9-11: Rules of Engagement; expanding on the Commission’s Report, Part II


In a previous article I provided detail concerning the passing of Rules of Engagement (ROE) at the SD2 ISenior Director) position on the NEADS floor.  I have since found additional audio files in the NEADS collection that expand on that story.  My purpose in this second article is to put things in better perspective.

Some NEADS audio clips are taken from archived Commission files, either RDoD03012647 (NEADS 2 of 2 GSA Box 110) or RDoD04020857 (GSA Box 141 NEADS Dictaphone remake DRM1).  The individual audio files each have a unique Zulu time descriptor.  That descriptor is 20 minutes and 10 seconds off (slow).  That is a non-issue.  Channel 1, DRM 1 at NEADS was the time stamp channel; it allows precise determination of the time offset.

Commission Hearing at NTSB, 2004

On  the second day, June 17, 2004, of the twelfth public hearing of the Commission, the Staff entered Staff Statement 17, “Improvising a Homeland Defense,” into the records of the Commission.  That Staff Statement remains the definitive account on what happened on 9-11 for several reasons, but one specific.  It was based on the transcript and tape of the Air Threat Conference Call, primary source documents not yet made public.

The public introduction of that Statement included an audio clip from the NEADS floor that established the first awareness of specific ROE authority at NEADS.  103200 Chat Log Shootdown Statement Words But the story began about one-half hour earlier and it did not involve AA 77.


Shortly after 1000 EDT the President’s Emergency Operations Center became operational.  At that time there were two aircraft of immediate concern.  First was UA 93 approaching the nation’s capital from the Northwest.  100303 AA77 Down SService Report a NW headed to DC Line 4530 Note that AA 77 is believed down in the Midwest and that the flight approaching DC is erroneously assumed to be a Northwest Airlines plane.

Second was an unknown aircraft over the White House.  The unknown was one of the Langley fighters.  The arrival of Quit flight of three over the Washington DC area became part of the chaos of the day, negative disruptive feedback.  As they arrived they set up a combat air patrol (CAP) which became confusing to both NEADS and FAA.  The flight lead turned left (West) just short of the Potomac River.  His wingman and trail both proceeded across the river and close to the P56 denied area before turning left into the CAP.  In the process either the wing man or the trail became an unknown, a target of interest.  The flight lead, Quit 25, returned back to the East at a lower altitude to check things out.  Here is that story as recorded by FAA 100641 ac over WH Story Part I and 100641 ac over WH Story Part II

Here is a draft graphic depicting the approach of the Langley fighters. Quit 25, the flight lead, has just turned back to the East.  Quit 26 began to enter the CAP over the District, Quit 27 over Maryland.

Andrews Tower Announcements

The combination of the two potential threats, one approaching from the Northwest and one directly overhead was apparently enough to order an announcement by Andrews Tower advising the Class B airspace was closed and that intruders would be shot down.  100403 Andrews Maddox Shootdown Pronouncement Local Control

According to my 2004 file title the voice is that of David Maddox, then OSIC (Operational Supervisor in Charge) of Andrews Tower.  At the time of the Commission’s work Maddox was assigned to Potomac TRACON, a new facility that replaced the TRACONs at four regional airports.  NARA has released my notes of that July 2004 interview (after the June 2004 hearing).  The notes are too cryptic to be of use but I did annotate that the interview was recorded.  My recall is that I played the audio recording for Maddox.  I would like to say, with about 75% certainty, that he got his direction from the Secret Service.  I don’t recall the details of that interview.

My best estimate is that the announcement was an interim measure, a warning on frequency, before the authority for shoot down could be established.  That estimate is consistent with events as they happened at both NEADS and at Andrews.  Maddox repeated his announcement at approximately ten minute intervals.  Here is the audio of the 1015 local announcement.  101557 Andrews Maddox Warning from Tower Local Control

What Are The Words

In the meantime, NEADS and its fighters in the air were asking for “the words,” the mission.  In this next audio clip we hear the NEADS floor dealing with the unknown over the White House. The controlled asked “intercept and what else.”  His plea for guidance was directed to Jamie [Major Fox], the Senior Director.  Note that the response on the NEADS floor was concurrent with them learning about UA 93 and a bomb on board.  100707 AC Over WH Intercept and What are Words

The answer came back “negative clearance to shoot.”  However, by that time they were concentrating on UA 93, trying to track it by mode 3, an impossible task since the plane was no longer transmitting a beacon code.  100901 UA93 Negative Clearance to Shoot

By 1013, local, NEADS understood that they had intercepted their own guys.  0911133659 Intercepted own guys

