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Context of '(8:38 a.m.-9:28 a.m.) September 11, 2001: NORAD Does Not Contact Pentagon Command Center about the Hijackings'

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A military instruction is issued by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, outlining the procedure for dealing with hijackings within the United States. The instruction, titled “Aircraft Piracy (Hijacking) and Destruction of Derelict Airborne Objects,” states that “the administrator, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), has exclusive responsibility to direct law enforcement activity related to actual or attempted aircraft piracy (hijacking) in the ‘special aircraft jurisdiction’ of the United States. When requested by the administrator, Department of Defense will provide assistance to these law enforcement efforts.” It adds that the National Military Command Center (NMCC) within the Pentagon “is the focal point within Department of Defense for providing assistance. In the event of a hijacking, the NMCC will be notified by the most expeditious means by the FAA. The NMCC will, with the exception of immediate responses as authorized by reference d, forward requests for DOD assistance to the secretary of defense for approval.” [US Department of Defense, 6/1/2001 pdf file] Some will later assume that this requirement for defense secretary approval was new with this instruction. [New York Observer, 6/20/2004] But it has in fact been a requirement since 1997, when the previous instruction was issued, if not earlier. [US Department of Defense, 7/31/1997 pdf file] Although the defense secretary has this responsibility, the 9/11 Commission will conclude that, on the day of 9/11, the “secretary of defense did not enter the chain of command until the morning’s key events were over.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 15 pdf file] Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld will later claim that, up to 9/11, terrorism and domestic hijackings were “a law enforcement issue.” [9/11 Commission, 3/23/2004; PBS, 3/25/2004; US Department of Defense, 6/14/2005]

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, Federal Aviation Administration, US Department of Defense, National Military Command Center

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 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

NORAD fails to notify the National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon that aircraft have been hijacked before the NMCC initiates a significant event conference in response to the terrorist attacks. [9/11 Commission, 6/9/2004] NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) was alerted to the first hijacking, of Flight 11, at 8:37 a.m. (see (8:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and it is alerted to the second hijacking, of Flight 175, at 9:03 a.m. (see (9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20, 23] And yet, according to an after-action report produced by the NMCC, NORAD does not contact the NMCC to alert it to these incidents before the significant event conference commences, at 9:29 a.m. (see 9:29 a.m.-9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 6/9/2004]
NORAD Does Not Provide Information to Deputy Director - Captain Charles Leidig, the acting deputy director for operations in the NMCC, will later say that he “does not remember getting a lot of information from NORAD” before the significant event conference begins. [9/11 Commission, 4/29/2004 pdf file] NMCC personnel apparently learn that an aircraft has been hijacked when an officer in the center calls the FAA at 9:00 a.m. (see 9:00 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 4/29/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 5/5/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 35]
NORAD First Mentions a Hijacking at 9:33 a.m. - NORAD will apparently talk to the NMCC about a hijacking for the first time at around 9:33 a.m., when its representative on the significant event conference states that they “concur that [a] hijacked aircraft is still airborne [and] heading towards Washington, DC.” [US Department of Defense, 9/11/2001; US Department of Defense, 9/11/2001 pdf file] (They will presumably be referring to the incorrect information that Flight 11 is still in the air after it has crashed into the World Trade Center (see 9:21 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 26] )
NORAD Does Not Request a Conference - Additionally, according to the NMCC’s after-action report, NORAD “does not request any conference at [National Command Authority] level” prior to the commencement of the significant event conference. [9/11 Commission, 6/9/2004] The significant event conference is actually initiated by Leidig. The NMCC has an important role to play in an emergency like the current crisis. Its job under these circumstances “is to gather the relevant parties and establish the chain of command between the National Command Authority—the president and the secretary of defense—and those who need to carry out their orders,” according to the 9/11 Commission Report. [9/11 Commission, 4/29/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 37] It is also “the focal point within [the] Department of Defense for providing assistance” when there is a hijacking in US airspace, according to a recent military instruction (see June 1, 2001). [US Department of Defense, 6/1/2001 pdf file]

Entity Tags: National Military Command Center, North American Aerospace Defense Command, Charles Leidig

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Ryan Gonsalves.Ryan Gonsalves. [Source: Institute for the Study of War]An officer in the National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon learns, during a phone call to the FAA, of the hijacking of Flight 11, but the FAA tells him it does not need any help dealing with this, as everything seems to be under control. [9/11 Commission, 4/29/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 35]
NMCC Officer Calls FAA for Information - After those in the NMCC learned from television that an aircraft had crashed into the World Trade Center (see (8:48 a.m.) September 11, 2001), Lieutenant Colonel Ryan Gonsalves, the senior operations officer there, began gathering up as much information as he could on the crisis. One of the phone calls he makes is to the FAA operations center at the agency’s Washington, DC, headquarters. The employee at the operations center who answers the call tells Gonsalves that the FAA has had a report of a hijacking on a plane that departed Boston. [9/11 Commission, 4/29/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 5/5/2004]
FAA Says It Does Not Need Help - The FAA employee apparently does not connect the plane crashing into the WTC with the hijacked Flight 11, which they claim is still airborne and heading for New York’s JFK International Airport. The entry in the senior operations officer’s log about the call will state: “9:00 NMCC called FAA, briefed of explosion at WTC possibly from aircraft crash. Also, hijacking of American Flight 11 from Boston to LA, now en route to Kennedy.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 462] Furthermore, when Gonsalves asks if the FAA needs any assistance dealing with the hijacking, the operations center employee replies, “No,” and says the pilot “had called in and said everything was under control, and he was going to land at New York shortly.” [9/11 Commission, 4/29/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 5/5/2004] The possibility of scrambling fighter jets is not discussed during the phone call. Even though military instructions state that the NMCC is to be “notified by the most expeditious means by the FAA” in response to aircraft hijackings in US airspace (see June 1, 2001), this call, according to the 9/11 Commission Report, appears to be the first time the FAA informs the NMCC of the hijacking of Flight 11. [US Department of Defense, 6/1/2001 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 35]

