9-11: United 93; The Fog of War, Precision, Clarity, Confusion

On September 11, 2001, the fog of war concerning United Airlines flight 93 settled on the President’s Emergency Operations Center, Vice President Cheney, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, Federal Aviation Administration Administrator Jane Garvey and her Acting Deputy, Monte Belger, and the Secret Service.

Simply put, that fog increased significantly the higher up the chain of command and the closer United 93 apparently got to the nation’s capital. Ultimately, the National Command Authority was flying blind with no coherent picture of events as they were occurring.

Information, however, was precise on board United 93 as captured by the cockpit voice recorder and the flight data recorder, both recovered and readable.

UA93 Cockpit Voice Recorder
Government Exhibit at Moussauoi Trial
UA93 Flight Data Recorder
Government Exhibit at Moussauoi Trial

United States Air Force and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) radar also provided precise data concerning United 93. That precise information was clear to air traffic controllers and was passed up the chain of command with clarity via two open telephone lines.

Cleveland Center established an open line to the FAA’s Air Traffic Control System Command Center, hereafter Command Center. Command Center maintained an open line to the FAA’s Washington Operations Center (WOC).

None of that precision and clarity survived the next step, informing the National Command Authority. This article documents the precision and clarity and explains the confusion of the fog of war.

The Precision

No one had more precise information than the passengers and remaining crew aboard United 93. They had complete situational awareness, knew their fate, and knew what they had to do. And they did it; individual and collective bravery forced United 93 to the ground well short of its intended target, the capital building.

Here is the United 93 seating chart as depicted on the United 93 memorial website.

UA93 Seating Chart
Government Exhibit, Moussaoui Trial

The flight data recorder preserved precise documentation. Recorder parameters started oscillating at 9:58 when the aileron and rudder sensors began fluctuating. Two minutes later the autopilot turned off and the pressure altitude fluctuated upward. By 10:00 United 93 was unstable in the air.

Extracts from United 93 Flight Data Recorder

The cockpit voice recorder also provided precise documentation. Seconds after United 93 became unstable someone in the cockpit said, “Is that it? Shall we finish it off?” “No, not yet” was the answer. That changed in the next half-minute. Beginning at 10:00:29, someone, presumably Ziad Jarrah, said, “Up, down. Up down. Up, down. Saeed, up, down.” Saeed al Ghamdi was one of the hijackers that had commandeered United 93 a half-hour earlier.

In that same time frame an, observer, a visual flight rules plane, sighted United 93 and first reported, “Northwest bound, waving wings,” and then, “back towards the East, 80 heading, erratic.”

At 10:01:09, someone in the cockpit said, “Yes, put it in it, and pull it down.” A forensic analysis of Air Force radar depicted that United 93 ceased to fly and began a plummet to earth at about that time.

USAF 84th Radar Evaluation Squadron Forensic Analysis
Commission File RDoD04021435

By 10:02, the flight data recorder readout showed that pressure altitude was decreasing and air speed was fluctuating. Shortly thereafter, Air Force radar regained radar contact which had been lost about 13 minutes earlier. Concurrently the observer aircraft reported, “back toward the Southeast, not progressing.”

At 10:02:45, Air Force radar detected the transponder (green dot in above image). A second return, 12 seconds later at 10:02:57, detected the transponder but no radar contact (red dot in above image). By 10:03, air traffic control reported that the transponder was back on.

Thereafter, voices from the cockpit continuously shouted “Allah is the Greatest”, ceasing at 10:03:09. By 10:03:11 the flight data recorder ceased recording parameters. Department of Defense space sensors detected an infra-red event between 10:03:10-11, with peak intensity at 10:03:16.  

Released Sep 23, 2014
Mandatory Declassification Review Case 70401

Both the National Traffic Safety Board and the 9/11 Commission Report established the time of impact as 10:03:11.

The Clarity

At 10:03:10, Cleveland Center, Imperial Radar Position, reported radar lost. By 10:06, Cleveland reported to Command Center that they had lost United 93. Last known position was 16 nautical miles south of the Johnstown VOR (Very high frequency omni-directional range).  At 10:07:27, Cleveland reported black smoke from that area, and at 10:09:12 reported coordinates, 39 51N 07 8 46W. At 10:12:37 Cleveland confirmed a downed aircraft.

For its part, Command Center passed that same information to the WOC at FAA headquarters. At 10:06:18 the Center reported that radar contact was lost followed quickly by the location, 16 nautical miles south of Johnstown. The black smoke report was forwarded by 10:08, followed two minutes later by the coordinates. At 10:13:20, Command Center confirmed a downed aircraft to the WOC. At 10:18 a voice is heard in background at the Operations Center confirming the United 93 coordinates to someone.

Air Traffic Control Phone Tapes
Cleveland Traffic Management Unit
Command Center, East TMO Position

Clear, relevant information was passed to FAA Headquarters within 10 minutes after United 93 impacted. All the precision of the event and reporting clarity became confusion at the highest levels. 

The Confusion

We begin with the National Command Authority.

The President. “Dick called back a few minutes later. Condi, Josh Bolten, and senior members of the national security team had joined him in the PEOC. They had been informed that an unresponsive plane was headed toward Washington.” (Bush, Decision Points, 2010, p 129-30)

The Vice President. “At around 10:03 a.m., barely five minutes after Cheney walked into the conference room, United 93 took on a third identity…This time it was an unknown jetliner racing toward Washington at five hundred miles an hour. By then the plane had already crashed… But the Federal Aviation Administration, apparently relying on a projection after losing live radar data, issued rapid updates on the phantom bogey. The plane was eighty miles out, then sixty, then ten.” (Gellman, Angler, The Cheney Vice Presidency, 2008,  p. 119)

The Secretary of Defense. The Secret Service, with the support of Vice President Cheney, advised Bush not to return to Washington until the situation was clarified. We were receiving unverified reports of hijacked airliners heading toward U.S. cities. Targeting the White House remained a possibility.” (Rumsfeld Known and Unknown, A Memoir, 2011, p. 338.)

