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Context of 'September 14, 2001: Defense Readiness Condition Reduced to Defcon 4'

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Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, who is in the White House Situation Room, instructs that US embassies overseas be closed and that US military bases raise their alert level. According to his own recollection, just after he has spoken to the acting Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Richard Myers (see 9:28 a.m. September 11, 2001), Clarke is thinking about the simultaneous attacks on the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). As he describes, “There was the possibility now of multiple simultaneous attacks in several countries.” He therefore issues instructions to the State Department and the Department of Defense: “We have to assume there will be simultaneous attacks on us overseas. We need to close the embassies. Move [Department of Defense] bases to combat Threatcon.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 5-6] (“Threatcon” is short for “terrorist threat condition.” [Slate, 9/12/2001] ) According to CNN, all US military forces will be ordered to the highest alert level at 10:10 a.m. (see (Between 10:10 a.m. and 10:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [CNN, 9/4/2002] But the 9/11 Commission Report will state that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld only orders the US armed forces to Defcon 3, an increased state of readiness, at 10:43 a.m. (see (10:43 a.m.-10:52 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 326 and 554] The State Department will tell US embassies to make the decision whether to close based on their own local security requirements. Around 50 US embassies or consulates around the world will therefore close, though at what time they do so is unstated. [US Department of State, 9/12/2001]

Entity Tags: Richard A. Clarke

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The NORAD representative on the Pentagon’s air threat conference call reports that General Ralph Eberhart, the commander in chief of NORAD, has declared “concern” for the crisis that is taking place. At around 9:39 a.m., the NORAD representative said over the conference call that “[n]o assessment for the overall air situation” had been given by NORAD at that point (see (9:39 a.m.) September 11, 2001). But now he says an assessment has been issued. He reports over the conference call: “At this time, CINC [commander in chief] NORAD”—meaning Eberhart—“has declared an assessment of concern for the air events does hold. I say again, an assessment of concern does hold for the air events.” [US Department of Defense, 9/11/2001; US Department of Defense, 9/11/2001 pdf file] Eberhart will tell the 9/11 Commission that at NORAD, he alone would be responsible for making an assessment of concern. He will say that at around 9:40 a.m. to 9:45 a.m., he received a lot of pressure from personnel at NORAD’s Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center to say that “yes,” he did assess concern. If he makes an assessment of concern, Eberhart will comment, it triggers a “Defcon surge.” What he means by a “Defcon surge” is unclear. [9/11 Commission, 3/1/2004] (The military’s defense readiness condition (Defcon) will in fact be raised to Defcon 3, on the orders of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, at 10:52 a.m. (see (10:43 a.m.-10:52 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [US Department of Defense, 9/11/2001 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 326; Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 131] ) Eberhart will also say that an assessment of concern is “tied basically to a foreign attack” and making it triggers a number of consequences that, among other things, would impact Russia. [9/11 Commission, 3/1/2004]

