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Context of '(Between September 23 and September 24, 2001): NORAD Commander Visits NEADS and Stresses Importance of Transcribing Recordings from 9/11'

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Technical Sergeant James Tollack, an officer from McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey, is tasked with transcribing tape recordings from September 11 of the operations floor at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) in Rome, New York. [9/11 Commission, 3/22/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/29/2004; Farmer, 2009, pp. 274] On September 11, NEADS was responsible for coordinating the US military’s response to the hijackings. In a corner of its operations floor, four Dictaphone multi-channel tape recorders were recording every radio channel. [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006; Shenon, 2008, pp. 203-204] Tollack will later say that NEADS Technical Sergeant Jeremy Powell maybe tells him that personnel at NEADS have already listened to the tapes prior to his arrival there.
Digital Recording Expert Spends Two Weeks Working on Transcripts - Tollack is the resident expert in digital voice recording systems at McGuire Air Force Base and also has experience of doing transcription work. He arrives at NEADS on September 20 and stays there for 11 to 14 days, leaving on either October 1 or October 4. His first day at NEADS is spent on orientation, and so September 21 is his first full day of transcribing. Tollack will later recall that Colonel Robert Marr, the battle commander at NEADS, probably advises him to only transcribe the tapes from September 11 up to around 10:15 a.m., which is about 10 minutes after the fourth hijacked plane, Flight 93, crashed in Pennsylvania. For his first few days at NEADS, Tollack spends 14 to 16 hours per day working on the task. He works at a desk on the operations floor, drafting notes by hand and then typing them out with the assistance of two secretaries.
Transcripts Needed for Investigations - Tollack works directly for Marr, and also reports to Lieutenant Colonel Dawne Deskins, the assistant director of the Sector Operations Control Center. Marr tells Tollack that the transcripts of the tapes are required for investigation purposes. General Ralph Eberhart, the commander of NORAD, tells Tollack the information is needed for a Congressional report or hearing (see (Between September 23 and September 24, 2001)).
Tollack's Work Not Reviewed - While Tollack is at NEADS, no one there reviews his work as he goes through the tapes. [9/11 Commission, 3/22/2004] On September 21, one of the tapes is damaged during the transcription process, causing information on it to be lost (see September 21, 2001). [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/21/2001]
9/11 Commission Not Initially Made Aware of NEADS Tapes - During its investigation of the September 11 attacks, the 9/11 Commission will only learn of the existence of the recordings of the NEADS operations floor in late October 2003 (see Late October 2003), and it subsequently subpoenas NORAD for the tapes (see November 6, 2003). Despite the efforts of Tollack, according to journalist and author Philip Shenon, by the time the Commission receives the tapes, around December 2003, NORAD has still “not prepared transcripts itself” of the tapes’ contents. [Kean and Hamilton, 2006, pp. 86-88; Shenon, 2008, pp. 203-208]

Entity Tags: Dawne Deskins, Jeremy Powell, James D. Tollack, Ralph Eberhart, Northeast Air Defense Sector, Robert Marr

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

During an attempt at transcribing tape recordings of communications at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) from September 11, a tape is damaged. [9/11 Commission, 10/28/2003 pdf file; Farmer, 2009, pp. 274] In a corner of the NEADS operations floor, four Dictaphone multi-channel tape recorders recorded every radio channel on September 11. [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006] Technical Sergeant James Tollack, the resident expert in digital voice recording systems at McGuire Air Force Base, New Jersey, arrived at NEADS on September 20, in order to transcribe the facility’s recordings from September 11 (see (September 20-October 4, 2001)).
Tape Reformatted during Rebooting - On the following day, one of the tapes Tollack is working from becomes damaged, causing much of the information on it to be lost. Interviewed by the 9/11 Commission in 2004, Tollack will explain what happens. He will say a civilian contractor assists him as they reboot the system, but this causes the tape to be re-formatted, and so the information on it is lost. [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/21/2001; 9/11 Commission, 3/22/2004] Tollack has at least been able to transcribe a portion of the recording of the NEADS mission crew commander position on the tape before the malfunction occurs. [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/21/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/29/2004] Colonel Robert Marr, the battle commander at NEADS, is subsequently informed of what has happened, including the loss of information. [9/11 Commission, 3/22/2004]
Reason Tape Is Damaged Disputed - When members of the 9/11 Commission staff visit NEADS during their investigation of the September 11 attacks, they will be told that Tollack caused the tape to malfunction and reformat. However, Tollack will dispute this. He will deny having caused the tape to malfunction and profess ignorance as to why he was subsequently asked to stop listening to and transcribing the tapes.
Unclear if Tollack Continues Transcribing Tapes - The Commission staff members will also be told that after the tape is damaged, Tollack is instructed to stop transcribing the tapes because Department of Defense officials are concerned that they could be permanently lost. [9/11 Commission, 7/29/2004; Farmer, 2009, pp. 274] And according to journalist and author Philip Shenon, by the time the Commission gains possession of the tapes, around December 2003, NORAD has still “not prepared transcripts itself” of their contents. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 208] However, Tollack will remain at NEADS for at least another 10 days after the equipment malfunction occurs, until the first week of October. Furthermore, two or three days after the tape is damaged, General Ralph Eberhart, the commander of NORAD, visits NEADS and discusses with Tollack the importance of getting the information from the tapes (see (Between September 23 and September 24, 2001)). [9/11 Commission, 3/22/2004] It is therefore unclear when Tollack stops transcribing the tapes, and how much progress he has made before he stops.
Recordings Not Backed Up, Later Restored - The Dictaphone tape recorders that record the radio channels at NEADS are run by General Dynamics. [9/11 Commission, 10/28/2003 pdf file] Richard Crane, General Dynamics’ technical representative to NEADS, will tell the 9/11 Commission that he believes, given the importance of 9/11, the NEADS tapes should have been copied immediately, but were not. Although General Dynamics lacks the capability to do this, Dictaphone could have made backups. And at some point after September 11, it is discovered that Dictaphone can transfer a digital audio tape to DVD for just $150. [9/11 Commission, 10/28/2003 pdf file] However, most of the deleted information on the damaged tape is apparently later restored. In November 2003, it will be reported that Dictaphone “has recovered most of the tracks.” [US Department of Defense, 11/25/2003]

