9-11: Chaos Theory; The Air Defense Response, Sensitive Dependence on Initial Conditions

A Note of Caution

It is  not possible to take snippets of information about 9/11 or snapshots of the Commission staff’s work and speculate that into a coherent narrative, with meaning.


I have been asked by a family member to comment on a recent speculative article posted on the web that spoke to anomalies in the air defense response on September 11, 2001, specifically concerning the fighters scrambled from Langley Air Force Base.  I subsequently learned that there is a companion You Tube video which extends that speculation to include the fighters scrambled from Otis Air Force Base.  Both the article and the video try to construct a narrative without awareness of or understanding about the totality of  information that defined the 9/11 Commission Report.  Both the article and the video are unreviewable and I won’t attempt to try and make sense of them.

Instead, I will use chaos theory to explain why the air defense response on 9/11 was fatally flawed and had little to no chance, given the times of notification to the military as discussed in the Commission Report.  But first a brief discussion of anomalies, the thesis of the article and the video.


In any event such as 9/11 there will always be anomalies, some explainable, some not, and some that will never be resolved. There are just four air defense response anomalies worth discussing, in my estimation. All other suggested anomalies are on the margin and most of those are the result of four errors by the author(s) of the article and the video–time compression, conflation of events, hind sight, and reliance on anecdotal information instead of available primary source evidence and documents of the day.

Three of the four anomalies, the Otis initial flight path, the Langley initial flight path, and the Langley flight deviation to the south are all resolved in the facts of the day. The fourth, the Langley battle station order in the 9:10 time frame, can be explained by the facts of the day, but can only be resolved retrospectively.  To put it another way, the participants that day knew about the first three anomalies as they occurred; they did not know about the fourth in real time.

The Otis initial flight path. The path was accounted for in the air traffic control communications from Cape TRACON (Traffic Control) at Otis and the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA’s) New York Center (ZNY), coupled with the Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) discussions at the Senior Director (Fox) and Mission Crew Commander (Nasypany) positions.  It is clear that the Otis fighters were vectored to a holding pattern in a military training area.  They held there for one-half orbit and then broke for New York City.  All of the decisions that contributed to that path occurred in the heat of battle in an uncertain situation.  They are all logical, in context and in real time.

I wrote a comprehensive article about the Otis scramble.  The authors of the anomalies article and video have clearly read that article but have chosen snippets of information which appear, out of context, to support their speculations. Discerning readers will have no trouble sorting fact from fiction when they read my article.

The Langley initial flight path. As at Otis, the Langley fighters took off to the East, but did not turn as did the Otis fighters.  I covered the reasons for this in detail in one of my early articles. Regardless of scramble order, the operating procedures in place required the Langley fighters to fly runway heading to 4000 feet altitude, which they did.  As they approached that decision point (the Delmarva Peninsula) the flight leader, in discussion with the Norfolk controller, decided to continue East.

There is no mystery here.  That is what happened as recorded at Norfolk TRACON. When I played that recording for the flight leader he was brutally honest, commenting, “There was an opportunity missed.” In the heat of battle, the fog of war, a decision was made. It was the wrong decision.

Here is my work on the Langley scramble

The Langley diversion to the South.  Both Lynn Spencer (Touching History) and I reported the reason for this error. It was a simple transposition of two digits in a coordinate.  That was established conclusively on the NEADS tapes. There is no correlation between the Langley fighters and the E4B, Venus 77, as some have suggested by simply looking at a radar screen print.  The Langley fighters were intent in establishing a CAP (Combat Air Patrol) point and had no interest in the E4B, if they even know about it.

Here is the story of the approach of the Langley fighters to Washington from the perspective of the Mission Crew Commander, Major Kevin Nasypany.

Venus 77 was the so-called “mystery” plane, but there was nothing mysterious about it.  It took off under visual flight rules at 9:43 after the Air Threat Conference was convened by the National Military Command Center, a conference with SIOP (Single Integrated Operation Plan) overtones, a “doomsday” scenario.  The E4B declared for Wright Patterson Air Force Base, reversed course over Rock Creek Park (as captured on media video), and proceeded to establish a 60-mile, north-south racetrack orbit centered on Richmond, Virginia, to support the possible arrival of Air Force One.

The evidence for all three anomalies is conclusive in the primary source information of the day, the audio and radar files.  That is partially the case for the final anomaly that I will discuss.

The fourth anomaly.  9:10 EDT was a significant time, the only time that the facts of the day presented an opportunity for an air defense response to American Airlines flight 77 (AA 77).  By 9:10, lacking any operational information to do otherwise Colonel Robert Marr, NEADS commander overruled his Mission Crew Commander and ordered that the Langley fighters remain on battle stations and not be scrambled.  That was a prudent and proper decision at the time; those were the last two air defense fighters available to NEADS.

Unbeknownst to Colonel Marr, in the same timeframe, the FAA’s Indianapolis Center reported AA 77 as lost to its next higher headquarters, Great Lakes Region, and concurrently, per standing operating procedures, to the United States Air Force Rescue Coordination Center at Langley AFB.  That notification triggered a rescue response at the local and state level in several states as law enforcement officials started rescue coordination procedures.

Also in that same time frame, and only known by retrospective analysis by the 84th Radar Evaluation Squadron, the NEADS supporting Joint Surveillance Radar System (JSS) reacquired AA 77 as a primary only (search, radar only) track. Surveillance technicians on the NEADS sector floor were not aware; they were focused on New York and Boston airspace, as explained on the NEADS tapes.

That critical confluence of three pieces of information–AA 77 reported lost, AA 77 reappearing on NEADS radar, and the battle station order, remained uncorrelated and not recognized by the two people who, working together, were the only two people that stood a chance to accomplish anything air defense-wise that morning–Colonel Marr and his counterpart at the FAA’s Air Traffic Control System Command Center (ATCSCC), Benedict Sliney.

And that leads us to chaos theory and sensitive dependence on initial conditions.

Chaos Theory

I have established in my work on chaos theory that while we cannot use the rigorous math and geometry of chaos theory for a situation such as 9/11 we can use chaos theory metaphorically.  Specifically, we can use the language of chaos theory.  Without elaboration, some of the language we can use includes: strange attractors, cascading bifurcation, non-linearity, and disruptive feedback.  There is another more important term that is relevant here, sensitive dependence on initial conditions.

Initial conditions are not know in real time and can only be identified retrospectively.  In the case of the air defense response on 9/11 the sensitive dependence centered on the two people I previously mentioned, Robert Marr and Benedict Sliney.  Here is that story.

9/11, an attack against the National Airspace System (NAS).

The NAS is a precisely defined subsystem of the National Transportation System.  It was operated on 9/11 by the National Operations Manager, Ben Sliney, at the ATCSCC (Herndon Center).  It was defended in the Northeast [bolded text added Nov 16, 2013] on 9/11 by the Commander, NEADS, Bob Marr.  The sensitive initial condition was that there is no evidence that the two men or their predecessors had ever met, that either was aware of the others existence or role.

So, the initial condition precluded any possibility that Bob Marr and Ben Sliney would ever communicate, let alone share a common operating picture of the battlefield.  Not only did they not share information in common, neither knew at 9:10 that AA 77 had been reported lost.  Neither the ATCSCC or NEADS knew to look for the plane.

Here is how I briefed that to an Air Force historians symposium, “Global Air Power, 9/11 and Beyond,” in November, 2011. (Panelists were myself, Major General Larry Arnold and Dean John Farmer)

•Herndon and NEADS never shared a common operational picture on 9/11
•They had never met, staff visits or during exercises
•NEADS was “center-centric,” it dealt individually with the en route FAA centers
•Therefore, things self organized around NEADS and Boston Center
•That was foretold during ongoing exercise “Vigilant Guardian.”

Strange Attractors

Given the lack of communication between the two organizations who could jointly do something, the information inevitably flowed to and between people who were trying to do something. And, by name, those two people were Colin Scoggins, Military Specialist, Boston Center, and Master Sergeant Maureen “Mo” Dooley, Chief, Identification Section, NEADS. The two did the best they could that day, but it should not have been their job to share real time information. That flow of information should have been between the ATCSCC and NEADS, not Boston Center and NEADS.

There are multiple reasons why that came about. The most important is that in all the exercises and training over the years there is no evidence that the link between the two was actually practiced or even known. The primary reason, however, is the fact that NEADS was a “center-centric” operation. Its day-day operations were focused on establishing lines of communication to and relations with the FAA en route centers that controlled over ocean airspace. Specifically in the Northeast, that was Boston Center and that part of New York Center that controlled overseas arrivals.

All of that was foretold during exercise Vigilant Guardian.

Vigilant Guardian

I spent the better part of five months writing a series of articles concerning Vigilant Guardian during the days preceding 9/11. All of the NEADS tapes for those days are in the public domain and my work can be replicated. Vigilant Guardian was a series of discrete events, at a gradually escalating pace each day. An important event was the transfer of air sovereignty from one air defense sector to another. That event occurred twice at NEADS.

On the first occasion, NEADS was required to assume air sovereignty from the Southeast Air Defense Sector (SEADS), both exercise and real world while concurrently maintaining operations in its own area. The key section of operational interest on the NEADS floor was and is the Identification Section.  The Identification Technicians immediately established contact with the FAA’s Miami Center to guard the Florida Strait. Not once did they contact the ATCSCC. All information flowed to and from the FAA’s en route centers in the Southeast.

The second occasion was more complex and required a double transfer. First, NEADS transfered its operations, exercise and real world, to SEADS. Then, NEADS went to work to assume air sovereignty from the Western Air Defense Sector (WADS). The end result was that NEADS was guarding the West Coast and SEADS was guarding the East Coast.  Again, NEADS Identification Technicians established contact with the en route centers; there was no interface of any kind with the ATCSCC.

That foretold how NEADS would respond on 9/11. Just as soon as Sergeant Shelly Watson heard Sergeant Powell announce the real world hijacking information received from Joe Cooper at Boston Center she dialed Boston Center and reached Colin Scoggins. The ATCSCC was out of the loop, the link to Boston and Colin Scoggins was firmly established.

Colin Scoggins

The central role of Colin Scoggins was also foretold during Vigilant Guardian on September 9, 2001. It is clear from a recorded conversation between the exercise control cell and a person on duty in the Identification Section that the exercise structure used Boston Center, specifically the persona of Colin Scoggins, to pass critical information to the NEADS Identification Section. When I first heard this exchange while writing the Vigilant Guardian articles I immediately forwarded it to Colin and he assured me that the voice on the tape was not his.

0909133749 ZBW Scoggins Call

The totality of the NEADS Vigilant Guardian tapes establishes that the caller was the Exercise Director, Lieutenant Colonel “Grover” Cleveland. The person on duty was Sergeant Rose. On 9/11 Rose was pressed into duty as a Surveillance Technician (NEADS personnel were and are cross-trained), and it was she who followed Delta 1989, radar return by radar return as it “meandered” and then landed at Cleveland.

The Exercise Director, acting as Colin Scoggins, passed critical exercise information about a United flight from Heathrow (London) that posed a threat to New York City. According to information “Scoggins” received from FAA there were two terrorists on board who were going to detonate a bomb while the plane was over New York City. “Scoggins” reported that FAA received the information from the FBI, who obtained it via a phone call from Heathrow where terrorists on the ground had been apprehended. There was no hijacking, the cockpit was unaware of the threat, and air traffic control was talking to the pilot.

By this stage of exercise Vigilant Guardian military units had increased the force protection alert. The terrorist scenario was a force protection event, not a hijack event. It was intended that the NEADS floor work with FAA to divert the flight away from New York City, but not to Bangor, ME, a tanker base. The NEADS Mission Crew Commander did not pick up on that nuance and NEADS allowed the United flight to “land” at Bangor. The exercise controllers immediately declared that the plane had blown up on the tarmac closing Bangor as a tanker base for several hours.

This vignette, alone, foreshadowed exactly how NEADS would operate on 9/11. Most relevant information would come from Boston Center. At no time during exercise Vigilant Guardian or on 9/11 was the Air Traffic Control System Command Center at Herndon, Virginia ever “contacted” or even mentioned.

My Assessment

I have studied the air defense response in detail for nearly a decade. It is my professional estimate that the only chance for any kind of air defense response was if the NOM, Ben Sliney, and the NEADS Commander, Bob Marr, were communicating in real time and were sharing a common operating picture of the battlefield, to include real time information from the en route centers, particularly Indianapolis Center, and the TRACONS, particularly Dulles TRACON.

Absent that capability there could be no effective air defense response, regardless of actions taken at NEADS, Otis, Langley, or by military pilots in the sky.  All other anomalies, real or imagined, are simply noise in an assessment of what happened on 9/11.

A Question for the 9/11 truth community

A fixation on the air defense response, the last possible defense, begs a question which the 9/11 truth community and the authors of the article and the video about air defense “anomalies” fail to address and likely cannot answer. What is it, exactly, the air defenders were supposed to do, given a successful intercept?

Exercise Vigilant Guardian provides a single clue. When notional air defense fighters intercepted a rouge F-18 fighter, in one scenario, they were initially given shoot down authority by the NEADS floor. When the controllers injected that the fighters were over a populated area that authority was withdrawn.


9-11: Exercise not a detractor; the definitive story


This article pulls together primary source information concerning Exercise Vigilant Guardian on the morning of September 11, 2001.  Some have argued, based on conversational fragments from the audio files of the Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), that the exercise hindered the nation’s air defense response that morning.  Others have inferred, based on listening to those audio files, that the exercise caused procedural problems on the NEADS operations floor.  In context, both the argument and the inference are in error.

I have posted bits and pieces of this story elsewhere.  In this article I pull all that together in one location to tell the complete story for the benefit of future researchers and historians.  My work can be replicated.  I begin with Exercise Vigilant Guardian, itself.

Exercise Vigilant Guardian

The NEADS audio files for Sep 3-11, 2001 are archived in the Commission’s files at NARA, and NARA has provided me a copy.  It took five months of work, off and on, to piece together the exercise as it actually occurred.  I documented that work in a series of articles as a reference for anyone interested in the subject.

Briefly, the exercise was building gradually over the days and, as of 9/11, NEADS was poised to move to 24-hour operations, twelve-hour shifts, as the pace accelerated.  The exercise was not continuous activity.  Rather, it was a series of discrete events, one or two major ones each day, some overlapping, some not.

One important task exercised was the assumption that one of the three sectors–NEADS, WADS (Western Air Defense Sector), and SEADS (Southeast Air Defense Sector)–became incapacitated thus requiring an adjustment in coverage.  Specifically, on the night of September 10, WADS became incapacitated and NEADS had to assume air responsibility for the western United States.  Concurrently, SEADS assumed air defense responsibility for the Northeast from NEADS.  In both cases the assumption of air sovereignty was for both exercise and real world activity.

The expansion, as it was called, transferred radar sites, one by one, a deliberate process that took time.  That nightime expansion by NEADS to the west and then reassumption of air sovereignty for the Northeast was the last Exercise Vigilant Guardian event.  The scheduled resumption of exercise play on the morning of 9-11 was overtaken by real world events.

Because NEADS was poised to resume the exercise, the Battle Cab was fully manned and additional watchstanders were on the premises and immediately available.  There was no need to recall anyone.  That state of readiness was succinctly captured by William Scott in the title of an Aviation Weekly and Space Technology article, written in 2002, “Exercise Jump-Starts Response to Attacks.”  That jump start began with the initial call to NEADS from Boston Center and we begin with Joe Cooper’s phone call to Sergeant Powell.

