9-11: Chaos Theory; Unbuilding the World Trade Center, dealing with Chaos

I just finished reading American Ground, Unbuilding the World Trade Center, by William Langewiesche, paperback version with afterword.  The author copyrighted his research in 2002 and the paperback version was published in 2003.

I did not work on the World Trade Center story while on the Commission and, therefore, have not written much about it.  However, Langewiesche touches on an issue important to me, Chaos Theory, and I need to address it.

Chaos Theory

Langewiesche, as do nearly all writers, researchers and historians, uses the word “chaos” ubiquitously and without definition.  The word is used as an accepted descriptor, understood by all.

In earlier articles I have established my use of Chaos Theory to understand and put in context the events of 9-11.  In particular, I have established that we can use Chaos Theory as a metaphor and that we can use its language to describe things.

One such description is the fact that in Chaos things self organize in ways that cannot be predicted and strange attractors emerge because information flows to entities or people around which things can reorganize.

Langewiesche describes such a set of circumstances concerning the “unbuilding” of the World Trade Center, one in which an unlikely entity and actors emerged and around  whom things organized to deal with what the author, time and again, refers to as chaos.

[page 9] “The agency charged with managing the physical work was an unlikely one.  It was the Department of Design and Construction (DDC), an obscure bureaucracy…whose offices were not even in Manhattan but in Queens.  The DDC was given the lead for the simple reason that its two top officials, a man named Kenneth Holden and his Lieutenant, Michael Burton, had emerged from the chaos of September 11 as the most effective of the responders.”

And later, [page 11] “Their success in the midst of chaos was an odd twist in the story of these monolithic buildings that in the final stretch of the twentieth century had stood so visibly for the totalitarian ideals of planning and control.”  But the buildings were not buildings anymore, and the place where they fell had become a blank slate for the United States.  Among the ruins now, an unscripted experiment in American life had gotten under way.”

And finally, a description of the task [page 12]: “The weight alone defied imagination.  What does a chaos of 1.5 million tons really mean?”  Thereafter, the author will refer to the debris pile, itself, as “chaos.”

But how good is Langewiesche as a contemporary historian?  The author provides us the answer.  He took the time to describe the flights of AA 11 and UA 175 in a way that allows us to gage his research.

Primary source information, accurately reported

Beginning on page 75 and in seven succinct pages, Langewiesche, accurately told the primary source story of AA 11 and UA 175 using transcripts of the audio files from air traffic control and from American Airlines.  His account is flawless, based on my own understanding and my own work with the air traffic control tapes.  Using that benchmark to establish Langewiesche’s due diligence as an historian and writer, we can reasonably accept the rest of his work, specifically the following:

1.  Beginning on page 54 Langewiesche described the deaths of, first, the South Tower, and then the North Tower as a specific result of the impacts of UA 175 and AA 11.  “One of the many astonishments of that day was that the building [South Tower] was able to swallow an entire 767 and slow it from 590 MPH to a stop in merely 209 feet.”  “…the building would have remained standing indefinitely.  But then, of course, there was the fire…”

2.  “On the debris pile in the northeast corner the fire melted the remnants of the shattered airliner, which half an hour after entering the building began to flow in a stream of molten aluminum down the tower outside.”

3.  With its support giving way beneath it the top of the [South] tower tilted  east and then south., rotating in a clockwise direction, and suddenly slammed down.” “…it was not felled from below, it was hammered from above and it accelerated as it fell crushing the core and peeling back the exoskeleton with each successive floor.”

4.  [North Tower] “…the 351-foot transmission tower on the roof sank a little…Half a second later the floors above the impact zone dropped as a unit straight down through the office fire, creating a flare-up and the illusion of a secondary explosion before striking the first blow in the chain of blows that pancaked the monolith to the ground.”

5. The words of one of the last persons found alive, one who survived the fall of the North Tower, Pasquale Buzzelli.  “Buzzelli felt the building rumble, and immediately afterward heard a tremendous pounding coming at him from above, as one after another  the upper floors collapsed in sequence.  Buzzelli’s memory of it afterwards was distinct.  The pounding was rhythmic, and it intensified fast, as if a monstrous boulder were bounding down the stairwell toward his head.”

Based on Langewiesche’s demonstrated due diligence in research and reporting I am confident that the conflagrations–the office fires–brought the towers down, that the molten metal “flowing out” was aluminum, and that the speculation by a few about controlled demolition is simply false.

Langewiesche’s work was criticized, but that criticism had nothing to do with his technical descriptions of the flights, their impact, the fires, or the collapse of the towers.  It had to do with his treatment of the stakeholders, primarily the New York Fire Department, in the demolition effort.  In the afterword to his paper back edition, Langewiesche showed his established due diligence by acknowledging and addressing the criticism of his original book.

9-11: Chaos and Ghosts; little understood at the time, poorly understood even today

Author’s Note

This article is a work in progress; consider it version 1.0.  I am publishing it now because its content may inform the work of writers, historians, and other researchers.  To that end I am breaking with my usual practice and am allowing comments.


When UA 175 flew into the World Trade Center south tower at 9:03 a.m, on September 11, 2001, is was generally understood that the nation was under attack.  What is little understood today is the time it took the national level to get itself organized and how poorly it gained situational awareness, even after the fact.

In the aftermath, participants at all levels were unable to accurately explain what happened; not to the Commission, not to the public, and not to themselves.  The net result was a garbled official story that took the 9-11 Commission Staff an extended period of time to sort out and accurately report.

Historians, researchers and writers are independently unable to accurately assess events for two primary reasons.  First, no one has access to the totality of information made available to the 9-11 Commission and to the Congressional Joint Inquiry before it.  Second, many writers and bloggers base their theses on participant recall or other anecdotal information, exactly the wrong place to start.  Such information is only useful when validated and verified by primary and secondary source information.


My purpose is to provide a framework for researchers, one based almost exclusively on primary sources, the voices of the day as taped at multiple Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) sites and at the Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS).  I will use the language of Chaos Theory to graphically depict the attack, the situational awareness of the attack as it occurred, and the very limited amount of time that FAA and NEADS had to do anything.

This portrayal should help knowledgeable and interested people understand why mid-level action officers such as Terry Van Steenburgen at FAA and Nelson Garabito of the Secret Service were unable to explain during interview what the threat actually was to the nation’s capital and to Air Force One.  They were the among the first action officers to deal with the potential threat as the President made plans to return to the nation’s capital

It will help explain why senior FAA and NORAD officers were unable to establish an agreed upon position as to what happened; why persons who testified before the Commission, such as Jane Garvey, Norman Mineta, and Generals McKinley and Arnold, were unable to accurately inform the Commission as to what happened; and why the Air National Guard, twice, tried to glamorize and glorify a battle it did not fight.

No one in government could adequately inform the Commission, the Congressional Joint Inquiry that preceded it, or the people of the nation and the world as to what happened because they did not know; their staffs did not figure out the attack and the response to the attack.  That is most evident in the garbled testimony of, first, Jane Garvey, and then Norman Mineta to the Commission.

I will use the lens of Chaos Theory to explain things.  My earlier articles on the relevance of Chaos Theory to the events of 9-11 explain why I have taken this theoretical approach.  As I said, my understanding comes almost exclusively from listening, multiple times, to primary sources, the voices of the day, as recorded at FAA air traffic control facilities and at NEADS.

We begin with a description of the attack.

