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Context of '(Shortly After 10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Shelton Talks to Vice Chairman Myers, Updated on Military’s Actions'

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The specially modified C-135 nicknamed ‘Speckled Trout.’The specially modified C-135 nicknamed ‘Speckled Trout.’ [Source: United States Air Force]General Henry Shelton, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, takes off to fly to Europe for a NATO conference, and will therefore be away from the US when the 9/11 terrorist attacks occur. [Giesemann, 2008, pp. 20, 22; Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell, 2010, pp. 430-433] Shelton is scheduled to attend a meeting of the Military Committee—NATO’s highest military authority—in Budapest, Hungary, on September 12, to discuss the situation in the Balkans, the European Security and Defense Identity, and NATO’s new force structure. On his return journey, he is set to stop in London, Britain, to be knighted by the Queen. [North Atlantic Treaty Organization, 9/10/2001; North Atlantic Treaty Organization, 9/11/2001; Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell, 2010, pp. 430] Shelton takes off from Andrews Air Force Base, just outside Washington, DC, on a specially modified C-135 (the military version of a Boeing 707) nicknamed “Speckled Trout.” Normally he flies on a VIP Boeing 757 often used by the vice president, but that aircraft is presently unavailable, so he is flying instead on the C-135, which is usually reserved for the Air Force chief of staff. Those accompanying Shelton on the flight include his wife, Carolyn; his executive assistant, Colonel Doug Lute; his aides, Master Sergeant Mark Jones and Lieutenant Commander Suzanne Giesemann; and his personal security agent, Chief Warrant Officer Marshall McCants. [Giesemann, 2008, pp. 20-22; Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell, 2010, pp. 431, 434] When Shelton is out of the country, General Richard Myers, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is designated by law as acting chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in his place. Shelton will later recall, “Until I crossed back into United States airspace, all the decisions would be [Myers’s] to make, in conjunction with Secretary [of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld and the president.” [Myers, 2009, pp. 10; Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell, 2010, pp. 432] After learning of the attacks in New York, Shelton will give the order for his plane to return to the US (see (8:50 a.m.-10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Giesemann, 2008, pp. 22-23; Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell, 2010, pp. 431] However, the plane will repeatedly be denied permission to enter US airspace (see (After 9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and will only land back in the US at 4:40 p.m. (see 4:40 p.m. September 11, 2001). Shelton will only arrive at the National Military Command Center at the Pentagon an hour after that (see 5:40 p.m. September 11, 2001). [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001 pdf file; Myers, 2009, pp. 159; Air Force Magazine, 9/2011 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Douglas E. Lute, Carolyn Shelton, Richard B. Myers, Suzanne Giesemann, Henry Hugh Shelton, Mark Jones, Marshall McCants

