9-11: The Actual Story and the “official” story; clarified


I get the occasional Google Alert email reminding me that the myth of an “official” story concerning the events of September 11, 2001, is still floundering around in the blogosphere. There is an actual story of what happened on 9/11; there is no “official” story as is speculated in the 9/11 truth community. This article clarifies the issue for academicians, historians and serious researchers.

The Actual Story

The 9/11 Commission and the Congressional Joint Inquiry before it gathered a comprehensive body of information that established that the event known as 9/11 was a surprise attack on American soil accomplished by 19 terrorists who hijacked four commercial airliners and flew them to catastrophic end, destroying the World Trade Center complex and damaging the Pentagon in the process. The evidence for that narrative is compelling and conclusive.

Additional responsible work has been done that expands on the work of the Commission and the Joint Inquiry. Here is the primary body of information (not inclusive) that establishes the actual story:

The Confusion

A small group of people known collectively as the 9/11 truth community has arbitrarily decided that the actual story is an “official” story that has, itself, been largely discredited.  That is, at best, disingenuous; at worst, intellectually dishonest.

Writ large, the logic is:

  • The 9/11 Commission Report, alone, is the “official” story;
  • Some Commissioners and staff have said that the “official” story is false;
  • Therefore, the narrative of the 9/11 Commission Report is false.

That logical fallacy allows the introduction of wildly speculative alternate scenarios, none of which has a factual base.  The resultant propaganda suggests that there is general public agreement with the fallacy, and that has resulted in a ground swell of activism and support for vocal members of the 9/11 truth community. The “truth” of that community is that the activism and support is small and a few individuals have found a way to make a living off of that activism and support.

None of the activism, support, or work of those making a living off the 9/11 truth community has moved the false narrative forward in any measurable way.  The 9/11 truth community was effectively dealt with and dismissed by Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan in their 2011 book, The Eleventh Day, the Full Story of 9/11 and Osama bin Laden. In Part Two, “Distrust and Deceit,” the authors conclude:

Wonder one may, but the authors have seen not a jot of evidence that anything like a false flag scenario was used on 9/11…Nor, after more than four year’s research, have we encountered a shred of real information indicating that the Bush administration was complicit in 9/11. Subjected to any serious probing, the suspicions raised by Professor Griffin and his fellow “truthers” simply vanish on the wind.

Unmasking the “Official” Story

If there is an “Official” story it concerns the day of 9/11 and it is the narrative that was in place when the Commission began its work in 2003; the Joint Inquiry did not examine the events of the day.  That narrative had been allowed to accumulate based on faulty staff work, incomplete analysis, and extensive anecdotal evidence, to include participant recall, eye witness accounts, and media and literary accounts.

The Commission came face to face with that story on May 22 and May 23, 2003, when Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Administrator Jane Garvey, Transportation Secretary Norman Minetta, and officers representing North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) attempted to testify to what actually happened on 9/11 and failed.

That failure caused Team 8 leader, John Farmer, to write a memo to the Commission front office which established for the record that the “official” story was false.  Here, in part, is what Farmer told the front office:

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

Here, for the record, is how John Farmer referred to the stories in the introduction to his book, The Ground Truth; the Untold Story of America Under Attack on 9/11.

The account of the nation’s response to the 9/11 attacks set forth in The 9/11 Commission Report is accurate, and true (emphasis added)….In the course of our investigation…the 9/11  Commission staff discovered that the official version (emphasis added) of what had occurred that morning…was almost entirely and inexplicably, untrue.

For the record, therefore,  the “official version” as found by the Commission was “flatly at odds with the truth,” and “was almost entirely and inexplicably, untrue.”  The actual story as established by the 9/11 Commission was “accurate and true.”.

So, how did the Government go so badly astray?

The “Official” Story

It began in the immediate aftermath as FAA and NORAD struggled to come to terms about notification to the military.  NORAD pre-empted the process and unilaterally published its timeline via a press release on September 18, 2001.  That timeline was fatally flawed.

NORAD established a notification time of 0924 EDT for American Airlines flight 77 (AA77).  Staff officers involved in preparing the timeline apparently never listened to tapes.  That initial error became etched in stone in October, 2001, when General Eberhart testified to Senator Levin during an Armed Services Committee Hearing that the time of notification for AA 77 was 0924 EDT.

The government never recovered from that initial error and built a narrative which suggested that key individuals were in place and responsive to the approach of AA 77 to the nation’s capital.  The narrative, as testified to by Norman Mineta, was an hour off.

