9-11: Chaos Theory; The Air Defense Response, Sensitive Dependence on Initial Conditions

A Note of Caution

It is  not possible to take snippets of information about 9/11 or snapshots of the Commission staff’s work and speculate that into a coherent narrative, with meaning.

Introduction

I have been asked by a family member to comment on a recent speculative article posted on the web that spoke to anomalies in the air defense response on September 11, 2001, specifically concerning the fighters scrambled from Langley Air Force Base.  I subsequently learned that there is a companion You Tube video which extends that speculation to include the fighters scrambled from Otis Air Force Base.  Both the article and the video try to construct a narrative without awareness of or understanding about the totality of  information that defined the 9/11 Commission Report.  Both the article and the video are unreviewable and I won’t attempt to try and make sense of them.

Instead, I will use chaos theory to explain why the air defense response on 9/11 was fatally flawed and had little to no chance, given the times of notification to the military as discussed in the Commission Report.  But first a brief discussion of anomalies, the thesis of the article and the video.

Anomalies

In any event such as 9/11 there will always be anomalies, some explainable, some not, and some that will never be resolved. There are just four air defense response anomalies worth discussing, in my estimation. All other suggested anomalies are on the margin and most of those are the result of four errors by the author(s) of the article and the video–time compression, conflation of events, hind sight, and reliance on anecdotal information instead of available primary source evidence and documents of the day.

Three of the four anomalies, the Otis initial flight path, the Langley initial flight path, and the Langley flight deviation to the south are all resolved in the facts of the day. The fourth, the Langley battle station order in the 9:10 time frame, can be explained by the facts of the day, but can only be resolved retrospectively.  To put it another way, the participants that day knew about the first three anomalies as they occurred; they did not know about the fourth in real time.

The Otis initial flight path. The path was accounted for in the air traffic control communications from Cape TRACON (Traffic Control) at Otis and the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA’s) New York Center (ZNY), coupled with the Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) discussions at the Senior Director (Fox) and Mission Crew Commander (Nasypany) positions.  It is clear that the Otis fighters were vectored to a holding pattern in a military training area.  They held there for one-half orbit and then broke for New York City.  All of the decisions that contributed to that path occurred in the heat of battle in an uncertain situation.  They are all logical, in context and in real time.

I wrote a comprehensive article about the Otis scramble.  The authors of the anomalies article and video have clearly read that article but have chosen snippets of information which appear, out of context, to support their speculations. Discerning readers will have no trouble sorting fact from fiction when they read my article.

The Langley initial flight path. As at Otis, the Langley fighters took off to the East, but did not turn as did the Otis fighters.  I covered the reasons for this in detail in one of my early articles. Regardless of scramble order, the operating procedures in place required the Langley fighters to fly runway heading to 4000 feet altitude, which they did.  As they approached that decision point (the Delmarva Peninsula) the flight leader, in discussion with the Norfolk controller, decided to continue East.

There is no mystery here.  That is what happened as recorded at Norfolk TRACON. When I played that recording for the flight leader he was brutally honest, commenting, “There was an opportunity missed.” In the heat of battle, the fog of war, a decision was made. It was the wrong decision.

Here is my work on the Langley scramble

The Langley diversion to the South.  Both Lynn Spencer (Touching History) and I reported the reason for this error. It was a simple transposition of two digits in a coordinate.  That was established conclusively on the NEADS tapes. There is no correlation between the Langley fighters and the E4B, Venus 77, as some have suggested by simply looking at a radar screen print.  The Langley fighters were intent in establishing a CAP (Combat Air Patrol) point and had no interest in the E4B, if they even know about it.

Here is the story of the approach of the Langley fighters to Washington from the perspective of the Mission Crew Commander, Major Kevin Nasypany.

Venus 77 was the so-called “mystery” plane, but there was nothing mysterious about it.  It took off under visual flight rules at 9:43 after the Air Threat Conference was convened by the National Military Command Center, a conference with SIOP (Single Integrated Operation Plan) overtones, a “doomsday” scenario.  The E4B declared for Wright Patterson Air Force Base, reversed course over Rock Creek Park (as captured on media video), and proceeded to establish a 60-mile, north-south racetrack orbit centered on Richmond, Virginia, to support the possible arrival of Air Force One.

The evidence for all three anomalies is conclusive in the primary source information of the day, the audio and radar files.  That is partially the case for the final anomaly that I will discuss.

