The Center for Grassroots Oversight

This page can be viewed at http://www.historycommons.org/context.jsp?item=a944nmccconfusion


Context of '9:44 a.m. September 11, 2001: NMCC Conference Thinks Flight 1989, Not Flight 93, Is Fourth Hijack'

This is a scalable context timeline. It contains events related to the event 9:44 a.m. September 11, 2001: NMCC Conference Thinks Flight 1989, Not Flight 93, Is Fourth Hijack. You can narrow or broaden the context of this timeline by adjusting the zoom level. The lower the scale, the more relevant the items on average will be, while the higher the scale, the less relevant the items, on average, will be.

NORAD fails to notify the National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon that aircraft have been hijacked before the NMCC initiates a significant event conference in response to the terrorist attacks. (9/11 Commission 6/9/2004) NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) was alerted to the first hijacking, of Flight 11, at 8:37 a.m. (see (8:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and it is alerted to the second hijacking, of Flight 175, at 9:03 a.m. (see (9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 20, 23) And yet, according to an after-action report produced by the NMCC, NORAD does not contact the NMCC to alert it to these incidents before the significant event conference commences, at 9:29 a.m. (see 9:29 a.m.-9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 6/9/2004)
NORAD Does Not Provide Information to Deputy Director - Captain Charles Leidig, the acting deputy director for operations in the NMCC, will later say that he “does not remember getting a lot of information from NORAD” before the significant event conference begins. (9/11 Commission 4/29/2004 pdf file) NMCC personnel apparently learn that an aircraft has been hijacked when an officer in the center calls the FAA at 9:00 a.m. (see 9:00 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 4/29/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 5/5/2004; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 35)
NORAD First Mentions a Hijacking at 9:33 a.m. - NORAD will apparently talk to the NMCC about a hijacking for the first time at around 9:33 a.m., when its representative on the significant event conference states that they “concur that [a] hijacked aircraft is still airborne [and] heading towards Washington, DC.” (US Department of Defense 9/11/2001; US Department of Defense 9/11/2001 pdf file) (They will presumably be referring to the incorrect information that Flight 11 is still in the air after it has crashed into the World Trade Center (see 9:21 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 26) )
NORAD Does Not Request a Conference - Additionally, according to the NMCC’s after-action report, NORAD “does not request any conference at [National Command Authority] level” prior to the commencement of the significant event conference. (9/11 Commission 6/9/2004) The significant event conference is actually initiated by Leidig. The NMCC has an important role to play in an emergency like the current crisis. Its job under these circumstances “is to gather the relevant parties and establish the chain of command between the National Command Authority—the president and the secretary of defense—and those who need to carry out their orders,” according to the 9/11 Commission Report. (9/11 Commission 4/29/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 37) It is also “the focal point within [the] Department of Defense for providing assistance” when there is a hijacking in US airspace, according to a recent military instruction (see June 1, 2001). (US Department of Defense 6/1/2001 pdf file)