The National Security Advisor. “Sometime after the order was given [shootdown] Norm [Mineta] was told that a plane had disappeared from the air traffic control radar. It was United Airlines Flight 93.” (Rice, No Higher Honor, 2011, p. 74)

Immediately below the leadership in the chain of command was Richard Clarke, National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection and Counterterrorism. Clarke convened the Secure Video Teleconference System (SVTS) that morning.

Clarke recalled that the SVTS started as early as 9:28. However, logs show that Administrator Jane Garvey and Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet did not join until 9:40. Nevertheless, Clarke wrote, “Okay,” I began. “Let’s start with the facts. FAA, FAA, go.” “Jane Garvey, the administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration, was in the chair.”

This was before the Pentagon was hit, according to Clarke.

Then, Clarke resumed, “FAA, FAA, go. Status report. How many aircraft do you still carry as hijacked?” Garvey read from a list… “Here’s what we have as potential hijacks: Delta 1989 over West Virginia, United 93 over Pennsylvania.”

Later—Ralph Seigler stuck his head around the door: “Secret Service reports a hostile aircraft ten minutes out.”. Then, “hostile aircraft eight minutes out.” (Clarke, Against All Enemies, Inside America’s War on Terror, 2004, pp 3-10)

I operated an SVTS link after the system was built in the 1986-1987 time-frame. Activation and operational are two separate steps. Once activated it takes time to turn on the lights, fire up the computers, and convene a conference. The Commission Staff accepted 9:40 as the conference start time, based on logs of the day.

Confusion began with the convention of that conference and it continued into the aftermath as individuals recalled events of the day. It was left to the 9/11 Commission to sort things out.

The Commission

“At 10:02, the communicators in the shelter began receiving reports from the Secret Service of an inbound aircraft—presumably hijacked—heading toward Washington. That aircraft was United 93. The Secret Service was getting this information directly from the FAA. The FAA may have been tracking the progress of United 93 on a display that showed its projected path to Washington, not its actual radar return. Thus, the Secret Service was relying on projections and was not aware the plane was already down in Pennsylvania.” (The Commission Report, p. 41)

Monte Belger, the Acting Deputy Administrator, was the most likely source of the FAA reporting. Belger did not have access to a radar display, only a TSD (Traffic Situation Display), a projection. Despite his reliance on TSD information, near real-time accurate information was provided to the FAA WOC, as discussed earlier. Accurate information was passed verbally to and within the WOC. There is no evidence that it was passed to Belger.

The Commission Reported the following conversation at 9:49 EDT. (p 29)

Headquarters to Command Center: “They’re pulling Jeff away to go talk about United 93.” (Jeff Griffith, Deputy Director of Air Traffic), the senior air traffic control official at FAA Headquarters.

Griffith was called away just before accurate information about United 93 began flowing to FAA Headquarters.

Belger said this when interviewed by Commission Staff, Team 8:

“Belger commented that he believes the only Traffic Situational Display (TSD) at FAA Headquarters was in the WOC. He does not know of any other TSD locations. [Note: Commission staff has learned that there are numerous TSD displays at FAA Headquarters, including the one referred to by Belger.] According to Belger, someone with air traffic experience would never use a TSD for precise data. (emphasis added) When the airspace was cleared, the WOC used the TSD to monitor the number of aircraft still airborne”. (Interview, April 20, 2004)

Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta confirmed Belger, in part, in a September 11, 2016 interview on MSNBC. (https://www.msnbc.com/msnbc-news/watch/fmr-transportation-secy-recalls-9-11-from-wh-762662467869)  Mineta stated that when he first learned of events he was having breakfast in his office with a foreign dignitary and Administrator Jane Garvey.

Thereafter, he was called to the White House, conferred briefly with Clarke in the White House Situation Room, and then was escorted to the PEOC. There he sat opposite the Vice President and was in communication with Belger. Mineta’s account conflates information concerning United 93 to pertain to American 77. He did confirm that Belger said FAA lost radar contact with United 93. Thereafter, however, Mineta’s recall is that Belger was relaying information that could have only come from a TSD.

So, what happened?

We may never know. Mineta’s own testimony to the Commission and his recall has been consistently inconsistent. Information concerning American 77 and United 93 became conflated, inextricably.

The significant intervening variable was Clarke’s convention of an SVTS conference. That isolated Garvey from her staff and, as the Commission reported, they had to be called away from the FAA Operations Center to confer with her. Concurrently, Mineta was talking to Belger, not Garvey.

Belger knew from air traffic control that United 93 was lost but somehow decided to pass along TSD information to Mineta. None of the relevant information—transponder lost, black smoke reported, site coordinates, aircraft confirmed down—made it to Mineta and the National Command Authority.

The Commission reported that the PEOC was getting its information from the Secret Service.

Dense fog, impenetrable, enveloped the National Command Authority. It has yet to clear.

9-11: Air Force One; Flight to Barksdale, an uncertain decision

(updated and republished on October 31, 2020 to add an important data point.) At 9:37:32, Andrews Air Force Base called the FAA Air Traffic Control System Command Center (Herndon Center) with instructions concerning the return of Air Force One to Washington D.C. Ironically, that call came at almost the exact moment that American Airlines fight 77 struck the Pentagon. Nevertheless, the call establishes the National Command Authority position at a specific moment in time. Here is the transcription and the call.

Herndon: Command Center

Andrews: (caller not clear) from Andrews Air Force Base, how are you today?

Herndon: Good, how are you?

Andrews: Ah, I need you guys to keep a good eye on Air Force One today, make sure that it gets priority, They’re probably going to take off early here, come back to Washington D.C., so is there any way you can help us out on that?

