airlines Flight 175 (UA 175) to be an entry pertaining to UA 93. That new conflated time was 9:16 EDT.

Commission Staff informed, in turn, Colonel Robert Marr, NEADS Commander; General Larry Arnold, Continental Region (CONR) Commander on 9/11; General Craig McKinley, Arnold’s successor; and General Ralph Eberhart, NORAD Commander, about the conflation. NORAD did correct its timeline, but to my knowledge no one at NEADS or anywhere else in NORAD has acknowledged the original staff error.

Mineta Considered

Mineta’s testimony is taken as gospel in the 9/11 truth community. However, his stated time of 9:20 is an aberration, unsupported by all other primary source information and contemporary documents of the day.

Not only did Mineta conflate events he also compressed time, another common error made by participants in any incident as they try and recall what happened.

The time of 9:20 is not possible. Mineta was in his office at the Department of Transportation at 9:03 EDT, when UA 175 struck the World Trade Center South Tower.

For the 9:20 time to be accurate Mineta had to do the following in a short 17 minutes: assimilate what was happening, give orders to staff, field calls from air carrier senior executives, move to the elevators, descend and move to his car, motor to the White House (7 minutes according to MapQuest), pass through security, disembark at the West Wing and enter, speak to Richard Clarke, cross the White House to the East Wing, descend to the President’s Emergency Operations Center, take his position and possess immediate situation awareness. That is an impossible scenario.

The Commission Report, and Commission Staff Statement 17, prepared for a June, 2004, hearing, provide an accurate account of events of the morning. Mineta was dealing with UA 93, not AA 77.

Final Comment

We have discussed two common errors routinely made by eyewitnesses and participants in their recall of significant events, conflation and time compression. There is a third common error, a cautionary note for those who would judge Brian Williams or those who fought the battle on 9-11. Monday morning quarterbacking is easy. Describing events as they actually  happened without imposing current knowledge or understanding is difficult.

Miles Kara, Commission Staff, Team 8

9-11: The Attack; A Military Operation, examined

Author’s Note

The major sources for this article are the 9/11 Commission Report and Commission Staff, Team 7, Monograph, “Staff Report, August 26, 2004.” All times are Eastern Daylight Time (EDT).


This is the second of a series of three articles discussing the attack on September 11, 2001, and its aftermath, as a military action. In the first article we discussed the attack in terms of the classic principles of war. In this article we examine the components of the attack in military terms. We begin, however, with a principle we have not discussed, one that overarches the classic principles.

It is a military imperative that the odds of success in battle are improved by getting within the decision cycle of the opponent. Staying inside the cycle, once there, is added exponential value. The 9-11 attackers did all that, not once, but twice.

Decision Cycle Successes

Strategically, the attackers were always well within the decision cycle of the government bureaucracy. The attack came during the transition from one administration to another. Such transitions move forward by fits and starts as a new administration grapples with the policies and priorities of the old order as they fit or, more likely, do not fit well with the policies and priorities of the new order. What to do about counter-terrorism and the emerging threat of the spring and summer of 2001 was just one aspect of the transition.

The details of the transition period are well covered in the reports of both the Congressional Joint Inquiry and the 9/11 Commission. Both the Inquiry and the Commission found that a key transition meeting concerning the terrorist threat was scheduled for September 12, 2001. The attackers were within that decision cycle by one day.

Tactically, the attackers were also well within the decision cycles of both the operator and the defender of the National Airspace System. The operator, the FAA’s Air Traffic Control System Command Center, moved quickly to a decision to ground all commercial air traffic. Concurrently, the Center moved fitfully to a decision to issue a cockpit warning to commercial aircraft in the air. Both decisions were the right thing to do; both decisions failed to save United Airlines flight 93 (UA93). The attackers were within the decision cycle of their enemy and that advantage held long enough to allow the hijacking of the fourth plane.

The attackers also operated within the decision cycle of the air defenders, overwhelmingly in the attack against New York City, barely so in the attack against Washington, DC.

In the chaotic last minutes of the flight of American Airlines flight 77 (AA 77) the Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) did acquire the fast moving unknown (AA 77) as a target; to no avail. The Langley fighters, by then airborne, were 150 nautical miles away, over the ocean. The Otis fighters, available if they had stayed in a holding pattern directed by NEADS, were inexplicably over New York City.

The Langley fighters established a combat air patrol (CAP) over the nation’s capital at 10:00 and were well positioned to deal with the approach of UA93. However, they had no authority to engage. That authority did not reach NEADS until 10:31, well after the remaining crew and passengers aboard UA93 took matters into their own hands.

Not only were the attackers within the bureaucracy’s decision cycle, the cycle, itself, was misfiring on all cylinders. It was badly out of tune. With that preamble behind us we now move to what was promised in the first article, a staff officer’s Powerpoint view of the battle.

The Attack

The following graphic was included in a presentation, “It Was ‘Chaos’ Out There,” on November 17, 2011, at The Air Force Historical Foundation and The Air Force Historical Studies Office 2011 Biennial Symposium, “Air Power and Global Operations: 9/11 and Beyond.” I was on Panel 1: “9/11 and Operation Noble Eagle.” Fellow panelists were John J. Farmer, Jr. and Maj. Gen. Larry K. Arnold, USAF (Ret).

9/11 The Attack

The graphic depicts most of the military components of the attack—infiltration, assembly, preliminary line of departure, line of departure, and attack on two axes of advance, each with two prongs. It lacks one necessary component, the advanced party. We will discuss the battle in terms of the tactical components shown on the slide, but first the advanced party.

Advanced Party

At no time did the advanced party number more than six individuals: the four pilots, Mohammed Atta, Marwan al Shehhi, Hani Hanjour, and Ziad Jarrah; and two long-time al-Qaeda operatives, Nawaf al Hazmi and Khalid al Mihdhar. Here is the story of their arrival in the United States.

Advanced Party

It took nearly the entire year, 2000, for the advanced party to establish itself, an activity that spanned the continent and avoided detection. Al Mihdhar and al Hazmi arrived on the West Coast in mid-January. Al Mihdhar did not stick around long, departing for Yemen on June 9, 2000.

Al Hazmi remained until Hanjour joined him in early December, transiting Cincinnati, en route. The two soon moved to Tucson, Arizona in mid-December. This was not Hanjour’s first trip to the United States. He had prior entries in 1991, 1996, and 1997, all without incident.

Meanwhile, Atta, al Shehhi, and Jarrah had established an East Coast presence. All three arrived at Newark, al Shehhi first on May 27. Atta followed shortly, arriving on June 2. Jarrah arrived last, on June 27 and immediately flew on to Venice, Florida.

All three traveled abroad in early 2001, Jarrah to Beirut, Atta to Germany, and al Shehhi to Morocco. Both Atta and al Shehhi encountered difficulty upon return. Neither presented a student visa. Both persuaded Immigration and Naturalization Service screeners that they should be allowed reentry to continue flight training. Neither had any problem clearing customs.

