!! History Commons Alert, Exciting News

Context of 'September 10, 2001: NORAD Setting Stage for Major Exercise, Preparing for Possible Russian Reaction'

This is a scalable context timeline. It contains events related to the event September 10, 2001: NORAD Setting Stage for Major Exercise, Preparing for Possible Russian Reaction. 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.

Robert Marr, who on 9/11 will be the battle commander at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), gains experience in military training exercises. After flying on active duty for nearly 18 years, in 1994 Marr leaves the service. For 20 months, he works as the captain of a Lear 36 business jet that is contracted as part of a simulated “target force,” hired to stage attacks on the United States. In 1996 he returns to NEADS as the director of exercise and analysis. In this post, Marr no doubt gains further experience around military exercises. In 1998, he is named vice commander of NEADS, and in 1999 he will be promoted to become the commander of NEADS. [Post-Standard (Syracuse), 3/27/2005; Spencer, 2008, pp. 5-6] Marr’s particular experience around military exercises is notable, since NEADS will be in the middle of a major training exercise on the morning of 9/11 (see (6:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Newhouse News Service, 1/25/2002]

Entity Tags: Northeast Air Defense Sector, Robert Marr

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

At its operations center in Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) practices dealing with hijackings five times per month, on average, during training exercises. A NORAD document produced a month after 9/11 will state that the Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center (CMOC) “routinely conducts the Amazon Arizona series of internal exercises that include hijack scenarios.” Prior to September 11, 2001, the document continues, “CMOC averaged five hijack training events each month.” Further details of these “Amazon Arizona” exercises are unstated in the document. [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 10/13/2001] But other sources provide additional information about what they might entail.
Exercises Are 'One of the Busiest Times' in Operations Center - According to a 1989 NORAD document, “Arizona” exercises are a “Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Base internal system training mission.” [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 8/25/1989] And in 2004, NORAD will state that its exercises before 9/11 that include hijacking scenarios test “track detection and identification; scramble and interception; hijack procedures; internal and external agency coordination; and operational security and communications security procedures.” [CNN, 4/19/2004] According to Stacey Knott, a technician at the CMOC, “One of the busiest times” in the operations center “is during exercises.… We have the battle staff and CAT [Crisis Action Team] in here; generals and admirals are running in and out.” Knott has said that exercises at the CMOC give her “an idea what things would be like if something were to go down,” and so, “[i]f something actually did happen, we’d be ready for it.” [Airman, 1/1996]
Operations Center Is 'Focal Point for Air Defense Operations' - It is unclear over what period up to 9/11 the CMOC averages five hijack training events per month. It appears to be at least going back to 1998: In 2003, Ken Merchant, NORAD’s joint exercise design manager, will tell the 9/11 Commission that his office keeps computer hard drive information about NORAD exercises “roughly” back to that year. Merchant will add that he “did not believe that his office retained other exercise information, such as after-action reviews, for exercises prior to 1998.” [9/11 Commission, 11/14/2003 pdf file] According to NORAD’s website, “the Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center provides warning of ballistic missile or air attacks against North America, assists the air sovereignty mission for the United States and Canada, and, if necessary, is the focal point for air defense operations to counter enemy bombers or cruise missiles.” [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 11/27/1999] On the morning of 9/11, members of the battle staff at the CMOC will be participating in the exercise Vigilant Guardian (see (6:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Airman, 3/2002; 9/11 Commission, 3/1/2004 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Stacey Knott, Amazon Arizona, North American Aerospace Defense Command, Ken Merchant

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A FedEx MD-11 aircraft.A FedEx MD-11 aircraft. [Source: Alan Radecki]The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) practices scenarios based around suicidal pilots planning to deliberately crash stolen aircraft into the United Nations headquarters—a skyscraper in New York. The two scenarios are practiced on October 16 and October 23 as part of NORAD’s annual command post exercise called Vigilant Guardian. All of NORAD, including its Northeast Air Defense Sector based in Rome, New York, participates in this exercise. [US Congress. Senate. Committee on Armed Services, 8/17/2004; Arkin, 2005, pp. 545; GlobalSecurity (.org), 4/27/2005]
Simulation Involves Planned Suicide Plane Attack - General Richard Myers, currently the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will later describe the scenario practiced on October 16: “Due to recent arrests involving illegal drug trafficking in Maine, an individual steals a Federal Express plane and plans a suicide attack into the United Nations building in New York City.” In response to the simulated crisis, exercise participants follow hijack checklists, exercise command and control, and coordinate with external agencies.
Simulation Involves WMD Directed at the UN - The October 23 scenario, according to Myers, is based around “[w]eapons of mass destruction directed at the United Nations. An individual steals a Federal Express aircraft and plans a suicide attack on the United Nations building in New York City.” In response, exercise participants practice command and control, and coordinate with external agencies, and fighter jets conduct an interception of the stolen aircraft. [US Congress. Senate. Committee on Armed Services, 8/17/2004] Federal Express currently flies mostly the DC-10 and the MD-11, which are both large jet planes, so presumably one of these kinds of aircraft is considered in the exercise scenarios. [Washington Post, 1/17/2001] The UN headquarters building—the target in the scenarios—is a 39-story high-rise, located just a few miles from the World Trade Center. [New York Daily News, 12/2/1999; Evening Standard, 9/11/2002]
Scenarios Revealed in 2004 - The details of these two scenarios will come to light in August 2004 during a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee. They will be revealed by Myers, at that time the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, after Senator Mark Dayton (D-MN) asks him, “Did NORAD conduct exercises or develop scenarios, prior to September 11, 2001, to test a military reaction to an aircraft hijacking which appeared destined to result in a suicide crash into a high-value target?” [US Congress. Senate. Committee on Armed Services, 8/17/2004] NORAD will state in 2004 that, until 9/11, it conducts four major exercises each year. Most of these include a hijack scenario, but not all of them involve planes being used as weapons. [USA Today, 4/18/2004; CNN, 4/19/2004] NORAD’s next Vigilant Guardian exercise, in 2001, will actually be several days underway on 9/11 (see (6:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). It will include a number of scenarios based around plane hijackings, with the fictitious hijackers targeting New York in at least one of those scenarios (see September 6, 2001, September 9, 2001, September 10, 2001, and (9:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 2004; Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006]