Herndon: Yep.

Andrews: They’re out of Sarasota and they’ll be coming back probably in the next hour, I believe.

Herndon: Within an hour?

Andrews: Probably in an hour, somewhere, somewhere soon.

Herndon: OK. . .I’ll take care of it.

Commission File 3012676s2, ATCSCC Position 5, Support, line4452
ATCSCC line 4452


(updated and republished on August 6, 2020, incorporating audio files from both the Northeast Air Defense Sector and the Federal Aviation Administration’s Air Traffic Control System Command Center.)

By all accounts, the President was determined to return to Washington, D.C. the morning of September 11, 2001, but was denied. Fog of war clouds ruled the day and the wrong decision was made for all the wrong reasons. We begin with published recollections.


Published memoirs by the Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and CIA Director George Tenet are all silent on the decision.

Richard Clarke, National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection, and Counter-terrorism, wrote this:

…somebody has to tell the President he can’t come right back here. Cheney, Condi, somebody. Secret Service concurs.

Clarke, Against All Enemies, Free Press, p. 7.

National Security Advisor, Condoleeza Rice, wrote this:

Then I called the President, “I’m coming back,” he said. “Mr. President,” I said, “stay where you are. You cannot come back here.”

No Higher Honor, 2011, Crown, p.72

Commander Anthony Barnes, Deputy Director, Presidential Contingency Programs, said this:

The President was safer aboard Air Force One than trying to come home, and Mr. Cheney — without question — was in charge.”

Goff, The Only Plane In The Sky, Avid Reader Press, p. 166

President George W. Bush wrote this:

[The Secret Service] said conditions in Washington were too volatile, the danger of attack too high…I told them I was not going to let terrorists scare me away. “I’m the President,” I said firmly. “And we are going to Washington.”

Decision Points, Crown, 2010, p. 130

The 9/11 Commission Concluded:

The issue still was undecided when the President conferred with the Vice President at about the time Air Force One was taking off [9:54 EDT]. The Vice President recalled urging the President not to return to Washington. The President strongly wanted to return to Washington and only grudgingly agreed to go elsewhere.

The 9/11 Commission Report, 2004, W. W. Norton, p. 39

Two roles had become mutually exclusive. It is the role of the Secret Service to protect the President. It is the role of the President to protect the nation. As Commander-in-Chief his duty is to lead even at great personal risk. He was denied and was sent, literally, hightailing to the hinterland. Secret Service concerns held sway.

The Fog of War

All memoirs of the day cite poor communication capability between the President and the Vice President in the PEOC (President’s Emergency Operations Center) and even within the PEOC itself. Consider this bizarre memory of the same event at the White House by the two people at either end of a telephone line between the Situation Room and the PEOC.

Richard Clarke: I picked up the open line to the PEOC. I got a dial tone. Someone had hung up on the other end.

Clarke, ibid, p. 6

Angler, The Cheney Vice Presidency

Clarke wanted an open line to the bunker. He called again. Then again.

Cheney kept answering, still expecting Bush. He stopped saying anything when he heard Clarke’s voice, just put the receiver down.

“Who’s the asshole who keeps answering the phone down there?” Clarke demanded, after finally getting his man back on the line.

“That would be the vice president,” [his man] replied.

Gellman, Angler, Penguin, 2007, p. 118.

The Secret Service

The Secret Service was bedeviled with false information and was in reactive mode to each perceived threat to the President. That included a report of an unknown over the White House, itself. That turned out to be one of the Air Defense fighters from Langley Air Force Base. The report came from air traffic control and military controllers themselves, took it seriously, and intercepted the target. Langley fighters intercepted themselves, a complex story for another day.

Commission Staff reviewed, but was not allowed to keep the Secret Service’s own timeline of the day. My recall is that it was simply a mashing together of information from its various elements. Much of the false reporting of the day did come from the Secret Service, to include a report that United Airlines flight 93 had crashed at Camp David.

Specifically, concerning Air Force One, it had a takeoff time of 10:15 EDT (my recall). Air Force One was airborne at 9:54 EDT.

Air Force One

Air Force One was airborne at 9:54 EDT, turned west at 10:10 EDT, and landed shortly after 11:30 EDT. Altitude was 39,000 feet, despite the President’s personal recall. The flight path was the length of the Florida panhandle direct to Barksdale Air Force Base (AFB). Here is the path as recorded by United States Air Force Radar sites supporting the Southeast Air Defense Sector.

Air Force One flight path, September 11, 2001
Commission File RDoD04021430

Air Force One flew unescorted until just before landing at Barksdale AFB. Fighters from the Texas National Guard joined up about five minutes before landing and escorted Air Force One in trail, one fighter north and one south. Here is the combined paths of Air Force One and the fighter escort.

Here is the recall of the Air Force One pilot, Mark Tillman. “USA Today” reported:

We get out over the Gulf of Mexico, and the vice president advises the plane that ‘Angel’ is next. . .In the cabin, reporters and staffers noticed a fighter jet flying off the right wing. One at 11:29 a. m., according to the pool report.

“USA Today, August 25, 2011, “Air Force One pilot’s 9/11 mission: Keep president safe

Radar data establishes that the fighters joined up with Air Force One at 11:28 EDT, consistent with the pool reporting. The only inconsistency in Tillman’s account is the flight path is over land, not the Gulf.

The radar data contradicts an early 1st Air Force contention that:

Four F-16s from the 147th Fighter Wing, Texas Air National Guard, escorted President Bush from the panhandle of Florida to Barksdale Air Force Base, La. [sic]

Filson, Air War Over America, 2003, p. 87.

Despite multiple vague threats and anecdotal statements the fact remains that Air Force One flew for an extended period, unescorted and unprotected by air defense fighters. That would not have been the case had Air Force One simply proceeded directly to Washington, D.C., once airborne.