The primary purpose of the advanced party was to obtain sufficient training and certification to pilot hijacked commercial airliners. Their main additional duty was to absorb enough cultural, language, and geographical expertise to pave the way for the arrival and care of the troops as they infiltrated. Not once did the six call enough attention to themselves to trigger a law enforcement intervention at any level—local, state, or federal.

With the advanced part well established, trained and mission ready, the next order of business was to infiltrate the troops deemed necessary for mission success.


Infiltration to the East Coast took place swiftly, from April to June, 2001, as depicted on the first slide. Part of that infiltration included the cross-county travel of al Hazmi and Hanjour, who had moved from Southern California to Tucson, Arizona. Hazmi and Hanjour arrived on the East Coast in early April 2001.

Mission requirement was for 15 additional troops to round out the crews. The effort was not quite successful. Thirteen individuals in five groups of two and one group of three infiltrated during the period late April to June 27, 2001. A fourteenth individual, al Mihdhar, himself an original member of the advanced party, completed the infiltration, symbolically, when he entered at Newark, New Jersey, on July 4, 2001. An alert immigration officer at Orlando, Florida, turned a fifteenth individual back on August 4, 2001.

There is scant, inferential content in the “SIGINT Retrospective” provided to the Congressional Joint Inquiry by the National Security Agency that suggests the al Mihdhar spent his final days abroad attempting to recruit one last individual. (This is based on my iterative reading of the Retrospective while on the Joint Inquiry staff.)

Once infiltration was complete the next task was one not included in the Power Point, mission-specific training.

Mission Training

We know few details about the extent of team training. The assumption is that such training was sufficient for the advanced party to decide who would be on what crews and what role each would play during the actual assault on the crews of the targeted airplanes.

At some point, a tactical decision was made that Ziad Jarrah would be short one team member. We can only speculate on why that decision was made. Atta and al Shehhi were focused on the main target, New York, and needed full teams. Hanjour had two of the advanced party with him, al Hazmi and al Mihdhar, and was the logical next choice for a full team. Those decisions left Jarrah, demonstrably the weakest link, holding the short straw.

Individually, all of the so-called “muscle” hijackers maintained physical fitness and picked up enough social and language skills to operate undetected in an unfamiliar society. Two were selected to participate in the most important training event, an orientation flight.

The military term of art is “terrain walk.” one method of preparing commanders and staffs for imminent battles by having them walk or at least observe the terrain on which they are going to fight. Altogether, six of the hijackers took part in that training, including all the pilots.

Orientation Flights

Orientation flights took place during the period late May (al Shehhi) to August (Hanjour and al Hazmi). Nawaf al Hazmi was Atta’s second in command, according to the Commission report, a logical reason for him to make an orientation flight. One additional attacker, Waleed al Shehri, took an orientation flight, alone.

Al Shehri was a member of Atta’s crew for AA 11 and his point of origin for his orientation flight (July 30) was Boston, as was Atta’s a month earlier. This may have simply been Atta making sure that at least one of his group had some sense of potential barriers to come. It could also simply have been validation and verification of cabin procedures after takeoff.


Once final plans were complete, training accomplished, and tickets purchased (August 25-September 5) the attackers moved quickly to assembly areas near their designated airports, with one exception.

Assembly Areas

AA11. Mohammed Atta and one colleague, al Omari, spent the night in Portland, Maine. The rest of Atta’s crew stayed in Newton, MA.

There is no contemporary information that explains why Atta chose Portland.  Two explanations are logical using a military model. First, the Portland digression may have simply been to allow an early morning probe of the National Airspace System security posture at a small, local hub.

Second, it could have been a Plan B, an alternate scenario to allow Atta and one colleague to hijack one plane and fly it to a catastrophic end, given that all else had failed. That reduced accomplishment would still have been a success of sorts.

UA 175, AA 77, UA93. Al Shehhi and crew stayed at two different Boston hotels the night before the attack. The AA77 crew formed up in Laurel, Maryland and then stayed in Herndon, Virginia the night of September 10. The UA93 crew moved to Newark, New Jersey on September 7, and were joined by Ziad Jarrah on September 9.

The Final Hours. On the night of September 10, 2001, nineteen attackers in five small groups made their final preparations. They had passed through every layer of international, national, state, and local security with no alarm raised. Jarrah, himself, received an early morning speeding ticket in Maryland on September 9, with no consequence.

The attackers were not home free. Remaining ahead was passage into the National Airspace System. They had to cross the designated lines of departure.

Lines of Departure

Lines of departure are control features of any military attack to facilitate planning and execution.  The attack on 9/11 had two such lines, an initial line of departure at Portland, Maine, and a final line of departure that extended the length of the north Atlantic seacoast from Washington DC on the south, through the New York metropolitan area, and on to Boston. Crossing of the lines was near flawless, with one potential misstep.

Portland. Atta and al Omari entered the National Airspace System at 5:45. The attack had begun. Atta’s expectation was that he and his colleague were safely through and would not face a further challenge in Boston. He had misjudged and become visibly angry when he learned he did not have a boarding pass for AA11 which required passing again through a security checkpoint. That was the potential misstep. According to the August 26, 2004, staff report:

The agent explained to Atta that he would have to check in with American Airlines in Boston…The agent remembers that Atta clenched his jaw and looked as though he was about to get angry…He said that Atta looked as if he were about to say something in anger but turned to leave.

The Final Line of Departure

Entrance into the National Airspace System was the single most critical aspect of the attack. Success hung in the balance.  Retrospectively, we can assess that the planning was thorough and the execution swift and certain, as depicted in the following chart.

Flight Scheduled Security Board Take Off
AA11 7:45 7:15+/- 7:31-7:40 7:59
UA175 8:00 7:15+/- 7:23-7:28 8:14
AA77 8:10 7:18-7:36 7:50-7:55 8:20
UA93 8:00 7:30+/- 7:39-7:48 8:42


The overall planned window of exposure (security, board, take off), excluding the Portland initial line of departure, was less than one hour (7:15-8:10). Including Portland, the window was two hours and twenty-five minutes (5:45-8:10).

Mohammed Atta (AA11) allowed al Shehhi and crew (UA175) to board and most likely enter the National Airspace System first, perhaps another probe to protect his own mission. Atta’s flight was scheduled to depart first and his crew boarded with just minutes to spare.

Based on available records, the first two attackers to enter the National Airspace System were Khalid al Mihdhar and Majed Moqed (AA77-Dulles). Both entered security screening at 7:18.

By any measure, the window of exposure was minimized.  All attackers crossed the line of departure in less than 1/2 hour (7:15-7:36) at four widely dispersed entry points into the National Airspace System.  Further, all then boarded within 32 minutes (7:23-7:55) on four different commercial airplanes.

Entrance into the NAS and boarding was predicated on scheduled departure times. The attackers planned that all would be in the air within a narrow time frame, just 25 minutes (7:45-8:10), and out of the reach of law enforcement and intelligence agencies at every level.

