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Context of 'Before September 11, 2001: NEADS Staff Briefed on Possibility of Plane Hitting WTC'

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According to USA Today, “In the two years before the Sept. 11 attacks, the North American Aerospace Defense Command conduct[s] exercises simulating what the White House [later] says was unimaginable at the time: hijacked airliners used as weapons to crash into targets and cause mass casualties.” One of the imagined targets is the World Trade Center. According to NORAD, these scenarios are regional drills, rather than regularly scheduled continent-wide exercises. They utilize “[n]umerous types of civilian and military aircraft” as mock hijacked aircraft, and test “track detection and identification; scramble and interception; hijack procedures; internal and external agency coordination; and operational security and communications security procedures.” The main difference between these drills and the 9/11 attacks is that the planes in the drills are coming from another country, rather than from within the US. Before 9/11, NORAD reportedly conducts four major exercises at headquarters level per year. Most of them are said to include a hijack scenario (see Before September 11, 2001). [USA Today, 4/18/2004; CNN, 4/19/2004]

Entity Tags: World Trade Center, North American Aerospace Defense Command

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Staff members at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) are apparently briefed on the possibility of terrorists deliberately crashing a plane into the World Trade Center. According to author Lynn Spencer, when Trey Murphy—a former US Marine who is now a weapons controller at NEADS—first sees the television footage on September 11 showing that a plane has hit the WTC, the news will bring to mind one of his briefings: “What if a terrorist flies an airplane with a weapon of mass destruction into the World Trade Center? It had always been one of the military’s big fears.… [T]he image on the [television] screen certainly reminded him of his briefing.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 179] It is also later reported that, in the two years prior to 9/11, NORAD conducts exercises simulating terrorists crashing hijacked aircraft into targets that include the WTC (see Between September 1999 and September 10, 2001). [USA Today, 4/18/2004] Yet, in May 2002, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice will claim, “I don’t think anybody could have predicted that these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center… that they would try to use an airplane as a missile, a hijacked airplane as a missile” (see May 16, 2002). [White House, 5/16/2002] And in 2004, NORAD commander General Ralph Eberhart will say, “Regrettably, the tragic events of 9/11 were never anticipated or exercised.” [USA Today, 4/18/2004]

Entity Tags: Trey Murphy, World Trade Center, Northeast Air Defense Sector

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Based on interviews with FBI officials, the New Yorker will report that, for several years prior to 9/11, the US government plans for “simulated terrorist attacks, including scenarios [involving] multiple-plane hijackings.” This presumably refers to more than just the Amalgam Virgo 02 exercise (see July 2001), which is based on the scenario of two planes being simultaneously hijacked. [New Yorker, 9/24/2001] Similarly, NORAD will state that before 9/11, it normally conducts four major exercises each year at headquarters level. Most of them include a hijack scenario, and some of them are apparently quite similar to the 9/11 attacks (see Between 1991 and 2001 and Between September 1999 and September 10, 2001). [USA Today, 4/18/2004; CNN, 4/19/2004] According to author Lynn Spencer, before September 11, “To prepare for their missions in support of NORAD, the Air National Guard pilots—some of the finest pilots in the world—often use hijacking scenarios to train for intercept tactics.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 84-85] John Arquilla, an associate professor of defense analysis at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, later says that while “No one knew specifically that 20 people would hijack four airliners and use them for suicide attacks against major buildings… the idea of such an attack was well known, [and] had been war gamed as a possibility in exercises before Sept. 11.” [Monterey County Herald, 7/18/2002]

Entity Tags: North American Aerospace Defense Command, United States, Air National Guard, John Arquilla

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

National Security Adviser Rice tries to explain what Bush knew and when in her May 16, 2002 press conference.National Security Adviser Rice tries to explain what Bush knew and when in her May 16, 2002 press conference. [Source: CNN]National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice states, “I don’t think anybody could have predicted that these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center, take another one and slam it into the Pentagon, that they would try to use an airplane as a missile,” adding that “even in retrospect” there was “nothing” to suggest that. [White House, 5/16/2002] Contradicting Rice’s claims, former CIA Deputy Director John Gannon acknowledges that such a scenario has long been taken seriously by US intelligence: “If you ask anybody could terrorists convert a plane into a missile? [N]obody would have ruled that out.” Rice also states, “The overwhelming bulk of the evidence was that this was an attack that was likely to take place overseas.” [MSNBC, 5/17/2002] Slate awards Rice the “Whopper of the Week” when the title of Bush’s August 6 briefing is revealed: “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US.” [Slate, 5/23/2002] Rice later will concede that “somebody did imagine it” but will say she did not know about such intelligence until well after this conference. [Associated Press, 9/21/2002]