Exercise-related floor conversations

Powell, as trained to do and as practiced habitually during the previous days, immediately asked the critical question:  “Is this real world or exercise?”  That question and answer immediately established that NEADS was dealing with a real world event.  0911121716 Phone Rings Boston Calling

Subsequent mentions of the exercise were NEADS personnel answering outside calls, commenting among themselves or to themselves, or directing specific action.  For anyone who has worked in a 24-hour operations center, with both real world and exercise responsibilities, all the commentary captured on the NEADS tapes is normal, routine, and expected.  There is nothing that can be construed, in context, as a hindrance.

The first reference, at 0843, came from Major Fox, the Senior Director.  Fox, a long-time NEADS watchstander, had participated in the last real world hijacking event nearly a decade earlier.  He was intimately familiar with sector procedures.  As he launched into action he mused that “he had never seen so much real world activity during an exercise.” 0843 real world stuff

At 0844 the Air Surveillance Technician shifted his assets to accommodate the real world requirement.  He had one crew on the floor and, as did Powell before him, reacted based on his training and experience without the need for guidance from above.  He simply shifted one of his surveillance technicians,  commenting that “the exercise is gonna’ have to go on a little bit of hold here, that’s all.”  0844 AST Shift one of these guys down

At 0857 the Mission Crew Commander, Major Nasypany, during a briefing to Colonel Marr in the Battle Cab, opined with a laugh, “think we put the exercise on hold, what do you think?”  0857 MCC Exercise on hold

At 0915 an off duty person called in asking the ID section if the exercise had been put on hold.  He was told “not at this time, no, but I think they’re going to.”  At that time, exercise activity for the day had not yet started.  0915 Not at this time

In perspective, NEADS had now been involved with real world activity for thirty seven minutes and, other than the initial call, there had been just four exercise references, two in passing (Fox, Nasypany) one a statement of intent (AST) and one a response to an outside call. It would be another fifteen minutes before the exercise was again mentioned.

At 0930, two quick comments on two different channels provide explicit information that the electronic exercise feed had started and was immediately recognized by the MCC, Major Nasypany, as such.  Without seconds of Nasypany’s direction to suppress the feed a floor announcement was made to the surveillance section to turn off sim [exercise] switches.  As earlier, NEADS training kicked in and floor personnel responded immediately to orders. Major Nasypany effectively terminated the exercise as soon as it started, he did not wait for guidance or direction from above.  Here are two clips containing the MCC order and the rapid execution of that order.  0930 MCC Get rid of that crap 0930 Turn off sim switches

Ten more minutes passed before another reference was made concerning what was being seen on the scopes.  Although the comment appeared to be exercise related it was not.  The commenter said, “get the Goddam friendlies out of my face.”  That was the head of the surveillance section speaking on the same channel that contained the “turn off sim switches” order earlier. He was interested in primary tracks, only.  0940 friendlies out of my face

There was a single additional exercise reference prior to 1000.  Sergeant Powell had called a unit asking for their help and the person at the other end questioned the authority for such a request.  At the end of the call either Powell or another voice joked, “are you sure this isn’t an exercise.”  Here is that statement, in context. 0946 You sure this isn’t an exercise

At 1006 at the MCC Technician position, MSGT McCain took an outside call.  The caller asked if the exercise was knocked off.  McCain responded, “the exercise was cancelled, torn all that apart, sir.” That call established the reality of the situation at the key position on the NEADS floor, the MCC position.  The exercise had long since gone by the wayside.  1006 Exercise cancelled torn all that apart

Two minutes later, at 1008, MSGT McCain, in reaction to MSGT Dooley providing detail about a bomb on board UA 93, commented, in near gallows humor,  “if this is an exercise input, it’s a good one.”  1008 If exercise input, a good one

At 1011 Captain Nagel, a weapons controller, received a call from Cheyenne Mountain tech control requesting that all exercise inputs be terminated.  The caller had the wrong number and Nagel referred him to the right number.  Captain Nagel answered the phone “sim,” and immediately corrected himself.  That was not an exercise reference.  Captain Nagel had  been working in the sim cell previously and simply forgot his new position which was activated at 0947 to handle the Midwest and the search for UA 93.  1011 Cheyenne Mt call

at 1014 Sergeant Richmond, the Air Surveillance Technician, got the followup call from Cheyenne Mountain.  He was told to terminate all exercise inputs, “exercise side only.”  Richmond responded, “looks like all our exercise tracks are down, are gone.”  1014 Cheyenne Mt terminate all exercise inputs

At 1020 Cheyenne Mountain again verified in a conference call that all sectors had terminated exercise tracks.  NEADS responded, “Northeast, nothing going out, exercise.”  1020 Cheyenne Mt roll call

That bit of higher headquarters housekeeping ended the technical side of Exercise Vigilant Guardian.  The people side never started that morning and when the technical feed started Major Nasypany stopped it in its tracks, long before Cheyenne Mountain got around to a system-wide shutdown.


In the space of 100 minutes there were fourteen possible exercise-related references in the NEADS tapes, including the original alert from Boston Center.  That is a rate of one every seven minutes.  However, five of those references were after UA 93 crashed and the battle was effectively over.  Three of those five were housekeeping actions by Cheyenne Mountain technicians.

Of the nine references during the battle, three were NEADS floor operational decisions, two related to the MCC immediate decision to stop the electronic exercise feed once it started, and one related to the Surveillance Section shifting resources to the real world event.  One was the original call from Boston Center, and one was an outside caller asking for information.

That left just four references as possible sources of confusion.  Three were musings or opinions, one by Major Fox, one by Major Nasypany, and one related to Sergeant Powell.  None of the three related in any way to the three major activity centers on the NEADS operations floor–Identification, Surveillance, and Weapons Control.  The fourth apparent reference was not exercise related.

Based on the primary source information of the day, the voices of NEADS personnel at work, there was no exercise-related activity that interfered with the real world air defense mission.

9-11: Exercise Vigilant Guardian 01; a summation


The purpose of this article is to summarize Exercise Vigilant Guardian for the period September 3 through September 11, 2001, as captured on audio files at the Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS).  I have told the story of each day, separately, in a series of previous articles. That compilation allows us to make observations about the NEADS state of preparedness for the terrorist attack on the morning of September 11, 2001 (9-11)

NEADS–as does every military unit–trained as it expected to fight.  Exercise Vigilant Guardian 01 was one in a series of annual exercises that prepared NEADS for present and future operations.  NORAD officials described the exercise to the 9-11 Commission Staff as a preparation for war exercise

NEADS protected the East coast of the United States from attack.  Its focus was outward, as NORAD officials testified to the Commission.  The line of defense was the ADIZ, Air Defense Identification Zone.  NEADS activities during Exercise Vigilant Guardian were largely predicated on the ADIZ and the relationship of potential targets to it.

NEADS partner

NEADS activity, both real world and exercise, was routinely coordinated with its primary partner, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).  As revealed in Exercise Vigilant Guardian, however, that partnership was strictly with the FAA’s ARTCCs (Air Route Traffic Control Centers), specifically Boston, Washington, and New York Centers.

NEADS also routinely dealt with AMIS (Air Management Information System) at New York Center.  That AMIS-centric relationship was quickly and efficiently extended to Miami AMIS when NEADS expanded to cover for SEADS during Exercise Vigilant Guardian.

The Threat

The threat was any unknown or potential enemy track that penetrated the ADIZ.  Tracks over land, unless they were tagged as a special, were routinely dropped from the scopes of the surveillance trackers because they had no interest in them.

Any commercial flight that originated in the continental United States and was squawking was friendly, by definition.  Any Russian, Cuban, or Chinese commercial or military flight, real world or exercise, was immediately labeled a special track.

NEADS keep close track of DVFR (Defense Visual Flight Rules) flights (see AMIS link, above) and any such track was always reported to NEADS by the FAA Centers.

Such flights—cable checkers, fish spotters, hurricane hunters—typically exited the ADIZ for an extended period of time, often on the order of 10-12 hours.  The flights became problematic on their return if they did not check in with air traffic control or had forgotten to turn on their transponders.  DVFR flights were always of interest to NEADS, both exercise and real world.

Real World vs. Exercise

NEADS habitually distinguished exercise from real world activity, according to the audio files from the various positions on the SOCC (Sector Operations Control Center) floor.  NEADS was capable of operating in separate mode or “mixed mode” for scope display of tracks of interest.  According to the audio files, NEADS operated in mixed mode at least once during the period Sep 3-10, 2001.

On that occasion, NEADS was required to expand operations to cover for the Southeast Air Defense Sector (SEADS), for the exercise.  NEADS elected to make the expansion real world as well and went into mixed mode to do that.  NEADS had little difficulty keeping exercise and real world activity separate throughout the exercise, regardless of the mode of operation.

Essential Points

1.  NEADS was not encumbered by Exercise Vigilant Guardian, in fact just the opposite. A weapons director setting up her position summed it up best in an observation made when she became the Weapons Director for the Midwest mid-morning on 9-11.  She said, “Could you imagine what it would be like on a normal weapons day.”  She then elaborated that at least we have twelve-hour manning here and we are set up to press with twelve hours.  She also set up a scope for someone and turned the sim switches off and exercise bases off, a clear indication of NEADS distinction between exercise and real world.  09111134326 Captain Shelley Comment

Vigilant Guardian was a gradually escalating sequence of discrete events.  The last event before the attack ended at 0430 in the morning.  Thereafter, the SOCC floor was quiet with no exercise activity and little real world activity.  The crew changed, the Battle Cab formed up, and everyone was in place for the morning’s exercise event.  It never came.

Instead, Sergeant Jeremy Powell took a real world hijack call from Boston Center shortly before 0838 local time.  NEADS immediately sprang into action, soon became fully operational, and was able to quickly expand operations as needed without having to recall anyone.

2.  NEADS established and exercised habitual relationships with the FAA’s Air Route Traffic Control Centers. In an earlier article I described the only way NEADS could have tracked and possibly intercepted any of the four hijacked aircraft, given the lack of timely notification on AA 11 and AA 77 and no notification for UA 175 and UA 93.  That required Colonel Robert Marr, the protector of the National Airspace System in the Northeast, to be in close and continuous contact with the operator of the NAS, Benedict Sliney, at the FAA’s Air Traffic Control System Command Center (ATCSCC/Herndon Center).

That never happened that morning, The relationship was not tested, even notionally, during Exercise Vigilant Guardian.  Neither key individual knew of the others existence.

It is clear from the audio files that NEADS habitually worked directly with the individual ARTCCs.  Even when NEADS expanded to cover for SEADS and then WADS they immediately established contact with the ARTCCs in those areas.

That working relationship with the very same ARTCCs that reported to Herndon Center was particularly close with Boston Center, to the point that Exercise Vigilant Guardian controllers used the persona of a military specialist (Colin Scoggins) to place exercise calls to the NEADS SOCC.

In my work on Chaos Theory and 9-11 I refer to the relationship between NEADS and Boston Center as “strange attractors,” in the language of that theory.  They were not strangers to each other. What was “strange” was that relationship was not recognized until after the fact.

3.  NEADS exercised no relevant hijacking or terrorist scenarios, at least up to the morning of 9-11. There was a hijacking of a Cubana flight by persons seeking political asylum and asking to go to JFK airport.  That event was resolved by SEADS before the flight could be “handed off” to NEADS.

There was a terrorist threat to blow up an airplane over New York City, but it was not a hijacking.  The pilot was not aware that he had terrorists on board.  NEADS  was supposed to deny an FAA request to divert the aircraft to Bangor AFB.  The SOCC did not push back and the plane “exploded” after landing.

4.  NEADS did exercise rules of engagement. A rogue F-18 pilot had “shot” his wingman and was harassing civilian air traffic.  Shoot down authority was transmitted to the cockpit but was immediately withdrawn when the pilot “reported” that he was over a populated area.

5.  NEADS knew how to intercept targets, if established. Routinely, both exercise and real world, NEADS demonstrated that it had tactics, techniques and procedures in place to intercept targets.  The predicate always, however, was that they had a defined target to which the scrambled aircraft could be “paired” (linked).

The procedure was straight forward.  The Identification or Surveillance Technicians would identify a target either by observing it on a scope or via an alert from an outside agency, typically an FAA Center.  Once a numbered track was established the Identification Technicians had either two or five minutes, depending on the target and its location to determine it to be friendly or unknown.  If unknown after the set time expired then the MCC would order the Senior Director to scramble air defense fighters from Langley or Otis for real world and, typically from either Burlington or Atlantic City for exercise.  Once airborne, the fighters were controlled by a Weapons Director under the supervision of the Senior Director and vectored to intercept the target with specific instructions on how to proceed.  The process worked time after time after time, given the predicate, a defined target.

During the actual battle of 9-11 there was just one target established and tracked, B089 for Delta 1989, but it was not exploited.  There were no fighters immediately available.  There was one additional target established but not tracked, B032 for AA 77.  The Langley fighters were paired to it, but it faded before it could be exploited or forward told to CONR and NORAD.

There was no target established for either UA 175 or UA 93.  In lieu of a target  for AA 11 NEADS established a “Z” point based on the coordinates passed by ZBW to Major Deskins at 8:40 and the Surveillance Technicians “hit up” targets in a 25 mile radius.  That proved futile as AA 11 was to the south descending over Manhattan and into the north face of the World Trade Center North Tower.  There was no predicate,  Mohammed Atta turned off the best source of information, the transponder.

9-11: Exercise Vigilant Guardian; Sep 11, 0001-0837 hours


In a series of previous articles we have listened to the voices of NEADS as they worked their way through Exercise Vigilant Guardian, day by day.  Here is a brief recap to set the stage.

Initially, NEADS responded to one major scenario on each exercise day.  On Sep 6, the scenario concerned a military C-130 that was behaving strangely.  On Sep 7, the scenario was a defecting Aeroflot plane.  On Sep 8, NEADS exercised counter narcotics procedures dealing with a split track out of Bermuda headed for Philadelphia.

On Sep 9, CONR raised the force protection condition to “Bravo.”  NEADS then dealt with a terrorist rogue aircraft that was a threat to the tankers at Bangor, Maine, the preferred FAA divert landing site.  NEADS did not push back and the plane exploded on the runway at Bangor.

On Sep 10, activity picked up.  NEADS was required to expand and cover for SEADS, both exercise and real world.  They then had to deal with simultaneous events.  One was a hijacked Cubana flight with persons on board seeking political asylum.  NEADS had to prepare for a handoff from SEADS, which did not occur.  In their own AOR they had to deal with a rogue F-18 pilot who shot his wing man and threatened air traffic.  NEADS exercised shoot down authority including what to do if the target was over a populated area.  The event ended uneventfully as the F-18 landed at BWI.

Exercise Day 9-11, Overview

Contrary to the impression of some researchers, NEADS was not engaged in Exercise Vigilant Guardian in the hours immediately prior to the terrorist attacks.  The exercise was a series of discrete events, not a continuum. There was one early morning requirement to expand and cover for WADS handing over responsibility for the entire East coast to SEADS.  NEADS resumed air sovereignty over the Northeast at 0832Z (0432 LOCAL)

There was no exercise activity and very limited real world activity after the resumption of air sovereignty until Boston Center called with news of a real world hijack.  Thereafter, there was still no exercise activity on the NEADS sector floor.  There were occasional anecdotal remarks about exercise and real world, and a clearance of exercise tracks from scopes, but no events, scenarios or injects. At 1403Z (1003 local) NORAD convened a conference call to terminate all exercise inputs.