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Doug Lute.Doug Lute. [Source: Joint Chiefs of Staff]General Henry Shelton, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, learns of the terrorist attacks in New York and at the Pentagon while flying to Europe, but his plane is then initially denied permission to return to the US. Shelton’s plane took off from Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington, DC, at 7:15 a.m. to transport the chairman to Hungary for a NATO conference (see 7:15 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002, pp. G-1 pdf file; Giesemann, 2008, pp. 20, 22-23; Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell, 2010, pp. 430-432]
Shelton Learns of First Crash - About an hour and a half into the flight, while the plane is over the Atlantic Ocean, a member of the flight crew approaches Colonel Doug Lute, Shelton’s executive assistant, and tells him a small aircraft has crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers. Lute says, “That doesn’t sound good.” He goes to the chairman’s cabin at the rear of the aircraft and tells Shelton, “Sir, just to advise you, the pilot has received word that a civilian aircraft has just struck the World Trade Center.” Shelton is reminded of a speech he recently gave, in which he warned of the possibility of a terrorist attack on US soil (see (Shortly Before September 11, 2001)), and says to his wife, Carolyn, who is with him in the cabin, “I sure hope that is not a terrorist attack.” He will later recall, “This had the potential to play out exactly as I had warned.”
Shelton Learns of Second Crash - About 10 minutes after Lute returns to his seat, the member of the flight crew comes out again and reports that a second plane has crashed into the WTC. Lieutenant Commander Suzanne Giesemann, one of Shelton’s aides, says to Lute, “That can’t be an accident.” Lute goes again to Shelton’s cabin and tells the chairman, “Sir, it’s a second plane and it’s hit the other tower of the World Trade Center.” Shelton exclaims: “Doug, that’s no coincidence. Have them turn us around, we’re going back. Then I want General Myers on the line.” (General Richard Myers is the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.) After Lute returns to his seat, he and Giesemann put on headsets and make calls to the Pentagon. Giesemann talks to Kris Cicio, Shelton’s personal assistant, who tells her that the WTC towers were hit not by small planes, but by jetliners full of innocent passengers. Giesemann then loses her connection with Cicio, and so listens instead to BBC news reports through her headset and passes on what she learns to the other members of Shelton’s staff on the flight. Lute talks with someone in the National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon. After the call, he heads to Shelton’s cabin. [Giesemann, 2008, pp. 22-23; Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell, 2010, pp. 431]
Controllers Deny Request to Enter US Airspace - Having learned of the attack on the Pentagon (which takes place at 9:37 a.m.), Lute tells Shelton that there has been “some type of big explosion at the Pentagon.” He also tells the chairman that air traffic controllers have refused their request to fly into Washington. Lute says: “[W]e’ve been denied permission to return. All US airspace has been shut down” (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). But Shelton retorts: “Doug, tell the pilot we’ll ask for forgiveness instead of permission, so have him turn us around. We’re going home.” Shelton will later recall, “I knew there was no way they were going to shoot down a 707 with UNITED STATES AIR FORCE emblazoned along the side.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002, pp. G-1 pdf file; Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell, 2010, pp. 432]
Shelton's Plane Supposedly Cleared to Fly into Washington - After Lute returns from Shelton’s cabin, he nods to Giesemann and says, “We’re going back.” Giesemann will recall that she then heads into the cockpit and orders the pilot, “Major, take us back to Andrews.” The pilot replies, “Yes, ma’am.” [Giesemann, 2008, pp. 23] According to an FAA report, “minutes” after the initial denial of permission to return to the US, Shelton’s plane is granted clearance. [Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002, pp. G-1 pdf file] The pilot turns the plane around and heads back toward Washington, according to Shelton. [Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell, 2010, pp. 432] But according to Captain Rob Pedersen, the flight navigator on Shelton’s plane, it is several hours before the plane is cleared to enter the US airspace (see (After 9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Air Force Magazine, 9/2011 pdf file] The plane will consequently only land at Andrews Air Force Base at 4:40 p.m. (see 4:40 p.m. September 11, 2001) and Shelton will only arrive at the NMCC an hour after that (see 5:40 p.m. September 11, 2001). [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001 pdf file; Myers, 2009, pp. 159]

Entity Tags: Douglas E. Lute, Carolyn Shelton, Kris Cicio, Suzanne Giesemann, Henry Hugh Shelton, Rob Pedersen

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The National Miilitary Command Center, inside the Pentagon.The National Miilitary Command Center, inside the Pentagon. [Source: US Department of Defense]The National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon finally commences and runs a “significant event conference” in response to the ongoing crisis, 26 minutes after the second plane hit the World Trade Center and officers in the NMCC realized the US was under terrorist attack. [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 37; American Forces Press Service, 9/7/2006]
NMCC Directors Decided to Establish Conference - After those in the NMCC saw Flight 175 hitting the WTC live on television at 9:03 a.m. (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001), Captain Charles Leidig, the acting deputy director for operations (DDO) in the center throughout the attacks, and Commander Pat Gardner, the assistant DDO, talked about the need to convene a significant event conference so there could be a discussion of what actions were to be taken in response. The DDO and the assistant DDO are the two officers responsible for deciding what type of conference the NMCC should convene, and when it should do so. Because there is no specific procedure for dealing with terrorist attacks, Leidig and Gardner decided a significant event conference would most suit their needs, because it would have the flexibility of allowing more people to be added in as required. They also discussed who would need to be on this conference. [9/11 Commission, 4/29/2004 pdf file] But Major Charles Chambers, who is currently on duty in the NMCC, will give a slightly different account. According to Chambers, Staff Sergeant Val Harrison had a phone in her hand and said NORAD was asking for a significant event conference. Leidig had agreed, and so Harrison started establishing the conference.
Conference Begins with Recap of Situation - According to Chambers, “The computer does a mass dialing to connect to those command centers that are always included” in an NMCC conference call, but Harrison also had to manually call the civilian agencies that were going to be included in the conference, such as the FAA, the FBI, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). [US Department of Defense, 9/2001] The conference then begins at 9:29 a.m. with a brief recap: Two aircraft have hit the WTC, there is a confirmed hijacking of Flight 11, and fighter jets have been scrambled from Otis Air National Guard Base in Massachusetts (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). The FAA is asked to provide an update, but its line is silent as the agency has not yet been added to the call (see (9:29 a.m.-12:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). A minute later, Leidig states that it has just been confirmed that Flight 11 is still airborne and is heading toward Washington, DC. (This incorrect information apparently arose minutes earlier during a conference call between FAA centers (see 9:21 a.m. September 11, 2001).) [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 37] NMCC conference calls are moderated by the DDO. [9/11 Commission, 7/21/2003 pdf file] Leidig will tell the 9/11 Commission that they are conducted over “a special phone circuit, and it’s classified to be able to pass information, relay information between very senior leadership all the way over to the White House.” [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004]
NMCC Struggled to Convene Conference - Some officers currently on duty in the NMCC will later complain about circumstances that delayed the establishing of the significant event conference. Chambers will recall that the conference took “much longer than expected to bring up.” [US Department of Defense, 9/2001] Gardner will tell the 9/11 Commission that the NMCC had been “struggling to build the conference,” which “didn’t get off as quickly as hoped.” [9/11 Commission, 5/5/2004] He will describe his “frustration that it wasn’t brought up more quickly.” [9/11 Commission, 5/12/2004]
Other Conference and Connection Problems Delayed Call - Preparations for the conference were disrupted as a result of the CIA convening a National Operations and Intelligence Watch Officer Network (NOIWON) conference call between government agencies in the Washington area, reportedly at sometime between 9:16 a.m. and 9:25 a.m. (see (Between 9:16 a.m. and 9:25 a.m.) September 11, 2001). According to a 9/11 Commission memorandum, the NMCC had “abandoned its attempt to convene a [significant event conference] so its watch officers could participate in the NOIWON conference.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/21/2003 pdf file] Another factor that slowed attempts to convene the significant event conference was a problem with connecting some agencies to it. According to Chambers, “A couple of the civil agencies couldn’t be reached and others kept dropping off moments after connecting.” He will recall, “We finally decided to proceed without those agencies that were having phone problems.” [US Department of Defense, 9/2001] Leidig had announced that the NMCC would have to start without those agencies and add them to the conference later on. [9/11 Commission, 5/12/2004]
Call Ends after Five Minutes - The significant event conference ends after only a few minutes, following a recommendation by NORAD that it be reconvened as an “air threat conference.” It is brought to an end at around 9:34 a.m., and will resume as an air threat conference at 9:37 a.m. (see 9:37 a.m.-9:39 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 4/29/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 37]