Key officials were in place for the approach of United Airlines flight 93 (UA93).  However, they were following a notional path in a flight-tracking program based on a new flight plan for UA93 entered by the FAA’s Cleveland Center.  That notional flight “landed” at Reagan National airport at 1028 EDT, according to landing records at the airport, and as noted by a controller at Reagan National who was told at 10:28 that UA 93 was no longer in  the system. 1028 United 93 no longer in the system

Out of those simple facts an “official” story emerged.  That story had the President and the Vice President in communication concerning shootdown authority.  The President was and is convinced he gave that authority prior to the crash of UA93, as he so stated in a National Geographic special prepared for the 10th anniversary of 9/11.

The “official” story narrative was embellished and elaborated by the Air National Guard and the fighter wing at Andrews Air Force Base.  In that narrative, published as Air War Over America (The Filson book) and perpetuated by Lynn Spencer in Touching Historythe Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) watched UA93 meander (Delta 1989, actually), and NEADS believed it was prepared to take lives in the air to save lives on the ground.  The Andrews pilots believed that they participated in the hunt for UA93.   None of that is accurate.

In the absence of accurate information, participants that day, at all levels, assimilated events in a narrative that made sense to them.  The fact that the narrative, the “official” story, was nonsensical was not established until the Commission did its work and published its report.

If you run across the term “official” story in your research be sure you find the antecedent to the reference.  I suspect I may be preaching to the choir.


9-11: NORAD and FAA Timelines; in perspective

Note to readers.  I consider this to be version 1.0, subject to update and expansion


On October 23, 25, [edited Aug 25, 2011] 2001, at the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the role of the Defense Department in Homeland Security, the following exchange took place:

Senator Levin:  “General Eberhart, there’s been some confusion about the sequence of events on September 11 that maybe you can clear up for us…at 9:25, the FAA notified NORAD that flight 77 was headed toward Washington.  Was that the first notification – the 9:25 notification – that NORAD or the DOD (sic) had that flight 77 was probably being hijacked?…”

General Eberhart:  “Sir, there is one minor difference, I show it as 9:24 that we were notified, and that’s the first notification that we received.”

That NORAD Commander in Chief’s testimony to Congress by General Ralph Eberhart set in concrete a story that was simply wrong; a time that would influence events two years later when FAA Administrator Jane Garvey testified before the Commission.

My Perspective

I have consistently criticized NORAD for shoddy staff work and incomplete analysis in its attempts to provide an accurate timeline concerning events of 9-11. FAA fared no better in its attempts. Even worse, the two agencies did not reach agreement during the preparation for a White House meeting on September 17, 2001, and never resolved differences concerning notification to the military.

In a previous article I described the events that morning as a battle in a larger war against terror, an attack against the National Airspace System (NAS).  I identified the Battle Commanders as Benedict Sliney, the National Operations Manager of the NAS and Colonel Robert Marr, who commanded the defense of the northeast sector of the NAS.

I also identified the Battle Managers, the next higher echelon with direct involvement, as Jeff Griffith, an air traffic control manager at FAA Headquarters, and Major General Larry Arnold, NORAD’s CONUS Region (CONR) Commander and Colonel Marr’s immediate supervisor.  It was the Battle Managers, Griffith and Arnold, who were charged with working together to determine the facts.  In the immediate aftermath of 9-11, NORAD and FAA worked together and separately to determine the facts.  The following information comes from Commission Staff MFRs.

Darlene Freeman, then Director of Safety and Special Studies for the Deputy Administrator was tasked to put together the Administrator’s Briefing Book.  She recalled that Jeff Griffith was speaking with “some of the military people” to facilitate the project; he was tasked by Belger and Garvey to be the specific contact with the military in their efforts to develop an accurate timeline.  She was surprised at the release of the NORAD timeline and that they put it together so quickly without reviewing the document thoroughly with FAA, according to a Commission Staff interview with her.

Once the timeline was released, Monte Belger asked her to compare times in the document with times held by FAA.  Concerning the 0924 notification time for AA 77,  in FAA timelines the time was sourced back to a NEADS document not an FAA document.  That document was the MCC/T log.  Freeman stated she built her timeline off of the NORAD press release and did not have the benefit of the MCC/T log.  Commission staff represented to her that FAA did have the MCC/T log in possession and referred to it in a Sep 17 compilation.

On his part, Griffith recalled that “it was like pulling teeth” to get information after 9-11.  The FAA Centers weren’t cooperative.  Finally, they got it together to the point they could brief the FBI and the Secret Service.  Dick Clark was present at the meeting, as were DoD people.  Griffith characterized Freeman’s report as a topic of hot debate among FAA employees.  He knew people wee saying that FAA and military notification times were inconsistent. “Everyone was pointing fingers.”  Concerning General Arnold, Griffith said that “Larry and he” approached in pragmatically.  Although they had a lot of heated conversations, “Larry and I agreed we wanted the truth on the issue.”