A digression

A key requirement in any battle is to establish the disposition of forces, enemy and friendly. Commanders’ briefings at any level start with that requirement. The intelligence officer briefs the disposition of enemy forces and the operations officer briefs the disposition of friendly forces. The separation of duties is clear and longstanding.

Both the Congressional Joint Inquiry and the 9/11 Commission established that 9/11 was an intelligence failure, the disposition of enemy forces on 9/11 was never known during the battle. Neither report, however, established that operations did not have an understanding of the disposition of friendly forces. As a result the National Command Authority was not aware that Air Force One, headed North, would have been protected.

This operational failure is independent of events of 9/11. As the day unfolded the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the National Command Authority did not have a common operating picture of friendly force disposition.

Here is a fleeting glimpse of the FAA reaction:

Herndon Center: Air Force One. . .still does not have a fighter escort

FAA HQ: They still do not!? Holy Cow!

FAA HQ? Is the NMCC [National Military Command Center] aware of this?

Transcribed phone line x4530, Herndon Center. Commission file 148-911-03011356A-1-s2
10:2 EDT: Air Force One no fighter escort

Friendly Force Disposition

Whereas Air Force One had no protection west bound it had at least three elements of protection north bound.

  • Air Defense fighters, fully armed over the National Capital Region
  • An E4B, Venus 77, in position to guard
  • Andrews Air Force Base fighters, unarmed, returning from North Carolina

Air Defense. Two fully armed active air defense fighters from Langley Air Force Base established a combat air patrol (CAP) over Washington, D.C. beginning at 10:00 EDT. They had a third lightly armed fighter in trail. This was a full ten minutes before the decision was made to turn Air Force One to the West.

The CAP was initially established west-east, to protect against an attack from the east. About 11:34 EDT the CAP orientation shifted to north-south, shortly before Air Force One landed at Barksdale AFB, as shown here.

Langley Air Defense, Quit Flight, 0945-1200 EDT
Quit 25 lead, Quit 26 wing, Quit 27 trail
Commission File RDoD94021432

Here are the actions of the Mission Crew Commander (MCC) at the Northeast Air Defense Sector as he struggled to “protect my NCA [National Command Authority] as best I can.” The exchange on this audio clip occurred about 10:17 EDT, minutes after Air Force One turned west. The MCC asked that his fighters, Quit 25 and Quite 26 [from Langley] be “forward told,” that is the track was forwarded electronically to higher headquarters. He goes on to say that he has three birds there, Quit 25, Quit 26, and Quit 27.

Commission File 3010808
DRM1, Channel 2, the MCC Position
Northeast Air Defense Sector

Thereafter, the MCC prepared for the eventual arrival of Air Force One and the need to escort. As of 1026 EDT, NEADS was not aware of the course change, but continued to plan and anticipate. In this clip a flight of four fighters out of Langley is mentioned. That flight never happened. The NEADS/MCC understanding operationally was that the Southeast Air Defense Sector (SEADS) would provide the initial escort and there would be a handoff.

Commission File 301080

NEADS planning discussion continued. At 1028 EDT, there was an additional conversation recorded. It was established that SEADS would be escorting by the time they “got to our AOR” and we will have to “escort…”

Commission File 3010808

NEADS also thought they would have active duty air force fighter support from the First Fighter Wing. Senior Air Force officials had a different perspective.

First Fighter Wing. There was one additional component to NEADS planning to escort Air Force One. Previously, NEADS had been told that a flight of four fighters from the First Fighter Wing, Langley Air Force Base would be available to support the overall air defense mission. That support never came; yet NEADS was optimistic it would.

First Fighter Wing is an active duty air force organization. NEADS and supporting fighters were part of the air national guard. There was a difference. That difference became clear in a 10:30 EDT phone conversation between Lieutenant Colonel Cleveland, NEADS, and Colonel Kresge, then Commander, First Operations Group, an element of the First Fighter Wing.

Kresge initiated the conversation and first spoke with an NCO.


Kresge wanted to speak to whoever was in charge and that brought Lieutenant Colonel Cleveland to the phone.


Kresge confirmed they had a call from NORAD to get forces airborne, “with hot guns,” if you can. He told Cleveland that they had word from the Air Combat Command (ACC), “a three star,” to stand by because technically we work for ACC, “kind of thing.” ACC did not work for NORAD.

There would be no active duty fighter support for NEADS or for Air Force One. There would, however, be active duty air support of a very different kind, an E4B from Andrews Air Force Base.

E4B. An E4B is a National Airborne Operations Center B747 which flies in support of the National Command Authority. One E4B, Venus 77, established a 60-mile, north-south, racetrack orbit centered on Richmond, VA. Venus 77 took off in a hurry when the National Military Operations Center convened an Air Threat Conference Call. That, according to staff officers interviewed by Commission Staff, had “SIOP (Single Integrated Operations Plan) implications.” Venus 77 was in such a hurry that it took off VFR (visual flight rules) without waiting for a flight plan to be filed. Its declared destination was Wright Patterson Air Force Base.

USAF Fact Sheet
September 23, 2015

Somewhere over Rock Creek Park it was diverted to Richmond. That diversion was noticed by multiple observers and Venus 77 became the “mystery plane.” Despite that notoriety it was in place to protect the President, as shown on this graphic

E4B, Venus 77 9:44 to 11:15 EDT
Commission File RDoD94021432

First radar return was 9:44 EDT. Venus 77 turned back east and then to the south at 9:47 EDT. The race track north-south orbit began at 9:57 EDT, three minutes after Air Force One became airborne. It was well positioned to support a return flight north. The orbit changed, pointed toward Barksdale Air Force Base, at 10:32 EDT. Just one NE-SW orbit was flown and then Venus 77 circled west and headed in the direction of Omaha, NE, at 10:46 EDT, in likely anticipation of the next Air Force One destination.

