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Profile: US Strategic Command (STRATCOM)
US Strategic Command (STRATCOM) was a participant or observer in the following events:
Official logo of US Central Command (CENTCOM), one of the nine military commands established under the Defense Reorganization Act. [Source: Public domain]President Reagan signs into law the Goldwater-Nichols Defense Reorganization Act of 1986, originally sponsored by Senator Barry Goldwater (R-AZ) and Representative Bill Nichols (D-AL). Goldwater-Nichols, as it is sometimes called, sparks the largest reorganization of the US military since the National Security Act of 1947. Operational authority is centralized through the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as opposed to the actual service chiefs themselves. The chairman is designated as the primary military adviser to the president, the National Security Council (NSC), and the secretary of defense. The legislation also reorganizes the military command structure into several “commands”:
By geographical region (Northern Command, or NORTHCOM; Central Command, or CENTCOM; European Command, or EUCOM; Pacific Command, or PACOM; and Southern Command, or SOUTHCOM); and
By function (Joint Forces Command, or JFCOM; Special Operations Command, or SOCOM; Strategic Command, or STRATCOM; and Transportation Command, or TRANSCOM). [Statement on Signing the Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1986, 10/1/1986 ; Lederman, 1999; Wilson, 2004, pp. 212; US Air Force Air University, 11/21/2007; National Defense University Library, 2/10/2008]
Entity Tags: Ronald Reagan, US Transportation Command, Goldwater-Nichols Defense Reorganization Act, Barry Goldwater, US Strategic Command, Bill Nichols, US Special Operations Command, US Pacific Command, US European Command, US Central Command, US Northern Command, US Southern Command, US Joint Forces Command
Timeline Tags: US Military
The NSA asks Qwest, a major US telecommunications firm and a cutting-edge provider of high-tech wireless and Internet connectivity, to reveal information about its customers and their phone calls. Qwest’s CEO, Joe Nacchio, refuses after meeting with NSA officials and deciding that the program is illegal without court orders (see February 27, 2001). The NSA refuses to seek court authorization for its wiretaps and electronic surveillance. The NSA will renew its request from Qwest after the 9/11 attacks, and will also ask the firm to help it track suspected terrorists. Other telecommunications firms such as Verizon, AT&T, and BellSouth, will comply with the NSA’s requests (see February 2001 and Beyond).
Fears of a 'Digital Pearl Harbor' - According to a former White House official, the NSA’s primary purpose before 9/11 is to watch for computer hackers and foreign-government agents trying to hack into the government’s computer information systems, particularly those within the Defense Department. Government officials fear a “digital Pearl Harbor” if hackers were ever to seize control of those systems or other key US infrastructures. The former official will say in 2007 that the NSA’s proposal to Qwest is, “Can you build a private version of Echelon and tell us what you see?” Echelon is the NSA’s enormous signals intelligence (SIGINT) network used by the agency and its counterparts in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and Britain. Qwest is constructing a high-speed network for phone and Internet traffic, and the NSA wants Qwest to keep records of its customers’ transactions for it. The NSA, another source will say, wants to analyze call, e-mail, and other transmissions’ traffic patters for signs of suspicious activity. The White House official will say that telecom firms such as Qwest “have an enormous amount of intelligence-gathering” capability. They don’t have to target individual customers to “look for wacky behavior,” or “groups communicating with each other in strange patterns.” Such information could augment intelligence that the NSA and other agencies were gathering from other sources, and enable the NSA to collect the information it wants without violating laws prohibiting it and other intelligence agencies from directly gathering data on US citizens.
Ill Will from NSA - Nacchio’s refusal to go along with the NSA’s request garners it some ill will among the US intelligence community, the former White House official will say. Nacchio will contend that because of his refusal, the NSA denied Qwest a lucrative government contract. A former high-level intelligence official will add that other telecom companies had little problem agreeing to the NSA’s requests. Nacchio believes that the NSA’s request is illegal under the Telecommunications Act without court orders; the former White House official will acknowledge that it might violate the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act. After 9/11, that law will be amended by the USA Patriot Act to give the government more room to monitor US citizens.