Truth is not what they got.  General Arnold delegated some work to Brigadier General Douglas R. Moore, Director, Command, Control, Communications, and Computers, Headquarters, California Air National Guard, who he brought to CONR to assist.

NORAD staff errors undetected

In a Sep 16, 2001, email, sent near midnight (23:06 EDT) to the NEADS Battle Commander and NEADS Director of Operations, “Amplifying Data for 11 Sep,” Moore tasked NEADS for additional information commenting, “Thank your person [unidentified] who dug up the requested information from your logs and tapes.  I have passed it to the proper FAA office and they are very appreciative.  They are using this data to brief the White House tomorrow.  They request a little more amplification on a couple of the questions, and have a new one.  If someone can work these tonight, and e-mail answers here by 6AM, it would be greatly appreciated.”  Among the questions was this one:  “AA 77, 1324Z, Which FAA organization passes notification of “a possible track heading to DC’(sic)?”  (The email is DoD accession number NCTA000256547)

Moore’s question conflated two MCC/T Log entries.

  • 1324 American Airlines N334AA Hijacked
  • 1325 Hijack AA Flt headed to Wash D.C.

The request was answered by Colonel Clark Speicher “NEADS/DO Nights.”  Speicher was the NEADS Deputy Commander and was on shift as the night Director of Operations (DO).  Speicher responded:  “I have reviewed the crew MCC logbook and one of our MCC [Mission Crew Commander]’s and I reviewed the audio tapes to answer your questions.  The MCC log reveled [sic] the following:  1st question: AA 77, 1342Z (emphasis added):  Boston FAA says another A/c is missing AA77 flight to LA lost unable to contact.”

And that was the fatal error.  Speicher correctly identified the right log entry for notification concerning AA 77, but got the time wrong.  Not only did he transpose two digits, garbling the question, he provided the wrong time, entirely.  Here is the complete sequence of log entries that were misread.

  • 1324 American Airlines N334AA Hijacked
  • 1325 Hijack AA Flt headed to Wash D.C.
  • 1326 LFI scrambled on AA flt @1324Z
  • 1327 Boston FAA says another a/c is missing
  • 1334 American 77 Flt to LA lost/unable to locate

Those entries, properly parsed and reported, would have settled the matter and there would have been no Eberhart certainty about a time that was misleading.  For wont of a nail.  The accurate notification time, 1334, also figured into the Garvey testimony two years later.

Moore also asked two questions concerning UA 93, indicating that CONR and NEADS were aware that the first notification came after UA 93 crashed.  Even so, that exchange was garbled at both ends.  Moore asked: “United 93, 1408Z, Which center calls with information that UA 93, M3 1527 is heading for Cleveland?”  Separately, he asked, “United Flt 93, 1415Z, Who reported to NEADS that aircraft had crashed (new question)?”

Speicher responded: “2nd question: United 93, 1408Z: the log does not identify the center.”   “3RD question: United 93: The log does not identify the agency.

The actual log entry is “1407 [emphasis added] Bomb on Board UAL93 over Pittsburg 1527 M3 3951N 07846W.”

None of this specificity of knowledge survived to inform NORAD testimony before the Commission on May 23, 2003.

Moore asked a final question which reveals full awareness of the D 1989 issue.  “Delta 89, at 1341Z.  Did you receive a call of a possible highjack?  If so, from whom?”

Speicher responded: “4th question. Delta 89. 1341Z.  The log shows a call reflecting Delta 89 possible hijack Boston to Vegas.”  Speicher did not answer the “from whom” question because the log did not so state and he was unable to find it in the tapes.  “We spent six hours trying to retrieve data from the voice tapes…the system is complex..[and]…it is rather cumbersome as analyzing the data is difficult to say the least.”

Speicher also said, “we realize a comprehensive transcript will take days to ensure we accurately identify all voice recordings from all the tapes.  Nevertheless, NORAD made a rush to judgment.

NORAD preempts

NORAD, in true military fashion, took the high ground and published its timeline, unilaterally, on September 18, 2001, in a formal news release, “NORAD’s Response Times.” (Incorrect entries in red)

Response Times 
Hijacked Plane Notification Time
AA 11 0840
UA 175 0843
AA 77 0924
UA 93 N/A, Langley already airborne

Nearly a year later on August 12, 2002, FAA released a fact sheet, “Chronology of Events on September 11, 2001,” that included military notification times.