Entity Tags: Richard B. Myers, Southeast Air Defense Sector, North American Aerospace Defense Command, Vigilant Guardian, Western Air Defense Sector, Northeast Air Defense Sector

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) commences Northern Vigilance, a military operation that involves it deploying fighter jets to Alaska and Northern Canada to monitor a Russian Air Force training exercise. The Russian exercise is scheduled to take place over the North Atlantic, Pacific, and Arctic Oceans from September 10 to September 14 (see September 10, 2001), and the NORAD fighters are set to stay in Alaska and Northern Canada until it ends. [BBC, 2001, pp. 161; North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/9/2001; Washington Times, 9/11/2001] As well as conducting this operation, NORAD is currently running a major exercise called Vigilant Guardian, which “postulated a bomber attack from the former Soviet Union,” according to the 9/11 Commission Report (see September 10, 2001, (6:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001, and (8:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 2004; 9/11 Commission, 3/1/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 458] The Russians will cancel their exercise on the morning of September 11 in response to the terrorist attacks in the United States (see (After 10:03 a.m.) September11, 2001), when they “knew NORAD would have its hands full,” according to the Toronto Star. [Toronto Star, 12/9/2001; Defense Video and Imagery Distribution System, 9/8/2011] It is unknown from which bases NORAD sends fighters for Northern Vigilance and how many US military personnel are involved. However, in December 2000, it took similar action—called Operation Northern Denial—in response to a “smaller scale” Russian “long-range aviation activity in northern Russia and the Arctic.” More than 350 American and Canadian military personnel were involved on that occasion. [Canadian Chief of Defense Staff, 5/30/2001, pp. 6 pdf file; North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/9/2001]

Entity Tags: Operation Northern Vigilance, North American Aerospace Defense Command

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), which is responsible for detecting and responding to any attack on the mainland United States, is in the early stages of a major training exercise called Vigilant Guardian that is to take place off the shores of the northeastern US and Canada. The exercise is not scheduled to really take off until the following day, September 11 (see (6:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001), but simulated intelligence briefings and meetings are now being held to set the stage for the mock engagements to come. According to author Lynn Spencer, Vigilant Guardian “is the kind of war game that the Russians usually respond to, even in this post-Cold War era.” The Russians have in fact announced that they will be deploying aircraft to several of their “Northern Tier” bases on September 11. Russian jets have penetrated North American airspace during previous NORAD exercises, and Colonel Robert Marr, the commander of NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), has prepared for them to do so again during the current exercise. If this happens, armed US fighter jets will intercept the Russian aircraft and escort them back to their own territory. In case there is any confrontation, Marr has ordered that his alert fighter jets be loaded with additional fuel and weapons. According to Spencer, on September 11, all alert fighters will be “loaded with live missiles in anticipation of any show of force that might be needed to respond to the Russians.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 3-5] NORAD has already announced that it is deploying fighters to Alaska and Northern Canada to monitor a Russian air force exercise being conducted in the Russian Arctic and North Pacific Ocean throughout this week (see September 9, 2001). [BBC, 2001, pp. 161; North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/9/2001] According to the 9/11 Commission, the Vigilant Guardian exercise will in fact postulate “a bomber attack from the former Soviet Union.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 458]

Entity Tags: North American Aerospace Defense Command, Robert Marr, Northeast Air Defense Sector, Vigilant Guardian