The fourth anomaly.  9:10 EDT was a significant time, the only time that the facts of the day presented an opportunity for an air defense response to American Airlines flight 77 (AA 77).  By 9:10, lacking any operational information to do otherwise Colonel Robert Marr, NEADS commander overruled his Mission Crew Commander and ordered that the Langley fighters remain on battle stations and not be scrambled.  That was a prudent and proper decision at the time; those were the last two air defense fighters available to NEADS.

Unbeknownst to Colonel Marr, in the same timeframe, the FAA’s Indianapolis Center reported AA 77 as lost to its next higher headquarters, Great Lakes Region, and concurrently, per standing operating procedures, to the United States Air Force Rescue Coordination Center at Langley AFB.  That notification triggered a rescue response at the local and state level in several states as law enforcement officials started rescue coordination procedures.

Also in that same time frame, and only known by retrospective analysis by the 84th Radar Evaluation Squadron, the NEADS supporting Joint Surveillance Radar System (JSS) reacquired AA 77 as a primary only (search, radar only) track. Surveillance technicians on the NEADS sector floor were not aware; they were focused on New York and Boston airspace, as explained on the NEADS tapes.

That critical confluence of three pieces of information–AA 77 reported lost, AA 77 reappearing on NEADS radar, and the battle station order, remained uncorrelated and not recognized by the two people who, working together, were the only two people that stood a chance to accomplish anything air defense-wise that morning–Colonel Marr and his counterpart at the FAA’s Air Traffic Control System Command Center (ATCSCC), Benedict Sliney.

And that leads us to chaos theory and sensitive dependence on initial conditions.

Chaos Theory

I have established in my work on chaos theory that while we cannot use the rigorous math and geometry of chaos theory for a situation such as 9/11 we can use chaos theory metaphorically.  Specifically, we can use the language of chaos theory.  Without elaboration, some of the language we can use includes: strange attractors, cascading bifurcation, non-linearity, and disruptive feedback.  There is another more important term that is relevant here, sensitive dependence on initial conditions.

Initial conditions are not know in real time and can only be identified retrospectively.  In the case of the air defense response on 9/11 the sensitive dependence centered on the two people I previously mentioned, Robert Marr and Benedict Sliney.  Here is that story.

9/11, an attack against the National Airspace System (NAS).

The NAS is a precisely defined subsystem of the National Transportation System.  It was operated on 9/11 by the National Operations Manager, Ben Sliney, at the ATCSCC (Herndon Center).  It was defended in the Northeast [bolded text added Nov 16, 2013] on 9/11 by the Commander, NEADS, Bob Marr.  The sensitive initial condition was that there is no evidence that the two men or their predecessors had ever met, that either was aware of the others existence or role.

So, the initial condition precluded any possibility that Bob Marr and Ben Sliney would ever communicate, let alone share a common operating picture of the battlefield.  Not only did they not share information in common, neither knew at 9:10 that AA 77 had been reported lost.  Neither the ATCSCC or NEADS knew to look for the plane.

Here is how I briefed that to an Air Force historians symposium, “Global Air Power, 9/11 and Beyond,” in November, 2011. (Panelists were myself, Major General Larry Arnold and Dean John Farmer)

•Herndon and NEADS never shared a common operational picture on 9/11
•They had never met, staff visits or during exercises
•NEADS was “center-centric,” it dealt individually with the en route FAA centers
•Therefore, things self organized around NEADS and Boston Center
•That was foretold during ongoing exercise “Vigilant Guardian.”

Strange Attractors

Given the lack of communication between the two organizations who could jointly do something, the information inevitably flowed to and between people who were trying to do something. And, by name, those two people were Colin Scoggins, Military Specialist, Boston Center, and Master Sergeant Maureen “Mo” Dooley, Chief, Identification Section, NEADS. The two did the best they could that day, but it should not have been their job to share real time information. That flow of information should have been between the ATCSCC and NEADS, not Boston Center and NEADS.

There are multiple reasons why that came about. The most important is that in all the exercises and training over the years there is no evidence that the link between the two was actually practiced or even known. The primary reason, however, is the fact that NEADS was a “center-centric” operation. Its day-day operations were focused on establishing lines of communication to and relations with the FAA en route centers that controlled over ocean airspace. Specifically in the Northeast, that was Boston Center and that part of New York Center that controlled overseas arrivals.

All of that was foretold during exercise Vigilant Guardian.

Vigilant Guardian

I spent the better part of five months writing a series of articles concerning Vigilant Guardian during the days preceding 9/11. All of the NEADS tapes for those days are in the public domain and my work can be replicated. Vigilant Guardian was a series of discrete events, at a gradually escalating pace each day. An important event was the transfer of air sovereignty from one air defense sector to another. That event occurred twice at NEADS.

