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Context of 'After 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001: NORAD Operations Center Receives Many False Reports of Hijackings'

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The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) holds a training exercise based on the scenario of an aircraft hijacking, which involves a real plane playing the part of the hijacked aircraft. The exercise will be described to the 9/11 Commission in 2004 by Major Paul Goddard, who is the chief of live exercises for the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) at the time of the 9/11 attacks. According to Goddard, the exercise, held in 1995, is called “Twin Star” and the FAA invites NORAD to participate in it, “since a real commercial airliner was to be shadowed by a fighter intercept.” Goddard will tell the 9/11 Commission his understanding is that the exercise involves the entire FAA system, and the National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon also participates in it. [9/11 Commission, 3/4/2004] Colin Scoggins, the military operations specialist at the FAA’s Boston Center on 9/11, will describe what is apparently this exercise when he is interviewed by the 9/11 Commission in 2003. He will say he believes the exercise is “joint FAA/military” and is conducted “in 1995 or 1996.” According to Scoggins, the exercise involves “a military scramble to escort a hijacked aircraft,” but the fighter jets taking part are “unable to intercept” the mock hijacked plane. [9/11 Commission, 9/22/2003 pdf file] Apparently describing the same exercise in a documentary film, Scoggins will say, “We had run a hijack test years before [9/11] and the fighters never got off on the appropriate heading, and it took them forever to catch up.” [Michael Bronner, 2006]

Entity Tags: North American Aerospace Defense Command, Colin Scoggins, National Military Command Center, Twin Star, Paul Goddard, Federal Aviation Administration

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Major General Rick Findley.Major General Rick Findley. [Source: NORAD]Personnel in the NORAD operations center in Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, learn of the first plane hitting the World Trade Center from television coverage of the attack, but do not realize the crash involved the hijacked aircraft they have just been notified of. [Calgary Herald, 10/1/2001; Ottawa Citizen, 9/11/2002; Defense Video and Imagery Distribution System, 9/8/2011] Jeff Ford, an Air Force lieutenant colonel working in the Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center (CMOC), will later recall, “[W]e started seeing the TV inputs from CNN on the aircraft, the first aircraft that had hit the Twin Towers.” [Defense Video and Imagery Distribution System, 9/8/2011] Major General Rick Findley, NORAD’s director of operations, has just learned that the FAA has requested NORAD assistance with a hijacking (see (8.46 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 3/1/2004 pdf file; Spencer, 2008, pp. 38-39] He now enters the battle cab at the operations center. Someone there tells him, “Sir, you might want to look at that.” Findley will later recall: “I looked up and there was the CNN image of the World Trade Center. There was a hole in the side of one of the buildings.”
CMOC Personnel Think Small Plane Hit WTC - Findley asks, “What’s that from?” and is told, “Well, they’re saying it’s a commuter aircraft.” Findley says, “That’s too big a hole for a commuter aircraft.” He asks if the crash was caused by the hijacked aircraft he has been informed of. “I was scratching my head, wondering if it was another aircraft altogether,” he will recall. [Calgary Herald, 10/1/2001; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 9/11/2002] Others in the CMOC are unaware that the crash was the result of a terrorist attack and involved a large commercial aircraft. Lieutenant Colonel Steven Armstrong, NORAD’s chief of plans and forces, will recall, “[W]e didn’t really know that it was anything other than perhaps a general aviation aircraft because those were the first indications that we had was it was just… reported like a small, maybe a general aviation aircraft that had hit one of the buildings.” [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/9/2011] According to Lieutenant Colonel William Glover, the commander of NORAD’s Air Warning Center: “[W]e weren’t sure whether it was a mistake… was this intentional? Was there a problem? The weather was good, you know, that type of thing. So we really didn’t know what the reason was that this aircraft struck the tower.” [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 9/8/2011] Ford will recall: “[W]e knew something was wrong because there really wasn’t any reason for any navigational problems for that aircraft. There might have been a malfunction or something on the aircraft that had taken place, but we really didn’t have any indications of what was going on yet.” [Defense Video and Imagery Distribution System, 9/8/2011]
CMOC Personnel Unaware that Crash Was Deliberate - The CMOC is “the nerve centre of North America’s air defense,” according to the BBC. [BBC, 9/1/2002] Its role, according to the Toronto Star, is “to fuse every critical piece of information NORAD has into a concise and crystalline snapshot.” [Toronto Star, 12/9/2001] But it is only after personnel there see the television coverage of the second plane hitting the WTC at 9:03 a.m. that they realize “we had something much more sinister than just an accident, a really coordinated and deliberate action,” according to Findley. [Ottawa Citizen, 9/11/2002] Armstrong will recall: “[W]hen we saw the video [of the second crash], we said: ‘Wait a second. Those are commercial-size airplanes. Those aren’t general aviation aircraft.’ That obviously changed the situation significantly.” [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/9/2011] According to Glover, after the second crash, “We knew then that the first one was not a mistake and we knew that this was intentional.” [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 9/8/2011]