Entity Tags: National Military Command Center, Federal Aviation Administration, Ryan Gonsalves

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The 9/11 Commission will later conclude that the FAA’s New York Center tells NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) that Flight 175 has been hijacked at this time. The Commission will refer to this as “the first indication that the NORAD air defenders had of the second hijacked aircraft.” The notification is apparently received from the military liaison at the New York Center (see 9:01 a.m.-9:02 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004]
NEADS Technician Announces 'Second Possible Hijack' - Tape recordings of the NEADS operations floor will reveal ID tech Stacia Rountree answering the call from the New York Center, and saying out loud, “They have a second possible hijack!” [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006] Colonel Robert Marr, the NEADS battle commander, will claim he first learns that an aircraft other than Flight 11 has been hijacked when he sees Flight 175 crash into the World Trade Center on television. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002] Lieutenant Colonel Dawne Deskins will claim that when she sees Flight 175 hitting the South Tower on television, “we didn’t even know there was a second hijack.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 59]
Conflicting Accounts - However, these accounts contradict NORAD’s claim that it makes shortly after 9/11 that NEADS was first notified about Flight 175 at 8:43 a.m. (see 8:43 a.m. September 11, 2001). [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001] Additionally, as Flight 175 crashes into the WTC, Canadian Captain Mike Jellinek, who is working at NORAD’s Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado operations center, is on the phone with NEADS. He sees the crash live on television and asks NEADS, “Was that the hijacked aircraft you were dealing with?” The reply is yes. (However, it is unclear whether Jellinek is referring to Flight 175 or to the smoke coming from the crash of Flight 11.) [Toronto Star, 12/9/2001] If the 9/11 Commission’s account is correct, several questions remain unanswered. Flight 175 lost radio contact at 8:42 a.m. (see 8:41 a.m.-8:42 a.m. September 11, 2001) and changed transponder signals at 8:47 a.m. (see 8:46 a.m.-8:47 a.m. September 11, 2001); an air traffic controller declared it possibly hijacked sometime between 8:46 a.m. and 8:53 a.m. (see (Shortly After 8:46 a.m.) September 11, 2001); and an air traffic control manager called it hijacked at 8:55 a.m.(see (8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The Commission will not explain why the New York Center waits 10 to 16 minutes before warning NEADS that Flight 175 is possibly hijacked. [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004]

Entity Tags: Stacia Rountree, Northeast Air Defense Sector, North American Aerospace Defense Command, Robert Marr, Michael H. Jellinek, New York Air Route Traffic Control Center

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

According to the 9/11 Commission, NEADS is contacted by the FAA’s Boston Center. Colin Scoggins, Boston Center’s military liaison, tells it: “I just had a report that American 11 is still in the air, and it’s on its way towards—heading towards Washington.… That was another—it was evidently another aircraft that hit the tower. That’s the latest report we have.… I’m going to try to confirm an ID for you, but I would assume he’s somewhere over, uh, either New Jersey or somewhere further south.” The NEADS official asks: “He—American 11 is a hijack?… And he’s heading into Washington?” Scoggins answers yes both times and adds, “This could be a third aircraft.” Somehow Boston Center has been told by FAA headquarters that Flight 11 is still airborne, but the 9/11 Commission will say it hasn’t been able to find where this mistaken information came from.
Scoggins Makes Error - Vanity Fair magazine will later add, “In Boston, it is Colin Scoggins who has made the mistaken call.” Scoggins will explain why he believes he made this error: “With American Airlines, we could never confirm if [Flight 11] was down or not, so that left doubt in our minds.” He says he was monitoring a conference call between FAA centers (see 8:28 a.m. September 11, 2001), “when the word came across—from whom or where isn’t clear—that American 11 was thought to be headed for Washington.” However, Boston Center was never tracking Flight 11 on radar after losing sight of it near Manhattan: “The plane’s course, had it continued south past New York in the direction it was flying before it dipped below radar coverage, would have had it headed on a straight course toward DC. This was all controllers were going on.” Scoggins says, “After talking to a supervisor, I made the call and said [American 11] is still in the air.” [Northeast Air Defense Sector, 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004; Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006]
Myers Refers to Mistaken Report - In the hours following the attacks, acting Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Richard Myers will apparently refer to this erroneous report that Flight 11 is still airborne and heading toward Washington, telling the Associated Press that “prior to the crash into the Pentagon, military officials had been notified that another hijacked plane had been heading from the New York area to Washington.” Myers will say “he assumed that hijacked plane was the one that hit the Pentagon, though he couldn’t be sure.” [Associated Press, 9/11/2001]

