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Context of '(8:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Boston Center Notifies NEADS of Hijacking, against Normal Procedures; Accounts Conflict over Timing'

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NORAD’s war room in Cheyenne Mountain, ColoradoNORAD’s war room in Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado [Source: Val Gempis]Lieutenant Colonel Dawne Deskins and other day shift employees at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) in Rome, NY, start their workday. NORAD is conducting a week-long, large-scale exercise called Vigilant Guardian. [Newhouse News Service, 1/25/2002] Deskins is regional mission crew chief for the Vigilant Guardian exercise. [ABC News, 9/11/2002]
Exercise Includes Simulated Attack on the US - Vigilant Guardian is described as “an exercise that would pose an imaginary crisis to North American Air Defense outposts nationwide”; as a “simulated air war”; and as “an air defense exercise simulating an attack on the United States.” According to the 9/11 Commission, it “postulated a bomber attack from the former Soviet Union.” [Newhouse News Service, 1/25/2002; Filson, 2003, pp. 55 and 122; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 458] Vigilant Guardian is described as being held annually, and is one of NORAD’s four major annual exercises. [Filson, 2003, pp. 41; Arkin, 2005, pp. 545; GlobalSecurity (.org), 4/27/2005] However, one report says it takes place semi-annually. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002] Accounts by participants vary on whether 9/11 is the second, third, or fourth day of the exercise. [Code One Magazine, 1/2002; Newhouse News Service, 1/25/2002; Ottawa Citizen, 9/11/2002] Vigilant Guardian is a command post exercise (CPX), and in at least some previous years was conducted in conjunction with Stratcom’s Global Guardian exercise and a US Space Command exercise called Apollo Guardian. [US Congress, n.d.; Arkin, 2005, pp. 545; GlobalSecurity (.org), 4/27/2005] All of NORAD is participating in Vigilant Guardian on 9/11. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002]
Exercise Includes Simulated Hijacking - Vanity Fair reports that the “day’s exercise” (presumably Vigilant Guardian) is “designed to run a range of scenarios, including a ‘traditional’ simulated hijack in which politically motivated perpetrators commandeer an aircraft, land on a Cuba-like island, and seek asylum.” [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006] However, at NEADS, most of the dozen or so staff on the operations floor have no idea what the exercise is going to entail and are ready for anything. [Utica Observer-Dispatch, 8/5/2004]
NORAD Fully Staffed and Alert - NORAD is currently running a real-world operation named Operation Northern Vigilance (see September 9, 2001). It may also be conducting a field training exercise calling Amalgam Warrior on this morning (see 9:28 a.m. September 11, 2001). NORAD is thus fully staffed and alert, and senior officers are manning stations throughout the US. The entire chain of command will be in place and ready when the first hijacking is reported. An article later says, “In retrospect, the exercise would prove to be a serendipitous enabler of a rapid military response to terrorist attacks on September 11.” [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002; Bergen Record, 12/5/2003] Colonel Robert Marr, in charge of NEADS, will say: “We had the fighters with a little more gas on board. A few more weapons on board.” [ABC News, 9/11/2002] However, Deskins and other NORAD officials later are initially confused about whether the 9/11 attacks are real or part of the exercise (see (8:38 a.m.-8:43 a.m.) September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: Northeast Air Defense Sector, Dawne Deskins, North American Aerospace Defense Command, Operation Northern Vigilance, Vigilant Guardian, Robert Marr

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Colin Scoggins, the military liaison at the FAA’s Boston Center, claims he makes his first call to NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) regarding Flight 11. He later recalls that he informs NEADS that the aircraft is “20 [miles] south of Albany, heading south at a high rate of speed, 600 knots.” [Griffin, 2007, pp. 43] Flight 11 was over Albany at 8:26 (see (8:26 a.m.-8:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001 pdf file] At such a high speed, it would have reached 20 miles south of there around 8:28. However, Scoggins says he is quite certain he only arrives on the floor at Boston Center at around 8:35. He says that although he’d later tried to write up a chronology of events, he “couldn’t get a timeline that made any sense.” Furthermore, Scoggins claims that even before he’d arrived, Joseph Cooper, a Boston Center air traffic management specialist, had already phoned NEADS about the hijacking. [Griffin, 2007, pp. 43 and 335] The 9/11 Commission makes no mention of either call. It says “the first notification received by the military—at any level—that American 11 had been hijacked” is when Boston Center calls NEADS just before 8:38 a.m. (see (8:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20] However, a report by ABC News is more consistent with Scoggins’ claims, indicating that Boston Center contacts NEADS about the hijacking earlier, at around 8:31. [ABC News, 9/11/2002] (Boston Center also contacts the FAA’s Cape Cod facility at 8:34 and requests that it notify the military about Flight 11 (see 8:34 a.m. September 11, 2001). Apparently around the same time, it tries contacting a military unit at Atlantic City (see (8:34 a.m.) September 11, 2001).) Scoggins says he makes “about 40 phone calls to NEADS” in total on this day. [Griffin, 2007, pp. 43] NEADS Commander Robert Marr later comments that Scoggins “deserves a lot of credit because he was about the only one that was feeding us information. I don’t know exactly where he got it. But he was feeding us information as much as he could.” [Michael Bronner, 2006]

Entity Tags: Boston Air Route Traffic Control Center, Joseph Cooper, Colin Scoggins, Northeast Air Defense Sector, Robert Marr

