Profile: Dawne Deskins
Dawne Deskins was a participant or observer in the following events:
NORAD’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).
Tech. Sgt. Jeremy Powell. [Source: Scott A. Gwilt/ Rome Sentinel]The FAA’s Boston Center calls NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) in Rome, NY, to alert it to the suspected hijacking of Flight 11. According to the 9/11 Commission, this is “the first notification received by the military—at any level—that American 11 had been hijacked.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 13 ] The call is made by Joseph Cooper, an air traffic controller at the Boston Center, and answered by Jeremy Powell, a technical sergeant on the NEADS operations floor. [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006; Spencer, 2008, pp. 25] Beginning the call, Cooper says: “Hi. Boston Center TMU [traffic management unit], we have a problem here. We have a hijacked aircraft headed towards New York, and we need you guys to, we need someone to scramble some F-16s or something up there, help us out.” Powell replies, “Is this real-world or exercise?” Cooper answers, “No, this is not an exercise, not a test.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20] Shortly into the call, Powell passes the phone on to Lieutenant Colonel Dawne Deskins (see (8:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Deskins identifies herself to Cooper, and he tells her, “We have a hijacked aircraft and I need you to get some sort of fighters out here to help us out.” [Newhouse News Service, 1/25/2002; ABC News, 9/11/2002; Bamford, 2004, pp. 8; Spencer, 2008, pp. 26]
Military Claims Call Goes against Procedure - The 1st Air Force’s official history of the response to the 9/11 attacks will later suggest that Boston Center is not following normal procedures when it makes this call to NEADS. It states: “If normal procedures had taken place… Powell probably wouldn’t have taken that phone call. Normally, the FAA would have contacted officials at the Pentagon’s National Military Command Center who would have contacted the North American Aerospace Defense Command. The secretary of defense would have had to approve the use of military assets to assist in a hijacking, always considered a law enforcement issue.” The only explanation it gives for this departure from protocol is that “nothing was normal on Sept. 11, 2001, and many say the traditional chain of command went by the wayside to get the job done.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 51]
Accounts Conflict over Time of Call - There will be some conflict between different accounts, as to when this vital call from Boston Center to NEADS occurs. An ABC News documentary will indicate it is made as early as 8:31 a.m. [ABC News, 9/11/2002] Another ABC News report will state, “Shortly after 8:30 a.m., behind the scenes, word of a possible hijacking [reaches] various stations of NORAD.” [ABC News, 9/14/2002] NEADS logs indicate the call occurs at 8:40 a.m., and NORAD will report this as the time of the call in a press release on September 18, 2001. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/17/2001 ; North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001] The 8:40 time will be widely reported in the media prior to the 9/11 Commission’s 2004 report. [Associated Press, 8/21/2002; BBC, 9/1/2002; Newsday, 9/10/2002; CNN, 9/11/2002] But tape recordings of the NEADS operations floor that are referred to in the 9/11 Commission Report place the call at 8:37 and 52 seconds. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20; Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006] If the 8:37 a.m. time is correct, this would mean that air traffic controllers have failed to successfully notify the military until approximately 12 minutes after they became certain that Flight 11 had been hijacked (see (8:25 a.m.) September 11, 2001), 16 minutes after Flight 11’s transponder signal was lost (see (Between 8:13 a.m. and 8:21 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and 24 minutes after the plane’s pilots made their last radio contact (see 8:13 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] At 8:34, the Boston Center tried contacting the military through the FAA’s Cape Cod facility, which is located on Otis Air National Guard Base, but was told that it needed to call NEADS (see 8:34 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20; Spencer, 2008, pp. 22]
Lt. Col. Dawne Deskins. [Source: Newhouse News/ Peter Chen/ Landov]Members of staff at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) have difficulty locating Flight 11 and other aircraft on their radar screens.
