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Context of 'September 12, 2001: Unidentified Plane Causes NEADS Evacuation'

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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. (Baker 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). (Seely 1/25/2002)

Colonel Robert Marr, the battle commander at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), speaks over the phone with Major General Larry Arnold, the commander of the Continental United States NORAD Region (CONR), about the day’s training exercise. Marr is in the battle cab at NEADS, in Rome, New York, while Arnold is at the CONR headquarters at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida. (9/11 Commission 1/23/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 2/2/2004 pdf file) All of NORAD, including NEADS, is currently participating in the major annual exercise, Vigilant Guardian. (Northeast Air Defense Sector 8/23/2001; Arkin 2005, pp. 545; Doscher 9/8/2011) Marr has just been in a staff meeting, and now checks in with Arnold to make sure their communication lines are up and ready for the exercise. (Grant 2004, pp. 19) Marr tells Arnold that the personnel on the NEADS operations floor are ready to begin the exercise. Marr will tell the 9/11 Commission that his “primary communication” on this day “is to higher headquarters,” presumably meaning Arnold. However, the two men are not on a continual open line. (9/11 Commission 1/23/2004 pdf file) Arnold will tell the Commission that he and Marr “did not stay on the line continually, but spoke when information needed to be passed,” throughout the day. (9/11 Commission 2/3/2004 pdf file)

On the operations floor at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), Major Kevin Nasypany, the facility’s mission crew commander, instructs Major James Fox, the leader of the weapons team, to launch fighter jets from Otis Air National Guard Base in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. (Bronner 8/1/2006) Nasypany has just received this order—to launch the jets—from Colonel Robert Marr, the NEADS battle commander. (9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 15 and 88) Marr issued it after seeking permission to do so from Major General Larry Arnold, the commanding general of NORAD’s Continental Region (CONR) (see (8:42 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 20) Marr will later claim, “My intent was to scramble Otis to military airspace while we found out what was going on.” (Filson 2003, pp. 56) Nasypany gives Fox a coordinate for just north of New York City, and tells him, “Head ‘em in that direction.” (Bronner 8/1/2006) The jets will be scrambled from Otis a minute later (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001), but there will be conflicting accounts of what their initial destination is (see (8:53 a.m.-9:05 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 20) Interestingly, the 9/11 Commission will later state that, “Because of a technical issue, there are no NEADS recordings available of the NEADS senior weapons director and weapons director technician position responsible for controlling the Otis scramble.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 459)

NEADS Headquarters in Rome, New YorkNEADS Headquarters in Rome, New York [Source: Vanity Fair] (click image to enlarge)Staff at the Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) in Rome, NY, notice an unidentified, low-flying plane heading slowly and directly toward their building. Yet all civilian aircraft are supposed to be grounded, with only military or emergency aircraft allowed to fly over the US. According to NEADS Commander Robert Marr, “We thought anyone in the air was either a terrorist or a criminal.” Fighters from the Vermont Air National Guard are diverted towards Rome, and Marr orders the evacuation of the NEADS building, with only himself and a small crew remaining inside. Just miles away from them, the plane suddenly changes course and is forced to land nearby by the pursuing fighters. Robert Marr later says he never found out who the culprit was, but he’d heard it was a local pilot with a seaplane. (Filson 2003, pp. 73)

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