Added, July 31, 2011.  FAA did not, did not include a notification time for AA 77.  I have deleted that entry in the table.

Notification Times 
Hijacked Plane Notification Time
AA 11 0840
UA 175 0843
AA 77 0924
UA 93

FAA acquiesced , meekly in my opinion, to the NORAD position established months earlier on UA 175, but stood its ground on AA77 by making no entry in the chronology.  (Revised July 31, 2011) But it took them a while to reach that point and they, too, struggled with uncertain staff work and estimates.  I discussed, in detail, FAA’s preparation of a key document, the Administrator’s Briefing Book, in an article concerning AA 77.  FAA, specifically Dulles TRACON, was not aware that a fast-moving unknown (AA 77) was bearing down on the nation’s capital until shortly before Danielle O’Brien sounded the alarm at about 0932 EDT.  As discussed in the linked article, FAA controllers did, without comprehension, observe the target as early as, ironically, 0925 EDT.  That observation in no way resulted in a notification to the military as the NORAD timeline suggested.  It did not even become actionable within FAA.  O’Brien’s alarm did become actionable and that information was passed to NEADS, not by FAA Headquarters or Herndon Center but by, again, Boston Center, ZBW.

Both NORAD and FAA had information available to them that should have resulted in an accurate assessment for the White House on September 17, 2001, and for General Eberhart’s subsequent testimony to Congress.  Staffs at all levels in both agencies failed to get the story right.  Command at all levels in both agencies failed to vet the work of their staffs.

And that is how matters stood when the Commission began its work.  For over two years, the public had been misinformed, an egregious violation of the public trust by both agencies and responsible White House staff. Things not only did not get better, they got much worse.

May 22 and 23, 2003 Hearing

On the afternoon of the first day, Administrator Garvey answered a question about the notification time for AA 77 as follows: “I would like to submit that specific timeline for the record, with the first notification being at 9:34.”  She was then asked about that since the time did not square with General Eberhart’s testimony to Congress.  Garvey had been provided the accurate time by FAA staff but was not confident.  She had just previously stated: “The timeline that I have, that I remember, is one that had a notification of NORAD twice before the time [9:24] that you mention, so that there had been three notifications.”  The issue was not resolved and became more confused the next day.

On the morning of the second day Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta testified and this exchange took place when Commissioner Tim Roemer asked him: “…but you had not been in the room when the decision was made — to what you inferred was a decision made to attempt to shoot down Flight 77 before it crashed into the Pentagon. Is that correct?”

MR. MINETA: I didn’t know about the order to shoot down. I arrived at the PEOC at about 9:20 a.m. And the president was in Florida, and I believe he was on his way to Louisiana at that point when the conversation that went on between the vice president and the president and the staff that the president had with him.

MR. ROEMER: So when you arrived at 9:20, how much longer was it before you overheard the conversation between the young man and the vice president saying, “Does the order still stand?”

MR. MINETA: Probably about five or six minutes.

MR. ROEMER: So about 9:25 or 9:26.

And that erroneous recall by the Transportation Secretary set the stage for the NORAD briefing and testimony, which immediately followed his appearance.

NORAD, among other things, was tasked to explain the Otis and Langley scrambles. The Commission Staff review of the radar files revealed that neither scramble proceeded directly, despite anecdotal news accounts to the contrary. In the process of trying to explain things, the NORAD representatives compounded previous errors concerning notification times. Here is a summary of their testimony: (incorrect times in red)

Hijacked Plane Notification Time
AA 11 0840
UA 175
AA 77 0924
UA 93 0916

So, What Happened?

We do not know for sure, but based on my own experience supervising the staff of two command centers (Pacific Command Intelligence Watch and the National Military Intelligence Center) I have a pretty good idea. In a previous article, I used a Sudoku puzzle metaphor, explaining that an early wrong entry, undetected, makes a solution impossible. NORAD made four errors, twice, in determining what entries to make.

First, they failed in September 2001 and again in May 2003 to listen to and understand the events of the morning as recorded at NEADS. They had to listen to just two channels, DRM1, Channel 2, the Mission Crew Commander position and DRM 1, Channel 4, an ID Technician position.

Second, they failed on both occasions to accurately parse the single most important document of the day concerning military notifications, the Mission Crew Commander/Technician (MCC/T) log. As does a ship’s log, that log accounts for, chronologically, the important actions of any given day.

Third, they, together with FAA, failed on both occasions to reach an accurate and agreed upon position.

Fourth, they failed on both occasions to accurately define the list of hijacked planes, as reported to them by FAA, concerning notifications to the military.