All that remained was to commandeer the four flights and fly them to target. Defense then rested with the airline crews, the air traffic control system and, if requested, four active air defense fighters, two at Otis Air Force Base, MA, and two at Langley Air Force Base, VA. Assault was imminent.

Two Axes, Four Prongs

The Northern axis was narrowly defined, a single departure airport, and the two-pronged attack unfolded with military precision.  The Southern axis was broadly defined, two departure airports, and that two-pronged attack failed on one prong.

Takeover of the planes was swift, the crew and pilots were overwhelmed with simple weapons and physical force.

Dominance of the National Airspace System was achieved through tactical manipulation of the transponders. The following table depicts the timing of the attack as we know it, retrospectively.

Plane Hijacked Transponder Impact
AA11 8:15+/- 8:21 Off 8:46-47
UA175 8:43+/- 8:46 Changed 9:03
AA77 8:53+/- 8:56 Off 9:37-38
UA93 9:28 9:41 Off 10:03

Author’s Note. Precise impact times are not relevant to this discussion and I have rounded them. Commission Staff preference was to use times rounded to the minute, but that became problematic concerning the impacts of AA11 and AA77.  Ultimately, times as established by the National Traffic Safety Board were used in the final report.

The Northern Attack

The selection of Boston as a departure point for both planes had major tactical advantages.  First, targeting two planes within a short departure window eliminated a key variable, departure time delay. Second, the narrow flight corridor for west-bound traffic was reasonable assurance that both AA11 and UA175 would be on the same frequency at the same time. Third, the selection of a United flight for the second plane provided an opportunity for Al Shehhi as a passenger on UA175 to listen to cockpit air traffic control communications on cabin channel 9. That was not a given, but likely.

First Prong. Atta commanded the flight efficiently and effectively.  He turned the transponder off before turning south and while still in Boston Center air traffic control space. The sharp turn south in New York Center air space allowed a straight approach on a clear day to a highly visible target.  If necessary he also had the Hudson River corridor to follow.

Second Prong. Al Shehhi’s command was equally efficient and effective. Whether or not he heard Atta’s broadcasts on frequency the evidence suggests he heard the UA175 pilot check in with the New York Air Traffic Control Center. Shortly thereafter the plane was commandeered. This had the net tactical result of presenting two different air traffic control situations to two different traffic control centers.

Although AA11 was in New York Center airspace the plane and its flight plan still belonged to Boston Center. There was no formal hand-off from one center to the other. As one result, it was Boston Center not New York Center that asked the cockpit of UA175 to confirm an altitude of 29,000 feet for AA11, which the cockpit did.

Because there was no hand-off, New York Center took initiative to enter a new track, AA11A, into the air traffic control system so that it could track the plane in its airspace. That was a reasonable action to take, but the net result was added complexity to a situation that was about to become significantly more confusing.

Chaos Begins

At precisely the time the fireball from the impact of AA11 became visible Al Shehhi changed the transponder code on UA175 to 3020. That had the tactical effect of introducing a Mode C Intruder into the air traffic control system. Such an intruder is a plane squawking a code not recognized by the system and it “intrudes” on controller scopes by presenting a track with no data block attached. New York Center, and the same controller at that center,  now had multiple problems on their plate at the same time.

Al Shehhi flew leisurely over western Pennsylvania and northern New Jersey, well toward Trenton/Philadelphia. He made a second, unnecessary change to the transponder code (3321), made a high altitude, six-minute, 180-degree turn, and then plummeted his commandeered plane in a steep, high-speed dive directly into his target, which he had to bank to hit. The northern attack, a one-two punch with dramatic effect, was complete at 9:03.

That traumatized a nation and left New York Center and the air traffic control system with four known problems and one it did not know about. The known problems were: what hit the World Trade Center north tower? where was AA11? where was UA175? and, what was the Mode C intruder, code 3321, that hit the south tower? The unknown was what was happening to AA77 several hundred miles to the west.

The Southern Attack

The attack against Washington, DC, was likely planned to mirror the attack against New York City, one impact to gain media attention followed by a second impact. We do not know the sequence of attack or the designated target for each plane.

Nor do we know why the departure airports, Dulles and Newark, were selected. What we can assess, retrospectively, is that the plan required airliners that could be hijacked in the airspace of two different FAA en route control centers and not in Boston or New York Center airspace.

What we do know is that one target was the Pentagon and the other target was most likely the Capitol.  I discount the White House as a target. It was too small, too obscure, and paled in comparison to the Capitol as either a target of choice or a target of opportunity.

Whatever the planned sequence for the southern attack, Hani Hanjour completed the mission of striking one of the two targets. Ziad Jarrah did not, for multiple reasons.

The First Prong

Intended or not, Hanjour struck first. The planning and coordination details remain obscure. Retrospectively, however, there is the appearance of detailed planning and coordination.  The transponder on AA77 was turned off  seven minutes after AA11 struck the World Trade Center, North Tower, and 10 minutes before UA175 struck the South Tower.

A simple plan, therefore, would have been to turn AA77 around prior to 9:00 and, concurrently, to turn off the transponder, regardless of what was happening to the North. The tactical actions of Atta and al Shehhi suggest that the southern attack was time-based.

Atta struck early, just fourteen minutes after takeoff, secured the cockpit, turned off the transponder and then turned sharply south and headed directly to target. Al Shehhi, on the other hand, took his time. He struck after UA175 crossed into New York Center airspace, waited for the fireball from the AA11 impact, immediately changed the transponder code, and then leisurely turned UA175 around. Once 9:00 arrived he plummeted steeply at high speed directly to target.

Based on that sequence of actions, my assessment is that AA77 likely was the first prong of the southern attack. I now assess that the timing of the turn back to target was time-based and not geography-based.  That is a change in perspective. The unknown variable that morning was departure time delay. If Hanjour’s task was to commandeer and turn AA77 around in a given time-frame (9:45-10:00 8:45-9:00) then departure time delay did not matter, it was simply factored out of the equation. (Correction made Feb 17, 2015)

It was fortuitous, but perhaps not necessary, that the flight was commandeered in Indianapolis Center air space. The hijackers did not need to know the inherent radar issues at Indianapolis Center. It was sufficient to present a different problem—transponder turned off during the turn back to target—to a different Air Traffic Control Center.  AA77 could just have well been hijacked in Washington Center airspace to meet Hanjour’s timeline.

Hanjour, in his approach to Washington, DC, followed the Interstate 66/Route 29 corridor. He descended from altitude to below 10,000 feet just south of Gainesville, Virginia.  Ironically, at that time he passed nearly directly over Vint Hill Farms, the designated location for the new Potomac TRACON and, ultimately, the site of the new Air Traffic Control System Command Center.

Once Hanjour saw his target he executed a wide, descending, 330-degree turn to lose altitude, regain his target and then accelerate to impact. Hitting the Pentagon was the intent, but any impact short, left, or right would have been devastating.  Coming up short, AA77 would have hit the Navy Annex. Crystal City was to the right.  Rosslyn was to the left as was Arlington National Cemetery.

