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Context of '(11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001: NORAD Implements Cold War Era Plan to Clear Skies'

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In the fall of 1960, 1961, and 1962, the United States conducts three large-scale air defense exercises called Sky Shield that require a complete ban on commercial and private aviation for about 12 hours. During a period of extreme tensions with the Soviet Union and widespread fear of a nuclear attack by bombers or intercontinental missiles, the Sky Shield exercises test the reliability of North America’s elaborate network of radar stations in Alaska, Northern Canada, and Greenland, as well as along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. Each exercise involves an attack by a fleet of “Soviet” bombers (actually US, Canadian, and British planes) from the North Pole or from the coasts, followed by the mobilization of hundreds of fighter jets trying to intercept and shoot down the intruders. Sky Shield will be recalled after 9/11 in part because it will be the first time in 40 years that the skies are completely cleared. The third Sky Shield, in 1962, involves the systematic grounding of hundreds of civilian jets as rapidly as possible to test the FAA’s ability to clear the skies in case of attack. This procedure, called SCATANA, will be implemented again on 9/11 on NORAD’s order (see (11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Time, 10/20/1961; Air & Space, 3/1/2002; Filson, 2003, pp. 2-3; Air & Space, 11/1/2006]

Entity Tags: Federal Aviation Administration, North American Aerospace Defense Command

Timeline Tags: US Military

William Glover.William Glover. [Source: Thomas Doscher / US Air Force]The NORAD operations center in Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, receives numerous reports from the FAA of additional hijacked aircraft, but most of these reports turn out to be incorrect. Lieutenant Colonel William Glover, the commander of NORAD’s Air Warning Center, will later recall that after 9:03 a.m., when the second plane hits the World Trade Center, those in the operations center are “starting to receive reports… that we have these hijackings coming in.” He will say, “We had all these other reports coming in now, we were receiving from FAA, that there’s other issues on there.” [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 9/8/2011] According to Glover, the FAA says to NORAD, “Hey, this may be a possible hijack, or this aircraft may be a possible hijack.” As a result, those in the operations center “did not know how many more there were. Were there five, six, seven, or eight?” [BBC, 9/1/2002] Major General Rick Findley, NORAD’s director of operations, will similarly recall: “Lots of other reports were starting to come in. And now you’re not too sure. If they’re that clever to coordinate that kind of attack, what else is taking place across North America?” [Toronto Star, 12/9/2001] According to Glover, the uncertainty about how many additional hijacked planes there are will lead NORAD to implement a limited version of a plan called SCATANA, which clears the skies and gives the military control of US airspace (see (11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] However, most of the additional hijackings that the FAA is reporting to NORAD turn out to be false alarms. Glover will say that most of the reports “were not true.” [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 9/8/2011] According to the 9/11 Commission Report, there are “multiple erroneous reports of hijacked aircraft” during the morning (see (9:09 a.m. and After) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 28]

Entity Tags: Eric A. “Rick” Findley, North American Aerospace Defense Command, Federal Aviation Administration, William Glover

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

At some time after the second attack in New York, Richard Myers, the acting chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, receives a call from NORAD Commander Ralph Eberhart. According to his own account, Myers is on Capitol Hill, where he has been meeting with Senator Max Cleland (D-GA). Apparently soon after he leaves this meeting, his military aide, Army Captain Chris Donahue, hands him a cell phone on which Eberhart is calling. Myers will later comment, “In this emergency, I had to forgo the luxury of a secure encrypted red switch phone and use Donahue’s cell.” Myers will recall that Eberhart “said, you know, we’ve got several hijack codes, meaning that the transponders in the aircraft are talking to the ground, and they’re saying we’re under, we’re being hijacked, several hijack codes in the system, and we’re responding with, with fighter aircraft.” [American Forces Press Service, 10/23/2001; MSNBC, 9/11/2002; Myers, 2009, pp. 8-9] (However, none of the pilots of the four hijacked flights this morning keyed the emergency four-digit code that would indicate a hijacking into their plane’s transponder (see (8:13 a.m.-9:28 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [CNN, 9/11/2001] It is therefore unclear what “hijack codes” Eberhart is referring to.) Eberhart also tells Myers, “The decision I’m going to make is, we’re going to land everybody, and we’ll sort it out when we get them on the ground.” [Council on Foreign Relations, 6/29/2006] He is presumably referring to a plan called SCATANA, which clears the skies and gives the military control over US airspace. However, Eberhart does not implement this until around 11:00 a.m. (see (11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] It is unclear exactly when this call takes place, but it appears to be just before the time the Pentagon is hit, or just before Myers is informed of the Pentagon attack. [MSNBC, 9/11/2002; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004; Council on Foreign Relations, 6/29/2006; American Forces Press Service, 9/8/2006] In his 2009 memoirs, Myers will place it after he is informed of the second attack on the World Trade Center (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001), but not give a specific time. [Myers, 2009, pp. 8-9] Cleland will confirm that Myers meets with him on this morning, and is with him up to the time of the Pentagon attack, or shortly before. [US Congress, 9/13/2001; CNN, 11/20/2001; Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 6/16/2003] However, according to counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, Myers is back at the Pentagon speaking over a video conference around 10 minutes before the Pentagon is struck (see 9:28 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Clarke, 2004, pp. 5]