Unarmed Fighters. Three Andrews Air Force Base fighters were in various stages of returning from an early morning training mission over Dare Range in Northeastern North Carolina. The call sign Bully aircraft returned in stages. The lead, Bully One with Bully Three on wing could have been vectored to accompany Air Force One. Bully Two had returned early and was not available.

Andrews AFB Fighter Bully One
Morning training flight to Dare Range, NC
Commission File RDoD94021432

Bully One was over Dare Range while decisions were being made concerning Air Force One. Bully One, with Bully Three on wing, headed north at 10:05 EDT, just as the final decision was being made to turn Air Force One to the west. He had tanker support.

Here is the spatial relationship of Air Force One, Quit 25, Venus 77, and Bully One at 10:10 EDT. Quit 25 is the lead air defense fighter launched from Langley Air Force Base.

Friendly Forces, 10:10 EDT September 11, 2001
Data from 84th RADES radar files provided to the 9/11 Commission

Air Force One is distant from friendly defense aircraft, but protected for a return to Washington, D.C. This disposition of friendly forces was not known to the National Command Authority while deciding on the destination for Air Force One. This is an operational failure.


In the best of all possible worlds the formation of Northern Command will preclude another operational failure of this significance. According to their website: “USNORTHCOM consolidates under a single unified command existing missions that were previously executed by other DOD organizations. This provides unity of command, which is critical to mission accomplishment.” Northern Command has one essential element: “The commander of USNORTHCOM also commands the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD).”

Even so, decision makers need to remember one 9/11 lesson learned. The mission of the President is to protect the nation. The mission of the Secret Service is to protect the President. Sometimes those missions become mutually exclusive.

9-11: UA93; Commandeered, and Final Moments


United Airlines flight 93 (UA93) was commandeered at 9:28 EDT on September 11, 2001, 46 minutes after it took off from Newark International Airport at 8:42 EDT, 42 minutes late. This article is a spatial analysis of the takeover and final moments using United States Air Force (USAF) radar files and Google Earth.

Here is snapshot of key events from the time UA93 entered Cleveland En Route Traffic Control Center (Cleveland Center) airspace until the UA93 transponder was turned off at 9:40:28 EDT.

UA93 Commandeered
Turned Back to Target

UA93 Commandeered

UA93 was commandeered in the skies over Warren, OH in just 90 seconds. The attackers waited until the assigned crew checked in with Cleveland Center at 9:25 EDT, and just one minute after the last crew broadcast to the Center.

The commandeer time frame is depicted as the solid yellow line that begins 5 Nautical Miles (NM) east of Warren and ends 6 NM to the west of the city. Air traffic controllers had noticed an unexplained altitude drop. The parameters of that drop are established in USAF radar files from the 84th Radar Evaluation Squadron (84th RADES) as provided to both the National Traffic Safety Board and the 9/11 Commission. Those files were provided to me by the National Archives and Record Administration.

UA93 was flying at 35K altitude. At 9:28:08 EDT it began to drop a total of over 600 feet. It returned to 35K altitude at 9:29:39 EDT. The radar data establishes a takeover that lasted just 91 seconds. It is reasonable to assume that the takeover of the other three aircraft commandeered that day was just as efficient.

The assigned crew was able to make two brief transmissions over the air during the takeover. Immediately, the crew broadcast “MayDay.” That was followed 35 seconds later by “Hey get out of here…” Given that, it then took the attackers less than one minute to gain positive control of the cockpit.

UA93 May Day!
Cleveland Center, Lorrain Radar Position
Commission File 148-911-03007907R-S1
UA93 Get out of here!
Cleveland Center, Lorrain Radar Position
Commission File 148-911-03007907R-s1

Turn Back to Target

Ziad Jarrah then turned the plane around, unable to maintain constant altitude. UA93 reached nearly 41K altitude during the maneuver. Once flying straight again Jarrah turned off the UA93 transponder, 30 NM west of Akron, OH.

This presented a different case to air defense and air traffic than the earlier situation with American Airlines (AA11). In that case the USAF radars supporting Boston Center were able to determine altitude for a non-transponding aircraft, had they been able to locate the flight. That was not the case with UA93. Older generation USAF radars did not have a height finding capability for a radar only target. It didn’t matter, the air defense controllers at the Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) were unaware of the developing UA93 situation.

USAF radars did track UA93 for a while and then lost it South of Youngstown, OH, and 34 NM WNW of Pittsburgh, PA. One radar, The Plains, did regain coverage briefly just before impact when the transponder briefly came back on.

Here is the 84th RADES forensic analysis of the radar data concerning UA93.

UA93 Transponder off
Commission File RDoD04021435

The track is a fine red line running through key data points. Green squares are reinforced returns, that is a return based on both radar and transponder. Red circles are returns based on the transponder only. Purple triangles are either radar only returns or simply atmospheric clutter. Forensically, 84th RADES technicians were able to match up those radar returns that correlated to UA93. The straight red line lower right is the correlation to the final moments of flight UA93.

UA93 Final Moments

Here is the continued 84th RADES forensic analysis of the final path of UA93 to impact.

84th RADES Forensic Track UA93
Commission File RD0D04021435

This analysis is a unique, never published, visual picture of the moments after UA93 quit flying and plummeted to earth. The long, straight red line is a typical 84th RADES correlation of data. It is the result of a fore and aft search to establish a track on an unknown target. The 84th RADES technicians were able to correlate four radar only returns to UA93. Those returns were less than a minute before the transponder came back on. Hence, the moment UA93 quite flying is the red line right angle turn south. That moment was 10:01:57 EDT, just over a minute before impact shortly after 10:03 EDT.

After 10:01:57 EDT, the plane was in free fall, not flying, and falling a bit like a leaf to earth. There is more insight, another primary source of information, the cockpit voice recorder.

