Archive for the ‘Chaos Theory’ Category

9/11: Air Threat Conference Transcript; DoD Release, in perspective

Sunday, February 2nd, 2014

Author’s Note, February 5, 2014

Minor typo corrections, bolded, have been made.

Background

On the morning of September 11, 2001, the National Military Command Center (NMCC) convened  an Air Threat Conference. The tape of that conference and accompanying transcript are among the most important primary source documents of the day. The tape has never been released. Only late last year, via a FOIA request in 2006, has a heavily redacted copy of the transcript been released. (Link added February 3, 2014, an oversight in the original posting.)

The release underwhelms and DoD has done a great disservice to the families, the public, and most of all to itself by releasing an important document in a way that confuses rather than clarifies. However, the release, while largely unhelpful, does provide some noteworthy insight.

It is my purpose in this article to provide insight for researchers and historians as they attempt to fathom what the Air Threat Conference transcript in its current public form adds to the conversation. But first, some overarching comments and then some perspective.

Overarching Comments

The initial report to the NMCC was stark, two aircraft into the World Trade Center and one confirmed hijack, AA11, headed towards the nation’s capital.  There was no mention of either AA77 or UA93. That information from the Air Threat Conference, or lack thereof, should have been a part of the DoD/NORAD preparation of General Eberhart for testimony before Congress, construction of the NORAD timeline, and preparation of General McKinley, General Arnold, Administrator Garvey, and Secretary Mineta for testimony before the Commission. None of that happened. Instead, a garbled government story emerged.

The initial NMCC attempt to switch from a Significant Events Conference to an Air Threat Conference failed because the classification level,  TOP SECRET, was too high for some intended conferees; FAA specifically, according to Commission Staff interviews with NMCC officers.  The conference was reconvened at the SECRET level but FAA was still unable to join.

Most important, the redacted transcript clearly establishes that the Air Threat Conference was “SIOP,” (Single Integrated Operations Plan).  My estimate is that this is the genesis of the national level attempt to implement Continuity of Operations (COOP) and Continuity of Government (COG) procedures.

The redacted transcript clearly depicts the confusion at the national level. Confusion about the threat, the attack, and its aftermath is understandable.  What is not is the consistent confusion about the disposition of friendly forces. The transcript, even in redacted form, describes chaos.

Chaos Theory Considered

In other articles I have established that Chaos Theory is useful in examining the events of the day, not in its pure mathematical form but in its language. We can use the language of Chaos Theory as a metaphor to aid in understanding what happened, retrospectively.  Specifically in this instance, chaos is nonlinear. Linear processes and procedures such as the NMCC attempt to convene a suitable conference, therefore, are largely futile and may even be counter-productive.

The series of teleconferences available to the NMCC were all linear processes, set procedures that allowed the orderly convention of the right voices at the right time to deal with a crisis. Except that never happened that morning. The attack was against the National Air Space system, a system operated by a single individual, Benedict Sliney, the FAA’s National Operations Manager, and defended on the East Coast by a single individual, Colonel Robert Marr, Commander of NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector.

For the nation to have any chance at all that morning those two individuals had to be in communication and sharing a common operating picture of the attack. Nothing the NMCC did during the actual attack and defense that morning ever assisted the operator and defender of the National Airspace System.

The Tape and Transcript

At about 9:29 EDT, as a precursor Significant Event Conference was being convened, the acting Duty Director of Operations (DDO) pushed the record button on a small, inexpensive reel-reel recorder on his desk.  That was the state of the art in the NMCC that morning.  The recording was not time stamped and the system required that the DDO turn the tape over at the end of each side.  He missed the fact that the first tapes first side had run out, according to his interview with Commission Staff. As a result, there is a period of time, perhaps a minute or so, that was not recorded.

The fact of an Air Threat Conference was determined by Commission Staff based on information contained in NORAD documents. A formal request to DoD surfaced the fact of the existence of the tape which was not released to the Commission until DoD had time to make a transcription, not a trivial process.  As DoD staff worked through the tape making the transcript they found that the equities involved in the conference exceeded DoD. Thereafter, the tape and transcript came under the purview of the National Security Council (NSC).

The Commission negotiated a protocol that allowed DoD to retain a copy of the transcript for Commission staff use during interviews. A second copy, the original as I recall, was retained at the NSC.  At no time did Commission Staff have either the transcript or tape available at our offices for a detailed contrast and comparison with other responsive information.  No copy of the transcript or tape will be found in the Commission’s archived files; we had nothing to archive.

Commission Staff was allowed to listen to the tape at the NSC under the supervision of a junior staffer whose task was to stop the tape at certain specified times and fast forward beyond brief snippets of information.  It was a boring job for the staffer and on one occasion as I listened he forgot to stop the tape.  What he was supposed to suppress in that instance was specific call sign reference to Continuity of Government (COG) helicopters.  To me, it was nonsensical. What he was suppressing was the same information I had routinely heard on air traffic control communications provided by FAA.

There is, in my estimation, no credible reason for the tape and transcript, unredacted, to be withheld beyond the minimum statutory limits for doing so.

A Note for Researchers and Historians

The redacted transcript is best used in conjunction with two other, more definitive documents. First, is the Commission Report, itself. A critical portion of the narrative concerning the events of 9/11 was based on the Air Threat Conference, as detailed in Chapter One notes. Keep the Report handy as you make your personal assessment of the DoD redacted transcript

Second, is the staff generated transcript surfaced under a Mandatory Declassification Review orchestrated by Robbyn Swan, co-author of the Eleventh Day. That document, “Air Traffic Conference Call, DJH Notes,” provides needed time correlation and should be concurrently used in order to understand the times and timing of the line entries in the redacted transcript. The staff made that transcript in order to integrate the Air Threat Conference into our own timeline.

With that background and guidance let us now consider the recently released redacted transcript.

The Situation

The national level did not start to get itself organized until 9:16 EDT, when CIA convened a NOIWON (National Operational Intelligence Watch Officer’s Network) to find out what was going on. The NOIWON, with which I had personal familiarity, is a desk/center level analyst information exchange network to quickly discuss things that go bump in the night. The network ties the WAOC consortium (Washington Area Operations Centers) together in real time.

No one on the NOIWON had any information beyond that which was being learned from news networks.  The important point is that all the key organizations, specifically the FAA and the NMCC, were on the network. The network, however, was not suited for operational coordination. The FAA node, for example, was on the 3rd floor of the FAA building, several floors below the FAA’s crisis center.

At 9:20 EDT, FAA activated its primary net, a mechanism for crisis coordination outside the FAA. One of the first entities called was the NMCC. The officer who answered told Commission Staff that he quickly learned that nothing was happening on that net.  He tasked a newly assigned non-commissioned officer, one not yet assigned to a specific NMCC watch team, to sit and listen to the network.  I interviewed her and found that nothing happened on the net that morning.

What happened was the FAA relied primarily on its internal tactical net. The NMCC was never a party to the FAA’s tactical net.

At 9:25 EDT, the SVTS (Secure Video Teleconference System) was activated. It became operational at 9:40 EDT, when the FAA Administrator and the CIA Director entered the conference. The SVTS was a cold war legacy system heavily layered with security which isolated conferees from their staffs. While both the NMCC and the FAA were active on the conference, participants had to communicate via runners to the DDO and the FAA crisis center.

Amidst all this activity the NMCC, which had simply been listening in on the NOIWON conference, decided it had to do something and a Significant Event Conference was convened at 9:29 EDT.  Staff officers told Commission Staff during interviews that they were literally pulling binders off the shelves in their effort to convene an operational conference that made sense.

