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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)
An article in the New York Times will later suggest that officials in the Pentagon’s National Military Command Center (NMCC) promptly become aware of the problems with Flight 77, long before NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) is alerted to the flight. The article will state, “During the hour or so that American Airlines Flight 77 [is] under the control of hijackers, up to the moment it struck the west side of the Pentagon, military officials in [the NMCC are] urgently talking to law enforcement and air traffic control officials about what to do.” (Wald 9/15/2001) This appears consistent with what would be expected under normal procedures. According to the FAA’s acting Deputy Administrator Monte Belger: “Prior to 9/11, FAA’s traditional communication channel with the military during a crisis had been through the National Military Command Center (NMCC). They were always included in the communication net that was used to manage a hijack incident.” He will say that, since the FAA does not have direct dedicated communication links with NORAD, in a hijack scenario the NMCC has “the responsibility to coordinate [the Defense Department]‘s response to requests from the FAA or the FBI.” (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004 ; 9/11 Commission 6/17/2004) NEADS reportedly is not alerted to Flight 77 until significantly later: at 9:24 a.m. by some accounts (see (9:24 a.m.) September 11, 2001), or, according to other accounts, at 9:34 a.m., when it only learns that Flight 77 is missing (see 9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001). (North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/18/2001; 9/11 Commission 6/17/2004)
FAA Administrator Jane Garvey arrives at her office at FAA headquarters in Washington, DC, and is informed that a second aircraft has just hit the World Trade Center. (Spencer 2008, pp. 88) Garvey learned of the first crash while at the nearby Department of Transportation, where she had been in a meeting with Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta and the Belgian transportation minister (see (8:48 a.m.-9:05 a.m.) September 11, 2001). She had phoned FAA headquarters and was told by a supervisor, “We know a plane has just gone in, but we’re also tracking a hijacking.” She immediately went out to her car and headed back to headquarters, which is located two blocks away from the Department of Transportation. (Johnson 11/4/2001) When Garvey arrives at her office on the 10th floor of the headquarters, she finds Monte Belger, her acting deputy, there. She asks him, “What do we know?” and he replies: “[T]his is something beyond a hijacking. This is not an accident. There is something here. [The Department of] Defense is going to be taking the lead.” Belger also informs Garvey that, just before she arrived, a second plane hit the WTC. Garvey heads across the hall to the Operations Center, where security personnel have already established a “hijacking net”—a teleconference that includes several agencies, including the Defense Department (see (8:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001). According to author Lynn Spencer, Garvey “understands that it will be her job to pull information from the [FAA] Command Center in Herndon and forward that information as quickly as possible up the chain, to the Department of Transportation and any other agencies requiring it.” (Spencer 2008, pp. 88-89) Garvey and Belger spend the next 40 minutes going back and forth between their offices and the Operations Center. Staffers keep them informed about decisions being made by Ben Sliney, the national operations manager at the FAA Command Center. (Levin, Adams, and Morrison 8/12/2002)
The FAA sets up a hijacking teleconference with several agencies, including the Defense Department. This is almost one hour after the FAA’s Boston flight control began notifying the chain of command (see 8:25 a.m. September 11, 2001) and notified other flight control centers about the first hijacking at 8:25 a.m. (see 8:25 a.m. September 11, 2001). According to the Acting FAA Deputy Administrator Monte Belger, this teleconference (called the “hijack net”) is “the fundamental primary source of information between the FAA, [Defense Department], FBI, Secret Service, and… other agencies.” Yet even after the delay in setting it up, FAA and Defense Department participants later claim it plays no role in coordinating the response to the hijackings. The 9/11 Commission says, “The NMCC [National Military Command Center inside the Pentagon] officer who participated told us that the call was monitored only periodically because the information was sporadic, it was of little value, and there were other important tasks. The FAA manager of the teleconference also remembered that the military participated only briefly before the Pentagon was hit.” (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 36) According to a statement provided by the FAA to the 9/11 Commission in 2003, this teleconference began significantly earlier—“[w]ithin minutes after the first aircraft hit the World Trade Center” (see (8:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 5/23/2003)
At 9:20 a.m. (or earlier, according to some accounts), the FAA set up a hijacking teleconference with several agencies (see (9:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001). FAA records indicate that the National Military Command Center within the Pentagon was included in the communication network “no later than 9:20 a.m.” (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004 ) Yet at some point later in the morning, Acting FAA Deputy Administrator Monte Belger becomes aware that the military is not involved in the teleconference in any meaningful way. Presumably referring to tape recordings of the FAA headquarters, 9/11 Commissioner Jamie Gorelick will later say to Belger, “We heard some rather colorful language came from your mouth at that point.” The absence of the NMCC from the teleconference is unusual. Belger says, “I’ve lived through dozens of hijackings in my 30-year FAA career… and [the NMCC] were always there. They were always on the net, and were always listening in with everybody else.” He adds, “The most frustrating after-the-fact scenario for me to understand is to explain… the communication link on that morning between the FAA operations center and the NMCC.… I know how it’s supposed to work, but… it’s still a little frustrating for me to understand how it actually did work on that day.” (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 36)
According to some accounts, Vice President Dick Cheney is in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House by this time, along with Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta and others. Mineta will recall that, while a suspicious plane is heading toward Washington, an unidentified young man comes in and says to Cheney, “The plane is 50 miles out.” Mineta confers with acting FAA Deputy Administrator Monte Belger, who is at the FAA’s Washington headquarters. Belger says to him: “We’re watching this target on the radar, but the transponder’s been turned off. So we have no identification.” According to Mineta, the young man continues updating the vice president, saying, “The plane is 30 miles out,” and when he gets down to “The plane is 10 miles out,” asks, “Do the orders still stand?” In response, Cheney “whipped his neck around and said, ‘Of course the orders still stand. Have you heard anything to the contrary?’” Mineta will say that, “just by the nature of all the events going on,” he infers that the order being referred to is a shootdown order. Nevertheless, Flight 77 continues on and hits the Pentagon. (BBC 9/1/2002; ABC News 9/11/2002; 9/11 Commission 5/23/2003; 9/11 Commission 5/23/2003; Martin 7/4/2004) However, the 9/11 Commission will later claim the plane heading toward Washington is only discovered by the Dulles Airport air traffic control tower at 9:32 a.m. (see 9:32 a.m. September 11, 2001). But earlier accounts, including statements made by the FAA and NORAD, will claim that the FAA notified the military about the suspected hijacking of Flight 77 at 9:24 a.m., if not before (see (9:24 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The FBI’s Washington Field Office was also reportedly notified that Flight 77 had been hijacked at about 9:20 a.m. (see (9:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The 9/11 Commission will further contradict Mineta’s account saying that, despite the “conflicting evidence as to when the vice president arrived in the shelter conference room [i.e., the PEOC],” it has concluded that he only arrived there at 9:58 a.m. (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004) According to the Washington Post, the discussion between Cheney and the young aide over whether “the orders” still stand occurs later than claimed by Mineta, and is in response to Flight 93 heading toward Washington, not Flight 77. (Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002)
Military officers at the FAA’s Command Center are informed of the hijacking of Flight 93, according to the FAA’s National Operations Manager Ben Sliney. If such notification is given, it is presumably shortly after the Command Center learns of the hijacking (see 9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001). Sliney will later tell the 9/11 Commission: “Available to us at the Command Center of course is the military cell, which was our liaison with the military services. They were present at all of the events that occurred on 9/11.” He will add, “The normal protocols for the events that were transpiring then—that is to say hijacked aircraft, which requires a notification to NORAD—those, at least I was given to understand, were made promptly—the notifications on each hijack.” The FAA’s acting Deputy Administrator Monte Belger will add: “[T]here were military people on duty at the FAA Command Center, as Mr. Sliney said. They were participating in what was going on. There were military people in the FAA’s Air Traffic Organization in a situation room. They were participating in what was going on.” (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004) If the cell is notified, it is unclear what, if anything, the military liaison officers—Colonel John Czabaranek, Lieutenant Colonel Michael-Anne Cherry, and Major Kevin Bridges (see (Between 9:04 a.m. and 9:25 a.m.) September 11, 2001)—at the Command Center do with the information about Flight 93’s hijacking. The 9/11 Commission will say that the first notification to the military about Flight 93 comes at 10:07 a.m. (see 10:05 a.m.-10:08 a.m. September 11, 2001).
Ben Sliney, FAA’s National Operations Manager, orders the entire nationwide air traffic system shut down. All flights at US airports are stopped. Around 3,950 flights are still in the air. Sliney makes the decision without consulting FAA head Jane Garvey, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, or other bosses, but they quickly approve his actions. It’s Sliney’s first day on the job. (CNN 9/12/2001; New York Times 9/12/2001; Washington Post 9/12/2001; MSNBC 9/22/2001; Levin, Adams, and Morrison 8/12/2002; LeBlanc 8/12/2002; Levin, Adams, and Morrison 8/12/2002; Adams, Levin, and Morrison 8/13/2002; Associated Press 8/21/2002; Adcock 9/10/2002) Seventy-five percent of the planes land within one hour of the order. (Levin 8/12/2002) The 9/11 Commission will later remark that this “was an unprecedented order” that the “air traffic control system handled… with great skill.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 29) The Washington Post has reported that Mineta told Monte Belger at the FAA: “Monte, bring all the planes down,” even adding, “[Expletive] pilot discretion.” (Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002) However, it is later reported by a different Post reporter that Mineta did not even know of the order until 15 minutes later. This reporter “says FAA officials had begged him to maintain the fiction.” (Green 4/2/2002)
According to the 9/11 Commission, FAA headquarters informs the FAA Command Center that the deputy director for air traffic services is talking to Deputy Administrator Monte Belger about scrambling aircraft after Flight 93. Yet in interviews with the commission, neither Belger nor the deputy director recall this discussion, and Belger subsequently e-mails the commission saying he does not believe the conversation took place. However, tape recordings reveal a staff person from headquarters at this time telling the Command Center, “Peter’s talking to Monte now about scrambling.” FAA headquarters is also informed that the flight is 20 miles northwest of Johnstown, Pennsylvania. (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 461) When questioned about this, Belger will point out that there are military people on duty at the FAA Command Center and in a situation room at the FAA’s Air Traffic Organization, and that they are participating in what is going on. In addition, Belger will later tell the commission that he thought the NMCC was on the hijack net and would therefore have received notification on this channel at the same time as all other agencies. (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004) Incredibly, FAA headquarters has known since 9:34 A.M. about hijackers talking about a bomb on board the flight, and more evidence has since been passed on confirming a hijacking in progress. Still, reportedly, no one tells NORAD anything about the plane.
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