9-11: 9:40-9:47; fleeting window of opportunity, where was everyone?

Why this article

While working on part 1 of the UA 93 trilogy, the controller story at Cleveland Center, I drafted a summary of what else was going when the transponder on UA 93 was turned off.  The summary deserves its own time slot; it is filed under “Times of Interest.”

Recall that the transponders were manipulated differently in each of the hijacked aircraft and each manipulation presented a different problem in the National Airspace System.  Aboard UA 93 the transponder was turned off after the turn back to the east.

In this article we draw extensively on two sources; previous articles on Chaos Theory and the 84th RADES radar files. In one article I specified that the attack that morning was a battle in a larger war and that the Battle Commanders were Ben Sliney at FAA’s Herndon Center and Colonel Bob Marr at NEADS.  We established that they were not talking to each other and that the Battle Managers, General Arnold and Jeff Griffith, the next higher echelon, had neither the information nor the wherewithall to make that happen.  We also established that higher echelons were irrelevant and properly so.  Their job was to manage a war, not fight a battle.

Here is a Google Earth screen print depicting the seven minutes between transponder off to loss of coverage by the Joint Surveillance System radars supporting NEADS.

UA 93 Transponder Off

The situation

The UA 93 transponder was turned off at 9:40:30.  NEADS will have a seven minute window to establish a track.  UA drops out of NEADS radar coverage at 9:47:30.  It will not reappear until moments before it plummets to ground at 10:03.  At 9:47:30 UA 93 is just approaching the Ohio/West Virginia/Pennsylvania tri-border area.

Sliney and Marr are not in communication and cannot exploit the window of opportunity.  NEADS does not know about UA 93 and will not until after it plummets to earth.

NEADS did establish a track on Delta 1989 and  forward told that track to CONR and NORAD.  A few minutes earlier NEADS briefly established a track for AA 77 which it did not have time to forward tell.  Even earlier, it had learned about the rebirth of AA 11, as reported by Boston Center.  That fortuitous mis-report actually triggered the Langley scramble, which went astray.

At 9:40 the Langley fighters are under AFIO (Authority for Intercept Operations) and have been redirected toward the nation’s capital.  One of the three planes will fly directly over the Pentagon at 10:00.  Two of them will be captured on BBC video footage as they turn west over the nation’s capital to begin a combat air patrol.

Who was doing what

23,000 feet directly below the Langley fighter the NMCC is in an Air Threat Conference which it convened as the Pentagon was being struck.  The NMCC knows little of the approach of the Langley fighters, in itself a bizarre state of affairs.  They know nothing of the window of opportunity to track UA 93

The key agency, FAA, is not on the Air Threat Conference.  Concurrently, the NMCC is a participant in a CIA-convened NOIWON along with the FAA security watch seven stories below the FAA’s Washington Operations Center at FAA Headquarters.  No real-time information is available on that link

However, seven stories higher the FAA WOC is getting near real time information concerning UA 93.  That information is not being shared on FAA’s primary net because that net, activated at 9:20 to include the NMCC, was still born.  (I will speak to the primary net in a future article.)

Concurrently, Administrator Garvey, as of 9:40 is a participant in a just-beginning, closed-system SVTS conference with Richard Clarke.  She is disconnected from the WOC and is not aware of the near real-time information being passed by Cleveland Center via Herndon Center to the WOC.

No one at levels above Clarke is effectively engaged.  Secretary Rumsfeld has left his office for the Pentagon crash site.  General Myers has departed Senator Cleland’s office and is en route the Pentagon.  The Vice President is on his way to the PEOC at the insistence of the Secret Service.  Secretary Mineta is out of pocket en route the White House to join the Vice President.

At 9:40, the President is on his way to board Air Force One; he departs at 9:55.  It is his intention to return to the nation’s capital.  Concurrent with the arrival of the Langley fighters to protect the capital the President’s advisors and protectors recommend he not return.  At 10:10, with the nation’s capital protected, Air Force One turns west and heads for Barksdale Air Force Base.

During the fleeting window of opportunity for others to act, the passengers and cabin crew aboard UA 93 learn of the fate of other hijacked aircraft and of their own certain fate.  They take matters into their own hands.  They will do what no one else at any level can accomplish; they counter-attack, successfully for the nation, tragically for themselves.