9-11: Secret Service Timeline; in perspective, a most chaotic time

Addendum, March 15, 2011

In a previous article I discussed the Headquarters FAA actions concerning AA 77 in the days after 9-11 as they prepared a briefing book for the Administrator and senior staff.  I neglected to mention and link to that material in the article, below.


It has been brought to my attention that my notes taken during a review of the Secret Service timeline have been made public by NARA.  Following is a link to my notes; I took them, and I archived a copy in my work files.  The notes are a compilation from disparate documents. That is my handwriting.  It should be familiar to researchers who have spent any time at all with the Commission’s work files.  My Notes

The Secret Service notes

The date “7/9” is July 9, 2003.  We visited Secret Service for a tour and briefing and learned that that they had put together an internal timeline.  We did not get a copy but were allowed to review it in its original classified form and take notes that I believe were then sent to us later.  I see no redactions, the style and continuity are consistent with my note taking.  I believe the document to be a complete set of my notes.  The phrase “unclassified extract” is my terminology; it is unrelated to the title of the original document.

The Secret Service timeline, as I recall, was in spreadsheet format and the entries were more detailed than my notes.  The document was a patchwork of information from the divisions within the Secret Service, such as the Uniformed Services Division, Presidential Operations, JOC, etc.  It was not in any way a synthesis or analysis.  The timeline was an uneven document in its fidelity to actual events, such as the takeoff of Air Force One which the Service had wrong in its timeline.

On a subsequent visit to the Secret Service JOC (Joint Operations Center) I had a chance to talk to the scope operator who was on duty on 9-11.  The Service had a slave radar feed from National TRACON, as Clarke referred to in his book. “Stafford [Brian Stafford, Secret Service Director] slipped me a note. ‘Radar shows aircraft headed this way.’  Secret Service had a system that allowed them to see what FAA’s radar [National TRACON] was seeing.  ‘I’m going to empty out the complex.’  He was ordering the evacuation of the White House.”  That event was during the SVTS, which places it after 9:40

I’d like to say that the radar capability was established after a private plane crashed into the White House grounds.  The scope operator provided me screen prints he made on 9/11 which should be part of the Commission’s master files.

Radar-wise, the Service could see only what National TRACON could see.  The first cue that the JOC had was the alert call after Dulles TRACON sounded the alarm.  At that same time National TRACON put an “S” tag on the fast moving unknown so that it could be more easily followed.  The JOC-provided screen prints began at about 0934, as indicated in my notes and consistent with the “S” tag annotation by National TRACON

With that as background let me now place the notes in perspective.

What the notes are not

The notes are not confirmation of the Mineta testimony as some have been quick to judge.  The relevant entry to Mineta is the 1022 entry, “FAA advises a/c 5-10 miles out fm WH poss 757.”  By that time Secretary Mineta was settled in to the PEOC and receiving information from FAA HQ.  The convergence of evidence is conclusive on that point.  Moreover, my notes are implicit that the VP was not moved until 9:37.

Richard Clarke, in Against All Enemies, described events concerning the Secure Video Teleconference (SVTS) that he convened.  According to logs of the day the SVTS was activated at 9:25 and the teleconference was convened at 9:40, according to CIA and FAA timelines concerning George Tenet and Jane Garvey.  Clarke stated, “”Okay…Let’s start with the facts. FAA, FAA, go.” and then asked, “Jane, where’s Norm?” And during her brief asked, “Jane, if you haven’t found the Secretary yet, are you prepared to order a national ground stop and no fly zone?”  Garvey responded, “Yes, but it will take a while.”

Clarke then wrote, “Shortly thereafter, Mineta called in from his car and I asked him to come directly to the Situation Room.”  Therefore, according to Clarke’s account, Mineta did not arrive at the White House until after 9:40 and went to the Situation Room before he went to the PEOC.

Secretary Mineta was in his office on the top floor of the Department of Transportation building.  He accomplished the following actions after UA 175 struck the South Tower. He assimilated what he saw and conversed with his staff.  He took time to talk to CEO’s of airlines.  He descended to the ground floor and was driven to the White House West Wing gate, a minimum of eight minutes on a good day.  He then passed through security and debarked at the West Wing where he met with Richard Clarke some time after the SVTS conference, which convened at 0940.

That sequence of events places Mineta in the West Wing after the time that the Vice President was being moved to the PEOC.  Mineta had to then cross to the East Wing and descend to the PEOC.  Once there, he had to get acclimated, in position, and in communication with someone, most likely Monte Belger.  Jane Garvey was in the SVTS conference.  According to the Commission Report, “At 10:02, the communicators in the shelter began receiving reports from the Secret Service of an inbound aircraft.”  That aircraft was not AA 77.

What the notes are

The notes–taken together with the radar and the FAA and NEADS audio files–simply hint at the tip of the chaotic iceberg of information that confounded the national level.  I have written extensively about Chaos Theory and about the national level.  Specifically, I have described the events of 9-11 using the cascading bifurcation aspect of Chaos Theory.

The 0925 entry is most likely a reference to the work of Van Steenburgen and Garabito as they worked the movement of Air Force One.  The clue here is “FAA Pres Ops.”  Their focus was on Air Force One and the President, not on the Vice President, the PEOC, or Secretary Mineta.

“FAA PO [Van Steenburgen] advises “2 a/c unaccounted for” is an incomplete reference to the information available within FAA that there were, at that point in time–in real time–three aircraft unaccounted for:  AA11, AA 77, and UA 175, as we shall hear in clips later in the article.  The notation “one of [2 a/c] approaching WDC” is a possible reference to either AA 11, AA 77 or UA 175; it is not conclusive.  My estimate is that it is a reference to the false report that AA 11 was still airborne.

Dean John Farmer and I believe, post facto to our Commission work, that the AA 11 false story was a conflation of emerging information that AA 77 was lost.  That conflation, although erroneous, was sufficient information for NEADS to order the Langley scramble.

The notation, “not communicating w/ tower,” is a possible reference to AA 77 or UA 175 or, by this time, UA 93.  Air traffic control communications do not support one over the other.  All we know from my notes is that the information came from FAA Pres Ops.

The notation, “advises a/c is 30 miles out fm WH,” is a possible reference to either AA 77 or AA 11.  Again the notes and supporting air traffic control tapes are not conclusive.  While it is an easy judgment, post-facto, to line up the radar track for AA 77, that is not a case that can be made in real time when the totality of evidence is considered.

The notations for 0934, 0935, and 0936 are consistent with the fast-moving unknown which turned out to be AA 77, and are supported by radar, air traffic control communications, visual observation at National Tower, and the screen prints provided to the Commission Staff by the JOC.

A caution to researchers and historians.  Don’t be hasty to conflate the entries from 0925-0931 with the entries from 0934-0936 and conclude that the “a/c” referred to is always AA 77.  There is a conflation of the false report of AA 11, the unknown status of UA 175, the unknown status of AA 77, and the emerging status of UA 93 at this point in time.  It was a most chaotic point in the events that day.  So why the caution?

The next entry

My notes show “0937 VP.”  That was my short hand for the Secret Service’s movement of the Vice President to the PEOC, according to their own time line.  That time is consistent with all other documentation concerning the arrival of both the Vice President and Secretary Mineta in the PEOC.  The Commission Report is conclusive on this issue.

The Audio Files

Note to historians and researchers.  The audio clips embedded below are off the V-Drive of the Commission’s file server at our GSA office.  The NARA notation is “RG 148 Records of 9/11 Commission V-drive (audio clips from audio monograph).”

It was our intention to publish an audio monograph.  We got as far as final draft but did not have time to transcribe the audio files into the text of the monograph.  My colleague, John Farmer, in his Introduction to Ground Truth, stated, “An ‘audio monograph’ of the day’s events that we prepared…did not survive the vetting process.”

I completed and stored a master file “061604” of over 500 audio clips concerning events of the day.  I also stored a master addendum “071504” containing 40 additional clips of interest.  The titles of the clips, below, are as I archived them in 2004.

The Audio Record

About 0916 a conversation took place between Ellen King at Herndon Center and Bill Halleck at American Airlines.  That was the first mention by anyone outside of FAA to FAA that AA 77 was missing.

Internally to FAA the only air traffic control entity that knew of the loss of AA 77 was Indianapolis Center.  At about 9;10, the Center reported that fact to FAA’s Great Lakes Region and to the Air Force’s Rescue Coordination Center at Langley AFB, Virginia.

American Airlines was under the mistaken idea that both planes into the Trade Center were American.  Note that King briefly mentioned a data tag in her remarks.  091626 AA11 AA77 ATCSCC King with Halleck AAL Pos 34B Line 5149

Concurrently, Cary Johnson, Operations Manager at ZDC called his counterpart John Thomas at ZID.  Johnson had noticed the ghost TSD track of AA 77 and called to inquire about it because Region (Eastern) was calling him.  Johnson was told that “he’s turned around and heading somewhere else.” Here is that call in its entirety.  091654 AA77 Johnson ZDC Thomas ZID Conversation ZID TMU

As that call was in process Herndon Center called ZID for any and all information about AA 77.  As soon as Thomas hung up the phone with ZDC he picked up on the call from Herndon. The information provided was going to be immediately passed “to the NOM and everybody that’s  standing up there.”  ZID had notified search and rescue and had no evidence of a hijacking.  One key element passed was the altitude, flight level 350 .  Here is that conversation in two parts because of file size.  091836 AA77 Summersall to ZID from ATCSCC ZID TMU.mp3 Part I 091836 AA77 Summersall to ZID from ATCSCC ZID TMU.mp3 Part II

Johnson then had the word spread at ZDC to look for AA 77 and for UA 175.  The file name with the words “primary search” is as I originally stored it.  That is a misnomer.  ZDC was instructed to look for limited data tags at altitude, 35K for AA 77 and 31K for UA 175.  092035 ZDC Primary Search ZDC OMIC The time was 9:21, the time that Secretary Mineta testified he was in the PEOC and receiving real time information.

Shortly thereafter, NEADS called ZDC asking for a mode 3 for AA 11.  There was no mention of AA 77 by either party.  The time was then 0924 and ZDC was talking directly to the air defenders.  The only mention of a plane approaching Washington was by NEADS and it was a reference to AA 11.  092310 AA11 ID First call to ZDC They have nothing

Concurrently, Colin Scoggins, ZBW, called NEADS.  Scoggins was explicit that they did hear from Washington that there is an aircraft they believe it is American 11, southwest.  That is a problematic reference.  Air traffic communications do not equate that reference to AA 77. There is a brief mention of a “no tag” at an IAD controller position about that time but no evidence that became actionable.  According to my notes from the Secret Service time line, the first mention of an aircraft approaching Washington was 0930, five minutes later.  In context, the “approaching” language is applicable to either AA 11 or AA 77 and not definitive for either.

That aside, NEADS learned that there were three aircraft missing, according to Scoggins.  Boston did not know the call sign of the third aircraft even though they were listening in to the Eastern Region bridge.  092401 AA11 Scoggins 3 Aircraft Missing

Shortly before, Jeff Griffith directed the establishment of an open line between Herndon and FAA Headquarters.  Subsequently, among other things, he directed an inventory from the various centers of any unusual circumstances.  092505 Inventory Griffith Directs Any Unusual Circumstances

At the same time, the AA 11 story became convoluted and ZNY, Bruce Barrett, called NEADS trying to get a straight answer.  NEADS, of course, only knew what they had been told by ZBW.  092518 AA11 AST call from Barrett not TRACON

Also concurrently, the orders for an inventory immediately surfaced AA 77 as an issue.  The time was now 9:25 and all FAA HQ knew at an actionable level, one that would have been in communication with Secretary Mineta, is that AA 77 was lost, they didn’t have a primary or anything.  Here is the report from Herndon Center to FAA Headquarters.  092524 AA77 One such report AA77 reported lost Line 4530

