9-11: exercises; Cheyenne Mt call to NEADS, routine admin request


Previously, I have written about the inadequacy of the Alderson transcription of NEADS audio files.  I recommend that researchers and historians use the transcripts in conjunction with the audio files and, if appropriate, the radar files.  In other words, rely on primary source information.  The purpose of this article is to demonstrate how an apparent dramatic call, out of context, from Cheyenne Mountain to NEADS, turns out to be a simple administrative action, not apparent from a simple reading of the Alderson transcript.


The relevant conversation is contained in NEADS audio file DRM2, DAT1, Channel 20, SD2 position.  The audio file was recorded at the position of Captain Brian Nagel.  He was dealing with track B089 (D 1989); the track that NORAD in the aftermath will conflate with concurrent information received about UA 93.

Nagel was busy trying to generate fighter assets from anywhere he could get them; Syracuse, Selfridge, Alpina, Springfield, and Toledo are mentioned.  Approximately 10:12, Nagel received a call from Captain Taylor, Cheyenne Mountain tech control.  Taylor asked that exercise inputs coming into Cheyenne Mountain be terminated.

Nagel, busy with real world activity, simply gave Taylor and administrative number to call.  The call, 101200 Cheyenne Mt Call, lasted just 15 seconds.  Nagel effeciently and effectively handled the call; it had no impact on his work.  In fact exercise activity is never mentioned during Nagel’s work to generate additional fighter resources.

A listen to Nagel’s work will serve researches and historians well as they strive to put together the pieces of the NEADS story.  Nagel’s position was “SD2,” Senior Director 2.  He worked directly for the Senior Director, Major Fox.

9-11: War Games; an update

Russian “Missile Shot”

I just rediscovered a short audio conversation at Position 22, Operations Phone 5122, Herndon Center that indicates the National Operations Manager (NOM), Ben Sliney, was aware of the Russian “missile shot.”  That primary source information is an update to my first article on “Training, Exercises, and War Games.”

The 8:17 call came from Oakland to Herdon Center asking who the NOM was and to speak with him.  Herndon Center asked the nature of the call and was told it had to do with the Russian “missile shot.”

That request can be heard here.  081709 Oakland Sliney Russian Missile Shot There is no known audio recording of Oakland’s conversation with Ben Sliney.

The threat, in perspective

For the first time in the post-Cold War era the Russians had scheduled an air-launched cruise missile (ALCM) live-fire exercise.  The exercise was ongoing the morning of 9-11.  It had the nation’s attention.

In the course of my staff work I saw the briefing slides prepared for the Chairman JCS intelligence brief that morning.  At the Pentagon, General Myers likely saw a slide depicting the ALCM threat to CONUS as part of the brief.  I estimate he didn’t spend much time on it; he simply looked to see if the threat had changed.

It was a slide he had seen multiple times over the years.  The slide I saw as part of his brief was little different from one I was responsible for maintaining in the early 1980’s while stationed at the Intelligence Center, Pacific supporting the Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Command.

General Myers likely saw the slide sometime before 7:30.   A little more than two hours later terrorists flew a hijacked commercial airliner into the Pentagon.  That was not the threat of the day briefed to the Acting Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Addendum March 21, 2010


Herndon Center tape 5DCC 1927 Ops phone 5134 Position 34 1215-1315 UTC provides additional information important to understanding how the Center worked, specifically the Strategic Planning Team (SPT) using the SPO (Strategic Plan of Operations) as the National Airspace System (NAS) operators dealt with the Russian exercise and missile shoot.  Position 34 is the National Operations Manager position.

A study done in 2000 on weather processes and product requirements provides insight to both the SPT and the SPO.  Even though the study was weather-related the procedures discussed pertain to any of the frequent planning conferences held each day at Herndon Center.