Entity Tags: Charles Leidig, Federal Aviation Administration, Val Harrison, Patrick Gardner, Charles Chambers, North American Aerospace Defense Command, National Military Command Center

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon commences an “air threat conference” at 9:37 a.m. in response to the terrorist attacks, which will last for more than eight hours and have numerous high-level government and military officials participating at various times.
NORAD Reports Two More Hijackings - Captain Charles Leidig opens the call at 9:39 a.m. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 37-38] As the acting deputy director for operations (DDO) in the NMCC during the attacks, Leidig is responsible for moderating the air threat conference and generating a military response to the crisis. [9/11 Commission, 4/29/2004 pdf file] He begins the call saying: “An air attack against North America may be in progress. NORAD, what’s the situation?” NORAD says it has conflicting reports, and its latest information is of “a possible hijacked aircraft taking off out of JFK [International Airport in New York], en route to Washington, DC.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 38] NORAD says the FAA has also passed it information about a second additional hijacking. Major Charles Chambers, who is currently on duty in the NMCC, will later recall, “This was probably a communications mix-up, but we all thought for a while that there were a total of five hijackings.” [US Department of Defense, 9/2001]
NMCC Reports Pentagon Attack - The NMCC reports that there has been a crash into the mall side of the Pentagon and requests that the secretary of defense be added to the conference. (However, despite being in the Pentagon when it is hit, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld will not enter the NMCC and join the air threat conference until around 10:30 a.m. (see (10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001).) [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 38] The air threat conference is broadcast over a loudspeaker inside the NMCC. [US News and World Report, 8/31/2003] According to Chambers, “Questions were flying left and right on the conference, and trying to keep things straight was very difficult.” [US Department of Defense, 9/2001]
NORAD Recommended Air Threat Conference - Leidig and Commander Pat Gardner, the assistant DDO, had earlier on decided to convene an all-purpose “significant event conference” in response to the attacks on the World Trade Center. That call commenced at 9:29 a.m. (see 9:29 a.m.-9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001). NORAD had recommended that it be reconvened as an air threat conference. [9/11 Commission, 4/29/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 37] According to Chambers, an air threat conference is used when aircraft are considered to be hostile and involves many more people than are in a significant event conference, including the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the secretary of defense, and officials from the White House. [US Department of Defense, 9/2001] However, Leidig thought a significant event conference was the correct kind of call for the situation. He will tell the 9/11 Commission that an air threat conference “had Cold War implications and brought a different group of people to a conference.” [9/11 Commission, 4/29/2004 pdf file] Gardner will say that threat conferences are intended for dealing with external threats. [9/11 Commission, 5/12/2004]
Deputy Director Ordered Upgrading of Conference - All the same, Leidig gave the order to transition to an air threat conference. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 37] He will tell the 9/11 Commission that, in retrospect, the reason he thinks he did so “was because he perceived an air threat at that time.” [9/11 Commission, 4/29/2004 pdf file] Therefore, the significant event conference was brought to an end at around 9:34 a.m., and resumes as an air threat conference three minutes later. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 37] Staff Sergeant Val Harrison could have established the air threat conference either by leaving all of those participating in the significant event conference on the line and then adding new participants one at a time, or by simply hanging up on everyone in the significant event conference and then having the computer do a mass dialing. Harrison recommended the second option. Leidig had agreed, and directed her to disconnect the conference call and start over.
Problem with Connecting Some Agencies - As happened with the significant event conference, there are problems connecting several agencies to the air threat conference. [US Department of Defense, 9/2001] Despite repeated attempts, operators struggle to get the FAA connected (see (9:29 a.m.-12:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001), and it will take until 10:17 a.m. for an FAA representative to finally join the call (see 10:17 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/21/2003 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 37] Other agencies had not understood what Leidig meant about convening the new conference, and so did not hang up their phones when the NMCC disconnected the previous conference call. As a result, all the NMCC got from them was a busy signal over the line. Chambers will recall, “As with the [significant event conference], it took longer than expected to convene the [air threat conference].” [US Department of Defense, 9/2001]
Top Officials Participate - Throughout the more than eight hours the air threat conference is running for, numerous key officials will participate in it at various times, including President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, acting Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Richard Myers, military personnel from the Presidential Emergency Operations Center below the White House, and the president’s military aide on Air Force One. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 37] Brigadier General Montague Winfield, the original DDO, who had Leidig take his place so he could attend a pre-scheduled meeting (see 8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001), will later recall, “All of the governmental agencies… that were involved in any activity that was going on in the United States… were in that conference.” [ABC News, 9/11/2002]
Winfield Runs Conference after Returning to Post - Winfield will take over the running of the air threat conference from Leidig after returning to his post at around 10:30 a.m. (see (10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [CNN, 9/4/2002; 9/11 Commission, 4/29/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] But although NMCC conference calls are moderated by the DDO, Rumsfeld will use the DDO’s phone to participate in the air threat conference, meaning that Winfield is unable to moderate the conference when the defense secretary is participating. [9/11 Commission, 7/21/2003 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Charles Leidig, Federal Aviation Administration, Montague Winfield, Charles Chambers, Patrick Gardner, North American Aerospace Defense Command, National Military Command Center, Val Harrison