My seventh floor office at 400 Army Navy Drive, Crystal City, provided an unobstructed view of the Pentagon.  I felt and heard the impact. By the time I got to the window, a matter of seconds, the fireball had dissipated and the sky was filled with black smoke and papers floating around at eye level.

We had no warning. At the time I and most colleagues were surfing the internet to follow events in New York City.

The Second Prong

Earlier we established that Ziad Jarrah had drawn the short straw, one that got even shorter as the morning progressed. The takeoff delay at Newark was 42 minutes, a good half hour longer than that experienced by any of the other three designated pilots. With just three colleagues he was still able to commandeer his targeted airliner, UA93. Whether or not cabin channel 9 was available on that flight, Jarrah and his crew did not strike until the flight was in Cleveland Center air space.

There is no clear picture of planned timing for UA93 as compared to the correlation of AA77 to AA11 and UA175.  Given that UA93 was to be the second prong of the southern attack, the planning would have to correlate to AA77 and adhere to an overall plan to hijack four planes in the air space of four different Air Traffic Control Centers.

UA93 entered Cleveland Center air space at 9:24 and was hijacked within minutes.  Jarrah had to wait 42 minutes (8:42-9:24) regardless of takeoff time.

UA93 was scheduled to depart 10 minutes prior to AA77. The departure delay that morning at Dulles (AA77) was 10 minutes. At Newark (UA93) it was 42 minutes. Assuming the plan was for the two departure delays to be comparable then UA93 was planned to be hijacked in the same time frame as AA77.

In other words, it was the planned intent that both planes in the southern attack be hijacked after the impact of AA11 and before the impact of UA175. Jarrah met just one of his two takeover objectives. He waited until the plane was in Cleveland Center air space. However, he had lost control of the timing.

Nevertheless, Jarrah managed to stay just inside the decision cycle of the defense.  UA93 did take off before a New York Center ground stop was issued. His crew took over the cockpit  as air traffic controllers were attempting to issue cockpit warnings to pilots. Air Force air defenders were poorly positioned. The Otis fighters were over New York City well to the north and the Langley fighters were two minutes from take off far to the South.

Even with those advantages Jarrah was fighting a losing battle. First, he had difficulty controlling the plane. On the turn back to target he could not maintain level flight and ascended to over 40,000 feet. Thereafter, he failed to maintain altitude but did manage to turn the transponder off. Worse, in the cabin, his colleagues were not able to prevent the remaining air crew and passengers from learning enough about events of the morning to take matters into their own hands.

With no help from any level of government, solely on their own recognizance, passengers and crew forced UA93 to crash, far short of the intended target. By 10:03 the battle was over, at least for the attackers.  Not so for the defense.

The Defense

Concerning the Northern Attack, crews of two planes had been overwhelmed, their planes commandeered and flown to catastrophic fate.The Federal Aviation Administration knew it had a problem, but had no idea of what else was to come. An active air defense had finally been mounted, but solely in response to events in New York.

The Otis fighters were placed on battle stations at 8:40, scrambled at 8:46, and airborne at 8:52, an elapsed time of 12 minutes from the time the Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) obtained actionable information from Boston Center, an outdated set of coordinates.  That was a reasonable response, accelerated a bit because the Otis pilots had heard Boston Center’s initial call to Cape TRACON and, in effect, put themselves on battle stations before the order came to do so.

Shortly after the Otis fighters were airborne their controllers learned that they no longer had a target, a fact the pilots also knew, according to air traffic control communications. NEADS, the controlling organization made the tactical decision to continue and to put the fighters in a holding orbit in a military training area south of Long Island.

The fighters reached their western most point about 9:10 and began a holding pattern. That was, retrospectively, the single critical time for the defense.

The defenders had that single, fleeting moment of opportunity to better defend the nation’s capital. However, that is only known through retrospective analysis. No one, at the time, knew what else was happening. The one clue was that AA 77 had gone missing. That clue, unrecognized as another hijacking, was only known by Indianapolis Center. The Center decided that the plane was lost and initiated rescue operations.

The Southern Attack on the nation’s capital had begun, unrecognized. The attackers were still well within the decision cycle of their opponent.

9:10 EDT, A Critical Time, Retrospectively

At 9:10, the Otis fighters were at their closest point to Washington, DC, 225 nautical miles. The Langley fighters were on the ground in the Norfolk, Virginia area, 115 nautical miles to the south. AA77 was eastbound over central West Virginia, 48 nautical miles east of Charleston, WV, and 80 nautical miles west of Harrisonburg, VA. UA93 was westbound over Central Pennsylvania, just northwest of State College, PA.

In military terms, here is the disposition of friendly and enemy forces at 9:10:

0910 Tactical Situation

At 9:10, Indianapolis En Route Traffic Control Center concluded that AA77 was lost and it initiated rescue procedures by notifying its higher headquarters, Great Lakes Region. Concurrently, the Center notified the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center.

At 9:10, the joint surveillance radar system supporting NEADS reacquired AA77 as a primary only, search target. NEADS surveillance technicians and identification technicians know what to do with primary targets. Finding, identifying, and tracking them is their bread and butter. No one told them to look to the West. Instead, they were concentrating on the skies over New York City and Boston.

At 9:10, NEADS considered engaging its remaining two air defense aircraft, the fighters at Langley Air Force Base.  The NEADS Mission Crew Commander recommended the fighters be scrambled. The Battle Cab directed otherwise and the last remaining air defense fighters in the inventory were placed on battle stations.  That was a reasonable decision at the time, given the information available. Retrospectively, it was exactly the wrong decision.

The Otis fighters were 25 minutes flying time away from the Pentagon. The Langley fighters were 13 minutes flying time away, but were still on the ground.  The Otis fighters were airborne in 12 minutes from the call to battle stations (8:40-8:52). Applying that same standard to the Langley fighters they were also 25 minutes away.  If tasked, in a perfect world, either set of fighters would have reached the Pentagon at about 9:35. (Flight times are based on a rate of progression of .9 Mach, as established by NORAD in its September 18, 2001, published timeline, explanatory note ****.)

9:10 EDT was the single, most important opportunity for the defenders to protect the nation’s capital. No one, at any level, had any idea of the disposition of enemy forces. Even worse, as events progressed, no one at any level had a coherent picture of the disposition of friendly forces. And that begs a question, Why Not?

Why Not

First the attack on September 11, 2001 was an attack against the National Airspace System. That precisely defined system had a single, named operator and a single, named defender on the East Coast.

The operator was the National Operations Manger (NOM), Benedict Sliney and his supporting organization the FAA’s Air Traffic Control System Command Center. The defender was the Commander, Northeast Air Defense Sector, Air Force Colonel Robert Marr and his supporting organization, the Sector Operations Center.

Sliney, in his first day on the job, and his predecessor had never met Marr. The two organizations had never interfaced in any meaningful way. Despite multiple exercises that suggested otherwise over the years, the two organizations had no procedures in place to rapidly share information or to handle hijackings. They did not share and had no way of sharing a common operating picture of the battlefield.