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

NORAD’s war room in Cheyenne Mountain, ColoradoNORAD’s war room in Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado [Source: Val Gempis]Lieutenant Colonel Dawne Deskins and other day shift employees at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) in Rome, NY, start their workday. NORAD is conducting a week-long, large-scale exercise called Vigilant Guardian. [Newhouse News Service, 1/25/2002] Deskins is regional mission crew chief for the Vigilant Guardian exercise. [ABC News, 9/11/2002]
Exercise Includes Simulated Attack on the US - Vigilant Guardian is described as “an exercise that would pose an imaginary crisis to North American Air Defense outposts nationwide”; as a “simulated air war”; and as “an air defense exercise simulating an attack on the United States.” According to the 9/11 Commission, it “postulated a bomber attack from the former Soviet Union.” [Newhouse News Service, 1/25/2002; Filson, 2003, pp. 55 and 122; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 458] Vigilant Guardian is described as being held annually, and is one of NORAD’s four major annual exercises. [Filson, 2003, pp. 41; Arkin, 2005, pp. 545; GlobalSecurity (.org), 4/27/2005] However, one report says it takes place semi-annually. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002] Accounts by participants vary on whether 9/11 is the second, third, or fourth day of the exercise. [Code One Magazine, 1/2002; Newhouse News Service, 1/25/2002; Ottawa Citizen, 9/11/2002] Vigilant Guardian is a command post exercise (CPX), and in at least some previous years was conducted in conjunction with Stratcom’s Global Guardian exercise and a US Space Command exercise called Apollo Guardian. [US Congress, n.d.; Arkin, 2005, pp. 545; GlobalSecurity (.org), 4/27/2005] All of NORAD is participating in Vigilant Guardian on 9/11. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002]
Exercise Includes Simulated Hijacking - Vanity Fair reports that the “day’s exercise” (presumably Vigilant Guardian) is “designed to run a range of scenarios, including a ‘traditional’ simulated hijack in which politically motivated perpetrators commandeer an aircraft, land on a Cuba-like island, and seek asylum.” [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006] However, at NEADS, most of the dozen or so staff on the operations floor have no idea what the exercise is going to entail and are ready for anything. [Utica Observer-Dispatch, 8/5/2004]
NORAD Fully Staffed and Alert - NORAD is currently running a real-world operation named Operation Northern Vigilance (see September 9, 2001). It may also be conducting a field training exercise calling Amalgam Warrior on this morning (see 9:28 a.m. September 11, 2001). NORAD is thus fully staffed and alert, and senior officers are manning stations throughout the US. The entire chain of command will be in place and ready when the first hijacking is reported. An article later says, “In retrospect, the exercise would prove to be a serendipitous enabler of a rapid military response to terrorist attacks on September 11.” [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002; Bergen Record, 12/5/2003] Colonel Robert Marr, in charge of NEADS, will say: “We had the fighters with a little more gas on board. A few more weapons on board.” [ABC News, 9/11/2002] However, Deskins and other NORAD officials later are initially confused about whether the 9/11 attacks are real or part of the exercise (see (8:38 a.m.-8:43 a.m.) September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: Northeast Air Defense Sector, Dawne Deskins, North American Aerospace Defense Command, Operation Northern Vigilance, Vigilant Guardian, Robert Marr

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Jeff Ford.Jeff Ford. [Source: Thomas Doscher / US Air Force]Personnel in NORAD’s operations center in Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, take part in a major Cold War-style training exercise called Vigilant Guardian, a war game in which the theoretical enemy is Russia. [9/11 Commission, 3/1/2004 pdf file; Denver Post, 8/28/2011; Colorado Springs Gazette, 9/10/2011] All of NORAD, including its subordinate units (see (6:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001), participates in the exercise. [Northeast Air Defense Sector, 8/23/2001; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 9/8/2011] More than 50 people in the NORAD Battle Management Center in Cheyenne Mountain take part. [Airman, 3/2002; Defense Video and Imagery Distribution System, 9/8/2011] Vigilant Guardian is an annual exercise and is scheduled to last two weeks. [Arkin, 2005, pp. 545; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 9/8/2011] It has been underway for several days. Those in the Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center (CMOC) have been participating in it “for at least three or four days,” according to Lieutenant Colonel Steven Armstrong, NORAD’s chief of plans and forces. [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/9/2011]
Vigilant Guardian Is a 'Full-Blown Nuclear War' Exercise - Vigilant Guardian is a “transition to wartime operations command post exercise,” according to an information page for its participants. [Northeast Air Defense Sector, 8/23/2001] The 1st Air Force’s book about 9/11 will describe it as a “simulated air war.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 55] Lieutenant Colonel William Glover, the commander of NORAD’s Air Warning Center, will later recall that it involves NORAD “simulating war.… You know, attacks coming from the outside, Soviet-style bombers coming in, cruise-missile attacks, that type of thing.” [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 9/8/2011] Ken Merchant, NORAD’s joint exercise design manager, will tell the 9/11 Commission that Vigilant Guardian is a “full-blown nuclear war” exercise, and includes bomber response and intercontinental ballistic missile response. [9/11 Commission, 3/4/2004]
Russia Is Imagined Enemy - The theoretical enemy in the exercise is Russia. [Denver Post, 8/28/2011] According to the 9/11 Commission Report, the exercise “postulated a bomber attack from the former Soviet Union.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 458] Merchant will explain that “NORAD must use Russia in its exercises at the strategic level since no other country poses a great enough threat to NORAD’s capabilities and responsibilities.” [9/11 Commission, 3/4/2004]
Personnel Updated on Exercise during Shift Change - Armstrong will later recall that today starts off “like any other day. We came in thinking it would be a normal day… we did a standard shift changeover in the morning and we were getting right into where we were at in relation to the exercise.” He will describe that in a shift change during the exercise, “We’d say, ‘Okay, here’s what happened during the night shift (or the day shift),’ and we’d give each other an update, and then we’d start planning for whatever was on the agenda for that day.” [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/9/2011] According to the Denver Post, after commencing his shift, Armstrong “mapped out strategy in a chess game of ever-escalating scenarios, from strained diplomacy to the outbreak of conventional warfare that headed inexorably toward nuclear conflict” with Russia. [Denver Post, 8/28/2011]
B-1 Bomber Scheduled to Fly out over Pacific Ocean - The “planned big event for the day” in the exercise is “supposed to be a B-1 bomber that was flying out of Fairchild Air Force Base [in Washington State] and going out over the Pacific,” according to Jeff Ford, an Air Force lieutenant colonel who is working in the CMOC. Ford will add that there are “other things going on as part of the exercise, air exercise events, and then some scripted inputs that we were reacting to there in the Air Warning Center, whether it be unknown aircraft that we scramble aircraft for to intercept—or whatever.” [Defense Video and Imagery Distribution System, 9/8/2011]
Exercise Posture Allegedly Helps Response to Attacks - Vigilant Guardian will reportedly end after 9:03 a.m., when the second plane hits the World Trade Center (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and the CMOC personnel participating in it will then become involved in responding to the real-world attacks. [Airman, 3/2002; Toronto Star, 11/11/2008] Glover will claim that the CMOC’s response to the terrorist attacks benefits from the position the operations center is in for the exercise. He will say NORAD is “lucky” because “all the directorates such as operations, logistics, security, all those folks were up in the [Cheyenne] Mountain on an exercise posture.” He will add that “these are the same folks that we would bring up in case of contingencies or in time of going to war. So, in reality, I had all the guys up into the NORAD Battle Management Center that I needed to conduct the exercise as well as the contingency operations that happened on 9/11.” [Defense Video and Imagery Distribution System, 9/8/2011]
NORAD Monitoring Russian Exercise - NORAD was created in 1958, during the Cold War, to protect North American airspace against nuclear attacks from the Soviet Union. [New York Times, 4/25/2004; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 8/6/2004; Legion Magazine, 11/2004] According to the Toronto Star, “Whether it’s a simulation or a real-world event, the role of the [CMOC] is to fuse every critical piece of information NORAD has into a concise and crystalline snapshot.” [Toronto Star, 12/9/2001] As well as the Vigilant Guardian exercise, NORAD is currently in the middle of an operation called Northern Vigilance, with its fighter jets deployed to Alaska and Northern Canada to monitor an exercise being run by the Russian Air Force (see September 9, 2001). [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/9/2001] The battle staff members in Cheyenne Mountain are positioned to deal with both this operation and the exercise. [9/11 Commission, 3/1/2004 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Jeff Ford, North American Aerospace Defense Command, Steven Armstrong, Vigilant Guardian, William Glover, Ken Merchant