The Conference Begins

The NMCC soon learned that FAA was not a party to the Significant Event Conference and decided to do something else. In response to information from the Air Force that they had established a crisis action team, the DDO said, “I concur, convene an air threat conference.”  NORAD concurred and announced it was “proceeding with an air threat conference.” Notably, NORAD also verified that “hijacked aircraft is still airborne heading toward Washington DC.”

The Threat

The threat was established immediately after the SECRET level Air Threat Conference was convened. The DDO announced, “An air attack against North America may be in progress.” NORAD concurred; “We have radar and visual indication of a possible threat to CONUS. Unknown country of origin.”

Given that a Russian air launched cruise missile exercise was scheduled, the die was cast. The nation prepared for an air attack not a terrorist attack and a COOP/COG response was required.

In NORAD’s defense it did attempt to dampen the situation. A possible hijack was mentioned. No CINC’s assessment, a critical necessary step was forthcoming; “CINC NORAD is not declaring air defense emergency at this point. And, NORAD recommends that this conference be reconvened when further information and unconflicted reports are available.”

By then it was too late.  The next communication recorded was, “This is the DDO providing an update. There’s a report that an aircraft has crashed into the Mall side of the Pentagon.”

Chaos ensued. The next threat report was that Delta flight 89 was possibly hijacked. That was followed by a report of a “possible inbound to D.C. 25 minutes out..” The NORAD response was explicit. “NORAD has no indication of a hijack heading to Washington, D.C. at this time.”

Things then took another chaotic turn for the worse. The DDO asked the Air Force for an update “on fighter cap” for the D.C. area. No one knew, Air Force or NORAD, even though three Langley fighters were in the process of establishing the ‘cap.’ The NMCC further request was, “I say again my previous request. Have any aircraft been scrambled in response to this United 93 and what is that status of fighter cap over D.C.?”

The NORAD response was nonsensical, in retrospect. “Roger, We currently have two aircraft out of Atlantic City; additional scramble pending and stand by for ETI (sic, should read ETA) to Washington, D.C. NORAD complete.”

Andrews mentioned

In other articles I have established that the Andrews fighters were not part of the air defense force that morning. They did not have the tactics, techniques, and procedures, or authentication tables to engage.  Even when finally tasked it took them well over an hour to get fighters in the air, well after the United 93 threat had been resolved.

Nevertheless, Andrews was considered. The DDO asked; “Have the assets out of Andrews been launched?” NORAD responded, “NORAD, no information on assets out of Andrews.”

The FAA joins

Sometime after 10:15 EDT, the FAA joined the conference, not from FAA headquarters but from the CARF (Central Altitude Reservation Function) at the FAA’s Air Traffic Control System Command Center, Herndon, Virginia.

The specific question to FAA was, “This is the DDO. Vice Chairman would like to know who’s controlling the aircraft over Washington D.C.”  The response: “If there are any aircraft that are airborne over the Washington area they are being controlled by our Washington Center.”

The NMCC did not have a grip on the disposition of friendly forces. The FAA voice advised that “we understand that there are some military fighters that have been launched to patrol the Washington area.” The DDO responded, “That’s correct. We have reports of two aircraft currently over Washington.”  There were actually three, from Langley.

The FAA voice responded, “That I do not know. I’m back in secure area in the command center. I’d have to go out on the floor to find out who is out there.” He reiterated that “Washington Center is controlling all aircraft in the Washington area at this time.” That was an accurate statement.

The confusion goes on and is worth reading even with the redactions keeping in mind the Commission Report and the Commission Staff version of the Air Threat Conference.

Other Interesting items

Page 62 contains a direct reference to COOP/COG operations. The DDO reported, “We’re still working the number of passengers for that first aircraft for SITE-R.”

Page 78 establishes NMCC awareness of the accurate disposition of friendly forces. CONR reported, “total of 7 airplanes over Washington D.C. right now. Four F-16s [Andrews] and three F-15s [Langley] over Washington D.C. Two F-15s [Otis] over New York City at the moment.”  That time was no earlier than 11:15 EDT, or so.

Page 93 establishes the arrival of Air Force One in Barksdale. General Arnold, CONR, reported, “ABC news, unfortunately, just announced that Air Force One is in Barksdale.”

Page 150 establishes that MOLINK was at least periodically on the conference.  During a polling of conferees, “MOLINK: this is MOLINK.”  MOLINK was/is a long existing Moscow-Washington hot line established in the early 1960’s.

It was likely a charter member any time an air threat conference was convened since the most likely threat was Soviet/Russian.  It is possible that MOLINK was used that morning in the concerted effort to convince the Russians to cancel their ongoing live fire exercise. They did.

As an example of the effort, during my work on the Congressional Joint Inquiry we established from logs of the NMIC (National Military Intelligence Center) that the Director, Defense Intelligence Agency directed the DDI (Duty Director of Intelligence) to call the Defense Attache’ in Moscow to ask the Russians to cancel the exercise.  A later log entry established that the Director, himself, made the call to the Attache’.

Page 164 establishes that “VENUS CONTROL” was responsible for Presidental movement. “VENUS CONTROL: This is Venus Control confirming that we did just talk to Air Force One and they are airborne on their way to Andrews Air Force Base.

Recall that the so called “mystery plane” was Venus 77, an E4B that took off hurriedly at 9:43 EDT, headed west and then turned back east to establish a 60-mile long racetrack orbit centered on Richmond, Virginia in support of the departure of Air Force One from Florida.  It was that turn back east which was noticed and photographed with subsequent ungrounded speculation as to its presence.

The continued DoD insistence on heavy redaction of the air threat conference ensures that unwarranted speculation will continue.

 

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

Monday, November 12th, 2012

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.

Introduction

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.

Anomalies

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.

 

Chaos Theory: UA 93; disruptive feedback, an interesting analysis

Tuesday, September 27th, 2011

Introduction

The purpose of this short article is to document for the record an analysis of the final chapter in the UA 93 story.  In the language of chaos theory, UA 93 became disruptive feedback once Cleveland Center entered a new flight plan for the hijacked plane in the air traffic control system, with destination Reagan National Airport.  The disruptive feedback that United 93 was still in the air confounded the national level at the time and in the accounting in the aftermath.

UA 93 lost on TSD at 1028 EDT

Here is a clip from the F2 Position, National TRACON (1 DCA 101-102 Tape 1-2 F2 1327-1450 UTC, as archived by NARA as part of the Commission files)  The F2 Position controlled the Andrews fighters once airborne.  As of 1028 the F2 Position knew that there was no target associated with UA 93. 1028 UA 93 not in system

In previous articles I have dealt with disruptive feedback, primarily in terms of the false report of AA 11 still airborne and the erroneous report that Delta 1989 had been hijacked.  In the language of chaos theory feedback is disruptive if it results in “a gain” to a system.  Concerning events of 9-11 that “gain” was the addition of planes the either had ceased to exist or were not in distress.  By that measure, the introduction of a new flight plan for UA 93 by Cleveland Center became disruptive.  That action by Cleveland Center was beneficial to air traffic control, specifically Cleveland and Washington Centers.  It was not beneficial to the system at large as we shall see.

Here is a link to analysis done by Brian Stark (Boone870 on the web) some months ago.  That analysis included the audio clip from National TRACON.  Stark’s analysis remains the definitive work on the UA 93 Traffic Situation Display (TSD) story, as told in the primary source and secondary information material of the day, supplemented by later recall by Transportation Secretary, Norman Mineta. 