The primary source evidence is conclusive that Exercise Vigilant Guardian at NEADS effectively ended at 0430 local time on 9-11 and was officially terminated at 1003 local time.  The Exercise was not a detracting variable that morning, in fact just the opposite.  The Battle Cab was manned in preparation for the days events and sufficient backup personnel were available in the break area to immediately expand operations on the sector floor.

But we are getting ahead of the story.  We begin the day’s activity with a double expansion.


Previously, NEADS had expanded to cover for SEADS.  In today’s event NEADS expanded to cover for WADS.  It was a double expansion, however.  First, SEADS had to expand to cover for NEADS, then NEADS expanded to cover for WADS.  Both expansions were like the earlier expansion, exercise and real world.

The first notification concerning an expansion was a heads up from WADS that they had received a bomb threat.  0911042819 Heads up SEADS bomb threat The ID sections at both WADS and NEADS compared notes in anticipation and then the actual requirement was passed by WADS.  0911043332 Expansion required

The MCC then announced that it would be a dual expansion.  Even though he stated the expansion was for the exercise, real world responsibilities were also part of the dual expansion.  0911043403 MCC for the exercise The time was 0455Z (0055 local), shortly after midnight on 9-11.

The SEADS expansion went quickly with the net result that SEADS was guarding the entire East coast and WADS the West.  NEADS was off line until its expansion to the West was complete.  The MCC announced that SEADS had air sovereignty effective 0511z (0111 local).  0911045113 SEADS has air sovereignty The nation’s air defense was provided by SEADS and WADS.

It took longer for  NEADS to expand as they worked to bring the WADS radios on line and to resolve feeds from the aerostat radars on the Southern border.  It was a multi-step process. First, NEADS Maintenance had to assure that the AST had a clear air picture of WADS.  Then the transfer of radars began.  The first radar was transfered at 0520 (0120 local).  0911045724 Expansion started NEADS provided its status to WADS about nine minutes later, referencing the radios problem.  0911050849 Almost complete problem with radios

NEADS and WADS, together worked a potential target, a probable boat or beacon.  WADS advised that if NEADS could not solve the radio problem WADS would have to take the area back, immediately.  0911051346 NEADS WADS conversation

Ultimately, it turned out to be a simple problem, a contractor did not hit the reset button.  It is not stated whether that was intentional or part of the exercise.  0911052909 Just a button The MCC declared air sovereignty at 0546Z (0146 local).  The nation’s air defense was now provided by SEADS and NEADS.

The SEADS expansion took 16 minutes, the NEADS expansion took 26 minutes.  Once the two expansions were completed we no longer hear conversations, real world or notional, with Boston, New York, and Washington Centers.  What we do hear is NEADS with West coast responsibilities.

NEADS as WADS (Western Air Defense Sector)

The early morning of 9-11 was apparently C-130 day in CONR, for the exercise.  In the hand off to SEADS, NEADS had alerted them to an exercise track, a C-130 headed for Mildenhal.  In turn, they picked up a C-130 exercise track of their own, as WADS.

The NEADS procedures were similar in all respects to  previous notional scrambles during the exercise.  NEADS debated whether to scramble Portland or Fresno, the C-130, Coast Guard 1750, was out of Sacremento and was not  returning to base, as planned.  It was not responding to calls on normal Coast Guard frequency or on the guard frequency.  NEADS vectored the fighters to identify the target by type. The controller to fighter exchanges were typical of all NEADS-directed scrambles.  Here is a audio file with the resolution of the C-130 scenario.  “Railbird” was the exercise call sign for WADS.  Jonah was the call sign for the air defense fighters.  0911070349 Coast Guard C130 resolution

More importantly, that was the last exercise Vigilant Guardian 01 air defense event in which NEADS participated.  The time was 0726Z, 0326 local.  NEADS continued as WADS for most of an hour until a de-expansion which restored the normal CONUS air defense responsibilities.

Identification Technicians’ experience

The NEADS mode of operation, routinely verifying tracks approaching the ADIZ, caught at least two FAA Centers by surprise.  In this next clip we hear the FAA Los Angeles Center contact, real world, state that he has had more calls tonight than he had in the past four years.  0911062335 Los Angeles Center comment That conversation continued about an hour later.  0911072707 Los Angeles continued

Between those two calls there was a similar exchange with Oakland Center.  0911064644 Oakland Center

This call and the two Los Angeles center calls were not indicative of a NEADS problem on the East Coast.  The East Coast FAA centers, specifically New York, Boston and Washington, were used to NEADS calling to routinely check everyone.  The East Coast experience was that DVFR (Defense Visual Flight Rules) flights were always problematic.  Moreover, the East Coast experience, including SEADS, was that the proximity of Cuba to the ADIZ was always a concern.

Return to normal

The remaining exercise task was to restore normal operations.  That required NEADS to return air sovereignty to WADS and then gain air sovereignty back from SEADS.  Here, briefly, is how and when that happened.

First, WADS returned to its building and became mission capable.  That began the NEADS de-expansion, as announced by the MCC at 0802Z (0402 local).  0911074145 WADS mission capable prepare to deexpand

Fourteen minutes later WADS declared air sovereignty. 0911075739 WADS air sovereignty That left NEADS with no CONUS air defense responsibility, exercise or real world, until they could reclaim air sovereignty.  That declaration was made by the MCC at 0832Z (0432 local). 0911081143 NEADS air sovereignty Both de-expansions took about 15 minutes.  During that second 15 minutes NEADS had no air defense responsibilities, exercise or real world.

The Day Shift On Board

Things remained quiet on the NEADS sector floor thereafter until Boston Center called at 1238Z with news of a real world hijack.  NEADS was poised in anticipation of an exercise event that never came.  They quickly transitioned to the real world event as reported by the Commission and by Michael Bronner in Vanity Fair.

Following are some clips of interest to round out the story.  We start with voices and names familiar to researchers and historians conversant with the NEADS tapes.

First, even though the night shift was still on duty, we learn that Lt Col Ian Sanderson, the SOCC Director, was already in, as was, then, Major Deskins.  The time was 1100Z (0700 local)  0911103939 Sanderson Deskins This is the only time of which I am aware that we hear Sanderson’s voice.

By 0730, local, the day shift ID technicians had assumed duty.  Their pattern of work is evident in this next clip, a pattern that Los Angeles and Oakland Centers found remarkable several hours earlier.  The time was 0738, local, and NEADS was routinely dealing with unknown tracks.  The call was to “New York AMIS,” the same desk the ID Technicians would call a little over an hour later in the hunt for AA 11.

That link, not a link to the military specialist, was the established New York Center connection, primarily to deal with unknowns approaching or entering the ADIZ.  The connection to Boston Center was to the military desk.  Boston Center did not have the same over water responsibilities as did New York Center.  0911111753 ID Technician

Major Fox was on duty.  Recall that he had assigned himself to be the Senior Director.  He directed an “unknown rider” call on the potential target the ID Technician was working and also learned it was bad data.  He then announced that he had just come on duty.  0911111815 Major Fox

Major Nasypany, the MCC, was also on duty.  He called the night shift Director of Operations for the exercise to ask if he wanted a real world briefing; he did not.  0911111815 Major Nasypany

Have a nice/good day

Major Nasypany’s closing remark, “have a good day,” was not the first instance of such a comment.  The “good day”  tone was set at the moment NEADS assumed air sovereignty back from SEADS as each AST section said to the other, at 0432 in the morning, “have a nice day.”  0911081203 Have a nice day

About one hour and 15 minutes later Mohammed Atta and an accomplice passed through security at Portland, ME, and entered the National Airspace System (NAS) at 0545.  The attack had begun.

As Major Nasypany voiced his “have a good day” salutation two hours later, hijackers had boarded UA 175, were boarding AA 11 and UA 93, and were about to board AA 77.  It was not going to be either a good or nice day.

9-11: Exercise Vigilant Guardian; Sep 10


In previous articles in this series we have listened to NEADS respond to one major scenario on each exercise day.  On Sep 6, the scenario concerned a military C-130 that was behaving strangely.  On Sep 7, the scenario was a defecting Aeroflot plane.  On Sep 8, NEADS exercised counter narcotics procedures dealing with a split track out of Bermuda headed for Philadelphia.

On Sep 9, CONR raised the force protection condition to “Bravo.”  NEADS then dealt with a terrorist rogue aircraft that was a threat to the tankers at Bangor, Maine, the preferred FAA divert landing site.  NEADS did not push back and the plane exploded on the runway at Bangor.

This article covers exercise activity on Sep 10, 2001.

Early Morning Activity

In a previous article I described early morning notional training at the Identification Technician (ID) position involving that position, a mentor/trainer, the MCC, and the simulation cell.  That training scenario involved a scramble on an unknown and then a divert to close with a deviating Cubana B747 that was NORDO.  The pilots confirmed the situation and the plane “landed” at Richmond, “away from the NCA.”

Later, about 1130Z (0730 local) the MCC left a voice mail morning brief for the command ground.  The report was short, “nothing significant.”  0910111643 Morning Brief

Exercise Pace Picks Up

Shortly thereafter the sector floor had to deal with an exercise unknown that could not be identified by the ID Technician. That scenario played out over 75 minutes.

The pace of play increased substantially and we have extensive audio available from the WD (Weapons Director/Controller) position and the Surveillance Technicians (trackers).  Here is the ID Technicians announcement of the unknown track.  0910111739 Track B054

Next we hear several exchanges between the MCC and the Weapons Director.  They decided to scramble Atlantic City and to make an “unknown rider” call on the guard frequency (in this case sim guard).  An unknown rider call is a procedure used to attempt contact with an unknown at a specific location.  In this audio file we hear a voice known to readers familiar with the audio files from 9-11.  Major Fox was the Weapons Director on the morning of Sep 10.  Given his role on 9-11 as the Senior Director and given his extensive exercise play the day before I will tell the rest of this scenario primarily in his voice.  0910111815 Scramble Atlantic City

We also learn in that clip that the NEADS call sign during exercise Vigilant Guardian was “Absence.”  Major Fox corrected himself immediately when he started to use “Huntress.”

In this next clip we hear language that would be replicated by Major Fox the next day.  He asked the MCC to state mission; it was ID by type and tail.  We also hear the phrase “Jersey Scramble.”  As Commission Staff learned, that was the standard scramble flight plan for Atlantic City, 090 for 90 (east heading for 90 nautical miles).  That standard plan was replicated with a slight variation at Langley for the real world alert fighters, 090 for 60.  And that was the exact flight plan entered into the FAA system on 9-11 by Andrews Tower to get the Langley fighters rapidly airborne to altitude over water.  This clip provides historians and researchers insight into the tactics, techniques and procedures in place at NEADS and exercised just one day prior to 9-11. 0910112023 ID by Type and Tail

The MCC canceled Atlantic City before the fighters were, notionally, airborne and scrambled Burlington instead. 0910112313 Scramble Burlington

Then Major Fox directed that the fighters come out at a higher altitude since they had so far to go.  He explained that they would put the fighters at “max subsonic” when they were airborne.  This audio is clear evidence of the standard air defense speed, a speed exercised on 9-10 and specified for the real world alert fighters on 9-11.  0910112553 Max Subsonic

During this scenario the trackers established a loop, a comms path, and their voices are heard on multiple channels.”Weapons” tasked them to hit up all tracks between Burlington and the unknown.  0910113320 Trackers at Work

NEADS then decided to place a second set of Burlington fighters on immediate.  The sim cell handled the request and said the pilots were in the building and the planes were cocked and ready to go.  As part of that procedure Major Fox took the time to provide a brief tutorial on telephone procedures at the SD and WD positions.  0910113503 Fox Tutorial

The Burlington “fighters,” Sunup 32 and 33, established contact with the Weapons Director, Major Fox.  He provided them specific instructions concerning mission and weapons status, and provided a BRA (bearing, range and altitude) to the target.  0910113925 Fox Directs Fighters

A few minutes later the flight lead reported that Sunup 33 was having compressor problems and that he was trying to restart.  0910114810 Fighter Problems

NEADS put the backup fighters at Burlington on Battle Stations. The situation with Sunup 33 was not resolved and the first pair of fighters was given a vector for Pease; the second set of fighters was scrambled.  0910114828 Sramble Sunup 34 and 35

While that situation was developing FAA’s Boston Center, Colin Scoggins simulated, reported that the Weather Service called and said they had lost a weather balloon somewhere near Brunswick.  0910114915 Scoggins Reports Balloon

Concurrently, NEADS was deciding whether to continue with a single fighter from the first scramble or with the second scramble, flight of two.  The Director of Operations opted for the latter.  On this next clip we hear those exchanges mixed with word from the MCC about the Scoggins report.  0910114928 DO Wants Them Together

Meanwhile, the Scoggins call continued and NEADS learned that Boston Center was not requesting military assistance.  0910115012 Scoggins Miltary Assistance Not Needed

NEADS was also dealing with the Burlington Command Post. That clip is important because in the background we hear the technicians discuss how log entries are made and gain some sense of the timeliness and accuracy of those entries.  0910115148 Log Entires Discussed

Weather was played real world for the exercise as we hear in this next clip.  0910115504 Weather is Real World

That caused a problem for the MCC since the unknown was a “little fast” for the winds aloft.  Even though the target was a suspected weather balloon the MCC determined that they would still have to “vis ID” it.  0910115742 Still Have to ID

NEADS apparently used this scenario to exercise regeneration of forces, the ability to maintain sustained operations.  Keeping in mind that Exercise Vigilant Guardian was, in part, preparation for war, regeneration capability was vital.  In this next clip we hear the MCC tasking Burlington Command Post (notional) to be prepared to launch a third and fourth set of fighters.  0910115900 Regeneration of Forces

On 9-11 the only east coast alert base capable of sustained air defense operations was Otis.  Otis did recall fighters on routine training to land and be armed to replace the Panta flight over New York City.  Langley had just four aircraft and three pilots available.  All three participated in the original scramble.  Langley was augmented by Andrews, ultimately.

The Burlington flight in distress did land at Pease AFB.  Thereafter, we hear Major Fox as Weapons Director controlling the second pair of Burlington fighters.  Although multiple conversations are heard the primary one is Fox going down his check list.  The language is technical and brief.  He informed the MCC that the check list was complete.  Note that the speed restriction, again, was max subsonic.  Near the end of the clip the Burlington fighters reported they were at .7 Mach.  0910120040 Weapons Director Check List

The Balloon Scenario End Game

The next few clips provide a detailed view of how NEADS controlled a scramble, once airborne.  First Major Fox provided an updated BRA to the target and acted as an air traffic controller concerning other traffic in the area.  0910121503 Fox as Controller

Once the fighters reported “feet wet” (over water) Fox ordered them to “strangle” (turn off) Mode 3 alpha charlie.  He confirmed they had radar contact with the target and gave them an updated BRA.  0910121633 Strangle Mode 3 He then confirmed that he and the fighters were tracking the same target.  0910121703 Contact is your Bogie

The fighters provided updates as the winds caused some concern at NEADS that the target was not a balloon.  Thereafter, Fox order the fighters to pursue.  0910121903 Sunup Go Pursuit

The final tactic used was to order the fighters to split, if necessary, to ID the target.  One fighter was to go no lower than 15,000 feet to maintain communications.  0910122137 Cleared to Split

The target was identified as a weather balloon and the fighters were ordered to return to base.  Major Fox immediately ordered the fighters to recycle Mode 3 and then mused, “how do we know if a weather balloon is friendly?”  0910122443 A Friendly Weather Balloon

Another Unknown

An hour later NEADS dealt with another unknown, one within the ADIZ.  The ID Technician did not resolve the identity within two minutes and Atlantic City was scrambled, again on a “Jersey Scramble.”  Even though the ID Technician had determined that the target might be an AT&T cable checker, NEADS continued the scramble process and, as with Burlington earlier, asked that an additional pair of fighters be placed on immediate status.