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Major General Larry Arnold, the commander of the Continental United States NORAD Region (CONR), participates in a video teleconference with other senior NORAD officials and is therefore unavailable when NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) tries contacting him for authorization to scramble fighter jets in response to the hijacked Flight 11. [Filson, 2002; 9/11 Commission, 5/23/2003; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20; Spencer, 2008, pp. 31] Arnold is in the video teleconferencing room at CONR headquarters, at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida.
Teleconference Discussing 'Russian Exercise' - Robert Del Toro, an intelligence officer with the 1st Air Force who is in the room with Arnold, will tell the 9/11 Commission that the teleconference is “about the Russian exercise.” [9/11 Commission, 2/2/2004 pdf file] Del Toro is presumably referring to either the Russian Air Force exercise that NORAD is currently monitoring (see September 9, 2001) or the exercise, Vigilant Guardian, that NORAD is currently running, which reportedly includes a simulated war against Russia (see (8:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/9/2001; Arkin, 2005, pp. 545; Denver Post, 8/28/2011]
NORAD Officials from US and Canada on Teleconference - It is unclear exactly who else is participating in the teleconference. Arnold will tell the 9/11 Commission that as well as “our folks”—presumably referring to some of his colleagues at CONR—it includes “the NORAD staff.” The “NORAD staff” presumably includes officials from NORAD’s operations center in Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, and its headquarters at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado. [9/11 Commission, 5/23/2003] Arnold will tell author Leslie Filson that the teleconference includes “the CINC”—presumably meaning General Ralph Eberhart, the commander in chief of NORAD, who is at Peterson Air Force Base—and also officials from the Alaskan NORAD Region (ANR) and the Canadian NORAD Region (CANR). [Filson, 2002; 9/11 Commission, 3/1/2004 pdf file]
Arnold Not Alerted to Hijacking - While Arnold is on the teleconference, NEADS calls CONR to alert him to the suspected hijacking of Flight 11 (see (8:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001), but no one at CONR interrupts the teleconference to fetch him or pass on to him the urgent message from NEADS. Arnold will only learn of the hijacking after the teleconference ends (see (8:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and he will then call NEADS back (see (8:42 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 5/23/2003; Spencer, 2008, pp. 31, 38]

Entity Tags: Continental US NORAD Region, Larry Arnold, Alaskan NORAD Region, Ralph Eberhart, North American Aerospace Defense Command, Robert Del Toro, Canadian NORAD Region