(Note: the link in the last slide is no longer active)

Even though UA 93 was reported down with an impact time of 1003 EDT the flight plan was displayed and updated in the Traffic Situation Display (TSD) system until the flight “landed” at 1028 EDT at Reagan National.  It was that “landing” that was concurrently reported to National TRACON by an FAA caller who was watching a TSD display. (In context, the FAA caller was likely either Baltimore or Dulles TRACON)

It was the “approach” to that landing that became the threat to the National Capital Region, as updated to Secretary Mineta by Monte Belger, according to Mineta’s interview the next year with MSNBC.

It would be nearly ten more minutes before the first Andrews fighter took off in pursuit of an airplane that no longer existed, in fact or in projected flight plan.

9/11: Air Threat Conference Call; Staff Transcript.

Tuesday, July 19th, 2011

Robbyn Swan, co-author of The Eleventh Day, filed a mandatory declassification review with NARA concerning the Air Threat Conference Call convened by the National Military Command Center (NMCC) on 9-11.  That request surfaced a Commission Staff version titled, “DJH Notes.”  Swann and Summers, therefore, are the only investigators, other than the Commission Staff, who have had access to the contents of that key document.

Background

The NMCC had a simple, inexpensive, reel-to-reel cassette recorder that resided on the Duty Director of Operations (DDO) desk.  The acting DDO, Navy Captain Leidig activated the recorder at approximately 0930 as a Significant Event Conference was being convened.  By 0939 the conference had transitioned to an Air Threat Conference.  The recording was not transcripted and there is a brief gap around the 1037 time before Leidig realized side one of the cassette had run out and he needed to turn it over.

Commission Staff learned of the air threat conference call from NORAD logs and formally requested any and all information, including tapes and transcripts.  DoD determined that a recording had been made but no transcript.  DoD made a transcript but did not time stamp it.  Further, after review of its contents, custody of both the tape and transcript were transferred to the National Security Council (NSC).

Commission Staff and at least one Commissioner listened to the tape at the NSC.  A copy of the transcript was provided to and held by the NMCC for staff use during interviews. Given that the staff could not hold a copy and given that it was not time-stamped, a Team 8 member, Dana Hyde (DJH), patiently made a working copy from her own notes, over time.  It is that copy that is now publicly available, thanks to Robbyn Swan.

My estimate is that the derived timeline is accurate within three minutes +/-.  I base that on the 1049 entry “DDO” Emergency Actions message relearned [sic should be ‘released’] at 1452Z re Def Con 3 Acknowledgements.”

The DJH Notes, explained

The notes are a reliable approximation of the original transcript.  Given clearly identifiable data points that were known from other sources, Dana Hyde set about to construct a Team 8-derived timeline.  The left-hand column contains times in the form clock time (tape time).  For example, the first line attributed to the PEOC is as follows:

0942(13) PEOC: POTUS not yet left FLA; planning to depart and head to DC. NORAD Update: Possible fourth hijacking in progress — Delta 89 [Delta 1989]

The times in parentheses are tape times paired with clock times as in the PEOC example.  The marginal notes are Hyde’s handwriting.  Note that the lead marginal note indicates that the Staff was focusing on the issue of UA 93.

Observations

At  0933 reference was made to “hijack is still airborne heading toward DC.”  That is an explicit reference to AA 11 and not to AA 77.  NORAD followed that with its “conflicting reports” input passing along the erroneous report [a possible garble of the AA 11 report] of a “possible hijacked aircraft taking off out of JFK en-route DC.”

At 9:48 the DDO summarized for the PEOC that the possible Delta hijack would be the fourth (AA 11, UA 175, the possible out of JFK, and Delta 1989)  There is no reference to AA77 in that PEOC update.

At 9:58 NORAD inputted “No update at this time — we’ll provide an ETA when fighters will be on CAP over WH.”  At that very moment the Langley fighters were establishing a CAP and at 1000 one was directly overhead the Pentagon at 23,000 feet.

At 1007 NORAD inputted “No indication of hijack heading to DC at this time.  At that same moment NEADS first learned about UA 93.  Also, at that time they were attempting to intercept a a target over the White House, one that turned out to be one of the Langley fighters.  Explicit language in the NEADS tapes at that time about “identify by type and tail,” and “negative clearance to shoot” concerned the unknown (Langley fighter) not UA 93.

At 1014 the PEOC passed along the VP confirmation that “fighters are cleared to engage the aircraft inbound…”

At 1017 FAA was finally in the conference, but not the Headquarters or even Herndon Center, per se.  The person on the line was a mid-grade employee in the CARF (Central Altitude Reservation Facility).  That was the only place found that had the necessary clearance level to join the conference.  The CARF employee confirmed that at 1019 when he said, “I’m back in a secure area in Command [Herndon] Center.”

At 1020 Dr. Rice was “in the PEOC now.”

At 1032 Hadley informed Myers of “an inbound aircraft flying low 5 miles out.”  This is the false report that caused the Andrews wing to relaunch Major Hutchison even though he was low on fuel.

At 1035 Secretary Rumsfeld confirmed he was in the conference.

At 1038 the Vice President believed that we’ve “already taken a couple of aircraft out.”

At 1044 the Vice President stated that he would have to run the DEFCON 3 decision by the President.  (It is odd that would have taken that position and not a similar position on the shootdown authority issue.)  Summers and Swan speak to the issue in an end note:

Commission notes released to the authors in 2011 did indicate that the Vice President felt the need to get Bush’s authorization at a later point [10:44]…it is arguable that Cheney would have felt the same need for authority to engage hijacked airliners.

At 1048 there was still no fighter escort for Air Force One.  “Verification scrambled 2 fighters out of Ellington Field to escort AF! — stand by for intercept time.”  Southeast Air Defense Sector (SEADS) radar files show that the Ellington fighters intercepted Air Force One a few minutes prior to landing at Barksdale AFB.

At 1056 NORAD made one of several references to a single E-3 on location over DC.  That is a reference to Century 40 with operational call sign Bandsaw Kilo.  According to the NEADS tapes that aircraft established an active link at 1450 (1050) off of W701 (a warning/training area).

 

9-11: Marra Interview

Saturday, April 23rd, 2011

D R A F T

The purpose of this article is to upload specific audio clips from the Commission Staff interview with Steve Marra, Andrews Tower.  The interview was recorded and archived by NARA.  NARA provided the audio file to me.

The interview was conducted by Miles Kara, Kevin Shaefer, and Lisa Sullivan on Mar 11, 2004.  I was the lead on this interview.  09110016 Marra Introduction

Marra was working Approach Control during the World Trade Center events and thought he was in the Tower when the Pentagon was hit, as tower supervisor.  Staff went over the logs with him and determined that David Maddox and Roosevelt Thompson were switching off as tower supervisor.  Marra had gone upstairs to help and was manning the telephone.  Both Maddox and Thompson, according to Marra, were then working at Potomac TRACON.  09110124 Maddox and Thompson

Marra did not believe the Secret Service manned its position at Andrews Tower that morning.  09110410 Marra no Secret Service

Concerning the direction to scramble the F-16s at Andrews, Marra was certain that the call came from Karen Pontius at FAA Headquarters and perhaps through her from a person, unidentified, sitting in front of her.  He recalled the time to be right after the Pentagon was hit.  09110459 Marra Pontius Scramble Order 09110703 Marra Unknown Person

According to Marra the announcement that was made on ATIS (Automated Terminal Information System) was made by David Maddox.  Someone in FAA or the Air Force gave him the direction.  There was no precedence for that announcement and the words were likely crafted by Maddox, based on direction given to him.  09110901Marra The Maddox Announcement

Marra distinguished the three specific Air Force entities at issue, the 113th (DC Guard), Base Operations, and the Command Post.  The Post, according to Marra was part of the 89th Wing (Presidential support).  The 89th Command Post ran the base, according to Marra.  09111036 Marra 3 Air Force entities at Andrews

Marra was asked a global question as to whether there was anything else we needed to know that we had not asked about.  09111157 Marra Catchall Question

9-11: Exercise Vigilant Guardian; a post script

Tuesday, April 5th, 2011

D R A F T

Introduction

There is some confusion as to whether or not Exercise Vigilant Guardian interfered with NEADS Sector Operations Control Center (SOCC) floor operations during the defense against the hijackings.  The primary source evidence is that there was no interference.