Entity Tags: Ralph Eberhart, North American Aerospace Defense Command

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

US military installations are placed on the highest state of alert, known as Force Protection Condition Delta (FPCON Delta), in response to the terrorist attacks in New York and at the Pentagon. The raised threat level applies to every US military installation across the country and around the world, and every member of the US armed forces. [Associated Press, 9/11/2001; US Department of Defense, 9/11/2001; New York Times, 9/12/2001] Measures that are taken once FPCON Delta has been declared include placing more guards on duty at installations, having all vehicles on installations identified, and having all personnel positively identified. Additionally, all suitcases, briefcases, and packages brought into an installation must be searched. [Slate, 9/12/2001]
Rumsfeld and Myers Decide to Raise FPCON - The decision to raise the force protection condition is apparently made by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and/or acting Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Richard Myers. Rumsfeld will tell the 9/11 Commission that after he arrives at the Pentagon’s National Military Command Center (NMCC) (see (10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001), he and Myers “discussed, and I recommended… increasing the force protection level.” [9/11 Commission, 3/23/2004] Myers will later write that after he arrives at the NMCC (see (Between 9:55 a.m. and 10:25 a.m.) September 11, 2001), he “recommended that all American military commands and units worldwide go to [FPCON] Delta.” He will add: “Terrorists had staged major attacks in New York and Washington. Although we did not yet have reliable intelligence on when and where they would strike next, it seemed likely that they would.” [Myers, 2009, pp. 153] But White House counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke will write that he gave the instruction to raise the force protection condition, at around 9:30 a.m. (see (9:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Clarke, 2004, pp. 5-6]
Conflicting Times Given for Raising of FPCON - The exact time at which the force protection condition is raised is unclear. CNN’s Barbara Starr will report that “all US military forces [are] ordered to Condition Delta” at 10:10 a.m. [CNN, 9/4/2002] However, other evidence indicates the force protection condition is raised at a later time, around 10:35 a.m. Rumsfeld only enters the NMCC at about 10:30 a.m., indicating it is raised after that time. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 43-44] And at 10:38 a.m., after Vice President Dick Cheney asks him on the air threat conference call if US forces are on “heightened alert,” Rumsfeld will reply, “Yes,” and say they are at FPCON Delta. [US Department of Defense, 9/11/2001 pdf file]
Some Areas Already at FPCON Delta - Although the entire US military is now under the same FPCON level, usually, different locations can have different FPCON levels. [Slate, 9/12/2001] US forces in some parts of the world, particularly the Middle East and the Persian Gulf region, are in fact already at FPCON Delta. [New York Times, 9/12/2001] (The force protection condition was raised in those areas in late June, after intelligence reports suggested that terrorists might attack American military or civilian targets in the region (see June 21, 2001). [Los Angeles Times, 6/23/2001; National Public Radio, 5/23/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 257] ) Shortly after the force protection condition is raised, Rumsfeld will order that the defense readiness condition also be raised (see (10:43 a.m.-10:52 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [US Department of Defense, 9/11/2001 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 326, 554]
Five Possible Force Protection Conditions - The force protection condition is a “chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff-approved standard for identification of, and recommended responses to, terrorist threats against US personnel and facilities,” according to the Department of Defense. [US Department of Defense, 11/8/2011 pdf file] It was created in June 2001 and replaced the “terrorist threat condition,” or “Threatcon.” [Los Angeles Times, 1/22/2002] There are five possible force protection conditions. The lowest, FPCON Normal, means no threat of terrorist activity is present. The other conditions are Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, up to the highest, FPCON Delta, which means a terrorist attack has occurred or intelligence has been received indicating that action against a specific location is likely. [Associated Press, 9/11/2001; Slate, 9/12/2001]

Entity Tags: Richard A. Clarke, Donald Rumsfeld, Richard B. Myers, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, missing for at least 30 minutes, finally enters the NMCC, where the military’s response to the 9/11 attacks is being coordinated. [CNN, 9/4/2002; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] Rumsfeld later claims that he only started to gain a situational awareness of what was happening after arriving at the NMCC. [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] Rumsfeld was in his office only 200 feet away from the NMCC until the Pentagon crash at 9:37 a.m. (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). His activities during this period are unclear. He went outside to the Flight 77 crash site and then stayed somewhere else in the Pentagon until his arrival at the NMCC. Brigadier General Montague Winfield later says, “For 30 minutes we couldn’t find him. And just as we began to worry, he walked into the door of the [NMCC].” [ABC News, 9/11/2002] Winfield himself apparently only shows up at the NMCC around 10:30 a.m. as well.

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, National Military Command Center, Montague Winfield