Cockpit Voice Recorder, Correlated

Just three of eight black boxes survived the attack of 9/11, the Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) from UA93 and the Flight Data Recorders from American Airlines flight 77 (AA77) and UA 93.

Here are selected transcriptions from the UA93 CVR:

10:01:09 Yes put it in and pull it down

10:02:19 Down down

10:02:23 Pull it down

10:03:09 God is the greatest

The “put it in” decision was made about 45 seconds before radar forensic analysis shows UA93 went into free fall. At the time, UA93 was approximately over Latrobe, PA, 26 miles NE of the crash site. The next two cited statements occurred during free fall. In other words, continue the “put it in” decision.

The last CVR statement, “God is the Greatest”, occurred just before the end of the recording at 10:03:11 EDT, an estimate of the impact time. An extrapolation of the radar files suggests an impact time of approximately 10:03:06, close agreement.

Flight Data Recorder, Correlated

The UA93 Flight Data Recorder (FDR) readout is consistent with both the radar forensic analysis and the cockpit voice recorder. UA93 impacted shortly after 10:03 EDT, according to all metrics captured by the FDR.

The linked document is from the Commission Staff Files, Team 7 Box 3. The annotation pinpointing the “hijack” at 9:29 EDT is my hand writing. Metrics displayed show consistent problems after 10:00 EDT. Also noteworthy, Jarrah was not able to maintain straight and level flight after the turn and was in a continuous descent.

Other Confirmations

Gofer 06. Gofer 06 was the unarmed C130, H model, that earlier reported the impact of AA77 into the Pentagon. Thereafter, Gofer 06 continued North, en route home. The flight path was approaching the last known flight path of UA93. As a result, this exchange with Cleveland Center occurred at 10:06 EDT:

Cleveland: Gofer 06, we’ve lost the target on him [UA93], to be safe I’m gonna run you North about 25 miles and then put you back on course…

Gofer 06: OK, Gofer 06, copy, and sir if you’d like we’ve got black smoke at our nine o’clock, looks like about 30 miles.

Gofer 06 informs Cleveland Center, Imperial Position of black smoke
Commission file 148-911-03007907AA-s1

Gofer 06, had been turned North at 10:04 EDT to avoid the projected path of UA93. He soon sighted the black smoke after turn. He was 34 NM SE of the crash site, just south of I70, NW of Hagerstown, MD. At 10:12 EDT, after a turn back West on course, Gofer 06 was due East of the crash site as a private jet was reporting the coordinates to Cleveland Center.

Falcon Jet

Cleveland Center vectored a private jet, a Dassault Falcon 20 owned by VF Corporation, to circle the crash site and provide coordinates.

USAF Radar files show that the Falcon was in a descent from 23K altitude at 10:02 EDT and circled the cite between 10:11-10:15 EDT at 6000-6500 feet elevation. The maneuver was counter-clockwise. Approach was on the south side with a circle around the north side and recovery again on the south side. The coordinates were obtained on the first pass.

Of note, The Plains radar had just intermittent coverage, 6 transponder only returns during the circling of the site. That is typical coverage when an aircraft is in a turn. Here is a close-in snap shot of the event.

Radar Returns and GPS Report
Dassault Falcon 20

The UA93 Monument is clearly visible, upper middle. In military terms, data points Falcon 1, 2, and 3 represent the approach pass. Data points Falcon 3 and 4 are the circling pass. Data points Falcon 4, 5 and 6 are the exit pass. Falcon 20 passed the coordinates to Cleveland Center while immediately south of the crash site; 4002.2N 7854.7W. The reporting time was 10:10:14 EDT, just after the radar return designated “Falcon 2.” The Falcon actually reported its own position as is clear from the graphic.

Cleveland Center Indianhead Radar Position
Commission file 148-911-03007907CC-s1

A Combined Picture

Here is a Google Earth screen print showing the spatial relationship of UA93, the Falcon 20 jet, and Gofer 06. Included for reference is a geographic overlay.

UA93, Falcon 20, Gofer 06 Relationship
Commission files 148-911-03007907Z-s1 and RD0D04021435


Evidence presented here is comprehensive and conclusive that UA93 crashed shortly after 10:03 EDT. Nothing ever aligned for the crew that commandeered the flight. The flight was way late in taking off, the crew was short a person, and air defense was in position by 10:00 EDT, over the National Capital Region. None of that mattered. The remaining crew and passengers had gained situational awareness and too matters into their own hands.

There is one final primary data source to consider. Infrared sensors in space recorded the impacts of all four commandeered aircraft on the morning of 9/11.

Here is the data for UA93: Impact time was 10:03:10+/- EDT. Peak intensity was 10:03:16 EDT. Fireball dissipation was 10:03:25 EDT.

For all impacts, therefore, the fireball was visible for about 25 seconds. Thereafter, black smoke was visible. I can confirm that. I was eyewitness to the immediate aftermath of AA77 slicing into the Pentagon. My office window overlooked the south side of the Pentagon. I went to the widow quickly after hearing the impact and feeling its vibration. All I saw was black smoke.

Interactive Google Earth

Here is a link to Google Earth, a plot that includes both the takeover and the final moments. Click on the projects icon in left vertical menu bar and then click on any data point for detailed information.


9-11: AA11 and UA175; The Relationship


There is a time and spatial relationship between American Airlines flight 11 (AA11) and United Airlines flight 175 (UA175) on the morning of September 11, 2001. This article, using Google Earth and United States Air Force radar files, details that relationship.

Both aircraft departed Boston Logan International Airport. That departure point was carefully selected for a variety of probable reasons. Most important, it eliminated an uncontrollable variable for the attacking force, departure time delay. Whatever the delay, logically, it should equally impact two commercial aircraft taking off in the same time frame.

Further, the choice ensured that both aircraft would have near maximum capacity fuel on board. It was also likely, but not a given, that both aircraft would be on the same frequency while at altitude in Boston En Route Traffic Control Center airspace.

