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Context of '(8:48 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Pentagon Command Center Workers Apparently Learn of WTC Attack from TV, Think It Is an Accident'

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Boston flight control begins notifying the chain of command that a suspected hijacking of Flight 11 is in progress. Those notified include the center’s own facility manager, the FAA’s New England Regional Operations Center (ROC) in Burlington, Massachusetts, and the FAA Command Center in Herndon, Virginia (see 8:28 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 11] According to the 9/11 Commission, this is consistent with FAA protocol: “From interviews of controllers at various FAA centers, we learned that an air traffic controller’s first response to an aircraft incident is to notify a supervisor, who then notifies the traffic management unit and the operations manager in charge. The FAA center next notifies the appropriate regional operations center (ROC), which in turn contacts FAA headquarters.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 458] But according to Ben Sliney, the national operations manager at the FAA’s Command Center, “the protocol was in place that the center that reported the hijacking would notify the military.… I go back to 1964, where I began my air traffic career, and they have always followed the same protocol.” [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] Yet Boston Center supposedly will not contact NORAD about Flight 11 until about 12 minutes later (see (8:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Already about ten minutes have passed since controllers first noticed a loss of contact with Flight 11 (see (8:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Boston reportedly also contacts several other air traffic control centers about the suspected hijacking at this time (see 8:25 a.m. September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: Boston Air Route Traffic Control Center, Federal Aviation Administration

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The FAA Command Center, the center of daily management of the US air traffic system. On 9/11 it is managed by Ben Sliney (not pictured here).The FAA Command Center, the center of daily management of the US air traffic system. On 9/11 it is managed by Ben Sliney (not pictured here). [Source: CNN]The FAA’s Boston Center calls the FAA Command Center and says it believes Flight 11 has been hijacked and is heading toward the New York Center’s airspace. The Command Center immediately establishes a teleconference between the Boston, New York, and Cleveland air traffic control centers, so Boston can help the other centers understand what is happening, in case Flight 11 should enter their airspace. Minutes later, in line with the standard hijacking protocol, the Command Center will pass on word of the suspected hijacking to the FAA’s Washington headquarters (see 8:32 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 19; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 11; Spencer, 2008, pp. 21]
National Operations Manager Learns of Hijacking - A supervisor at the Command Center promptly passes on the news of the possible hijacking to Ben Sliney, who is on his first day as the national operations manager there. The supervisor says the plane in question is “American Flight 11—a 767 out of Boston for Los Angeles.” According to author Lynn Spencer, “Sliney flashes back to the routine for dealing with hijackings from the days when they were more common.” The procedure is to “[k]eep other aircraft away from the errant plane. Give the pilots what they need. The plane will land somewhere, passengers will be traded for fuel, and difficult negotiations with authorities will begin. The incident should resolve itself peacefully, although the ones in the Middle East, he recalls, often had a more violent outcome.” Apparently not expecting anything worse to happen, Sliney continues to the conference room for the daily 8:30 staff meeting there (see 8:30 a.m.-8:40 a.m. September 11, 2001).
Command Center a 'Communications Powerhouse' - The FAA Command Center is located in Herndon, Virginia, 25 miles from Washington, DC. According to Spencer, it “is a communications powerhouse, modeled after NASA’s Mission Control. The operations floor is 50 feet wide and 120 feet long, packed with tiered rows of computer stations, and at the front, seven enormous display screens show flight trajectories and weather patterns.” The center has nearly 50 specialists working around the clock, planning and monitoring the flow of air traffic over the United States. These specialists work with airlines and air traffic control facilities to fix congestion problems and deal with weather systems. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 1 and 19-20]

Entity Tags: Federal Aviation Administration, Ben Sliney, New York Air Route Traffic Control Center, Boston Air Route Traffic Control Center, Cleveland Air Route Traffic Control Center

