NORAD’s Sudoku Puzzle, a failure to tell the truth

This is an unpublished letter submitted to the Editors, Washington Post.  It details how the NORAD testimony at the May 23, 2003, 9-11 Commission hearing came to be.


August 4, 2006

Letters to the Editor
The Washington Post
1150 15th Street, N.W.
Washington, DC 20071

Dear Editors,

Recent news media highlight the issue of why the NORAD account was so wrong about the events of September 11, 2001. Answers range from the position of NORAD officials that they were telling the truth as they knew it to the opposing position that they deliberately lied to the 9-11 Commission. My assessment is that poor staff work and a single error in logic, compounded, led NORAD far astray from the facts of the day.

Metaphorically, the NORAD task was to solve a difficult Sudoku puzzle. An early mistake in logic makes such a puzzle impossible to solve. The NORAD mistake was made prior to September 18th, 2001, the day it published an official timeline. That mistake led to inaccurate accounts in every official government story at every level thereafter, including NORAD testimony before the 9/11 Commission on May 23, 2003.

I arranged for the presence of General McKinley, General Arnold, and Colonel Scott at that hearing. General Eberhart, the NORAD Commander, had a previously scheduled trip to Europe and seconded Major General McKinley, CONUS Region (CONR) Commander, to represent him. In my initial conversation with General McKinley he was inclined to testify alone, even though he was not in the NORAD chain-of-command on September 11, 2001.

The Commission staff had the NORAD and FAA timelines, the military radar data, and an initial document delivery from the Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS). We knew from that limited data that fighters had not flown directly from either Otis or Langley and that the NORAD and FAA timelines were not in agreement. General McKinley was advised that we needed a definitive explanation of the scrambles and an accurate timeline.

General McKinley added Major General Arnold, former CONR Commander to the attendee list. General McKinley was again advised that the scrambles were a critical issue and asked if General Arnold could speak to that issue. General McKinley then added Colonel Scott explaining that Scott, alone, knew more about the scrambles and the timelines than any other NORAD official; he was the definitive source.

Scott had the original NORAD timeline of September 18, 2001. That timeline showed notification times of 8:40 for AA11, 8:43 for UA175, 9:24 for AA77, and no time for UA93, alluding to the fact that Langley fighters were already airborne. An accompanying note explained that: “The FAA and NEADS established a line of open communication discussing AA Flt 77 and UA Flt 93.”

There was one critical and two other serious mistakes in the timeline. The critical error was the 9:24 time for AA77. The accurate NEADS log information was: “American Airlines No. N334AA hijacked.” N334AA is the tail number for AA11, not AA77, a basic fact apparently never checked by any NORAD, CONR, or NEADS staff officer with either American Airlines or FAA.

The 8:43 time for UA175, was impossible and never explained in any document or during any interview conducted by the Commission staff. It was most likely a NORAD misunderstanding of information from FAA. That is the approximate time that UA175 was hijacked, a fact only known post facto.

The “open line” caveat was disingenuous. FAA called the National Military Command Center at 9:20 on an unclassified line but no operational information was ever passed. NEADS tapes show that about 9:23 [sic: the time was actually 9:33, the original letter submitted contained a typo] the FAA representative to NEADS began work to establish a secure line. That effort was not completed until after 10 am, and had no relationship to real time information about either AA77 or UA93.

Both NORAD and FAA separately engaged in staff deliberations during the period Sep 11-17, 2001, and they were in periodic contact. According to the lead official for FAA she was in frequent contact with her NORAD counterpart, General Arnold. The two organizations could not agree. NORAD pre-empted and published its timeline on Sep 18. FAA did not publish a timeline until some months later.

NORAD was also preparing General Eberhart for October 2001 testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee. In that appearance, Senator Levin asked about notification on AA77, citing a time of 9:25. Eberhart responded: “I show it as 9:24 that we were notified.” Eberhart’s testimony solidified the critical error in formal CINC testimony before the Congress. It became the CINC-approved NORAD story.

Essential NORAD files and data were held at NEADS. The single, most important document was the MCC/T (Mission Crew Commander/Technician) log, a handwritten journal maintained in real time. It is that log, in particular, to which Colonel Scott refers when he stated to the Commission on May 23, 2003; “I will tell you the times on this chart come from our logs.”

Therefore, the 8:43 notification time for UA 175 was not mentioned by Scott. It was not in any log and had never existed. Scott’s review repeated the original mistake concerning the 9:24 entry for AA11 and made another mistake in interpretation by attributing a 9:16 entry concerning a United flight (probably UA175) to UA93. (The 9:16 time may come from a different log than the MCC/T log) Nearly two years after the initial mistake about AA77 was made and became CINC-approved, it was repeated and compounded to include UA93.

On the day after the hearing Colonel Scott sent an e-mail to Colonel Marr, with a copy to the Commission staff, stating that it became easier to explain the Langley fighter scramble in terms of UA93 than AA77. It is clear from that email that neither Scott nor Marr, whose staff supported Scott, took the time to listen to the tapes or look at the actual transcripts. The NEADS staff, and Colonel Scott, had sufficient data available to them to find the rebirth of AA11 misinformation and the real reason for the Langley scramble. If they found it they did lie. If they did not they could not tell the truth. They could not solve their Sudoku puzzle.

We await the findings of the Inspectors General of the Department of Transportation and the Department of Defense.


Miles L. Kara, Sr., Former Staff, 9/11 Commission

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