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US Army Lieutenant General Michael A. Canavan is appointed associate administrator for civil aviation security at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), a position that includes being the “hijack coordinator” (see 8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Federal Aviation Administration 11/2000) In early 1998, Canavan participated in reviewing a CIA plan to capture Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. He was then the commander of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which oversees the military’s counterterrorism operations and covert missions. He objected to the plan, saying it was too complicated for the CIA and “out of their league.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 113) The plan was later canceled (see 1997-May 29, 1998). It is not known if Canavan’s appointment at the FAA is related to his prior involvement in counterterrorism or to any intelligence that al-Qaeda might target civil aviation. He will leave the post in October 2001, after only 10 months, reportedly after clashing with other FAA officials. (Alonso-Zaldivar 10/13/2001)
The FAA practices for scenarios similar to the attacks that take place on 9/11 as part of at least one training exercise this month, according to a liaison officer with the agency. John Hawley, who works for the FAA’s intelligence division as a liaison to the State Department, will later recall that during an exercise, or exercises, this month, some scenarios are practiced that are “pretty damn close to [the] 9/11 plot.” He will tell the 9/11 Commission that “one of the scenarios may have had something to do with a chartered flight out of Ohio that had turned the transponder off,” and comment that the scenarios “really forced you to think outside the box.” According to Hawley, Mike Canavan—the recently-appointed associate administrator for civil aviation security at the FAA (see December 4, 2000)—is “definitely in charge” of running these scenarios. (9/11 Commission 10/8/2003 ) Apparently referring to one of these scenarios, the 9/11 Commission will ask Canavan if he recalls a tabletop exercise conducted by the FAA this month, involving a FedEx plane “being commandeered by a suicide hijacker.” Canavan will respond that he “did not recall such an exercise, and shared that it must have been at a pretty low level, since he didn’t recall” it. He will say he never participates in any tabletop exercises while at the FAA. (9/11 Commission 11/4/2003 ) During one of the 9/11 Commission’s public hearings, Canavan will similarly say he does not remember “any publication or any training exercise where a commercial airliner was used as a weapon.” (9/11 Commission 5/23/2003)
A number of key senior FAA personnel happen to be away from their usual bases this morning, at the time of the attacks.
Bill Peacock, the FAA director of air traffic services, is in New Orleans for a meeting with the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA). Among his many duties, Peacock is “the ultimate manager of all the air traffic controllers in the country’s system.” He will be transported from New Orleans later in the day in an FAA business jet, one of the few aircraft permitted to fly, and only arrive at FAA headquarters shortly after 5:00 p.m. (Freni 2003, pp. 12 and 70)
Jack Kies, the FAA’s manager of tactical operations, is in Nashua, New Hampshire for a meeting with representatives of the Canadian air traffic control organization. (Freni 2003, pp. 65-66) Consequently Linda Schuessler, the deputy director of system operations, has to take his place in charge of the FAA Command Center in Herndon, Virginia. (Lavey 5/18/2006)
Tony Ferrante, the manager of the FAA’s air traffic investigation arm, is in Chicago to testify at a hearing. He will become frustrated later in the day about being stuck there, knowing he should he at his post in Washington gathering forensic data on the hijackings and crashes. (Freni 2003, pp. 7, 19 and 47-48)
Rick Hostetler, a member of the FAA’s planning and procedures organization, is at the dentist’s in Waldorf, Maryland when the attacks begin. His job includes acting as the FAA’s primary air traffic liaison for the Secret Service, the US Special Operations Command, and the Pentagon. After seeing the second WTC tower hit live on television, reportedly while sitting in the dentist’s chair, he will quickly set out for his duty station at the FAA Command Center. But due to the heavy traffic, his journey will take hours and the attacks will be over by the time he gets there. (Freni 2003, pp. 27, 47 and 90)
Mike Canavan, the director of the FAA’s Office of Civil Aviation Security, is visiting the airport in San Juan, Puerto Rico. He will only make it back to Washington in the evening, on a special Army flight. (9/11 Commission 5/23/2003) As part of his job, Canavan is the FAA’s hijack coordinator, responsible for requesting military assistance in the event of a hijacking (see 8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 17-18)
FAA Administrator Jane Garvey is in a breakfast meeting at the Department of Transportation, in Washington, DC. She will quickly relocate to FAA headquarters soon after the first attack (see (8:48 a.m.-9:05 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Freni 2003, pp. 62-63)
Whether the absence of these senior personnel impairs the FAA’s ability to respond to the attacks is unknown.
Protocols in place on 9/11 state that if the FAA requests the military to go after an airplane, “the escort service will be requested by the FAA hijack coordinator by direct contact with the National Military Command Center (NMCC).” (Federal Aviation Administration 11/3/1998) Acting FAA Deputy Administrator Monte Belger states essentially the same thing to the 9/11 Commission, “The official protocol on that day was for the FAA headquarters, primarily through the hijack coordinator… to request assistance from the NMCC if there was a need for [Defense Department] assistance.” (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004) However, the hijack coordinator, FAA Office of Civil Aviation Security Director Mike Canavan, is in Puerto Rico and claims to have missed out on “everything that transpired that day.” The 9/11 Commission fails to ask him if he had delegated that task to anyone else while he was gone. (9/11 Commission 5/23/2003; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 17) Monte Belger will later say simply that “an FAA security person” runs the “hijack net” open communication system during 9/11. (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004)
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