Entity Tags: Condoleezza Rice, World Trade Center, John Gannon, Pentagon

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

An organization called Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) writes an open letter to President Bush entitled “Intelligence Unglued,” where they warn that unless Bush takes immediate action, the US intelligence community “will fall apart—with grave consequences for the nation.” They say that it is clear his National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice, and not CIA Director George Tenet, was responsible for the now-infamous “sixteen words” in his January State of the Union address (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003). “But the disingenuousness persists,” they write. “Surely Dr. Rice cannot persist in her insistence that she learned only on June 8, 2003, about former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s mission to Niger in February 2002, when he determined that the Iraq-Niger report was a con-job” (see July 6, 2003). “Rice’s denials are reminiscent of her claim in spring 2002 that there was no reporting suggesting that terrorists were planning to hijack planes and slam them into buildings (see May 16, 2002). In September, the joint Congressional committee on 9/11 came up with a dozen such reports” (see December 24, 1994 and January 6, 1995). It is not only Rice’s credibility that has suffered, they write, but Secretary of State Colin Powell’s as well, “as continued non-discoveries of weapons in Iraq heap doubt on his confident assertions to the UN” (see February 5, 2003). Ultimately, they write, it is Bush’s credibility at stake much more than that of his advisers and cabinet members. They lay the blame for the “disingenuousness” from the various members of the administration at the feet of Vice President Dick Cheney: it was Cheney’s office who sent Wilson to Niger (see (February 13, 2002)), it was Cheney who told the Veterans of Foreign Wars that Saddam Hussein was about to produce a nuclear weapon (see August 26, 2002), all with intelligence he and his staff knew to be either unreliable or outright forgeries—a “deep insult to the integrity of the intelligence process,” they write—it was Cheney and his staff who pressured CIA analysts to produce “cherry-picked” intelligence supporting their desire for war, it was Cheney and his staff who “cooked” the prewar National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq (see October 1, 2002). Bad enough that false intelligence was used to help craft Bush’s State of the Union address, they write, but that “pales in significance in comparison with how it was used to deceive Congress into voting on October 11 to authorize you to make war on Iraq” (see October 10, 2002). VIPS recommends three things for Bush to implement:
bullet Bring an immediate end to White House attempts to exculpate Cheney from what they write is his obvious guilt and ask for his resignation: “His role has been so transparent that such attempts will only erode further your own credibility. Equally pernicious, from our perspective, is the likelihood that intelligence analysts will conclude that the way to success is to acquiesce in the cooking of their judgments, since those above them will not be held accountable. We strongly recommend that you ask for Cheney’s immediate resignation.”
bullet Appoint General Brent Scowcroft, the chair of the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, to head “an independent investigation into the use/abuse of intelligence on Iraq.”
bullet Bring UN inspectors back into Iraq. “This would go a long way toward refurbishing your credibility. Equally important, it would help sort out the lessons learned for the intelligence community and be an invaluable help to an investigation of the kind we have suggested you direct Gen. Scowcroft to lead.” [Salon, 7/16/2003]

Entity Tags: George J. Tenet, George W. Bush, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, Brent Scowcroft, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

The New York Times later reports that in private discussions with the 9/11 Commission in January 2002, National Security Adviser Condoleeza “Rice [is] asked about statements she made in 2001 and 2002 [(see May 16, 2002)] that ‘we could not have imagined’ that terrorists would use aircraft as weapons by piloting them into buildings. She [tells] the commission that she regret[s] those comments, because at the time she was not aware of intelligence, developed in the late 1990s, that some terrorists were thinking of using airplanes as guided missiles. She told the commission in the private session that she should have said, ‘I could not have imagined,’ according to one official familiar with the testimony, making it clear that some in the intelligence community knew about those threats but that she did not.” [New York Times, 4/6/2004] However, in a March 22, 2004 op-ed for the Washington Post entitled “For the Record,” she essentially repeats her 2002 comments, claiming, “Despite what some have suggested, we received no intelligence that terrorists were preparing to attack the homeland using airplanes as missiles, though some analysts speculated that terrorists might hijack airplanes to try to free US-held terrorists.” [Washington Post, 3/22/2004]

Entity Tags: Condoleezza Rice, 9/11 Commission

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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