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

National Guard troops stationed at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) in Rome, New York.National Guard troops stationed at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) in Rome, New York. [Source: Rome Sentinel]At NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), a huddle of people is gathered around one of the radar scopes. NEADS Commander Robert Marr initially thinks this hubbub is due to the NORAD training exercise (presumably Vigilant Guardian) that is taking place on this day (see (6:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). He will later recall: “I’ve seen many exercises… and as I saw that huddle I said, ‘There’s got to be something wrong, something is happening here.’ You usually see that whenever they find a track on the scope that looks unusual; it’s usually an indicator that something is getting ready to kick off.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 55] According to author Lynn Spencer, Marr thinks the day’s exercise “is kicking off with a lively, unexpected twist.… His bet is that his simulations team has started off the exercise by throwing out a ‘heart attack card’ to see how the troops respond to a first-aid call from a fellow soldier, testing their first responder training.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 26] He sends Lieutenant Colonel Dawne Deskins, the regional mission crew commander for the exercise, to check out what is going on. [Filson, 2003, pp. 55] Deskins speaks briefly over the phone with the FAA’s Boston Center about the Flight 11 hijacking (see (8:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 26] She then runs back to the “battle cab”—the glass-walled room that overlooks the NEADS operations floor—and speaks to Marr with urgency in her voice. [Filson, 2003, pp. 55] She tells him: “It’s a hijacking, and this is real life, not part of the exercise. And it appears that the plane is heading toward New York City.” Although Deskins has specifically stated, “not part of the exercise,” Marr reportedly thinks, “This is an interesting start to the exercise.” According to Spencer, he thinks “This ‘real-world’ mixed in with today’s simex [simulated exercise] will keep [his staff members] on their toes.” Regardless of whether the crisis is real or not, Marr decides to instruct that the two alert F-15s at Otis Air National Guard Base be ordered to battle stations (see (8:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 26-27]

Entity Tags: Robert Marr, Northeast Air Defense Sector, Boston Air Route Traffic Control Center, Dawne Deskins, Vigilant Guardian

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A soldier monitors a NORAD radar screen.A soldier monitors a NORAD radar screen. [Source: National War College]NORAD has had fighter jets deployed to Alaska and Northern Canada for the past two days. They are there for a real-world maneuver called Operation Northern Vigilance, tasked with monitoring a Russian air force exercise being conducted in the Russian Arctic all this week (see September 9, 2001). [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/9/2001] At its operations center deep inside Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, NORAD is also reportedly at “full ‘battle staff’ levels for a major annual exercise that tests every facet of the organization.” The operations center is now contacted by NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), based in Rome, New York. NEADS says the FAA believes there is a hijacking in progress and is asking NORAD for support; this is not part of the exercise. As the Toronto Star will later report: “In a flash, Operation Northern Vigilance is called off. Any simulated information, what’s known as an ‘inject,’ is purged from the screens.” [Toronto Star, 12/9/2001] NORAD has the capacity to inject simulated material, including mass attacks, during exercises, “as though it was being sensed for the first time by a radar site.” [US Department of Defense, 1/15/1999] However, Northern Vigilance is a military operation, not a training exercise. [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/9/2001; US Congress, 3/11/2005] So presumably the “simulated information” is part of a NORAD exercise currently taking place, such as Vigilant Guardian (see (6:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Therefore, many minutes into the real 9/11 attacks, there may be false radar blips appearing on the screens of NORAD personnel. Additional details, such as whose radar screens have false blips and over what duration, are unclear. However, while the Toronto Star will indicate that the simulated material is removed from NORAD radar screens shortly before 9:03 a.m., when the second attack on the World Trade Center takes place, at 10:12 a.m. an officer at the operations center will call NEADS and ask it to “terminate all exercise inputs coming into Cheyenne Mountain” (see 10:12 a.m. September 11, 2001). [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001; Toronto Star, 12/9/2001] This would indicate that the NORAD operations center continues receiving simulated radar information for over an hour more, until after Flight 93 has crashed (see (10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and the terrorist attacks have ended. The Russians, after seeing the attacks on New York and Washington on television, will quickly communicate that they are canceling their Russian Arctic exercise. [Toronto Star, 12/9/2001; National Post, 10/19/2002]

Entity Tags: Northeast Air Defense Sector, Vigilant Guardian, Operation Northern Vigilance, North American Aerospace Defense Command

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A NORAD training exercise that is taking place this morning, presumably Vigilant Guardian (see (6:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001), is reportedly canceled shortly after 9:03, when the second World Trade Center tower is hit. [Airman, 3/2002] NORAD Commander Larry Arnold later says that after Flight 175 hits the South Tower, “I thought it might be prudent to pull out of the exercise, which we did.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 59] According to author Lynn Spencer: “The phone calls start flying between the various NORAD command centers. General Arnold calls Maj. Gen. Rick Findley” at NORAD’s operations center in Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, “to give him the latest information and have him withdraw all forces from the simulated exercise.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 86] Arnold will recall, “As we pulled out of the exercise we were getting calls about United Flight 93 and we were worried about that.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 59] Some early accounts say the military receives notification of the possible hijacking of Flight 93 at around 9:16 a.m. (see 9:16 a.m. September 11, 2001). [CNN, 9/17/2001; 9/11 Commission, 5/23/2003] However, the 9/11 Commission will later claim that NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) first receives a call about Flight 93 at 10:07 a.m. (see 10:05 a.m.-10:08 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] Arnold will add, “Then we had another call from Boston Center about a possible hijacking, but that turned out to be the airplane that had already hit the South Tower but we didn’t know that at the time.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 59]

Entity Tags: Larry Arnold, North American Aerospace Defense Command, Vigilant Guardian, Eric A. “Rick” Findley