The Attack

Previously, I published two articles on the attack. One described the attack as a battle in a larger war on terror.  The other drew upon the “testimony” of Khalid Sheik Mohammed at the Moussaoui trial to provide a different perspective.  In this article I will focus on the language of Chaos Theory, specifically the term bifurcation, to describe the attack.

Simply put, bifurcation means to divide into two parts.  In Chaos Theory cascading periodic bifurcation leads to chaos and complex mathematical constructs are called for.  That is well beyond the scope of this article.  My intention here is to use Chaos Theory as a metaphor and to borrow its language to describe the bifurcations of the attack and, more important, the bifurcating situational unawareness of what was actually happening. The chart at this link depicts the attack as we now know it.

The Attack Retrospectively

In military terms the attack was straight forward, a two-pronged attack, each prong two-pronged.  However, none of that sophistication was known prior to and during the attack.  In its initial stages the attack was treated as a linear event, the hijacking of a single aircraft.

FAA’s Boston Center (ZBW) followed existing linear processes to manage the event, with one exception.  ZBW short-circuited the hijack notification process and contacted NEADS directly.  That was the only request for assistance made to NORAD/NEADS that morning.

Beginning shortly after 8:40 the northern prong bifurcated when UA 173 was hijacked and the main attack, itself, bifurcated a few minutes later when AA 77 was hijacked.  That double bifurcation was not recognized or understood at any level within FAA or the government.

The FAA’s New York Center (ZNY) and Indianapolis Center (ZID), separately and unknowingly, one to the other, picked up the emerging diversity of the attack, but there was no correlation of disparate events.  Specifically, the hub of FAA air traffic control management, the Air Traffic Control System Command Center (Herndon Center) did not have the situational awareness to correlate events, primarily because they did not know what ZID knew, that AA 77 was lost off radar.

At 9:03, when UA 175 flew into the World Trade Center South Tower, the nation knew it was under attack; confirmed within FAA when ZBW reported the results of the AA 11 tape review–we have some planes.

The attack was unfolding, the battle commanders, Ben Sliney at Herndon Center and Colonel Bob Marr at NEADS, were not talking to each other, and the national level had not yet organized to be of any help.  Sliney and Marr, separately, were on their own.

The attack plan, UA 93 considered

I and others have wondered what the circumstances would have been had UA 93 not been delayed in takeoff

Retrospectively, had UA 93 taken off with the same delay time as the other three hijacked aircraft, then the introduction of chaos into the system would have been a compound double bifurcation.  The main attack and both prongs would have bifurcated before UA 175 impacted.

That means that one additional FAA air traffic control center, Cleveland (ZOB), would also have had essential information.  We do not know and will likely never know if the nation would have responded more effectively to the southern prong of the attack had UA 93 been hijacked according to plan.

Given what the primary source information tells us, my assessment is that a more effective response would have only been possible had Sliney and Marr been talking to each other and that they were sharing  accurate information before 9:09.

9:09 EDT, 1309 Zulu, an opportunity missed

At 9:09 the Joint Surveillance System (JSS) radars supporting NEADS reacquired AA 77.  The chart at the following link depicts that time in comparision to the awareness FAA and NEADS had of the four hijacked aircraft.

Awareness of the attack

At the same time NEADS radars reacquired AA 77 the NEADS Mission Crew Commander asked that the Langley fighters be scrambled.  He knew nothing about AA 77 or the fact that it could have been tracked.  Colonel Marr opted to place the Langley fighters on battle stations only.  Concurrently ZID escalated the information that AA 77 was lost off radar and presumed down to its higher administrative headquarters, Great Lakes Region (AGL).  The flow of information stopped there and Herndon Center was not informed by either ZID or AGL.

It is clear from the NEADS surveillance technicans’ audio tapes, and their ability to establish a track on AA 77 just before it flew into the Pentagon, that NEADS would have been able to establish a track on AA 77 within a few minutes after 9:09 had they been cued.  Moreover, they would also have been able to establish a track on UA 93 after it was hijacked and before it dropped off the JSS radars in the area of Pittsburgh.

The dotted line terminating the extended track of UA 93 at 10:28 depicts the time that UA 93 was, notionally, visible on TSD, Traffic Situation Display.  I mention it here because that is the “plane” to which Norman Mineta refers in his statements and testimony.  We will continue that discussion later.

Situational awareness,  bifurcation after bifurcation

The chart at this link depicts what was understood in real time by those trying to grapple with a chaotic situation.  It was chaotic and that chaos can be clearly depicted using a bifurcation chart.  Here it is the information about the attack that is bifurcating.

Chaotic Situational Awareness

The paths shown in red are what actually happened concerning each of the four hijacked aircraft.  Every other bifurcation was either an artifact in the air traffic control system or a misread of the actual situation by someone at some level.

The artifacts are the notional paths of all four aircraft in the traffic situation display system.  AA 11 and UA 175 original flight plans were unchanged.  The AA 77 flight plan was changed by ZID but only to assist controllers to the west, not the east.  The UA 93 flight plan was changed by Cleveland Center with a new destination of DCA, Washington Reagan National.  AA 11A was a new plane entered into the system to enable air traffic controllers to follow the actual path of AA 11.

AA 77

The most problematic hijacked plane was AA 77.  It was presumed lost and down; American Airlines thought it might be one of the two aircraft that hit the World Trade Center.  No one knew its whereabouts until it became the fast moving threat to the nation’s capital from the West.

There is no evidence in primary source information that anyone at any level of government or in the airline industry knew about the threat of AA 77 until a few minutes after 9:30 when the alarm was sounded by Dulles TRACON.

The reporting that it was lost and down apparently became conflated with the report that AA 11 was still airborne and approaching the capital from the North.  That false report did alert both FAA and NEADS and resulted in the launch of the Langley fighters.

Two planes threaten the capital

Near concurrent reports that the Pentagon was hit and that a plane was moving toward and then away from the White House became two separate entities.  There is no equating of the two incidents at either FAA Headquarters or Herndon Center, according to the tapes from Herndon.  The report of the plane threatening the White House became a threat separate from the plane that hit the Pentagon.

The second threat was the track of UA 93 observable notionally in the traffic display system as it proceeded to “land” at DCA.  When Cleveland Center entered the new flight plan for UA 93 the icon for that plane jumped, literally, on TSD to a location in the general vicinity of Camp David.  When I observed that jump while watching a replay of the TSD tape at Herndon Center my immediate assessment was that the jump was the most likely source for the false information that UA 93 had crashed near Camp David.  I know of no verification of that assessment.

National Level awareness

No one on any staff at any level sorted out the situational awareness on the morning of 9-11 to support the later statements and testimony of Administrator Garvey, Secretary Mineta, or Generals McKinley, Arnold and Eberhart.  Testimony by all senior officials was inaccurate and garbled.

Timelines developed by NORAD and FAA were never in agreement and were individually flawed. Further, military officials conflated information about D 1989 with UA 93 because D 1989 was the only plane on which NEADS/NORAD established a track that morning.

The Air National Guard twice perpetuated its misunderstanding.  First, they commissioned Leslie Filson to publish Air War Over America. Second, they misinformed Lynn Spencer in her earnest effort to tell the story in the skies that morning in her book Touching History.

My Assessment

The attack was well planned and well executed, the northern prong more so than the southern prong. After several years of synthesis of both primary and other source information I’m reasonably convinced that we know why the northern prong proceeded as it did.