Qwest, Other Telecom Firms Cooperative with Other Agencies - Qwest is apparently less reluctant to share other information with the Pentagon. Qwest began sharing its technology and information as far back as 1997 (see 1997). In May 2001, Commerce Secretary Don Evans will tell the Senate Appropriations Committee that his department helped persuade Qwest to “share proprietory information with the Defense Department to evaluate the vulnerability of its network.” Qwest, which serves the Rocky Mountain and West Coast regions of the country, covers the areas that house some of the military’s most important command-and-control facilities, including the US Strategic Command. In the 1990s, Qwest began actively pursuing contracts with the Defense Department to build more modern, private, secure networks for defense and intelligence agencies. [National Journal, 11/2/2007]
Meetings with Bush Officials - In court documents filed in 2006 to challenge his prosecution for insider trading and, in heavily redacted form, released to the public in 2007, Nacchio will indicate that telecom executives met frequently with Bush administration officials before 9/11, including Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, NSA Director Michael Hayden, and counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke. Many telecom firms are working closely with the government to develop highly classified operations, including joint networks to which the government will have unfettered access. The future director of national intelligence, Mike McConnell, works with telecom firms to expand the cooperation between the telecom industry and the federal government. [Salon, 10/15/2007]
Entity Tags: Condoleezza Rice, US Department of Defense, Bush administration (43), Verizon Communications, AT&T, US Department of Commerce, Senate Appropriations Committee, US Strategic Command, BellSouth, Donald L. Evans, Echelon, Richard A. Clarke, Qwest, Mike McConnell, National Security Agency, Joe Nacchio, Paul Wolfowitz
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Offutt Air Force Base control tower during Global Guardian 1998. [Source: Jeffery S. Viano]As the 9/11 attacks are taking place, a large military training exercise called Global Guardian is said to be “in full swing.” It has been going on since the previous week. [Omaha World-Herald, 2/27/2002; Omaha World-Herald, 9/10/2002] Global Guardian is an annual exercise sponsored by US Strategic Command (Stratcom) in cooperation with US Space Command and NORAD. One military author defines Stratcom as “the single US military command responsible for the day-to-day readiness of America’s nuclear forces.” [Arkin, 2005, pp. 59]
Exercise Tests Military's Ability to Fight a Nuclear War - Global Guardian is a global readiness exercise involving all Stratcom forces and aims to test Stratcom’s ability to fight a nuclear war. It is one of many “practice Armageddons” that the US military routinely stages. [Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 11/1/1997; Associated Press, 2/21/2002; Omaha World-Herald, 2/27/2002; Omaha World-Herald, 9/10/2002] It links with a number of other military exercises, including Crown Vigilance (an Air Combat Command exercise), Apollo Guardian (a US Space Command exercise), and the NORAD exercises Vigilant Guardian and Amalgam Warrior. [US Department of Defense, 5/1997; GlobalSecurity (.org), 4/27/2005] Global Guardian is both a command post and a field training exercise, and is based around a fictitious scenario designed to test the ability of Stratcom and its component forces to deter a military attack against the US. Hundreds of military personnel are involved. [US Congress, n.d.; Collins Center Update, 12/1999 ; Times-Picayune, 9/8/2002] The exercise involves “a lot of the elements of what ultimately would be the nuclear command and control system in support of a national emergency,” according to Admiral Richard Mies, the commander in chief of Stratcom. It includes an “exercise secretary of defense” and “an exercise president.” Mies will say that because of the exercise, “A lot of [Stratcom’s] command and control systems that, in peacetime, are normally not on alert were at a much, much higher state of alert [on September 11] and we had a number of aircraft, manned control aircraft that were airborne that were simulating their wartime roles.” [NET News, 12/27/2011]
Exercise Normally Held in October or November - According to a 1998 Internet article by the British American Security Information Council—an independent research organization—Global Guardian is held in October or November each year. [Kristensen, 10/1998] In his book Code Names, NBC News military analyst William Arkin dates this exercise for October 22-31, 2001. [Arkin, 2005, pp. 379] And a military newspaper reported in March 2001 that Global Guardian was scheduled for October 2001. [Space Observer, 3/23/2001, pp. 2 ] If this is correct, then some time after March, the exercise must have been rescheduled for early September.