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A technician at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) tells a caller that the day’s training exercise has not yet been called off, despite the attacks in New York. [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001] All of NORAD, including NEADS, has been participating in a major exercise called Vigilant Guardian this morning (see (6:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002; Arkin, 2005, pp. 545] According to some accounts, this exercise was canceled shortly after 9:03 a.m., when the second World Trade Center tower was hit (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Airman, 3/2002; Filson, 2003, pp. 59] However, Sergeant Mark Jennings, a NEADS tracking technician, now answers a phone call, and the caller says he has been watching the coverage of the terrorist attacks on television “for about 10 minutes, and I said, ‘I wonder if they’re—did they suspend the exercise?’” Jennings informs the caller that the exercise has not yet been suspended, answering, “Not at this time, no.” He adds: “But I think they’re going to [suspend it]. I don’t know. Things look pretty horrific out there.” The caller acknowledges, “Alrighty, man.” [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001]

Entity Tags: North American Aerospace Defense Command, Northeast Air Defense Sector, Mark Jennings, Vigilant Guardian

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

At NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), Master Sergeant Joe McCain, the mission crew commander technician, receives a call from the Continental US NORAD Region (CONR) headquarters at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida. Major General Larry Arnold and his staff at Tyndall AFB are trying to gather as much information as they can about the ongoing crisis, and want to know the transponder codes for the two fighter jets scrambled from Otis Air National Guard Base in response to the first hijacking (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001), so they can monitor their positions. The CONR officer that makes the call tells McCain to “send [the transponder codes] out on chat,” meaning on NORAD’s own chat system.
NORAD's Computer Chat System - According to author Lynn Spencer, NORAD’s chat system “is similar to the chat rooms on most Internet servers, but classified.” It has three chat rooms that can be used by anyone with proper access. One room is specifically for NEADS, and connects its ID, surveillance, and weapons technicians to its alert fighter squadrons, and is where NEADS gets status reports on fighter units and their aircraft. Another chat room is for CONR, and is where the three CONR sectors—NEADS, the Western Air Defense Sector (WADS), and the Southeast Air Defense Sector (SEADS)—communicate with each other and can “upchannel” information to CONR headquarters. The third room is the Air Warfare Center (AWC), where senior NORAD commanders from the three NORAD regions—CONR, Canada, and Alaska—communicate with each other. NEADS is allowed to monitor this room, but not type into it. When there is a training exercise taking place, as was the case earlier this morning (see (6:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001), one or two additional chat windows will be open specifically for communicating exercise information, to help prevent it being confused with real-world information.
McCain Falling Behind - McCain’s responsibilities at NEADS include monitoring these chat rooms, keeping paper logs of everything that is going on, and taking care of “upchanneling” operational reports to higher headquarters. According to Spencer, “These chat logs help to keep everyone on the same page, but in a situation like the one unfolding they have to be updated almost instantaneously to achieve that end.” But, “The fact that CONR has had to call McCain to get information that by now he would normally have posted alerts him that he is falling behind despite his best efforts.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 139-140]

Entity Tags: North American Aerospace Defense Command, Joe McCain, Larry Arnold

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

According to former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, around this time the acting Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Richard Myers speaks to him via video link (see 9:28 a.m. September 11, 2001). During their conversation, Myers mentions, “We are in the middle of Vigilant Warrior, a NORAD exercise.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 5] However, no other references have been found to this exercise, “Vigilant Warrior.” Considering that exercise terms are “normally an unclassified nickname,” [Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, 4/23/1998 pdf file] this is perhaps a little odd. Could Richard Clarke have mistakenly been referring to the Vigilant Guardian exercise (see (6:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001), which is taking place on 9/11? According to a later news report though, NORAD confirms that “it was running two mock drills on Sept. 11 at various radar sites and Command Centers in the United States and Canada,” one of these being Vigilant Guardian. [New Jersey Star-Ledger, 12/5/2003] If this is correct then there must be another NORAD exercise on 9/11. If not “Vigilant Warrior,” a possibility is that the exercise referred to by Richard Clarke is in fact “Amalgam Warrior,” which is a NORAD-sponsored, large-scale, live-fly air defense and air intercept field training exercise. Amalgam Warrior usually involves two or more NORAD regions and is held twice yearly, in the spring for the West Coast and in the autumn for the East Coast. [US Congress, n.d.; Airman, 1/1996; Arkin, 2005, pp. 254; GlobalSecurity (.org), 4/27/2005] Is it possible that in 2001 the East Coast Amalgam Warrior is being held earlier than usual (like Global Guardian (see 8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001)) and is taking place on 9/11? In support of this possibility is a 1997 Defense Department report that describes the Stratcom exercise Global Guardian, saying it “links with other exercise activities sponsored by the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Unified Commands.” The exercises it links with are Crown Vigilance (an Air Combat Command exercise), Apollo Guardian (a US Space Command exercise), and—significantly—the NORAD exercises Vigilant Guardian and Amalgam Warrior. [US Department of Defense, 5/1997; GlobalSecurity (.org), 4/27/2005] Since in 2001, Vigilant Guardian (see (6:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001) is occurring the same time as Global Guardian, might Amalgam Warrior be as well? In his book Code Names, William Arkin says that Amalgam Warrior is “sometimes combined with Global Guardian.” [Arkin, 2005, pp. 254] Amalgam Warrior tests such activities as tracking, surveillance, air interception, employing rules of engagement, attack assessment, electronic warfare, and counter-cruise-missile operations. A previous Amalgam Warrior in 1996 involved such situations as tracking unknown aircraft that had incorrectly filed their flight plans or wandered off course, in-flight emergencies, terrorist aircraft attacks, and large-scale bomber strike missions. Amalgam Warrior 98-1 was NORAD’s largest ever exercise and involved six B-1B bombers being deployed to Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, to act as an enemy threat by infiltrating the aerial borders of North America. [Airman, 1/1996; Arkin, 2005, pp. 254; GlobalSecurity (.org), 4/27/2005] Another Amalgam Warrior in fall 2000 similarly involved four B-1 bombers acting as enemy forces trying to invade Alaska, with NORAD going from tracking the unknown aircraft to sending up “alert” F-15s in response. [Eielson News Service, 10/27/2000; Associated Press, 10/29/2000] If either one (or both) of these exercises ending with the name “Warrior” is taking place on 9/11, this could be very significant, because the word “Warrior” indicates that the exercise is a Joint Chiefs of Staff-approved, Commander in Chief, NORAD-sponsored field training exercise. [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 8/25/1989] Real planes would be pretending to be threats to the US and real fighters would be deployed to defend against them.