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The US military’s defense readiness condition is raised from Defcon 5, the lowest possible level, to Defcon 3, an intermediate level that requires a heightened alert status for US armed forces worldwide, and which is the highest the defense readiness condition has been for 28 years. [Historical Office, Office of the Secretary of Defense, 7/18/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 326, 554; Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 131; Rumsfeld, 2011, pp. 338]
Rumsfeld Recommends Raising Defcon - The decision to go to Defcon 3 is reportedly made by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. [US Department of Defense, 8/12/2002] Rumsfeld will later recall that after he arrives at the Pentagon’s National Military Command Center (NMCC) (see (10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001), he talks with General Richard Myers, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and “[w]e discussed and I recommended raising the defense condition level from five to three.” [9/11 Commission, 3/23/2004]
Teleconference Participants Told to 'Hold Off' on Defcon 3 - Rumsfeld directs that the US military go to Defcon 3. At 10:43 a.m., it is announced on the air threat conference call that the secretary of defense “has directed that we go to Defcon 3 and be prepared to go to [Defcon] 2.” However, a minute later, Rumsfeld talks to Vice President Dick Cheney on the conference call, and Cheney says he will have to run the decision to go to Defcon 3 by the president, “and let him make the call.” Therefore, at 10:45 a.m., those on the conference call are told to “hold off on Defcon 3.”
Order to Raise Defcon Reinstated - But Rumsfeld believes raising the defense readiness condition is urgent. [US Department of Defense, 9/11/2001 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 326, 554] There is therefore a “historical discussion about how the move to Defcon 3 went during previous crises, Cuba specifically [i.e. the Cuban missile crisis in 1962],” Captain Charles Leidig, who is also in the NMCC, will later recall. With their reference being “a book on the shelf,” according to Leidig, Myers is shown that he has “approval authority to go to Defcon 3.” [9/11 Commission, 4/29/2004 pdf file] After consulting Defense Department directives, Rumsfeld concludes that he has the authority to issue the order to raise the defense readiness condition. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 554] Therefore, at 10:46 a.m., those on the air threat conference call are told: “Override last instructions. The vice chairman [i.e. Myers] is directing we go to Defcon 3.” A few minutes later, an announcement is made on the conference call, “Emergency action message released at 14:52 [Zulu time, i.e. 10:52 a.m. Eastern time], re: Defcon 3.” [US Department of Defense, 9/11/2001 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 2004]
Raising Defcon Is a 'Huge Move' - Rumsfeld will later agree with an interviewer that raising the defense readiness condition is “a very serious step for the nation.” [US Department of Defense, 8/12/2002] It was last raised to Defcon 3 during the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, when Rumsfeld had been the United States ambassador to NATO. Regarding the decision to raise it, Myers tells Rumsfeld, “It’s a huge move, but it’s appropriate.” [US Department of Defense, 1/9/2002; Wall Street Journal, 3/22/2004 pdf file; Rumsfeld, 2011, pp. 338]
President Later Told of Decision - The decision to go to Defcon 3 will soon be communicated within NORAD (see 11:03 a.m.-11:12 a.m. September11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2003; 9/11 Commission, 2004; 9/11 Commission, 2/3/2004 pdf file] Rumsfeld will brief President Bush on the decision (see (11:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 554; Bush, 2010, pp. 133] Apparently around the time the defense readiness condition is raised, Rumsfeld and/or Myers also decide to raise the force protection condition of US military installations (see (Between 10:10 a.m. and 10:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [US Department of Defense, 9/11/2001 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 3/23/2004; Myers, 2009, pp. 153]
Defcon 3 Intended for Cold War - Some individuals will later be critical of the decision to raise the defense readiness condition at this time. John Farmer, the senior counsel to the 9/11 Commission, will write that Defcon 3 is in fact “a Cold War-era designation, devised to respond to a nuclear threat.” [Farmer, 2009, pp. 235] According to Farmer and other 9/11 Commission staffers, it is “suited more to a Cold War conflict than to al-Qaeda’s attack.” [Rutgers Law Review, 9/7/2011 pdf file] General Ralph Eberhart, the commander of NORAD, will similarly say that Defcon 3 is “not intended for [events like] the attacks of 9/11 and thus could have complicated the response to the attacks.” He will say he does not think that raising the condition would have “done anything for us” within the continental United States. [9/11 Commission, 3/1/2004 pdf file]
Defcons Are Phased Increases in Combat Readiness - The defense readiness condition is a “uniform system of progressive alert postures for use between the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the commanders of unified and specified commands, and for use by the [armed] services,” according to the Department of Defense. [US Department of Defense, 11/8/2011 pdf file] Defcons are phased increases in combat readiness and are graduated to match situations of varying military severity. They are numbered, from Defcon 5, which means “normal peacetime readiness,” down to Defcon 1, which means “maximum force readiness.” The current level, Defcon 3, represents an “increase in force readiness above normal readiness.” [Federation of American Scientists, 4/29/1998] The defense readiness condition will remain at Defcon 3 until three days later, when it will be reduced one notch, to Defcon 4 (see September 14, 2001). [Washington Post, 1/30/2002]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, John Farmer, Charles Leidig, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Ralph Eberhart, Richard B. Myers, Donald Rumsfeld