Also likely, but not certain, Marwan al Shehhi as a passenger aboard UA175, would be able to listen to cockpit air traffic conversations on Cabin Channel Nine. Anecdotally I was told by those I asked that access to Channel Nine was an individual pilot decision. My own experience both before and after 9/11 is that while flying United I was always able to access Channel 9. (The suite of cabin channels for passengers was eliminated several years ago as a result of the digital era.)

Perhaps most important, the choice of AA11 met a faith requirement. it was, after all, American Airlines Flight One One, verse one chapter one of the Koran. It follows that American and United flights were chosen as flying symbols of the United States of America. For example, Delta flight 1989 also met the time frame requirement but was not selected.

Key Data Points

Here is a Google Earth screen shot of key data points. AA11 data points are in blue, UA175 in yellow. The broad trace of both flight paths is depicted in this overall graphic. AA11 flew to the Albany, NY, area and then turned south to target. UA175 flew nearly to Philadelphia, PA, and then made a gradual turn back to target.

AA11 and UA175 Key Points

After much consideration my current estimate is this depicts a time-based operation. Retrospectively, the attack window was 15 minutes separation, say 9:45-10:00. That explains al Shehhi’s flight well south and then gradual turn back. That time frame, therefore, became the window for AA77 and UA93 to be commandeered, regardless of takeoff delay. AA77 was commandeered in that window, UA93 was not. The 40-minute takeoff delay at Newark was too much to overcome. Ziad Jarrah, by my estimate, also had to wait until he cleared New York Center airspace, which he ultimately did.


AA11 was scheduled to take off at 7:45 EDT; it lifted off at 7:59, fourteen minutes late. UA175 was scheduled for an 8:00 EDT departure; it lifted off at at 8:14 EDT, again a fourteen minute delay.

UA 175 departed at the approximate time that AA11 was commandeered. It was 60 nautical miles due east of AA11.

Tactics En Route

The first evidence we have of detailed planning by Atta and al Shehhi is the turnoff of the AA11 transponder at 9:21 EDT, before the turn to target and while in Boston airspace. Thereafter, the transponder on each commandeered aircraft would be manipulated differently. The commandeers did not to know what would happen, or even care. All they needed to estimate was that four different transponder situations presented to four different Air Traffic Control centers would be problematic.

For Boston Center the problem was immediate, they could not hand the plane off to New York Center when it crossed the airspace boundary. AA11 was never handed off and as a result it was Boston Center not New York Center that prepared the AA11 accident report package for the National Traffic Safety Bureau (NTSB). To compensate, New York Center had to literally introduce a new airplane into the flight plan system, which they did. Thereafter, as indicated in multiple air traffic control communications, AA11 was referred to by its new name, AA 11 Alpha.

The second piece of evidence of tactical planning is Atta’s broadcast over air at 8:25 EDT, “We have some planes. Just stay quiet and you’ll be OK.” My consistent estimate has been that the transmission audience was, first, al Shehhi, to let him know that Atta had control of AA11. And, secondarily, to confuse the air traffic control system. That is a personal estimate based on the extensive, detailed planning for the operation.

Two minutes later Atta turned south to target. UA195 was well to the Southeast, nearly 105 nautical miles away.

Search for AA11

The paths of AA11 and UA175 would eventually cross. As a result, Boston Center was using UA175 to try and determine altitude for AA11. Last known altitude was 29K and that figure stayed consistent in air traffic communications and, ultimately, in the scramble order for responding USAF air defense fighters.

The Search for AA11

At 8:37 EDT, Boston Center asked UA175 to look for AA11, with negative results. One minute later UA175 reported that they had “spotted the aircraft” at 28K or 29K altitude, confirmation of the last known altitude for AA11. UA175 was 13 NM to the northeast. As a result, at 9:39 EDT, controllers turned UA175 slightly north to avoid AA11.

The paths actually crossed North of I84 near the small town of Wiccopee, NY. AA11 was ahead, crossing that point at just before 8:38 EDT, southbound. UA175 crossed two minutes later, westbound. Spatially, UA175 was at 33K altitude, AA11 at 29K altitude, 4000 feet vertical separation.

UA175 Checks in to New York Center

At 8:40 EDT UA175 entered New York En Route Center space and checked in. UA175 was just 10 nautical miles north of West Point.

UA175 was vectored back on course shortly before 8:41. AA11 impact at the World Trade Center, North Tower, was just minutes away. UA175 was still under crew command.

Thereafter, the sequence of events accelerated as al Shehhi needed to quickly commandeer UA175 prior to AA11 impact; my estimate.

By 8:42 EDT, UA175 reported to New York Center that they had heard suspicious transmissions on frequency, but wanted to wait until clear of Boston air space to make the report.

With reasonable probability, again my estimate, al Shehhi heard that communication.  Regardless, he struck immediately. That was the last transmission to air traffic control by the assigned crew aboard UA175.

In its August 26, 2004 staff report, Commission Staff Team 7 wrote: “Between 8:42 A.M. and 8:46 A.M., the hijackers began their takeover of the flight.”

That is the narrow window in which al Shehhi operated. FAA staff, in casual conversation with Commission Staff, offered that 8:43 EDT was the probable commandeer time. They had concluded that a discussion of that time with NORAD had occurred. It was the most likely source of NORAD briefing the Commission in May, 2003, that 8:43 EDT was the time of notification to the military of the fact of the UA175 hijacking.

Final Tactics

It was a clear day and al Shehhi changed the transponder code for UA175 seconds after AA11 flew into the World Trade Center, North Tower.  The NTSB reported time for the impact was 8:40:40 EDT. The UA175 code changed to 3 0 2 0 at 8:46:49 EDT.