Issues raised earlier

At 0933, after the Langley fighters were airborne, an unidentified person in the NEADS weapons section posed these questions.  “Have you asked the question whatcha gonna do if you actually find this guy?  Are we gonna to shoot him down if they got passengers on board?  Have they talked about that?  (added to article Apr 14, 2011)  We do not hear the answer.  0911131221 Whatcha gonna do

By at least 0946 local, at least one unit was questioning the authority to even launch fighters.  In this next clip we hear Sgt. Powell asking a Midwest unit to scramble on a plane east of Toledo [Delta 1989].  A Lieutenant Colonel questioned, “exactly what are we going to do?”  He followed that up with an additional question, “what authority was this coming from?”  Powell did not know and ultimately said it was coming from his commander, Colonel Marr.  0911132558 What authority is this coming from

Thirty minutes later another unit had concerns about the authority.  The Syracuse Commander called and requested to speak with Colonel Marr.  0911135441 Connect me with Col Marr The Commander wanted to speak to Marr because he had airplanes with hot guns that were going to launch and potentially shoot down American airliners.  He got Lt Col Daniels instead who gave him instructions with the promise that he or Col Marr would call again.  0911135712 Syracuse planes with hot guns

After the Vice President’s Guidance

Both NEADS and Andrews then dealt with what to do with the formal guidance as articulated in the CONR chat log for NORAD and as most likely passed to General Wherley at Andrews.

At Andrews, Major Hutchison was ordered airborne for a brief flight but without authority.  I told his story in an earlier article.  He was followed in the air by a pair of Andrews fighters, guns only, and with oral “weapons free” authority, according to General Wherley.  After 1100 local a second pair of armed Andrews fighters was airborne with pilots who had signed that they had “weapons free authority.”

At NEADS the demand for specific “words” continued because of specific situations.  I told the Midwest story in part I.  There was a parallel situation in the East over Boston.  Additional fighter from Otis were airborne with instructions to hunt for specific targets.  The pilots asked for current ROE.  The time was 1051 local.  0911145042 What is current ROE

(Note: in this clip and subsequent clips I have corrected the Dictaphone file to actual time.)

Less than a minute later he got his answer, “at peace.”  0911145137 At Peace That was quickly followed by very specific guidance from Major Fox that clearance to shoot was retained at NEADS.  0911145222 Request Clearance to Shoot

Two Different Interpretations

The Major Fox precise declaration of ROE was consistent with Colonel Marr’s contention that shootdown authority was not passed to the cockpit.  His guidance was clearly passed to the Panta fighters over Boston.  Fox’s counterpart handling the Midwest heard the guidance a bit differently and did pass shootdown authority to the cockpit, as we learned in Part I.

Clear Guidance after 1200 EDT (added Apr 14, 2011)

By this time the nation was at DEFCON 3 and the guidance to fighters in the air was that they were cleared to engage.  In this next clip Sting 11, who is being refueled by Steel 72, was told explicitly that he was cleared to engage; his response: “copy that.”  The time was 1219 EDT and his mission was to CAP Chicago.  0911155819 Cleared to engage Copy That


It is clear from this primary source information that the issue of shootdown authority had nothing to do with AA 77, but with UA 93 and other potential targets after the PEOC was operational.  Secretary Mineta was clearly wrong in his recall of the timing of events of the day.

It is also clear that the guidance was passed in the same time frame to both NEADS and, through the Secret Service, to Andrews and General Wherley.

An Additional Item of Interest

Shortly before 1030 local the Secret Service asked for Quit 25, the Langley flight lead, to be on a specific frequency.  We do not know the details of that request.  What we do know is that Quit 25 continued to respond to his chain of command.  The pilot told me during interview that, given a shoot down order, he would have authenticated more than once.  I asked Andrews interviewees if they had authentication tables, they did not.  102838 Quit Secret Service Wash Tower

9-11: Rules of Engagement; expanding on the Commission’s Report

Author’s note.  The audio clips in this article, with one exception, have been copied from the NEADS file, DRM 2 1 DAT 1 Channel 20 SD2.  I have run the clips through a noise suppression filter using Adobe Audition.


This article is one of the primary reasons I established my web site.  I wanted to continue the work begun by the Commission, relying on the primary sources and secondary material of the day.  One such primary source is the NEADS audio files.

The NEADS files are difficult to listen to and even more difficult to transcribe.  The Commission-contracted effort with Alderson to transcribe the NEADs tapes is indicative of how difficult the transcription process was, and is.  Alderson attempted to provide continuity by concentrating on specific voices.  Captain Brian Nagel, the Senior Director 2, is male speaker 13, for example.  Their transcription effort for the Senior Director 2 position is available.


