Chaos Theory: 9-11; Ghostbusters, Herndon Center takes charge


In separate articles we have established three things that now converge.  First, we established that Chaos Theory, metaphorically, can be used to analyze events on 9-11.  Second, we established that AA 77 approached the nation’s capital undetected and that FAA’s Eastern Region was chasing ghosts.  Third, we established that the battle commanders that day were Colonel Bob Marr at NEADS and Ben Sliney at Herndon Center and that they weren’t talking to each other.  In this article we begin to explore two things, the convergence of events and the convergence of my separate analytical threads.

Eastern Region, ZDC and IAD

In the immediate aftermath of the first tower strike Eastern Region established a teleconference and continued to try and figure out what happened in New York City.  That task became unmanageable when UA 175 struck the second tower.

Nevertheless, Eastern Region kept trying to establish a body of information concerning past events and was trying to determine what happened to the towers and to locate AA 11 and UA 175.  It was by no means established in the immediate aftermath of the impact of UA 175 what had in fact happened to either tower.  Individual FAA managers and controllers intuitively knew the fate of both planes but that was not a corporate understanding.

We will learn in a later article that Eastern Region had reached an erroneous estimate of the situation.  As they tried to give one update to FAA Headquarters, a traffic management officer at Herndon broke in and set the record straight.  That stark contrast between what Eastern Region knew and what Herndon Center knew will reveal  how conflicted FAA was in its management of the battle.  But that is a later story.

At this point in our research Eastern Region is reaching backward in time and is making skip-echelon calls to Centers, Towers and TRACONS to sort out what had already happened.  We have documented two of those calls, one to ZDC asking about AA 77 and another to IAD asking about UA 175.

Concurrent with that second call Herndon Center, taking a completely different tack, called all the air traffic control centers to pass on specific guidance to fight the tactical battle still ahead.  Herndon Center took that action at 9:30, effectively shoving aside Eastern Region.  Ben Sliney, on his first day at work in his new job was learning quickly and he made, in short order, two critical decisions.

First, at 9:25 he culminated a series of local ground stops by ordering that all traffic nationwide on the ground stay on the ground. Second, he ordered an inventory of all aircraft in the air; the subject of a 9:30 call by one of Sliney’s traffic managers that can be heard at this link. Ghostbusters Call Herdon to all Centers

Herndon Center and Managing Chaos

Chaos is deterministic; it is bounded randomness; it is self organizing.  In order to combat the chaos of the morning someone had to got a grip on the bounds; and that someone was Ben Sliney.  His two key actions, a ground stop and an airborne inventory, were belated but each singularly effective in damping down the chaotic nature of the double bifurcated attack.  His actions assured the attack would not further bifurcate, even though that was not in the terrorist attack plan.  But he did not know that.

The nationwide ground stop assured that no more problematic airliners would enter the National Air Space.  The airborne inventory gave specific actionable orders to all air traffic control centers to let Herdon know immediately of any problems.  Cleveland Center responded within seconds.

Cleveland Center

Immediately, Cleveland Center, ZOB, reported what it knew about UA 93.  That call can be heard at this link.  UA 93 First Reported to Herndon Center.

This call establishes the fact that FAA knew about UA 93 at some level above an air traffic control center soon after 9:30.  FAA also knew that AA 77 was lost but neither ZID  or ZDC had yet provided any specificity to Herndon Center.  They did not do so because they did not know where the plane was.

Readers will recall that in the original Transponders and Ghosts article we established that each transponder manipulation presented a different problem to air traffic control.  We will never know why Ziad Jarrah waited until well after the turn back to turn off UA 93’s transponder, except that it was a fourth variation on a theme.  Whatever the reason, ZOB was able to effectively follow and report on UA 93.

What is happening and what isn’t happening

The most obvious point is that only one of the battle commanders, Sliney, has actionable information.  No one has shared critical information with Colonel Marr at NEADS.  No one has recognized that Marr and Sliney needed to be in contact.  We do know that NEADS was able to effectively follow D 1989.  Demonstrably, we know that they would also have been able to follow UA 93, but they were never cued to do so.

Herndon Center has now exerted itself and will do so more forcefully as the minutes go by.  Specifically, it will set the record straight at FAA Headquarters.  Even so, that accurate information will not find its way to the NCA or to NEADS.

By 9:42, Jane Garvey will be the captive of an SVTS conference and will not know what air traffic controls knows or what air traffic control has passed to FAA Headquarters.  At the same time, Norman Mineta is en route the White House, a fact established by Richard Clarke who convened the SVTS.

As John Farmer wrote in The Ground Truth, “Thus, years later, Richard Clarke could still believe that his high-level videoconference had been the nerve center of the nation’s response; no one had done the thoroughgoing analysis that would have exposed the reality that national leadership was irrelevant during thos critical moments.”