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The North Portal entrance to the Cheyenne Mountain Complex in Colorado.The North Portal entrance to the Cheyenne Mountain Complex in Colorado. [Source: NORAD]The message goes out within NORAD that the military’s defense readiness condition has been raised to Defcon 3. [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2003; 9/11 Commission, 2004] Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld directed that the defense readiness condition be raised from Defcon 5—the lowest level—to Defcon 3 at around 10:45 a.m. (see (10:43 a.m.-10:52 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 326, 554; Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 131] At 10:52 a.m., an emergency action message about the increased defense readiness condition was issued. [US Department of Defense, 9/11/2001 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 2004]
NORAD Personnel Learn of Defcon Change - Word of the change is then communicated within NORAD. At 11:03 a.m., NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) is ordered to Defcon 3. Four minutes later, at 11:07 a.m., Lieutenant Colonel Steve Usher, the director of combat operations at the headquarters of the Continental United States NORAD Region (CONR) in Florida, announces that Defcon 3 has been ordered. [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2003] And a military log will state that “NORAD has directed Defcon change” at 11:12 a.m. [9/11 Commission, 2004] Staff Sergeant Brent Lanier, an emergency action controller in NORAD’s Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center (CMOC) in Colorado, is tasked with sending out a message about the change to the defense readiness condition. He will later recall: “I’d sent out false Defcon messages during exercises, but I never thought I’d have to send out an actual Defcon change message—but I did. It was frightening.” [Airman, 3/2002]
NORAD Officers Discuss Defcon Change - Major General Larry Arnold, the CONR commander, will tell the 9/11 Commission that he hears of the change to the defense readiness condition either from Major General Rick Findley, the director of operations at the CMOC, or from one of NORAD’s computer chat logs. [9/11 Commission, 2/3/2004 pdf file] Usher will tell the 9/11 Commission that the instruction to raise the defense readiness condition comes either from the CONR Regional Air Operations Center or from Arnold. He will add that there is an emergency action message confirming the transition. [9/11 Commission, 2/4/2004 pdf file] Arnold will recall that, at some unspecified time, he calls General Ralph Eberhart, the commander of NORAD, about the change to the defense readiness condition, with the intention of informing Eberhart “of what was ongoing.” [9/11 Commission, 2/3/2004 pdf file]
Change in Defcon Affects Who Can Declare a Target Hostile - Steve Hedrick, an air weapons officer at NEADS, will tell the 9/11 Commission that “any change in Defcon is authenticated immediately” with the fighter jets under NORAD control. He will also say that “the main change when a Defcon level changes is in who has the authority to declare a target hostile.” Hedrick will note that the order from Vice President Dick Cheney, that NORAD fighters were “cleared… to intercept tracks of interest and shoot them down if they do not respond” (see 10:31 a.m. September 11, 2001), is “distinct and different from the transition in Defcon levels.” [9/11 Commission, 10/27/2003 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 42]

Entity Tags: Continental US NORAD Region, Steve Usher, Steve Hedrick, Eric A. “Rick” Findley, Northeast Air Defense Sector, Larry Arnold, Ralph Eberhart, Brent Lanier, North American Aerospace Defense Command

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld speaks with President Bush, and they discuss the rules of engagement for fighter pilots and Rumsfeld’s decision to raise the defense readiness condition to Defcon 3. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 465, 554] Rumsfeld is in the National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon and Bush is on board Air Force One, flying toward Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana. [9/11 Commission, 3/23/2004; St. Petersburg Times, 7/4/2004] After Rumsfeld entered the NMCC at around 10:30 a.m. (see (10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001), he had been concerned with ensuring that fighter pilots defending US airspace have a clear understanding of their rules of engagement, so they know “what they could and could not do” (see (10:30 a.m.-1:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 3/23/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 43-44] He also directed that the nation’s armed forces go to Defcon 3, an increased state of military readiness (see (10:43 a.m.-10:52 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 326; Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 131]
President Approves Decision to Raise Defcon - Rumsfeld now speaks with Bush and, according to the 9/11 Commission Report, tells him that the Department of Defense is “working on refining the rules of engagement, so pilots would have a better understanding of the circumstances under which an aircraft could be shot down.” Also at this time, according to the 9/11 Commission Report, Rumsfeld briefs Bush on his decision to raise the defense readiness condition to Defcon 3. When Rumsfeld ordered that the condition be raised, Vice President Dick Cheney told him to run the issue by the president; Rumsfeld replied that he would “call him shortly.” [US Department of Defense, 9/11/2001 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 465, 554] Bush gives Rumsfeld his approval for having raised the defense readiness condition. [Washington Post, 9/12/2001; Bush, 2010, pp. 133]
Defense Readiness Condition Possibly Discussed at Later Time - Although the 9/11 Commission Report will say Rumsfeld and Bush’s discussion of the defense readiness condition occurs at 11:15 a.m., in his 2010 book Decision Points, Bush will write that he approves Rumsfeld’s decision when he speaks to Rumsfeld from the office of Lieutenant General Thomas Keck at Barksdale Air Force Base. [Bush, 2010, pp. 133] If correct, this would mean the relevant phone call takes place sometime after 12:11 p.m., when Bush goes to Keck’s office (see (12:11 p.m.-1:20 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Sammon, 2002, pp. 112-113; American History, 10/2006 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, George W. Bush, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The US military’s defense readiness condition is lowered one notch, from Defcon 3 to Defcon 4. [Washington Post, 1/30/2002] The defense readiness condition was raised from Defcon 5, the lowest possible level, to Defcon 3 following the terrorist attacks on September 11 (see (10:43 a.m.-10:52 a.m.) September 11, 2001), putting it at its highest level for 28 years. [Wall Street Journal, 3/22/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 326; Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 131] Defense readiness conditions are phased increases in combat readiness. The new level, Defcon 4, requires increased intelligence and strengthened security measures. [Federation of American Scientists, 4/29/1998]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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