The purpose of this article, therefore, is to place the evidence in perspective, given that we now know how Exercise Vigilant Guardian 01 was conducted.

Exercise Vigilant Guardian perspective

The Exercise was a series of discrete events at least up to and including the morning of 9-11.  There was no continuous flow of exercise traffic, injects, or simulated radar.  I have described that series of discrete events for each exercise day under the category “Exercise Vigilant Guardian.”

A background announcement on Sep 6, announced that exercise hours would be 1000-2200 hours each day, including weekends, until 24-hour manning was required.  0906200336 Exercise Hours There was occasional discussion and speculation on the SOCC floor in succeeding days as to when 24-hour manning would start.  The consensus was that it would be either Sep 11 or Sep 12.

As late as the evening of Sep 10, the SOCC was still on a three shift status.  0910231330 Nasypany status However, a comment by Capt Shelley mid-morning of Sep 11 indicated that twelve hour shifts had started.  09111134326 Captain Shelley Comment

Actual Exercise Hours

Despite the announced hours the start time was flexible, typically at mid-morning, but not always.  The start time was apparently predicated more on needed exercise play rather than a set schedule.

One day’s (Sep 6) major event did not begin until late afternoon.  On another day (Sep 10) there was an early morning event to test NEADS ability to sustain operations given a mechanical failure to an air defense fighter.  During the night of Sep 10-11 there was an event dedicated solely to expansion, the ability of one CONR sector to cover for another.

On at least one occasion there was middle-of-the-night position training, a narrowly focused simulation to qualify an Identification Technician.  That training required the presence of one or two controllers in the exercise cell.

On the morning of 9-11 as the hijacker attack began to unfold unbeknownst to NEADS, FAA and the nation there was no exercise activity ongoing on the SOCC floor.  Anecdotal accounts indicate that NEADS was poised waiting for an exercise to start that never came.  Or did it?

Exercise Vigilant Guardian Last Vestiges

There were no exercise injects, no calls from the exercise cell, no messages, nothing to interfere with the real world battle that commenced, for NEADS, at 0830.

However, the exercise simulated radar feed had not been turned off and that feed apparently started around 0930, a time consistent with start of the exercise day on Sep 7 and Sep 9.

At 093016, a voice on the MCC channel, most likely Major Nasypany [my estimate, based on the voice] said, “you know what get rid of this God dam sim, turn your, hey, turn the sim switches off, get rid of that crap! ”  0911130735 Get Rid of That Crap Nasypany’s order was carried out in less than ten seconds.

Here is an audio clip of the surveillance loop (the trackers) from 0928 to 0931.  The trackers were looking for AA 11 (radar only) and were glancing at CNN on one of the SOCC display screens. At 093025 the announcement ordered by Major Nasypany is made to “all surveillance,” “turn off your sim switches.”  0911130304 Shut Sim Switches Down

It is clear from this primary source record that the officer-in-charge of the SOCC floor, Major Nasypany, immediately recognized that the exercise electronic flow had started and he took immediate action to stop the interference.

Exercise Vigilant Guardian 01 died a swift death at the hands of Major Nasypany.  The exercise interruption was a brief transient, a blip on the screen, nothing more.

(Paragraph updated 4/24/11) The actions of the chain of command were less swift but just as sure. Exercise Vigilant Guardian was buried via a conference call by NORAD.  The first NORAD call was to Capt Nagel from Capt Taylor with instructions to terminate all exercise inputs.  Nagel immediately referred him to an admin number.  In this next clip, in context, we hear the Taylor call and Nagel’s response.  Interestingly, Nagel first answerd the phone, “Sim,” he had been working in the exercise cell.  He immediately corrected himself.  The call came as NEADS was looking for UA 93, without success since it was down, and was following D 1989. The audio file begins at 1010 EDT and Taylor’s call comes a minute later.  0911132648 First NORAD call to terminate

Other Comments

The death rattle of Exercise Vigilant Guardian was occasionally heard on the SOCC floor as people mused, joked, or otherwise commented on the situation, before and after its demise. The rattle began in the surveillance section as they defined a search area to look for AA 11.  The time was 0844.  The AST commented, “the exercise is going to have to go on a little bit of hold here,” as he shifted manpower to hunt for an ill-defined target, but one with a “Z point around which a 25-mile box was designated for search.  Note that he equated a primary target to a search target.  0911122413 Exercise going on hold

A few seconds earlier, Major Fox, who was prone to muse anyway–“how do we know the balloon was friendly?”–commented on the MCC channel, “I’ve never seen so much real world stuff happen during an exercise.” Here, Fox is commenting on the time frame of the exercise, based on his years-long experience at NEADS.  0911121800 Real world during exercise Fox

More than an hour later, after the exercise feed had been terminated to the NEADS SOCC floor, a person in the weapons section commented to no one in particular, “you sure this isn’t an exercise,” and then laughed.  0911132558 Sure it isn’t exercise


D R A F T

9-11: Secret Service Timeline; in perspective, a most chaotic time

Sunday, March 13th, 2011

Addendum, March 15, 2011

In a previous article I discussed the Headquarters FAA actions concerning AA 77 in the days after 9-11 as they prepared a briefing book for the Administrator and senior staff.  I neglected to mention and link to that material in the article, below.

Introduction

It has been brought to my attention that my notes taken during a review of the Secret Service timeline have been made public by NARA.  Following is a link to my notes; I took them, and I archived a copy in my work files.  The notes are a compilation from disparate documents. That is my handwriting.  It should be familiar to researchers who have spent any time at all with the Commission’s work files.  My Notes

The Secret Service notes

The date “7/9″ is July 9, 2003.  We visited Secret Service for a tour and briefing and learned that that they had put together an internal timeline.  We did not get a copy but were allowed to review it in its original classified form and take notes that I believe were then sent to us later.  I see no redactions, the style and continuity are consistent with my note taking.  I believe the document to be a complete set of my notes.  The phrase “unclassified extract” is my terminology; it is unrelated to the title of the original document.

The Secret Service timeline, as I recall, was in spreadsheet format and the entries were more detailed than my notes.  The document was a patchwork of information from the divisions within the Secret Service, such as the Uniformed Services Division, Presidential Operations, JOC, etc.  It was not in any way a synthesis or analysis.  The timeline was an uneven document in its fidelity to actual events, such as the takeoff of Air Force One which the Service had wrong in its timeline.

On a subsequent visit to the Secret Service JOC (Joint Operations Center) I had a chance to talk to the scope operator who was on duty on 9-11.  The Service had a slave radar feed from National TRACON, as Clarke referred to in his book. “Stafford [Brian Stafford, Secret Service Director] slipped me a note. ‘Radar shows aircraft headed this way.’  Secret Service had a system that allowed them to see what FAA’s radar [National TRACON] was seeing.  ‘I’m going to empty out the complex.’  He was ordering the evacuation of the White House.”  That event was during the SVTS, which places it after 9:40

I’d like to say that the radar capability was established after a private plane crashed into the White House grounds.  The scope operator provided me screen prints he made on 9/11 which should be part of the Commission’s master files.