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The plane that has been flying General Henry Shelton, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, over the Atlantic Ocean has to spend two hours in a “holding pattern” near Greenland and then more time in a holding pattern over Canada before it is cleared to fly back into the United States. [Air Force Magazine, 9/2011 pdf file] Shelton was flying toward Europe for a NATO conference (see 7:15 a.m. September 11, 2001), but, after he learned of the attacks on the World Trade Center, ordered that his plane turn around and return to the US (see (8:50 a.m.-10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). However, air traffic controllers have denied the request to do so because US airspace has been shut down (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002, pp. G-1 pdf file; Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell, 2010, pp. 430-432]
Plane Has to Fly in a Holding Pattern near Greenland - Therefore, although Shelton’s plane, nicknamed “Speckled Trout,” does turn around, it doesn’t initially fly back to the United States. For a couple of hours, since its crew doesn’t have clearance to return to the US and it doesn’t have a destination, the plane goes into a “holding pattern” near Greenland. Captain Rob Pedersen, the flight navigator, comes up with a list of alternative landing sites, which include Thule Air Base in Greenland and Naval Air Station Keflavik in Iceland. Although the crew decides to head back to the US, Pedersen will later recall, it is still difficult to get a security clearance, even for such a high-profile passenger as Shelton.
Plane Goes into Another Holding Pattern over Canada - Speckled Trout eventually reaches Canada, but the plane is still refused entry into US airspace and so it goes into a holding pattern again. “In the beginning we had a few problems convincing [the air traffic controller] to allow us back into the country, [even though] we were ordered at a significantly high level to come back,” Pedersen will recall. “You can’t say over the radio who you are carrying because they don’t have secure communications at the FAA.… We had to tell them over an open line that we had a DV Code 2, which is a ranking that a lot of DVs [distinguished visitors] fall under.” Eventually, the crew receives permission to fly into the US, although the time when this occurs is unstated. “It took a little bit of time, and I’m sure there were a lot of phone calls made, before they let us back in,” Pedersen will say. [Air Force Magazine, 9/2011 pdf file] Shelton, however, will contradict this account and claim his plane is cleared to enter US airspace significantly earlier. He will recall that those on the plane are told they have permission to enter US airspace 10 minutes after he talks on the phone with General Richard Myers, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (see (Shortly After 10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001), which would mean they receive clearance possibly as early as around 10:15 a.m. [Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell, 2010, pp. 432-433]
Myers Takes Shelton's Place as Chairman While Shelton Is outside the US - After flying over New York, Speckled Trout will land at Andrews Air Force Base, just outside Washington, DC, at 4:40 p.m. (see 4:40 p.m. September 11, 2001). [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001 pdf file; UNC-TV, 1/27/2013] While the plane is being denied permission to enter US airspace, Myers remains as the acting chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Shelton’s place. This is “how the law reads whenever the chairman is out of the country,” Shelton will write. “Until I crossed back into United States airspace, all the decisions would be Dick’s to make, in conjunction with Secretary [of Defense Donald] Rumsfeld and the president.” [Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell, 2010, pp. 432]