The National Miilitary Command Center, inside the Pentagon.The National Miilitary Command Center, inside the Pentagon. [Source: US Department of Defense]The National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon finally commences and runs a “significant event conference” in response to the ongoing crisis, 26 minutes after the second plane hit the World Trade Center and officers in the NMCC realized the US was under terrorist attack. (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 37; Garamone 9/7/2006)
NMCC Directors Decided to Establish Conference - After those in the NMCC saw Flight 175 hitting the WTC live on television at 9:03 a.m. (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001), Captain Charles Leidig, the acting deputy director for operations (DDO) in the center throughout the attacks, and Commander Pat Gardner, the assistant DDO, talked about the need to convene a significant event conference so there could be a discussion of what actions were to be taken in response. The DDO and the assistant DDO are the two officers responsible for deciding what type of conference the NMCC should convene, and when it should do so. Because there is no specific procedure for dealing with terrorist attacks, Leidig and Gardner decided a significant event conference would most suit their needs, because it would have the flexibility of allowing more people to be added in as required. They also discussed who would need to be on this conference. (9/11 Commission 4/29/2004 pdf file) But Major Charles Chambers, who is currently on duty in the NMCC, will give a slightly different account. According to Chambers, Staff Sergeant Val Harrison had a phone in her hand and said NORAD was asking for a significant event conference. Leidig had agreed, and so Harrison started establishing the conference.
Conference Begins with Recap of Situation - According to Chambers, “The computer does a mass dialing to connect to those command centers that are always included” in an NMCC conference call, but Harrison also had to manually call the civilian agencies that were going to be included in the conference, such as the FAA, the FBI, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). (US Department of Defense 9/2001) The conference then begins at 9:29 a.m. with a brief recap: Two aircraft have hit the WTC, there is a confirmed hijacking of Flight 11, and fighter jets have been scrambled from Otis Air National Guard Base in Massachusetts (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). The FAA is asked to provide an update, but its line is silent as the agency has not yet been added to the call (see (9:29 a.m.-12:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). A minute later, Leidig states that it has just been confirmed that Flight 11 is still airborne and is heading toward Washington, DC. (This incorrect information apparently arose minutes earlier during a conference call between FAA centers (see 9:21 a.m. September 11, 2001).) (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 37) NMCC conference calls are moderated by the DDO. (9/11 Commission 7/21/2003 pdf file) Leidig will tell the 9/11 Commission that they are conducted over “a special phone circuit, and it’s classified to be able to pass information, relay information between very senior leadership all the way over to the White House.” (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004)
NMCC Struggled to Convene Conference - Some officers currently on duty in the NMCC will later complain about circumstances that delayed the establishing of the significant event conference. Chambers will recall that the conference took “much longer than expected to bring up.” (US Department of Defense 9/2001) Gardner will tell the 9/11 Commission that the NMCC had been “struggling to build the conference,” which “didn’t get off as quickly as hoped.” (9/11 Commission 5/5/2004) He will describe his “frustration that it wasn’t brought up more quickly.” (9/11 Commission 5/12/2004)
Other Conference and Connection Problems Delayed Call - Preparations for the conference were disrupted as a result of the CIA convening a National Operations and Intelligence Watch Officer Network (NOIWON) conference call between government agencies in the Washington area, reportedly at sometime between 9:16 a.m. and 9:25 a.m. (see (Between 9:16 a.m. and 9:25 a.m.) September 11, 2001). According to a 9/11 Commission memorandum, the NMCC had “abandoned its attempt to convene a [significant event conference] so its watch officers could participate in the NOIWON conference.” (Federal Aviation Administration 9/11/2001; Federal Aviation Administration 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/21/2003 pdf file) Another factor that slowed attempts to convene the significant event conference was a problem with connecting some agencies to it. According to Chambers, “A couple of the civil agencies couldn’t be reached and others kept dropping off moments after connecting.” He will recall, “We finally decided to proceed without those agencies that were having phone problems.” (US Department of Defense 9/2001) Leidig had announced that the NMCC would have to start without those agencies and add them to the conference later on. (9/11 Commission 5/12/2004)
Call Ends after Five Minutes - The significant event conference ends after only a few minutes, following a recommendation by NORAD that it be reconvened as an “air threat conference.” It is brought to an end at around 9:34 a.m., and will resume as an air threat conference at 9:37 a.m. (see 9:37 a.m.-9:39 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 4/29/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 37)

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. (Ragavan and Mazzetti 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)

NORAD briefs the NMCC teleconference on the possible hijacking of Delta Flight 1989. Four minutes later, a representative from the White House bunker containing Vice President Cheney asks if there are any indications of other hijacked planes. Captain Charles Leidig, temporarily in charge of the NMCC, mentions the Delta Flight and comments, “that would be the fourth possible hijack.” Flight 1989 is in the same general Ohio region as Flight 93, but NORAD doesn’t scramble fighters toward either plane at this time. (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004)


Creative Commons License Except where otherwise noted, the textual content of each timeline is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike