9-11: Air Defense Response; first things first, the Scott trilogy, (part 1)

In an introductory article we established three barriers to analyzing events of 9-11; time compression, event conflation, and the application of post facto awareness and understanding to facto and post-facto events.  William Scott’s work must be considered with due regard to the latter barrier. In his first article, “Exercise Jump-Starts Response to Attacks,” he reported what he was told  by participants and what he learned from the public record of the day.  The fact that his narrative compressed time and conflated events is not his doing.    It was his sources who compressed  and conflated, and Scott did not have the primary and secondary source information available for validation.

Two different Scotts

William B. Scott (not the same Scott who briefed the Commission on May 23, 2003) wrote a series of three articles in 2002 for Aviation Week & Space Technology. That trilogy was one of the early detailed accounts of the events of the day and it served as a starting point for Staff work concerning FAA and NORAD. The Staff began with a LexisNexis literature search, a portion of which is available at NARA. The Scott trilogy immediately came to light as did the NORAD September 18, 2001, time-line, replicated in Scott’s first article published June 3, 2002.

The Commission Staff knew what the public knew but had reason to believe that the account of the day was flawed.  That belief was confirmed when the other Scott, Lieutenant Colonel Alan Scott,–who had been researching events of the day for several months–briefed the Commission.

Documents of the day told a different story

One of the first primary source documents the Staff received was the set of radar files from the 84th RADES,followed in short order by the first document delivery from NEADS which included a partial transcript and a copy of the MCC/T log.  None of that information–one primary source file and two secondary source documents–supported the public story as related by William Scott.  Simply put, the actual tracks of the air defense fighters did not correspond to what Scott reported.  Further, the primary and secondary source records of the day supported neither the September 18, 2001, NORAD time-line nor Lieutenant Colonel Alan Scott’s revision as briefed to the Commission.

Some Things William Scott got right

Scott’s title for his first article is consistent with what the Commission Staff found.  Scott elaborated: “In retrospect, the exercise would prove to be a serendipitous enabler of a rapid military response….Senior officers involved in Vigilant Guardian were manning Norad [sic] command centers…and [were] available to make immediate decisions.”  The problem was there were few immediate decisions to be made.  As the Commission determined and reported there was no timely notification concerning any of the hijacked airplanes.

Scott’s account of General Arnold telling Marr to “scramble; we’ll get clearances later,” is also accurate.  As the Commission Staff briefed at the June 2004 hearing, the formal hijack notification procedures were unsuited in every respect for the events of 9-11.  Boston Center abandoned the procedures; NEADS/CONR followed suit.

His  account remains reasonable as the Otis pilots are introduced.  They heard the word even before NEADS because of their working relationship with Cape TRACON.  The pilots were in action before they were scrambled; they literally put themselves on battle stations.

The Account Starts to Drift

Then Scott’s account starts to deviate from what actually happened.  The Otis pilots did not do what they told Scott they did. “Consequently he [the lead pilot] jammed the F-15’s throttles into afterburner and the two-ship formation devoured the 153 mi.. to New York City at supersonic speeds.  It just seemed wrong.  I just wanted to get there.  I was in full-blower all the way.”

Except they didn’t go to New York City and they did not proceed supersonic.  The “NORAD RESPONSE TIMELINE,” which Scott discussed, states: “Flight times calculated at 9 mi./min. (Mach 0.9).”  It is reasonable to infer that the Otis pilots, by the time Scott interviewed them, had internalized the events of the day in a way differently than they occurred and that is the story they told Scott and others.

Concerning the Langley scramble, Scott did not address the fact that the actual path of the fighters after takeoff was orthogonal to their intended direction.  Scott stated, simply, that the “alert F-16s were scrambled and airborne in 6 min., headed for Washington.”  That remained the official story until the Commission staff learned the actual path from the 84th RADES radar files.  Lieutenant Colonel Alan Scott, was supposed to put that straight at the May 23, 2003, hearing; he did not.  Instead, he blurred the paths of both the Langley and the Otis fighters in his briefing charts.  I told that story in a separate article.

Conflation and Compression, two  examples

Scott reported that the alert was being passed simultaneously to NORAD/Cheyenne Mountain and to the DoD Air Traffic Services Cell (ATSC) at the FAA Herdon Command Center. Indeed, Colonel Marr was immediately able to talk to General Arnold. The Battle Cabs at all echelons in NORAD were fully manned because of the scheduled exercise.That was not the case for the ATSC. Scott’s reference is to a December 17, 2001, Aviation Week & Space Technology article: “Crisis at Herndon: 11 Airplanes Astray.” That article gives the erroneous impression that the ATSC was immediately represented on the Herndon operational floor.

In another example, at NORAD, according to Scott’s interviews, “A bunch of things started happening at once…We initiated an Air Threat Conference [call].”  It didn’t go quite as Scott told it, but the lead was particularly helpful; this was the Commission staff’s first awareness that there was such a call and a request for any tapes of that call was among our first document requests.  Because of its importance that call will be discussed in a separate article.

Scott’s narrative thereafter is a conflation of events on multiple levels; participants told him what they remembered or what they had internalized.

Some more examples

Delta 1989.  Scott discussed a fifth hijacked aircraft–although no airplane is mentioned the implication is that it is Delta 1989–before he talks about the discovery and immediate loss of AA 11 at 8:46.

Search for additional fighter support.  Scott introduced this activity before he mentions the Langley fighters on battle station at 9:09.

FAA reports 11 aircraft amiss. Scott interjected this fact while discussing  the Langley battle station/scramble sequence.  That was the time frame for the erroneous report that AA 11 was still in the air.

AA 77 impact 9:41. This is interesting since Colonel Scott, with great stress that all his times were log times, briefed the Commission that the time was 9:43.

Scatana/Mineta. Scott perpetuated Mineta’s contention that he gave the order to bring all the planes down and conflates it with a discussion that occurred later in the day about implementing Scatana.  General Eberhart was in his office at NORAD Headquarters and did not arrive at the Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center until later in the morning.

Prepared to shoot down UA 93.  Scott reported that, “F-16s…were prepared to shoot down United 93.”  They were in position but had no authority to shoot and were never vectored to intercept the airplane.

Escorting Air Force One. Scott quoted General Arnold as saying, “We scrambled available airplanes from Tyndall and then from Ellington…We maintained AWACS overhead the whole route.”  What we now know from the radar files is that only the Ellington fighters caught up with Air Force One and only briefly before it landed at Barksdale AFB.  In the Mystery Plane article I show that the mystery plane, Venus 77, was in position to monitor the flight of Air Force One.

The Staff picks up the pieces and moves on

Prior to the May 23, 2003 hearing the Staff sensed that the official story of the day was at odds with primary source information.  We anticipated that NORAD’s testimony would help clarify matters; it turned out just the opposite.  Thereafter, we set aside existing time lines of the day and built our own.  We used that time line and the primary and secondary sources [e.g. transcripts, logs} as an aid during interviews.  We found that participant recall was like eye witness accounts, subject to event conflation and time compression.  There is no better example than Scott’s first article.