Entity Tags: Richard B. Myers, Northeast Air Defense Sector, Federal Aviation Administration, Boston Air Route Traffic Control Center, Colin Scoggins

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The National Miilitary Command Center, inside the Pentagon.The National Miilitary Command Center, inside the Pentagon. [Source: US Department of Defense]The National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon finally commences and runs a “significant event conference” in response to the ongoing crisis, 26 minutes after the second plane hit the World Trade Center and officers in the NMCC realized the US was under terrorist attack. [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 37; American Forces Press Service, 9/7/2006]
NMCC Directors Decided to Establish Conference - After those in the NMCC saw Flight 175 hitting the WTC live on television at 9:03 a.m. (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001), Captain Charles Leidig, the acting deputy director for operations (DDO) in the center throughout the attacks, and Commander Pat Gardner, the assistant DDO, talked about the need to convene a significant event conference so there could be a discussion of what actions were to be taken in response. The DDO and the assistant DDO are the two officers responsible for deciding what type of conference the NMCC should convene, and when it should do so. Because there is no specific procedure for dealing with terrorist attacks, Leidig and Gardner decided a significant event conference would most suit their needs, because it would have the flexibility of allowing more people to be added in as required. They also discussed who would need to be on this conference. [9/11 Commission, 4/29/2004 pdf file] But Major Charles Chambers, who is currently on duty in the NMCC, will give a slightly different account. According to Chambers, Staff Sergeant Val Harrison had a phone in her hand and said NORAD was asking for a significant event conference. Leidig had agreed, and so Harrison started establishing the conference.
Conference Begins with Recap of Situation - According to Chambers, “The computer does a mass dialing to connect to those command centers that are always included” in an NMCC conference call, but Harrison also had to manually call the civilian agencies that were going to be included in the conference, such as the FAA, the FBI, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). [US Department of Defense, 9/2001] The conference then begins at 9:29 a.m. with a brief recap: Two aircraft have hit the WTC, there is a confirmed hijacking of Flight 11, and fighter jets have been scrambled from Otis Air National Guard Base in Massachusetts (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). The FAA is asked to provide an update, but its line is silent as the agency has not yet been added to the call (see (9:29 a.m.-12:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). A minute later, Leidig states that it has just been confirmed that Flight 11 is still airborne and is heading toward Washington, DC. (This incorrect information apparently arose minutes earlier during a conference call between FAA centers (see 9:21 a.m. September 11, 2001).) [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 37] NMCC conference calls are moderated by the DDO. [9/11 Commission, 7/21/2003 pdf file] Leidig will tell the 9/11 Commission that they are conducted over “a special phone circuit, and it’s classified to be able to pass information, relay information between very senior leadership all the way over to the White House.” [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004]
NMCC Struggled to Convene Conference - Some officers currently on duty in the NMCC will later complain about circumstances that delayed the establishing of the significant event conference. Chambers will recall that the conference took “much longer than expected to bring up.” [US Department of Defense, 9/2001] Gardner will tell the 9/11 Commission that the NMCC had been “struggling to build the conference,” which “didn’t get off as quickly as hoped.” [9/11 Commission, 5/5/2004] He will describe his “frustration that it wasn’t brought up more quickly.” [9/11 Commission, 5/12/2004]
Other Conference and Connection Problems Delayed Call - Preparations for the conference were disrupted as a result of the CIA convening a National Operations and Intelligence Watch Officer Network (NOIWON) conference call between government agencies in the Washington area, reportedly at sometime between 9:16 a.m. and 9:25 a.m. (see (Between 9:16 a.m. and 9:25 a.m.) September 11, 2001). According to a 9/11 Commission memorandum, the NMCC had “abandoned its attempt to convene a [significant event conference] so its watch officers could participate in the NOIWON conference.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/21/2003 pdf file] Another factor that slowed attempts to convene the significant event conference was a problem with connecting some agencies to it. According to Chambers, “A couple of the civil agencies couldn’t be reached and others kept dropping off moments after connecting.” He will recall, “We finally decided to proceed without those agencies that were having phone problems.” [US Department of Defense, 9/2001] Leidig had announced that the NMCC would have to start without those agencies and add them to the conference later on. [9/11 Commission, 5/12/2004]
Call Ends after Five Minutes - The significant event conference ends after only a few minutes, following a recommendation by NORAD that it be reconvened as an “air threat conference.” It is brought to an end at around 9:34 a.m., and will resume as an air threat conference at 9:37 a.m. (see 9:37 a.m.-9:39 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 4/29/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 37]

Entity Tags: Charles Leidig, Federal Aviation Administration, Val Harrison, Patrick Gardner, Charles Chambers, North American Aerospace Defense Command, National Military Command Center

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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