Entity Tags: Northeast Air Defense Sector, Robert Marr, US Department of Defense, Richard Crane, James D. Tollack

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

General Ralph Eberhart, the commander of NORAD, visits NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) in Rome, New York, and emphasizes to an officer there the importance of promptly transcribing the recordings of the NEADS operations floor from September 11. Technical Sergeant James Tollack, the resident expert in digital voice recording systems at McGuire Air Force Base, New Jersey, arrived at NEADS on September 20, in order to transcribe the facility’s tape recordings from September 11 (see (September 20-October 4, 2001)). Three or four days later, Eberhart comes to NEADS and sees Tollack personally. Eberhart stresses to Tollack the importance of getting the information from the tapes as quickly and as accurately as possible. He says the information is needed for a Congressional report or hearing. [9/11 Commission, 3/22/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/29/2004] Presumably Eberhart is referring to his appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee on October 25, in which he will put forward the military’s account of what happened on September 11. [US Congress. Senate. Armed Services Committee, 10/25/2001; Farmer, 2009, pp. 248] When the 9/11 Commission interviews Tollack during its investigation of the terrorist attacks and asks him what order of priority his task of transcribing the tapes had been given, he will indicate that he knew it was a high-priority assignment when he was visited by Eberhart. [Farmer, 2009, pp. 274]

Entity Tags: Ralph Eberhart, James D. Tollack, Northeast Air Defense Sector

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Several months into its investigation, the 9/11 Commission is already dissatisfied with the Department of Defense (see July 7, 2003).
Recorded Conversations Not Provided to Commission - When its staff take a tour of a Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) facility in Rome, New York, which helped coordinate the air defense on the day of 9/11, the staff enter the operations room, which has “more than 20 banks of operators: some weapons controllers and some flight controllers.” The staff find that the operators’ conversations are always tape-recorded, but the tapes for 9/11 have not yet been sent to the Commission. In addition, according to Commission Chairman Tom Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton, “there were also discrepancies between things NORAD was telling [the Commission] about their performance on the morning of September 11—things that the agency had stated publicly after 9/11—and the story told by the limited tapes and documents the Commission had received.”
'Egregious' Failure - Upon learning of the existence of the tapes, team leader John Farmer immediately suspends the tour and the interviews and flies to meet Kean in New Jersey. [Kean and Hamilton, 2006, pp. 85-88] Farmer will say that the failure to produce the tapes was “egregious,” as, “Those tapes told the story of the air defense better than anything else that anyone could have given us.”
Subpoena Demanded - Farmer demands that a subpoena be issued to the Pentagon for the tapes. He tells Kean: “Listen, we have to subpoena this stuff. We may not get it, but if we don’t try to get it, how can you explain to the public that we have done our job?” Farmer is aware that it will be difficult to get a subpoena on the Pentagon—“When you’re talking about subpoenaing the DOD, the room goes quiet”—but he decides privately: “I would have quit if we didn’t. I felt we were becoming a laughingstock.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 204]
Lost Time - Despite opposition from its Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton (see (Late October-Early November 2003)) and, allegedly, its Executive Director Philip Zelikow (see November 5, 2003), the Commission will subpoena NORAD for the tapes (see November 6, 2003). However, according to Kean and Hamilton, this means that “the staff had lost so much time that our hearing on the 9/11 story in the skies was postponed for months. Indeed, the delays from NORAD and the FAA made it highly unlikely that the team could complete its work as scheduled.” [Kean and Hamilton, 2006, pp. 85-88] Chapter 1 of the Commission’s final report will draw heavily on the tapes. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 1-46]
Contrast with Other Aspects of Investigation - However, the Commission does not make the same effort with all day of 9/11 recordings. For example, it does not even find out which person(s) from the Department of Defense participated in a White House video conference chaired by counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke during the attacks (see (9:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 36]