The Attack against New York

Why did Atta choose Portland and Logan?  Elsewhere in my writings I have described the choice of Portland as simply a “plan B.”  Atta intended to succeed at some level with just himself and one accomplice.  Hence their entry into the National Airspace System at a remote location.

The choice of Logan was logical for at least two reasons.  First, it cancelled out the delay factor that morning, which could not be predicted at any airport.  By choosing Logan, Atta had some degree of confidence that whatever the delay for the planes hijacked by Atta and Al Shehhi the delay would be on the same order of magnitude.

Second, Al Shehhi as a passenger on a United airplane had a reasonable opportunity to hear transmissions on frequency from AA 11 by listening to cabin channel 9.  Given the restricted airways out of Logan westbound, it was likely that both planes would be on the same frequency during their time in Boston Center’s airspace.  Both planes were on the same frequency when Atta transmitted over the air.  The pilot of UA 175 reported that fact to New York Center (ZNY) air traffic control shortly after the hand off from ZBW to ZNY.

We will likely never know to what degree Atta and Al Shehhi planned what happened, but they had the acumen, the training, and the time to calculate their plan in detail.  Nowhere is that more evident than in the fact that Al Shehhi changed the transponder code on UA 175 just as soon as AA 11 flew into the World Trade Center north tower.

The Attack against Washington

The southern attack was poorly conceived in contrast to the attack against New York City.  The choice of two different departure airports meant the attackers could not negate the delay factor.  Further, there was no chance that the two planes would ever be on the same frequency.

What we can surmise, given the scheduled times and the boarding times, is that the southern attack was intended to lag the northern attack and that it would begin in  the same time frame that the northern attack was finished.  Given that UA 93 had departed 30 minutes earlier then UA 93 would have lagged AA 77 by roughly 20 minutes.  UA 175 lagged AA 11 by 17 minutes.

Terrorism as Theater

Brian Jenkins has long held the position that “terrorism is theater.”  Nowhere is that more evident than in the attack on the morning of 9-11.  Atta set the scene for Act I; he captured a world-wide audience as Al Shehhi closed the Act.

That same act was supposed to repeat itself in Washington.  Hanjour set the scene for Act II; he captured the same world-wide audience, but Jarrah failed to close.  The passengers aboard UA 93 had figured things out and they closed the Act prematurely.

Norman Mineta

The convergence of evidence is clear that Mineta misspoke when he testified to a time of “9:20.”

First, it is simply not possible to do everything Mineta said he did after 9:03 and be in the PEOC by 9:20 in action and receiving information.  Moreover, there was no information to receive.  The FAA’s primary net was not activated until 9:20, the first national level conference to be so activated.  No operational information was ever passed on that net.

Clarke’s SVTS conference was activated at 9:25 and did not become operational until 9:40.  The NMCC began its Significant Event Conference at about the same time as SVTS was activated; the Conference was terminated and an Air Threat Conference was convened about the time the Pentagon was struck.

Second, Mineta arrived at the White House as it was being evacuated.  CNN raw footage and BBC footage supporting “Clear The Skies” is conclusive that the evacuation did not begin until after the Pentagon was struck.

Third, Mineta still had to pass through the gates and checkpoints and then proceed all the way across the White House and then down to the PEOC.

The 9-11 Commission Staff concluded that Mineta and the Vice President were not together in the PEOC until after 10:00.  The plane they dealt with was the by then notional UA 93 as it completed the flight plan entered by Cleveland Center and “landed” at Reagan National at 10:28.

My Assessment

The simplest explanation may be the best.  Norman Mineta internalized what he saw and heard to rationalize a story that made sense at the time to himself and his staff.

The UA 93 story was straightforward, other than the conflation with D 1989, as shown in the bifurcation chart.  So, that was a given to those working the timeline issue; it was known down.  Therefore, it must have been AA77 that was the problematic threat.  That notion persisted and manifested specifically as NORAD prepared for the May 23, 2003 first air defense hearing.

So how did 10:20 the actual time at issue for Mineta become 9:20?  There are three plausible explanations, based on my own experience in two major operations centers dealing with the problem of accurately establishing event times.

First, he glanced at a clock for Central Daylight Time and internalized that time.  Second, his staff later confused the difference between Eastern Daylight Time and GMT, five hours vice four.  Third, his staff confused the time of interest for UA 93 to be Central Daylight Time, the time zone for Cleveland Center.

Only Norman Mineta can clear this up.

9-11: FAA Tactical Net; a window into the FBI SIOC


The purpose of this article is to document primary source information concerning the Federal Aviation Agency’s (FAA) Tactical Net.  The source is Herndon Center tape 5DCC 1923 Ops Phone 5128, Position 28 13-15-1415 UTC.  Thanks to the inclination of air traffic specialists at Herndon Center to leave lines open we have a window into FAA Headquarters and, by extension, a brief window into the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Strategic Information and Operations Center (SIOC).

The Commission Staff interview with Mike Weikert established who was sitting where in the FAA’s Washington Operations Center (WOC).  Pete Falcone was running the Tactical Net, his recorder was Chuck Gaffey.  Mike Weikert was running the Primary Net, his assistant was Tom Taffe.  A sketch of the WOC positions is  in notes from the Weikert interview.

According to Weikert there was “little traffic on his net.”  According to Major Chambers at the National Military Command Center nothing was passed on the Primary Net.  From notes I took, “virtually nothing being said–dead air space–dropped at some point.”

When I interviewed Taffe he could identify everyone who was on the dais at the front of the WOC, his line of sight was through the operations position for the Primary Net.  He could not identify who was operating the Primary Net.  According to a memo I prepared, “he could not recall who manned the primary net and was reluctant to place Mike Weikert at that position.”

At some point, the Primary Net was for all intents and purposes merged with the Tactical Net, “dropped at some point” in Chambers words.  On the tape for position 28 we hear one potential Primary Net participant, the FBI’s Jeff Bauer at the SIOC come up on the Tactical Net.  My assessment is that he did that because the net he should have been on, the Primary Net, was not available.  The Primary Net was activated at 9:20; Bauer called at 9:21 and was directed to the Tactical Net as we shall hear.

We begin by identifying position 28 as an open line to the Tactical Net.

Tactical net identified

There was confusion within FAA as to which net was which.  At 9:18 Marcus Arroyo, Eastern Region manager called Pete Falcone and asked which net he was on.  That conversation can be heard here.  091800 FAA Tactical Net That was two minutes before the Primary Net was activated, an indication that the Primary Net was redundant.

FBI calls seeking information

Immediately after the Primary Net was activated Jeff Bauer called to establish contact with FAA.  That request can be heard here. 092100 Bauer SIOC announced. Seconds later he is announced as joining the Tactical Net.  That continuation can be heard here. 092116 Jeff Bauer joined tactical net.

Bauer leaves the line open

Bauer did not hang up on the Tactical Net.  For the next nearly eight minutes background conversations at the SIOC are heard.  It is clear from those conversations that the FBI had no new information and was in the process of getting itself organized at the SIOC.  For example,  the date of the last World Trade Center attack was discussed.  At one point Bauer is heard explaining that he is on the FAA’s “Ops” net.  That statement can be heard hear.  092315 FBI on FAA Ops Net

FAA realizes there is an open mike

The window into the FBI SIOC continued for over five more minutes before someone, probably Pete Falcone, realized he had an open mike on his net.  That realization can be heard here. 092850 Open Mike on Tac Net


The time of the open window into the FBI SIOC was just under 8 minutes, from 9:21 to nearly 9:29.  That covers the time that the national level was getting itself organized.  The FAA’s Primary Net was activated at 9:20.  The White House Secure Video Teleconference, chaird by Richard Clarke, was activated at 9:25 and becaome operational at 9:40.  The NMCC was in the process of convening a Significant Events Conference which was terminated in favor of an Air Threat Conference.  Not one of the three entities, four included the FBI, knew that a fast moving unknown, AA 77, was approaching from the West.