Entity Tags: Rob Pedersen, Henry Hugh Shelton

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Ben Robinson.Ben Robinson. [Source: US Air Force]An Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) plane is directed toward Sarasota, Florida, where President Bush is currently located, and will accompany Air Force One as it carries Bush back to Washington, DC. The AWACS has been flying a training mission off the east coast of Florida (see Before 9:55 a.m. September 11, 2001). NORAD now instructs it to head toward Sarasota, on Florida’s west coast.
Pilot Thinks This Is an Exercise - Several months previously, Major General Larry Arnold, the commanding general of NORAD’s Continental US Region, made arrangements with Brigadier General Ben Robinson, the commander of the 552nd Air Control Wing at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, for AWACS support to be provided during training exercises simulating attacks on the United States. As Arnold will later recall, the pilot of the AWACS that NORAD now contacts “thought it was an exercise.” However the pilot is then told “what happened at the World Trade Center” and realizes “his responsibility was to follow the president.” Arnold will say: “We told him to follow Air Force One, and he asked the question we all asked: ‘Where is it going?’ We said: ‘We can’t tell you. Just follow it.’” [Filson, 2002; Code One Magazine, 1/2002; Filson, 2003, pp. 86-87]
AWACS Escorts President to Washington - The time the AWACS plane gets close enough to Air Force One to be of assistance to it is unclear. According to journalist and author Bill Sammon, by around 10:30 a.m., it has not yet arrived to protect the president’s plane. [Sammon, 2002, pp. 107] Arnold will recall that NORAD maintains “the AWACS overhead the whole route,” as Air Force One flies to Barksdale Air Force Base, then Offutt Air Force Base, and then back to Washington. [Code One Magazine, 1/2002]
AWACS Is a 'Wonderful Asset' - According to Mark Rosenker, the director of the White House Military Office, AWACS planes “give you the big picture in the sky. They’re able to identify what’s a friend, what’s a foe.” Rosenker, who will fly with Bush on Air Force One after it takes off from Sarasota (see 9:54 a.m. September 11, 2001), says the AWACS is “a wonderful asset to have up there for us, it tremendously helped us to be able to guide for where we needed to go, to what potential problems we might encounter.… [I]t was an important part of what we needed to do to guarantee the safety of the president of the United States.” [White House, 8/29/2002]

Entity Tags: North American Aerospace Defense Command, Larry Arnold, Mark Rosenker, 552nd Air Control Wing

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Acting Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Richard Myers enters the National Military Command Center (NMCC) within the Pentagon, though exactly when this happens remains unclear. According to his own statements, he was on Capitol Hill, in the offices of Senator Max Cleland (D-GA), from just before 9:00 a.m. until around the time the Pentagon was hit. He’d then headed back to the Pentagon (see Shortly Before 9:00 a.m. September 11, 2001 and (Shortly After 9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Armed Forces Radio And Television Service, 10/17/2001; MSNBC, 9/11/2002; Council on Foreign Relations, 6/29/2006] According to the 9/11 Commission, Myers joins the air threat conference call from the NMCC at “shortly before 10:00.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 38] But the American Forces Press Service reports that he arrives at the NMCC “about 15 minutes” before Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld (who arrives around 10:30), meaning at about 10:15 a.m. [American Forces Press Service, 9/8/2006] Rumsfeld claims that, as he enters the NMCC, Myers has “just returned from Capitol Hill.” [9/11 Commission, 3/23/2004] Cleland verifies that Myers was with him on Capitol Hill until around the time of the Pentagon attack. [CNN, 11/20/2001; Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 6/16/2003] But counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke claims that Myers has been taking part in a video conference since shortly after the second attack on the WTC, and has been visible on the Pentagon screen (see (9:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and 9:28 a.m. September 11, 2001), thereby implying Myers has been at the Pentagon all along. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 3 and 5] Myers tells the 9/11 Commission, “After I reached the National Military Command Center (NMCC), I asked questions to determine where Secretary Rumsfeld was, how the FAA was handling airborne flights, and the status of fighters prepared to intercept any hijacked aircraft inbound to Washington.” [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Richard B. Myers, National Military Command Center