Radar-wise, the Service could see only what National TRACON could see.  The first cue that the JOC had was the alert call after Dulles TRACON sounded the alarm.  At that same time National TRACON put an “S” tag on the fast moving unknown so that it could be more easily followed.  The JOC-provided screen prints began at about 0934, as indicated in my notes and consistent with the “S” tag annotation by National TRACON

With that as background let me now place the notes in perspective.

What the notes are not

The notes are not confirmation of the Mineta testimony as some have been quick to judge.  The relevant entry to Mineta is the 1022 entry, “FAA advises a/c 5-10 miles out fm WH poss 757.”  By that time Secretary Mineta was settled in to the PEOC and receiving information from FAA HQ.  The convergence of evidence is conclusive on that point.  Moreover, my notes are implicit that the VP was not moved until 9:37.

Richard Clarke, in Against All Enemies, described events concerning the Secure Video Teleconference (SVTS) that he convened.  According to logs of the day the SVTS was activated at 9:25 and the teleconference was convened at 9:40, according to CIA and FAA timelines concerning George Tenet and Jane Garvey.  Clarke stated, “”Okay…Let’s start with the facts. FAA, FAA, go.” and then asked, “Jane, where’s Norm?” And during her brief asked, “Jane, if you haven’t found the Secretary yet, are you prepared to order a national ground stop and no fly zone?”  Garvey responded, “Yes, but it will take a while.”

Clarke then wrote, “Shortly thereafter, Mineta called in from his car and I asked him to come directly to the Situation Room.”  Therefore, according to Clarke’s account, Mineta did not arrive at the White House until after 9:40 and went to the Situation Room before he went to the PEOC.

Secretary Mineta was in his office on the top floor of the Department of Transportation building.  He accomplished the following actions after UA 175 struck the South Tower. He assimilated what he saw and conversed with his staff.  He took time to talk to CEO’s of airlines.  He descended to the ground floor and was driven to the White House West Wing gate, a minimum of eight minutes on a good day.  He then passed through security and debarked at the West Wing where he met with Richard Clarke some time after the SVTS conference, which convened at 0940.

That sequence of events places Mineta in the West Wing after the time that the Vice President was being moved to the PEOC.  Mineta had to then cross to the East Wing and descend to the PEOC.  Once there, he had to get acclimated, in position, and in communication with someone, most likely Monte Belger.  Jane Garvey was in the SVTS conference.  According to the Commission Report, “At 10:02, the communicators in the shelter began receiving reports from the Secret Service of an inbound aircraft.”  That aircraft was not AA 77.

What the notes are

The notes–taken together with the radar and the FAA and NEADS audio files–simply hint at the tip of the chaotic iceberg of information that confounded the national level.  I have written extensively about Chaos Theory and about the national level.  Specifically, I have described the events of 9-11 using the cascading bifurcation aspect of Chaos Theory.

The 0925 entry is most likely a reference to the work of Van Steenburgen and Garabito as they worked the movement of Air Force One.  The clue here is “FAA Pres Ops.”  Their focus was on Air Force One and the President, not on the Vice President, the PEOC, or Secretary Mineta.

“FAA PO [Van Steenburgen] advises “2 a/c unaccounted for” is an incomplete reference to the information available within FAA that there were, at that point in time–in real time–three aircraft unaccounted for:  AA11, AA 77, and UA 175, as we shall hear in clips later in the article.  The notation “one of [2 a/c] approaching WDC” is a possible reference to either AA 11, AA 77 or UA 175; it is not conclusive.  My estimate is that it is a reference to the false report that AA 11 was still airborne.

Dean John Farmer and I believe, post facto to our Commission work, that the AA 11 false story was a conflation of emerging information that AA 77 was lost.  That conflation, although erroneous, was sufficient information for NEADS to order the Langley scramble.

The notation, “not communicating w/ tower,” is a possible reference to AA 77 or UA 175 or, by this time, UA 93.  Air traffic control communications do not support one over the other.  All we know from my notes is that the information came from FAA Pres Ops.

The notation, “advises a/c is 30 miles out fm WH,” is a possible reference to either AA 77 or AA 11.  Again the notes and supporting air traffic control tapes are not conclusive.  While it is an easy judgment, post-facto, to line up the radar track for AA 77, that is not a case that can be made in real time when the totality of evidence is considered.

The notations for 0934, 0935, and 0936 are consistent with the fast-moving unknown which turned out to be AA 77, and are supported by radar, air traffic control communications, visual observation at National Tower, and the screen prints provided to the Commission Staff by the JOC.

A caution to researchers and historians.  Don’t be hasty to conflate the entries from 0925-0931 with the entries from 0934-0936 and conclude that the “a/c” referred to is always AA 77.  There is a conflation of the false report of AA 11, the unknown status of UA 175, the unknown status of AA 77, and the emerging status of UA 93 at this point in time.  It was a most chaotic point in the events that day.  So why the caution?

The next entry

My notes show “0937 VP.”  That was my short hand for the Secret Service’s movement of the Vice President to the PEOC, according to their own time line.  That time is consistent with all other documentation concerning the arrival of both the Vice President and Secretary Mineta in the PEOC.  The Commission Report is conclusive on this issue.

The Audio Files

Note to historians and researchers.  The audio clips embedded below are off the V-Drive of the Commission’s file server at our GSA office.  The NARA notation is “RG 148 Records of 9/11 Commission V-drive (audio clips from audio monograph).”

It was our intention to publish an audio monograph.  We got as far as final draft but did not have time to transcribe the audio files into the text of the monograph.  My colleague, John Farmer, in his Introduction to Ground Truth, stated, “An ‘audio monograph’ of the day’s events that we prepared…did not survive the vetting process.”

I completed and stored a master file “061604” of over 500 audio clips concerning events of the day.  I also stored a master addendum “071504” containing 40 additional clips of interest.  The titles of the clips, below, are as I archived them in 2004.

The Audio Record

About 0916 a conversation took place between Ellen King at Herndon Center and Bill Halleck at American Airlines.  That was the first mention by anyone outside of FAA to FAA that AA 77 was missing.

Internally to FAA the only air traffic control entity that knew of the loss of AA 77 was Indianapolis Center.  At about 9;10, the Center reported that fact to FAA’s Great Lakes Region and to the Air Force’s Rescue Coordination Center at Langley AFB, Virginia.

American Airlines was under the mistaken idea that both planes into the Trade Center were American.  Note that King briefly mentioned a data tag in her remarks.  091626 AA11 AA77 ATCSCC King with Halleck AAL Pos 34B Line 5149

Concurrently, Cary Johnson, Operations Manager at ZDC called his counterpart John Thomas at ZID.  Johnson had noticed the ghost TSD track of AA 77 and called to inquire about it because Region (Eastern) was calling him.  Johnson was told that “he’s turned around and heading somewhere else.” Here is that call in its entirety.  091654 AA77 Johnson ZDC Thomas ZID Conversation ZID TMU

As that call was in process Herndon Center called ZID for any and all information about AA 77.  As soon as Thomas hung up the phone with ZDC he picked up on the call from Herndon. The information provided was going to be immediately passed “to the NOM and everybody that’s  standing up there.”  ZID had notified search and rescue and had no evidence of a hijacking.  One key element passed was the altitude, flight level 350 .  Here is that conversation in two parts because of file size.  091836 AA77 Summersall to ZID from ATCSCC ZID TMU.mp3 Part I 091836 AA77 Summersall to ZID from ATCSCC ZID TMU.mp3 Part II

Johnson then had the word spread at ZDC to look for AA 77 and for UA 175.  The file name with the words “primary search” is as I originally stored it.  That is a misnomer.  ZDC was instructed to look for limited data tags at altitude, 35K for AA 77 and 31K for UA 175.  092035 ZDC Primary Search ZDC OMIC The time was 9:21, the time that Secretary Mineta testified he was in the PEOC and receiving real time information.

