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Context of '10:03 a.m. September 11, 2001: NMCC Learns of Flight 93 Hijacking, NORAD Still Not Told'

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FAA Administrator Jane Garvey notifies the video conference chaired by counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke that all aircraft have been ordered to land at the nearest field and reads a list of potential hijacks including Delta 1989 and United 93. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 5] Although, according to Clarke’s account, both General Richard Myers and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld are present at the conference at this point, the 9/11 Commission will later claim that the military was not notified about the hijacking of United 93 until over half an hour later (see 10:03 a.m. September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: Richard B. Myers, Jane Garvey, Donald Rumsfeld, Richard A. Clarke

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

According to the later claims of several senior officials, the US military is tracking Flight 93 as it heads east and is ready to shoot it down if necessary.
bullet According to Brigadier General Montague Winfield, the Pentagon’s National Military Command Center (NMCC) has “received the report from the FAA that Flight 93 had turned off its transponder, had turned, and was now heading towards Washington, DC.” Winfield will add, “The decision was made to try to go intercept Flight 93.” [ABC News, 9/11/2002]
bullet General Richard Myers, the acting chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will write that in the NMCC, “We learned that there was apparently a fourth hijacked aircraft, United Airlines Flight 93 out of Newark, bound nonstop for San Francisco. Like the other planes, it had switched off its transponder, making it much harder if not impossible to track on ground radar.” [Myers, 2009, pp. 152]
bullet Major General Larry Arnold, the commander of the Continental United States NORAD Region, will say, “I was personally anxious to see what 93 was going to do, and our intent was to intercept it.” Three fighters have taken off from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia (see (9:25 a.m.-9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). According to Arnold, “we launched the aircraft out of Langley to put them over top of Washington, DC, not in response to American Airline 77, but really to put them in position in case United 93 were to head that way.” [9/11 Commission, 5/23/2003] He says, “as we discussed it in the conference call, we decided not to move fighters toward 93 until it was closer because there could have been other aircraft coming in,” but adds, “I had every intention of shooting down United 93 if it continued to progress toward Washington, DC… whether we had authority or not.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 73]
bullet Colonel Robert Marr, the battle commander at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), is reportedly “focused on United Flight 93, headed straight toward Washington.” He will concur with Arnold, saying: “United Airlines Flight 93 would not have hit Washington, DC. He would have been engaged and shot down before he got there.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 73] Marr and Arnold will both say they were tracking Flight 93 even earlier on, while it was still heading west (see Shortly Before 9:36 a.m. September 11, 2001).
Yet, contradicting these claims, the 9/11 Commission will conclude that the military only learns about Flight 93 around the time it crashes. It says the NMCC learns of the hijacking at 10:03 a.m. (see 10:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). Based upon official records, including recordings of the NEADS operations floor, it says NEADS never follows Flight 93 on radar and is first alerted to it at 10:07 a.m. (see 10:05 a.m.-10:08 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 30-31, 34 and 42; Washington Post, 4/30/2006; Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006]

Entity Tags: National Military Command Center, Montague Winfield, Richard B. Myers, Robert Marr, Larry Arnold

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

After learning that Delta flight 1989 may have been hijacked from Boston flight control (see 9:39 a.m. September 11, 2001), NEADS calls Cleveland flight control, which is handling the flight, to discuss this. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 14] Although Cleveland flight control has been aware that United 93 has been hijacked since before 9:30, it apparently fails to mention this to NEADS. According to the 9/11 Commission, the NMCC is not notified of United 93’s hijacking until 10:03 (see 10:03 a.m. September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: Cleveland Air Route Traffic Control Center, Northeast Air Defense Sector

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

According to the 9/11 Commission, the NMCC learns about the Flight 93 hijacking at this time. Since the FAA has not yet been patched in to the NMCC’s conference call, the news comes from the White House. The White House learned about it from the Secret Service, and the Secret Service learned about it from the FAA. NORAD apparently is still unaware. Four minutes later, a NORAD representative on the conference call states, “NORAD has no indication of a hijack heading to Washington, D.C., at this time.” [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004]

Entity Tags: US Secret Service, Federal Aviation Administration, National Military Command Center