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Two F-16s belonging to the 147th Fighter Wing.Two F-16s belonging to the 147th Fighter Wing. [Source: Gonda Moncada / Texas Military Forces]Four armed F-16 fighter jets belonging to the Texas Air National Guard are directed toward Air Force One in order to escort the president’s plane. [BBC, 9/1/2002; CBS News, 9/11/2002; Bombardier, 9/8/2006 pdf file; Rosenfeld and Gross, 2007, pp. 40]
SEADS Sends Fighters toward Air Force One - Air Force One has taken off from Sarasota, Florida (see 9:54 a.m. September 11, 2001), and the White House has requested a fighter escort for it (see 9:59 a.m. September 11, 2001). [St. Petersburg Times, 7/4/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 38] NORAD’s Southeast Air Defense Sector (SEADS) orders jets that belong to the 147th Fighter Wing of the Texas Air National Guard toward the president’s plane. [Code One Magazine, 4/2002; Filson, 2003, pp. 87; Rosenfeld and Gross, 2007, pp. 40] Major General Larry Arnold, the commanding general of NORAD’s Continental US Region, will later recall: “We were not told where Air Force One was going. We were told just to follow the president.” [Code One Magazine, 1/2002]
Ellington Field an 'Alert' Site - The 147th Fighter Wing is based at Ellington Field, a joint civil and military use airport about 15 miles south of Houston. [Houston Chronicle, 12/9/2003; GlobalSecurity (.org), 8/21/2005; GlobalSecurity (.org), 1/21/2006] Ellington Field is one of NORAD’s seven “alert” sites around the US, which all have a pair of armed fighters ready to take off immediately if called upon. [Airman, 12/1999; Air Force Magazine, 2/2002]
Pilots Not Told What Their Target Is - Two of the F-16s sent toward Air Force One are on the ground at Ellington Field and have been placed on “battle stations,” with the pilots sitting in the cockpits, when the scramble order is received. [Code One Magazine, 4/2002] The other two have been flying a training mission (see After 9:55 a.m. September 11, 2001), and are pulled off it to escort Air Force One. [American Defender, 12/2001 pdf file; Spencer, 2008, pp. 255] Among the four pilots are Shane Brotherton and Randy Roberts. Their new mission is so secret that their commander does not tell them where they are going. When they ask what their target is, the commander says, “You’ll know when you see it.” Brotherton will later recall, “I didn’t have any idea what we were going up [for] until that point.” [CBS News, 9/11/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 255]
Jets First to Reach Air Force One - At least two of the 147th Fighter Wing F-16s will be seen from Air Force One at around 11:30 a.m., although an official will tell reporters on board that fighters are escorting the plane about 15 minutes before that time (see (11:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001). They are the first fighters to reach Air Force One after it left Sarasota, according to most accounts. [USA Today, 9/11/2001; CBS News, 9/11/2002; Filson, 2003, pp. 87; St. Petersburg Times, 7/4/2004; Rosenfeld and Gross, 2007, pp. 40; Spencer, 2008, pp. 255] However, a few accounts will indicate the first jets to reach it belong to a unit of the Florida Air National Guard located at Jacksonville International Airport (see (10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [US Department of Defense, 9/2001; Daily Telegraph, 12/16/2001] The 147th Fighter Wing F-16s will accompany Air Force One all the way to Washington, DC. [Filson, 2003, pp. 87-88; Galveston County Daily News, 7/9/2005]

Entity Tags: Larry Arnold, 147th Fighter Wing, Randy Roberts, Southeast Air Defense Sector, Shane Brotherton

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

According to the 9/11 Commission: “An Air Force lieutenant colonel working in the White House Military Office [joins] the [NMCC’s air threat] conference and state[s] that he had just talked to Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley. The White House request[s]: (1) the implementation of Continuity of Government measures, (2) fighter escorts for Air Force One, and (3) the establishment of a fighter combat air patrol over Washington, DC.” [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke gave the order to implement the Continuity of Government plan a few minutes earlier, from inside the White House Situation Room (see (Between 9:45 a.m. and 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Before that, he had requested a fighter escort for Air Force One (see (Between 9:30 a.m. and 9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and combat air patrols over all major US cities (not just Washington), according to his own recollection (see (Between 9:38 a.m. and 9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Clarke, 2004, pp. 7-8]

Entity Tags: Stephen J. Hadley, Richard A. Clarke, National Military Command Center