In his testimony to the Commission, Norman Mineta cited a time of 9:20 that he was operational in the President’s Emergency Operations Center (PEOC).  Logs of the day, as reported by the Commission in its report, place both Mineta and the Vice President in the PEOC after 10:00.

Mineta was simply wrong in his recall and researchers and writers who argue from a position of accepting Mineta’s testimony have placed themselves in an untenable position.  There is no primary or secondary information that supports Mineta’s testimony.  Indeed, the convergence of evidence is conclusive that Mineta misspoke and information he claimed pertained to AA 77, in fact, pertained to UA 93.

93, Go pass that

There is one brief background conversation just before 10:15 at Operations Position 28 which suggests that erroneous information concerning UA 93 was being passed along from the FAA’s Washington Operations Center (WOC).

The background voice said, “OK, number one is 93, it’s 20 minutes outside of DC, go pass that.”  That brief transmission can be heard here. 101430 UA 93 20 minutes out.

Despite the known status of UA 93, someone at the WOC decided to pass along erroneous information, information that could only have come from a Traffic Situation Display which depicted the new flight plan for UA 93 as entered by Cleveland Center.  According to landing records at Reagan National, UA 93 “landed” at 10:28.

The Battle of 9-11, Redux

The attack began at 5:45 when Mohammed Atta entered the National Airspace System at Portland, Maine.  The counterattack began when Boston Center declared a hijack at 8:25.  The air defense response began when NEADS was notified at 8:40, according to the MCC/T log.  The FAA Tactical Net was activated at 8:50.  At 9:03 the nation knew it was under attack.

As we have learned in this article it took the national level an additional 15-45 minutes to get itself organized.  No one at any level had the situational awareness to accurately inform the National Command Authority which as of at least 10:15 was being misinformed.

To be continued….

9-11: Chaos Theory; 9:33 to 9:37, a most confused time


In an earlier article I stated that at one point Herndon Center became upset with the misinformation being passed on the FAA Tactical Net and broke into a conversation to set the record straight.  This article covers a nearly four minute conversation between FAA Headquarters and FBI Boston which conflated and confused information about AA 11, UA 175 and AA 77.

That conversation took place between 9:33 and 9:37.  At the same time, Dulles TRACON was alerting the air traffic control system and, by extension, the Secret Service that a primary-only target was bearing down on the nation’s capital. That report reached FAA HQ during this conversation on the Tactical Net, as you will hear.

Nothing in all of the primary source information available better portrays the confusion of the morning and the lack of situational awareness within FAA as a whole.

FBI Boston asks for an update

Both FBI Boston and the FBI’s SIOC (Strategic Information and Operations Center) were on the FAA’s Tactical Net at various times after it was activated at 8:50.  The FBI should have been on the Primary Net, but there is no evidence that net passed operational information after it was activated at 9:20.

The first portion of the FBI/FAA conversation can be heard in the following audio clip, the first of three.  (The complete conversation was too large to upload as a continuous file) 093300 FAA to FBI Boston, confused report

FAA HQ believed that the two planes that struck the World Trade Center were AA 11 and AA 77.  They also understood inaccurately that UA 175 was not involved and had dropped off radar.

FBI attempts to clarify

FBI Boston asked for a recapitulation to make sure it understood what FAA HQ was saying.  That conversation can be heard here. 093400 FBI recap

FBI Boston pursued the issue concerning UA 175.

Herdon Center had heard enough

Ricky Bell at the Herndon Center had been listening to all the misinformation.  His frustration is clearly evident as he broke into the conversation proudly announcing that the intruding voice was from the “Air Traffic System Command Center, Herndon, Virginia.”  Only because Bell decided earlier that morning to leave his line open do we have this window into the real-time information available to FAA HQ.

That segment of the conversation via the Tactical Net can be heard in this audio. 093500 Herndon Center had heard enough

FAA HQ attributed the information that UA 175 had dropped off radar over Indiana to FAA’s Eastern Region.  I have consistently held the position that the FAA’s Regions, administrative headquarters, did little to help Ben Sliney and Herndon Center fight the battle of 9-11.  There is no better example–in chaos terms–of disruptive feedback into the air traffic control system.

Supervisor provides accurate information, Eastern Region (AEA) reports fast moving “VFR”

Bell then stepped aside, and a supervisor provided a concise and accurate accounting of the four hijacked aircraft, to include UA 93.  As he concluded, Eastern Region broke back into the Tactical Net to report a fast moving VFR approaching the White House.  The time was 9:36:30, according to the tapes of Operations Positions 28, phone line 5128, and Operations Position 35, phone line 5135, Herndon Center.

Those conversations can be heard on this audio clip.  093600 Herndon clarifies and Eastern Region informs Tac Net about fast moving VFR

Eastern Region concluded by stating that the information came from air traffic control.  That was not, in context, a ringing endorsement by Eastern Region.  Nevertheless, they did report the information.  That is the first time FAA Headquarters was informed of the immediate threat to the nation’s capital.

Concurrently, the Administrator, Jane Garvey was on her way to Clarke’s SVTS conference.  FAA records show that she was present at 9:40.  Clarke’s account has Garvey reporting that AA 11 and UA 175 were “the two aircraft that went in,” accurate information.  His account mentions no other aircraft.  Clarke’s account also has Norman Mineta as missing.  “At first, FAA could not find him.”

To be continued

In a separate article I will address the impact of the report of a fast-moving aircraft approaching from the West as it played out in real time on the Tactical Net.  That article will put the information recalled during interview by Terry Van Steenburgen, FAA, and Nelson Garabito, Secret Service in perspective.

Chaos Theory: 9-11; Delta 1989, flap of a butterfly’s wings


No one could have predicted that a plane never under duress could be a center piece in the unfolding events of 9-11. Yet it was and its story became conflated and confused as the government, in particular NORAD and FAA, failed to sort out the events of the day in the aftermath.  It was a significant flap of a butterfly’s wings that morning.

In this article we will tell the Delta 1989 story using the best primary source, the actual voices of the people involved.  The clarity of my emerging understanding of the story comes about for two reasons.  First, I now use the lens of chaos theory to revisit, study and better understand the events of that morning.  Second, I now have the luxury of time to parse the audio files of the day in detail and with an overarching theory in place.


I have touched on Delta 1989 in other articles.  The radar files show that the paths of UA 93 and D 1989 were such that controllers had to move Delta 1989 out of the way, to cause it to “meander.”  We know that NORAD, Colonel Marr and General Arnold in particular, recall watching UA 93 “meander.”  We also know that Delta 1989 was the only plane for which NEADS established a track, B-89, and forwarded that track to NORAD.  Delta 1989 was the only “hijacked” plane that NORAD would report about in the National Military Command Center’s (NMCC) Air Threat Conference.  Delta 1989 took on a life of its own far beyond its mere position as simply one other aircraft aloft.

So, how did all that happen?  Here is that story, and we began with a discussion of how chaos built that morning as the nation grappled with unfolding events it did not anticipate, under estimated as they occurred, and, in both real time and the final analysis, did not understand.