Lt. Col. Dawne Deskins of NEADS will say that when the FAA first calls and reports the first hijacking (see (8:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001), “He [FAA] gave me the latitude and longitude of that track… [but] there was nothing there.” [Fox News, 9/8/2002]
Colin Scoggins, the military liaison at the FAA’s Boston Center, later recalls: “I was giving NEADS accurate location information on at least five instances where AA 11 was, yet they could never identify him.… I originally gave them an F/R/D, which is a fix/radial/distance from a known location; they could not identify the target. They requested latitude/longitudes, which I gave them; they still could not identify the AA 11.… I gave them 20 [miles] south of Albany heading south at a high rate of speed, 600 knots, then another call at 50 south of Albany.” [Griffin, 2007, pp. 47]
Master Sergeant Kevin Foster and Staff Sergeant Mark Rose, also working at NEADS this morning, later complain about their inability to locate the hijacked planes. After being informed of the first hijacking, reportedly: “As they had practiced countless times before, the NEADS team quickly began searching their [radar] screens for the plane. Because they had been informed its transponder was off, they knew to look for a tiny dash instead of the usual dot. But radar systems also use such lines to indicate weather patterns, so NEADS personnel began urgently clicking their computer cursors on each stray line to see if information indicating an aircraft would appear.” Yet, after receiving further calls indicating more hijackings, “the inability to find the hijacked planes on the radar, despite their best efforts, was difficult.” According to Foster, “We were trying to find the tracks, and not being able to was very frustrating.” [Utica Observer-Dispatch, 8/5/2004]
NEADS Staff Sergeant Larry Thornton will recall: “Once we were called by the FAA, we could find split-second hits on what we thought we were looking for. But the area was so congested and it was incredibly difficult to find. We were looking for little dash marks in a pile of clutter and a pile of aircraft on a two-dimensional scope.” Each fluorescent green pulsating dot on their radar scopes represents an airplane, and there are thousands currently airborne, especially over the busy northeast US. [Filson, 2003, pp. 56]
Major Kevin Nasypany. [Source: CBC]When the FAA’s Boston Center first contacts NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) to notify it of the hijacking of Flight 11 (see (8:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001), personnel there initially mistake the hijacking for a simulation as part of an exercise.
Lieutenant Colonel Dawne Deskins, mission crew chief for the Vigilant Guardian exercise currently taking place (see (6:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001), will later say that initially she and everybody else at NEADS think the call from Boston Center is part of Vigilant Guardian. [Newhouse News Service, 1/25/2002] Although most of the personnel on the NEADS operations floor have no idea what the day’s exercise is supposed to entail, most previous major NORAD exercises included a hijack scenario. [USA Today, 4/18/2004; Utica Observer-Dispatch, 8/5/2004] The day’s exercise is in fact scheduled to include a simulated hijacking later on. [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006]
Major Kevin Nasypany, the NEADS mission crew commander, had helped design the day’s exercise. Thinking the reported hijacking is part of it, he actually says out loud, “The hijack’s not supposed to be for another hour.” [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006]
In the ID section, at the back right corner of the NEADS operations floor, technicians Stacia Rountree, Shelley Watson, and Maureen Dooley react to the news. Dooley, the leader of the ID section, tells the other members of her team: “We have a hijack going on. Get your checklists. The exercise is on” (see (8:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Rountree asks, “Is that real-world?” Dooley confirms, “Real-world hijack.” Watson says, “Cool!” [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006; Spencer, 2008, pp. 25]
When NEADS Commander Robert Marr sees his personnel reacting to the news of the hijacking (see (8:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001), he reportedly thinks the day’s exercise “is kicking off with a lively, unexpected twist.” Even when a colleague informs him, “It’s a hijacking, and this is real life, not part of the exercise,” Marr thinks: “This is an interesting start to the exercise. This ‘real-world’ mixed in with today’s simex [simulated exercise] will keep [my staff members] on their toes.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 26]
Major General Larry Arnold, who is at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, also later says that when he first hears of the hijacking, in the minutes after NEADS is alerted to it, “The first thing that went through my mind was, is this part of the exercise? Is this some kind of a screw-up?” [ABC News, 9/11/2002; 9/11 Commission, 5/23/2003] According to author Lynn Spencer: “Even as NORAD’s commander for the continental United States, Arnold is not privy to everything concerning the exercise. The simex is meant to test commanders also, to make sure that their war machine is operating as it should.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 38]
At 8:43 a.m., Major James Fox, the leader of the NEADS weapons team, comments, “I’ve never seen so much real-world stuff happen during an exercise.” [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006]
Entity Tags: Northeast Air Defense Sector, Shelley Watson, North American Aerospace Defense Command, Stacia Rountree, Robert Marr, Maureen Dooley, Vigilant Guardian, Kevin Nasypany, Dawne Deskins, Larry Arnold, James Fox
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
National Guard troops stationed at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) in Rome, New York. [Source: Rome Sentinel]At NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), a huddle of people is gathered around one of the radar scopes. NEADS Commander Robert Marr initially thinks this hubbub is due to the NORAD training exercise (presumably Vigilant Guardian) that is taking place on this day (see (6:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). He will later recall: “I’ve seen many exercises… and as I saw that huddle I said, ‘There’s got to be something wrong, something is happening here.’ You usually see that whenever they find a track on the scope that looks unusual; it’s usually an indicator that something is getting ready to kick off.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 55] According to author Lynn Spencer, Marr thinks the day’s exercise “is kicking off with a lively, unexpected twist.… His bet is that his simulations team has started off the exercise by throwing out a ‘heart attack card’ to see how the troops respond to a first-aid call from a fellow soldier, testing their first responder training.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 26] He sends Lieutenant Colonel Dawne Deskins, the regional mission crew commander for the exercise, to check out what is going on. [Filson, 2003, pp. 55] Deskins speaks briefly over the phone with the FAA’s Boston Center about the Flight 11 hijacking (see (8:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 26] She then runs back to the “battle cab”—the glass-walled room that overlooks the NEADS operations floor—and speaks to Marr with urgency in her voice. [Filson, 2003, pp. 55] She tells him: “It’s a hijacking, and this is real life, not part of the exercise. And it appears that the plane is heading toward New York City.” Although Deskins has specifically stated, “not part of the exercise,” Marr reportedly thinks, “This is an interesting start to the exercise.” According to Spencer, he thinks “This ‘real-world’ mixed in with today’s simex [simulated exercise] will keep [his staff members] on their toes.” Regardless of whether the crisis is real or not, Marr decides to instruct that the two alert F-15s at Otis Air National Guard Base be ordered to battle stations (see (8:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 26-27]
Colonel Robert Marr, the battle commander at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), tries phoning Major General Larry Arnold, the commander of the Continental United States NORAD Region (CONR), to get authorization to scramble fighter jets in response to the hijacked Flight 11, but Arnold is in a teleconference, so Marr has to leave an urgent message requesting that Arnold call him back. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20; Spencer, 2008, pp. 31]
Arnold Unavailable to Authorize Launching Fighters - Marr has just learned that the FAA is requesting NORAD assistance with a possible hijacking (see (8:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and has therefore ordered that fighter jets at Otis Air National Guard Base, Massachusetts, be placed on “battle stations,” with the pilots in the cockpits but the engines turned off (see (8:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Filson, 2003, pp. 55; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20] He now tries calling Arnold at CONR headquarters, at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, to get authorization to scramble the fighters. However, Arnold is in a teleconference with other senior NORAD officials (see (8:30 a.m.-8:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and is therefore unavailable to talk to Marr. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 31]
Marr Leaves Urgent Message for Arnold - Marr talks to Colonel Randy Morris, the assistant director of the CONR Regional Air Operations Center, and tells him about the possible hijacking. Morris replies that such an event “falls under law enforcement jurisdiction.” Marr says the FAA has requested military assistance with the hijacking and NEADS is “forward leaning” fighters from Otis Air Base, referring to his order to place Otis fighters on battle stations. [9/11 Commission, 2/3/2004 ] Marr leaves an urgent message for Arnold, stating that he is dealing with a hijacking and requesting that Arnold call him back. [9/11 Commission, 5/23/2003; Spencer, 2008, pp. 31] Arnold will be given Marr’s message after he leaves the teleconference (see (8:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and will promptly call Marr back (see (8:42 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Filson, 2002; 9/11 Commission, 5/23/2003; 9/11 Commission, 2/3/2004 ] It is unclear why no one interrupts the teleconference to fetch Arnold to come and talk with Marr right away, or at least to immediately pass on Marr’s message.
Unclear if Marr Needs Authorization to Scramble Fighters - It is also unclear why Marr seeks authorization from his superior before ordering that fighters be scrambled. According to Lieutenant Colonel Dawne Deskins, the aircraft control and warning officer at NEADS, the mission crew commander at NEADS—i.e. Major Kevin Nasypany—“is the lowest level rank that has the authority to give a scramble order.” However, Deskins will tell the 9/11 Commission: “[S]ince Colonel Marr was in the battle cab, it was his role. Since the decision involved a civilian aircraft, he had to be the one who made the decision.” [9/11 Commission, 10/30/2003 ] The 1st Air Force’s book about the 9/11 attacks will similarly state that the “sector commander” at NEADS, i.e. Marr, “would have authority to scramble the airplanes.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 50] But Arnold will say the reason the Otis fighters are placed on battle stations instead of being scrambled immediately is that aircraft hijacking is “considered a law enforcement issue.” The correct procedure, according to Arnold, is therefore that, if the FAA wants fighters scrambled, it should call the duty officer at the National Military Command Center at the Pentagon. He in turn contacts the NORAD operations center in Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, to see if fighters are available. The operations center then seeks permission from someone representing the secretary of defense. Finally, “Once that is approved, then we scramble aircraft,” Arnold will say (see June 1, 2001). [Filson, 2002; Code One Magazine, 1/2002; 9/11 Commission, 5/23/2003]
Don Arias [Source: US Air Force]Lt. Col. Dawne Deskins of NEADS twice calls Major Don Arias, the 1st Air Force and Continental United States NORAD Region public affairs officer, who is at the 1st Air Force public affairs office at Tyndall Air Force, Florida. She first calls him after NEADS is informed of the hijacking of Flight 11 (see (8:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001). She says that NEADS has “a hijacked plane—no, not the simulation—likely heading for JFK [International Airport in New York City].” [Newhouse News Service, 1/25/2002] The “simulation” refers to a NORAD air defense exercise, presumably Vigilant Guardian, that Arias is involved in. Deskins informs him that fighters are going to be launched after the aircraft. Arias then starts working on a public statement about the incident, but soon after sees the smoking WTC tower on CNN. He says that he thinks, “Wow, I bet that’s the hijacked plane.” [Florida State Times, 11/2001; Airman, 9/2002; Filson, 2003, pp. 122] Minutes after the crash, Deskins calls Arias again and tells him, “We think the aircraft that just hit the World Trade Center was American Airlines Flight 11.” According to Deskins, Arias responds, “Oh, God. My brother works in the World Trade Center.” [Newhouse News Service, 1/25/2002; ABC News, 9/11/2002; Bamford, 2004, pp. 13-14] Arias will quickly contact his brother (see (8:53 a.m.) September 11, 2001).
At NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), members of staff spot the radar track for an aircraft—later reported to be Flight 77—flying over Washington, DC and approaching the White House. [Newhouse News Service, 1/25/2002; Filson, 2003, pp. 65; Spencer, 2008, pp. 151] Around this time, Colin Scoggins, the military liaison at the FAA’s Boston Center, has called NEADS to report an unidentified aircraft six miles southeast of the White House (see 9:36 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006]
Deskins Sees Aircraft Circling and Disappear - Lt. Col. Dawne Deskins has noticed a suspicious track on the radar scope. She will later recall: “I had the scope focused in on the DC area and got blips of this aircraft that appeared to be going in a turn around DC. It was going fast for where it was located and I remember looking at the guy next to me and saying, ’What is that?’” [Filson, 2003, pp. 65]
Tracker Spots Aircraft - One of the tracker technicians also thinks he has spotted the aircraft on radar, just a few miles south of the White House and heading north, but then loses it. He calls out: “Right here, right here, right here! I got him. I got him!” NEADS mission crew commander Major Kevin Nasypany says, “Get me coordinates!” and then picks up the phone to quickly brief Colonel Robert Marr in the NEADS battle cab. [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006; Spencer, 2008, pp. 151]
Technical Sergeant James Tollack, an officer from McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey, is tasked with transcribing tape recordings from September 11 of the operations floor at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) in Rome, New York. [9/11 Commission, 3/22/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/29/2004; Farmer, 2009, pp. 274] On September 11, NEADS was responsible for coordinating the US military’s response to the hijackings. In a corner of its operations floor, four Dictaphone multi-channel tape recorders were recording every radio channel. [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006; Shenon, 2008, pp. 203-204] Tollack will later say that NEADS Technical Sergeant Jeremy Powell maybe tells him that personnel at NEADS have already listened to the tapes prior to his arrival there.
Digital Recording Expert Spends Two Weeks Working on Transcripts - Tollack is the resident expert in digital voice recording systems at McGuire Air Force Base and also has experience of doing transcription work. He arrives at NEADS on September 20 and stays there for 11 to 14 days, leaving on either October 1 or October 4. His first day at NEADS is spent on orientation, and so September 21 is his first full day of transcribing. Tollack will later recall that Colonel Robert Marr, the battle commander at NEADS, probably advises him to only transcribe the tapes from September 11 up to around 10:15 a.m., which is about 10 minutes after the fourth hijacked plane, Flight 93, crashed in Pennsylvania. For his first few days at NEADS, Tollack spends 14 to 16 hours per day working on the task. He works at a desk on the operations floor, drafting notes by hand and then typing them out with the assistance of two secretaries.
Transcripts Needed for Investigations - Tollack works directly for Marr, and also reports to Lieutenant Colonel Dawne Deskins, the assistant director of the Sector Operations Control Center. Marr tells Tollack that the transcripts of the tapes are required for investigation purposes. General Ralph Eberhart, the commander of NORAD, tells Tollack the information is needed for a Congressional report or hearing (see (Between September 23 and September 24, 2001)).
Tollack's Work Not Reviewed - While Tollack is at NEADS, no one there reviews his work as he goes through the tapes. [9/11 Commission, 3/22/2004] On September 21, one of the tapes is damaged during the transcription process, causing information on it to be lost (see September 21, 2001). [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/21/2001]
9/11 Commission Not Initially Made Aware of NEADS Tapes - During its investigation of the September 11 attacks, the 9/11 Commission will only learn of the existence of the recordings of the NEADS operations floor in late October 2003 (see Late October 2003), and it subsequently subpoenas NORAD for the tapes (see November 6, 2003). Despite the efforts of Tollack, according to journalist and author Philip Shenon, by the time the Commission receives the tapes, around December 2003, NORAD has still “not prepared transcripts itself” of the tapes’ contents. [Kean and Hamilton, 2006, pp. 86-88; Shenon, 2008, pp. 203-208]
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