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline, Civil Liberties

General Henry Shelton, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, talks over the phone with General Richard Myers, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who is at the Pentagon, and is given information about the Pentagon attack and the military’s response to the terrorist attacks. Shelton took off at 7:15 a.m. to fly to Europe for a NATO conference (see 7:15 a.m. September 11, 2001). He learned of the attacks in New York while his plane was over the Atlantic Ocean, and has just been told of a “big explosion at the Pentagon” (see (8:50 a.m.-10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001).
First Report Is of a Hand Grenade Going Off at Pentagon - Shelton heads to the communications console just behind the plane’s cockpit. From there, he talks over a secure, encrypted phone line with Myers, who is in the National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon. Myers updates Shelton on what is known about the explosion at the Pentagon. He says the first report is that a hand grenade went off in the Pentagon parking lot.
Myers Updates Shelton on Military Response to Attacks - Myers then gives Shelton a complete status report. He says: “We’ve transitioned the SIEC [significant event conference] into an air threat conference call, which is in progress as we speak (see 9:29 a.m.-9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001 and 9:37 a.m.-9:39 a.m. September 11, 2001). FAA has requested that NORAD take over control of US airspace. Fighters have scrambled to escort Air Force One (see (After 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and we’re sending AWACS up to provide further monitoring (see Before 9:55 a.m. September 11, 2001). We’ve escalated to Threatcon Delta and are about to launch the NAOC [National Airborne Operations Center plane]. Bases around the world are locked tight, [Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul] Wolfowitz has been relocated to Site R (see (11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001), plus, [Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen] Hadley has requested we implement full ‘Continuity of Government measures’ (see 9:59 a.m. September 11, 2001), and we are proceeding along those lines.”
Myers Says Plane Hit the Pentagon - Myers is then interrupted by some commotion in the background. When he returns to the line, he tells Shelton, “Okay, we just got the word: the prior report was incorrect; it was not a hand grenade that exploded, it was another commercial airline that struck the Pentagon.” He then continues with his status report, saying, “[P]er the president, we’ve gone weapons free in the event of a hijacked aircraft or one that threatens the White House.” [Giesemann, 2008, pp. 20, 22-24; Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell, 2010, pp. 430-433]
Shelton Wants to Return to Washington - Myers will tell the 9/11 Commission that after he arrives at the NMCC—presumably referring to the time of this phone call—he “recommended General Shelton return to Washington, DC.” [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004 pdf file] But Shelton will recall that he tells Myers, “I need you to call Ed Eberhart [General Ralph Eberhart, the commander of NORAD] at NORAD and let him know that we’re coming back [to Washington] on Speckled Trout [the nickname of the plane he is on], and tell him that I would consider it a personal favor if he would see to it that the chairman and his crew are not shot down on their way back to Andrews.” Myers confirms, “Will do.” According to Shelton, his plane is called back 10 minutes later “with confirmation that we had been officially cleared to fly through the shutdown airspace.” [Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell, 2010, pp. 433] But according to Captain Rob Pedersen, the flight navigator on Shelton’s plane, it is several hours before the plane is cleared to enter the US airspace (see (After 9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Air Force Magazine, 9/2011 pdf file] The plane will therefore only land at Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington, at 4:40 p.m. (see 4:40 p.m. September 11, 2001) and Shelton will only arrive at the NMCC an hour after that (see 5:40 p.m. September 11, 2001). [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001 pdf file; Myers, 2009, pp. 159] The exact time of the call between Shelton and Myers is unclear, though it would be at some time after about 10:00 a.m., when Myers arrives at the NMCC (see (Between 9:55 a.m. and 10:25 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 38]

Entity Tags: Rob Pedersen, Henry Hugh Shelton, Richard B. Myers

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz leaves the Pentagon and relocates to the alternate military command center outside Washington. Wolfowitz had evacuated from his office to an area in front of the Pentagon after the building was hit, but then went back inside and joined Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and others in the National Military Command Center (NMCC). [Vanity Fair, 5/9/2003] With smoke seeping into the center, Wolfowitz advises Rumsfeld to leave the NMCC (see (10:40 a.m.-11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). But instead Rumsfeld orders Wolfowitz to leave and fly to Site R, the alternate command center, which is located inside Raven Rock Mountain, about six miles north of Camp David, on the Pennsylvania-Maryland border. [Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 11/2001; Vogel, 2007, pp. 441] Wolfowitz will later recall that he “was not happy about” receiving this order. [Vanity Fair, 5/9/2003] Minutes later, a helicopter lands outside the Pentagon, and carries Wolfowitz and several others off to the alternate command center. [Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 132] Site R was designed as a duplicate of the NMCC, and if the NMCC were ever destroyed in an attack or needs to be evacuated, it would serve as the Pentagon’s primary command center. [Creed and Newman, 2008, pp. 174] It has “more than 700,000 square feet of floor space, sophisticated computer and communications equipment, and room for more than 3,000 people.” [Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 11/2001] Others who will relocate to Site R on this day include Army Secretary Thomas White and personnel from the office of the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, though White will return to the Pentagon later on. [Washington Post, 1/9/2002; MSNBC, 9/11/2002; Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 135] According to journalist and author James Mann, Rumsfeld’s decision to order Wolfowitz to leave Washington has its roots in a top secret program Rumsfeld was involved in during the 1980s, which serves to ensure the “Continuity of Government” (COG) in the event of an attack on the US (see 1981-1992). [Mann, 2004, pp. 138-139] Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke activated the COG plan shortly before 10:00 a.m. this morning (see (Between 9:45 a.m. and 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Clarke, 2004, pp. 8]