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Vigilant Warrior, North American Aerospace Defense Command, Ellington Air National Guard Base, Amalgam Warrior, Richard A. Clarke, Richard B. Myers, Vigilant Guardian

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

NORAD’s air defence computer system, the AN/FYQ-93.NORAD’s air defence computer system, the AN/FYQ-93. [Source: Federation of American Scientists]A technician at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) instructs personnel on the NEADS operations floor to turn off their “sim switches,” apparently so as to remove from their radar screens simulated information for a training exercise that was being conducted this morning. [Northeast Air Defense Sector, 8/23/2001; North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission, 2004]
Staffer Complained, 'Let's Get Rid of This Goddamn Sim' - A few minutes earlier, at 9:30 a.m., a member of staff on the operations floor complained about simulated information—presumably false tracks—appearing on NEADS radar screens. He said: “You know what, let’s get rid of this godd_mn sim. Turn your sim switches off. Let’s get rid of that crap.” [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001; North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001] (A “sim switch” presumably allows simulated material on radar scopes to be turned on or off.)
Technician Instructs, 'Turn Off Your Sim Switches' - Now a member of NEADS staff, who according to a 9/11 Commission document is Technical Sergeant Jeffrey Richmond, gives an instruction to the NEADS surveillance technicians, “All surveillance, turn off your sim switches.” Seconds later, apparently in response to this instruction, someone on the operations floor tells a colleague, “You got your sim switches down.” [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission, 2004]
Sim Switches Turned On for Day's Exercise - Simulated material (“sim”) is apparently appearing on NEADS radar screens because of the NORAD training exercise, Vigilant Guardian, that was being conducted this morning (see (6:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Former Deputy Secretary of Defense John Hamre has revealed that NORAD has the capacity to inject simulated material into the system, “as though it was being sensed for the first time by a radar site.” In a training exercise in December 1998, for example, NORAD ran “30 different simulations, some of them being mass attacks, some of them being single missiles.” An information page on the current exercise stated, “All of NEADS, operations personnel are to have their sim switches turned ‘on’ starting at 1400Z 6 Sept. 01 till endex [the end date of the exercise].” Since Vigilant Guardian was originally scheduled to continue until September 13, this would mean NEADS personnel had their sim switches turned on this morning. [US Department of Defense, 1/15/1999; Northeast Air Defense Sector, 8/23/2001]
Radar Equipment Set to Display 'Sim Tracks' - A memo outlining special instructions for Vigilant Guardian participants further detailed how NORAD equipment needed to be set to display simulated material during the exercise. It stated: “The exercise will be conducted sim over live on the air sovereignty string. The Q-93 must be placed in the mixed mode to allow the telling [i.e. the communicating of information between facilities] of sim tracks.” [Northeast Air Defense Sector, 8/23/2001] The Q-93 is a piece of equipment used by NORAD, which is described as “a suite of computers and peripheral equipment configured to receive plot data from ground radar systems,” and which “performs track processing.” [General Accounting Office, 12/24/1992 pdf file; Federation of American Scientists, 4/23/2000] The Q-93 also “receives flight plans from the FAA, and has bi-directional communications with NORAD headquarters and a real-time link to AWACS [Airborne Warning and Control System planes].” [Satterthwaite, Corman, and Herm, 6/2002]
Exercise Supposedly Canceled Earlier On - While NEADS radar scopes are still displaying simulated material as late as 9:34 a.m., some accounts will claim the Vigilant Guardian exercise was canceled shortly after 9:03 a.m., when the second World Trade Center tower was hit (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Airman, 3/2002; Filson, 2003, pp. 59] And according to a report in the Toronto Star, “Any simulated information” for the exercise was “purged from the [radar] screens” at NORAD’s operations center in Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, shortly before the second WTC tower was hit (see (9:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Toronto Star, 12/9/2001] However, NEADS will receive a phone call from the operations center at 10:12 a.m. in which the caller asks it to “terminate all exercise inputs coming into Cheyenne Mountain” (see 10:12 a.m. September 11, 2001). [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001]

Entity Tags: Jeffrey Richmond, Northeast Air Defense Sector, Vigilant Guardian, John J. Hamre

