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Context of 'Shortly After 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001: CIA Counterterrorist Center Learns of at Least One More Plane Unaccounted for'

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According to a statement by two high-level FAA officials, “Within minutes after the first aircraft hit the World Trade Center, the FAA immediately established several phone bridges [i.e., telephone conference calls] that included FAA field facilities, the FAA command center, FAA headquarters, [Defense Department], the Secret Service, and other government agencies.” The FAA shares “real-time information on the phone bridges about the unfolding events, including information about loss of communication with aircraft, loss of transponder signals, unauthorized changes in course, and other actions being taken by all the flights of interest, including Flight 77. Other parties on the phone bridges in turn shared information about actions they were taken.” The statement says, “The US Air Force liaison to the FAA immediately joined the FAA headquarters phone bridge and established contact with NORAD on a separate line.” [9/11 Commission, 5/23/2003] Another account says the phone bridges are “quickly established” by the Air Traffic Services Cell (ATSC). This is a small office at the FAA’s Herndon Command Center, which is staffed by three military officers at the time of the attacks (see (Between 9:04 a.m. and 9:25 a.m.) September 11, 2001). It serves as the center’s liaison with the military. According to Aviation Week and Space Technology, the phone bridges link “key players, such as NORAD’s command center, area defense sectors, key FAA personnel, airline operations, and the NMCC.” [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/10/2002; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] According to an FAA transcript of employee conversations on 9/11, one of the phone bridges, between the FAA Command Center, the operations center at FAA headquarters, and air traffic control centers in Boston and New York, begins before Flight 11 hits the World Trade Center at 8:46 (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Federal Aviation Administration, 10/14/2003, pp. 3-10 pdf file] If these accounts are correct, it means someone at NORAD should learn about Flight 77 when it deviates from its course (see (8:54 a.m.) September 11, 2001). However, the 9/11 Commission will later claim that the FAA teleconference is established about 30 minutes later (see (9:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The Air Force liaison to the FAA will claim she only joins it after the Pentagon is hit (see (Shortly After 9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: US Secret Service, Federal Aviation Administration, Air Traffic Services Cell, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Flight 77 from Washington begins to go off course over southern Ohio, turning to the southwest. [Washington Post, 9/12/2001; Newsday, 9/23/2001; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004]

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Flight 77’s transponder is turned off, meaning that the aircraft’s speed, altitude, and flight information are no longer visible on radar displays at the FAA’s Indianapolis Center. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001 pdf file; National Transportation Safety Board, 2/19/2002 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 9] The Indianapolis Center air traffic controller in charge of Flight 77 watched the plane go off course and head southwest before its data disappeared from his radar screen. He looks for primary radar signals along the aircraft’s projected flight path as well as in the airspace where it had started to turn, but cannot find it. [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] He tries contacting the plane repeatedly, saying “American 77, Indy,” and: “American 77, Indy, radio check. How do you read?” But there is no response. [New York Times, 10/16/2001; New York Times, 10/16/2001]
NEADS Not Contacted - US News and World Report will later comment, “[E]xperts say that an airliner making a 180-degree turn followed by a transponder turnoff should have been a red flag to controllers.” It will quote Robert Cauble, a 20-year veteran of Navy air traffic control, who says: “The fact that the transponder went off, they should have picked up on that immediately. Everyone should have been on alert about what was going on.” [US News and World Report, 10/8/2001] Yet the Indianapolis Center supposedly does not notify NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS). According to the 9/11 Commission, NEADS will only learn that Flight 77 is missing at 9:34 a.m. (see 9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 26-27]
Controller Thinks Plane Suffered Mechanical Failure - While several air traffic control centers were reportedly informed of the Flight 11 hijacking as early as 8:25 a.m. (see 8:25 a.m. September 11, 2001), according to the 9/11 Commission, the controller handling Flight 77 does not realize other aircraft have been hijacked, and he is unaware of the situation in New York. He mistakenly assumes Flight 77 has experienced an electrical or mechanical failure. [Guardian, 10/17/2001; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] After he informs other Indianapolis Center personnel of the developing situation, they will clear all other aircraft from the plane’s westerly route so their safety will not be affected if Flight 77 is still flying along its original path but unable to be heard. [Freni, 2003, pp. 29; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 460; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 30]
Airline and Possibly Pentagon Learn of Flight 77 Problems - While NEADS is not alerted about the errant aircraft, a controller at the Indianapolis Center will contact American Airlines at 8:58 to inform it that contact has been lost with Flight 77 (see 8:58 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 30] And an article in the New York Times will indicate that the Pentagon’s National Military Command Center (NMCC) promptly becomes aware of the problems with Flight 77 (see (Shortly After 8:51 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [New York Times, 9/15/2001]

Entity Tags: Robert Cauble, Indianapolis Air Route Traffic Control Center

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

According to CIA Director George Tenet, “Only minutes” after the South Tower is hit, the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center (CTC) receives a report that at least one other commercial passenger jet plane is unaccounted for. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 163] The CTC is based at the CIA headquarters in Langley, and is run by the agency’s operations division. It gathers intelligence and runs covert operations abroad. It employs hundreds of analysts, and includes experts assigned from Defense Department intelligence agencies, the Pentagon’s Central Command, the FBI, the National Security Agency, the Federal Aviation Administration, and other government agencies. According to the Los Angeles Times, “It serves as the nerve center for the CIA’s effort to disrupt and deter terrorist groups and their state sponsors.” [St. Petersburg Times, 10/2/2001; Los Angeles Times, 10/12/2001] Further details of the unaccounted-for plane, and where the CTC learns of it from, are unclear. The plane is presumably Flight 77, which veered off course at 8:54 (see (8:54 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and was evidently lost by 8:56 (see 8:56 a.m. September 11, 2001). [New York Times, 10/16/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 9] The FAA will later claim it had established several phone bridges at around 8:50 a.m., which included various government agencies, on which it shared “real-time information… about the unfolding events, including information about loss of communication with aircraft, loss of transponder signals, unauthorized changes in course, and other actions being taken by all the flights of interest, including Flight 77” (see (8:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 5/23/2003] So the CTC may have learned of the errant plane by this means. Yet the 9/11 Commission will claim the FAA’s phone bridges were not established until about 9:20 (see (9:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 36] And NORAD is supposedly only alerted to Flight 77 at 9:24, according to some accounts (see (9:24 a.m.) September 11, 2001), or 9:34, according to others (see 9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Counterterrorist Center

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The FAA sets up a hijacking teleconference with several agencies, including the Defense Department. This is almost one hour after the FAA’s Boston flight control began notifying the chain of command (see 8:25 a.m. September 11, 2001) and notified other flight control centers about the first hijacking at 8:25 a.m. (see 8:25 a.m. September 11, 2001). According to the Acting FAA Deputy Administrator Monte Belger, this teleconference (called the “hijack net”) is “the fundamental primary source of information between the FAA, [Defense Department], FBI, Secret Service, and… other agencies.” Yet even after the delay in setting it up, FAA and Defense Department participants later claim it plays no role in coordinating the response to the hijackings. The 9/11 Commission says, “The NMCC [National Military Command Center inside the Pentagon] officer who participated told us that the call was monitored only periodically because the information was sporadic, it was of little value, and there were other important tasks. The FAA manager of the teleconference also remembered that the military participated only briefly before the Pentagon was hit.” [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 36] According to a statement provided by the FAA to the 9/11 Commission in 2003, this teleconference began significantly earlier—“[w]ithin minutes after the first aircraft hit the World Trade Center” (see (8:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 5/23/2003]

Entity Tags: Federal Aviation Administration, Monte Belger, US Department of Defense, 9/11 Commission

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Shortly after 9/11, NORAD reported that the FAA notified them at this time that Flight 77 “may” have been hijacked and that it appears headed toward Washington. [Washington Post, 9/12/2001; CNN, 9/17/2001; North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001; Guardian, 10/17/2001; Associated Press, 8/21/2002] Apparently, flight controllers at Dulles International Airport discover a plane heading at high speed toward Washington; an alert is sounded within moments that the plane appears to be headed toward the White House. [Washington Post, 11/3/2001] In 2003, the FAA supported this account, but claimed that they had informally notified NORAD earlier. “NORAD logs indicate that the FAA made formal notification about American Flight 77 at 9:24 a.m. (see (9:24 a.m.) September 11, 2001), but information about the flight was conveyed continuously during the phone bridges before the formal notification.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 5/22/2003] Yet in 2004, the 9/11 Commission claims that both NORAD and the FAA are wrong. The 9/11 Commission explains that the notification NEADS received at 9:24 a.m. was the incorrect information that Flight 11 had not hit the WTC and was headed south for Washington, D.C. Thus, according to the 9/11 Commission, NORAD is never notified by the FAA about the hijacking of Flight 77, but accidentally learns about it at 9:34 a.m. (see 9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004]

Entity Tags: Washington Dulles International Airport, Federal Aviation Administration, North American Aerospace Defense Command

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

According to the 9/11 Commission, NEADS contacts Washington flight control to ask about Flight 11. A manager there happens to mention, “We’re looking—we also lost American 77.” The commission claims, “This was the first notice to the military that American 77 was missing, and it had come by chance.… No one at FAA Command Center or headquarters ever asked for military assistance with American 77.” [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] Yet, 38 minutes earlier, flight controllers determined Flight 77 was off course, out of radio contact, and had no transponder signal (see 8:56 a.m. September 11, 2001). They’d warned American Airlines headquarters within minutes. By some accounts, this is the first time NORAD is told about Flight 77, but other accounts have them warned around 9:25 a.m.

Entity Tags: American Airlines, North American Aerospace Defense Command, Northeast Air Defense Sector, Federal Aviation Administration

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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