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Context of '(Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001: NORAD Training Exercise Canceled'

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A Tu-95 Bear bomber.A Tu-95 Bear bomber. [Source: Unknown]The Russian Air Force begins a major training exercise over the North Atlantic, Pacific, and Arctic Oceans that is scheduled to last all week, ending on September 14, and which is being monitored by US fighter aircraft. The exercise is set to include the participation of strategic Tu-160 Blackjack, Tu-95 Bear, and Tu-22 bombers, along with IL-78 tanker aircraft. It will involve the strategic bombers staging a mock attack against NATO planes that are supposedly planning an assault on Russia, and is set to include practice missile attacks. The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) has sent fighter jets to Alaska and Northern Canada to monitor the Russian exercise (see September 9, 2001). [BBC, 2001, pp. 161; North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/9/2001; Washington Times, 9/11/2001] NORAD is conducting its own exercise this week called Vigilant Guardian, which, according to the 9/11 Commission Report, “postulated a bomber attack from the former Soviet Union” (see September 10, 2001, (6:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001, and (8:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 458] Major General Rick Findley, NORAD’s director of operations, will later comment that when the Russians hold an exercise, “NORAD gets involved in an exercise, just to make sure that they understand we know that they’re moving around and that they’re exercising.” [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 9/11/2002] But NORAD has stated, “[I]t is highly unlikely that Russian aircraft [participating in the exercise] would purposely violate Canadian or American airspace.” [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/9/2001] The Russians will promptly cancel their exercise on September 11, in response to the terrorist attacks in the United States (see (After 10:03 a.m.) September11, 2001). [Toronto Star, 12/9/2001; Defense Video and Imagery Distribution System, 9/8/2011]

Entity Tags: Eric A. “Rick” Findley, Russian Air Force, North American Aerospace Defense Command

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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

A NORAD training exercise that is taking place this morning, presumably Vigilant Guardian (see (6:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001), is reportedly canceled shortly after 9:03, when the second World Trade Center tower is hit. [Airman, 3/2002] NORAD Commander Larry Arnold later says that after Flight 175 hits the South Tower, “I thought it might be prudent to pull out of the exercise, which we did.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 59] According to author Lynn Spencer: “The phone calls start flying between the various NORAD command centers. General Arnold calls Maj. Gen. Rick Findley” at NORAD’s operations center in Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, “to give him the latest information and have him withdraw all forces from the simulated exercise.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 86] Arnold will recall, “As we pulled out of the exercise we were getting calls about United Flight 93 and we were worried about that.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 59] Some early accounts say the military receives notification of the possible hijacking of Flight 93 at around 9:16 a.m. (see 9:16 a.m. September 11, 2001). [CNN, 9/17/2001; 9/11 Commission, 5/23/2003] However, the 9/11 Commission will later claim that NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) first receives a call about Flight 93 at 10:07 a.m. (see 10:05 a.m.-10:08 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] Arnold will add, “Then we had another call from Boston Center about a possible hijacking, but that turned out to be the airplane that had already hit the South Tower but we didn’t know that at the time.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 59]

Entity Tags: Larry Arnold, North American Aerospace Defense Command, Vigilant Guardian, Eric A. “Rick” Findley

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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