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, Site R, Paul Wolfowitz

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline, Civil Liberties

The plane with General Henry Shelton, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on board lands at Andrews Air Force Base, just outside Washington, DC, after repeatedly being denied permission to enter US airspace. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001 pdf file; Air Force Magazine, 9/2011 pdf file] At the time of the attacks on the World Trade Center, Shelton was flying toward Europe to attend a NATO conference. After he learned of the second attack, he ordered that his plane turn around and head back to the US (see (8:50 a.m.-10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell, 2010, pp. 430-431] However, for a number of hours, the plane, nicknamed “Speckled Trout,” was refused clearance to return because the nation’s airspace had been shut down (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). After flying in a “holding pattern” near Greenland and later flying in another holding pattern over Canada, the plane was finally cleared to fly back into the United States (see (After 9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Air Force Magazine, 9/2011 pdf file] It was escorted by F-16 fighter jets as it flew into the US airspace. [Sanger Herald, 10/17/2013] After flying over New York, Speckled Trout lands at Andrews Air Force Base. [Air Force Magazine, 9/2011 pdf file] It is recorded as having landed at 4:40 p.m. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001 pdf file] “We landed to find the normally bustling Air Force base like a ghost town,” Shelton will later recall. “Like so many government institutions, parts of the base bad been evacuated.” At the base, Shelton is “met by an entourage of three District of Columbia patrol cars and about a dozen motorcycle cops,” which will escort his car, “lights flashing and sirens blaring,” to the Pentagon. [Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell, 2010, pp. 433-434; UNC-TV, 1/27/2013] He will join other senior officials in the National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon at 5:40 p.m. (see 5:40 p.m. September 11, 2001). [Myers, 2009, pp. 159]

Entity Tags: Henry Hugh Shelton

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

General Henry Shelton, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, finally arrives at the National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon after returning to the US when his flight to Europe was aborted.
Vice Chairman Updates Shelton - After Shelton enters the NMCC, General Richard Myers, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, briefs him. Myers says that Air National Guard and regular Air Force combat air patrols are flying above major US cities under AWACS control, the entire US military is on Threatcon level Delta, and the Joint Forces Command is sending headquarters units to New York and Washington, DC.
Intelligence Director Says Only One 'Hint' Indicated Possible Attack - Shelton then turns to Vice Admiral Tom Wilson, the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, and Rear Admiral Lowell Jacoby, the director of intelligence for the Joint Staff, and asks them, “Have we had any intel ‘squeaks’ on an attack like this—anything at all?” Wilson replies: “The only possible hint of this coming was several months ago when we got a single intercept requesting jumbo jet training. Since then, there’s been nothing.” Myers will later comment that Wilson is “referring to the vast electronic signals data-mining operations of our intelligence community that targeted known terrorist networks, such as al-Qaeda and their allies.” [Myers, 2009, pp. 159]
Shelton Flying to Europe at Time of Attacks - Shelton was flying across the Atlantic Ocean to Hungary for a NATO conference when he learned of the terrorist attacks in the US, and had ordered that his plane return to Washington (see (8:50 a.m.-10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). However, the plane was repeatedly denied permission to enter US airspace (see (After 9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and only landed at Andrews Air Force Base, just outside Washington, at 4:40 p.m. (see 4:40 p.m. September 11, 2001). From there, three patrol cars and about a dozen motorcycle cops escorted the chairman and his accompanying staff members as they were driven to the Pentagon. Once at the Pentagon, Shelton initially went to his office and then visited the site of the attack, to see the wreckage there. After returning to the building, he headed to the NMCC. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001 pdf file; Giesemann, 2008, pp. 22-32; Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell, 2010, pp. 430-436; Air Force Magazine, 9/2011 pdf file]
Chairman in Office for Much of Evening - Shelton will spend much of the evening in his office with staff, preparing for meetings of the National Security Council later this evening and the following day (see (9:00 p.m.-10:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001 and September 12, 2001). At 6:42 p.m., he will join Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Senators Carl Levin (D-MI) and John Warner (R-VA) to give a news briefing (see 6:42 p.m. September 11, 2001), and at around 9:00 p.m. he will head to the White House for the National Security Council meeting there. [CNN, 9/12/2001; Priest, 2003, pp. 37; Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell, 2010, pp. 436]

Entity Tags: National Military Command Center, Richard B. Myers, Tom Wilson, Henry Hugh Shelton, Lowell E. Jacoby

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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