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Tech. Sgt. Jeremy Powell.Tech. Sgt. Jeremy Powell. [Source: Scott A. Gwilt/ Rome Sentinel]The FAA’s Boston Center calls NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) in Rome, NY, to alert it to the suspected hijacking of Flight 11. According to the 9/11 Commission, this is “the first notification received by the military—at any level—that American 11 had been hijacked.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 13] The call is made by Joseph Cooper, an air traffic controller at the Boston Center, and answered by Jeremy Powell, a technical sergeant on the NEADS operations floor. [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006; Spencer, 2008, pp. 25] Beginning the call, Cooper says: “Hi. Boston Center TMU [traffic management unit], we have a problem here. We have a hijacked aircraft headed towards New York, and we need you guys to, we need someone to scramble some F-16s or something up there, help us out.” Powell replies, “Is this real-world or exercise?” Cooper answers, “No, this is not an exercise, not a test.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20] Shortly into the call, Powell passes the phone on to Lieutenant Colonel Dawne Deskins (see (8:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Deskins identifies herself to Cooper, and he tells her, “We have a hijacked aircraft and I need you to get some sort of fighters out here to help us out.” [Newhouse News Service, 1/25/2002; ABC News, 9/11/2002; Bamford, 2004, pp. 8; Spencer, 2008, pp. 26]
Military Claims Call Goes against Procedure - The 1st Air Force’s official history of the response to the 9/11 attacks will later suggest that Boston Center is not following normal procedures when it makes this call to NEADS. It states: “If normal procedures had taken place… Powell probably wouldn’t have taken that phone call. Normally, the FAA would have contacted officials at the Pentagon’s National Military Command Center who would have contacted the North American Aerospace Defense Command. The secretary of defense would have had to approve the use of military assets to assist in a hijacking, always considered a law enforcement issue.” The only explanation it gives for this departure from protocol is that “nothing was normal on Sept. 11, 2001, and many say the traditional chain of command went by the wayside to get the job done.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 51]
Accounts Conflict over Time of Call - There will be some conflict between different accounts, as to when this vital call from Boston Center to NEADS occurs. An ABC News documentary will indicate it is made as early as 8:31 a.m. [ABC News, 9/11/2002] Another ABC News report will state, “Shortly after 8:30 a.m., behind the scenes, word of a possible hijacking [reaches] various stations of NORAD.” [ABC News, 9/14/2002] NEADS logs indicate the call occurs at 8:40 a.m., and NORAD will report this as the time of the call in a press release on September 18, 2001. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001 pdf file; North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001] The 8:40 time will be widely reported in the media prior to the 9/11 Commission’s 2004 report. [Associated Press, 8/21/2002; BBC, 9/1/2002; Newsday, 9/10/2002; CNN, 9/11/2002] But tape recordings of the NEADS operations floor that are referred to in the 9/11 Commission Report place the call at 8:37 and 52 seconds. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20; Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006] If the 8:37 a.m. time is correct, this would mean that air traffic controllers have failed to successfully notify the military until approximately 12 minutes after they became certain that Flight 11 had been hijacked (see (8:25 a.m.) September 11, 2001), 16 minutes after Flight 11’s transponder signal was lost (see (Between 8:13 a.m. and 8:21 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and 24 minutes after the plane’s pilots made their last radio contact (see 8:13 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] At 8:34, the Boston Center tried contacting the military through the FAA’s Cape Cod facility, which is located on Otis Air National Guard Base, but was told that it needed to call NEADS (see 8:34 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20; Spencer, 2008, pp. 22]

Entity Tags: Boston Air Route Traffic Control Center, Dawne Deskins, North American Aerospace Defense Command, Joseph Cooper, Northeast Air Defense Sector, Jeremy Powell

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

National Guard troops stationed at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) in Rome, New York.National Guard troops stationed at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) in Rome, New York. [Source: Rome Sentinel]At NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), a huddle of people is gathered around one of the radar scopes. NEADS Commander Robert Marr initially thinks this hubbub is due to the NORAD training exercise (presumably Vigilant Guardian) that is taking place on this day (see (6:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). He will later recall: “I’ve seen many exercises… and as I saw that huddle I said, ‘There’s got to be something wrong, something is happening here.’ You usually see that whenever they find a track on the scope that looks unusual; it’s usually an indicator that something is getting ready to kick off.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 55] According to author Lynn Spencer, Marr thinks the day’s exercise “is kicking off with a lively, unexpected twist.… His bet is that his simulations team has started off the exercise by throwing out a ‘heart attack card’ to see how the troops respond to a first-aid call from a fellow soldier, testing their first responder training.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 26] He sends Lieutenant Colonel Dawne Deskins, the regional mission crew commander for the exercise, to check out what is going on. [Filson, 2003, pp. 55] Deskins speaks briefly over the phone with the FAA’s Boston Center about the Flight 11 hijacking (see (8:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 26] She then runs back to the “battle cab”—the glass-walled room that overlooks the NEADS operations floor—and speaks to Marr with urgency in her voice. [Filson, 2003, pp. 55] She tells him: “It’s a hijacking, and this is real life, not part of the exercise. And it appears that the plane is heading toward New York City.” Although Deskins has specifically stated, “not part of the exercise,” Marr reportedly thinks, “This is an interesting start to the exercise.” According to Spencer, he thinks “This ‘real-world’ mixed in with today’s simex [simulated exercise] will keep [his staff members] on their toes.” Regardless of whether the crisis is real or not, Marr decides to instruct that the two alert F-15s at Otis Air National Guard Base be ordered to battle stations (see (8:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 26-27]

Entity Tags: Robert Marr, Northeast Air Defense Sector, Boston Air Route Traffic Control Center, Dawne Deskins, Vigilant Guardian

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline


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