The Commission [pp 42-43] reported that “The NEADS commander [Colonel Marr] told us he did not pass along the [shoot-down] order because he was unaware of its ramifications.  Both the mission commander [Major Nasypany] and the senior weapons director [Major Fox] indicated they did not pass the order to the fighters circling Washington and New York because they were unsure how the pilots would, or should proceed with this guidance.  In short, while leaders in Washington believed that the fighters above them had been instructed to “take out” hostile aircraft, the only orders actually conveyed to the pilots were to “ID type and tail.”

That set of circumstances pertained to the initial order that NEADS received over a chat network passed from the Region Commander [General Arnold] with explicit reference to the Vice President.  According to the Commission Report: “Okay? Okay, you read that the Vice President, right?  Vice President has cleared.  Vice President has cleared us to intercept traffic and shoot the down if they do not respond per [General Arnold].”

At the time, circa 10:31, the “DO [Director of Operations] [said] no.”  That would later change, as we shall hear as we examine the continued NEADS effort to generate fighters from bases in the Mid-West.  The position of interest on the NEADS floor is the SD2 [Senior Director 2] position manned by Captain Brian Nagel.

Nagel’s chain of command was Nasypany to Marr.  His situational awareness was that Cleveland Center (ZOB) would evacuate and that there may still be unknown hostile aircraft in the sky.  His guidance became to protect major cities.

New Directions Coming Down

Captain Nagel time-stamped this primary source information for us.  He exchanged information with Cobra 1, the lead of a flight of two fighters out of Syracuse.  Cobra 1 told him his “play time” (time available in the air).  The Cobra flight was awaiting directions while in a holding pattern in Misty Thunder, a training area over Lake Ontario.

Nagel glanced at a clock or watch and verbalized the time as 1453 [10:53, actual tape stamp time is circa 10:55].  Cobra 1 informed Nagel that he and a second Syracuse pair of fighters (Apex) had hot guns only.  Nagel acknowledged that and informed Cobra 1 that there was new direction coming down and that he would brief him once he got the word.  That exchange can be heard here.  1453 New Directions Coming Down

Nagel briefs Cobra 1

Ten minutes later (circa 11:03 EDT) Nagel briefed Cobra 1. The new guidance coming down from above, “as in Presidential,” was to protect the major centers.  Nagel told Cobra 1 he would direct them to Pittsburgh once he arranged for tanker support.  He told Cobra 1, “there is clearance to kill, if required,” and that he would provide a further brief but had to “confirm the details on that.”  All subsequent clips in this article are a continuation and the first clip, the brief, can be heard here.  1503 Protect Major Cities

Cobra 1 responds

Cobra 1 advised that the previous transmission from Nagel was interfered with by Guard (emergency frequency) and he needed a repeat.  Nagel again told him the mission and advised that Cleveland Center was evacuated and that Cobra [and Apex] would be on “auto ops.”  He also made reference to the earlier report that one aircraft [UA 93] reported a bomb threat.  1504 ROE shortly

Nagel asks the MCC for clarification

Nagel asked for the “kill direction,” what to tell “these guys.”  He was just going to give them a brief, wasn’t going to tell them to do anything.  The MCC’s response was blocked by a concurrent transmission by Cobra 1.  150430 MCC When Able

Nagel again asks for clarification

Nagel briefed the MCC on what he was doing with the Syracuse fighters.  The MCC’s response can poorly be made out; he was speaking to lack of response [by a potential target] and divert procedures.  Nagel responded, “Wilco.”  1505 Wilco

Nagel briefs Cobra 1

Nagel told Cobra 1: “direction is…protect the major centers, when you are overhead the major center, it will be Pittsburgh in this case, you have intercept authority on any traffic in the area, if the traffic does not respond to hand signals, divert procedures, anything like that and they continue to press in a threatening manner towards the major center you are cleared to engage.”  Cobra 1, “copies.”  1506 Cobra Copies


In the 10:50-11:00 time frame, after the battle of 9-11 was over, the nation began the transition to Operation Noble Eagle (ONE), protect the major centers, a labor-intensive, around-the-clock, resource-draining effort.  The exchange between Captain Nagel and Cobra 1 provides specific primary-source information that new guidance, Presidential guidance, had been issued and had reached the cockpit level.

At the same time, the NEADS sector floor, at the MCC position, became aware of the nation’s transition to DEFCON 3. That acknowledgment can be heard at this clip from DRM 1 DAT2 Channel 5 ID TK.  1505 DEFCON 3

It is an open question as to when ONE began.  In an earlier article I suggested that it began the moment the third Andrews fighter, Quit 27, lifted off; the first expansion of the established air defense mission.  It is also reasonable to establish that ONE began concurrent with the nation’s transition to DEFCON 3 and the new mission to protect the major centers, as we heard in the audio clips from the NEADS floor.

I leave it to the Air Force historians to set the time line for ONE; I am comfortable with either of the two times I have suggested.