Exercise Includes a 'Computer Network Attack' - Furthermore, a 1998 Defense Department newsletter reported that for several years Stratcom had been incorporating a computer network attack (CNA) into Global Guardian. The attack involved Stratcom “red team” members and other organizations acting as enemy agents, and included attempts to penetrate the command using the Internet and a “bad” insider who had access to a key command and control system. The attackers “war dialed” the phones to tie them up and sent faxes to numerous fax machines throughout the Command. They also claimed they were able to shut down Stratcom’s systems. Reportedly, Stratcom planned to increase the level of computer network attack in future Global Guardian exercises. [IAnewsletter, 6/1998 ] It is unclear if a computer network attack is incorporated into Global Guardian in 2001.
Entity Tags: US Strategic Command, Apollo Guardian, Crown Vigilance, Global Guardian, North American Aerospace Defense Command, US Department of Defense, US Space Command, Vigilant Guardian, Amalgam Warrior, Richard Mies
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
The US Strategic Command command center. [Source: US Strategic Command]At the time the attacks in New York occur, a small group of business leaders are having breakfast at Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha, Nebraska, where the US Strategic Command (Stratcom) is headquartered. With them is Admiral Richard Mies, the commander in chief of Stratcom. They are in town for an annual charity fundraiser event due to take place later in the day, hosted by the multi-billionaire Warren Buffett. Along with other visitors who have come for the fundraiser, they are scheduled to tour the Stratcom underground command center, located 60 feet below Offutt, and receive an unclassified mission briefing. According to the Omaha World-Herald, staff members have left the command center in advance of their visit. It is only after the second attack occurs, at 9:03, that Admiral Mies excuses himself from the breakfast and the battle staff reconvenes in the center. [San Francisco Business Times, 2/1/2002; Omaha World-Herald, 2/27/2002] It is unclear what effect the absence of Mies and the members of the battle staff have upon the military’s ability to respond effectively to the first attacks. However, the command center does have significant capabilities that would, presumably, be of much use under such a crisis. Stratcom is the military command responsible for the readiness of America’s nuclear forces. [Arkin, 2005, pp. 59] The Lincoln Journal Star describes its underground command center as “a military nerve center that collects and assesses information from high-tech ‘eyes and ears’ across—and above—the globe.” [Journal Star (Lincoln), 10/25/2000] The cavernous room has eight giant video screens and complex communications systems. [Associated Press, 2/21/2002; Omaha World-Herald, 2/27/2002] Stratcom itself states that the senior controller in the command center “has a direct line to the National Military Command Center in Washington, DC, and to the other major command headquarters.” This system, called the Joint Chiefs of Staff Alerting Network, allows the commander in chief of Stratcom to make “prompt contact with the president, the secretary of defense, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and other unified commanders.” Furthermore, “Through satellites and radio networks (VLF, LF, UHF and HF), the command center can communicate with aircraft in flight over any part of the world. A principal purpose of these networks is to pass National Command Authority [i.e. the president and secretary of defense] orders to the alert forces.” While only the president can order nuclear strikes, the commander in chief of Stratcom “can launch aircraft for survival.” [United States Strategic Command, 6/22/2001] With the command center’s sophisticated capabilities, after Mies returns to it from his breakfast, the eight video screens there are “loaded up with data,” providing him with “the latest information on the unfolding drama.” [Omaha World-Herald, 2/27/2002] And at the time President Bush arrives at Offutt, later in the day (see 2:50 p.m. September 11, 2001), the battle staff in the center will reportedly be “watching the skies over the United States” and “tracking a commercial airliner on its way from Spain to the United States.” [Washington Post, 1/27/2002; CBS News, 9/11/2002]
Admiral Richard Mies.