As a result, in the first go-round, once they made what they thought was the correct and only entry for AA 11, 0840, then no other possibility was considered, and the next American Airline entry in the MCC/T log was, without parsing, assumed to be a reference to AA 77.

In the second go-round in preparation for the May 2003 testimony, once they decided there was no necessity to establish a notification time for UA 175, then the first United Airlines entry in the MCC/T log, 0916, was assumed, without parsing, to be a reference to UA 93.

This is a simple and logical explanation of what happened. It is consistent with my understanding of how staffs work and how after-action reviews are accomplished.

Had concerned NEADS, CONR, and NORAD staff listened to the MCC and ID Technician position tapes as a first, and mandatory, order of business, they would have, by necessity, come up with the following table as a starting point. (additional entries in blue)

Notification Times 
Hijacked Plane Time
AA 11
UA 175
AA 11
AA 77
D 1989

With that accurate baseline established, the recorded and logged events at NEADS easily fall into place. Times below are as they actually appear in the MCC/T log, consistent with the methodology that Colonel Scott stated he used when he briefed the Commission on May 23, 2003. (Click on the times for audio)

Notification Times 
Hijacked Plane Time
AA 11 0840
UA 175 0905; 0916
AA 11 0924
AA 77 0934
D 1989 0941
UA93 1007


The single most important error was the failure at NEADS to acknowledge the notification that AA 11 was reborn and to understand that the 0924 MCC/T log entry, a tail number, was a specific reference to AA 11, as established on the NEADS tapes. That error was compounded the Colonel Speicher/General Moore failure to sort out the log entries pertaining to AA 77 notification.  The resulting incorrect determination was a notification time of 0924 for AA 77.  That time survived the NORAD vetting process and ended up as definitive in General Eberhart’s testimony, a fait accompli.

The NORAD timeline 0843 error concerning UA 175 is problematic. As one individual at NORAD explained to us in passing (not recorded), the fact was that the Otis fighters had already been scrambled and were airborne because of the original notification for AA 11. The 0843 time was omitted, correctly, during the May 23, 2003 testimony. NORAD, however, made another egregious error, a simple failure to parse the MCC/T log, and equate a 0916 time to UA 175. The resultant incorrect entry was a 0916 time for UA 93.

NORAD also failed to account for D 1989, the only plane they tracked that morning. Further, it was the only plane reported hijacked by NORAD to the National Command Authority via the Air Threat Conference Call. In the aftermath NORAD conflated D 1989 with UA 93 and concluded, erroneously, that it had been tracking and reporting on UA 93.

In sum, two incorrect entries on two different occasions made the puzzle twice unsolvable.

The failure to twice solve the puzzle falls squarely on the shoulders of the Commander and staff at NEADS and at CONR. The failure to confirm the work of subordinate staffs falls squarely on the leadership at NORAD.

Regrettably, an organization, NEADS, that performed well on the morning of September 11, 2001, given the failure by FAA to provide actionable target information, performed abysmally thereafter.

Chaos Theory considered

In my consideration of Chaos, I determined that we could use, metaphorically, the language of Chaos Theory to analyze the terrorist attack and the counterattack. Specifically, I discussed strange attractors, nonlinearity, cascading bifurcation, and disruptive feedback. That morning, the false reports that AA 11 was reborn and that D 1989 was hijacked were disruptive feedback. The feedback was so disruptive that it contaminated all subsequent NORAD and FAA fact-finding and analysis. The matter was left to the Commission to sort it out, which it did.

9-11: May 2003 Hearing; additional insight

The purpose of this article is to provide additional insight for historians into the work of the 9-11 Commission, specifically, the first air defense hearing on May 23, 2003.

Previously, I discussed Colonel Scott’s presentation at that hearing in which he presented a slide that blurred the paths of the air defense fighters from both Otis and Langley.  NORAD had been tasked to explain the indirect scrambles from both Air Force bases.  That did not happen.

Here is the slide Scott presented as established in Commission work files on Oct 24, 2003.

When I asked Scott during interview why he blurred the paths he cited the limitations of power point.  That was, and is, a disingenuous answer.  Most military officers in their careers, especially while serving on staffs, become “power point rangers,” masters of the art of depicting information visually.  Scott was no exception.  Moreover, he had access to the work of Cheri Gott who had accurately depicted the Otis and Langley scrambles for NORAD in preparation for its testimony, including Scott’s.  I linked to Gott’s work in an earlier article.

Scott revisited

At some later time, most likely after our visit to Tyndall Air Force Base and our interviews with Scott, General Arnold, and General McKinley,  the Team 8 Leader, John Farmer, asked me to see how difficult it was to accurately portray the Otis and Langley scrambles using power point.