On the first occasion, NEADS was required to assume air sovereignty from the Southeast Air Defense Sector (SEADS), both exercise and real world while concurrently maintaining operations in its own area. The key section of operational interest on the NEADS floor was and is the Identification Section.  The Identification Technicians immediately established contact with the FAA’s Miami Center to guard the Florida Strait. Not once did they contact the ATCSCC. All information flowed to and from the FAA’s en route centers in the Southeast.

The second occasion was more complex and required a double transfer. First, NEADS transfered its operations, exercise and real world, to SEADS. Then, NEADS went to work to assume air sovereignty from the Western Air Defense Sector (WADS). The end result was that NEADS was guarding the West Coast and SEADS was guarding the East Coast.  Again, NEADS Identification Technicians established contact with the en route centers; there was no interface of any kind with the ATCSCC.

That foretold how NEADS would respond on 9/11. Just as soon as Sergeant Shelly Watson heard Sergeant Powell announce the real world hijacking information received from Joe Cooper at Boston Center she dialed Boston Center and reached Colin Scoggins. The ATCSCC was out of the loop, the link to Boston and Colin Scoggins was firmly established.

Colin Scoggins

The central role of Colin Scoggins was also foretold during Vigilant Guardian on September 9, 2001. It is clear from a recorded conversation between the exercise control cell and a person on duty in the Identification Section that the exercise structure used Boston Center, specifically the persona of Colin Scoggins, to pass critical information to the NEADS Identification Section. When I first heard this exchange while writing the Vigilant Guardian articles I immediately forwarded it to Colin and he assured me that the voice on the tape was not his.

0909133749 ZBW Scoggins Call

The totality of the NEADS Vigilant Guardian tapes establishes that the caller was the Exercise Director, Lieutenant Colonel “Grover” Cleveland. The person on duty was Sergeant Rose. On 9/11 Rose was pressed into duty as a Surveillance Technician (NEADS personnel were and are cross-trained), and it was she who followed Delta 1989, radar return by radar return as it “meandered” and then landed at Cleveland.

The Exercise Director, acting as Colin Scoggins, passed critical exercise information about a United flight from Heathrow (London) that posed a threat to New York City. According to information “Scoggins” received from FAA there were two terrorists on board who were going to detonate a bomb while the plane was over New York City. “Scoggins” reported that FAA received the information from the FBI, who obtained it via a phone call from Heathrow where terrorists on the ground had been apprehended. There was no hijacking, the cockpit was unaware of the threat, and air traffic control was talking to the pilot.

By this stage of exercise Vigilant Guardian military units had increased the force protection alert. The terrorist scenario was a force protection event, not a hijack event. It was intended that the NEADS floor work with FAA to divert the flight away from New York City, but not to Bangor, ME, a tanker base. The NEADS Mission Crew Commander did not pick up on that nuance and NEADS allowed the United flight to “land” at Bangor. The exercise controllers immediately declared that the plane had blown up on the tarmac closing Bangor as a tanker base for several hours.

This vignette, alone, foreshadowed exactly how NEADS would operate on 9/11. Most relevant information would come from Boston Center. At no time during exercise Vigilant Guardian or on 9/11 was the Air Traffic Control System Command Center at Herndon, Virginia ever “contacted” or even mentioned.

My Assessment

I have studied the air defense response in detail for nearly a decade. It is my professional estimate that the only chance for any kind of air defense response was if the NOM, Ben Sliney, and the NEADS Commander, Bob Marr, were communicating in real time and were sharing a common operating picture of the battlefield, to include real time information from the en route centers, particularly Indianapolis Center, and the TRACONS, particularly Dulles TRACON.

Absent that capability there could be no effective air defense response, regardless of actions taken at NEADS, Otis, Langley, or by military pilots in the sky.  All other anomalies, real or imagined, are simply noise in an assessment of what happened on 9/11.

A Question for the 9/11 truth community

A fixation on the air defense response, the last possible defense, begs a question which the 9/11 truth community and the authors of the article and the video about air defense “anomalies” fail to address and likely cannot answer. What is it, exactly, the air defenders were supposed to do, given a successful intercept?

Exercise Vigilant Guardian provides a single clue. When notional air defense fighters intercepted a rouge F-18 fighter, in one scenario, they were initially given shoot down authority by the NEADS floor. When the controllers injected that the fighters were over a populated area that authority was withdrawn.

 

Comments are closed.