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

In response to the terrorist attacks in the United States, the Russian military cancels a major training exercise it has been holding, turning back its bomber aircraft and calling off planned missile testing. [Toronto Star, 12/9/2001; Defense Video and Imagery Distribution System, 9/8/2011] The Russian Air Force began the exercise—which was being conducted over the North Atlantic, Pacific, and Arctic Oceans—on September 10 (see September 10, 2001), and had planned for it to continue until September 14. NORAD has deployed fighter jets to Alaska and Northern Canada to monitor the exercise (see September 9, 2001).
Russians Cancel Exercise to Avoid Confusion - The Russians now call off their exercise, “to avoid misunderstandings, since US defenses were now on high alert in case of further possible terrorist attacks,” according to BBC correspondent Bridget Kendall. [BBC, 2001, pp. 161; North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/9/2001; Washington Times, 9/11/2001] “The Russians knew NORAD would have its hands full,” the Toronto Star will report. Lieutenant Colonel William Glover, the commander of NORAD’s Air Warning Center, will say the Russians stop their exercise “because they understood the magnitude of what had happened to us in the United States. They didn’t want any questions; they didn’t want us worrying about what they would be doing or entering our Air Defense Identification Zone.”
Russia Tells US about Canceling Exercise - The Russians notify the US of their actions. Captain Michael Jellinek, the director of plans, requirements, and readiness at NORAD’s Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center in Colorado, will later recall: “They sent the message to the State Department clearly and unambiguously: ‘Don’t worry about our movements, we’re going to stay down for a while.’”
Russia's Actions Are 'Very Helpful' to US - It is unclear when exactly the Russians call off their exercise. According to the Toronto Star, they “immediately” cancel it “on seeing the attacks in New York and Washington.” Glover will say the Russians notify the US that they are stopping their exercise “after the United Flight 93 went into Shanksville” (see (10:03 a.m.-10:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Jellinek will call the Russians’ actions in canceling their exercise “[v]ery, very useful. Very helpful.” Glover will comment, “[T]hat was amazing to me, personally, the fact that they stopped their exercise and… that they told us that they were going to stop the exercise.” [Toronto Star, 12/9/2001; Defense Video and Imagery Distribution System, 9/8/2011] Russian President Vladimir Putin will contact the White House and inform National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice that the Russians are voluntarily canceling their exercise (see Between 10:32 a.m. and 11:45 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 1/27/2002]

Entity Tags: Michael H. Jellinek, Russian Air Force, North American Aerospace Defense Command, US Department of State, William Glover

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

An officer at NORAD’s operations center in Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, calls NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) and asks it to stop “exercise inputs” being sent to the operations center.
NORAD Calls Chief of Exercises at NEADS - The NORAD officer, a “Captain Taylor,” calls NEADS, where the phone is answered by Captain Brian Nagel. [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001] Nagel is chief of NEADS live exercises. [Filson, 2003, pp. 74] After introducing himself, Taylor says, “What we need you to do right now is to terminate all exercise inputs coming into Cheyenne Mountain.” Nagel gives Taylor an extension number and suggests that he call it to get the exercise inputs stopped. Taylor replies, “I’ll do that.” [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001] According to an article in Vanity Fair, “inputs” are simulated scenarios that are put into play for training exercises. [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006] NORAD has been conducting a major exercise this morning called Vigilant Guardian (see (6:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Arkin, 2005, pp. 545]
Exercise Includes Simulated Radar Information - Taylor is presumably referring specifically to false tracks that have been transmitted onto NORAD radar screens for the exercise. NORAD has the capability to inject simulated material, including mass attacks, into the system during exercises, “as though it was being sensed for the first time by a radar site.” [US Department of Defense, 1/15/1999] All of the operations personnel at NEADS have been instructed to “have their sim switches turned ‘on’” (presumably to allow simulated information to appear on their radar screens) from September 6 until the end of Vigilant Guardian, on September 13. An information page on the exercise stated that a “sim test track will be in place and forward told [i.e. transferred to a higher level of command] to both NORAD and CONR,” NORAD’s Continental United States Region. [Northeast Air Defense Sector, 8/23/2001]
Exercise Supposedly Called Off Earlier - More than 50 members of the battle staff at the NORAD operations center have been participating in Vigilant Guardian this morning. [Airman, 3/2002; 9/11 Commission, 3/1/2004 pdf file] Some accounts will claim this exercise was canceled shortly after 9:03 a.m., when the second World Trade Center tower was hit (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Airman, 3/2002; Filson, 2003, pp. 59] And a report in the Toronto Star will state, “Any simulated information” for the exercise was “purged from the [radar] screens” at the operations center shortly before the second tower was hit (see (9:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Toronto Star, 12/9/2001] But a member of staff at NEADS complained at 9:30 a.m. about simulated material still appearing on radar screens there, and at 9:34 a.m. the NEADS surveillance technicians were instructed to turn off their “sim switches” (see 9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001). [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001; North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission, 2004]

Entity Tags: Vigilant Guardian, Brian Nagel, Northeast Air Defense Sector, North American Aerospace Defense Command

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Ordering 

Time period


Email Updates

Receive weekly email updates summarizing what contributors have added to the History Commons database

 
Donate

Developing and maintaining this site is very labor intensive. If you find it useful, please give us a hand and donate what you can.
Donate Now

Volunteer

If you would like to help us with this effort, please contact us. We need help with programming (Java, JDO, mysql, and xml), design, networking, and publicity. If you want to contribute information to this site, click the register link at the top of the page, and start contributing.
Contact Us

Creative Commons License Except where otherwise noted, the textual content of each timeline is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike