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Context of 'Before 9:00 a.m. September 11, 2001: Army Base Outside New York Prepares for Terrorist Attack Exercise'

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A MASCAL (mass casualty) training exercise is held at Fort Belvoir, an army base 12 miles south of the Pentagon. It is “designed to enhance the first ready response in dealing with the effects of a terrorist incident involving an explosion.” [MDW News Service, 7/5/2001]

Entity Tags: Fort Belvoir

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Within the headquarters of the National Security Agency (NSA) in Fort Meade, Maryland is a little-known unit called the Defense Special Missile and Astronautics Center (DEFSMAC). According to author James Bamford, who is an expert on the NSA, the center’s purpose is “to serve as the nation’s chief warning bell for a planned attack on America. It serves as the focal point for ‘all-source’ intelligence—listening posts, early-warning satellites, human agents, and seismic detectors.” According to one former NSA official, DEFSMAC “has all the inputs from all the assets, and is a warning activity. They probably have a better feel for any worldwide threat to this country from missiles, aircraft, or overt military activities, better and more timely, at instant fingertip availability, than any group in the United States.” If they received indications that an attack was imminent, DEFSMAC officials could “immediately send out near-real-time and in-depth, all-source intelligence alerts to almost 200 ‘customers,’ including the White House Situation Room, the National Military Command Center at the Pentagon, the [Defense Intelligence Agency] Alert Center, and listening posts around the world.” Its analysts could be “closely monitoring all intercepts flooding in; examining the latest overhead photography; and analyzing data from early-warning satellites 22,300 miles above the equator. DEFSMAC would then flash the intelligence to the US Strategic Command at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, NORAD at Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado, and other emergency command centers.” But on this morning, as Bamford will conclude, “DEFSMAC learned of the massive airborne attacks after the fact—not from America’s multibillion-dollar spy satellites or its worldwide network of advanced listening posts, or its army of human spies, but from a dusty, off-the-shelf TV set.” [Bamford, 2004, pp. 33-35] The NSA had in fact intercepted numerous calls between some of the hijackers in the US and an al-Qaeda communications hub in Yemen, beginning in early 2000 and ending just weeks before 9/11 (see Early 2000-Summer 2001). [MSNBC, 7/21/2004] It also intercepted two messages in Arabic on September 10, stating, “The match is about to begin,” and “Tomorrow is zero hour,” but these are supposedly not translated until September 12 (see September 10, 2001). [Washington Post, 6/20/2002] The NSA even intercepted a series of communications between 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) and lead 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta beginning in the summer of 2001 (see Summer 2001), continuing to a message where KSM gives Atta the final go-ahead for the attacks on September 10, 2001 (see September 10, 2001). Michael Hayden, the director of the NSA, will later claim that the “NSA had no [indications] that al-Qaeda was specifically targeting New York and Washington… or even that it was planning an attack on US soil” (see October 17, 2002). [National Journal, 6/19/2006]

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, Michael Hayden, Defense Special Missile and Astronautics Center, James Bamford