Entity Tags: Jeff Ford, William Glover, Eric A. “Rick” Findley, North American Aerospace Defense Command, Steven Armstrong

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

William Glover.William Glover. [Source: Thomas Doscher / US Air Force]The NORAD operations center in Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, receives numerous reports from the FAA of additional hijacked aircraft, but most of these reports turn out to be incorrect. Lieutenant Colonel William Glover, the commander of NORAD’s Air Warning Center, will later recall that after 9:03 a.m., when the second plane hits the World Trade Center, those in the operations center are “starting to receive reports… that we have these hijackings coming in.” He will say, “We had all these other reports coming in now, we were receiving from FAA, that there’s other issues on there.” [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 9/8/2011] According to Glover, the FAA says to NORAD, “Hey, this may be a possible hijack, or this aircraft may be a possible hijack.” As a result, those in the operations center “did not know how many more there were. Were there five, six, seven, or eight?” [BBC, 9/1/2002] Major General Rick Findley, NORAD’s director of operations, will similarly recall: “Lots of other reports were starting to come in. And now you’re not too sure. If they’re that clever to coordinate that kind of attack, what else is taking place across North America?” [Toronto Star, 12/9/2001] According to Glover, the uncertainty about how many additional hijacked planes there are will lead NORAD to implement a limited version of a plan called SCATANA, which clears the skies and gives the military control of US airspace (see (11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] However, most of the additional hijackings that the FAA is reporting to NORAD turn out to be false alarms. Glover will say that most of the reports “were not true.” [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 9/8/2011] According to the 9/11 Commission Report, there are “multiple erroneous reports of hijacked aircraft” during the morning (see (9:09 a.m. and After) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 28]

Entity Tags: Eric A. “Rick” Findley, North American Aerospace Defense Command, Federal Aviation Administration, William Glover

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

On the evening of September 11, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the military decline to comment on whether fighter jets were launched to intercept any of the hijacked aircraft earlier in the day. Laura Brown, an FAA spokeswoman, refuses to say whether the agency requested military intercepts. Major Barry Venable, a spokesman for the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), similarly says he does not know whether the FAA asked NORAD to send up jets to intercept the errant aircraft. Lt. Col. Margaret Quenneville, a spokeswoman for the 102nd Fighter Wing of the Massachusetts Air National Guard, which operates from Otis Air National Guard Base at Cape Cod, refuses to comment on whether the fighter wing was requested to intercept the hijacked airliners. [Cape Cod Times, 9/12/2001; Cape Cod Times, 9/12/2001] Several days later, it will be revealed that two F-15s were indeed launched from Otis around the time the first WTC tower was hit, and three F-16s were launched from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia shortly before the time the Pentagon was hit (see September 14, 2001). [CBS News, 9/14/2001; Cape Cod Times, 9/16/2001; North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001] But as late as September 15, the New York Times is reporting, “The Federal Aviation Administration has officially refused to discuss its procedures or the sequence of events on Tuesday morning, saying these are part of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s inquiry.” [New York Times, 9/15/2001]

Entity Tags: Federal Aviation Administration, Margaret Quenneville, Barry Venable, North American Aerospace Defense Command, Laura Brown

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline


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