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

In the National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon, personnel apparently become aware of the first attack on the World Trade Center from watching the reports on television. According to Steve Hahn, an operations officer there, “We monitor the television networks in the center, and along with the rest of America we saw the smoke pouring from the tower.” Dan Mangino, who is also an operations officer at the NMCC, says, “At first, we thought it was a terrible accident.” [American Forces Press Service, 9/7/2006] The 9/11 Commission later says, “Most federal agencies learned about the crash in New York from CNN.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 35] Whether the NMCC was already aware that a hijacking was underway is unclear. According to military instructions, the NMCC is “the focal point within Department of Defense for providing assistance” in response to hijackings in US airspace, and is supposed to be “notified by the most expeditious means by the FAA.” [US Department of Defense, 6/1/2001 pdf file] Boston Air Traffic Control Center started notifying the chain of command of the suspected hijacking of Flight 11 more than 20 minutes earlier (see 8:25 a.m. September 11, 2001). And at 8:32, the FAA’s Command Center in Herndon informed FAA headquarters of the possible hijacking (see 8:28 a.m. September 11, 2001). Yet, according to the 9/11 Commission, although the “FAA headquarters began to follow the hijack protocol,” it “did not contact the NMCC to request a fighter escort.” Supposedly, the first that the military learned of the hijacking was when Boston Air Traffic Control Center contacted NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) about it, at around 8:37 a.m. (see (8:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The earliest time mentioned by the 9/11 Commission that the NMCC learns of the Flight 11 hijacking is 9 a.m. (see 9:00 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 19-20 and 35]

Entity Tags: Steve Hahn, Dan Mangino, National Military Command Center

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Officers in the National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon begin notifying senior Pentagon officials about the plane crashing into the World Trade Center after learning of this from television, but they are apparently unaware of the hijacking of Flight 11. [9/11 Commission, 7/21/2003 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 4/29/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 35] The NMCC’s three main missions are monitoring worldwide events for the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), maintaining a strategic watch component, and maintaining a crisis response component. The NMCC has live feeds from numerous television stations, and the operations team on duty there learned from CNN that an aircraft had hit the WTC (see (8:48 a.m.) September 11, 2001).
NMCC Directors Notify Senior Pentagon Officials of Crash - In response, members of the operations team monitor media reports and begin making notifications up the chain of command. [9/11 Commission, 7/21/2003 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 4/29/2004 pdf file] Captain Charles Leidig, who is currently standing in temporarily as deputy director for operations in the NMCC (see 8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001), will later recall, “Initially… the National Military Command Center was primarily a means to notify senior leadership that, in fact, an event had occurred.” [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] Leidig and Commander Patrick Gardner, the assistant deputy director for operations, start notifying those on the internal JCS notification list, including the office of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, about the crash. They also notify the office of the secretary of defense. Based on incorrect information being reported on television, Leidig tells the senior Pentagon officials that a small airplane has crashed into one of the towers of the WTC. [9/11 Commission, 4/29/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 35]
NMCC Unaware of Flight 11 Hijacking - According to military instructions, “the NMCC is the focal point within [the] Department of Defense for providing assistance” in response to aircraft hijackings in US airspace, and, “In the event of a hijacking, the NMCC will be notified by the most expeditious means by the FAA” (see June 1, 2001). [US Department of Defense, 6/1/2001 pdf file] However, while details of the hijacking of Flight 11 have been circulating within the FAA, the 9/11 Commission will say it “found no evidence that the hijacking was reported to any other agency in Washington before 8:46.” The NMCC apparently learns of the hijacking for the first time when one of its officers calls the FAA at 9:00 a.m. (see 9:00 a.m. September 11, 2001). Leidig will recall that, before the second plane hits the WTC at 9:03 a.m., he and Gardner think it is “something unusual… that a light plane had crashed into the WTC and that there was a report of a hijacking.” [9/11 Commission, 4/29/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 35, 462]

Entity Tags: Charles Leidig, Patrick Gardner, National Military Command Center

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

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