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Profile: National Communications System (NCS)
National Communications System (NCS) was a participant or observer in the following events:
The Special Routing Arrangement Service (SRAS), which is run by the National Communications System (NCS), is turned on for “exercise mode,” meaning it is ready to be utilized the following day in response to the terrorist attacks. [9/11 Commission, 3/16/2004 ] The NCS, which is part of the Department of Defense, is a relatively small agency established by President John F. Kennedy in 1963, and which is intended to ensure the uninterrupted availability of critical communications networks during times of national crisis. It is mandated to insure that critical telephony and data continue to flow, even when the US is under attack. [Verton, 2003, pp. 136; Clarke, 2004, pp. 20; National Communications System, 10/21/2007]
System Is 'Miraculously' Ready to Function on September 11 - Brenton Greene, the director of the NCS, will tell the 9/11 Commission that “[o]n the 10th of September, miraculously, the SRAS… system was turned on for exercise mode, and thus it was ready to function on September 11.” A summary of Greene’s interview with the Commission will indicate that the SRAS is related to the highly secret Continuity of Government (COG) plan. [9/11 Commission, 3/16/2004 ] This plan aims to ensure that the federal government will continue to function in the event of an attack on the US, and it will be activated for the first time on September 11 (see (Between 9:45 a.m. and 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Atlantic Monthly, 3/2004; ABC News, 4/25/2004] The SRAS reportedly provides “a vehicle for continuity of operations by providing survivable communications linkages to federal and defense end users over the public network.” [Department of Homeland Security, 5/2007 ] Whether the SRAS is turned on for “exercise mode” because the NCS or its National Coordinating Center (NCC) in Arlington, Virginia, are conducting or participating in a training exercise is unstated.
SRAS Relates to Continuity of Government Program - Greene will tell the 9/11 Commission that one of the NCS’s three main programs relates to COG. “The main communications system of the country must be kept going or no one can communicate,” he will say. Therefore, “There is a separate network linking the National Coordinating Center and the major carriers and networks as a backup.” According to Greene, “In the situation where Continuity of Government is put into play, there is a communications system where no one can trace the site of the call on either end.” (Presumably this is a reference to the SRAS.) This backup communications network, according to Greene, will prove “its value as a separate link on 9/11, because it coordinated network use between Network Operations Centers while the network was saturated.” [9/11 Commission, 3/16/2004 ]
NCS Plays Important Role on 9/11 - Robert Kenny, the director of media relations for the Federal Communications Commission’s Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau, will later recall, “We found that [the NCS] program was very helpful during September 11.” [CNET News, 1/16/2009] The NCC will be activated that day in response to the attacks (see (8:48 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and will support subsequent recovery efforts. [9/11 Commission, 3/16/2004 ] Earlier that morning, the CIA will actually be giving a briefing to the NCS about the international terrorist threat to the US’s telecommunications infrastructure (see 8:00 a.m.-9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Verton, 2003, pp. 135-139]
Brenton Greene. [Source: National Communications System]CIA representatives give a briefing to a little-known government agency called the National Communications System (NCS) at a facility just outside Washington, DC, where they discuss the threat that international terrorists pose to the US’s telecommunications infrastructure. The NCS is a relatively small agency that works to ensure the uninterrupted availability of critical communications networks during times of national crisis. It will play an important role in the response and recovery efforts following the terrorist attacks in New York and at the Pentagon, when damage to the World Trade Center area severely impairs the local telecommunications infrastructure. [Verton, 2003, pp. 135-137; National Communications System, 2004, pp. 56 ]
Briefing Attended by Public and Private Sectors Representatives - The briefing is held at what journalist and author Dan Verton will call “a secure facility outside of Washington, DC.” Presumably this is the NCS’s National Coordinating Center in Arlington, Virginia. Attendees include Brenton Greene, the director of the NCS since April 2001, and representatives from seven other federal agencies and over 40 technology and communications companies that operate many of the US’s most critical communications networks. The representatives from the private sector, according to Verton, are all “senior executives from their respective companies, and all had government security clearances that granted them access to the most sensitive intelligence data pertaining to threats to the infrastructures that formed not only the lifelines of their businesses but the lifelines of the nation as well.”
CIA Outlines Threat to Telecommunications Infrastructure - Although Greene is a 25-year veteran of the Navy’s submarine force and is “used to classified briefings and operating in the shadows,” the current briefing, according to Verton, promises “to be different from any other he had taken part in.” The CIA representatives begin it at 8:00 a.m. by outlining the growing international terrorist threat to the US telecommunications infrastructure.
