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Context of '(9:29 a.m.-12:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001: Pentagon Command Center Struggles to Connect FAA to Conference Calls'

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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

Officers at the National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon have serious problems trying to connect the FAA to the conference calls they convene in response to the terrorist attacks. [US Department of Defense, 9/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/21/2003 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] The NMCC commences a “significant event conference” at 9:29 a.m., to gather and disseminate information relating to the crisis from government agencies (see 9:29 a.m.-9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001). Minutes later, this is upgraded to an “air threat conference” (see 9:37 a.m.-9:39 a.m. September 11, 2001). According to the 9/11 Commission Report, operators at the NMCC work “feverishly to include the FAA” in the conference, but they have “equipment problems and difficulty finding secure phone numbers.” [9/11 Commission, 7/21/2003 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 37]
NMCC Unable to Connect to FAA - The FAA is not on the NMCC’s established checklist of parties to call for either a significant event conference or an air threat conference. Captain Charles Leidig, the acting deputy director for operations (DDO) in the NMCC during the attacks, therefore has to ask Staff Sergeant Val Harrison to add the FAA to the air threat conference. Harrison tries contacting the operations center at FAA headquarters in Washington, DC, but has difficulty getting through. She finally asks the White House switchboard to help her connect the call to the FAA, but even after a line has been established it is repeatedly lost. [US Department of Defense, 9/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/21/2003 pdf file] According to Leidig, the FAA is only “intermittently in,” and “[m]ost of the time they were not in the conference.”
NMCC Establishes Non-Secure Line with FAA - Commander Pat Gardner, the assistant DDO, has to set up an unclassified line with the FAA, because the agency’s only STU-III secure phone is tied up. This unclassified line is separate to the conference call, which is on a special, classified phone circuit. [9/11 Commission, 4/29/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] According to Major Charles Chambers, who is currently on duty in the NMCC, because it isn’t in the NMCC’s conference, the FAA “couldn’t go secure and so we couldn’t get first-hand information from them.” [US Department of Defense, 9/2001]
Connection Problems 'Hampered Information Flow' - Leidig is frustrated at being unable to keep the FAA in the conference. Sometimes questions are asked of the agency, but it is no longer on the line and so the NMCC has to redial it. [9/11 Commission, 4/29/2004 pdf file] Leidig will tell the 9/11 Commission that the connection problems, which occur “throughout the morning… hampered information flow to some degree,” because the NMCC is “getting information in a more roundabout way from FAA. Sometimes it would come from a local commander to NORAD back to us, or sometimes it would come on an open line” with the FAA operations center, rather than over the conference. Leidig will add that if the FAA “had been in the same conference that was being directed by the National Military Command Center, the information flow would have went directly to NORAD because [NORAD was] in that conference.” [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004]
FAA Employee Joins Conference - According to Harrison, the NMCC is not presently aware of the existence of the FAA Command Center in Herndon, Virginia, and also does not realize that there is a military liaison at the FAA operations center. [9/11 Commission, 7/21/2003 pdf file] However, at 10:17 a.m., FAA representative Rayford Brooks, who is at the agency’s Command Center, finally joins the air threat conference (see 10:17 a.m. September 11, 2001), although accounts indicate there are problems keeping him connected after that time. [9/11 Commission, 4/15/2004; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 37, 463]
'Compatibility Issues' Supposedly Cause Connection Problems - The FAA keeps getting cut off the NMCC conference because of “technical problems,” according to a 9/11 Commission memorandum. [9/11 Commission, 7/21/2003 pdf file] Leidig will tell the Commission it is his understanding that there were some “compatibility issues” between the FAA’s secure phone and the secure phones in the NMCC, and these caused the FAA to keep dropping out of the conference, although he is unaware of the technical aspects of the problem. [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004]

Entity Tags: National Military Command Center, Charles Chambers, Federal Aviation Administration, White House, Charles Leidig, Rayford Brooks, North American Aerospace Defense Command, Val Harrison, Patrick Gardner