Entity Tags: Max Cleland, Ralph Eberhart, Richard B. Myers, Chris Donahue

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

From the White House Situation Room, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke gives the instruction for fighter jets to establish patrols over all major US cities. Clarke has been talking with the FAA over the White House video conference, and his deputy, Roger Cressey, has just announced that a plane hit the Pentagon. According to his own recollection, Clarke responds: “I can still see [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld on the screen [for the Pentagon], so the whole building didn’t get hit. No emotion in here. We are going to stay focused.” He orders Cressey: “Find out where the fighter planes are. I want combat air patrol over every major city in this country. Now.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 7-8; Australian, 3/27/2004] A combat air patrol (CAP) is an aircraft patrol over a particular area, with the purpose of intercepting and destroying any hostile aircraft before they reach their targets. [US Department of Defense, 4/12/2001] It is unclear how long it takes for CAPs to be formed over all major cities, as Clarke requests. At 9:49, NORAD Commander Ralph Eberhart will direct all the US’s air sovereignty aircraft to battle stations (see 9:49 a.m. September 11, 2001), but bases have reportedly been calling into NORAD and asking for permission to send up fighters since after the second WTC crash (see (After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] At around 11:00 a.m. Eberhart will implement a plan called SCATANA, which clears the skies and gives the military control over US airspace (see (11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004]

Entity Tags: Richard A. Clarke, Roger Cressey, Donald Rumsfeld

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The NORAD representative on the air threat conference call reports that NORAD has yet to give an assessment for the crisis that is taking place and adds that General Ralph Eberhart, the commander of NORAD, has not yet declared the situation an air defense emergency. [US Department of Defense, 9/11/2001] The National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon has just started an air threat conference call in response to the terrorist attacks (see 9:37 a.m.-9:39 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 37] A NORAD representative, in their first communication over the conference call, states: “No assessment has been given for this event at this point. No assessment for the overall air situation has been given at this point.” The representative adds that “CINC NORAD”—meaning Eberhart, the commander in chief of NORAD—“is not declaring [an] air defense emergency at this point.” [US Department of Defense, 9/11/2001] An “air defense emergency” is defined by the US government as an “emergency condition which exists when attack upon the continental United States, Alaska, Canada, or US installations in Greenland by hostile aircraft or missiles is considered probable, is imminent, or is taking place.” [US Government, 7/1/2003] British online publication The Register will later comment that this definition “sums up the tragic events of [September 11] fairly well.” The declaration of an air defense emergency, according to The Register, “invokes a regulatory scheme known as Security Control of Air Traffic and Air Navigation Aids (SCATANA).” [Register, 9/17/2001] SCATANA is a procedure, developed in the 1960s, that was originally intended to clear the airspace above the US in the event of a confirmed warning of a nuclear attack by the Soviet Union. [Schwartz, 1998; Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 11/2001] Eberhart will order a limited version of it later in the day, apparently around 11:00 a.m. (see (11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] Eberhart was at NORAD headquarters at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, when the attacks began, but at some point headed out to the NORAD operations center in Cheyenne Mountain (see (Between 9:35 a.m. and 10:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 3/1/2004 pdf file; Colorado Springs Gazette, 6/16/2006; Denver Post, 7/28/2006]

