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Context of 'September 10, 2001: Military ‘Infocon’ Alert Level Reduced because of Perceived Lower Threat of Computer Attacks'

This is a scalable context timeline. It contains events related to the event September 10, 2001: Military ‘Infocon’ Alert Level Reduced because of Perceived Lower Threat of Computer Attacks. You can narrow or broaden the context of this timeline by adjusting the zoom level. The lower the scale, the more relevant the items on average will be, while the higher the scale, the less relevant the items, on average, will be.

General Richard B. Myers takes over as commander in chief of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), commander in chief of the US Space Command, and commander of the Air Force Space Command. He replaces General Howell M. Estes III. [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 6/3/1998; Air Force News, 8/19/1998] Myers will serve in these positions until February 22, 2000, when he will be replaced by General Ralph E. Eberhart. [Air Force News, 2/22/2000] On 9/11, Myers will serve as the acting chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. [Myers, 2009, pp. 10]

Entity Tags: North American Aerospace Defense Command, Richard B. Myers, Air Force Space Command, US Space Command

Timeline Tags: US Military, Complete 911 Timeline

The US military reduces the Information Operations Condition (Infocon) to Normal—the lowest possible threat level—less than 12 hours before the 9/11 attacks commence, reportedly due to reduced fears of attacks on computer networks.
Level Reduced Due to 'Decreased Threat' - The Infocon level is lowered to Normal, meaning there is no special threat, at 9:09 p.m. this evening. The reason for this, according to historical records for the 1st Fighter Wing at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, is “a decreased threat from hacker and virus attacks on the computer networks across the US.” [Colorado Springs Gazette, 5/3/2001; 1st Fighter Wing History Office, 12/2001] Since October 1999, the commander of the US Space Command has been in charge of Defense Department computer network defense, and has had the authority to declare Infocon levels. [IAnewsletter, 12/2000 pdf file] General Ralph Eberhart, the current commander of both the US Space Command and NORAD, is thus responsible for evaluating the threat to US military computers and issuing information conditions—“Infocons”—to the US military. He is presumably therefore responsible for lowering the Infocon level this evening.
Higher Infocon Level Requires More Precautions - It is unclear what difference the reduced Infocon level makes. But an e-mail sent earlier in the year from Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado, where NORAD and the US Space Command are headquartered, revealed the steps to be taken when the Infocon level is raised one level from Normal, to Alpha. These steps include “changing passwords, updating keys used to create classified communication lines, minimizing cell phone use, backing up important documents on hard drive, updating virus protection on home computers, reporting suspicious activity, and reviewing checklists.” [Colorado Springs Gazette, 5/3/2001]
Level Increased Earlier in Year - It is also unclear what the Infocon level was prior to being reduced this evening and why it had been at that raised level. Pentagon networks were raised to Infocon Alpha for the first time at the end of April this year, as a precaution against attacks on US systems, after Chinese hackers warned of such attacks in Internet chat room postings. [United Press International, 4/30/2001; Colorado Springs Gazette, 5/3/2001; United Press International, 7/24/2001] The Infocon level was raised to Alpha a second time in late July, due to the threat posed by the Code Red computer virus. [United Press International, 7/24/2001; US Department of Defense, 7/24/2001] It will be raised again, from Normal to Alpha, during the morning of September 11, immediately after the second attack on the World Trade Center takes place (see 9:04 a.m. September 11, 2001). [1st Fighter Wing History Office, 12/2001]
System Intended to Protect Defense Department Computers - The Joint Chiefs of Staff established the Infocon system in March 1999 in response to the growing and sophisticated threat to Defense Department information networks. The system is intended as a structured, coordinated approach to defend against and react to attacks on Defense Department systems and networks. Reportedly, it “provides a structured, operational approach to uniformly heighten or reduce defensive posture, defend against unauthorized activity, and mitigate sustained damage to the defense information infrastructure.” It is analogous to other Defense Department alert systems, such as Defense Condition (Defcon) and Threat Condition (Threatcon). The Infocon system comprises five levels of threat, each with its own procedures for protecting systems and networks. These levels go from Normal, through Alpha, Bravo, and Charlie, up to Delta, which, according to Rear Admiral Craig Quigley, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, is when “You’re currently under an absolutely massive hack attack, from a variety of means, from a variety of sources. You’re talking a very concerted, focused attack effort to get into [Defense Department] systems.” [IAnewsletter, 12/2000 pdf file; General Accounting Office, 3/29/2001 pdf file; US Department of Defense, 7/24/2001]