Terrorists Aware of Benefits of Targeting Telecommunications - Verton will describe that the briefing participants then agree that there is “a growing body of evidence relating to the increased sophistication in information warfare (IW) capabilities of foreign nations.” Additionally, a cyber-attack against computer systems in the US “would likely involve a major disruption of key telecommunications infrastructures serving other sectors of the economy, including banking and finance, electric power, and air traffic control.” Greene will later comment: “Everything runs on telecom. If it’s a major cyber-event, it’s going to have a physical tail. If it’s a major physical event, it’s going to have a cyber-tail.” The CIA representatives say that some terrorist organizations are also becoming aware of the potential offered by targeting the telecommunications infrastructure.
Briefing Continues despite News of First Crash - Shortly after 8:46 a.m., when the first plane hits the WTC, Navy Captain J. Katharine Burton enters the briefing room and whispers to Greene the news of what has happened. With no further information available and no evidence that the crash was anything more than an accident, Greene calmly passes on the news to the other people in the room, and then orders the briefing to continue. The CIA representatives therefore go on until news arrives of the second plane hitting the WTC at 9:03 a.m., and televisions are turned on to CNN, which is showing live coverage from New York. Greene will later recall: “It was clear then that there was some threat. When the second plane hit, I said: ‘I’m leaving. I need to go look at the implications of this.’” [Verton, 2003, pp. 135-139, 141]
9/11 Attacks Are 'the Most Significant Challenge' to the NCS - The NCS will play a key role in the government’s response to the 9/11 attacks, which result in severe damage and impairment to the telecommunications infrastructure serving the area around the WTC. [National Communications System, 2004, pp. 56 ] Greene will later recall that the destruction caused by the attacks becomes “the most significant challenge that the National Communications System had ever seen.” [Verton, 2003, pp. 151] The NCS’s National Coordinating Center is activated, and supports response and recovery efforts (see (8:48 a.m.) September 11, 2001). After leaving the briefing, Greene will head to his “Continuity of Government” site, from where the status of the communications network is constantly monitored, and priorities and repairs are coordinated. [9/11 Commission, 3/16/2004 ]
Logo of the National Communications System. [Source: National Communications System]The National Coordinating Center (NCC) in Arlington, Virginia, which is the operational arm of the National Communications System (NCS), is activated in response to the terrorist attacks and supports the recovery efforts. [9/11 Commission, 3/16/2004 ] The NCS is a relatively small government agency that works to ensure the availability of critical communications networks during times of crisis. [Verton, 2003, pp. 136]
Center Conducts Non-Stop Operations - An NCS publication will later describe, “Immediately,” in response to the attacks, “the NCC began non-stop operations to support NS/EP [national security and emergency preparedness] communications between federal, state, and local responders, to restore damaged communications lines in Arlington, Virginia, and New York City, and to provision new lines for the recovery and investigation activities.” The NCC operates at four sites: the NCC itself, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Defense Department’s Global Network Operations Support Center headquarters, and a remote “continuity of operations” location. Brenton Greene, the director of the NCS, goes to his “Continuity of Government” site, where personnel operate around the clock to monitor the status of the telecommunications network, and coordinate priorities and repairs. The NCS, which is part of the Department of Defense, also deploys military reservists to three FEMA regional operations centers.
Time Center Activated at Unclear - Greene will tell the 9/11 Commission that the NCC is activated at 8:48 a.m. [National Communications System, 2004, pp. 56 ; 9/11 Commission, 3/16/2004 ] However, other accounts will indicate that the center is not activated until later on. According to journalist and author Dan Verton, Greene—who is attending a briefing on the terrorist threat to the US’s telecommunications infrastructure, apparently at the NCC—initially believes the first plane hit the World Trade Center by accident, and therefore orders the briefing to continue (see 8:00 a.m.-9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). It is only when the second plane hits the WTC at 9:03 a.m. that he realizes “there was some threat,” and responds to the crisis. [Verton, 2003, pp. 139, 141] Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will write that he himself gives the instruction to activate the NCS, at around 12:30 p.m. Then, according to Clarke, his colleague Paul Kurtz calls Greene and instructs him to tell all the major telephone companies that “they need to support Verizon.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 19-20]
Center Coordinates Emergency Communications during Crises - The NCS was established by President John F. Kennedy in 1963, in order to provide better communications support to critical government functions during emergencies. An executive order signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1984 broadened the NCS’s capabilities, and listed its duties as “the planning for and provision of national security and emergency preparedness communications for the federal government under all circumstances, including crisis or emergency, attack, recovery, and reconstitution.” [US President, 4/3/1984; National Communications System, 10/21/2007; CNET News, 1/16/2009] The NCS consists of 22 federal agencies, 100 full-time civilian employees, and 10 military employees. [Computerworld, 11/7/2002] The mission of the NCC is to assist “in the initiation, coordination, restoration, and reconstitution of national security or emergency preparedness telecommunications services or facilities under all conditions of crisis or emergency.” The center is composed of members from the US government and the telecommunications industry. [US President, 4/3/1984; National Communications System, 3/2001, pp. 4, 6 ] There are 150 private sector contractors from 21 companies working at the NCC. [Computerworld, 11/7/2002]
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