9-11: Rules of Engagement; expanding on the Commission’s Report

Author’s note.  The audio clips in this article, with one exception, have been copied from the NEADS file, DRM 2 1 DAT 1 Channel 20 SD2.  I have run the clips through a noise suppression filter using Adobe Audition.


This article is one of the primary reasons I established my web site.  I wanted to continue the work begun by the Commission, relying on the primary sources and secondary material of the day.  One such primary source is the NEADS audio files.

The NEADS files are difficult to listen to and even more difficult to transcribe.  The Commission-contracted effort with Alderson to transcribe the NEADs tapes is indicative of how difficult the transcription process was, and is.  Alderson attempted to provide continuity by concentrating on specific voices.  Captain Brian Nagel, the Senior Director 2, is male speaker 13, for example.  Their transcription effort for the Senior Director 2 position is available.


The Commission [pp 42-43] reported that “The NEADS commander [Colonel Marr] told us he did not pass along the [shoot-down] order because he was unaware of its ramifications.  Both the mission commander [Major Nasypany] and the senior weapons director [Major Fox] indicated they did not pass the order to the fighters circling Washington and New York because they were unsure how the pilots would, or should proceed with this guidance.  In short, while leaders in Washington believed that the fighters above them had been instructed to “take out” hostile aircraft, the only orders actually conveyed to the pilots were to “ID type and tail.”

That set of circumstances pertained to the initial order that NEADS received over a chat network passed from the Region Commander [General Arnold] with explicit reference to the Vice President.  According to the Commission Report: “Okay? Okay, you read that the Vice President, right?  Vice President has cleared.  Vice President has cleared us to intercept traffic and shoot the down if they do not respond per [General Arnold].”

At the time, circa 10:31, the “DO [Director of Operations] [said] no.”  That would later change, as we shall hear as we examine the continued NEADS effort to generate fighters from bases in the Mid-West.  The position of interest on the NEADS floor is the SD2 [Senior Director 2] position manned by Captain Brian Nagel.

Nagel’s chain of command was Nasypany to Marr.  His situational awareness was that Cleveland Center (ZOB) would evacuate and that there may still be unknown hostile aircraft in the sky.  His guidance became to protect major cities.

New Directions Coming Down

Captain Nagel time-stamped this primary source information for us.  He exchanged information with Cobra 1, the lead of a flight of two fighters out of Syracuse.  Cobra 1 told him his “play time” (time available in the air).  The Cobra flight was awaiting directions while in a holding pattern in Misty Thunder, a training area over Lake Ontario.

Nagel glanced at a clock or watch and verbalized the time as 1453 [10:53, actual tape stamp time is circa 10:55].  Cobra 1 informed Nagel that he and a second Syracuse pair of fighters (Apex) had hot guns only.  Nagel acknowledged that and informed Cobra 1 that there was new direction coming down and that he would brief him once he got the word.  That exchange can be heard here.  1453 New Directions Coming Down

Nagel briefs Cobra 1

Ten minutes later (circa 11:03 EDT) Nagel briefed Cobra 1. The new guidance coming down from above, “as in Presidential,” was to protect the major centers.  Nagel told Cobra 1 he would direct them to Pittsburgh once he arranged for tanker support.  He told Cobra 1, “there is clearance to kill, if required,” and that he would provide a further brief but had to “confirm the details on that.”  All subsequent clips in this article are a continuation and the first clip, the brief, can be heard here.  1503 Protect Major Cities

Cobra 1 responds

Cobra 1 advised that the previous transmission from Nagel was interfered with by Guard (emergency frequency) and he needed a repeat.  Nagel again told him the mission and advised that Cleveland Center was evacuated and that Cobra [and Apex] would be on “auto ops.”  He also made reference to the earlier report that one aircraft [UA 93] reported a bomb threat.  1504 ROE shortly

Nagel asks the MCC for clarification

Nagel asked for the “kill direction,” what to tell “these guys.”  He was just going to give them a brief, wasn’t going to tell them to do anything.  The MCC’s response was blocked by a concurrent transmission by Cobra 1.  150430 MCC When Able

Nagel again asks for clarification

Nagel briefed the MCC on what he was doing with the Syracuse fighters.  The MCC’s response can poorly be made out; he was speaking to lack of response [by a potential target] and divert procedures.  Nagel responded, “Wilco.”  1505 Wilco

Nagel briefs Cobra 1

Nagel told Cobra 1: “direction is…protect the major centers, when you are overhead the major center, it will be Pittsburgh in this case, you have intercept authority on any traffic in the area, if the traffic does not respond to hand signals, divert procedures, anything like that and they continue to press in a threatening manner towards the major center you are cleared to engage.”  Cobra 1, “copies.”  1506 Cobra Copies


In the 10:50-11:00 time frame, after the battle of 9-11 was over, the nation began the transition to Operation Noble Eagle (ONE), protect the major centers, a labor-intensive, around-the-clock, resource-draining effort.  The exchange between Captain Nagel and Cobra 1 provides specific primary-source information that new guidance, Presidential guidance, had been issued and had reached the cockpit level.

At the same time, the NEADS sector floor, at the MCC position, became aware of the nation’s transition to DEFCON 3. That acknowledgment can be heard at this clip from DRM 1 DAT2 Channel 5 ID TK.  1505 DEFCON 3

It is an open question as to when ONE began.  In an earlier article I suggested that it began the moment the third Andrews fighter, Quit 27, lifted off; the first expansion of the established air defense mission.  It is also reasonable to establish that ONE began concurrent with the nation’s transition to DEFCON 3 and the new mission to protect the major centers, as we heard in the audio clips from the NEADS floor.

I leave it to the Air Force historians to set the time line for ONE; I am comfortable with either of the two times I have suggested.