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NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) runs a training exercise called Fertile Rice, based on the scenario of Osama bin Laden attacking a prominent target in the Washington, DC, area, using an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) armed with a fuel-air explosive. An information sheet for the exercise will describe the scenario. “According to reliable sources,” it will state, “operatives of Osama bin Laden will attack a highly visible US government target within the next 24-36 hours. Specifically, the terrorist will utilize an unmanned aerial vehicle, believed to be the Russian-developed Colibri, modified to be launched off a ship.” Bin Laden has acquired at least one, and perhaps two, Colibri UAVs. The plans for the Colibri may have been illegally purchased by his agents posing as Iranian Air Force representatives. The terrorists’ exact target is unknown, but “unconfirmed reports” suggest it is in the Washington area.
Drone Has Electronic Jamming Equipment - The Colibri is a propeller-driven remotely piloted vehicle that is designed to perform a wide variety of military and civilian missions. It is 4.25 meters long, has a wingspan of 5.9 meters, and its maximum speed is 155 miles per hour. The aircraft bin Laden has obtained in the scenario is reportedly fitted with sophisticated electronic jamming equipment, as well as equipment for monitoring electronic communications and radar.
Ship Carrying the Drone Left from a Port in the Middle East - The ship carrying the Colibri left a port in the Middle East about two weeks ago in the scenario and is set to rendezvous with an unspecified person off the coast of Norfolk, Virginia, on August 4. This person will provide the final targeting information that will be programmed into the Colibri. The ship is reportedly also carrying a dozen shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles, rocket-propelled grenades, automatic weapons, and unspecified types of plastic explosives.
Drone Is Carrying a Highly Destructive Explosive - The Colibri’s “weapon payload” in the scenario is reportedly a type of fuel-air explosive. (Northeast Air Defense Sector 8/4/2001; Northeast Air Defense Sector 8/5/2001) Fuel-air explosives are highly destructive. They “disperse an aerosol cloud of fuel, which is ignited by an embedded detonator to produce an explosion,” according to the Federation of American Scientists. The “rapidly expanding wavefront” that results from the explosion “flattens all objects within close proximity of the epicenter of the aerosol fuel cloud and produces debilitating damage well beyond the flattened area.” (Federation of American Scientists 2/5/1998)
Weekly Exercise Includes Simulated Hijackings - Fertile Rice is a NEADS command post exercise (CPX). (North American Aerospace Defense Command 8/25/1989) (A CPX is defined by the Department of Defense as a type of exercise “in which the forces are simulated, involving the commander, the staff, and communications within and between headquarters.” (US Department of Defense 11/8/2011 ) ) Fertile Rice exercises are held weekly at NEADS prior to 9/11, according to Master Sergeant Joe McCain, the NEADS mission crew commander technician. They routinely involve simulated aircraft hijackings, although multiple hijack scenarios are never included. Occasionally the aircraft that is hijacked has taken off from within the United States. Sometimes the scenario takes place over land and at other times it takes place over water. These large-scale exercises include at least seven “targets,” according to McCain, although what the targets might be is unstated. (9/11 Commission 10/28/2003; 9/11 Commission 10/28/2003 ) NEADS, based in Rome, New York, is responsible for protecting the airspace in which the hijackings take place on September 11 and will therefore be responsible for coordinating the US military’s response to the hijackings. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 17; Bronner 8/1/2006; Shenon 2008, pp. 203)
At NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), the technical sergeant who has been notified of the suspected hijacking of Flight 11 passes on this news to colleagues of his on the NEADS operations floor. (Spencer 2008, pp. 25) The FAA’s Boston Center has just called NEADS to report “a hijacked aircraft headed towards New York,” and has requested that fighter jets be launched in response (see (8:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 20) Tech. Sgt. Jeremy Powell, who answers this call, reportedly “bolts up and turns toward the ID section behind him on the ops floor.” He says, “We’ve got a hijack going on!” Master Sergeant Maureen Dooley, the leader of the ID section, mistakenly thinks this is part of the day’s training exercise (see (6:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and tells the other members of her team: “We have a hijack going on. Get your checklists. The exercise is on.” But Powell then clarifies: “No, you don’t understand. We have a no-shit hijack!” Sitting next to Dooley is Master Sergeant Joe McCain, the NEADS mission crew commander technician, who gets on the paging system and calls for the mission crew commander (MCC), Major Kevin Nasypany, to come to the operations floor immediately. Nasypany is in charge of the operations floor and needs to know if anything important is happening. He arrives moments later and learns of the hijacking. (Bronner 8/1/2006; Spencer 2008, pp. 25-26 and 40)
Master Sergeant Joe McCain, the mission crew commander technician at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), believes he has located Flight 11 on the radar screen and then watches it disappear over New York, but he does not realize it has crashed. McCain is on the phone with Colin Scoggins, the military liaison at the FAA’s Boston Center. (Spencer 2008, pp. 40-41) NEADS personnel have been unable to locate Flight 11 on their radar screens (see Shortly After 8:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Cooper 8/5/2004)
McCain Locates Fast-Moving Aircraft - Now McCain believes he has found Flight 11, flying about 20 miles north of Manhattan. According to author Lynn Spencer, he “knows that planes tend to fly very specific routes, like highways in the sky, and this particular target seems not to be on any of those regular routes. It’s also very fast moving.” McCain tells Scoggins, “I’ve got a search target that seems to be on an odd heading here,” and then describes its location. Scoggins notices the target, but this is not Flight 11. Scoggins then realizes that Flight 11 is right behind the target McCain has identified, and yells to him: “There’s a target four miles behind it, that’s the one! That’s American 11!” McCain responds, “I’ve got it!” The aircraft is 16 miles north of New York’s JFK International Airport, and heading down the Hudson River valley. NEADS has no altitude for it, but the aircraft is clearly traveling very fast. After hanging up the phone, McCain calls out its coordinates to everyone on the NEADS operations floor. (Spencer 2008, pp. 40) McCain will later recall: “It’s very unusual to find a search target, which is a plane with its transponder turned off, in that area. This plane was headed toward New York going faster than the average Cessna and was no doubt a jet aircraft. We had many clues. The plane was fast and heading in an unusual direction with no beacon. We had raw data only. Everything just kind of fit.” (Filson 2003, pp. 56-57) (The identity of the other fast-moving aircraft McCain had noticed, four miles ahead of Flight 11, is unstated.)
Flight 11 Disappears from Radar - Less than a minute after McCain locates the track for Flight 11, it disappears. (Spencer 2008, pp. 41) McCain will recall, “We watched that track until it faded over New York City and right after that someone came out of the break room and said the World Trade Center had been hit.” (Filson 2003, pp. 57) However, McCain supposedly does not realize that the plane he had spotted has crashed into the WTC. According to Spencer: “[H]e knows only that the blip he has struggled so mightily to locate has now vanished. He figures that the plane has descended below his radar coverage area to land at JFK. The fact that the plane was flying much too fast for landing does not hit him; the concept that the plane might have been intentionally crashed is simply too far outside his realm of experience.” (Spencer 2008, pp. 41)
At NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), Master Sergeant Joe McCain, the mission crew commander technician, receives a call from the Continental US NORAD Region (CONR) headquarters at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida. Major General Larry Arnold and his staff at Tyndall AFB are trying to gather as much information as they can about the ongoing crisis, and want to know the transponder codes for the two fighter jets scrambled from Otis Air National Guard Base in response to the first hijacking (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001), so they can monitor their positions. The CONR officer that makes the call tells McCain to “send [the transponder codes] out on chat,” meaning on NORAD’s own chat system.