The resolution process was similar in most respects to the earlier Burlington pursuit of the balloon and was resolved when the fighters were able to gain communication with the AT&T plane and determined that all was well.

Here is the NEADS telephonic Form 61 report to CONR and NORAD, concurrently.  Note that the NEADS caller refers to cable checkers as a common occurrence.  0910132555 CONR NORAD Form 61 Report

I have spoken to that type flight in previous articles.  The AT&T flight is an example of a DVFR (Defense Visual Flight Rules) flight.  Such flights were a continuing concern to NEADS, as CONR and NORAD were informed. It is not surprising that  an exercise event was devoted to such a flight.

Waiting For Next Scenario

Fighter attrition was becoming an issue, one NEADS would have to track as the pace of the exercise accelerated.  There were continuing discussions about dispatching a maintenance team to Burlington to repair the fighter diverted there.  In addition, Atlantic City reported that one of the fighters who scrambled on the cable checker suffered a wheel assembly fire on landing and would be out of commission for several days.

Periodic real world activity was also dealt with, primarily a flight by Air Force Two from Andrews AFB to Lexington Kentucky, a B757.  There are two noteworthy clips, one concerning takeoff and concerning destination.  NEADS proactively called Washington Center concerning the departure.  0910133605 Washington Center AF 2 NEADS also proactively called Indy Center military desk to check on the arrival of Air Force Two.  Note how routinely NEADS dealt with two of the FAA Centers in its area of responsibility.  0910141352 Indy Military AF Two

Langley Training Question

Captain Craig Borgstrom from the Langley air defense alert detachment called with a training question.  They wanted to engage in local training with “hot pilots, cold birds.”  Here is that request.  0910144020 Langley Borgstrom Question

NEADS approved “hot pilot cold birds” training but wanted the alert fighters to remain uploaded, given the situation [unstated, but likely the ongoing Russian exercise].  Here is the answer.  0910144401 Langley Borgstrom Answer

My recall is that the Langley pilots told Commission Staff during interview that they had been scheduled to participate in local training on 9-11, something they often did in support of the Wing at Langley.

SEADS Evacuation, NEADS Expansion

At 1517Z (1117 local) NEADS learned that SEADS was evacuating for the exercise because of a fire in the battery room and that NEADS had to expand to take over SEADS area of responsibility.  The take over was treated as a real world expansion.  Here is the audio file with the notification and NEADS actions taken.  0910145650 SEADS Evacuation

The expansion was technical and the process of exchange was captured on the NEADS tapes.  For historians, that is available on Channel 2, DRM1, clip 150436.  The expansion took 19 minutes.  Here is the MCC’s announcement of the takeover.  0910152036 NEADS Assumes Control

Transponders Off, An Effective Hijacker Tactic

Here are two audio clips of NEADS coordinating with Miami AMIS, real world, concerning potential unknown tracks.  NEADS was just assuming responsibility for SEADS, to include Miami, an FAA entity not part of the NEADS normal ID checklist.  In just under two minutes two potential unknowns were resolved, the second one in a matter of seconds.  The reason the resolution was expeditious in both cases was that NEADS and Miami AMIS were seeing the transponder code.  0910154012 NEADS call to Miami AMIS 0910151437 Miami AMIS call to NEADS

A few minutes later NEADS resolved multiple tracks with Miami AMIS in just over a minute.  0910160906 Second NEADS Call to Miami AMIS

Multiple scenarios

After the expansion NEADS personnel worked to gain situational awareness concerning the task of covering for SEADS.  They discussed what to do if a real world scramble occurred and provided an update to the Battle Cab on the status of fighters at Homestead and Tyndall.  The ID and SD positions completed detailed coordination with their counterparts at Oakgrove (SEADS).

Because the expansion was both real world and exercise NEADS went to “mixed mode,” which meant that they were looking at tracks for both on the same scopes.  That was a net advantage as it turned out.  Canada East was trying to lateral tell an exercise track without success.  However, they were able to voice tell the track and provide a “Z” point in relation to a real world track.  Both tracks were Aeroflot flights.  Concurrently, there was a report of MiG 23s (Cuban) airborne (not clear whether exercise or real world) which required NEADS to respond.

Here is how NEADS responded to multiple scenarios beginning around 1540Z (1140 local) and continuing for at least two hours.  We being with the actions to take over from SEADS.

In this first clip the scramble policy was discussed.  0910151954 SEADS what if Then the MCC provided a fighter update to the Battle Cab.  0910152158 Homestead Tyndall

After the position level coordination between the ID and SD sections,  NEADS called Canada East for clarification on a live track of interest, an Aeroflot flight headed for JFK.  Here is that exchange.  0910160001 Aeroflot Special 20

A few minutes later the Sim Cell, simulating Canada East injected a deviating special 23 track, S426.  In these next two exchanges the exercise track was clearly distinguished from a live track. The problem was that the Canada East lateral tell was not showing up at the NEADS end. 0910161418 S426 Deviating 0910161646 Conversation Continued Special 27

NEADS ID then called Canada East to clarify the real world track and the exercise track.  The deviating exercise track was not responding to communications from Canadian air traffic control.  0910161948 NEADS clarifies both tracks with Canada

The ID Technician then made sure the Surveillance Technicians were aware of the situation.  A Surveillance Technician confirmed that NEADS was working in “mixed mode” because of the SEADS expansion and that the exercise lateral tell track was not displayed. The exercise track was Gander to Havana.  0910162400 ID cues Surveillance

The clarification between the two tracks was further extended to the Surveillance “loop.”  In a loop multiple trackers are controlled by a single entity.  In this next clip the AST position said “go 12,” acknowledging the tracker at scope 12.  Researchers  familiar with the NEADS tapes for the day of 9-11 will immediately recognize the lingo.  0910162805 Surveillance perspective

The next clip contains separate concurrent conversations, one by the MCC the other by AST.  AST provided guidance to his tracker since he had an extended area to cover.  In that conversation we learn that tracks over land were not of interest, but all tracks over water were, to include tracks over land that went “feet wet.”

(In my work on the Brothers to the Rescue project I learned that NORAD policy was that any mode 3 track that originated in CONUS was friendly by definition.  The surveillance conversation is a manifestation of that policy.)

The MCC, primarily in background, order a scramble from New Orleans on an unknown which was quickly determined to be a flight of F-15s (the Mice) returning.  That conversation was exercise related.  SEADS had no air defense alert fighters at New Orleans.

Here are both overlapping conversations.   0910163513 MCC and AST concurrent conversations

The MCC briefed the Battle Cab in detail suggesting a scramble from either Burlington or Atlantic City.  The Battle Cab was told where the deviating aircraft was, a “Zulu Point,” and was advised that the Canada East lateral tell was not coming through.  0910163820 Battle Cab briefed

Thereafter, the MCC called Canada East and arranged a work around, Canada East surveillance technicians would “voice tell” the track to their NEADS counterparts.  0910164050 Canada East Voice Tell

Separately, the Canada East SD/T called the NEADS MCC/T and passed specific information concerning the deviating flight, to include its projected path.  In the audio clip note the clear distinction between Mode 3 (transponder code) and Mode C (altitude) information passed by Canada East.  0910164153 Mode 3 Mode C

Immediately thereafter NEADS had to handle two exercise situations simultaneously, one in their sector, and one in the SEADS sector.  The NEADS sector issue involved the deviating flight, the SEADS sector issue involved a reaction to two Mig 23’s airborne from Cuba.

This next clip is an example of the ability of the MCC to “plug in” and listen to any position on the NEADS floor.  The overlapping conversations involved the SD and the MCC, concurrently.  The NEADS MCC consulted with the Battle Cab and the decision was to divert the Mice flight to a Zulu point south of Key West and to scramble Burlington on the deviating flight being handed off by Canada East.  0910164259 Two concurrent requirements

The concurrent work by the SD and the MCC, together and separately, continued.  In this next clip we learn that the Battle Cab directed that two additional Burlington fighters be brought up on immediate status.  Additional details about the deviating aircraft were provided including its route, Gander to Havana.  0910165124 Gander to Havana

Concurrently, S426, was voice told and NEADS assumed responsibility.  Here is the surveillance tracker exchange that made the transfer. 0910165122 S426 Voice Told Here is the formal announcement to the NEADS floor by the ID section.  0910165140 ID Announcement

NEADS was having difficulty with sim tracks double registering in the system.  That was a known problem that day.  In this clip Sergeant Powell asked the AST specifically about the number of tracks he was seeing, especially live tracks.  The AST spoke to the double register problem which did not concern Powell.  He challenged the number of real tracks and was told what he was seeing crossing Canada was normal.  Here is that exchange.  0910165455 Density of real tracks

Shortly thereafter, real world, NEADS was informed of the departure of Air Force One for Florida.  Here is that notification from FAA’s Washington Center (ZDC).  This clip demonstrates that there was a working relationship between NEADS and ZDC.  0910165524 President departs for Florida Here is an immediate Air Force One update from Calvert Sector to NEADS.  0910165815 AF1 Update Calvert Sector The ID technician passed the tracking data to Surveillance who immediately acquired the track.  0910165917 AF1 passed to surveillance

NEADS continued to work the two issues vectoring the Burlington fighters to do a covert intercept of the deviating Aeroflot flight and establishing coverage in the SEADS area.  Concerning the latter, there was one tracker exchange which provides additional evidence that NEADS was focused on over water and considered tracks over land, unless they had been designated special, to be friendly.  Here is that exchange.  0910170858 Over land not a Special

Over an hour after the deviating Russian flight was declared a Special 27 NEADS was granted intercept authority, to go in using hand signals to try and determine the intentions of the pilot.  Here is the audio file for those instructions.  0910172008 Intercept Authority Concurrently, an ID Technician asked Boston Center (simulated) what kind of military assistance they wanted.  The sim cell was evasive and left NEADS to their own devices.  0910172008 Military Assistance Requested The ID Technician then shortly called the sim cell again to confirm that the flight was, in fact, civilian.  0910172116 Confirmed Civilian

Thereafter the scenario in the SEADS area was resolved leaving the NEADS staff free to deal with the deviating Russian flight.  0910172246 RTB

The Russian flight was not cooperating.  NEADS grappled with what to do and where to divert, if necessary.  0910172426 Concord’s Close The Russian pilots simply waved, passengers took pictures of the fighters and communications could not be established. 0910172609 Taking Pictures

NEADS was running out of options.  The next tactic mentioned was “wing rock, follow me.”  There was still no radio contact with the flight even though one of the fighters (notional) was just outside his window. 0910172850 Wing rock follow me The pilots were alerted and told to maintain tactical position and stand by for “the words,” meaning a specific authority or direction to do something.  0910172924 Stand by for the words

The instructions were modified a bit and the fighters were directed to divert the flight out to sea, if able, working through [FAA] Center. 0910172941 Divert out to sea

NEADS continued to also work with Boston Center and learned they were still not talking to the flight.  0910173130 Check with Boston Center

NEADS insisted the fighters confirm that they had used both “loss of coms” and “loss of nav” hand signals and directed them to continue to divert the aircraft away from land.  It was heading for Boston.  0910173219 Heading toward Boston Specific instructions were then passed to the Surveillance section to report any change in altitude.  0910173412 Report any change in altitude

The Russian flight continued on a steady course for Boston at altitude.  The NEADS floor reaction, humorous at times, continued to push the air defense fighters for information and confirmation that they had followed procedures.  NEADS then decided on a divert base, if possible; Westover. 0910173430 Divert is Westover

NEADS real world responsibilities continued and they received a call from FAA’s Jacksonville Center that Air Force One was it its air space.  0910173442 AF1 in Jacksonville Center airspace

Meanwhile, at some point, NEADS determined the deviating aircraft would continue south and they considered possible divert bases and also what to do with the Burlington fighters.  There apparently was no tanker support and NEADS asked the fighters if they could make it to Langley.  In this next clip Major Fox’s voice is again heard as the Weapons Director.  0910174538 Make it to Langley

NEADS then worked with Langley to scramble fighters to replace the Burlington fighters, recover the Burlington fighters, and put a second set of Langley fighters on immediate status.  Concurrently, SEADS reconstituted its capability and recovered its radars one at a time from NEADS, the reverse of the earlier expansion progress.  This next audio clip provides insight into those multiple activities.  0910174721 Deexpansion and Scramble Langley

SEADS assumed air sovereignty in its area of responsibility at 1819Z (1419 local).  NEADS continued to try and divert the Russian civilian aircraft and Major Fox  worked to adjust the work schedule.  In an earlier article in this series concerning Vigilant Guardian we learned that he was arranging the work schedules for his Flight (Delta Flight, as I recall) for the exercise.  In this clip Fox is hear saying he will cover the SD (Senior Director) position tomorrow morning. 0910175910 Fox will be SD on 9-11

After SEADS took their area back NEADS dropped out of mixed mode display and as their sim picture separately restored they checked sim comms to determine if there was anything new with the Russian flight.  There was nothing new.  Here is Major Fox’s sim call to the fighters.  0910180349 Nothing new

SEADS and NEADS compared notes on the expansion and return to normal.  NEADS conducted expanded operations, exercise and real world, for two hours and thirty-five minutes.  Here is the SEADS/NEADS comparison.  0910180508 NEADS SEADS Compare notes

A few minutes later, the Burlington fighters, Sun Up, checked in to advise the Russian flight had turned slightly.  NEADS estimated it was heading for Atlantic City and the fighters were advised not to let it over fly that location.  The MCC, in consultation with the Battle Cab, then scrambled Atlantic City.  0910181114 Scramble Atlantic City

NEADS, in consultation with the Burlington fighters, decided they would recover to Atlantic City.  They were relieved by the Atlantic City fighters.  Once airborne, the Atlantic City fighters checked in with NEADS and provocatively asked for permission to fire across the bow of the Russian flight.  Major Fox ignored that gambit by the exercise cell, but would later return to the issue.  0910182736 Atlantic City fighters check in

NEADS was puzzled about what to do with the Russian flight and what threat it posed.  The MCC at one time thought about the NCA (Washington DC), but then recognized that the plane had proceeded south.  The Battle Cab asked the Burlington and Atlantic City fighters if they had noticed anyone on board the plane wearing military uniforms or if the plane had reconnaissance bubbles that had not been reported.