Second, the hijack protocol was not just out of date, it was obsolete. But no one knew that because if it had been exercised at all it was done so notionally. For example, the tapes from NEADS show that the exercise cell at NEADS played the roll of all higher headquarters in the ongoing exercise in the Vigilant Guardian series.

Third, not one national level mechanism for sharing information had yet been convened. The earliest convention was at 9:16, a NOIWON, a watch officer informal information exchange network. It was convened by the CIA watch center simply to try and find out what was going on. Ironically, the key voices (FAA, NMCC) were on the NOIWON call, but no one recognized that. (The 9:16 time is derived from documents released by NSA in reponse to a FOIA request for CRITIC messages of the day.)

FAA convened its primary net at 9:20, which included a link to the National Military Command Center (NMCC). That net never became operational and was subsumed into the FAA’s internal tactical net.  The NMCC, at its end, convened a Significant Events Conference shortly thereafter. FAA could not be linked and the conference was terminated in favor of an Air Threat Conference at about the time the Pentagon was struck. FAA could not join that conference, either.

At the White House, the Secure Video Conference System (SVTS) was activated at 9:25. Richard Clarke convened a meeting of senior officials shortly after 9:40. Logs of the day show that Jane Garvey, FAA Administrator, and George Tenet, Director of Central Intelligence, entered at that time.

Also at the White House, the PEOC (President’s Emergency Operations Center) became operational at about the time the Pentagon was struck. The Vice President arrived shortly before 10:00 according to the 9/11 Commission Report.

National Command Authority

United 93 plunged to earth at 10:03. The battle was over and the National Command Authority (NCA) was just getting itself organized. The fate of UA93, known to Cleveland Center, the Air Traffic Control System Command Center, and FAA Headquarters, did not register at the Pentagon or the White House. The NCA diligently followed what it thought was UA93 because that is what they gleaned from TSD (Traffic System Display) information.

I established earlier that the simple tactical plan was to present four different situations to four different Air Traffic Control Centers using transponders as the weapon.  There was no need for the attackers to know or even anticipate what would happen. It was sufficient to just create four different situations. Each Center reacted differently to the situation presented.

Boston Center could not hand off AA11 to New York Center. New York Center left the flight plans for both AA11 and UA175 in the TSD system and created a new track for AA11, AA11A. Indianapolis Center concluded that AA77 was down and initiated rescue coordination procedures.  Cleveland Center was more creative and that became a problem no one anticipated.

Cleveland Center was tracking UA93 and knew it would enter Washington Center airspace if it continued on course. The Center, therefore, took the logical step, it entered a new flight plan for UA93 into the TSD system. That flight plan terminated at 10:28 when UA93 “landed,” notionally, at Reagan National Airport.

And that is the “plane” that Norman Minetta in the PEOC was following.  His testimony to the Commission was one hour off. The time was 10:20, not 9:20 as he stated.  National level awareness and understanding remained confused and conflicted thereafter.

Why? A fatal flaw in the NORAD timeline of September 18, 2001, established that the military was notified about AA77 at 9:25. That time was etched in stone in October, 2001, when General Ralph Eberhart testified to that time in an appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Thereafter, the administration struggled to establish a narrative that the national level was responsive to the approach of both AA77 and UA93.

The narrative was doomed from the start. No one at any level vetted the work of staff officers at NEADS who made the initial error. Moreover, when NORAD and FAA prepared themselves for May, 2003, testimony to the Commission, no one at any level in either organization validated and verified the original NEADS staff work. The testimony of both Jane Garvey, FAA Administrator, and Norman Minetta, Transportation Secretary, conflated information concerning UA93 to correlate to AA77. NORAD representatives who followed did no better in their testimony.

So, how did the national level get it wrong?  The answer, in part, is in the language of chaos theory. And that discussion will be the third and final article in this series.

In the telling we will also look at why the Otis fighters were not available for the defense of the nation’s capital.  Whatever else we might observe about their tactical maneuvering that morning they clearly disregarded the advice of Wayne Gretzky.

I skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it has been.





9-11: AA 77; Research Sources, an update


This article updates researchers and historians on the state of publicly available information concerning American Airlines Flight 77 (AA 77). I reference previous articles I have written which may also be helpful.

Informative Web Sites

The website, undicisettembre.blogspot, an Italian web site, has published an interview of Patrick Smith, a professional pilot. The pilot discusses the capabilities of the hijacker pilots, specifically Hani Hanjour, the designated pilot for AA 77, once commandeered. According to the website:

Patrick Smith is an airline pilot with more than twenty years of experience. He currently flies Boeing 757s and 767s. He is the host of the well-known Ask The Pilot website and author of the book Cockpit Confidential: Questions, Answers, and Reflections.

Another web site, new to me, is a worthwhile compendium of diverse information from multiple sources concerning the flight of AA 77 on September 11, 2001.

The blogger, cjnewson88, updated an article, “American Airlines Flight 77 Evidence.”  The article covers nearly every aspect of the AA 77 story.  Embedded are You Tube videos created or referenced by Newson.

Newson references the work of Tom Lusch.  Lusch has long been concerned about radar issues, such as the Indianapolis Air Traffic Control Center loss of AA 77 as a primary target on controller scopes.

Lusch’s own work is exhaustive and one outcome is that he suggested refined language for the Commission Report to more accurately describe what happened at Indianapolis.  Newson includes Lusch’s language in his article. Two members of the Commission Staff have reviewed Lusch’s work and pose no objection to his refinement of our work.

Unfortunately, Lusch lost his web site some months ago and has just recently begun a reconstitution effort.  Interested readers can follow Lusch’s work at his new web site, “Thomas G. Lusch.”

Reagan National Tower and TRACON

Newson includes a video, “Ronald Reagan National Airport with ATC Audio,” that counts down the final minutes of the flight of AA 77. The radar time and air traffic control time may be off a bit when combined, but they are close enough to provide a history of the event as it happened. [Note: the title, above, is Newson’s title used on his website, not the title of the You Tube video, itself.]

At about 9:34 EDT radar time, a voice is heard in the background sounding an alert for the presence of an unidentified unknown approaching the nation’s capital. Shortly before 9:35 EDT an “S” tag appears on the track of AA 77. That tag marked the track so all TRACON and Tower personnel could easily follow its progress. That tag also allowed the Secret Service to follow the track since they had a radar feed from National TRACON.

The Secret Service did follow the track, once tagged, and provided screen prints depicting the advance of AA 77, as seen by the Service, to Commission Staff.  My archived AA 77 slide set has the times of those screen prints annotated.  I made those annotations, lightly in pencil, on the slide depicting the gradual, descending turn of AA 77 back to target.

Military aircraft in the area

The combined TRACON radar and Tower air traffic control communications also account for the presence of military fixed-wing aircraft in the area: Venus 22; Word 31; the Bobcats, 14 and 17; and Gofer 06.  I discussed all but the Bobcats in a 2009 article, “9-11: The Mystery Plane; not so mysterious.” I discussed the Bobcats in another 2009 article, “9-11: The Bobcats; a teachable moment.”