Two minutes later, NEADS persistently called ZDC again about AA 11.  NEADS had confused “Washington” with ZDC.  The ZDC recipient of the call became frustrated and ordered his military desk to “call Boston military guy.”  The time was nearly 9:29 and, again, FAA at a knowledgeable level, was talking to NEADS, the air defenders.  AA 77 as an aircraft approaching the nation’s capital was not mentioned.  092721 AA11 3d ID Call to ZDC Becker

By 9:30, ZID was still attempting to contact AA 77,  as heard in this exchange between Indianapolis Center and an unknown entity.  093019 AA77 ZID Hold of AA77 Not Yet

The NEADS Identification Technicians persisted in their contacts to FAA Centers, specifically Boston Center.  In my work on chaos theory I have described NEADS and Boston Center as “strange attractors.”  There is a reason for that as the Vigilant Guardian tapes from NEADS reveal.  To NEADS, FAA meant “Center,” as in “Air Route Traffic Control Center.” In this next clip we hear NEADS again talking to Colin Scoggins, who again confirms that there are three aircraft missing.  As NEADS discusses the call we hear a possible genesis of the D 1989 story.  NEADS believes all three missing aircraft are “out of Boston.”  093116 AA11 ID call to Scoggins 3 missing

The cross communications between NEADS and FAA persisted as NEADS continued to try and find actionable information.  Again the Identification Technicians communicated with ZDC.  ZDC listened patiently to the NEADS rundown and then told them about AA 77, the first time NEADS learned that it was missing.  Here is that complete conversation, in two parts because of file size.  093212 Part I AA11 AA77 ID Summary ZDC loss of AA77 093212 Part II AA11 AA77 ID Summary ZDC loss of AA77

NEADS was provided no specificity on location, ZDC did not know, but soon would.  That awareness came from Danielle O’Brien at Dulles TRACON, Final West position.  Here is her alarm as recorded at both Dulles TRACON and National TRACON.  093337 AA77 Danielle Sounds Alert Dulles Tape Final West 093222 AA77 Danielle Heard at Reagan We See Him Krant Tape

The first clip starts with O’Brien’s normal air traffic control communications.  She then dropped off for 35 seconds before she sounded the alarm.  That 35-second period is when she (and others) became fully aware of the fast moving unknown.  When I talked to her she told me she wheeled her chair to the person at the next scope to compare notes before she alerted National on the 62 line.  Concurrently, her supervisor called his counterpart at National alerting him that the target was headed for P56 .   National TRACON soon added an “S” symbol to the track; it was then, and only then, that anyone in FAA tagged the track for the Secret Service.

Some Things That Need To Be Said

First, it is not possible to take a snippet of information about 9-11 and/or a snapshot of the Commission’s work and extrapolate that information to a larger whole, with meaning. It is possible to extend the work of the Commission, building on the body of information accumulated by the Commission and the Joint Inquiry before it and the reports both entities filed.

Historians and responsible researchers have done that and continue to do so.  Others are less diligent and rely on eye witness statements, participant recall, and media accounts to build inaccurate and in some cases outright false explanations for events of the day.  And they continue to do so, ignoring the explicit and implicit pitfalls of that approach.

The Pitfalls

Second, there are two primary pitfalls, conflation of events and compression of time.  I started my work on this website with the “Scott Trilogy,”  primarily to deal with both as evidenced in Scott’s articles.  Readers familiar with Richard Clarke’s account will recognize both pitfalls in his narrative, as well.

The Scott series of early articles, together with the Cooperative Research timeline and a few other sources, was the public story as the Commission Staff knew it when we started work.  It did not take us long to figure out that the public story was grossly inaccurate and misleading.  It was based on eyewitness statements, participant recall, and media accounts, most of which, in the aggregate, conflated events and compressed time.  Contemporary work with that same basis is and will be equally inaccurate and misleading.

The Ultimate Question

There is just one question at issue.  Why did Norman Mineta testify to a precise time that was inaccurate?  We may never know the answer.  For anyone that has worked in an operations or command center with world-wide responsibilities there is a logical explanation.  He looked at the wrong clock; Central Time.