NORAD's Computer Chat System - According to author Lynn Spencer, NORAD’s chat system “is similar to the chat rooms on most Internet servers, but classified.” It has three chat rooms that can be used by anyone with proper access. One room is specifically for NEADS, and connects its ID, surveillance, and weapons technicians to its alert fighter squadrons, and is where NEADS gets status reports on fighter units and their aircraft. Another chat room is for CONR, and is where the three CONR sectors—NEADS, the Western Air Defense Sector (WADS), and the Southeast Air Defense Sector (SEADS)—communicate with each other and can “upchannel” information to CONR headquarters. The third room is the Air Warfare Center (AWC), where senior NORAD commanders from the three NORAD regions—CONR, Canada, and Alaska—communicate with each other. NEADS is allowed to monitor this room, but not type into it. When there is a training exercise taking place, as was the case earlier this morning (see (6:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001), one or two additional chat windows will be open specifically for communicating exercise information, to help prevent it being confused with real-world information.
McCain Falling Behind - McCain’s responsibilities at NEADS include monitoring these chat rooms, keeping paper logs of everything that is going on, and taking care of “upchanneling” operational reports to higher headquarters. According to Spencer, “These chat logs help to keep everyone on the same page, but in a situation like the one unfolding they have to be updated almost instantaneously to achieve that end.” But, “The fact that CONR has had to call McCain to get information that by now he would normally have posted alerts him that he is falling behind despite his best efforts.” (Spencer 2008, pp. 139-140)
NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) contacts an Air National Guard unit in Toledo, Ohio, and requests that it launch two fighter jets in response to the attacks. (WTOL 9/11/2006; Lynn Spencer 2008; Spencer 2008, pp. 178)
First Time that Unit Has Answered a NORAD Request - The 180th Fighter Wing of the Ohio Air National Guard is based at Toledo Express Airport. It has 20 F-16 fighter jets and about three dozen pilots. (Sallah and Mahr 12/9/2001) Its “primary mission” is “to provide combat ready F-16C and support units capable of deploying worldwide in minimum response time.” (180th Fighter Wing 9/19/2001; GlobalSecurity (.org.) 10/21/2001) The unit is not one of NORAD’s seven alert facilities around the US, and this is believed to be the first time it has ever answered a request for help from NORAD. (McKenna 12/1999; Sallah and Mahr 12/9/2001)
Call due to Concern over Delta 1989 - According to author Lynn Spencer, a weapons technician at NEADS makes the call to the 180th FW due to concerns about Delta Air Lines Flight 1989, which is incorrectly thought to have been hijacked (see 9:39 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Spencer 2008, pp. 177-178) NEADS has already contacted units in Minnesota and Michigan about this aircraft (see (Shortly After 9:41 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (9:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 1/23/2004 ; Bronner 8/1/2006) The weapons technician calls the Toledo unit after Master Sergeant Joe McCain gives an update across the NEADS operations floor: “Delta 89! Hard right turn!” According to Spencer, the weapons technician knows the 180th FW is much better positioned than the Selfridge unit’s fighters are to reach Delta 1989. (Spencer 2008, pp. 178)
NORAD Commander Gives Different Explanation - But according to Larry Arnold, the commander of the Continental United States NORAD Region, the weapons technician’s call might also be in response to concerns over Flight 93. Arnold will say that NEADS calls the 180th FW “because we thought [Flight] 93 or Delta Flight 1989 might be headed toward Chicago.” (Filson 2003, pp. 71) Two Toledo pilots who initially answer the call from NEADS appear to believe the call is a joke, but their wing commander then picks up the line and responds appropriately (see 10:01 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Spencer 2008, pp. 178-179)
Unit Prepared for Crisis Like This - Although it is not one of NORAD’s alert facilities, Lt. Col. Gary Chudzinski, a former commander of the 180th FW, will later comment that the Toledo unit has always been aware that it could be alerted to crises such as the current one, “but you just don’t expect it.” According to General Paul Sullivan, who heads all Ohio Air National Guard units, the 180th FW’s pilots practice “air interception,” but a typical mission focuses on either a plane ferrying drugs or enemy fighters approaching America’s coasts. (McKenna 12/1999; Sallah and Mahr 12/9/2001) Two 180th FW jets will take off from the Toledo unit at 10:17 a.m. (see 10:17 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Sallah and Mahr 12/9/2001; WTOL 9/11/2006)
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