I recently posted a transcript of the Commission Staff interview with the Gofer 06 pilot.

AA 77

The convergence of evidence compiled by Newsom is conclusive. AA 77 was commandeered by five hijackers who then flew it into the Pentagon between 9:37 and 9:38 EDT, September 11, 2001.





9-11: Maine 85; a snippet of information, a snapshot of Commission Staff work


In past articles I have periodically taken the position that it is not possible to take snippets of information about 9/11 or snapshots of Commission Staff work and extrapolate either to a larger whole, with meaning.  Recently, a correspondent presented me with a question which combines a snippet and a snapshot into an interesting story.  The purpose of this article is to tell that story.

The Setting

The correspondent, a dedicated 9/11 researcher, found an exchange in the audio file of a Commission interview that suggested an additional dimension to exercise activity the morning of September 11, 2001. Specifically, he understood that there was a “delta track” operating offshore in a designated military training area, Whiskey 105. The time was shortly before 9:00 EST, eight minutes after the Otis fighters became airborne.

Ongoing off shore activity included the progress of the Otis Air Force Base active air defense fighters, Panta 45 and 46, to a holding pattern in Whiskey 105; the vectoring into a supporting holding pattern of the tanker, Maine 85; and the training flights of six additional fighters from Otis, operating as one flight of two and a second flight of four fighters. Here is screen shot of military radar tracks  in the area of interest during the period 8:30 to 9:30 EDT.

Otis Fighters

It was a complex situation, difficult to unravel, retrospectively. The situation was further complicated by an explanation by a NEADS officer who was trying to help the Commission staff understand what was happening that morning.

The Snapshot

We begin with the correspondent’s research. The information he uncovered supported the presence of an exercise aircraft, a delta track, juxtaposed with the Otis active air defense scramble. The presence of such a flight, however, was not supported by either radar or air traffic control communications.

The researcher was listening to the audio file of the Commission’s taped October 29, 2003, interview of Major James Fox, the Senior Director on duty on 9/11 at NEADS, the controlling organization for the air defense response that morning.  Commission Staff was using the tape of the Mission Crew Commander (MCC) position to guide the interview.

The Staff had the NEADS tape and a partial transcript of the tape previously provided as a result of a document request. Concurrently, the Staff and Major Fox were listening to the tape, starting and stopping as necessary for Major Fox to identify who was talking and what was transpiring.

The Snippet

The Staff was discussing the progress of the Otis scramble with Major Fox. The conversation reached a point where the recording revealed that controllers were tagging the tanker, Maine 85, so it could be separately identified on the scopes used at NEADS.  In the midst of that conversation a voice asked about “that delta out there.”  Major Fox broke in to inform the Staff what he thought the reference was.


Fox Interview Clip Maine 85


Here is a transcript of what was recorded during the referenced portion of the Major Fox interview,

Nasypany: (In part, to Battle Cab summarizing the Otis fighter  situation)  Hold them south of JFK about 10 miles at altitude. We also have Maine 85 in Whiskey 105 that can be used for this…

Staff: Can you hold that?

Fox: That’s all Nasypany.

Kara: That’s all Nasypany

Nasypany: Tag ‘em up, tag em up

Staff: Can you stop that. Do you know what tag ‘em up means

Fox: Alright. Put a track on him. Right now, without a track he is just a dot flying around. And they want him hit up with a track so we can know the information on that aircraft.

Staff: On which aircraft?

Fox:  Probably talking about Maine 85

Staff: And that’s a tanker

Fox: yes

Staff: And why does that come into play here?

Fox: Because as soon as we’ve had the Spiders (Otis flight Panta 45 and 46) airborne for 10, or 15, 20 minutes going south, coming south of Long Island we gonna have to think about getting them gas or doing something with them. So, thinking that way may have them up for a while we’re starting to look for tankers that are in the air that we can take.

Staff: To refuel them

Fox: Yes

Kara: Off the FAA transcript, at this point in time Boston Center is now controlling Jeep One, Jeep One, a second set of fighters off of Otis

Fox, Yeah, they would have been part of the flight that was going out to Whiskey 105 for their training

Kara: This is a training mission coming into play here, and Jeep is the call sign that the fighters are using

Fox: yes

Kara: Okay

Staff: Pick up please [name] at 8:59 on the [indistinct]

Nasypany: Discusses where he was when alerted. Fox interjects and now we know where Nasypany was.

Nasypany: Hey, [indistinct] that delta out there… the delta up there, five three

Fox: That delta that they are referring to there is also a different type of track like a Z track. Only a delta track is what we usually put on an aircraft that is going to be ah, it is usually, ah it’s often military, not always. But it’s usually going to be flying off the coast and just staying in that area and then coming back in. It’s a track that we know who it is, it’s going to be playing around off the coast and then coming back.

Staff: So you’re putting that delta track on the other Spider (Panta 46)?

Fox: Ah no, the delta track was ah, unfortunately it’s not in here, ah, it was probably near where that tanker was. Ah, he was just pointing out, I just wanted you to know that when they said delta they weren’t talking about Delta Airlines, they were talking about a type of track. He was probably just using it as a point of reference to show someone where Maine 85 was or something.

Based on Fox’s explanation the researcher wanted to know about the delta track. When he first posed the question to me I had no recollection of the delta event. After listening to the audio file of our interview I accepted Fox’s explanation at face value and worked to sort out the situation.

My Initial Estimate

I confirmed there was no supporting radar information and no additional primary source audio information, either in air traffic control tapes or the NEADS tapes. My initial estimate was that the delta reference was to the westernmost track of one of  the additional Otis fighters, one that was in close proximity to the track of the tanker, Maine 85. The correspondent did not accept that estimate.  Since my assessment was based on a static screen shot of the tracks of all aircraft, I concurred.

Back to Basics

At that point, I realized that Fox may have been off in his explanation and I listened to a tape which isolated the MCC position.  Here is a transcript of what was actually said concerning the “delta.”

MCC Delta Up There

MCC: Hey, is that the delta, that delta out there ?

Voice: Five three, delta, right here

MCC: The delta up there? Five Three

Voice: Five Three


Voice: Ah, that’s not what they told me, so, sorry

My Second Estimate

In context, I inferred that the MCC was asking about a status slide on one of the three overhead screens on the NEADS operations floor. The North Truro Radar, J53, was off line for maintenance and getting it back on line was an item of concern to NEADS.  The correspondent did not agree with that estimate, either. I was on the right track concerning the “five three” reference, but still did not have a satisfactory answer concerning the identity of the delta track.

Back to Basics

Anyone who has spent any time at all with the NEADS tapes knows that they are a babble of sound, a conflation of disparate conversations overlapping and interfering with one another, as recorded on tape. It is not possible to sort out any conversation thread on the NEADS floor without listening to all channels to figure out what is happening.