[Source: Public domain]Offutt Air Force Base, near Omaha, Nebraska, appears to be the headquarters of the US Strategic Command (Stratcom) exercise Global Guardian that is “in full swing” when the 9/11 attacks begin (see 8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001). At least the director of the exercise, Admiral Richard Mies, commander in chief of Stratcom, is at Offutt this morning. Because of Global Guardian, bombers, missile crews, and submarines around America are all being directed from Stratcom’s command center, a steel and concrete reinforced bunker below Offutt. [Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 11/12/1997; Associated Press, 2/21/2002; Omaha World-Herald, 2/27/2002; BBC, 9/1/2002; Omaha World-Herald, 9/10/2002] This bunker is staffed with top personnel and they are at a heightened security mode because of the exercise. [Associated Press, 2/21/2002; Air Force Weather Observer, 7/2002 ]
'Doomsday' Planes Airborne for Exercise - Because of Global Guardian, three special military command aircraft with sophisticated communications equipment, based at Offutt, are up in the air this morning (see (9:27 a.m.) September 11, 2001, Shortly After 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001, and (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). These E-4B National Airborne Operations Center planes—nicknamed “Doomsday” planes during the Cold War—are intended to control nuclear forces from the air in times of crisis. They are capable of acting as alternative command posts for top government officials from where they can direct US forces, execute war orders, and coordinate the actions of civil authorities in times of national emergency. The federal advisory committee, whose chairman is retired Lieutenant General Brent Scowcroft, is aboard one of these Doomsday planes, being brought to Offutt to observe the exercise (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Global Guardian will reportedly be put on pause at 9:11 a.m. (see 9:11 a.m. September 11, 2001), but not formally terminated until 10:44 a.m. (see (10:44 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and the battle staff at Offutt will switch to “real-world mode” once the attacks are apparent. However, even after Global Guardian is called off, the three E-4Bs will remain airborne. Also this morning, a small group of business leaders are at Offutt because of a charity fundraiser event due to take place later in the day, hosted by the multi-billionaire Warren Buffett (see (8:45 a.m.-9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Omaha World-Herald, 2/27/2002; Air Force Weather Observer, 7/2002 ; BBC, 9/1/2002; Omaha World-Herald, 9/8/2002; Bombardier, 9/8/2006 ]
The US Strategic Command (Stratcom) orders that its Global Guardian exercise be put on pause at this time, according to a 2006 article in The Bombardier, the newspaper for Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana. [Bombardier, 9/8/2006 ] Global Guardian is an annual exercise sponsored by Stratcom, which has its headquarters at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska. The exercise tests Stratcom’s ability to fight a nuclear war (see 8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Omaha World-Herald, 2/27/2002; GlobalSecurity (.org), 4/27/2005] Many aircraft and personnel at Barksdale, as well as other military bases, are involved in it (see 8:48 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Times-Picayune, 9/8/2002] Global Guardian will be formally terminated at 10:44 a.m., according to The Bombardier (see (10:44 a.m.) September 11, 2001), although other reports will say it is canceled earlier on, possibly after the second World Trade Center tower is hit at 9:03 a.m. [Omaha World-Herald, 2/27/2002; Omaha World-Herald, 9/8/2002; Bombardier, 9/8/2006 ]
The US Strategic Command (Stratcom) formally terminates its Global Guardian exercise at this time, according to a 2006 article in The Bombardier, the newspaper for Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana. Global Guardian was put on pause just over 90 minutes earlier, according to the same article (see 9:11 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Bombardier, 9/8/2006 ] However, other reports will suggest that Global Guardian was canceled significantly earlier than 10:44 a.m. One article in the Omaha World-Herald will state, “When the second World Trade Center tower was hit,” at 9:03 a.m., “the exercise was canceled, and the battle staff [at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska] moved to the real-world crisis.” [Omaha World-Herald, 9/8/2002] But an earlier article in the World-Herald will say that military authorities canceled Global Guardian “after the attacks on the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon,” suggesting some time after 9:37 a.m., when the Pentagon was hit. [Omaha World-Herald, 2/27/2002] An E-4B National Airborne Operations Center aircraft that was involved in Global Guardian was reportedly only told to pull out of the exercise just after the Pentagon was hit (see (9:27 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Verton, 2003, pp. 143-144] Even after Global Guardian is canceled, this plane and two other E-4Bs that are involved in the exercise will remain airborne. [Omaha World-Herald, 2/27/2002] The annual Global Guardian exercise tests Stratcom’s ability to fight a nuclear war (see 8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Omaha World-Herald, 2/27/2002; GlobalSecurity (.org), 4/27/2005]
Logan Walters. [Source: SCF Partners]While he is at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, President Bush receives an intelligence report from the US Strategic Command (Stratcom), informing him that a high-speed object is heading for his ranch in Crawford, Texas. It is already more than 45 minutes since US airspace had been cleared of all aircraft except military and emergency flights (see 12:16 p.m. September 11, 2001). Bush orders an underling to notify everyone at the ranch about this. [New Yorker, 9/25/2001; Sammon, 2002, pp. 117; CBS News, 9/2/2003] In the White House Situation Room, they are also informed of the rogue aircraft. Logan Walters, who is Bush’s personal aide, calls the ranch’s caretaker and tells him, “Get as far away from there as you can.” Senior national security official Franklin Miller then receives a phone call informing him that a combat air patrol (CAP) has been established over the ranch. [Draper, 2007, pp. 142] (A CAP is an aircraft patrol with the purpose of intercepting and destroying hostile aircraft before they reach their targets. [US Department of Defense, 4/12/2001] ) Miller heads to the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House to ask Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley about the CAP. Both men agree that it seems unnecessarily excessive. When Miller returns to the Situation Room, he sets about calling off the CAP, but finds that it wasn’t even established to begin with, and that, furthermore, the report of a rogue aircraft was a false alarm. [Draper, 2007, pp. 143] A threat to Air Force One had allegedly been received earlier on (see (10:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001), but this too is later deemed to have been a false alarm. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 554]
President Bush gets off Air Force One and is taken to a command center several stories underground at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska. [Salon, 9/12/2001; Bamford, 2004, pp. 89] At 2:50 p.m., the president’s plane landed at Offutt, home of the US Strategic Command (Stratcom), which controls America’s nuclear weapons (see 2:50 p.m. September 11, 2001). [Associated Press, 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 326] About 10 minutes later, Bush emerges from the plane. [Salon, 9/12/2001] Admiral Richard Mies, commander in chief of Stratcom, along with a driver and a Secret Service agent, has come in a car to meet Air Force One on the runway. After getting off the plane, Bush gets into the back of the car with Mies. [Sammon, 2002, pp. 121; NET News, 12/27/2011; Politico Magazine, 9/9/2016] His staffers, meanwhile, get onto buses. [Studies in Intelligence, 9/2006 ] The vehicles are driven away from the plane and across the large base. [Sammon, 2002, pp. 121]
Bush Goes to the Underground Command Center - Bush and his staffers are then taken to Stratcom’s underground command center. [CBS News, 9/2/2003] They are taken by Mies through the center’s fire escape in order to reach it. [NET News, 12/27/2011; Omaha World-Herald, 9/9/2016] They are driven to a small, concrete building, resembling a hut, go through a door in it, and then head down a staircase. [White House, 8/12/2002; Fleischer, 2005, pp. 147-148] “We went down and down and down, pretty far underground,” Brian Montgomery, the White House’s director of advance, will later recall. [Politico Magazine, 9/9/2016] “It’s a long way down,” Karl Rove, Bush’s senior adviser, will describe, “and then you emerge and go through a series of hallways and special doors, blast doors… and then you enter into a conference center, which is… several stories underground.” [ABC News, 9/11/2002]
Exercise Means Extra People Are in the Command Center - The command center, according to author James Bamford, is “a cavernous two-story war room with banks of dark wooden desks curved away from a giant projection screen on which [is] displayed the status of military forces around the world.” [Bamford, 2004, pp. 89] Eight giant video screens are loaded with data and numerous military personnel are seated at computer terminals that are hooked into satellites monitoring activities around the world. [Washington Post, 1/27/2002; Omaha World-Herald, 2/27/2002] Stratcom was in the middle of a major training exercise, called Global Guardian, when the attacks began this morning (see 8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001 and Before 9:00 a.m. September 11, 2001) and consequently many more people are in the command center than would normally be there.
Bush Is Briefed on the Attacks - When Bush enters, Rear Admiral Jay Donnelly, the operations officer in the center, announces, “Ladies and gentlemen, the president.” Everyone comes to attention. Bush then tells them to sit down. Mies gives Bush a briefing in the command center. “The president sat down and I briefed him on what each of [the] screens was displaying,” he will recall, adding, “Gave him, as best I could, an update from [Stratcom’s] perspective of what was happening based on what we knew.” [Omaha World-Herald, 9/8/2002; NET News, 12/27/2011] After being briefed, Bush and Andrew Card, his chief of staff, will be taken to a teleconference center. [CBS News, 9/2/2003; Rove, 2010, pp. 261] There, Bush will conduct a meeting of the National Security Council in a secure video teleconference (see (3:15 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Washington Times, 10/8/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 326; NET News, 12/27/2011]
The United States Strategic Command (Stratcom) produces a document mentioning that the US backed some of al-Qaeda’s forerunners. The document, an after-action report for Stratcom’s Global Guardian exercise in 2001, contains summaries about terrorist groups from around the world. Its section on al-Qaeda states: “The group was originally brought together from elements of various insurgent military groups which have fought continuously in the Middle East since the 1980s. Some of these groups had US backing in the past.” Al-Qaeda was formed in 1988 (see August 11-20, 1988) by Arabs who had fought for the US-sponsored mujaheddin in the Soviet-Afghan war (see 1985-1986 and 1986-1992). [US Strategic Command, 12/4/2011]
Pentagon ‘Nuclear Posture Review.’ [Source: Federation of American Scientists]White House guidance and the Defense Department’s 2001 “Nuclear Posture Review” (NPR) together lead to the creation of a new set of nuclear strike options—OPLAN 8044 Revision 03—against nations that may plan to acquire weapons of mass destruction. These strike options are secretly presented to certain members of Congress. The new nuclear strike options will not be revealed until November 2007, when the Federation of American Scientists receives a partially declassified document from the US Strategic Command (STRATCOM) that details the strike plans. The planning for the new strike options began shortly after the 9/11 attacks, and the US Strategic Command created scenarios for attacking countries such as Russia, China, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, and North Korea; the plan will take effect on March 1, 2003, just weeks before the US invasion of Iraq. Until the documents become publicly available in 2007, Bush administration and Pentagon officials will insist that not only has the US not changed its nuclear policy, it has actually decreased the role of nuclear weapons in its strategic planning (see March 10, 2002, March 9, 2002, and October 9, 2007). Those disavowals will be proven false. Instead, according to the STRATCOM document, one of the first options delineated in the NPR is the use of these newly created nuclear strike options. The significance of the NPR’s new options is in the fact that before now, such scenarios have not been included in the national strategic plans, and “on-the-shelf” plans for nuclear bombing and missile strikes against “rogue” states have not been available. Although the details of the strikes remain classified, it is evident that the planning for these strikes goes far deeper than simple retaliation, but includes, in the words of scientist Hans Kristensen: “actual nuclear warfighting intended to annihilate a wide range of facilities in order to deprive the states the ability to launch and fight with WMD. The new plan formally broadened strategic nuclear targeting from two adversaries (Russia and China) to a total of seven.” [Defense, 1/8/2002 ; Federation of American Scientists, 11/5/2007]
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