I found the task to be tedious, but straight-forward, well within the skill set of any staff officer.  Here is my revised version of Scott’s original slide, as established in Commission work files on February 13, 2004.

My assessment, retrospectively

NORAD, writ large and at all echelons, never figured out what happened until we told them, one echelon at a time, beginning with NEADS (Marr), then CONR (Arnold and McKinley), and finally NORAD (Eberhart).  Arnold’s immediate reaction said it all, “that is a better story than the one we told.”

As a result of that inability NORAD never came to grips with the details of the Otis and Langley scrambles.  Therefore, Scott, a late addition to the hearing team, had little choice but to notionally depict the two scrambles.

I stand by the assessment I made in an unpublished 2006 letter to the editors of the Washington Post.  NORAD did not lie, they told the story as they understood it.  It was not a failure to tell the truth, it was a failure to figure out what the truth was.  It remains my assessment that the NORAD leadership (and FAA, by extension) fell victim to shoddy staff work, inexcusable then and inexcusable now.

The failure was a two levels, staff and command.  The staff didn’t get it right and command didn’t put the staff “through the hoops” to explain their findings.

So, what happened?  The story begins with the NEADS tapes.

The NEADS tapes, a fragile collection

NEADS attempted to transcribe its tapes soon after 9-11.  That effort, undertaken by a technician brought in for the sole purpose of transcription, ended abruptly when one of the tapes was apparently overwritten or erased.  Thereafter Colonel Marr, the NEADS Commander sequestered the tapes to avoid further damage.

A partial transcript was completed by the NEADS secretarial staff, based on the work of the transcriber, with a lead note explaining what happened.  Multiple copies of the partial transcript were archived by the Commission Staff.  Here is a link to my copy.

That partial transcript would have been available to the testifiers and the staff that assisted them.  However, without the clarity of the primary source information, the tapes, the transcript alone was insufficient to the task at hand.  The NORAD staffs at all levels failed to get the story straight.

Shoddy staff work

First, Colonel Marr did not release the tapes from sequester.  Nor did anyone at any level direct him to do so.  The tapes remained sequestered until DoD, at the specific request of the Commission, tasked NEADS to furnish them.  That task turned out to be non-trivial and NEADS could not deliver them before the Commission Staff’s first visit.  Piecemeal delivery during the Staff visit revealed the deficiencies in the partial transcript as the Staff attempted to reconcile the transcript with the tapes during interviews with NEADS personnel.  The net result was a subpoena.

Second, no one at any NORAD staff level asked for the FAA tapes pertaining to the Otis and Langley scrambles.  Therefore, no audio primary source evidence was available to prepare for NORAD testimony before the Commission.

Third, the NEADS staff and Scott did not do a zero-based review of the most critical document the MCC/T (Mission Crew Commander/Technician) log.  They used the log, as Scott made explicit at the May 23 hearing.  But they did not uncover the basic errors that were made in September 2001 when NORAD completed and published its timeline.

Fourth, it is not clear that the NEADS staff and Scott reviewed the radar files or even paid attention to the work done by Cheri Gott.  A simple review of that primary source evidence should have raised an alarm about the nature of the air defense response.

In sum, NORAD failed to adequately prepare for the May 2003 air defense hearing.  Rather than clarify they further confused the story, the first step on the road to a subpoena.

9-11: NORAD briefings prior to May 23, 2003 hearing, some comments

I mentioned two briefings in the article “9-11: NORAD’s Sudoku Puzzle; a briefing askew, an addendum” that NORAD knew about before the May 23, 2003 hearing.  Thanks to some out of cycle work at NARA by paxvector and History Commons those two briefings are now available on the web.  Here is Cheri Gott’s 2002 briefing to the Satellite Toolkit (STK) Conference.  Here is her briefing to CONR to help prepare them for the hearing.

It is clear from both briefings, based on 84th RADES radar data, that NORAD knew the true story of the Otis and Langley scrambles.  They failed to tell that story at the first air defense hearing on May 23, 2003.  We also learn from these briefings that a “scramble” does not mean aircraft were launched.

A scramble defined

NORAD (Gott), on one sllide,  provides researchers and historians the definition of a scramble:  “Scramble = an order to get aircraft airborne as soon as possible.”  The important point here is that a scramble does not mean that planes were necessarily ever launched.

In my own work for the DoD Inspector General we examined the history of SEADS-directed scrambles concerning air activity over the Florida Straits concerning flight activity by the Brothers To The Rescue and Cuban response to that activity.  We determined the universe of scrambles over a several-month period and then further refined the data to focus only on those cases in which air defense fighters actually launched.  The number was quite small in comparsion to the number of “scrambles.”  My recall is that many of the scramble orders were cancelled because the information was determined to be spurious before the air defense pilots could get airborne.