UA175 was 37 NM northwest of the World Trade Center at an altitude of 33K. Geographically, UA175 was 3 NM east of Andover, NJ, just south of Lake Mohawk. The code change was clearly planned if the circumstances were right. Al Shehhi guaranteed that they were, just barely.

UA175 now a guided missile

As was the case with AA11, yet a second commercial airliner had been commandeered for military purpose and converted to a guided missile. By changing the code al Shehhi had also converted the plane to be a ‘Mode C’ intruder.

Mode C intruders in the National Air Space System are not uncommon. Such an intruder is a transponding aircraft not associated with a data block on air traffic control scopes. Pilots often forget to enter new codes or mistakenly enter old codes. Air traffic control was quite familiar with the occurrence and had a set procedure. “recycle your transponder.”

ZNY made that request to UA175, but nothing happened.  Moreover, al  Shehhi had made a second code change to 3 3 2 1.

There was no tactical need for a second code change. The one explanation that makes sense is the Koran, Chapter 33, Verse 21, perhaps a favorite relevant verse for the known scholar among the attacking force.

The Qu’ran, Chapter 33 (The Combined Forces), Verse 21. “Ye have indeed in the Messenger of Allah a beautiful pattern (of conduct) for any one whose hope is in Allah and the Final Day, and who engages much in the Praise of Allah.” [Qu’ranic translation taken from the Quranic Arabic Corpus, Yusef Ali, English translation] (emphasis added)

UA175 Final Path

Al Shehhi turned the plane around in the skies over Allentown, PA and to the East. Unknown to anyone UA175 did cross paths with UA93 then on climb out from Newark. A gradual turn South at 8:51 was followed by similar turns East and then North. A harrowing descent then followed beginning in the skies over Trenton, NJ.

USAF radar files show  how turbulent the flight was.  First, al Shehhi did not maintain a constant altitude, constantly varying between 32-34K. Then he began the descent just five minutes from impact with the World Trade Center, South Tower.  Rate of descent was 6000 feet per minute. For example, between 9:02:00 EDT and 9:02:37 EDT he dropped from 8K to 4K.

The final flight path was parallel to Newark and finally just East of the Statue of Liberty. It was Newark Tower that warned of the descent; they had a clear view up to impact shortly after 9:03 EDT.


AA11 and UA175 were a “Combined Force” on a “Final Day.”  At 9:03 EDT the nation knew it was under attack. Concurrently, Boston Center reported confirmation of Atta’s first broadcast on frequency, “We Have Some Planes.”

There was another “Combined Force” lurking for an attack on the nation’s capital. The only awareness anywhere was that Indianapolis Center had lost AA77, completely. Absent any situational awareness Indianapolis concluded the plane had crashed and by 9:10 had begun search and rescue procedures. The only effective responding force to the second attack was the remaining crew and passengers aboard United Airlines flight 93.

For the attacking force the changing of the guard was the flight path cross of two United Airline planes over Allentown, PA. Commandeered UA175 was inbound to complete the attack on the World Trade Center. UA93 was outbound with a short handed commandeering crew of four individuals as passengers not sure how to overcome the departure delay. They were to be a Combined Force with AA77 to attack the nation’s capital. Brave citizens made sure that did not happen.

Here is an interactive link to Google Earth. Click on any data point for a descriptive pop-up box. Copy and paste to your browser.



Coronavirus, Chaos, and Strange Attractors

Coronavirus is chaotic by nature. Its signature is cascading bifurcation.  Chaos, however, is deterministic, it has mathematical solutions (logistic equation, fractal geometry). It can be bounded. Social distancing does that by flattening the curve, putting bounds on the situation.

Chaotic situations also produce strange attractors, entities that cannot be known but can be identified retrospectively. 9/11, also a chaotic situation provides clear examples of how strange attractors emerge and control the flow of information.

One example is the massive cleanup operation at Ground Zero.

The city government ran the show. The agency charged with managing the physical work was an unlikely one. It was the Department of Design and Construction (DDC), an obscure bureaucracy…The DDC was given the lead for the simple reason that its two top officials, a man named Kenneth Holden and his lieutenant, Michael Burton, had emerged from the chaos of September 11 as the most effective of the responders. Now they found themselves running a billion-dollar operation with the focus of the nation upon them. American Ground, Unbuilding the World Trade Center, Langewiesche, North Point Press, 2002)

Another example is the control of information flow, accurately or inaccurately, that emerged during the actual battle on the day of 9/11. Ideally, information should have flown between the operator of the National Air Space System and the defender of that system. The operator was the Air Traffic Control System Command Center, the Federal Aviation Administration’s operational center in, then, Herndon, Virginia. The defender was the, then, Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) in Rome, New York, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) element protecting the east coast of the United States.

Instead, information flowed between Boston Air Route Traffic Control Center (ZBW) and NEADS. Specifically, two named individuals controlled that flow, Colin Scoggins, Military Operations Specialist at Boston Center, and Master Sergeant Maureen “Mo” Dooley, head of the Information Section at NEADS.

Now, here we are nearly 20 years later facing another significant chaotic event and the strange attractors have emerged. They are Ambassador, Dr. Deborah Birx, Colonel, USA, retired, and Donald J. Trump, President of the United States.

The story of how Birx, an Obama appointee, and Trump, the anti-Obama President came to this state of affairs remains to be told.  Its vary nature, however, was captured succinctly by the Washington Post on March 31, 2020. The article is “Trump weighed health, politics in policy shift,” by Ashley Parker, Josh Dawsey and Yasmeen Abutaleb. The authors make this prescient statement:

“…Birx and the president have a good relationship…she understands how to work with Trump and he, in turn, respects her.”

Repeatedly in coronavirus task force updates Trump refers to her as either Dr. Birx or, deferentially, simply Deborah.

This is a story yet to be told.

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 https://www.flickr.com/photos/usnationalarchives/sets/72157656213196901/. 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