Shortly thereafter, NEADS called ZDC asking for a mode 3 for AA 11.  There was no mention of AA 77 by either party.  The time was then 0924 and ZDC was talking directly to the air defenders.  The only mention of a plane approaching Washington was by NEADS and it was a reference to AA 11.  092310 AA11 ID First call to ZDC They have nothing

Concurrently, Colin Scoggins, ZBW, called NEADS.  Scoggins was explicit that they did hear from Washington that there is an aircraft they believe it is American 11, southwest.  That is a problematic reference.  Air traffic communications do not equate that reference to AA 77. There is a brief mention of a “no tag” at an IAD controller position about that time but no evidence that became actionable.  According to my notes from the Secret Service time line, the first mention of an aircraft approaching Washington was 0930, five minutes later.  In context, the “approaching” language is applicable to either AA 11 or AA 77 and not definitive for either.

That aside, NEADS learned that there were three aircraft missing, according to Scoggins.  Boston did not know the call sign of the third aircraft even though they were listening in to the Eastern Region bridge.  092401 AA11 Scoggins 3 Aircraft Missing

Shortly before, Jeff Griffith directed the establishment of an open line between Herndon and FAA Headquarters.  Subsequently, among other things, he directed an inventory from the various centers of any unusual circumstances.  092505 Inventory Griffith Directs Any Unusual Circumstances

At the same time, the AA 11 story became convoluted and ZNY, Bruce Barrett, called NEADS trying to get a straight answer.  NEADS, of course, only knew what they had been told by ZBW.  092518 AA11 AST call from Barrett not TRACON

Also concurrently, the orders for an inventory immediately surfaced AA 77 as an issue.  The time was now 9:25 and all FAA HQ knew at an actionable level, one that would have been in communication with Secretary Mineta, is that AA 77 was lost, they didn’t have a primary or anything.  Here is the report from Herndon Center to FAA Headquarters.  092524 AA77 One such report AA77 reported lost Line 4530

Two minutes later, NEADS persistently called ZDC again about AA 11.  NEADS had confused “Washington” with ZDC.  The ZDC recipient of the call became frustrated and ordered his military desk to “call Boston military guy.”  The time was nearly 9:29 and, again, FAA at a knowledgeable level, was talking to NEADS, the air defenders.  AA 77 as an aircraft approaching the nation’s capital was not mentioned.  092721 AA11 3d ID Call to ZDC Becker

By 9:30, ZID was still attempting to contact AA 77,  as heard in this exchange between Indianapolis Center and an unknown entity.  093019 AA77 ZID Hold of AA77 Not Yet

The NEADS Identification Technicians persisted in their contacts to FAA Centers, specifically Boston Center.  In my work on chaos theory I have described NEADS and Boston Center as “strange attractors.”  There is a reason for that as the Vigilant Guardian tapes from NEADS reveal.  To NEADS, FAA meant “Center,” as in “Air Route Traffic Control Center.” In this next clip we hear NEADS again talking to Colin Scoggins, who again confirms that there are three aircraft missing.  As NEADS discusses the call we hear a possible genesis of the D 1989 story.  NEADS believes all three missing aircraft are “out of Boston.”  093116 AA11 ID call to Scoggins 3 missing

The cross communications between NEADS and FAA persisted as NEADS continued to try and find actionable information.  Again the Identification Technicians communicated with ZDC.  ZDC listened patiently to the NEADS rundown and then told them about AA 77, the first time NEADS learned that it was missing.  Here is that complete conversation, in two parts because of file size.  093212 Part I AA11 AA77 ID Summary ZDC loss of AA77 093212 Part II AA11 AA77 ID Summary ZDC loss of AA77

NEADS was provided no specificity on location, ZDC did not know, but soon would.  That awareness came from Danielle O’Brien at Dulles TRACON, Final West position.  Here is her alarm as recorded at both Dulles TRACON and National TRACON.  093337 AA77 Danielle Sounds Alert Dulles Tape Final West 093222 AA77 Danielle Heard at Reagan We See Him Krant Tape

The first clip starts with O’Brien’s normal air traffic control communications.  She then dropped off for 35 seconds before she sounded the alarm.  That 35-second period is when she (and others) became fully aware of the fast moving unknown.  When I talked to her she told me she wheeled her chair to the person at the next scope to compare notes before she alerted National on the 62 line.  Concurrently, her supervisor called his counterpart at National alerting him that the target was headed for P56 .   National TRACON soon added an “S” symbol to the track; it was then, and only then, that anyone in FAA tagged the track for the Secret Service.

Some Things That Need To Be Said

First, it is not possible to take a snippet of information about 9-11 and/or a snapshot of the Commission’s work and extrapolate that information to a larger whole, with meaning. It is possible to extend the work of the Commission, building on the body of information accumulated by the Commission and the Joint Inquiry before it and the reports both entities filed.

Historians and responsible researchers have done that and continue to do so.  Others are less diligent and rely on eye witness statements, participant recall, and media accounts to build inaccurate and in some cases outright false explanations for events of the day.  And they continue to do so, ignoring the explicit and implicit pitfalls of that approach.

The Pitfalls

Second, there are two primary pitfalls, conflation of events and compression of time.  I started my work on this website with the “Scott Trilogy,”  primarily to deal with both as evidenced in Scott’s articles.  Readers familiar with Richard Clarke’s account will recognize both pitfalls in his narrative, as well.

The Scott series of early articles, together with the Cooperative Research timeline and a few other sources, was the public story as the Commission Staff knew it when we started work.  It did not take us long to figure out that the public story was grossly inaccurate and misleading.  It was based on eyewitness statements, participant recall, and media accounts, most of which, in the aggregate, conflated events and compressed time.  Contemporary work with that same basis is and will be equally inaccurate and misleading.

The Ultimate Question

There is just one question at issue.  Why did Norman Mineta testify to a precise time that was inaccurate?  We may never know the answer.  For anyone that has worked in an operations or command center with world-wide responsibilities there is a logical explanation.  He looked at the wrong clock; Central Time.

Chaos Theory: 9-11; CRITICS, a snapshot of the national awareness

Monday, December 6th, 2010

Introduction

The purpose of this article is to put into perspective the National Security Agency’s (NSA) release of CRITICS concerning events of 9-11.  The article is intended primarily for historians, but modern day researchers will also be interested in what the release is and what it is not.

The released documents provide a key glimpse into the state of knowledge at the national level after the Pentagon attack and while UA 93 was an issue.

I read the NSA CRITICS during my work on the Congressional Joint Inquiry Staff and I knew that the original CRITIC was not accurate, the case with many CRITICS.  The CRITICS were not something I carried over to my work on the Commission Staff as a major issue.

What I had not remembered was the NSA summary of its NOIWON call.  That places into perspective information that has been in the public domain since the Commission’s records were released by NARA.

NOIWON correlation

I wrote about NOIWONs in a previous article which should be read first.  In that article I mentioned that we would get around to discussing a thing called “CRITIC.”

