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Context of '10:32 a.m. September 11, 2001: NEADS Personnel Confused over Meaning of Shootdown Order, Do Not Pass It on to Fighters'

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

Entity Tags: Kevin Nasypany, Northeast Air Defense Sector, Larry Arnold, Robert Marr, James Fox

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

NEADS personnel who are on duty the morning of 9/11.NEADS personnel who are on duty the morning of 9/11. [Source: Vanity Fair] (click image to enlarge)One of the pilots that took off from Langley Air Force Base (see (9:25 a.m.-9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001) calls NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) to relay information he has received about an aircraft over the White House, and is promptly instructed to intercept this aircraft. [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006]
Borgstrom Wants Instructions - The three F-16s that took off from Langley Air Force Base are now flying in the Baltimore-Washington area. They have just heard a warning over the radio that errant aircraft will be shot down, and received an instruction from the Secret Service to protect the White House (see (10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The FAA’s Washington Center also notified them of a suspicious aircraft flying at high speed toward the White House. In response, pilot Craig Borgstrom radios NEADS and asks weapons director Steve Citino for instructions on what to do. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 222-223] Borgstrom says: “Baltimore [the Washington Center] is saying something about an aircraft over the White House. Any words?” Citino replies: “Negative. Stand by,” and then relays Borgstrom’s message to Major James Fox, the leader of the NEADS weapons team. Fox then notifies Major Kevin Nasypany, the NEADS mission crew commander, of the aircraft over the White House.
Ordered to Intercept - Instinctively, Nasypany responds, “Intercept!” and he then elaborates, “Intercept and divert that aircraft away from there.” Citino passes this instruction to the Langley fighters, telling them their mission is to “intercept aircraft over White House. Use FAA for guidance.” Fox then adds: “Divert the aircraft away from the White House. Intercept and divert it.” Borgstrom confirms the order, saying, “Divert the aircraft.”
Unidentified Aircraft a False Alarm - As the F-16s head for the White House, the NEADS controllers are unable to find the building on their dated equipment, and also have trouble communicating with the Langley pilots. NEADS personnel speculate that the unidentified object is probably just a helicopter or smoke from the burning Pentagon. Minutes later, the suspect aircraft will be realized to probably be one of the Langley fighters, mistakenly reported by a Washington Center air traffic controller who was unaware of the military’s scrambles. Citino will comment: “That was cool. We intercepted our own guys.” [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001; Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006]

Entity Tags: Northeast Air Defense Sector, Kevin Nasypany, Steve Citino, Craig Borgstrom, James Fox

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A weapons director at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) informs the fighter jets launched from Langley Air Force Base (see (9:25 a.m.-9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001) that they do not have permission to shoot down aircraft over Washington, though he is delayed in giving this instruction due to communications problems. [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2003; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 45; Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006; Spencer, 2008, pp. 227]
Citino Cannot Reach Borgstrom - Major Kevin Nasypany, the NEADS mission crew commander, has just told his staff that the Langley fighters have “negative clearance to shoot,” and the orders from higher headquarters are that the jets are to identify aircraft by their type and tail number, and nothing more (see 10:10 a.m. September 11, 2001). Now Master Sergeant Steve Citino, a NEADS weapons director, tries relaying these instructions to Captain Craig Borgstrom, one of the three Langley pilots. However, he cannot get through to him over the radio. According to author Lynn Spencer, this is because the “reception is weak over the Washington area, and NEADS loses the ability to communicate whenever [Borgstrom] flies below a certain altitude.” Citino complains to Major James Fox, the leader of the weapons team: “I can’t talk to ‘em. They’re too low.” [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006; Spencer, 2008, pp. 227]
Citino Issues Instructions - Finally, about a minute after receiving the instructions from Nasypany, Citino reaches Borgstrom. He tells him, “Reiterating, mission is ID by type… divert if necessary.” Borgstrom acknowledges this instruction, telling Citino, “Quit 2-6 copies.” [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2003] When two of the Langley pilots later discuss this day’s events at a news conference, they will say they “never received explicit orders to fire on incoming planes perceived to be hostile.” [New York Times, 11/15/2001]

Entity Tags: Steve Citino, James Fox, Craig Borgstrom

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Personnel on the operations floor at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) are confused over the nature and effect of an order they have received, which states that the military can shoot down aircraft that do not respond to its directions, and they do not pass this order on to fighter pilots under their command. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 42-43; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 47; Spencer, 2008, pp. 240-241; Farmer, 2009, pp. 228-229] NEADS has just received a message over the NORAD computer chat system from Larry Arnold, the commander of the Continental United States NORAD Region (CONR), stating that Vice President Dick Cheney has authorized NORAD to shoot down suspicious aircraft (see 10:31 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 42]
Weapons Director Alerted to Order - Major Steve Ovens sees the chat message and alerts Major James Fox, the leader of the NEADS weapons team, to it. Ovens says: “We need to read this. Region commander has declared that we can shoot down tracks that do not respond to our direction. Okay?” Fox replies, “Okay,” but Ovens is unconvinced that he has understood Arnold’s message, so he says again, “The region commander has declared that we can shoot down aircraft that do not respond to our directions, okay?” Fox replies, “Copy that.”
NEADS Director Opposes Order - Ovens continues, “So if you’re trying to divert somebody and he won’t divert…” but Fox says, “DO [the director of operations] is saying no.” According to author Lynn Spencer, Fox means that Colonel Lanny McNeely, the NEADS director of operations, is indicating “no.” McNeely has “understood that the battle staff wanted to keep shootdown authority in the [NEADS] battle cab. The commanders were not prepared to pass such authorizations to airborne fighters.” [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001; Spencer, 2008, pp. 240-241] However, a 9/11 Commission memorandum will state that McNeely is away from NEADS on this day, in Texas, and no one is currently sitting in the director of operations position. [9/11 Commission, 10/30/2003 pdf file] According to John Farmer, the senior counsel to the 9/11 Commission, Fox is instead referring to Colonel Robert Marr, the NEADS battle commander, saying “no,” not McNeely. [Farmer, 2009, pp. 229]
Fox Agrees to Pass on Order to Commander - Ovens responds: “No? It came over the chat.… You got a conflict on that direction?” Fox replies, “Right now, no, but…” Showing Fox the chat message, Ovens says: “Okay. You read that from the vice president, right? Vice president has cleared…” Fox reads the message out loud, saying, “Vice president has cleared us to intercept traffic and shoot them down if they do not respond, per CONR CC.” Finally, he says, “Okay, I will pass it to MCC,” meaning Major Kevin Nasypany, the NEADS mission crew commander. [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001; Spencer, 2008, pp. 241]
NEADS Does Not Pass on Order to Pilots - NEADS personnel will later express to the 9/11 Commission their “considerable confusion over the nature and effect” of this shootdown order, and explain why they fail to pass it on to the fighter jets from Otis Air National Guard Base (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001) and Langley Air Force Base (see 9:24 a.m. September 11, 2001) that are under their command. Nasypany and Fox indicate to the Commission that “they did not pass the order to the fighters circling Washington and New York because they were unsure how the pilots would, or should, proceed with this guidance.” Consequently, “while leaders in Washington believed that the fighters above them had been instructed to ‘take out’ hostile aircraft, the only orders actually conveyed to the pilots were to ‘ID type and tail.’” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 43; Farmer, 2009, pp. 229]

Entity Tags: Lanny McNeely, James Fox, Northeast Air Defense Sector, Kevin Nasypany, Robert Marr, Steve Ovens

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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