As the plane continued south Major Fox gave the Atlantic City fighters explicit instructions to not allow the flight to overfly Oceana and Langley and they added, “you are weapons safe,” closing the loop on the earlier request for permission to fire across the bow.  0910184256 Weapons Safe

Whether by accident or by design of the exercise, NEADS briefly lost data on the Russian flight.  The MCC immediately called the Coast Guard (simulated) and the sim cell reconstituted the data as a result.  Meanwhile, the SEADS ID section, planning ahead, called for information on the wayward flight.  0910183826 SEADS ID call

At the Weapons Director position Major Fox thought that a pilot fuel report was suspiciously low.  He asked the fighters how they were configured and then suggested that they tap on their fuel gauges and provide a correct status.  They did as directed and reported more fuel than before.  The MCC found that exchange amazing.

More seriously, the Battle Cab was planning a turnover of responsibility for the Russian flight to SEADS.  As that was happening word came in of a bomb threat at WADS.  It was uncertain if they were evacuating but the implication for NEADS was clear, they might have to expand coverage as they did earlier for SEADS.  0910185317 WADS bomb threat

Nearly two and one-half hours after the Special 27, deviating Russian commercial flight, was voice told to NEADS from Canada East, NEADS formally handing the track and the Atlantic City fighters to SEADS.  Here is that clip including the notification to the NEADS MCC.  0910190542 Handoff to SEADS It remains to be seen if NEADS will learn the ultimate disposition of both the track and the fighters.

Looking ahead, NEADS will, in turn, receive a track and fighters from SEADS, a hijacked Cubana flight with armed persons on board seeking asylum.  NEADS, knowing that the pace of the exercise was accelerating and not knowing what was ahead had already put Atlantic City on alert to provide two additional sets of fighters.  Here is that exchange with the sim cell.  0910185737 Atlantic City on further alert

What’s Next?

As NEADS personnel waited for the next exercise inject they took time to clear up the WADS bomb threat issue and learned that the event was over; there would be no expansion.  0910191246 WADS bomb threat over

Shortly before, they received a real-world Cubana track from SEADS, a flight from Havana to Montreal.  Shortly after, Canada East called about the same track.  Here is the SEADS notification.  0910191116 Cubana flight real world

NEADS had also followed up with SEADS to make sure the Atlantic City fighters were being lateral told back to NEADS.  In the course of that conversation SEADS asked if NEADS had gone to twelve (twelve hour shifts).  The answer was no, that was scheduled for Wednesday, Sep 12.  Here is that exchange.  0910191845 Working Twelve

During what was likely a shift change, we hear about the resolution of the Atlantic City fighters and the first mention of a possible Cubana hijack.  In this next clip we learn that SEADS was to provide a tanker for the Atlantic City fighters so that they could return home.  We also learn that, according to the FO (Fighter Officer, a Battle Cab position) there was a potential hijack of a Cubana flight.  The requirement discussed was to have SEADS lateral tell the track.  0910193357 Hijack first mention

SEADS was lateral telling the Cubana flight, track C106, but the track dropped.  NEADS called SEADS to restore the lateral tell and in the process received detailed information.  The flight plan was Havana to Shannon.  Three hijackers were seeking political asylum and the pilot was planning to head for JFK.  SEADS had fighters in trail.  In this next clip note the deliberate, check-list, approach to the hijacking, which was, according to SEADS, squawking the hijack code, 7500.  The track had been reclassified a Special 15.  0910195332 SEADS report to NEADS

The MCC was briefed and she discussed what to do next.  The decision requirement was in the Battle Cab (Fighter Officer) and the NEADS floor speculated a requirement to scramble Atlantic City.  In this next clip we learn that for the first time in the exercise tanker support will be available, at 2100Z.  0910200022 MCC briefed

A few minutes later on the Guard (emergency) Channel for the exercise NEADS received a distress call.  Guard was, and is, constantly monitored, by NEADS, and the other CONR sectors, real world and exercise..  On the NEADS recording system, for those familiar with the NEADS audio files, that was channel 24, in this case DRM2, channel 24.  A caller with a military call sign, Split 23, reported that he had been shot by Split 22.  Here is that emergency call.  0910201045 May Day Call

On the first rebroadcast NEADS responded immediately.  In that audio clip we learn that Split 22 was an F-18 and that Split 23’s intentions were to recover to Oceana.  0910201107 MCC Immediate Response

The Senior Director then learned that Split 22 could not escort Split 23.  The shooting was deliberate and Split 23 declared Split 22 to be a “Rogue F18.”  0910201213 Split 22 Rogue F18

Thereafter, the Senior Director, Captain Shelley, was faced with two concurrent events, each requiring a scramble.  How she handled that situation is important primary source information concerning 9-11.  It depicts explicitly how NEADS handled concurrent multiple events on 9-10 during the exercise and how they would have done so on 9-11.  It also establishes that the exercise was an advantage for NEADS, as NORAD stated and as Scott established when he wrote his trilogy of articles.  NEADS did not have to recall anyone, they had sufficient assets on hand because of the exercise to handle multiple events.  Their process and procedures were simple, as you are about to hear.  They expanded operations using additional scopes and additional manpower.

The beginning of that multi-event story is best told in Captain Shelley’s own voice as we listen to her grapple with the situation.  I’ve broken up the audio file in manageable segments.

Shelley dealt first with the rogue F18 asking for an additional Senior Director to assist.  She then dealt with the hijack. This is implicit evidence of the mind set prevalent through out NORAD and FAA prior to 9-11 that managing a hijack would be an extended event to assist the pilot in reaching an intended destination.

We start with the Guard May Day calls separately recorded, in context, on a different channel.  Shelley had just learned that the Burlington fighters who landed at Atlantic City had recovered back to Burlington.  She was arranging for their return to status when the May Day calls came in.  0910200848 May Day calls in context She quickly delegated responsibility for the Rogue 18 issue and got that under control.  0910201328 That’s Under Control

Shelley had things organized within a few minutes and she turned her attention to managing both situations.  Two scrambles had been ordered, Langley (not the dedicated air defense fighters) for the Rogue F18, and Bangor for tanker support.  She received guidance from the MCC, Major Anderson, to hold off on a scramble from Atlantic City concerning the hijacked Cubana flight.  0910201548 We’re Almost Done Here

The rogue F18 became a menace to air traffic and Washington Center (sim) made a series of two calls to NEADS.  NEADS advised they knew about the aircraft and that their checklist said to take no action unless requested by the controlling agency.  0910201932 Washington Center report

Washington Center called back asking for assistance.  NEADS had determined there was no controlling agency and reported that the F18 “was doing its own thing,” and that they “would take care of business.”  0910202144 Rogue aircraft doing own thing

NEADS then checked with SEADS on the status of its returning Atlantic City fighters and the hijacked Cubana flight.  They learned (incorrectly) that the fighters would recover at Langley and that the Cubana flight was still destined for JFK but had turned toward land toward the Myrtle Beach area.  NEADS later learned that the Atlantic City fighters had enough fuel to return home.  0910202553 SEADS Cubana Update

NEADS then received a call from a hurricane hunter that was going to penetrate the ADIZ and wanted to make sure NEADS knew who he was.  NEADS immediately asked if the call was real world or exercise. It was a real world flight.  0910202612 NOAA42

NEADS continued to work both events simultaneously.  They were told that Split 23, the wingman who had been shot, had landed safely at Langley.  For the rogue F18 they received specific rules of engagement.  For the Cubana hijacked flight they observed that it had gone “feed dry” (was overland) and considered canceling the tanker scramble from Bangor and the fighter scramble from Atlantic City.  They were also tasked to determine how much fuel the rogue fighter had and estimate its “play time.”  In this next clip we hear both situations being handled concurrently in overlapping conversations.  0910203211 ROE

The overlapping conversations continued.  The SD reported to the MCC that Split 22 had 30 minutes “play time.”  Concurrently, the Weapons Directors understood that the hijacked Cubana flight might land at Charleston; they immediately worked to put the Bangor scramble on hold.  0910203451 30 Minutes Play Time

The Rules of Engagement were passed to the Langley (not the Hooligans) fighters.  In this next audio clip we hear the passage of that authority from the SD to the Weapons Team and then to the pilot.  The exchange is explicit evidence of how NEADS would engage any target, to include proper authentication. It is how they would have engaged on 9-11 if ordered to do so.  (I speculate that on 9-11 they would also have been provided precise tactical instructions and very specific guidance on weaponry to use.)  The audio also reveals that there was a civilian airliner in the area.  Weapons worked with the ID technician to positively identify that track.  0910203711 Cleared to Engage

Rogue F18, the end game, how NEADS would have operated on 9-11

The rogue F18 landed at Baltimore (BWI) on his own volition.  The NEADS audio files reveal the explicit steps the Sector took to deal with shoot-down authority in a populated area against a target that was also a potential threat to the NCA.

Here is that story and we begin with a legitimate diversion by the sim cell as a distraction, a call from Cape May (sim) Search and Rescue.  Here is how the SD, Captain Shelley handled that situation.  0910204105 Cape May SAR

The first step taken by NEADS was to direct the pilots to broadcast a warning on the guard frequency.  0910204415 Broadcast on Guard

The second step was to determine the threat and the fuel state of the fighters.  0910204608 Threat and Fuel State

The third step was to determine the results of the call on guard.  0910204725 Guard call results

The fourth step was to determine what was on the ground in the vicinity.  The fighters were again given engagement authority because the rogue F18 had turned toward the NCA.  That authority was soon withheld when the fighters reported they were over a populated area.  The solution was to force the F18 out over the water.  The pilots then reported that it looked like he was going to land at Baltimore.  0910204828 Ground Situation

The fifth step was to let the F18 land so long as he stayed in the landing pattern.  If he deviated they were cleared to engage.  0910204951 Monitor landing

Once he landed the sixth step was to provide further instructions to the fighters.  0910205220 Landed what next

The seventh step was to ask through FAA (sim) that the pilot be apprehended.  An ID Technician made that call as the MCC coordinated events.  The SD was told the runway was closed but if anything took off the fighters were cleared to engage.  0910205628 Guard against takeoff

The eight and final step was to ensure that airport security had the situation under control.  The ID Technician made the call to Baltimore (sim).  0910205808 F18 surrounded

That left one loose end, the disposition of the Cubana hijacked flight.  The AST informed the new MCC that the Special had landed at Shaw Air Force Base.  The event was apparently resolved by SEADS and it never became an issue for NEADS.  0910210330 Landed at Shaw

Quiet Time

The NEADS floor was quite during the evening hours.  However, there were five administrative events that expand on our knowledge of NEADS operations.

First we hear a request to make a PA announcement concerning Force Protection Bravo.  Recall that NEADS had been at Bravo for sometime for exercise Vigilant Guardian.  An announcement was supposed to be made every two hours, according to the request.  The requestor was told that things were relatively quiet and to go ahead.  This is primary source validation that Force Protection was an integral part of exercise Vigilant Guardian.  0910223235 FP Bravo Announcement

Next is a point out, real world, on a Cubana flight by FAA’s Cleveland Center to the NEADS ID Section.  This clip verifies the close working relationship between NEADS and not just FAA’s Boston, New York, and Washington centers but interior CONUS centers, as well.  I will have more to say about that relationship in a Vigilant Guardian 01 summary article, currently in draft.  0910225456 Cleveland Center Within an hour, NEADS received a similar call from Washington Center concerning a scheduled Aeroflot flight, Dulles to Moscow.  0910234421 Washington Center

Third is a real world annoucement that NEADS was partial mission capable.  This had to do with a command and control link (TADIL) that was being worked by NEADS technicians.  The issue was briefed to the MCC for his information and approval.  The announcement also demonstrates a consistent NEADS practice to clearly separate real world and exercise events.  0910230150 Real World Announcement A few minutes later, the MCC announced that the NEADS SOC was fully mission capable [full duplex].  0910231920 Mission Capable

Fourth was a conversation which confirmed the NEADS three-shift status, they had not yet gone to twelve-hour shifts.  The caller asked if Major Nasypany was coming in on “mids” and was told that Charlie Crew as coming in and that Nasypany [Alpha Crew] we be in first thing in the morning.  0910231330 Nasypany status

Fifth, the Wing at Otis called to advised that both alert aircraft were on status.  One had been taken off status for a systems check.  The caller advised that the alert fighters had been configured for the ATO (air tasking order for the next day,9-11).  We know from testimony and documents collected by the 9-11 Commission that the air defense fighters on 9-11 carried additional fuel and armament because of the Russian air exercise.  That configuration would have been specified in the ATO.  0910234648 Otis Status Real World

The end of the day

The rest of the day was uneventful as of 0400Z (2400 local)  There was one additional update from Washington Center of an Aeroflot flight.  And NEADS later handed the flight off to another sector.

Charlie crew ended the day with an intelligence briefing.  Shortly before midnight the MCC made the announcement.  0911033620 Intel Briefing

My assessment is that the briefing pertained to the Russian exercise, an exercise that had Ben Sliney’s attention at the FAA’s Herndon Center the next morning.  081709 Oakland Sliney Russian Missile Shot There is no evidence that NEADS ever talked to Herndon Center during Exercise Vigilant Guardian.

That next morning, September 11, 2001, Ben Sliney National Operations Manager and operator of the National Air System, and Colonel Robert Marr, NEADS Commander and defender of the National Air System on the East coast, would fight a losing battle against a double envelopment terrorist hijack attack.  Demonstrably, neither Sliney or Marr was aware of the others existence.  The only thing they had in common was an interest in the Russian exercise.

9-11: Exercise Vigilant Guardian; Identification Technician Training


NEADS used the off-hours time during Exercise Vigilant Guardian to, at least in part, conduct position training, using the existence of a simulation cell to assist.  That training occurred at the Identification  (ID) position in the early morning hours of Sep 9 and again on Sep 10.  For the latter, we have available nearly sixty continuous minutes of audio.   The audio files, channel 5, DRM1, 051712 and 055500,  and channel 4, DRM1, 051246, provide a real time window into the fabric of life on the NEADS floor.  Notably, the scenario included a NORDO (no radio) aircraft, the same situation that would occur a day later with AA 11.  This training vignette provides a specific example of how a NORDO aircraft might have been handled.

A Note for Historians

For historians and researchers, the Commission accession number is RDoD3012647NEADS2of2GSABox110, as archived by NARA.  Together with a companion file, RDoD312646NEADS1of2GSABox110, it constitutes the second delivery of the NEADS tapes by DoD to the Commission.  The files are in .wav format and exist in segments by time and channel.  The audio file set for each Zulu (Universal Coordinated Time) day comes with an Access database.  It is helpful to print out a “call view” version of the files for each day for ease of reference.  The individual day printouts will exceed 100 pages, much more for the day of 9-11.  Audio files of a few seconds duration, 20 seconds or less, can generally be ignored.  They are typically dial tones or extraneous noise or static.  However, it is helpful to listen to them during periods of active exercise activity.

Training Commences

As we pick up the story there are four main players, the trainee, Mark, the trainer/mentor, the MCC (off mike) and a single person in the simulation cell acting as all external agencies and entities.  The trainer is Master Sergeant Maureen “Mo” Dooley, who will be the leader of the ID effort during the attack on the morning of 9-11.

A personal comment.  The Commission staff found Sergeant Dooley to be professional, dedicated, and helpful.  On our second visit to NEADS she was, literally, waiting in the door for us to return.