According to the FAA log that establishes CIA activation of the NOIWON line, NSA initiated a second NOIWON conference, which FAA logged at 10:20. The substance of the log entry is redacted. However, my recall from work on the Joint Inquiry Staff is that NSA was seeking additional information from other agencies concerning the CRITIC.

What is a CRITIC?

A CRITIC is a FLASH precedent message that forwards Critical intelligence (DoD definition).  Such information is by nature raw and unevaluated.  Time is of the essence and the initial CRITIC message is followed by amplifying messages as necessary and a close out or cancellation message to complete the action.

What knowledge is in the public domain that CRITICS were issued on 9-11?

An FAA log entry (see link above) shows that the FAA watch “faxed critics to the 10th floor.”  Despite the fact that the log entry indicates “faxed critics…,” there was only one critic with follow-on messages. The “critics,” plural, entry refers to one event only.  That information has been available to the public since NARA released the work files of the Commission.

The NSA CRITIC sequence

NSA did not issue the original critic.  NSA issued a LATERAL CRITIC; it simply retransmitted a CRITIC it received.  The original CRITIC was issued by NORAD.  NSA tells us that in their cover letter releasing its redacted documents.

NSA wrote, “records responsive to your request include documents containing North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) information.  NORAD is a bi-national command; therefore, it is not subject to the FOIA.”  NSA then stated, “…the NORAD information has been redacted with the notation “OGA” which stands for Other Government Agency.”

Based on the “OGA” redaction, the original CRITIC was no more than two or three lines.  It was issued by NORAD at 111349ZSEP01 (9;49).  NSA retransmitted the message three minutes later as a LATERAL CRITIC at 111352ZSEP01 (9:52).

NSA next issued FOLLOW-UP-1 at 111414ZSEP01 (10:14).  Again, the issuance was referenced to the original NORAD CRITIC in the header information and the content was no more than 4 or 5 lines, again “OGA” information.

NSA issued FOLLOW-UP-2 AND FINAL TO DIRNSA [Director, National Security Agency] CRITIC at 111448ZSEP01 (10:48).  Again, the content was all attributed to NORAD.

What the CRITICS are not

Although transmitted by NSA, this set of three CRITICS, one lateral and two follow-ups, is not intelligence community information.  NSA did not collect any information to prompt the issuance of these electronic messages.  The fact that NSA used an intelligence community classification, “SECRET SPOKE,” was likely either a matter of formatting or a matter of convenience, nothing more.

The NSA NOIWON summary, my assessment

NSA’s released document, “NOIWON RECORD SHEET,” is a summation.  The “LOCAL TIME: 0913L” entry is most likely the time that NSA logged when CIA initiated the original NOIWON conference.

NSA initiated its NOIWON conference just before its first FOLLOW-UP CRITIC.  Although FAA logged that NSA convened at 10:20, the NSA summary is dated “ZULU TIME: 1413Z [10:13].”

The NSA summary documents the fact that the White House Situation Room was a participant in the NOIWON conference, as well as the National Military Command Center (NMCC), National Military Intelligence Center (NMIC), State Department (STATE/INR and STATE OPS), CIA (CIA OPS), and Department of Justice (DOJ/OPS).

Those may be formatted boxes to be checked for the ‘major players.’  Even though not listed we know that FAA’s ACI Watch on the 3d floor at FAA Headquarters was also on the NOIWON call.

The NSA summary also documents the confusion and misinformation at the time.  That includes the state of the nation-wide ground stop [inaccurate] , the unconfirmed crash of UA 93 south of Johnstown, PA, [probable] and, especially, a report that a Boeing 767 aircraft originating from JFK was hijacked and heading for DC as of 1339Z (9:39).  The summary also reported that two USAF F-16s intercepted the aircraft.

The hijack reference, time-wise, followed the false report that AA 11 was still airborne and may be related to that report.  It is possible that the reference to two F-16s intercepting that aircraft may be a reference to the content of the NORAD CRITIC, itself.

The summary e-mail

NSA also included in its release a “TRAN DESK” [most likely the Transportation Desk in the NSOC  (National SIGINT Operations  Center] e-mail that provided, as of 16:21:20 GMT (12:21), a summary from the FAA OPS center.  Of note is the continuing confusion and false information about AA 77.  As of 12:21 EDT, FAA [not Herndon Center] was, according to the NSA TRANS DESK, carrying AA 77 as “possibly crashed area Kentuckey/Ohio [sic] border.”  NSA added a note: “the a/c that crashed at the Pentagon was “NOT” regular scheduled flight, and did “NOT” file a flight plan.”

The CRITIC Summary

Two days after 9-11 at 131303ZSEP 01 (5:03 a.m. EDT, Sep 13, 2001) NSA issued a “CRITIC SUMMARY FOR DIRNSA CRITIC 1-2001.”  NSA reported: “According to Press, a hijacked 757 airliner originating from JFK crashed during the late 1300Z or early 1400Z hour…in rural Pennsylvania, apparently the fourth aircraft involved in the 11 September terrorist plot.”

NSA’s awareness of events of the day remained the same, with one exception.  The language about “interception” was dropped.

What next?

The time of the original CRITIC from NORAD, 9:49 EDT, may document the beginning of the national level’s descent into chaos, a subject I am currently researching.

Chaos Theory: the butterfly effect; a ghostly experience

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

We will explain to you the nature of birds, the birth of the gods,

The genealogy of the rivers, the origin of Erebus and Chaos…

In the beginning there existed only Chaos…

(Aristophanes, Chorus, to you men down there)

It is time to take a closer look at Chaos Theory itself and to add substance to my early articles.  And we begin with the butterfly metaphor.

Modern Literature

Ian Stewart in Does God Play Dice? The Mathematics of Chaos, described the butterfly effect this way: “The flapping of a single butterfly’s wing today produces a tiny change in the state of the atmosphere. Over a period of time, what the atmosphere actually does diverges from what it would have done. So, in a month’s time, a tornado that would have devastated the Indonesian coast doesn’t happen. Or maybe one that wasn’t going to happen, does.”

James Gleick who made chaos a bestseller topic in Chaos, Making a New Science, began an article he wrote in 2008 this way: “Can a butterfly stirring the air in Beijing today transform storms in New York next month?”

The website “whatis.techtarget.com” credited the meteorologist Edward Lorenz with the first use of the metaphor.   “The butterfly effect , first described by Lorenz at the December 1972 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, D.C., vividly illustrates the essential idea of chaos theory. In a 1963 paper for the New York Academy of Sciences, Lorenz had quoted an unnamed meteorologist’s assertion that, if chaos theory were true, a single flap of a single seagull’s wings would be enough to change the course of all future weather systems on the earth.”

Arthur Fisher, writing in MOSAIC, Jan-Feb 1985, in an article “Chaos: The Ultimate Asymmetry,” informed us differently about the genesis of the butterfly as a metaphor.  His attribution was to Ray Bradbury who in “A Sound of Thunder,” a short story first published in Collier’s in 1952, described time travelers going back 60 million years.  They were admonished to “stay on the path.”  One traveler stepped off the path and “inadvertently tramples a butterfly.”  When the travelers return to the year 2055 the “world is unutterably and irrevocably altered.”

The essential point in modern literature is that initial conditions define the future and that those initial conditions cannot be predicted.  However, the Chinese long ago extended the notion of initial conditions to be a vision of cosmology and the human condition.