Chaos, from Boston to Herndon

Events became chaotic for Boston Center (ZBW) the moment a strange voice was heard on frequency by the controller responsible of AA 11.  Boston’s reaction was straight forward, they declared a hijack at 8:25, notified Herndon Center at 8:27, contacted Otis TRACON at 8:34 and NEADS at 8:38.  They thought they had things under control and the situation transferred to New York Center (ZNY).

The transfered situation was not immediately chaotic; it was a matter of finding AA 11 spatially, they had it on radar, and projecting a potential destination.  All that changed at 8:46 when AA 11 slammed into the World Trade Center north tower and the attack bifurcated.  The transponder code for UA 175 changed and changed again as it morphed into a transponding intruder and, UA 175, itself, became a plane of interest.

Watchers around the world saw UA 175 knife into the second World Trade Center tower.  What no one knew was that the original attack, itself, had bifurcated,  AA 77 went missing and was presumed down.  That was chaotic for Indianapolis Center, but not for Herndon Center.  The lost report went to FAA’s Great Lake Center and to the DoD’s Rescue Coordination Center, and no further.

In the immediate aftermath of the two-pronged attack on New York Center, Herndon Center and the air traffic control centers did what they could to control chaos; they established bounds, ground stops at key locations.

However, while this was happening ZBW had been assessing the situation.  Ever proactive–hijack notification to the military, cockpit notification to planes under its purview–ZBW concluded that there was a developing pattern and it reported its assessment to Herndon Center.

Delta 1989 becomes a plane of interest

ZBW concluded that the pattern was that transcontinental flights to Los Angeles from Boston were being hijacked.  There wee three planes that fit that model–AA 11, UA 175, and Delta 1989.  They reported that observation to both New England Region, its higher administrative headquarters, and to Herndon Center, tis higher operational headquarters.

That initiative took hold before anything was known about AA 77 outside of Indianapolis Center and Great Lakes Region.  It is the most likely source of concern by the air traffic control system that there might be a third plane.  That “third plane” was not AA 77, it was not UA 93, it was Delta 1989.

Chaos Theory: 9-11; a critical period, examined in real time


The purpose of this article is to pull together multiple topics into a coherent whole to assess information that FAA was receiving and processing in real time.  Our source is the audio file for Operations Phone 5115, Position 15, Air Traffic Control System Command Center (Herndon Center).

The line was left open to FAA Headquarters and to the FAA tactical net.  That provides historians and other researchers a real time window into the workings of FAA as a whole, thanks to the initiative of a Herndon Center air traffic specialist who decided on his own to leave the line open.  No lines or positions were recorded at FAA Headquarters on 9-11.

The Source

In this article we will examine the second of one set of four cassette tapes provided to the Commission by FAA.  That tape was digitized and is documented as 5 DCC 1912 Ops Phone 5115, Pos 15 1315-1415 UTC.  Historians and serious researchers who want to upload and study the tape can do so here.  The upload will take about one-half hour and will be well worth the effort.

My further recommendation is that interested persons make the investment in an audio analysis program such as Adobe Audition. Such an investment will allow you to quickly find and time stamp key conversations and to enhance and clarify background conversations.

One procedural caution.  Each FAA tape provided to the Commission has a lead-in certification by a Quality Assurance specialist that the tape is a true recording.  The duration of that  certification must be measured and subtracted from the time ruler for whatever playback software one is using.  The lengths of the certifications vary.  For example, the certification for the first tape in the series lasts 59 seconds.  The certification on the tape of interest, 1315-1415 UTC (9:15-10:15 EDT), lasts 16 seconds.

Clarification of Some Issues

A close review of this tape resolves some things, clarifies others, and, in my case, provides additional insight into things I worked on while on the Commission Staff

First, it is clear from this tape that the FAA primary net merged with the tactical net.  Although the primary net was activated at 9:20 no operational information was ever passed; it was still born, as I’ve stated in a different article.

Second, I have taken the position in several articles that the FAA’s Regions as  administrative headquarters had no business in the midst of the battle being fought by Herndon Center.  This tape supports that position.

Third, it is now clear that the Herndon Center reference of going to the CARF (Central Altitude Reservation Facility) for military support had nothing to do with scrambling fighters.  That was always nonsensical to me, given my understanding of the CARF as I discussed in the final article of the Scott Trilogy.  The reference is to obtaining clearance for the E4B, VIVI 36, which had asked Patterson Tower (Wright-Patterson AFB) for clearance to fly a Presidential Support mission to JFK airport.

Fourth, the conflation of information concerning the four incident aircraft and D 1989 is evident throughout.  In a recent article I said I would document the point at which Herdon Center had had enough and interrupted to say so.  You will hear that interruption and the clarity with which Herdon Center stated what was known.

Fifth, it is clear that information was being passed in real time concerning the fate of UA 93, less so for AA 77.  Moreover, if one listens to background voices the passing of information up the chain of command can be heard.  There is no question that Headquarters FAA had far more real time information than was made available to Jane Garvery or that she shared with Richard Clarke.  The SVTS was activated at 9:25 and was operational by 9:40.  Garvey mentioned only AA 11 and UA 175, according to Clarke.  Why was that so?  SVTS was a closed system; Garvey did not know what her Operations Center knew.

Sixth, it is clear that the evacuation of key government buildings came after the Pentagon incident.

Seventh, it is clear how the terms “air phone” and “cell phone” became conflated.  That happened in real time as we shall find.

The Situation at 9:15

The only two planes of interest at Herndon Center and FAA Headquarters were AA 11 and UA 175, both were estimated to have hit the World Trade Center towers.  The fact that AA 77 was lost was known within FAA at Indianapolis Center and Great Lakes Region, only.

The only request for military assistance other than Boston Center’s initiative to Otis was by New York Center to Herndon.  New York Center called off the request when they learned of the Otis scramble.  That brief conversation between Pete Mulligan (ZNY) and Rick Bell (Ops Phone 5110, Herndon) took place at 9:02.

For those interested in real time news reporting, the line at Position 13, Herndon Center was open and Bryant Gumbel’s coverage can be continuously heard clearly in the background.

Chaos unfolds

It started about 9:16 with a suggestion from Boston Center (ZBW) about a warning to aircraft to increase cockpit security.  ZBW followed that at 9:20 with concern about D 1989.  ZBW had assessed the situation and determined that the hijack profile, from its perspective, was transcontinental flights originating in Boston.  The one other flight that fit the profile was D 1989.

We do not hear the false report of AA 11 still airborne, but the aftermath is clearly captured.  Metro D. C. was ground stopped at 9:24.  Four minutes later Herndon Center asked Cleveland if they had AA 11 on radar; the answer was no.  Shortly thereafter everything was ground stopped everywhere.

Herndon Center then initiated a nationwide airborne inventory at 9:31.  , Cleveland Center (ZOB) immediately reported shortly after 9:32 that UA 93 had a bomb on board.  That was the compelling transmission and chaos began to prevail despite Herndon Center’s best efforts to keep the situation bounded.

9-11: UA93; an air traffic control trilogy, part 1


In part 2 we covered how Cleveland Center, ZOB, kept Herndon Center informed.  In this article we will go back to  Cleveland Center and continue the UA93 story in the voices of the day.  We start at the scope level at the Lorain Radar position and will tell that controller’s story up to the time the UA 93 transponder is turned off.

Two things will assist the reader.  First, note interlaced conversations with D 1989 and observe that, at the scope level, information concerning D 1989 and UA 93 is not conflated.  Second, the following graphic will orient the reader spatially.  Times on the graphic are not radar times, they are times taken from the FAA transcript of air traffic control communications at the Lorain Radar Position.  The graphic is one a set of powerpoint slides I made in summer 2003.

UA 93 Takeover
UA 93 Takeover

UA 93 enters Cleveland airspace

The Lorain controller had a busy morning. It took two attempts by UA 93 to check in with him, as heard on these two clips.  UA 93 checks in with ZOB and  ZOB acknowledges UA 93.  The time was 9:25.

Lorain last communicated with the pilot not quite three minutes later, 9:27:30. ZOB UA 93 last normal communication.

The hijacking

Shortly thereafter the controller heard the first indication of something wrong.  He could not understand the transmission and did not know what it was or from where it came.  The time was shortly after 9:28.  Here is what the controller heard. UA 93 first evidence of hijack

As we hear next the controller was busy and it took him a few seconds to react to what was heard.   ZOB controller query

Fourteen seconds later the controller heard this transmission on his frequency.  UA93 get out of here

Again, the controller did not know what was happening or from where the transmission originated.  He began a series of checks to verify the status of UA 93.  He asked the pilot to verify his altitude UA 93 FL 350 and then to “ident,” to send a signal that would cause the UA 93 icon to flash on the controller’s screen. ZOB UA93 Ident please.  Note the similarity to the approach used at Boston to deal with AA 11.  The difference in this case was that UA 93’s transponder was still on

The controller was homing in on UA 93 as the problem.  He gave UA 93 two specific instructions, neither of which was followed.  He also called a ‘company’ plane, another United flight and asked him to make a maneuver which the controller would be able to observe on his screen.

He then took an additional step. He compared information with other planes in the air. The time was 9:31.  Check with UA 1523 and Controller check with AA 1060

Bomb on Board, passed immediately to Herndon

Executive Jet (EJ) 956 also heard the unusual transmissions and interacted with the controller several times as he worked to ensure safety in the sky.  Shortly after talking to EJ 956 the controller heard this transmission on his frequency.  UA93 Bomb on Board The time was 9:32.

We know that the Controller was talking to his supervisors and suspected the transmission came from UA 93.  As we learned in Part 2, Herndon Center had issued an order for an airborne inventory.  The ZOB TMU desk responded immediately notifying Herndon that UA 93 had a bomb on board.  Herndon knew within seconds what ZOB knew, that there was another hijacked plane in the system and that it was UA 93.

That information would not find its way to Jane Garvey, headed into an SVTS conference with Richard Clarke.  As we learned in my SVTS article, Clarke’s first words were to ask for an FAA update.  Garvey told him about AA 11 and UA 175 and no other specific aircraft.

Delta 1989 checks in

D 1989 checked in with Lorain at 9:32:30.  It became a plane of interest, not because it was hijacked but because it was in the path of UA 93 as it turned and headed back East.  D 1989 Checks In.  Shortly thereafter an unspecified aircraft checked in and asked if the controller heard a ‘bomb on board.’  The controller, unsure, asks if that is UA 93. Plane asks about Bomb on Board

EJ 956 again interacted with the controller providing supporting information.  Note in this next clip that the controller advised another plane to limit conversations with him. ZOB another confirmation controller busy

The controller began to redirect traffic away from UA 93, which he could still see on his screen; it was transponding, he knew where it was and its altitude.  Among the aircraft involved was D 1989.  Controller vectors other traffic and UA93 spotted, D1989 diverted

Note to Historians, Researchers and Writers

There is a garble in FAA’s partial transcript for the Lorain Radar position as faxed on September 19, 2001 from the ZOB 520 Airspace Office.  It is not clear if this was a transcriber error or an error in transmittal.  Either way, there is a disconnect between Pages 5 of 15 and 6 of 15 (Fax pages 12 and 13).  About two minutes of recorded air traffic control conversation were either not transcribed or not sent.  That was an administrative error and has no bearing on our understanding of events.  We have the audio files.

UA 93 climbs to the West and turns back East

The chart at the beginning of the article, a plot of data from the 84th RADES radar files, shows that it took Jarrah five minutes to complete the turn back, 9:34-9:39.  He was unable to maintain altitude and the plane climbed to nearly 41,000 feet during the turn.  Thereafter, Jarrah did not maintain altitude, the plane gradually descended and at one time was a potential threat to Pittsburgh Tower, which evacuated.

The Lorain controller constantly redirected traffic before and during the turn, as heard at these clips.  UA93 at Dryer per EJ 956 and  Controller redirects traffic


Taking Stock, What is and isn’t happening at 9:40

Note that there have been no cockpit warning notifications to pilots in the air.  As we discussed in an article about such notifications, that task was a carrier responsibility.

The transponder on the last hijacked plane, UA 93, has just been turned off.  NEADS, through the Joint Surveillance System will have only seven minutes to acquire the plane as a target.  UA 93 will drop below JSS coverage at 9:47 while approaching the tri-border area between Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania.

NEADS does not know about this plane and will not know until after it crashes.  It has acquired Delta 1989 and has established track B-89 and has forward told that track to CONR and NORAD.  It learned of AA 77 shortly before impact and briefly established a track, B-32, which it did not have time to forward tell.  Earlier, it had learned about the rebirth of AA 11, as reported to them by Boston Center.  That fortuitous misreport actually trigger the Langley scramble, which went astray.

The Langley fighters are now under AFIO (Authority for Intercept Operations) and have been redirected toward the nation’s capital.  One of the three planes will fly directly over the Pentagon at 10:00.

23,000 feet directly below the NMCC will be in the midst of an air threat conference which they convened as the Pentagon was being struck.  At 9:40 the key agency, FAA, is not on the conference.  Concurrently, the NMCC is a participant in a CIA-convened NOIWON along with the FAA security watch seven stories below the FAA’s Washington Operations Center at FAA Headquarters.  No real-time information is available on that link

However, seven stories higher the FAA WOC is getting near real time information concerning UA 93.  That information is not being shared on FAA’s primary net because that net, activated at 9:20 to include the NMCC, was still born.  Concurrently, Administrator Garvey, as of 9:40 is a participant in a just-beginning, closed-system SVTS conference with Richard Clarke.  She is disconnected from the WOC and is not aware of the near real-time information being passed by Cleveland Center via Herndon Center to the WOC.

No one at levels above Clarke is effectively engaged.  Secretary Rumsfeld has left his office for the Pentagon crash site.  General Myers has departed Senator Cleland’s office and is en route the Pentagon.  The Vice President is on his way to the PEOC at the insistence of the Secret Service.  Secretary Mineta is out of pocket en route the White House to join the Vice President.

AT 9:40 the President is on his way to board Air Force One and departs at 9:55.  It is his intention to return to the nation’s capital.  Concurrent with the arrival of the Langley fighters to protect the capital the President’s advisors and protectors recommend he not return.  At 10:10, with the nation’s capital protected, Air Force One turns west and heads for Barksdale Air Force Base.

At 9:40 aboard UA 93 the passengers and cabin crew are learning of the fate of other hijacked aircraft and of their near certain fate.  They begin to take matters into their own hands.  They accomplish what no one else at any level can do; they counter-attack, successfully for the nation, tragically for themselves.

9-11: Chaos Theory; Cockpit notification; a comparison of linear and non-linear responses


We have discussed the events of 9-11 in multiple articles using the lens of Chaos Theory and have established that events were chaotic.  Even though a chaotic situation is non-linear, the government’s habitual response on 9-11 was linear; one specific exception, Boston Center (ZBW).