Why are planning conferences so frequent, on the order of every two hours?  Because Herndon Center is in business to manage chaos.  Nothing is more chaotic than weather.  The Butterfly Effect of weather is a defining term for chaos in the literature.  Although weather was the primary reason for a planning conference, in this case the conference was used to discuss the Russian exercise.

The study cited also establishes that one of eight large screen displays at the Herndon Center as of 2000 was the “National Traffic Situation Display (TSD).

We pick up the audio from an ongoing “SPO” conference at 8:15.  Why 8:15?  The Commission Staff requested four hours of tape from every Herndon Center position, 8:15 to 12:15, to cover the time of the four hijackings.

East Coast Discussion

As we listen in, Herndon Center concluded that Boston Center and the Canadians (Montreal) will provide a briefing at the end of the 9:15 SPO, as it was referred to by one participant.  The intended audience was the carriers and that participant asked if the European carriers could be included.  That first conversation can be heard here.  081505 Herndon Center SPO

Separate Conference Recommended

In this segment we hear the reason for inviting the European carriers.  They had “quite a few questions the other night.”  Boston Center recommended a separate telecon.  That second conversation can be hear here.  (Note this is one continuous conversation that I’ve broken up to limit the file size of any one segment.)  081550 separate conference suggested

Time Set and Changed

In this segment we first hear a time of 1400Z (9:00) recommended.  Gander suggested a later time, 1430Z (9:30) to make sure every one had the tracks.  This is a reference to declared Russian tracks.  Russia was required to issue a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM), a copy should be in the Commission master files.  That conversation can be heard here.   081653 time set, tracks mentioned

Advise Edmonton and Anchorage

Manchester recommended that Edmonton and Anchorage be advised later in the day, as well.  The reason was to make them aware of the Russian restrictions last night (September 10) and what was going to happen tonight (September 11).  That conversation can be heard here.  081747 Advise Edmonton and Anchorage

Ben Sliney Working the Issue

In this next conversation we learn that Ben Sliney was dealing last night (September 10) with two issues (Boston/Montreal and Edmonton/Anchorage, two areas).  Ben was aware of the impact of last night and what could be expected today (September 11).  That conversation can be heard here.  081835 Ben Sliney involved

Russian NOTAM Compliance Mandatory

The last substantive question asked for confirmation that the tracks would be put out.  Herndon Center said they would put the tracks out now and a second time with a reminder that compliance with the Prestwick NOTAM was mandatory.  That conversation can be heard here.  081913 Compliance with NOTAM mandatory


This addendum establishes that Oakland Center called Herndon Center asking to speak to Ben Sliney while a national planning conference was ongoing to address the Russian exercise.

Herndon Center had long established procedures in place to manage extraordinary events.  It handled the Russian exercise in a simple and straight forward manner.  All parties had their say and consensus was reached on who needed to know what.  Russia was in compliance and had issued a Notice to Airmen.  The Russian exercise had no impact on the NAS and only limited impact on the existing air defense posture.

Two “areas” are mentioned; Boston/Montreal and Edmonton/Anchorage.  We know that the air defense response was to forward deploy air defense fighters in Canada and Alaska and that the dedicated air defense fighters on the east coast carried added fuel tanks and armament.

9-11: Exercises; additional information

A researcher has posted exercise-related information gleaned from the universe of available interviews conducted by the Commission Staff.  This is valuable qualitative analysis now available to other interested researchers.  The researcher caveats that this is a work in progress and should be treated accordingly.  It is a significant level of effort, one that avoids the ‘snapshot’ analysis pitfall.  I do have additional insight that may be helpful.

Still to be released by NARA are the audio files of the interviews.  It is possible that not all recorded interviews were memorialized in MFRs.  In most cases MFRs were created using both the notes of interviews and the recordings.  My recall is MFRs were made of all unrecorded interviews.

Also still to be released are the database files of the Commission.  All documents provided to the Commission were catalogued, stored and maintained in classified and unclassified holdings.  Staff members copied docuemts from the master files as needed and some of those copies became part of the staff work files which have been released by NARA.