The two voices in the MCC conversation, one male and one female, were most likely associated with the two activity centers close by the MCC position. The surveillance section leader was to his left, and the identification section was to his right. The surveillance section establishes tracks for unknown aircraft. The identification section, once an unknown track is established, has a finite, short number of minutes to identify the track.

And sure enough, one of the identification technicians acted on the MCC’s question and sorted things out. Here is the transcript of what transpired.

0859 Delta is Maine 85

Dialing sounds

ID Technician: Maine 85, this is HUNTRESS ID, go.

Maine 85: [indistinct]

ID Technician: Maine 85, you are coming in broken, please say Mode 3

Maine 85: It is Five Three Six Two

ID Technician: Maine 85, copy Five Three Six Two, please stand by

[eight seconds pass]

ID Technician: (to a colleague) Ah[indistinct] try that one

[28 seconds pass, sounds of keyboard strokes]

ID Technician: I got it. Mo (Master Sergeant Maureen Dooley, head of the ID Section), you want to scream up at Weapons to tell them that Maine 85 is the delta north of J Five Three, they’re wondering about it.

It took the ID Technician about a minute to complete the task from the MCC and to provide actionable information to the military controllers. At the time, Maine 85 was North of Boston just crossing the Massachusetts shoreline, over 50 nautical miles north northeast of North Truro at the Northern end of Cape Cod.

Maine 85

Maine 85  took off from Bangor Air Force Base at about 8:34 EDT, and proceeded southerly towards off shore military training areas south of Long Island.

Approximately 9:23 EDT, it established a ten minute north-south race track holding pattern. As it concluded the second orbit at about 9:44 EDT, it was vectored toward New York City to support the Panta active air defense fighters.

At about 10:00 EDT, it entered a refueling holding orbit due South of New York City near the Southwestern tip of Long Island.

Here is a screen shot of the Maine 85 track from takeoff to 10:00 EDT.


Final Comment

This vignette is an important reminder to serious 9/11 researchers, historians and academicians. It takes both a dynamic radar picture and air traffic control communications and/or NEADS tape analysis to figure out what is actually going on at any given point in time.  Moreover, concerning the NEADS tapes, it is necessary to listen to all channels for details about the time in question.

How the Otis active air defense fighters ended up over New York City is a story for another day.









9-11: Congressional Joint Inquiry Report; the 28 pages, a comment

Update, March 28, 2015

And here is the Dan Christensen response to the panel’s report, “Miami Herald” March 27, 2015

Report Backtracks on Sarasota Saudis

Update, March 25, 2015

A three-member panel has conducted a review of where the FBI stands in regard to the recommendations made by the 9/11 Commission. “ideastream” published a short article, this date, “Panel Finds FBI Made Strides After Sept. 11, But Must Speed Reforms.”

According to ‘ideastream’ the panel found that, “Contrary to media reports, the FBI did not have a source in the 1990’s with direct access to [Osama bin Laden] nor was there credible evidence linking the Sarasota, Florida, family to the 9/11 hijackers.”

Panel members were Bruce Hoffman, Edwin Meese, and Timothy Roemer.

Update, February 18, 2015

And, now, “The Hill” has it a bit wrong, which is baffling.  “The Hill” leads its article with this comment:

President Obama is coming under pressure from lawmakers to declassify 28 pages of the 9/11 report that were blacked out when the document was first released to the public.

We can suppose that the oblique reference to “the 9/11 report” is actually to the Congressional Joint Inquiry report, but that’s not quite the way it reads. “The Hill” does acknowledge that there were two separate reports. I am not inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt that they actually know which one was redacted.

The push has also gained momentum with the endorsement of former senator Bob Graham (D-Fla.), who, as the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, oversaw a congressional inquiry into the attack that was separate from the 9/11 Commission.

And in other news, family members Mindy Kleinberg and Lorie Van Auken wrote a succinct, published letter to the “New York Times.” The letter references an earlier, accurate, “Times” article of Feb 4, 2015, “Claims against Saudis Cast New Light on Pages of 9/11 Report.” The “Times” clearly understands the difference between the Congressional Joint Inquiry work and that of the 9/11 Commission.

A still-classified section of the investigation by congressional intelligence committees into the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks has taken on an almost mythic quality over the past 13 years — 28 pages that examine crucial support given the hijackers and that by all accounts implicate prominent Saudis in financing terrorism.

Update, Evening February 6, 2015

And here is a decent summary of the 28-page issue

Update, February 6, 2015

And, now, CNN has it wrong. Laura Koran penned an article, “Renewed Debate over 9/11 Commission Report as new claims emerge,” published on February 5, 2015. Koran and contributors Jake Tapper and Chloe S0mmers wrote:

Recent allegations from a convicted al Qaeda terrorist have brought new attention to an old debate over whether the White House should release 28 still-classified pages from the 9/11 Commission Report, the majority of which was released over ten years ago.

That is simply wrong and now shows national media confusion about the distinction between the work of the 9/11 Commission and the Congressional Joint Inquiry that preceded it. Even worse, the CNN reporters have now made Senator Bob Graham a member of the 9/11 Commission.

And in January, commission member Bob Graham, a former U.S. senator from Florida, told CNN’s Michael Smerconish the still-classified pages in question “primarily deal with who financed 9/11, and they point a strong finger at Saudi Arabia.”

For the record, Senator Graham was a co-chair of the Congressional Joint Inquiry. He was not a member of the 9/11 Commission.
Update, January 20, 2015

Lawrence Wright, author of The Looming Towers, definitively addressed the 28-page issue in a September 9, 2014, article in the New Yorker. Wright’s narrative is clear-eyed, accurate, and best defines the publicly held knowledge concerning the issue.

Nevertheless, four months later, on January 19, 2015, a blogger, Michael Rubin, committed the error of conflating the Congressional Joint Inquiry Report with the 9/11 Commission Report. Rubin wrote:

And yet, so much remains inexplicably unknown about that day. President George W. Bush redacted 28 pages of the 9/11 Commission report. A number of congressmen have read the redacted pages.

It is as if Wright had written in a vacuum, so far as the blogosphere is concerned.


In December, 2002, the report, “Joint Inquiry into Intelligence Community Activities before and after the Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001,” was published.  The title was carefully chosen. The Joint Inquiry examined intelligence failures on and around 9/11, but did not examine the events of the day, itself. That task was left to performed by the 9/11 Commission, an entity that was established only at the insistence and persistence of the 9/11 families. (This paragraph was revised and updated on February 18, 2015, at the suggestion of Lorie Van Auken, to clarify the narrow role of the Inquiry concerning intelligence failures.  Van Auken also pointed out, correctly, that the Inquiry could not leave a task to a Commission yet to be formed.)

Over time, the Joint Inquiry Report and the Commission Report have become conflated in the minds of some and redactions in the Joint Inquiry Report are often attributed to the Commission Report. Hopefully, this short article will help writers avoid any more conflation.