Entity Tags: Ralph Eberhart, North American Aerospace Defense Command

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

FAA National Operations Manager Ben Sliney.FAA National Operations Manager Ben Sliney. [Source: Publicity photo]Ben Sliney, FAA’s National Operations Manager, orders the entire nationwide air traffic system shut down. All flights at US airports are stopped. Around 3,950 flights are still in the air. Sliney makes the decision without consulting FAA head Jane Garvey, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, or other bosses, but they quickly approve his actions. It’s Sliney’s first day on the job. [CNN, 9/12/2001; New York Times, 9/12/2001; Washington Post, 9/12/2001; MSNBC, 9/22/2001; USA Today, 8/12/2002; Associated Press, 8/12/2002; USA Today, 8/12/2002; USA Today, 8/13/2002; Associated Press, 8/21/2002; Newsday, 9/10/2002] Seventy-five percent of the planes land within one hour of the order. [USA Today, 8/12/2002] The 9/11 Commission will later remark that this “was an unprecedented order” that the “air traffic control system handled… with great skill.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 29] The Washington Post has reported that Mineta told Monte Belger at the FAA: “Monte, bring all the planes down,” even adding, “[Expletive] pilot discretion.” [Washington Post, 1/27/2002] However, it is later reported by a different Post reporter that Mineta did not even know of the order until 15 minutes later. This reporter “says FAA officials had begged him to maintain the fiction.” [Slate, 4/2/2002]

Entity Tags: Ben Sliney, Federal Aviation Administration, Jane Garvey, Monte Belger, Norman Mineta

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

At the NORAD operations center in Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, NORAD commander in chief, General Ralph Eberhart, orders a limited version of a little known plan to clear the skies and give the military control over US airspace. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] The plan, Security Control of Air Traffic and Navigation Aids (SCATANA), was developed in the 1960s as a way to clear airspace above the US and off the US coast in the event of a confirmed warning of a nuclear attack by the Soviet Union. Once it is activated a wartime air traffic priority list is established, allowing essential aircraft and personnel to use the airspace. Among others, this list includes the US president, essential national security staff, aircraft involved in continental defense missions, and airborne command posts. [Schwartz, 1998]
Eberhart Suggests Limited Version of Plan - Eberhart and his staff suggest implementing the limited version of SCATANA over the air threat conference call. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta immediately concurs. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002; Filson, 2003, pp. 73] Unlike a full SCATANA, this modified version allows ground navigation aids to stay on, for the benefit of aircraft that are still airborne. Under the plan, for about the next three days all flights other than military, law enforcement, fire fighters, and medevac, will require approval from the national Defense Department/FAA Air Traffic Services Cell, located within the FAA’s Herndon Command Center. [Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 11/2001; Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/10/2002; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] Notice is sent out to all civil and military air traffic control facilities, informing them that the skies now officially belong to NORAD. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 269]
Order Supposedly Made Late Due to Safety Concerns - The SCATANA order is issued over an hour after the FAA ordered all planes down (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and after at least three-quarters of them have already landed. [USA Today, 8/13/2002] Eberhart will later say the delay is due to safety concerns, because NORAD would have been unable to control US airspace—with over 4,000 planes airborne at the time of the attacks—with its radar capabilities. [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] Defense Week magazine will suggest SCATANA is not implemented until even later, at around 2:00 p.m. It says NORAD issues a “notice to airmen” implementing the modified version of SCATANA about five hours after Flight 11 hit the World Trade Center. [Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 11/2001]

Entity Tags: North American Aerospace Defense Command, Ralph Eberhart, Norman Mineta

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

United Airlines Flight 8811 takes off from San Francisco, California, to transport a group of FBI agents to Washington, DC. The Boeing 757 is carrying 75 FBI agents and 14,000 pounds of equipment across the US. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 279] The agents are members of the FBI’s Critical Incident Response Group (CIRG) and its Hostage Rescue Team, which is operated by the CIRG, who arrived in California the previous day for a week of field training (see September 10, 2001) and were therefore stranded away from Washington when the terrorist attacks occurred this morning (see 10:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). After learning that the FBI had essential personnel wanting to return to Washington, United Airlines offered to provide an aircraft and crew to fly them home (see (3:50 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [NBC 4, 9/11/2001; Darling, 2010, pp. 73-76] Flight 8811 has received approval to take off from NORAD headquarters. It is one of the first non-military aircraft to be permitted to take off since NORAD implemented a limited version of a plan called “SCATANA,” which gave the military control over US airspace (see (11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). After taking off, the plane’s pilot, Captain Barry Nance, is cleared “direct” across the country. As he flies to Washington, Nance hears just three other aircraft over the radio, all of them military fighter jets. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004; Spencer, 2008, pp. 279] Flight 8811 will reach Washington just after midnight and land at Reagan National Airport. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 282; Lynn Spencer, 2008]

Entity Tags: Barry Nance, Critical Incident Response Group, North American Aerospace Defense Command, FBI Hostage Rescue Team, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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