It is generally understood that ZBW preempted an unworkable hijack notification protocol.  What is not well known is that ZBW also preempted the existing policy concerning cockpit notifications.  In the division of work between FAA and the carriers, cockpit notification was a carrier prerogative, a linear process.

In a recent article we established that the Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS) notification to UA 93, a linear process and a carrier prerogative, was just minutes late.

Using the lens of Chaos Theory we have established that linear approaches in a chaotic situation work poorly, don’t work at all, or are counterproductive.  Cockpit notification, by the book, did not work.  But ZBW did not follow the book, for the second time that day.

The UA 93 Notification

As I wrote in the earlier article, “United 93 received such a message at 9:23, according to the dispatcher.  Herndon Center considered such contact to be an airline prerogative and deferred to them.  United Airlines dispatchers had begun contacting pilots as early as 9:03, but not initially with specific warnings.  The first contact was to inform the pilots that aircraft had crashed into the World Trade Center.”

ZBW Notification to Cockpits

Shortly before 9:10 at least one ZBW controller took positive action.  The controller (Hampton Sector 31R) handling the Otis scramble informed a plane under his control that “we have a message for you to heighten your cockpit security due to some activity this morning.”

That transmission caught the pilot by surprise; he knew the policy.  He responded, “OK, and that is from, uh, company?”  To which the controller responded, “negative it is a general advisory to all aircraft, this morning an aircraft hit the world trade center, had been a hijack, and we are receiving reports there may be a second one.”

Listen to the  ZBW warning.

That was not the only plane so notified by the controller.  Even though his assumption was that all pilots on his frequency, to include Panta 45, the lead Otis pilot, had heard his notification he continued to check to make sure.

For example, at 9:12, he advised an aircraft that had not copied his warning that, “all FAA facilities are advising all air carriers to heighten their cockpit awareness.  There has been at least one hijack this morning and possibly two.”

Listen to the ZBW continued warning.

Note the bolded text in the preceding paragraph.  That was the policy and it is what all other air traffic control centers likely did, advise the carriers.  We know from the UA 93 case that Cleveland Center left the notification to the carriers.

I have listened multiple times to all the air traffic control tapes provided to the Commission and I don’t recall another example of what ZBW did.  Our universe of tapes included audio files responsive to our investigation from five centers, Boston, New York, Indianapolis, Cleveland and Washington; and tapes from concerned towers and TRACONS.

Management Lesson Learned

This is a personal comment.  My advice to senior government officials faced with a chaotic situation is to do two things.  First, immediately resist the temptation to follow the book; look at your non-linear options.

Second, determine as quickly as you can who is actually  fighting the battle.  If the answer is that there is more than one battle commander then make sure they are talking to each other and that information is flowing freely to and among  them.  If the answer is there is no one then immediately appoint an incident commander and demand that responsive information flow to him or her without filtering.

One final word of caution.  If anyone raises the shiboleth of “need to know,” escort them off the premises.

Addendum, February 26, 2010

The idea to make cockpit notifications may have originated with the FAA’s New England Region (ANE).  According to a transcript of the NTMO E (National Traffic Management Officer, East) position at the Herndon Center, soon after 9:09, John Bargainier from ANE attempted to pass along the idea.  He got only so far in his suggestion: “OK, the five hundered here is requesting,” before being cut off.  He was told, “everyone kind of busy…call back…in about ten minutes.”

Bargainier persisted and called the NOM line and spoke with Ellen King, who was monitoring the line for Ben Sliney.  According to the transcript of that line, which is not time marked, Bargainier said, “Bill Ellis, the five hundred has suggested, requested that ah you get an advisory out to all dispatchers for any international traffic coming in to new york (sic) to increase cockpit security.”

Bargainier repeated the request at Ellen King’s request.  “that you put a [sic] advisory out to all dispatches for a to advise that any traffic coming in to new york [sic] internationals especially to z b w [Boston Center] to ah increase their cockpit security maybe a no brainer and you’ve already done it but we just want to make sure that you know we try to do something”  King responded, “ok, I have your request.”

Note two things.  First, the mindset is to work through the carriers, their dispatchers.  As I recall, Herndon Center personnel confirmed that to us during out visits, that was the policy.  Second, note the ANE emphasis on internationals and ZBW.  ANE has just one Center under its jurisdiction, ZBW.

The ANE plea “to do something” and the existing policy, a linear process, did not translate into a timely notification to UA 93.

Addendum, March 2, 2010

Cleveland Center (ZOB) Lorain Sector acknowledged UA 93 checking in shortly after 9:25.  That exchange and immediately following controller communications provide  insight as to the situational awareness of the ZOB controller.

The controller exchanges between 9:25 and 9:26 can be heard here. 092510 UA 93 check in and controller awareness

Contrast the ZOB controller’s situational awareness with that of the ZBW controller we heard earlier.  The ZBW controller knew the specifics of the New York situation.  The ZBW controller’s awareness was that there had been an accident.  Readers are cautioned that this is just one segment of the work of a very busy controller that morning.  Interested readers who want to hear the entire tape, 2 ZOB 14 LOR-R 1319-1333 UTC AP.mp3, can access it at this link. Click on FAA and then ZOB.

Shortly after 9:30 and while UA 93 was being hijacked the Lorain controller had this conversation, an example of how busy he was.  Lorain pace of work


We wish it could have been otherwise, but Cleveland (and Indianapolis and Washington) Centers did not have the situational awareness that Boston and New York Centers had.  In part, I attribute this to the FAA’s administrative Regions, New England, Eastern, and, to a lesser degree, Great Lakes, attempting to play an operational role.  The Regions were attuned to using linear processes, the deliberate steps of accident and incident investigation.  Only Herndon Center, an operational entity buried deep in the FAA’s organization chart of the day, habitually managed chaos.  Few in FAA or anywhere else recognized that capability that day.

At one point during an important FAA HQ conference call, Herndon Center had heard enough and interrupted a situation update to tell HQ they had it wrong.  I will eventually tell that story in a separate article, it was an illuminating moment.

Chaos Theory: 9-11; times of interest

A few months ago I created a list of linear processes that the government used or attempted to use on 9-11.  We will ultimately return to that list.

First, we need to build a separate list of critical times, expanding on a previous article under the category “times of interest”.

As we focus more closely on Chaos Theory concerning events of the day it is important that we have both lists; the processes and the times.  I list specific times, but the frame of interest will be a few minutes fore and aft.  We begin with the first declaration of a hijack.


FAA declared a hijack in progress.  Linear processes prevailed; it was considered to be a plane that would fly to a destination with demands to be met.  Notifications were made up the chain; the military was not notified.  Once it became clear to Boston Center, ZBW, that it would get no military help via the hijack protocol in place, the Center took action on its own recognizance.  That decisive action effectively short-circuited the protocol and, in terms of chaos theory, established ZBW as a focal point for the flow of information.  ZBW contacted Otis Tower at 9:34 and NEADS at 9:38, independent actions which led to NEADS being twice informed by 9:40 that assistance was needed.  More to the point, NEADS became another focal point for the flow of information, primarily via ZBW.


The linear process of managing AA 11 became nonlinear and chaotic.  What was a singular event bifurcated, twice.  First the northern attack bifurcated as New York Center, ZNY, determined that it had a hijacking in progress concerning a transponding intruder, code 3321 (UA 175).  Soon thereafter the main attack bifurcated into a southern component; Indianapolis Center, ZID, lost radio and radar contact with AA 77.