A scramble order was and is a precautionary step, one in a sequence that can be stopped.  In the case of the Mission Crew Commanders at SEADS their task was to issue the scramble order and then quickly seek authority to actually launch.  The sequence of events on the morning of 9-11 was much the same.  The Mission Crew Commander and Colonel Marr scrambled Otis and immediately sought approval to launch.  General Arnold granted approval.

9-11: NORAD’s Sudoku Puzzle; a briefing askew, an addendum

This article provides information as it was briefed to the Commission on May 23, 2003. It complements the article “NORAD’s Sudoku Puzzle; a failure to tell the truth,” which should be read first. In that article you were introduced to Colonel Scott, USAF, retired. It is Colonel Scott who presented the briefing to the Commission. The video of that briefing is available on the Commission’s web site; it does not, however, clearly show the briefing charts used. The charts have recently been made available by NARA and the purpose of this addendum is to share them.

Colonel Scott made it very clear that times on his charts were derived solely from logs, primarily the NEADS MCC/T log; no other source. It is understandable, then, why he would brief a Pentagon impact time of 8:43, for example, as opposed to the actual time. On the other hand, it does not make clear why he would show UA93 impacting near Pittsburgh, as show on his introductory chart.

More important, however, is his treatment of the flight path of the Otis fighters and to some extent, the flight path of the Langley fighters as they neared the capital. Scott gave  the impression that the Otis fighters hugged the coast and proceeded directly to New York City, consistent with the account given by the pilots during interviews in 2002. When asked during an interview at CONR why he blurred the scramble path Scott claimed limitations of the Powerpoint program, a disingenuous answer, at best.

The rest of Scott’s charts were timelines, included here for the record. Better renditions will become available when paper copies in Team 8, Box 8 at NARA are uploaded.

NORAD Hearing First Time Chart


See the May 23, 2003 hearing article for a discussion of the discrepancies. In sum, NORAD read the MCC/T log wrong, twice; first when they prepared their Sep 18, 2001 press release and again when they prepared for the first air defense hearing. In my interviews with both Michael Bronner and Phil Shenon I attributed this to shoddy staff work, primarily at NEADS, which was not adequately vetted at either CONR (Generals Arnold and McKinley) or NORAD (General Eberhart).

The NORAD staff had clear and explicit information available; the radar files, the tapes, and the logs of the day.  On September 25, 2001, in a memo to the US Space Command Directorate of Analysis the 84th RADES included an analysis of radar data for 11 Sep 2001 which included radar text files and Powerpoint slides showing flight paths. On June 3, 2002, a NORAD analyst, Cheri Gott made a presentation to the annual Satellite Toolkit (STK) Conference which was based on 84th RADES data. Moreover, she followed that with a May 13, 2003, briefing to CONR just 10 days prior to the first Commission hearing on air defense. A purpose of Gott’s staff work was to produce a product for the CINC (Gen Eberhart) to use from a Headquarters perspective. Relevant Gott source material is in Team 8, Box 8 at NARA.

NORAD’s failure to provide an accurate accounting of the day is inexcusable for any staff and particularly for a staff that had been at the air defense business for decades.  NORAD failed to accurately read its own logs, tapes and radar files.  Together with FAA it failed to reach agreement on the basic facts of the day in the immediate aftermath when events were fresh.  The NORAD staff failed to adequately prepare its CINC for questions it knew were coming during General Eberhart’s annual testimony to Congress.  Ultimately, NORAD failed to tell the story of the valiant battle by Alpha and Delta flights at NEADS; a story that General Arnold conceded was better than the one they did tell.  Thanks to Michael Bronner that story has been told.

NORAD’s Sudoku Puzzle, a failure to tell the truth

This is an unpublished letter submitted to the Editors, Washington Post.  It details how the NORAD testimony at the May 23, 2003, 9-11 Commission hearing came to be.


August 4, 2006

Letters to the Editor
The Washington Post
1150 15th Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20071

Dear Editors,

Recent news media highlight the issue of why the NORAD account was so wrong about the events of September 11, 2001. Answers range from the position of NORAD officials that they were telling the truth as they knew it to the opposing position that they deliberately lied to the 9-11 Commission. My assessment is that poor staff work and a single error in logic, compounded, led NORAD far astray from the facts of the day.

