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(10:43 a.m.-10:52 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Defense Readiness Condition Raised to Highest Level in 28 Years

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 pdf file; 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

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