Entity Tags: Northeast Air Defense Sector, Lee Hamilton, 9/11 Commission, John Farmer, Thomas Kean

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The 9/11 Commission votes to issue a subpoena on the Defense Department for documents withheld from it regarding the fighter response on the day of the attacks. The vote follows a demand from the Commission’s team investigating the air defense that it be issued, as the military has been withholding documents and making false statements (see Late October 2003), as well as the failure of last-ditch attempts to stop the subpoena’s issue (see (Late October-Early November 2003) and November 5, 2003).
Chairman Kean Has Decisive Vote - The four ordinary Democratic commissioners vote for the subpoena’s issue, but Democratic Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton votes against, together with three ordinary Republican commissioners. The fourth Republican commissioner, Slade Gorton, votes for the subpoena. This means that Tom Kean, the Commission’s Republican chairman, has the deciding vote, and he votes for the subpoena. He dislikes voting against Hamilton, but thinks NORAD is trying to hide something. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 207-208]
'Especially Dismayed' - In a statement issued after the vote, the Commission says it is “especially dismayed” by incomplete document production on the part of NORAD. The Commission explains, “In several cases we were assured that all requested records had been produced, but we then discovered, through investigation, that these assurances were mistaken.” [Associated Press, 11/7/2003]
Documents Expose Apparent False Statements by NORAD - When the documents arrive, according to author Philip Shenon, they show that “NORAD’s public statements about its actions on 9/11 had been wrong, almost certainly intentionally.” Based on interviews of 9/11 Commission staffers, Shenon will add: “This was not the fog of war. This was the military trying to come up with a story that made its performance during 9/11 look reasonably competent, when in fact the military had effectively left the nation’s skies undefended that morning.” In particular, tape recordings of communications at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) indicate that the military did not know of the hijacking of Flight 93 until it had crashed. 9/11 Commission team leader John Farmer will even say that it is “99 percent” certain that Pentagon officers knew they were lying when they made statements to the Commission, sometimes under oath. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 208]

Entity Tags: Slade Gorton, Thomas Kean, US Department of Defense, Philip Shenon, Lee Hamilton, 9/11 Commission, John Farmer, North American Aerospace Defense Command

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Colonel Robert Marr, the battle commander at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), makes some surprising comments about the US military’s response to the 9/11 attacks during an interview with the 9/11 Commission. Marr played an important role in NEADS’s response to the 9/11 attacks. A memorandum summarizing the interview will reveal some hints by Marr that others in the US military doctored the data describing the Air Force’s response to the hijackings, perhaps to show that the US military did not shoot down Flight 93.
Log Doesn't 'Look Right' - For instance, the memorandum will state: “Marr noted that one of the chat logs presented to him by Commission staff ‘doesn’t look right.’ [Commission staff noted this beforehand, but did not present to Marr as such.]” There is no further explanation in the interview account to explain what this means.
Timelines Conflict - After Marr is presented with a transcript of the 9/11 Commission’s May 23, 2003 hearing (see May 23, 2003), “Marr noted that the Dictaphone DAT times are off, and this led to a misconception with the time frame. He commented that NORAD asked for details to prove that they did not shoot down [United Airlines Flight] 93 shortly after 9/11. He noted that [two military officials] worked towards putting the initial information together. But because of the damage that occurred to the tapes during the transcription process (see September 21, 2001) they did not re-examine the tapes until very recently. Commission staff presented Marr with a timeline that was created by NORAD. Marr speculated that some of the discrepancies on this timeline were because of inaccurate computer timing.”
Mistakes Were Made to Show Flight 93 Was Not Shot Down - The memorandum will conclude, “Marr was emphatic that the mistakes in the data points were specifically made to show that they did not shoot down Flight 93.” [9/11 Commission, 1/23/2004 pdf file] However, there will be no hint of these allegations in the 9/11 Commission’s final report, and no hint about any data manipulation or discrepancies.

Entity Tags: Robert Marr, 9/11 Commission, North American Aerospace Defense Command, Northeast Air Defense Sector

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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