Terrorism is theater, according to Brian Jenkins since at least the early 1970’s.  AA 11 set the scene for UA 175 to enter, stage left, and show to a watching world that the attack was at once, horrifying, mesmorizing, and transcending.  Shortly thereafter, ZBW, determined that Mohammed Atta said, “we have some planes,” as in plural.  No one at ZID understood that their situation was something other than a lost aircraft.


ZID had by now notified its higher headquarters, Great Lakes Region, about AA 77 and had initiated rescue coordination by notifying the United States Air Force Rescue Coordination Center.  Concurrently AA 77 reappeared in the Joint Surveillance System, the series of radars supporting the air defense system.  The plane was trackable by NEADS; no one told them where to look, or to even look at all.  The possible became improbable.  Concurrently NEADS decided to preserve its assets and opted to put the Langley fighters on battle stations vice scrambling them.


Constantly alert for information that would help NEADS, ZBW either garbled or heard garbled information about the loss of AA 77 in ZID airspace.  Whatever the circumstance,  the result was that AA 11 was reborn as a threat to the nation’s capital from the north, a fact well documented in the primary and secondary sources of the day.  Meanwhile, AA 77 was bearing down on the capital from the West, unreported.

(Added Mar 16, 2010) Between 9:19:25 and 9:20:37 Denzel Simmonds at Herndon Center called the Dulles Traffic Management Coordinator, Mark Masaitis.  Here is that conversation. 091925 Herndon Dulles AA 77 Conversation There is no evidence that Masaitis as Traffic Management Coordinator was aware that an unknown primary track was approaching from the West.  He verified that AA 77 was not on the ground at Dulles.

During the conversation Simmonds broke in to say that they just had word a 757 disappeared off radar west of Virginia.  Concurrently, Masaitis can be heard saying that the plane was over Indiana. (/add)


Danielle O’Brien and her supervisor sounded the alarm about the unknown intruder from the west; an alarm that resonated all the way to the White House.  Concurrently, one of the Battle Commanders, Ben Sliney, began the second of two definitive actions to try and bound a chaotic situation.  He directed an airborne inventory of all planes in the air.  This followed a previous decision to ground stop all planes, nation-wide.  The inventory surfaced immediately the fact that UA 93 may have a bomb on board; the southern attack had also bifurcated.

No one at any level above Ben Sliney and Colonel Bob Marr, Sliney’s military counterpart fighting the battle, could help them.  The FAA’s primary net was still born; the NMCC was segueing from a significant event conference to an air threat conference; Richard Clarke had activated an SVTS conference which has yet to convene; and Norman Mineta was en route the White House.

In the next few minutes the military twice tracked the fast moving unknown, the only time any military asset would see any of the four hijacked planes.  NEADS quickly established a track, B-32, which soon faded as AA 77 slammed into the Pentagon.  The Minnesota Air National Guard C-130H saw the plane, identified it by type and followed it to its destiny.


I discussed this in an earlier article; the transponder on UA 93 was turned off, a final terrorist tactic.  Soon thereafter, the passengers and crew aboard UA 93 took matters into their own hands.

9-11: 9:40-9:47; fleeting window of opportunity, where was everyone?

Why this article

While working on part 1 of the UA 93 trilogy, the controller story at Cleveland Center, I drafted a summary of what else was going when the transponder on UA 93 was turned off.  The summary deserves its own time slot; it is filed under “Times of Interest.”

Recall that the transponders were manipulated differently in each of the hijacked aircraft and each manipulation presented a different problem in the National Airspace System.  Aboard UA 93 the transponder was turned off after the turn back to the east.

In this article we draw extensively on two sources; previous articles on Chaos Theory and the 84th RADES radar files. In one article I specified that the attack that morning was a battle in a larger war and that the Battle Commanders were Ben Sliney at FAA’s Herndon Center and Colonel Bob Marr at NEADS.  We established that they were not talking to each other and that the Battle Managers, General Arnold and Jeff Griffith, the next higher echelon, had neither the information nor the wherewithall to make that happen.  We also established that higher echelons were irrelevant and properly so.  Their job was to manage a war, not fight a battle.

Here is a Google Earth screen print depicting the seven minutes between transponder off to loss of coverage by the Joint Surveillance System radars supporting NEADS.

UA 93 Transponder Off

The situation

The UA 93 transponder was turned off at 9:40:30.  NEADS will have a seven minute window to establish a track.  UA drops out of NEADS radar coverage at 9:47:30.  It will not reappear until moments before it plummets to ground at 10:03.  At 9:47:30 UA 93 is just approaching the Ohio/West Virginia/Pennsylvania tri-border area.

Sliney and Marr are not in communication and cannot exploit the window of opportunity.  NEADS does not know about UA 93 and will not until after it plummets to earth.

NEADS did establish a track on Delta 1989 and  forward told that track to CONR and NORAD.  A few minutes earlier NEADS briefly established a track for AA 77 which it did not have time to forward tell.  Even earlier, it had learned about the rebirth of AA 11, as reported by Boston Center.  That fortuitous mis-report actually triggered the Langley scramble, which went astray.

At 9:40 the Langley fighters are under AFIO (Authority for Intercept Operations) and have been redirected toward the nation’s capital.  One of the three planes will fly directly over the Pentagon at 10:00.  Two of them will be captured on BBC video footage as they turn west over the nation’s capital to begin a combat air patrol.

Who was doing what

23,000 feet directly below the Langley fighter the NMCC is in an Air Threat Conference which it convened as the Pentagon was being struck.  The NMCC knows little of the approach of the Langley fighters, in itself a bizarre state of affairs.  They know nothing of the window of opportunity to track UA 93

The key agency, FAA, is not on the Air Threat Conference.  Concurrently, the NMCC is a participant in a CIA-convened NOIWON along with the FAA security watch seven stories below the FAA’s Washington Operations Center at FAA Headquarters.  No real-time information is available on that link

However, seven stories higher the FAA WOC is getting near real time information concerning UA 93.  That information is not being shared on FAA’s primary net because that net, activated at 9:20 to include the NMCC, was still born.  (I will speak to the primary net in a future article.)

Concurrently, Administrator Garvey, as of 9:40 is a participant in a just-beginning, closed-system SVTS conference with Richard Clarke.  She is disconnected from the WOC and is not aware of the near real-time information being passed by Cleveland Center via Herndon Center to the WOC.

No one at levels above Clarke is effectively engaged.  Secretary Rumsfeld has left his office for the Pentagon crash site.  General Myers has departed Senator Cleland’s office and is en route the Pentagon.  The Vice President is on his way to the PEOC at the insistence of the Secret Service.  Secretary Mineta is out of pocket en route the White House to join the Vice President.

At 9:40, the President is on his way to board Air Force One; he departs at 9:55.  It is his intention to return to the nation’s capital.  Concurrent with the arrival of the Langley fighters to protect the capital the President’s advisors and protectors recommend he not return.  At 10:10, with the nation’s capital protected, Air Force One turns west and heads for Barksdale Air Force Base.

During the fleeting window of opportunity for others to act, the passengers and cabin crew aboard UA 93 learn of the fate of other hijacked aircraft and of their own certain fate.  They take matters into their own hands.  They will do what no one else at any level can accomplish; they counter-attack, successfully for the nation, tragically for themselves.