Metaphorically, the NORAD task was to solve a difficult Sudoku puzzle. An early mistake in logic makes such a puzzle impossible to solve. The NORAD mistake was made prior to September 18th, 2001, the day it published an official timeline. That mistake led to inaccurate accounts in every official government story at every level thereafter, including NORAD testimony before the 9/11 Commission on May 23, 2003.

I arranged for the presence of General McKinley, General Arnold, and Colonel Scott at that hearing. General Eberhart, the NORAD Commander, had a previously scheduled trip to Europe and seconded Major General McKinley, CONUS Region (CONR) Commander, to represent him. In my initial conversation with General McKinley he was inclined to testify alone, even though he was not in the NORAD chain-of-command on September 11, 2001.

The Commission staff had the NORAD and FAA timelines, the military radar data, and an initial document delivery from the Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS). We knew from that limited data that fighters had not flown directly from either Otis or Langley and that the NORAD and FAA timelines were not in agreement. General McKinley was advised that we needed a definitive explanation of the scrambles and an accurate timeline.

General McKinley added Major General Arnold, former CONR Commander to the attendee list. General McKinley was again advised that the scrambles were a critical issue and asked if General Arnold could speak to that issue. General McKinley then added Colonel Scott explaining that Scott, alone, knew more about the scrambles and the timelines than any other NORAD official; he was the definitive source.

Scott had the original NORAD timeline of September 18, 2001. That timeline showed notification times of 8:40 for AA11, 8:43 for UA175, 9:24 for AA77, and no time for UA93, alluding to the fact that Langley fighters were already airborne. An accompanying note explained that: “The FAA and NEADS established a line of open communication discussing AA Flt 77 and UA Flt 93.”

There was one critical and two other serious mistakes in the timeline. The critical error was the 9:24 time for AA77. The accurate NEADS log information was: “American Airlines No. N334AA hijacked.” N334AA is the tail number for AA11, not AA77, a basic fact apparently never checked by any NORAD, CONR, or NEADS staff officer with either American Airlines or FAA.

The 8:43 time for UA175, was impossible and never explained in any document or during any interview conducted by the Commission staff. It was most likely a NORAD misunderstanding of information from FAA. That is the approximate time that UA175 was hijacked, a fact only known post facto.

The “open line” caveat was disingenuous. FAA called the National Military Command Center at 9:20 on an unclassified line but no operational information was ever passed. NEADS tapes show that about 9:23 [sic: the time was actually 9:33, the original letter submitted contained a typo] the FAA representative to NEADS began work to establish a secure line. That effort was not completed until after 10 am, and had no relationship to real time information about either AA77 or UA93.

Both NORAD and FAA separately engaged in staff deliberations during the period Sep 11-17, 2001, and they were in periodic contact. According to the lead official for FAA she was in frequent contact with her NORAD counterpart, General Arnold. The two organizations could not agree. NORAD pre-empted and published its timeline on Sep 18. FAA did not publish a timeline until some months later.

NORAD was also preparing General Eberhart for October 2001 testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee. In that appearance, Senator Levin asked about notification on AA77, citing a time of 9:25. Eberhart responded: “I show it as 9:24 that we were notified.” Eberhart’s testimony solidified the critical error in formal CINC testimony before the Congress. It became the CINC-approved NORAD story.

Essential NORAD files and data were held at NEADS. The single, most important document was the MCC/T (Mission Crew Commander/Technician) log, a handwritten journal maintained in real time. It is that log, in particular, to which Colonel Scott refers when he stated to the Commission on May 23, 2003; “I will tell you the times on this chart come from our logs.”

Therefore, the 8:43 notification time for UA 175 was not mentioned by Scott. It was not in any log and had never existed. Scott’s review repeated the original mistake concerning the 9:24 entry for AA11 and made another mistake in interpretation by attributing a 9:16 entry concerning a United flight (probably UA175) to UA93. (The 9:16 time may come from a different log than the MCC/T log) Nearly two years after the initial mistake about AA77 was made and became CINC-approved, it was repeated and compounded to include UA93.

On the day after the hearing Colonel Scott sent an e-mail to Colonel Marr, with a copy to the Commission staff, stating that it became easier to explain the Langley fighter scramble in terms of UA93 than AA77. It is clear from that email that neither Scott nor Marr, whose staff supported Scott, took the time to listen to the tapes or look at the actual transcripts. The NEADS staff, and Colonel Scott, had sufficient data available to them to find the rebirth of AA11 misinformation and the real reason for the Langley scramble. If they found it they did lie. If they did not they could not tell the truth. They could not solve their Sudoku puzzle.

We await the findings of the Inspectors General of the Department of Transportation and the Department of Defense.


Miles L. Kara, Sr., Former Staff, 9/11 Commission