The training for Mark begins on channel 4.  We hear Sergeant Dooley ask if he was ready, it took him over a minute to respond positively, “OK, use and abuse.”  Earlier Dooley provided encouragement,  “OK Mark, water my eyes, baby.”  Here is that nearly two minute continuous clip.  0910051246 Water My Eyes

Next Mark had to identify a track lateral told to NEADS from SEADS.  Here is his call to SEADS simulated to obtain the initial information.  0910051500 Call to SEADS

That introduced a notional track, a Cubana B747, which departed Havana for Shannon, Ireland.  After some preliminary discussion Mark then announced the track to the NEADS sector floor.  The trainee confirmed with Sergeant Dooley that it was peacetime, exercise-wise.  Dooley confirmed that, but said they might do a “short war” like yesterday.  0910051712 Cubana Special 23

The trainee was also dealing with other tracks, two of which he identified as friendly, but there was a third track, B361, which he had to declare an unknown.  Here is that determination and declaration.  0910052512 Unknown For Exercise

The trainee ultimately determined the unknown to be friendly and told the MCC to stand down [a scramble].  Dooley corrected him and he then made the required floor announcement.  Concurrently he learned that the Cubana flight was deviating for unknown reason.  Note the profane exchange between Dooley and the sim person when she laughs at his attempt to explain an established air route.  0910053112 Unknown Resolved Cubana Deviating

The Cubana Flight

The trainee then turned his attention to the Cubana flight and asked the MCC if it was possible to use the fighters scrambled on the unknown to check it out.  He also determined that FAA was not requesting military assistance.  Dooley, in background, identified the plane as NORDO, confirmed by FAA simulated.  The trainee started a two minute timer because the plane had “hit the line,” penetrated the ADIZ.  Here is that sequence of events.  0910053600 Military Assistance Not Requested

The technician was running out of time and attempted to call Washington Center, the sim cell did not answer, probably intentionally to force a decision by the trainee which he made.  He declared the deviating Cubana flight to be an unknown and announced that to the sector floor.  He had no choice his two minutes were up.  Here is that audio clip.  0910053812 Had to go Unkown

As the technician made his calls he learned that Washington Center wanted the flight intercepted with hand signals to find out what was going on.  He reported that to the MCC.  Here is that audio clip.  0910054012 Intercept and Hand Signals

The trainee then worked one additional track with a five minute window to accomplish his work.  He made multiple calls to simulated agencies and determined the track to be an AT&T cable checker and declared him to be friendly in a floor announcement.  Cable checker flights are another example of the DVFR (Defense Visual Flight Rules) category that was discussed in the exercise article for Sep 9.  Such aircraft exit the ADIZ, stay out for an extended period, and then return, sometimes as an unknown.  Here is the notification to the MCC and the floor announcement.  0910055212 AT&T Cable Checker

NEADS simulated using fighters already airborne to confirm the NORDO situation with the Cubana flight.  By direction of the MCC the trainee advised FAA that the plane should land at Richmond to avoid the DC area.  While that was being determined Dooley can be heard in background critiquing some of the trainee’s actions.  Here is that last clip.  0910055500 Critique and Conclusion


The entire training session is an excellent vignette on how NEADS handled tracks of interest.  The standard was, as specified in the training session, that the ID section had five minutes to determine the identify and status of a track of interest.  They had two minutes if the track penetrated the ADIZ.  The technician can be heard continually verbalizing what he is doing, and Sergeant Dooley’s voice can be heard in background coaching him throughout the training session.

The other NEADS positions

A different channel, channel 4, DRM 1, picked up the activity at the MCC position in response to the the training session for the ID technician.  The series of audio clips are self explanatory, given the training scenario previously discussed.

Note that Major Nasypany, the MCC on the morning of 9-11, was on duty.  Note also that the Battle Cab (Director of Operations position) and the Senior Director were both simulated.

We pick up the other end of the story with a recommended scramble on the unknown.  The notional fighters (Langley) were redirected to the Cubana flight 17 minutes later and were on station nine minutes after that.  It then took three minutes to obtain CONR approval to close for hand signals.  Within four minutes the status of the NORDO Cubana flight had been determined and the DO directed that Richmond be the landing site to keep the aircraft “away from the NCA.”

Here are the series of audio clips over 33 minutes that complete the record of the Cubana NORDO flight training scenario.  The titles are explanatory, I’ll let the voices of the day tell the rest of the story.

0910052652 Recommend Scramble on Unknown0910052722 Scramble Langley0910053517 Track Went Friendly; 0910053814 Request to Divert Fighters; 0910053957 Insight for Fighter Sim Track Nasypany; 0910054012 Intercept and Hand Signals; 0910054311 Langley Diverted May Be Special 23; 0910054500 Weather OK Fighters Cleared in; 0910055139 Recommend Scramble on Cable Checker; 0910055238 Fighters if Cubana Fall Back; 0910055433 CONR Needs to Approve; 0910055512 CONR Approved Hand Signals; 0910055729 SD Report to MCC; 0910055900 Closed for Hand Signals0910055940 Keep Away from NCA

9-11: NEADS; Exercise Vigilant Guardian in perspective, Sep 9

In previous articles in this series we have listened to NEADS respond to one major scenario on each exercise day.  On Sep 6, the scenario concerned a military C-130 that was behaving strangely.  On Sep 7, the scenario was a defecting Aeroflot plane.  On Sep 8, NEADS exercised counter narcotics procedures dealing with a split track out of Bermuda headed for Philadelphia.

In this article we will examine NEADS activities on Sep 9.  The exercise does not begin until shortly before 1000 hrs, local time.  There was some exercise-related position training during the early morning at the ID position, but none of that was related to any scenario or sim cell activity.

During the night, CONR had sent a message raising the Force Protection Condition level to “Bravo.”  NEADS did not receive that message.  We start with that story and with preparation for a DEFCON (Defense Condition) change, an indication of “transition to war,” the stated purpose of the exercise.

DEFCON and Force Protection Levels

An indication of an expected DEFCON change came from the ID technician who informed the MCC that the checklist was complete.  Here is the audio clip of that early morning advisory.  0909060511 DEFCON Checklist Complete

The first indication that there had been a CONR-directed Force Protection Condition change to “Bravo” came in a call from CONR following up on their message of the night before.  0909104231 CONR call FP Bravo

That was news to the person at the MCC desk who took the call and he said “hold on.”  NEADS tracked down that they had not received the message and that CONR had not put the change on the chat log.  NEADS asked that the message be faxed and it was.

NEADS took check-list notification action.  In this clip we hear Major Nasypany (MCC on duty on the morning of 9-11) passing the change along to the uniformed guard force.  0909110112 Nasypany passed FP Bravo message

Someone then directed Major Nasypany to notifiy all the Joint Surveillance System (JSS) radar sites.  0909110413 Notify JSS sites

That simple order was not easy to carry out.  We learn in this next clip that no one was quite sure how to comply with an exercise direction with no intended recipient.  Although not explicit, it is likely the task was simply simulated.  The important point is that the radar sites were not involved in exercise Vigilant Guardian.  0909110445 How to handle JSS

Major Nasypany then completed his own checklist notifications.  He made a broadcast announcement to the operations floor, he called the Command Group, and he called Colonel Marr at home.  The person answering the phone at the Command Group was the Chaplain; it was a Sunday.  0909110453 Checklist Notifications

Real World Instructive Event

Around 0800 EST, Boston Center called with an advisory on a DVFR flight of some nine hours duration, a Cessna.  According to Colin Scoggins: “DVFR stands for Defense Visual Flight Rules – When aircraft are outside of the ADIZ, the Air Defense Identification Zone, they are required to obtain a beacon code from Flight Service or directly from NEADS.  each Flight Service that was adjacent to an ADIZ used to have a select amount of DVFR Codes, normally between 4 and 7 beacon codes, these codes would be issued to someone who leaves the ADIZ and then returns.”  Typically, in the ZBW area, these would be fish spotters, whale counters or perhaps hurricane trackers, according to Scoggins.

In this case, the DVFR flight departed from Hyannis and was scheduled to return there.  Once such a flight exits the ADIZ it then becomes a flight of interest to NEADS on its return, hence the routine notification by FAA centers to NEADS (or SEADS or WADS).  Here is the audio of the ZBW notification to NEADS. 0909114859 DVFR Cessna

I interviewed multiple Mission Crew Commanders from SEADS when I worked on an investigation of the Cuban shootdown of two Brothers To The Rescue (BTTR) aircraft.  BTTR flights were the prototypical DVFR flight.

Routinely, the Mission Crew Commanders told me that DVFR flights were the biggest cause of scrambles being ordered, many never taking off.  The DVFR flights were, in air defense lingo, called “mom and pop” or “doctors/dentists” flights, ones that went out for extended periods and forgot to check in upon re-entering the ADIZ.

Back to the Story

The night’s and morning’s activities were summed up by the oncoming MCC in his briefing to Col Marr.  Marr is informed about the Force Protection Condition change and is also informed the flying is expected to be limited since Tropical Storm Erin off the Virginia coast had been upgraded to Hurricane Erin.  Note that Marr immediately asked about the impact on the Langley air defense fighters.  0909123101 Colonel Marr Morning Brief

And that is how things stood as NEADS awaited the first exercise scenario which would come shortly before 1000 hours EDT.  It was an air terrorist scenario.

Terrorist Scenario

A simulated call came in from Boston Center, purportedly from Colin Scoggins.  Boston reported that they had learned from the FBI that Heathrow [London] reported that the Palan Resistance Movement had two members aboard United flight 558 who intended to detonate a bomb over New York City.  The caller was careful to say that this was a terrorist event, not a hijack.  The plane was approaching Boston air space from New Brunswick.

I asked Colin Scoggins to listen to this clip.  That is not his voice, the NEADS sim cell used his name probably because he was a known Boston Center Contact.  Colin said it was unusual for NEADS to use specific names in exercises, rather the reference should have been to Boston Center. 0909133749 ZBW Scoggins Call

NEADS can be heard discussing the event in background conversations and then ZBW called again about five minutes later with a specific request to divert the plane to Bangor or Westover.  They did not want the plane to land at its destination, JFK.  NEADS asked the relevant question, how come it’s not considered a hijack?  It is not clear that the pilot or crew even know of the threat.  FAA is talking to the pilot, he has not squawked a hijack code.  NEADS then asked the next relevant question, does ZBW want a fighter escort?  The answer was no, they just wanted the plane diverted.  The sim cell was feeding the sector floor enough information to get their thought processes started.  Here is the audio of the second ZBW call.  0909134231 ZBW wants to divert

The NEADS ID Technician started her search for information and called the sim cell, first asking for Scoggins.  The answer confirmed that the sim cell was acting for him.  When the technician said she was actually trying to reach Canada East she was told to call the real Canada as they were a player in the exercise.  0909134442 Call to Sim Cell

It is clear in this sim cell conversation that the intent was for push back on Bangor since it was a tanker base.  0909134513 Sim Cell Bangor Discussion

The Technician then called her counterpart at CANR East and learned that they were tracking the aircraft and that the track had just been forward told to NEADS, track S163.  0909134602 Call to CANR East

Meanwhile in the sim cell it is evident that they wanted push back and would “take out some tankers” if not.  Here is that brief clip.  0909135206 Take out some tankers

The MCC then provided a morning briefing to the acting Commander, NEADS.  He elected to accept only real world information and leave the exercise information to the Battle Cab.  In the course of that conversation we learn who was in the Battle Cab that morning, the FO (Fighter Officer) and the DO (Director of Operations), Colonel [likely Lt Col] McNeely.  Here is that morning brief.  0909135446 Morning Brief to Acting CO

Behind the scenes the trackers were well aware of the high interest track and checked with the sim cell about coordinating with Canada.  This clip provides additional insight into the work and the language of the NEADS sector operations center.  0909135553 Track Talk with Sim Cell

Canada East called with additional information and advised that Canadian military assistance was not being requested.  Further, it did not appear that the terrorists had taken over the airplane.  NEADS was advised that the plane was about to enter its area.  The scenario has been in progress for about 25 minutes. Here is that call.  0909140217 Update from CANR East

Coordination with Canada then took place with a handoff projected within the next 30 nautical miles.  The tactics techniques and procedures being exercised are the following of a track of interest and handing it off from one one Region (CANR) to another (CONR/NEADS).  The Technician then made sure that the MCC was fully aware.  Here are those exchanges in the same audio clip.  0909140223 Getting Ready for Hand Off

The Canadian MCC called his counterpart at NEADS as the handoff neared to coordinate.  He informed her that the track had not been forward told to NORAD.  Both Canada East and NEADS had been discussing making the track a “Special 16.” [I don’t have documentation as to what this is, but a hijack would have been a “Special 15.”]  The NEADS MCC stated that NEADS would forward tell the track.  She was also quick to challenge her counterpart when he referred to the aircraft as “hijacked.”  “Are we confirming that it is a hijack?”  He responded, “it is not a hijack.”  Here is that exchange.  0909140423 MCC to MCC Coordination

The technicians challenged the MCC on the designation of “16” and not “15.”  She told them that FAA did not yet consider the plane to be hijacked, but NEADS was to work the hijack checklist anyway.  Here is that exchange.  0909140614 Special 16 vs Special 15

The MCC left her mike open for an extended period allowing us additional insight as to how NEADS handled this situation.  One of the first things she did was ask the ID section to recontact Boston.  0909140616 Contact Boston

She then engaged in a brief discussion with probably the Battle Cab and an extended discussion with “Grover” (most likely Lt Col Cleveland, in the sim cell).  We learn that the FO [fighter officer] was coming up with a plan.  She identified for us that a “Special 16” track was a terrorist rogue track and the check list for it was the same as for a hijack track.  Her conversation with Grover is explicit that he knew the scenario.

NEADS realized that the plane may be landing in Bangor and she instructed the ID section to contact Boston and tell them that was not a good idea [force protection issue, I speculate].  Here is an excellent over five-minute look into the thought process of the MCC on duty and, by extension, NEADS.  0909141016 MCC Extended Discussion

At the end of the last clip you can faintly hear the ID Technician dialing the sim cell for Boston.  The warning not to land was too late, the plane landed at Bangor at 1437Z.  Here is the technician’s call.  0909141536 Landed Bangor

In this next clip we hear the MCC’s reaction and learn that the scenario appears to now be a force protection issue.  Flushing (moving) the aircraft at Bangor was discussed as was moving the plane, itself.  0909141616 MCC Post Mortem

The ID Technician called Bangor (sim cell) to pass on the force protection requirement.  During the course of that call both the ID Technician and Bangor learned that the plane had exploded.  Here is that call.  0909141657 Plane Exploded

The Scenario Continued

In this next clip we hear Boston Center, simulated, informing NEADS about the plane’s status.  NEADS was told that the plane exploded on impact [touchdown] and that no assistance was needed. Six to eight hours were needed for runway repair.  0909141807 Update from Boston Sim Cell

The MCC continued her post mortem and we learn that the danger at Bangor was the tankers that staged from there.  However, no planes at Bangor were damaged in the explosion.  The MCC was reminded she was told to divert the plane that exploded to Otis.  There is a faint background voice saying that on a previous clip.  The MCC acknowledged that she missed that.  We also learn that NEADS considered that there was no biological threat as the heat of the explosion would have dissipated any biochemical materials.  Here is that continued discussion at the MCC position.  0909142006 Continued MCC Discussion

A few minutes later the MCC received a status report from Bangor.  There may have been damage to one tanker.  Here is that report.  0909142743 Bangor Status Report

The final audio file relevant to the scenario was a call by the MCC to Bangor (Sim Cell) to verify time needed for runway repairs, casualties, damage to other planes and whether or not the bomb was nuclear or bio-related.  Here is that call.  0909145949 MCC Final Bangor Update


The terrorist rogue flight was a force protection threat scenario, not a hijack scenario.  CONR had increased the protection level to “Bravo” during the night.  The FAA-simulated exercise input specifically stated that FAA wanted to divert the aircraft to Bangor or Westover. Bangor was a tanker base and the MCC, given force protection “Bravo,” should have picked up that Bangor was not an acceptable option.  She did not and the scenario played out with a Bangor landing and explosion.