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Staff at Fort Monmouth, an Army base in New Jersey located about 50 miles south of New York City, is preparing to hold a “disaster drill” to test emergency response capabilities to a fake chemical attack. The exercise, called Timely Alert II, is to involve various law enforcement agencies and emergency personnel, including Fort Monmouth firefighters and members of the New Jersey State Police. Personnel are to be deployed and measures taken as in a real emergency. A notice has been sent out, warning that anyone not conducting official business will be turned away from Fort Monmouth during the exercise. Soon after 9 a.m., the exercise director tells a group of participating volunteers that a hijacked plane has crashed into the World Trade Center. The participants pretend to be upset, believing this is just part of the simulation. When they see the live televised footage of the WTC attacks, some people at the base think it is an elaborate training video to accompany the exercise. One worker tells a fire department training officer: “You really outdid yourself this time.” Interestingly, the follow-up exercise held in July 2002 (Timely Alert III) does incorporate simulated television news reports to give participants the impression that the emergency is real. And in the first Timely Alert exercise, held on the base in January 2001, a call had come through of a supposed “real” bomb situation, but this “fortunately turned out to be a report related to a training aid being used during the exercise.” On 9/11, Fort Monmouth is geared to go into high-alert status as part of Timely Alert II. The exercise is called off once the base is alerted to the real attacks. [Monmouth Message, 2/9/2001; Hub, 9/21/2001; Monmouth Message, 9/21/2001; Asbury Park Press, 7/24/2002; Monmouth Message, 8/23/2002; US Department of the Army, 7/26/2003 pdf file; Monmouth Message, 9/12/2003] Fort Monmouth is home to various Army, Defense Department, and other government agencies. The largest of these is the US Army’s Communications-Electronics Command (CECOM). CECOM serves to “develop, acquire, field, and sustain superior information technologies and integrated systems for America’s warfighters.” It is tasked with the “critical role of command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR).” [Communications-Electronics Command, 4/17/2002; US Department of the Army, 1/2003 pdf file; GlobalSecurity (.org), 2/12/2006] Fort Monmouth services also directly assist in the emergency response later in the day. Its fire department deploys to Atlantic Highlands to assist passengers coming from Manhattan by ferry, and members of its Patterson Army Health Clinic are also sent out to help. Teams of CECOM experts from the base are later deployed to ground zero in New York with equipment capable of locating cellular phone transmissions within the ruins of the collapsed World Trade Center. Its explosive ordnance company is also deployed to assist authorities should they come across anything they think might be explosives, while digging through the debris in search of victims. [Hub, 9/21/2001; Monmouth Message, 9/21/2001]

Entity Tags: World Trade Center, Army’s Communications-Electronics Command, Fort Monmouth, Timely Alert II

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Logo of the New York State Emergency Management Office.Logo of the New York State Emergency Management Office. [Source: New York State Emergency Management Office]Investigators searching the debris of the collapsed World Trade Center towers are reported to have detected a signal from one of the black boxes from the planes that crashed into the WTC on September 11, although government officials will later say that these two planes’ black boxes were never found. [New York State Emergency Management Office, 9/18/2001 pdf file; Philadelphia Daily News, 10/28/2004] The two “black boxes” carried by all commercial aircraft—the cockpit voice recorder and the flight data recorder—can provide valuable information about why a plane crashed. [CBS News, 2/25/2002; PBS, 2/17/2004] A report published today by the New York State Emergency Management Office states that “[i]nvestigators have identified the signal from one of the black boxes in the WTC debris.” [New York State Emergency Management Office, 9/18/2001 pdf file] Furthermore, a team from the Army’s Communications-Electronics Command (CECOM) arrived at Ground Zero on September 13 “and scoped the area using classified signal equipment,” according to Federal Computer Week magazine, and according to Toni Quiroz, chief of the computer networking branch at CECOM, “The team managed to get some signals that could have emanated from the black boxes.” Quiroz will add, however, that “it was never determined if they were the recorders.” [Federal Computer Week, 9/16/2002] But a report published by the New York City Office of Emergency Management on September 25 will state that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has been “[u]nable to detect any ‘pinging’ from either ‘black box’” at Ground Zero. [New York City Office of Emergency Management, 9/25/2001 pdf file] A firefighter and a volunteer who are involved in the recovery effort at Ground Zero will say they helped federal agents find three of the four black boxes in the WTC debris (see October 2001). [Swanson, 2003, pp. 108; Philadelphia Daily News, 10/28/2004] But the 9/11 Commission Report will state that the black boxes from the planes that crashed into the WTC “were not found” and the FBI will, in 2004, make the same claim. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 456; Philadelphia Daily News, 10/28/2004]

Entity Tags: Toni Quiroz, Federal Aviation Administration, Army’s Communications-Electronics Command

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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