9/11: Air Threat Conference Call; Staff Transcript.

Robbyn Swan, co-author of The Eleventh Day, filed a mandatory declassification review with NARA concerning the Air Threat Conference Call convened by the National Military Command Center (NMCC) on 9-11.  That request surfaced a Commission Staff version titled, “DJH Notes.”  Swann and Summers, therefore, are the only investigators, other than the Commission Staff, who have had access to the contents of that key document.


The NMCC had a simple, inexpensive, reel-to-reel cassette recorder that resided on the Duty Director of Operations (DDO) desk.  The acting DDO, Navy Captain Leidig activated the recorder at approximately 0930 as a Significant Event Conference was being convened.  By 0939 the conference had transitioned to an Air Threat Conference.  The recording was not transcripted and there is a brief gap around the 1037 time before Leidig realized side one of the cassette had run out and he needed to turn it over.

Commission Staff learned of the air threat conference call from NORAD logs and formally requested any and all information, including tapes and transcripts.  DoD determined that a recording had been made but no transcript.  DoD made a transcript but did not time stamp it.  Further, after review of its contents, custody of both the tape and transcript were transferred to the National Security Council (NSC).

Commission Staff and at least one Commissioner listened to the tape at the NSC.  A copy of the transcript was provided to and held by the NMCC for staff use during interviews. Given that the staff could not hold a copy and given that it was not time-stamped, a Team 8 member, Dana Hyde (DJH), patiently made a working copy from her own notes, over time.  It is that copy that is now publicly available, thanks to Robbyn Swan.

My estimate is that the derived timeline is accurate within three minutes +/-.  I base that on the 1049 entry “DDO” Emergency Actions message relearned [sic should be ‘released’] at 1452Z re Def Con 3 Acknowledgements.”

The DJH Notes, explained

The notes are a reliable approximation of the original transcript.  Given clearly identifiable data points that were known from other sources, Dana Hyde set about to construct a Team 8-derived timeline.  The left-hand column contains times in the form clock time (tape time).  For example, the first line attributed to the PEOC is as follows:

0942(13) PEOC: POTUS not yet left FLA; planning to depart and head to DC. NORAD Update: Possible fourth hijacking in progress — Delta 89 [Delta 1989]

The times in parentheses are tape times paired with clock times as in the PEOC example.  The marginal notes are Hyde’s handwriting.  Note that the lead marginal note indicates that the Staff was focusing on the issue of UA 93.


At  0933 reference was made to “hijack is still airborne heading toward DC.”  That is an explicit reference to AA 11 and not to AA 77.  NORAD followed that with its “conflicting reports” input passing along the erroneous report [a possible garble of the AA 11 report] of a “possible hijacked aircraft taking off out of JFK en-route DC.”

At 9:48 the DDO summarized for the PEOC that the possible Delta hijack would be the fourth (AA 11, UA 175, the possible out of JFK, and Delta 1989)  There is no reference to AA77 in that PEOC update.

At 9:58 NORAD inputted “No update at this time — we’ll provide an ETA when fighters will be on CAP over WH.”  At that very moment the Langley fighters were establishing a CAP and at 1000 one was directly overhead the Pentagon at 23,000 feet.

At 1007 NORAD inputted “No indication of hijack heading to DC at this time.  At that same moment NEADS first learned about UA 93.  Also, at that time they were attempting to intercept a a target over the White House, one that turned out to be one of the Langley fighters.  Explicit language in the NEADS tapes at that time about “identify by type and tail,” and “negative clearance to shoot” concerned the unknown (Langley fighter) not UA 93.

At 1014 the PEOC passed along the VP confirmation that “fighters are cleared to engage the aircraft inbound…”

At 1017 FAA was finally in the conference, but not the Headquarters or even Herndon Center, per se.  The person on the line was a mid-grade employee in the CARF (Central Altitude Reservation Facility).  That was the only place found that had the necessary clearance level to join the conference.  The CARF employee confirmed that at 1019 when he said, “I’m back in a secure area in Command [Herndon] Center.”

At 1020 Dr. Rice was “in the PEOC now.”

At 1032 Hadley informed Myers of “an inbound aircraft flying low 5 miles out.”  This is the false report that caused the Andrews wing to relaunch Major Hutchison even though he was low on fuel.

At 1035 Secretary Rumsfeld confirmed he was in the conference.

At 1038 the Vice President believed that we’ve “already taken a couple of aircraft out.”

At 1044 the Vice President stated that he would have to run the DEFCON 3 decision by the President.  (It is odd that would have taken that position and not a similar position on the shootdown authority issue.)  Summers and Swan speak to the issue in an end note:

Commission notes released to the authors in 2011 did indicate that the Vice President felt the need to get Bush’s authorization at a later point [10:44]…it is arguable that Cheney would have felt the same need for authority to engage hijacked airliners.

At 1048 there was still no fighter escort for Air Force One.  “Verification scrambled 2 fighters out of Ellington Field to escort AF! — stand by for intercept time.”  Southeast Air Defense Sector (SEADS) radar files show that the Ellington fighters intercepted Air Force One a few minutes prior to landing at Barksdale AFB.

At 1056 NORAD made one of several references to a single E-3 on location over DC.  That is a reference to Century 40 with operational call sign Bandsaw Kilo.  According to the NEADS tapes that aircraft established an active link at 1450 (1050) off of W701 (a warning/training area).