There was no further activity that morning and as of 1630Z (1230 local) the only other exercise activity of any note was an exercise input reporting that the wife of a NEADS member had received a kidnap threat at home.  That became a force protection check list drill.

The scenario lasted for about 30 minutes and involved several telephone kidnap threats to dependents of NEADS personnel. One audio clip will suffice to provide perspective.  In this clip I have suppressed (set db level to 0) the names of the personnel involved outside of the on duty team.  0909165308 FP Example

Runaway Blimp

About 1845 New York Center (ZNY simulated) reported that a blimp lost power over Giants Stadium and was drifting away.  ZNY requested NEADS scramble fighters to assist.  Here is the initial call to NEADS.  0909182728 Runaway Blimp

ZNY called again seven minutes later and was told that NEADS would help.  0909183430 New York calls again

NEADS apparently discussed the issue off mike and determined that this was not their mission, it was search and rescue.  NEADS informed ZNY 15 minutes after the initial call of the declination to assist.  0909184223 NEADS says no

NEADS did alert Canada East and in that exchange we learn that the air defense fighters cannot intercept a very slow moving target.  There is an interesting MCC to MCC exchange about exactly what and where Giant’s Stadium was located.  0909184740 NEADS alerts Canada East

Both the Bangor scenario and the blimp scenario ended routinely.  Concerning Bangor, NEADS got a sim cell call that 8000 feet of runway were usable by 1930Z (1530 local).  As for the blimp, NEADS reported to ZBW (sim) at about the same time that they had lost radar contact in the vicinity of Beth Page.  Later, ZNY simulated reported that that the blimp crashed into the ocean.  0909205213 Blimp crashed in ocean

Later, CONR called for an update, they had been asked by the Air Warning Center at NORAD.  The NEADS response provides specificity on the division of responsibility with FAA.  “It was over land and FAA covers all of that,” in reference to notifying search and rescue.  Here is that update.  0910002835 Update to CONR

NEADS routine, items of interest

During a shift change the off going MCC briefly mentioned the Russian exercise by simply giving a location and stating that they were not hiding anything.  That is where they said they would be.

The new shift continued its internal discussion about the split drug-related track from the day before, defending their decision to declare both tracks to be Special 17.

At about 2030Z (1630 local) two watchstanders discussed the upcoming work schedule.  They determined that Tuesday morning (Sep 11) would be normal, Wednesday would be 12-hour shifts, and then back to normal on Thursday.  Here is that brief exchange.  0909202254 Work Schedule

Other exercise activity

Other than the two primary events, the terrorist force protection threat and the runaway blimp, everything else on Sep 9 was administrative in nature.  For example, there was a simulated heart attack experienced by a member of the watch team.  That became a check-list activity.  There was also a false report on the chat log that SEADS had an air conditioner outage and that NEADS had to take over for them.  The MCC quickly tracked that down by calling his counterpart at SEADS.  It was apparently the work of a disgruntled employee at SEADS.

There was one additional real world fact revealed.  Not only did NEADS/NORAD special track all Aeroflot and Cubana flights they also special tracked Chinese commercial flights.

As of 0400Z Sep 10, 2001 (2400 local) things were quiet on the NEADS floor.

Look for an article concerning Sep 10 in the next few days

9-11: NEADS; Exercise Vigilant Guardian in perspective, Sep 8


I am going through the primary source audio files from NEADS for the days prior to 9-11 specifically to assess Exercise Vigilant Guardian.  In previous articles we found that there was, for now, one major event each day.  We also established that the exercise hours were 1000-2200 each day until 24-hour operations were required.

On Sep 6, NEADS dealt with a wayward C-130 that required a scramble and escort to a base.  On Sep 7, the main event was a defecting Russian aircraft that required NEADS to determine a diversion landing field, not JFK, and to scramble and escort the Aeroflot plane to the diversion field.  Moreover, NEADS had to coordinate with the FBI for someone to meet the plane on arrival.

In this article we will discuss the events of Sep 8.

Real World

The audio files for Sep 8 reinforce that the NEADS/NORAD focus, as testified, was outward.  All Cubana (Cuban) and Aeroflot (Russian) aircraft were special tracked; the flight plans were provided by either FAA or its Canadian counterpart.  In this audio clip NEADS is heard designating an Aeroflot flight as a “Special 20.”  0908163030 Aeroflot Special 20

In this next clip a couple hours later we hear NEADS and Oak Grove (SEADS) discussing and monitoring a Cubana flight.  0908190544 Cubana and Oak Grove

NEADS then passed the information, with specificity to the Surveillance section and the track is identified as a Special 23, “anything going to and from Cuba.  0908190717 NEADS Cubana discussion

Unknown tracks of potential interest were all over water.  Most faded away or turned out to be bad data.  In this nearly five minute clip the NEADS staff is heard going through their procedures, to include a live world scramble order.  Towards the end of the clip a caller asked about an exercise issue.  The caller was told, “we’ll call you back.”  This is an example of how NEADS balanced real world and exercise issues, in perspective.  0908193213 Real World Takes Precedence

NEADS Identification Technicians checked with concerned FAA centers and with Giant Killer since the unknown track was in offshore training area Whiskey 105.  Ultimately, NEADS determined the track to be a possible ship and did not scramble.  This next audio clip is part of the mandatory unknown report to CONR.  0908193825 Unknown report to CONR

And in this interesting exchange between NEADS and the Otis Command Post we learn that in the process of scrambling and then standing down only one of the two Otis alert fighters was actually started.  We also gain more insight into how degraded the air defense mission was as of 2001.  Otis had no Supervisor of Flying (SOF) on duty on weekends and if refueling was required on the ground additional people had to be recalled.  0908194349 Exchange with Otis Command Post

We also learn that the NEADS floor provided morning as well as evening briefings to key personnel at headquarters.  (The headquarters building was separate from the NEADS sector operations center.)  The following two clips contain the morning briefings for the Commander, Colonel Marr, and the Director of Operations.

0908104934 Col Marr Morning Brief

0908112617 DO Morning Brief


NEADS exercised tracking certain U.S. aircraft.  One such scenario had NEADS assisting an EP3 land at Brunswick,  Maine.  For the exercise, a special track was created for “Air Force Two” returning to Andrews AFB from Helsinki.  Here is the audio file.  0908165109 Air Force Two Special Track

Recall that there was a major Russian exercise ongoing and NEADS was watching that as well.  Specifically, Russian strategic bombers, codenamed “Bear” were flying.  A flight of Bears was near Canadian airspace and there was some discussion on what to do with American fighters.  The decision was made to keep the fighters in American airspace.  In this next clip we hear one side of a conversation between the Mission Crew Commander and probably the Battle Cab as he explained the rationale for his action.  Historically, the bread and butter of the Continental United States air defense mission was intercepting and escorting Soviet strategic bombers, especially when they were forward deployed to Cuba.  NEADS knew “Bears;’ they knew what to do.  0908185648 Russian Bears Flying

At a shift change the US reaction to the Russian exercise was discussed.  In this clip we hear that Alaska and CANR (Canada) were reacting, that fighters were forward deployed to King Salmon and Galena, and that CINCNORAD and JCS were involved and concerned.  0908190702 Shift brief on reaction to Russian exercise

The Main Event

The NEADS task on Sep 8 was to deal with a probable drug trafficker out of Bermuda with a scheduled flight plan.  The problem was that the track split into two tracks, meaning that a second plane took off in trail of the first aircraft in an attempted deception.  NEADS had to figure that out and then obtain guidance on what to do.  The guidance was to “radar flight follow” both tracks; there was no scramble.

In the aftermath, in background on many of the audio files, the NEADS staff can be heard discussing the what-ifs of a split track and how to deal with that.

The scenario began with the NEADS ID section announcing and seeking information from the simulation cell about unknown track B673, a possible Customs squawker.  0908204005 Track B673.  The time was 2102Z.

That announcement was immediately followed by the decision to make an “unknown riders” call, a broadcast message asking the unknown to respond.  Note that the decision to make this a five-minute track was also discussed.  That meant the ID section had that amount of time to identify the track.  0908204059 Unknown Riders Call

NEADS issued a scramble order for Atlantic City on track B672 [sic] and then pushed the simulation cell for additional information.  The cell was initially uncertain as to whether the track was friendly or not but quickly asked for all the help they could get on a drug carrying aircraft out of Bermuda.  0908204242 Scramble on Bermuda Drug Smuggler

NEADS then received an additional sim call from FAA’s New York Center advising that they were talking to the aircraft, tail number N527MB, and that it would be assigned a new code, 3714.  0908204336 Tail Number N527MB ZNY

That caused an discussion on the floor about “going friendly.”  The ID technician pushed for the designation and she was successful.  The track was designated friendly at 2108Z.  In the midst of that discussion a new track, B010, real world, popped up.  This next clip is a good example of how NEADS treated the two, concurrently.  Track B010 was later dropped as bad data.  0908204510 Designated Friendly

Anytime NEADS established a track and forward told (linked electronically) it to CONR a report was required.  In this next clip we hear the beginning of that report concerning B673.  The rest of the report was pro forma, simply a pass of information that was known by block number on a form.  Of interest is that CONR briefly conflated the exercise event with a real world event, track R335 from WADS.  0908204551 Report to CONR

As the R335 track discussion continued NORAD, who was also on the call, explicitly told CONR to work that issue because “real world is a little more important than exercise.”  0908205214 Real World More Important

In this next clip we hear the pro forma second part of the initial report to CONR and NORAD on track B673.  I include it to show the specificity of information and the sharing of that information at all NORAD echelons.  The NORAD participant is the Air Warning Center (AWC)0908205652 B673 Complete Report to CONR and NORAD (AWC)

On the NEADS floor the discussion about designating N527MB a friendly continued.  The Atlantic City fighters were kept on the ground and the decision was made to “radar flight follow.”  0908204724 Radar Flight Follow

However, the floor discussion continued and the final NEADS decision, for the moment, was to reclassify the track a Special 17 (unknown), because of the decision to “radar flight follow.” That decision was announced to the floor at 2111Z.  0908205017 Reclassified Special 17

At this point in the scenario we have covered about 10 minutes of real time, with floor conversations available on multiple channels on the NEADS floor.  NEADS has dealt with a probable drug-related unknown but does not yet have a clear operational picture.  Fighters were scrambled but not launched.  Working with simulated FAA, NEADS decided to leave the fighters on the ground.

The Track Splits

The first apparent indication of a track split comes from the ID technicians who are discussing the pace of the evening’s activity.  During that discussion they pick up a new unknown, B045.  That track would have been established by the surveillance technicians.  Here is that first indication.  0908205639 Track B045

The ID technician soon realized it was a split track and informed the MCC.  They discussed what to do and the ID technician announced the track as a Special 17 (Unknown) at 2119Z.  0908205730 B045 Special 17

The split was also reported to CONR.  This exchange clearly shows that CONR could only see tracks that had been forward told by NEADS or one of the other sectors.  0908210028 Split Reported to CONR

The MCC talked to, most likely, the Coast Guard in the Sim Cell and it was determined that NEADS would provide 10-minute updates on both tracks and landing information on the one that FAA was talking to.  0908210030 MCC Discussion with Sim Cell

The ID technician called FAA’s simulated Washington Center about the split.  That surfaced an interesting exchange involving the controllers.  The issue was why did NEADS make the track a Special 17.  0908210405 Sim Cell Floor Discussions

As with the earlier track the split, B045, was reported to CONR and NORAD.  In this clip it is specified that the CONR position is in the RAOC (Region Air Operations Center).  The RAOC link is to the 1996 NORAD Instruction 10-31 concerning the ADNET (Anti-drug Net).  0908210456 Track B045 Report to CONR

In the Aftermath

Several minutes later the NEADS floor was trying to figure out what happened. They discussed the possibility of three tracks, B673, B045 and code 3714.  In this next clip we hear that they decided there were two tracks.  We also have an explicit example of how the MCC could “camp on” (listen in) to any position on the floor, in this instance the ID position.  0908210900 NEADS Floor Discussion

In this next clip the MCC defends his decision to make the second track a Special 17 and learns it should have been a “pending” track.  0908211151 Should Have Been Pending

Nevertheless, the MCC continues to defend his position and we learn at the end of this next clip that he is actually defending his position not to scramble fighters.  The ID Technician attempts to take the blame for the miscue, but ultimately it is the MCC’s decision.  0908211223 Decision Not to Launch

The discussion continued on into the evening.  In this clip the MCC explains that they, NEADS, aren’t going to do anything except provide a landing base.  Having a fighter behind the smuggler won’t do anything.  0908211612 F16 won’t do anything

He continues to explain that maybe “up there” (Battle Cab) might have scrambled if the second track had been a pending unknown as opposed to a Special 17.  0908211721 Might Have Scrambled

My Assessment

NEADS should have scrambled as was determined in the after action review.  Although the ID Technician took responsibility for the failure to scramble the responsibility was ultimately that of the MCC.

It is not surprising that Exercise Vigilant Guardian would have at least one counter-drug scenario.  After the end of the cold war Congress made money available for a major national counter-drug program.  NORAD was quick to carve out a mission for itself especially since its primary mission, guarding against the Soviet threat had dissipated.  The new NORAD mission is reflected in the NORAD Instruction concerning the ADNET, as linked above.

Importance Concerning 9-11

What we have heard is that NEADS had specific procedures in place to handle unknown tracks as they occurred.  However, NEADS actions, including the forward tell of tracks of interest to CONR and to NORAD depended on a track being established.  A designated track was the key to everything that followed.

Understanding that NEADS (and WADS and SEADS) worked from a designated track paradigm is key to understanding what happened in the air defense response during the terrorist attack on the morning of 9-11.  There was never a designated track on any of the hijacked aircraft, except briefly on AA 77 (B032), a track that immediately faded.  Therefore, no operational information was ever forward told to CONR or NORAD.

The only track that was established and followed procedurally was B089 (Delta 1989).  It is only that track that NORAD reported to the NMCC-convened Air Threat Conference.  It is only that track that General Arnold and Colonel Marr saw “meander” that morning.  It was not UA 93.

Exercise Hours

We learn that NEADS sector personnel anticipated the shift to 24-hour operations to occur on Wednesday [Sep 12], that is when their duty shifts would change to 12 hours.  Here is the floor discussion; there is some uncertainty.  0908210646 12-hour Shift Discussion

If accurate, this is an important point.  It means that on the morning of Sep 11, the exercise was not scheduled to start until 1000 hours.  Thus, the exercise was not a factor during the time that AA 11, UA 175, and AA 77 were an issue.

Updated Nov 30, 2010.  I have added a preamble to the article for Sep 6 which indicates that 24-hour operations were scheduled to begin on Sep 10, 2010

We will learn more as I listen to the audio tapes for September 9 and 10, 2011.

9-11: NEADS; Exercise Vigilant Guardian, in perspective, Sep 7

This is a continuation of my review of NEADS tapes covering the days prior to 9-11.  In this article I provide details concerning exercise activity on Sep 7, 2001. Sep 6 was devoted to a military cargo plane, Cargo 45, in distress and squawking the hijack code 7700.  The main event for Sep 7 was something different; a defection

There are several things of interest in the tapes, including examples of NEADS distinction between real world and exercise.  However, the most important event of the day was the defection and how it was handled by both the control staff and the exercise staff.

Defection discussed

Soon after the exercise started that morning a short conversation revealed that a defection was on the schedule.  Here is that conversation intermingled with another, separate conversation.  0907134746 Defection planned for later.  And in this next clip additional descriptive material was added.  0907134913 Added information

Routine exercise activity

Beginning in the afternoon the audio files reveal routine activity as NEADS dealt with tracks of interest.  By midafternoon NEADS was dealing with an unknown track B337.  Here is the clip which shows a call to the sim cell for clarification and the acknowledgement that someone did not reach out to FAA.  0907191845 Exercise Insight The decision was made to hold a scramble.

And here is the official announcement by the ID section to the floor that the unknown was friendly.  This is an example of how exercise announcements are correctly handled, the ID technician began and ended his announcement stating it was for the exercise.  0907191935 Keeping Exercise Separate

Tracking the Russians (and Cubans)

Here is a specific example of an “intel” input to the exercise, this one concerns an IL 96 to Cuba.  0907193918 IL 96 to Cuba Intel Input

At this point in the exercise it becomes apparent that NEADS was concerned about potentially hostile foreign aircraft.  A brief conversation about a Cubana flight was followed by this more extensive exchange concerning a Russian flight.  0907195250 Tracking the Russians In this case the flight of interest was a Moscow to Havana flight that was being special tracked.

The concern for Russian and Cuban aircraft was mirrored in the real world as an exchange a few minutes later shows.  0907195950 Russian Real World

Despite the rigorous split between exercise and real world a Russian plane became confused.  According to information in this clip the NEADS scopes could be changed from exercise to real world at the flip of a switch.  0907200630 Live Side Sim Side discussion

Things got a bit more confusing.  NEADS was dealing with a northern track and a southern track as is clear from the previous clip.  In this next clip NEADS discussed a northern track with their Canadian counterparts who reported the aircraft, a Beechcraft, probably crashed and that search and rescue had been notified.  0907200830 Canada discussion crashed aircraft

The NEADS floor continued to confuse Russian flights.  In this clip the issue is whether an Aeroflot flight is civilian or military.  The clip includes a simulation conversation with New York Center.  0907203209 More Russian confusion.  Huntress ID confirmed it to be civilian, real world, JFK to Moscow. 0907203455 Real World JFK to Moscow

The position we are listening to also had real world duties.  In this clip we hear calls the command group and the DO (Director of Operations) with the evening brief, an apparent daily requirement.  The real world was quiet and the exercise was mentioned as something with which they were busy.  0907204328 Briefing Key Personnel

Deviating Aeroflot flight, what to do

A few minutes later the NEADS floor had to deal with a deviating Russian aircraft that wanted to land at JFK.  FAA’s New York Center (ZNY) military desk is simulated and NEADS learned that FAA did not want the airplane to land at JFK.  Here is how NEADS initially reacted; battle stations only.  0907205030 Aeroflot defection to JFK

In this next clip we learn that the purpose of the event was to exercise how NEADS handles a defection not a deviation.  0907205328 Defection not Deviation NEADS immediately sought clarification as to whether FAA authorized the deviation or not.  0907205458 Clarification sought However, ZNY became insistent that the plane not land at JFK and pushed the NEADS floor which, in turn, passed the decision along to, most likely, the battle cab.  We hear only one end of the conversation with the battle cab.  0907205543 ZNY becomes insistent

The NEADS floor decision was to divert the aircraft to Suffolk County Airport and turned the problem over to FAA; there would not be a scramble.  0907205703 Suffolk County no scramble A floor discussion ensued about alternate fields, that Suffolk was too small.  Moreover, according to FAA (simulated) the pilot did not want to land at Suffolk.

The controllers were insistent that a scramble be generated.  0907205933 Controllers force a scramble NEADS did scramble Atlantic City, the order can be heard in the background  0907210138 Scrambled generated

Thereafter, the NEADS floor decided the event would be treated as a deviation and they went down their checklist.  One voice raised the question about what they were going to do with the plane.  The answer was to not to intercept pending approval from higher headquarters.  This an example of how NEADS would have handled an intercept on 9-11 had they been notified of a deviation.  0907210428 Scramble discussed

Once NEADS had gone through the checklist procedures the control cell representing ZNY informed NEADS that the situation had been resolved by “higher headquarters,” mililtary and civilian, the aircraft was to be allowed to land at JFK.  0907210858 Resolution land JFK However, the problem remained about what to do with the flight once it landed.

Event end game

NEADS continued to discuss intercept authority and decided that the defector should land at Westover; FAA said the pilot agreed.  While NEADS was working the issue they received a call from CONR for an update.  0907211426 CONR call

Here is a clip with additional insight as to how NEADS operated.  0907211753 How NEADS operated

Apparently the FBI was supposed to field eercise calls concerning defectors.  However, when NEADS attempted to reach them the desk was not manned.  Therefore, the controllers handled the NEADS request.  This clip provides insight into the phone list that NEADS used for the exercise.  0907211952 FBI and Exercise Phone List

There was little to do thereafter except keep the fighters in the area and at altitude until the defector actually “landed” at Westover, which he did.  Thereafter the fighters were ordered to return to base, “RTB.”  0907214444 Aircraft secured RTB

There was one other later call that further defined the simulation aspects of the exercise.  In this clip we hear the simulated air operations cell at Atlantic City report the status of an aircraft previously not available.  0907215250 Atlantic City simulated air operations

A real world call of interest

That evening the NEADS floor received a routine call from Boston Center asking for the next days air activity.  That exchange of information can be heard on this clip.  0907224845 Real World Coord with Boston Center

I asked Colin Scoggins (at ZBW on 9-11) to listen to the clip and verify that it was a known voice to him; it was.  He further said that ZBW did not participate in Vigilant Guardian.

Here is Colin’s email response:

“Yes that is ZBW, that is ***** (not sure of the spelling)…That is the daily scheduling for the next day, they coordinate it the night before.   The call was normally initiated by ZBW, once we received the FAX for their request.  Then we would normally call around 7 PM, this is followed in the morning at around 6 AM local when we reconfirm the schedule.  I beleive that call is initated by us as well.  We had no play in Vigilant Guardian at ZBW, didn’t even know a thing about it.  That would be normal by the way.”

A Personal Comment

I consider this article to be a final draft.  When I have time I want to go back and review the floor conversations concerning the several Russian aircraft and tracks.  I will revise this post if/when necessary.

It will be a few weeks before I post concerning Sep 8.  This is a tedious, iterative process and I won’t have further access to my audio files until after Dec 1, 2010.

9-11: NEADS; Exercise Vigilant Guardian, in perspective, Sep 3-6

Preamble (added Nov 30, 2010)

Here is a link to Vigilant Guardian information from NEADS as contained in the records of the 9-11 Commission.  This clarifies the hours of the exercise.  According to an included email from Col Marr, NEADS Commnder, “Exercise VIGILANT GUARDIAN N0 1-2 is a NORAD-sponsored Transition to Wartime Operation Command Post exercise that will be conducted in two phases: Crisis Action Team (CAT) Planning and 24/7 Operations.  CAT Planning will be conducted from 20-31 Aug 01, weekdays only and 1/2 day play TBD by NORAD. The Operational Phase will be conducted from 1400Z 6 Sept 01 to 0200Z 9 Sept 01 and the 24/7 Operational Phase will be conducted from 10 Sept to 13 Sept.


I am working with NARA to obtain copies of the NEADS audio files as they were originally provided to the Commission.  In a first delivery, NARA provided DVD copies of the following three Commission documents, by accession number:  RDoD0312646, 1 of 2, NEADS GSA Box 110; RDoD03012647, 2 of 2, NEADS GSA Box 110; and RDoD04020857, NEADS Dictaphone remake DRM1, GSA Box 141.  The files are too massive for me to upload to RapidShare. I am looking for a work around to put the files in the public domain.

These three DVDs are not the files originally forwarded piecemeal to the Commission in the immediate aftermath of our first visit to NEADS and the resultant subpoena,  NARA is still looking for those files.  These files are .wav versions submitted to the Commission for the record.  Of interest to researchers and historians is the fact that these files go back to September 3, 2001 and help document Exercise Vigilant Guardian.

Each subfile on the DVDs is for a specific day.  For example, DVD 1 of 2 contains five subfolders for Sep 3 through Sep 7.  The subfolder for Sep 4, the first day of the exercise, is D20010904DRM3-20010903-234840_DRM003_1.ARC.  The first nine characters establish the date of the included files.

For each date there are two sub-folders.  One is an Access .mdb file which provides the start and end times for each .wav file.  The .wav files are conversation dependent and range in duration from a few seconds to more than 20 minutes.  Many of the short duration files are dial tones.

The second sub -folder for each day contains folders for 24 channels.  The Access file, printed out, will tell you which channels were recorded and which are empty.  Knowing that will save time; one need only open the folders containing data.  Once opened there is an additional single sub-folder which lists the .wav files by a sequence number (Zulu time) which can be correlated to the Access .mdb file.  The size of each .wav file is included; it doesn’t take long to figure out which files are substantive and which are not.

One last point.  It is near imperative to exploit the files using a program such as Adobe Audtion. Use of a media player will quickly lead to frustration.  I use Adobe Audition in order to quickly find conversations, identify dial tones, and, when necessary, amplify background conversations.

Here is Exercise Vigilant Guardian based on the audio files provided by NARA.  In this first article we start with the period Sep 3-6, 2001.

Exercise Vigilant Guardian

Vigilant Guardian was primarily a command post exercise controlled by a “sim cell” (simulation cell).  Non-NORAD entities such as FAA were portrayed by the exercise controllers.  The exercise was separate and distinct from the real world.  Here are the highlights of the first days, Sep 4-6, 2001.  As with every exercise in my experience, both field and command post, the pace starts slowly.

Monday, Sep 3, 2001.

Although an audio file was provided it appears to be a placeholder only.

Tuesday, Sep 4, 2001.

It is uncertain that the exercise itself started on this day.  The day’s activity consisted of “evals,” evaluations for three controller teams.  The scenario was defensive counter-air featuring blue on red forces operating over established training ranges, in this case Falcon Axe.  The fighters were Burlington-based, Jaws call sign vs Grunge call sign.  Each evaluation lasted 30-45 minutes the first beginning around 1pm (probably Zulu time, in context).  The next two were at about 4:45 and 7:20.

Of interest, the first team was lead by Major Fox who would be the Senior Director on duty the morning of Sep 11, 2001.  Demonstrably, Fox was the best of the three, his competence and confidence come through loud and clear.  Here are some audio segments which highlight the days activity.

Fox’s voice identified. In the following clip we clearly hear the voice of Major Fox; those familiar with the NEADS tapes will recognize him immediately.  In an earlier floor conversation he did identify himself by name.  Here he gives a succinct description of the mission in which he places the opposing fighters (Grunge) as the DCA [defensive counter-air] force.  0904122350 Fox describes DCA

Fox puts Vigilant Guardian in contest. In the following clip Major Fox distinguishes “VG” (Vigilant Guardian) from the evaluations and establishes that the time is before 10:00 local.  0904122918 Fox Vigilant Guardian Perspective

Fox’s fighters, Jaws, declare “Miller Time.” In this clip Major Fox is heard directing a successful attack.  0904131130 Miller Time and Success

The entire engagement directed by Fox is in the audio files, primarily sequence number 130713.  Later files describe the second two evolutions of the day, similar to the engagement directed by Fox.  A better description of the defensive counter-air mission is included in sequence number 161531.  0904162726 Mission Described The language is cryptic and mission-specific.  Readers familiar with the language of air defense training will appreciate the insight into NEADS operations.

There was no other activity recorded on Sep 4, 2001; the day was devoted to controller evaluations at NEADS.

September 5, 2001

There was little, if any, discernible exercise activity.  There was one additional combat air engagement, similar to the three events on September 4.  That additional event does provide specific examples of how air-air combat exercises were started and terminated.  In this case HUNTRESS was controlling a flight with call sign Mad Dog.

The battle begins  0905191547 Fights On, and ends  0905193437 Knock it off.  HUNTRESS ended its control by handing the Mad Dog flight off to GiantKiller.  09055193822 Contact GiantKiller.  I have discussed GiantKiller in other articles.  It is the military (Navy) control center for designated military training areas.  It is located in Virginia Beach, VA., and operates using FAA procedures.  GiantKiller would have handed the flight off to the appropriate FAA Center for the return flight to base.

The only other notable activity in the audio files is the HUNTRESS ID section validating and verifying the “modes and codes” with several military planes, a procedural test possibly part of the exercise.  Here is one example.  0905155326 Swordfish Mode Check

September 6, 2001

The day started slowly but picked up pace in the evening. Here are selected  audio clips of interest.

First is a clip of a late afternoon simulated scramble of two fighters, HOPS 71 and 72 from Langley.  The scramble call is made to the simulation cell.  0906174716 Simulated Scramble Langley

Second is an evening call to the simulation cell which clearly shows that the exercise equipment was separate from real world and that the controllers did not want all the exercise equipment to be functional.  0906182747 Exercise Equipment Separate

Third is a background announcement shortly after 8pm announcing that exercise hours would be 1000-2200 hours each day, including weekends, until 24-hour manning was required.  I amplified the conversation and suppressed some of the clicks for clarity.  0906200336 Exercise Hours

Fourth is a conversation concerning a special track on a Aeroflot flight, JFK to Moscow.  0906201638 Aeroflot flight special track

Fifth is an extended discussion with the simulation cell about the hours of the exercise and a planned expansion.  (The expansion will be one of coverage, NEADS will assume control for WADS (Western Air Defense Sector) while they do a planned evacuation.  More on that later.)  0906201733 Expansion

Sixth is clear evidence that the simulation cell was simulating all outside agencies, in this case Giantkiller and FAA’s Washington Center.  The issue is a C-130 that is squawking 7700.  Listen as the exercise team discusses the situation.  Note that Huntress ID goes down a check list and asks the key question, “requesting any assistance?”  0906202145 C130 squawking 7700

That is an important point. The hijack procedures in place on Sep 11, 2001, required an FAA request for assistance.  The only hijacked plane on 9-11 for which NEADS assistance was requested was AA 11; the request came from Boston Center.

Seventh is an admission by the simulation cell that they started an exercise inject one hour early.  NEADS, therefore, initiated a “Jersey Scramble” early.  The Commission records obtained from Atlantic City define the Jersey Scramble as the standard lanuch of Atlantic City fighters, 090 for 90 (head East for 90 nautical miles).  Note the similarity to the standard launch from Langley, 090 for 60, which is the heading, direction and distance the Langley fighters went on the first leg of their flight to the nation’s capital on 9-11.  This Jersey Scramble, if properly in sequence, most likely pertained to the C-130.  0906203024 Sim Cell started inject early

Eighth is a “May Day” call from the simulated C-130 in distress, Cargo 45.  0906203853 Cargo 45 May Day

To be continued, Sep 7, 2001 is next.