9-11: Training, Exercises, and War Games; some collected thoughts

Yesterday, June 15, 2009, I received an email from author Phil Shenon asking what I knew about a recent document posted on Scribd by History Commons. That document, posted and discussed here, is one of many work papers I created during my work on the 9-11 Commission Staff. I had forgotten about it until Phil jogged my memory. The document was prepared to list what we knew about exercises before we traveled to NORAD Headquarters. On that trip, concerning exercises, we were primarily interested in talking to Ken Merchant, purported to know more about the history of NORAD exercises than anyone else. A copy of the MFR of our conversation with him prior to going to NORAD is here.


Every day in the military is a robust training day. 9-11 was no different, especially in the air. Fighters were airborne in multiple locations, especially on the Atlantic seaboard. At Otis Air Force Base, six fighters were in the air on a training mission immediately after the two air defense alert aircraft took off in response to the events in New York City. When I saw that activity on the radar files of the day I immediately sent an e-mail to CONR asking how many aircraft Otis scrambled? The answer was just two; Panta 45 and 46, the dedicated air defense aircraft.

Before Panta 45 and 46 were scrambled three fighters from Andrews Air Force Base took off for scheduled training at Dare Range over eastern North Carolina, even though the Wing had just returned from an extended training mission in Nevada and was on a training stand down the day before. (Bolded words added on July 7 to correct the record, based on training records of the day.)

The Virginia/North Carolina border area on the coast was an especially busy place in the air that morning. Among others the alert fighters at Langley, themselves, were scheduled for two v two training with the regular Wing at Langley. Because it was a robust training day tankers were plentiful and NEADS was easily able to refuel its air defense fighters.


A good web discussion of NORAD exercises (and war games)  is this analysis. The analysis is consistent with my recall of what the Commission staff learned. It concludes, as did we, that ongoing exercises involving NORAD—Vigilant Guardian and Global Guardian—did not interfere with NORAD’s real world mission that day. At NEADS, exercises as an intervening variable was dismissed in seconds when Boston ATC called for the first time.

Jeremy Powell: “Is this real world or exercise?”

Boston ATC: “…not an exercise, not a test.”

That simple exchange focused NEADS on the task at hand. As with training, the overall impact of exercises was positive. Key staff was already in position at all NORAD echelons which meant that the Battle Cab at NEADS was fully manned and operational when Powell sounded the alarm.


The most serious event and potential threat of the day was a scheduled Russian cruise missile live-fire exercise. This was a first in nearly a decade and signaled a return of the old Soviet threat. In response, NORAD was participating in Operation Northern Vigilance; not an exercise. Although air defense aircraft were forward deployed in Canada and Alaska, there was only one slight effect on the air defense mission for the Continental United States. Because air defense fighters were loaded with extra armament and fuel their top speed was limited, but that didn’t matter. The Otis and Langley fighters were not going to go that fast anyway.

Air defense techniques and procedures are well established and they call for air defense fighters to fly subsonic. NORAD specified in its September 18, 2001, press release that the time for the fighters to travel to a given location could be determined using a speed of .9 Mach. There are very good reasons for this. First, the fighters must arrive safely at their destination through traffic without running into something. Second, they need the capability to remain on target—dwell time–until tanker support can be arranged. Third, they need to be going slow enough on arrival to spot a slower moving target.


There are two issues concerning training, exercises, and war games. First is the notion that the US Government, NORAD specifically, had an exercise history which specified that hijackers would seize multiple aircraft and use them as weapons. Second is the impression that ongoing exercises and war games on 9-11 impeded or hampered the air defense response. The answer to the first issue is that the exercise history did not prepare either NORAD or the US Government to face the threat it did on 9-11. While exercise scenarios generally included a hijack as one event, such play was notional, a paper exercise. The answer to the second issue is that the ongoing training, exercises and war games were a net positive for the air defense response that day.