Early Taoism

N. J. Girardot, Myth and Meaning in Early Taoism: The Theme of Chaos (hun-tun,) Berkeley, 1983, addressed an earlier genesis for the butterfly metaphor in chaos.  “The “meaning” of hun-tun as the mythological and metaphysical principle of chaos embraces…the fundamental question of the meaning of meaning.”  “Chaos…is not ultimately a negative concept but rather a vision concerning the true order of cosmic and human life.”  “As the true meaning of the inner life-order of nature and man, hun-tun is a condition that is not outside…[the] ‘Butterfly Way’ of the universe.  The Chinese word and symbol for ‘butterfly’  (hu)…connotes…the mythological story of that gloriously free creature of air, pollen and nectar…that issues forth from the great ‘transformation of things’…”

Girardot further elaborated in a whimsical reference to Lewis Carroll.    “…a hun-tun myth of primordial chaos was certainly present in China…and is a key technical term in all of the early texts.  The word “hun-tun” in its Taoist use is, above all, an excellent example of what Lewis Carroll’s Humpty Dumpty called a “portmanteau” word—that is, a word “packed up” with several meanings.  And that leads us to 9-11.

9-11 A Day of Meanings

Glass and Mackey in From Clocks to Chaos, The Rhythms of Life, provide the following explanation useful to our understanding of the chaos of 9-11 as described differently by eye witnesses, participants, researchers, writers and historians.  All use the word chaos; none define it.

“Although ‘chaos’ is often used as a popular synonym for noise, it has developed a technical meaning that is quite different.  Technically, chaos refers to randomness or irregularity that arises in a deterministic system…An important aspect of chaos is that there is a sensitive dependence of the dynamics to the initial conditions.”

The National Airspace System (NAS) was attacked on September 11, 2001.  The NAS was, and is, a deterministic system, operated by the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Air Traffic Control System Command Center (Herndon Center).  The system is calibrated to guide thousands of commercial, private, and military aircraft through the nation’s skies from takeoff to landing as determined by flight plans entered into the system.

The NAS is subject to randomness or irregularity on a frequent basis due primarily to weather, the flap of a butterfly’s wings, but also to any other irregularity that may arise, to include airplanes out of communication (NORDO), not transponding the right code, or off course.  The NAS knew how to manage such events; one key position at Herndon Center was “Severe Weather.”

Procedures were in place to handle hijackings, something the NAS had not experienced in a decade.  Nevertheless, the old paradigm was known to all controllers, comply with hijacker demands and guide the hijacked plane safely to a demanded destination.  That might include military escort but at a distance and unknown to the cockpit.

That “sensitive dependence of the dynamics to the initial conditions” set the stage for everything that would follow.  That dependence was predicated on the understanding that a hijacking would be a singular, non-suicide event.  Mohammed Atta changed the paradigm when he announced “we have some planes.”

Chaos ensued, not in the attack but in the government’s awareness of the attack.  The higher the echelon the more chaos prevailed, to the point that the Secretary of Transportation and the National Command Authority were chasing ghosts, butterflies if you will.

9-11: Chaos Theory; Unbuilding the World Trade Center, dealing with Chaos

Saturday, August 28th, 2010

I just finished reading American Ground, Unbuilding the World Trade Center, by William Langewiesche, paperback version with afterword.  The author copyrighted his research in 2002 and the paperback version was published in 2003.

I did not work on the World Trade Center story while on the Commission and, therefore, have not written much about it.  However, Langewiesche touches on an issue important to me, Chaos Theory, and I need to address it.

Chaos Theory

Langewiesche, as do nearly all writers, researchers and historians, uses the word “chaos” ubiquitously and without definition.  The word is used as an accepted descriptor, understood by all.

In earlier articles I have established my use of Chaos Theory to understand and put in context the events of 9-11.  In particular, I have established that we can use Chaos Theory as a metaphor and that we can use its language to describe things.

One such description is the fact that in Chaos things self organize in ways that cannot be predicted and strange attractors emerge because information flows to entities or people around which things can reorganize.

Langewiesche describes such a set of circumstances concerning the “unbuilding” of the World Trade Center, one in which an unlikely entity and actors emerged and around  whom things organized to deal with what the author, time and again, refers to as chaos.

[page 9] “The agency charged with managing the physical work was an unlikely one.  It was the Department of Design and Construction (DDC), an obscure bureaucracy…whose offices were not even in Manhattan but in Queens.  The DDC was given the lead for the simple reason that its two top officials, a man named Kenneth Holden and his Lieutenant, Michael Burton, had emerged from the chaos of September 11 as the most effective of the responders.”

And later, [page 11] “Their success in the midst of chaos was an odd twist in the story of these monolithic buildings that in the final stretch of the twentieth century had stood so visibly for the totalitarian ideals of planning and control.”  But the buildings were not buildings anymore, and the place where they fell had become a blank slate for the United States.  Among the ruins now, an unscripted experiment in American life had gotten under way.”

And finally, a description of the task [page 12]: “The weight alone defied imagination.  What does a chaos of 1.5 million tons really mean?”  Thereafter, the author will refer to the debris pile, itself, as “chaos.”

But how good is Langewiesche as a contemporary historian?  The author provides us the answer.  He took the time to describe the flights of AA 11 and UA 175 in a way that allows us to gage his research.

Primary source information, accurately reported

Beginning on page 75 and in seven succinct pages, Langewiesche, accurately told the primary source story of AA 11 and UA 175 using transcripts of the audio files from air traffic control and from American Airlines.  His account is flawless, based on my own understanding and my own work with the air traffic control tapes.  Using that benchmark to establish Langewiesche’s due diligence as an historian and writer, we can reasonably accept the rest of his work, specifically the following:

1.  Beginning on page 54 Langewiesche described the deaths of, first, the South Tower, and then the North Tower as a specific result of the impacts of UA 175 and AA 11.  “One of the many astonishments of that day was that the building [South Tower] was able to swallow an entire 767 and slow it from 590 MPH to a stop in merely 209 feet.”  “…the building would have remained standing indefinitely.  But then, of course, there was the fire…”

2.  “On the debris pile in the northeast corner the fire melted the remnants of the shattered airliner, which half an hour after entering the building began to flow in a stream of molten aluminum down the tower outside.”

3.  With its support giving way beneath it the top of the [South] tower tilted  east and then south., rotating in a clockwise direction, and suddenly slammed down.” “…it was not felled from below, it was hammered from above and it accelerated as it fell crushing the core and peeling back the exoskeleton with each successive floor.”

4.  [North Tower] “…the 351-foot transmission tower on the roof sank a little…Half a second later the floors above the impact zone dropped as a unit straight down through the office fire, creating a flare-up and the illusion of a secondary explosion before striking the first blow in the chain of blows that pancaked the monolith to the ground.”

5. The words of one of the last persons found alive, one who survived the fall of the North Tower, Pasquale Buzzelli.  “Buzzelli felt the building rumble, and immediately afterward heard a tremendous pounding coming at him from above, as one after another  the upper floors collapsed in sequence.  Buzzelli’s memory of it afterwards was distinct.  The pounding was rhythmic, and it intensified fast, as if a monstrous boulder were bounding down the stairwell toward his head.”

Based on Langewiesche’s demonstrated due diligence in research and reporting I am confident that the conflagrations–the office fires–brought the towers down, that the molten metal “flowing out” was aluminum, and that the speculation by a few about controlled demolition is simply false.

Langewiesche’s work was criticized, but that criticism had nothing to do with his technical descriptions of the flights, their impact, the fires, or the collapse of the towers.  It had to do with his treatment of the stakeholders, primarily the New York Fire Department, in the demolition effort.  In the afterword to his paper back edition, Langewiesche showed his established due diligence by acknowledging and addressing the criticism of his original book.