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The military liaison at the FAA’s Cleveland Center calls NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) and alerts it to the hijacked Flight 93. According to the 9/11 Commission, this is the first notification NEADS receives about Flight 93, but it comes too late, since the plane has already crashed (see (10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 30; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 46 pdf file]
'Bomb on Board' Flight 93 - At 10:05 a.m., the military liaison at the Cleveland Center, who is unaware that Flight 93 has just crashed, calls NEADS to inform it that Flight 93 is heading toward Washington, DC. Even though communicating with NEADS is not one of his responsibilities, he wants to make sure it is in the loop. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 224] At NEADS, the call is answered by Tech Sergeant Shelley Watson. Shortly into the call, at 10:07, the military liaison tells her: “We got a United 93 out here. Are you aware of that?” He continues, “That has a bomb on board.” Watson asks: “A bomb on board? And this is confirmed? You have a mode three [beacon code], sir?” The military liaison replies, “No, we lost his transponder” (see (9:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The news about Flight 93 is shouted out to Major Kevin Nasypany, the NEADS mission crew commander. Nasypany responds: “Gimme the call sign. Gimme the whole nine yards.… Let’s get some info, real quick. They got a bomb?”
Liaison Wants Fighters Sent toward Flight 93 - The military liaison continues, asking Watson if NEADS scrambled fighter jets in response to Delta 1989, an aircraft that was mistakenly reported as having been hijacked (see (9:28 a.m.-9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and 9:39 a.m. September 11, 2001). Watson replies: “We did. Out of Selfridge and Toledo” (see (9:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and 10:01 a.m. September 11, 2001), and says these jets are airborne. When the military liaison asks if the fighters can be directed to where Flight 93 is, Watson asks him if the Cleveland Center has latitude and longitude coordinates for this aircraft. The military liaison replies that he has not got this information available right now. All he knows is that Flight 93 has “got a confirmed bomb on board… and right now, his last known position was in the Westmoreland area.… Which is… in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, area.” [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001; Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006]
NEADS Searches on Radar - The news of a bomb on board Flight 93 spreads quickly at NEADS, and personnel there search for the aircraft’s primary return on their radar screens. But because the plane has already crashed, they will be unable to locate it. NEADS will only learn that Flight 93 has crashed at 10:15 a.m., during a call with the FAA’s Washington Center (see 10:15 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 30-31]
FAA Failed to Notify Military Earlier - The Cleveland Center’s notification to NEADS about Flight 93 comes 39 minutes after the plane was hijacked (see (9:28 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and 33 minutes after FAA headquarters was alerted to the hijacking (see 9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 11, 28] At the time NEADS is alerted to Flight 93, NORAD is similarly uninformed about this aircraft, according to the 9/11 Commission. The Commission will state, “At 10:07, its representative on the air threat conference call stated that NORAD had ‘no indication of a hijack heading to DC at this time.’” According to the Commission, the National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon learned about the Flight 93 hijacking slightly earlier on, at 10:03 a.m. (see 10:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). However, the NMCC was notified by the White House, not the FAA. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 42] A former senior FAA executive, speaking on condition of anonymity, will later try to explain why it takes the FAA so long to alert NEADS to Flight 93. He will say, “Our whole procedures prior to 9/11 were that you turned everything [regarding a hijacking] over to the FBI.” [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006] Yet military instructions contradict this, stating, “In the event of a hijacking, the NMCC will be notified by the most expeditious means by the FAA.” [US Department of Defense, 7/31/1997 pdf file; US Department of Defense, 6/1/2001 pdf file]
NORAD Commanders Claim Earlier Awareness of Flight 93 - Two senior NORAD officials will contradict the 9/11 Commission’s conclusion, and claim they were aware of Flight 93 well before it crashed (see Shortly Before 9:36 a.m. September 11, 2001 and (9:36 a.m.-10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Filson, 2003, pp. 68, 71-73] Colonel Robert Marr, the NEADS battle commander, will tell the Commission that, while the flight was still airborne, “his focus was on UAL 93, which was circling over Chicago,” and he “distinctly remembers watching the flight UAL 93 come west, and turn over Cleveland.” [9/11 Commission, 10/27/2003 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 1/23/2004 pdf file] Major General Larry Arnold, the commander of the Continental US NORAD Region, will recall, “[W]e watched the [Flight] 93 track as it meandered around the Ohio-Pennsylvania area and started to turn south toward DC.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 71]

Entity Tags: Cleveland Air Route Traffic Control Center, Kevin Nasypany, North American Aerospace Defense Command, Northeast Air Defense Sector, Shelley Watson

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The 9/11 Commission holds a public hearing at which it takes testimony from military officials about the timeline of events on the day of 9/11. The key witness is retired Air Force General Larry Arnold, who commanded NORAD’s Continental US Region on the day of 9/11. Under questioning from commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste, Arnold says, “I believe that to be a fact: that 9:24 was the first time that we had been advised of American 77 as a possible hijacked airplane.” However, the Commission will later conclude that the military was not notified of the hijacking at this time, although it had been mistakenly advised Flight 11 was inbound to Washington three minutes previously (see 9:21 a.m. September 11, 2001 and (9:24 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Arnold adds that if the military was slow in responding to Flight 77, it was because “our focus—you have got to remember that there’s a lot of other things going on simultaneously here—was on United 93.” However, Flight 93 was not hijacked until a few minutes after 9:24 (see (9:28 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Arnold adds: “It was our intent to intercept United Flight 93. And in fact, my own staff, we were orbiting now over Washington, DC, by this time, and I was personally anxious to see what 93 was going to do, and our intent was to intercept it.” However, the Commission will later conclude that the military did not learn that Flight 93 had been hijacked until around 10:00 a.m. (see 10:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). Prior to the hearing, the Commission’s staff had been concerned about the inaccuracy of timelines offered by the military. Author Philip Shenon will write: “It seemed all the more remarkable to [Commission staffer John Farmer] that the Pentagon could not establish a clear chronology of how it responded to an attack on the Pentagon building itself. Wouldn’t the generals and admirals want to know why their own offices—their own lives—had been put at risk that morning?” Therefore, Farmer thought that the hearing should clear things up, but, according to Shenon, he and his colleagues are “astonished” when they analyze what Arnold says, although he is not under oath on this day. Shenon will add, “It would later be determined that almost every one of those assertions by General Arnold in May 2003 was flat wrong.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 119-121]

Entity Tags: John Farmer, 9/11 Commission, Philip Shenon, Richard Ben-Veniste, Larry Arnold

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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