Entity Tags: Ralph Eberhart, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The 1st Fighter Wing at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, receives notification from NORAD of an increased Information Operations Condition (Infocon) threat level. The message from NORAD directs the 1st Fighter Wing command post to upgrade the Infocon computer security level from Normal to Alpha. According to the wing’s own records, this is “the first message correspondence” the wing receives “to indicate that September 11th would not be an average day.” [1st Fighter Wing History Office, 12/2001] Steps to be taken under Infocon Alpha reportedly include “changing passwords, updating keys used to create classified communication lines, minimizing cell phone use, backing up important documents on hard drive, updating virus protection on home computers, reporting suspicious activity, and reviewing checklists.” [Colorado Springs Gazette, 5/3/2001]
Five Security Levels - The Infocon system provides a structured, coordinated approach for defending against and reacting to attacks on Defense Department systems and networks. It comprises five levels of threat, each with its own protective procedures. These levels go from Normal, through Alpha, Bravo, and Charlie, up to Delta. [IAnewsletter, 12/2000 pdf file; General Accounting Office, 3/29/2001 pdf file] General Ralph Eberhart, the commander of both the US Space Command and NORAD, is responsible for evaluating the threat to military computers and issuing information conditions—“Infocons”—to the US military. [Colorado Springs Gazette, 5/3/2001] He is presumably therefore responsible for currently raising the Infocon level.
Threat Level Lowered on Previous Evening - The Infocon level was in fact lowered to Normal the previous evening, reportedly because of a reduced threat to US computer networks from hacker and virus attacks (see September 10, 2001). [1st Fighter Wing History Office, 12/2001] The 1st Fighter Wing is the “host unit” at Langley Air Force Base, which is about 130 miles from Washington, DC. It includes three fighter squadrons, which fly the F-15 Eagle fighter jet. [Virginian-Pilot, 9/20/2001; Langley Air Force Base, 11/2003; Air Force Print News, 11/9/2006]

Entity Tags: Ralph Eberhart, North American Aerospace Defense Command, 1st Fighter Wing

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

At the NORAD operations center in Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, NORAD commander in chief, General Ralph Eberhart, orders a limited version of a little known plan to clear the skies and give the military control over US airspace. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] The plan, Security Control of Air Traffic and Navigation Aids (SCATANA), was developed in the 1960s as a way to clear airspace above the US and off the US coast in the event of a confirmed warning of a nuclear attack by the Soviet Union. Once it is activated a wartime air traffic priority list is established, allowing essential aircraft and personnel to use the airspace. Among others, this list includes the US president, essential national security staff, aircraft involved in continental defense missions, and airborne command posts. [Schwartz, 1998]
Eberhart Suggests Limited Version of Plan - Eberhart and his staff suggest implementing the limited version of SCATANA over the air threat conference call. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta immediately concurs. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002; Filson, 2003, pp. 73] Unlike a full SCATANA, this modified version allows ground navigation aids to stay on, for the benefit of aircraft that are still airborne. Under the plan, for about the next three days all flights other than military, law enforcement, fire fighters, and medevac, will require approval from the national Defense Department/FAA Air Traffic Services Cell, located within the FAA’s Herndon Command Center. [Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 11/2001; Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/10/2002; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] Notice is sent out to all civil and military air traffic control facilities, informing them that the skies now officially belong to NORAD. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 269]
Order Supposedly Made Late Due to Safety Concerns - The SCATANA order is issued over an hour after the FAA ordered all planes down (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and after at least three-quarters of them have already landed. [USA Today, 8/13/2002] Eberhart will later say the delay is due to safety concerns, because NORAD would have been unable to control US airspace—with over 4,000 planes airborne at the time of the attacks—with its radar capabilities. [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] Defense Week magazine will suggest SCATANA is not implemented until even later, at around 2:00 p.m. It says NORAD issues a “notice to airmen” implementing the modified version of SCATANA about five hours after Flight 11 hit the World Trade Center. [Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 11/2001]

Entity Tags: North American Aerospace Defense Command, Ralph Eberhart, Norman Mineta

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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