The Major Redaction

The Joint Inquiry report was redacted throughout, most notably the pages from page 396 through page 422, inclusive. That is a redaction of 27 pages in the copy I have, a printout of unclassified Senate Rept No. 107-351/House Rept. No. 107-792.

The confusion in page count arises, in part, because the relevant section of the report, “Part Four–Findings, Discussion and Narrative Regarding Certain Sensitive National Security Matters,” is 28 pages. There is also an internal page reference sequence that goes from page 415 to page 443, 28 pages.

There are no redactions in the Commission Report.

The Finding

The Joint Inquiry reported that, “through its investigation, the Joint Inquiry developed information suggesting specific sources of foreign support for some of the September 11 hijackers while they were in the United States. The Joint Inquiry’s review confirmed that the Intelligence Community also has information, much of which has yet to be independently verified, concerning these potential sources of support.”

The Conflation

A recent article in “The American Conservative,” typifies a mistake made by multiple writers and bloggers. The article discusses a Saudi connection to the events of 9/11 and in the telling makes these statements:

Many of the loose threads are gathered up and detailed in a 28-page segment of the 9/11 Commission report.

Curiously, President Bush ordered those 28 pages classified, so that no one without extremely rare security clearances could read them.

That is a Joint Inquiry Report reference erroneously attributed to the Commission Report. This is not to single out the “Conservative,” it is just one example that has come to my attention.

A better example came my way via a 9/11 Google alert on October 8, 2014. In a “Huffington Post” article, “The Saudis, 9/11, ISIS, and American Secrecy,”  the journalist, David Vognar, opened his most recent post with this language.

There is a growing movement in the United States against secrecy and a growing distrust that government is operating in the people’s interest. I’ve written previously about this crisis in democracy. Related to both of these movements is a call for President Obama to declassify and release the 28 classified pages from the 9/11 Commission Report that President Bush deemed too vital to United States intelligence operations to be released in the 2004 report.

The journalist community, to have any credibility at all on this issue, needs to do better in understanding that the Joint Inquiry Report and The Commission Report are separate lanes of the road with a wide median between them.

Full Disclosure

While I did not participate in the writing of the redacted narrative I did read it, in draft, at least once.  I do not recall with any fidelity the contents, so I won’t speculate.  I was surprised at the extent of the redaction and my sense is that the pages should be reviewed for release. That undertaking is a nontrivial task. There are multiple equities involved—the agencies, the two houses of Congress, and two administrations.

My experience as an investigator for the DoD Inspector General provides perspective. During an investigation of the 1985 Zona Rosa Massacre in El Salvador we needed to visit the Reagan Presidential Library in order to review National Security Council information. That visit, by government investigators and facilitated by NARA, required the concurrence of the President of record, the sitting President and the General Counsels for both.

And that involved just one branch of Government, the Executive Branch. Add the Legislative Branch to the mix, not subject to FOIA, and the task compounds. Not to mention the agencies involved and their equities.

9-11: Impact Times; Infra-red Data Released by NSA

Addendum October 9, 2014

This addendum makes one correction and adds a PDF of my May 15, 2014 appeal letter. Based on the date of that letter it took NSA not quite five months to reconsider. Here is a link to my appeal.

IR Appeal Letter May 2014

Data Release

On October 4, 2014, I received a letter from the National Security Agency, Central Security Service, dated September 23, 2014.  The letter responded to Mandatory Declassification Review (MDR) case 70401 (NARA case number NW 168), my appeal to an earlier complete denial of all infra-red related information.

The release authority has now provided graphic analysis of the data for all four impacts, as originally provided to the Commission. The times, in all cases, are consistent with the times established from radar files and air traffic control tapes.

Here is the transmittal letter for the information release.

NSA MDR Letter Sep 23 2014

I addressed the total denial of all infra-red related information in a short post on March 25, 2014 under “Current News.” It took just over six not quite five months for the National Security Agency to reconsider. I based my appeal narrowly, asking only for the infra-red impact times, and nothing else. That is perhaps a lesson learned  for researchers and historians, present and future.


The 9/11 Commission Staff requested infra-red data concerning the impacts of the four hijacked airplanes on September 11, 2001.  The staff took that extra step because an analysis of seismic data by a separate individual reported a impact time for United Airlines Flight 93 three minutes after the 10:03 EDT impact time as determined from radar files and air traffic control tapes.

It is important to know that the later time, 10:06 EDT, was not a seismic data time. It was the extrapolation and interpretation of seismic data by a single individual. His coauthor and the sponsor of his article, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, chose not to validate and verify his work when asked to do so by the Commission Staff. Instead, they simply referred the Staff back to the person who had made the extrapolation. I addressed the seismic issue in detail in an article published in 2010.

In 2011 during a visit to the National Earthquake Center, Golden, Colorado, I informally asked the staff there to take a look at the interpretation that led to a time of 10:06 EDT. They, too, declined, and simply referred me back to the original author.

The Staff Request

The original request is “Document Request No. 4-34: Final data from the Defense Special Missile and Astronautics Center (DEFSMAC) that established the time of impact for each of the hijacked aircraft.” The response to the Commission was classified “SECRET//X1” and was titled (U//FOUO) NSA’S ANSWERS TO DoD DOCUMENT REQUEST No. 4-34.” The response is annotated NW#: 168 DocId: 8977.

The Response

There are two graphs that are accurate to the minute and the approximate seconds for each impact, if extrapolated. The following chart depicts my current extrapolations. The intensity measurement is in Kilowatts per microsteradian (KW/sr-μ).


Impact Time


AA11 8:46:30+/- 250 KW/sr-μ
UA 175 9:03:10+/- 3500 KW/sr-μ
AA 77 9:37:30+/- 900 KW/sr-μ
UA 93 10:03:10+ 2000 KW/sr-μ

One graph depicts the times for all planes except UA 93. A second graph pertains to UA 93 and incudes a peak intensity time centered on 10:03:16-17+, and a dissipation time of 10:03:25+  Peak intensity was recorded as 5000 KW/sr-μ.  That graph provides an approximate measure of the time the fireball was observable, a period of about 15 seconds.

There is no data to indicate that DEFSMAC considered peak intensity for the other three impacts.

I do not recall making an extrapolation while on the Commission Staff. It was clear from the graphs provided that the infra-red times were consistent with other primary source data.  In particular, the infra-red data was conclusive for a 10:03 EDT impact time for UA 93, not 10:06 EDT, as had been speculated.

Here is the graph titled: “Aircraft Impacts – NY & DC, 11 September 2001 – IR Intensity vs Time (Zulu)

IR impact times AA11 UA175 AA77

Here is the graph titled: “Impact of United Flight 93 – Pennsylvania, 11 September 2001 IR Intensity vs Time (Zulu)”

IR Data UA93


This completes my work on all speculation that the seismic extrapolated time is relevant to the impact on UA 93. It is not, now, and never was. All such speculation is based on the work of a single individual who informed the Commission Staff that the seismic data, itself, was not conclusive.

At some future time a scientist or engineer will examine the original raw data—seismic, radar, and infra-red—and will find that the three data sets are consistent.