9-11: NORAD briefings prior to May 23, 2003 hearing, some comments

I mentioned two briefings in the article “9-11: NORAD’s Sudoku Puzzle; a briefing askew, an addendum” that NORAD knew about before the May 23, 2003 hearing.  Thanks to some out of cycle work at NARA by paxvector and History Commons those two briefings are now available on the web.  Here is Cheri Gott’s 2002 briefing to the Satellite Toolkit (STK) Conference.  Here is her briefing to CONR to help prepare them for the hearing.

It is clear from both briefings, based on 84th RADES radar data, that NORAD knew the true story of the Otis and Langley scrambles.  They failed to tell that story at the first air defense hearing on May 23, 2003.  We also learn from these briefings that a “scramble” does not mean aircraft were launched.

A scramble defined

NORAD (Gott), on one sllide,  provides researchers and historians the definition of a scramble:  “Scramble = an order to get aircraft airborne as soon as possible.”  The important point here is that a scramble does not mean that planes were necessarily ever launched.

In my own work for the DoD Inspector General we examined the history of SEADS-directed scrambles concerning air activity over the Florida Straits concerning flight activity by the Brothers To The Rescue and Cuban response to that activity.  We determined the universe of scrambles over a several-month period and then further refined the data to focus only on those cases in which air defense fighters actually launched.  The number was quite small in comparsion to the number of “scrambles.”  My recall is that many of the scramble orders were cancelled because the information was determined to be spurious before the air defense pilots could get airborne.

A scramble order was and is a precautionary step, one in a sequence that can be stopped.  In the case of the Mission Crew Commanders at SEADS their task was to issue the scramble order and then quickly seek authority to actually launch.  The sequence of events on the morning of 9-11 was much the same.  The Mission Crew Commander and Colonel Marr scrambled Otis and immediately sought approval to launch.  General Arnold granted approval.

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