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon commences an “air threat conference” at 9:37 a.m. in response to the terrorist attacks, which will last for more than eight hours and have numerous high-level government and military officials participating at various times.
NORAD Reports Two More Hijackings - Captain Charles Leidig opens the call at 9:39 a.m. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 37-38] As the acting deputy director for operations (DDO) in the NMCC during the attacks, Leidig is responsible for moderating the air threat conference and generating a military response to the crisis. [9/11 Commission, 4/29/2004 pdf file] He begins the call saying: “An air attack against North America may be in progress. NORAD, what’s the situation?” NORAD says it has conflicting reports, and its latest information is of “a possible hijacked aircraft taking off out of JFK [International Airport in New York], en route to Washington, DC.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 38] NORAD says the FAA has also passed it information about a second additional hijacking. Major Charles Chambers, who is currently on duty in the NMCC, will later recall, “This was probably a communications mix-up, but we all thought for a while that there were a total of five hijackings.” [US Department of Defense, 9/2001]
NMCC Reports Pentagon Attack - The NMCC reports that there has been a crash into the mall side of the Pentagon and requests that the secretary of defense be added to the conference. (However, despite being in the Pentagon when it is hit, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld will not enter the NMCC and join the air threat conference until around 10:30 a.m. (see (10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001).) [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 38] The air threat conference is broadcast over a loudspeaker inside the NMCC. [US News and World Report, 8/31/2003] According to Chambers, “Questions were flying left and right on the conference, and trying to keep things straight was very difficult.” [US Department of Defense, 9/2001]
NORAD Recommended Air Threat Conference - Leidig and Commander Pat Gardner, the assistant DDO, had earlier on decided to convene an all-purpose “significant event conference” in response to the attacks on the World Trade Center. That call commenced at 9:29 a.m. (see 9:29 a.m.-9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001). NORAD had recommended that it be reconvened as an air threat conference. [9/11 Commission, 4/29/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 37] According to Chambers, an air threat conference is used when aircraft are considered to be hostile and involves many more people than are in a significant event conference, including the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the secretary of defense, and officials from the White House. [US Department of Defense, 9/2001] However, Leidig thought a significant event conference was the correct kind of call for the situation. He will tell the 9/11 Commission that an air threat conference “had Cold War implications and brought a different group of people to a conference.” [9/11 Commission, 4/29/2004 pdf file] Gardner will say that threat conferences are intended for dealing with external threats. [9/11 Commission, 5/12/2004]
Deputy Director Ordered Upgrading of Conference - All the same, Leidig gave the order to transition to an air threat conference. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 37] He will tell the 9/11 Commission that, in retrospect, the reason he thinks he did so “was because he perceived an air threat at that time.” [9/11 Commission, 4/29/2004 pdf file] Therefore, the significant event conference was brought to an end at around 9:34 a.m., and resumes as an air threat conference three minutes later. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 37] Staff Sergeant Val Harrison could have established the air threat conference either by leaving all of those participating in the significant event conference on the line and then adding new participants one at a time, or by simply hanging up on everyone in the significant event conference and then having the computer do a mass dialing. Harrison recommended the second option. Leidig had agreed, and directed her to disconnect the conference call and start over.
Problem with Connecting Some Agencies - As happened with the significant event conference, there are problems connecting several agencies to the air threat conference. [US Department of Defense, 9/2001] Despite repeated attempts, operators struggle to get the FAA connected (see (9:29 a.m.-12:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001), and it will take until 10:17 a.m. for an FAA representative to finally join the call (see 10:17 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/21/2003 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 37] Other agencies had not understood what Leidig meant about convening the new conference, and so did not hang up their phones when the NMCC disconnected the previous conference call. As a result, all the NMCC got from them was a busy signal over the line. Chambers will recall, “As with the [significant event conference], it took longer than expected to convene the [air threat conference].” [US Department of Defense, 9/2001]
Top Officials Participate - Throughout the more than eight hours the air threat conference is running for, numerous key officials will participate in it at various times, including President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, acting Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Richard Myers, military personnel from the Presidential Emergency Operations Center below the White House, and the president’s military aide on Air Force One. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 37] Brigadier General Montague Winfield, the original DDO, who had Leidig take his place so he could attend a pre-scheduled meeting (see 8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001), will later recall, “All of the governmental agencies… that were involved in any activity that was going on in the United States… were in that conference.” [ABC News, 9/11/2002]
Winfield Runs Conference after Returning to Post - Winfield will take over the running of the air threat conference from Leidig after returning to his post at around 10:30 a.m. (see (10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [CNN, 9/4/2002; 9/11 Commission, 4/29/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] But although NMCC conference calls are moderated by the DDO, Rumsfeld will use the DDO’s phone to participate in the air threat conference, meaning that Winfield is unable to moderate the conference when the defense secretary is participating. [9/11 Commission, 7/21/2003 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Charles Leidig, Federal Aviation Administration, Montague Winfield, Charles Chambers, Patrick Gardner, North American Aerospace Defense Command, National Military Command Center, Val Harrison

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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