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Officers at the National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon have serious problems trying to connect the FAA to the conference calls they convene in response to the terrorist attacks. (US Department of Defense 9/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/21/2003 ; 9/11 Commission 6/17/2004) The NMCC commences a “significant event conference” at 9:29 a.m., to gather and disseminate information relating to the crisis from government agencies (see 9:29 a.m.-9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001). Minutes later, this is upgraded to an “air threat conference” (see 9:37 a.m.-9:39 a.m. September 11, 2001). According to the 9/11 Commission Report, operators at the NMCC work “feverishly to include the FAA” in the conference, but they have “equipment problems and difficulty finding secure phone numbers.” (9/11 Commission 7/21/2003 ; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 37)
NMCC Unable to Connect to FAA - The FAA is not on the NMCC’s established checklist of parties to call for either a significant event conference or an air threat conference. Captain Charles Leidig, the acting deputy director for operations (DDO) in the NMCC during the attacks, therefore has to ask Staff Sergeant Val Harrison to add the FAA to the air threat conference. Harrison tries contacting the operations center at FAA headquarters in Washington, DC, but has difficulty getting through. She finally asks the White House switchboard to help her connect the call to the FAA, but even after a line has been established it is repeatedly lost. (US Department of Defense 9/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/21/2003 ) According to Leidig, the FAA is only “intermittently in,” and “[m]ost of the time they were not in the conference.”
NMCC Establishes Non-Secure Line with FAA - Commander Pat Gardner, the assistant DDO, has to set up an unclassified line with the FAA, because the agency’s only STU-III secure phone is tied up. This unclassified line is separate to the conference call, which is on a special, classified phone circuit. (9/11 Commission 4/29/2004 ; 9/11 Commission 6/17/2004) According to Major Charles Chambers, who is currently on duty in the NMCC, because it isn’t in the NMCC’s conference, the FAA “couldn’t go secure and so we couldn’t get first-hand information from them.” (US Department of Defense 9/2001)
Connection Problems 'Hampered Information Flow' - Leidig is frustrated at being unable to keep the FAA in the conference. Sometimes questions are asked of the agency, but it is no longer on the line and so the NMCC has to redial it. (9/11 Commission 4/29/2004 ) Leidig will tell the 9/11 Commission that the connection problems, which occur “throughout the morning… hampered information flow to some degree,” because the NMCC is “getting information in a more roundabout way from FAA. Sometimes it would come from a local commander to NORAD back to us, or sometimes it would come on an open line” with the FAA operations center, rather than over the conference. Leidig will add that if the FAA “had been in the same conference that was being directed by the National Military Command Center, the information flow would have went directly to NORAD because [NORAD was] in that conference.” (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004)
FAA Employee Joins Conference - According to Harrison, the NMCC is not presently aware of the existence of the FAA Command Center in Herndon, Virginia, and also does not realize that there is a military liaison at the FAA operations center. (9/11 Commission 7/21/2003 ) However, at 10:17 a.m., FAA representative Rayford Brooks, who is at the agency’s Command Center, finally joins the air threat conference (see 10:17 a.m. September 11, 2001), although accounts indicate there are problems keeping him connected after that time. (9/11 Commission 4/15/2004; 9/11 Commission 6/17/2004; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 37, 463)
'Compatibility Issues' Supposedly Cause Connection Problems - The FAA keeps getting cut off the NMCC conference because of “technical problems,” according to a 9/11 Commission memorandum. (9/11 Commission 7/21/2003 ) Leidig will tell the Commission it is his understanding that there were some “compatibility issues” between the FAA’s secure phone and the secure phones in the NMCC, and these caused the FAA to keep dropping out of the conference, although he is unaware of the technical aspects of the problem. (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004)
The National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon finally commences and runs a “significant event conference” in response to the ongoing crisis, 26 minutes after the second plane hit the World Trade Center and officers in the NMCC realized the US was under terrorist attack. (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004 ; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 37; Garamone 9/7/2006)
NMCC Directors Decided to Establish Conference - After those in the NMCC saw Flight 175 hitting the WTC live on television at 9:03 a.m. (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001), Captain Charles Leidig, the acting deputy director for operations (DDO) in the center throughout the attacks, and Commander Pat Gardner, the assistant DDO, talked about the need to convene a significant event conference so there could be a discussion of what actions were to be taken in response. The DDO and the assistant DDO are the two officers responsible for deciding what type of conference the NMCC should convene, and when it should do so. Because there is no specific procedure for dealing with terrorist attacks, Leidig and Gardner decided a significant event conference would most suit their needs, because it would have the flexibility of allowing more people to be added in as required. They also discussed who would need to be on this conference. (9/11 Commission 4/29/2004 ) But Major Charles Chambers, who is currently on duty in the NMCC, will give a slightly different account. According to Chambers, Staff Sergeant Val Harrison had a phone in her hand and said NORAD was asking for a significant event conference. Leidig had agreed, and so Harrison started establishing the conference.
Conference Begins with Recap of Situation - According to Chambers, “The computer does a mass dialing to connect to those command centers that are always included” in an NMCC conference call, but Harrison also had to manually call the civilian agencies that were going to be included in the conference, such as the FAA, the FBI, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). (US Department of Defense 9/2001) The conference then begins at 9:29 a.m. with a brief recap: Two aircraft have hit the WTC, there is a confirmed hijacking of Flight 11, and fighter jets have been scrambled from Otis Air National Guard Base in Massachusetts (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). The FAA is asked to provide an update, but its line is silent as the agency has not yet been added to the call (see (9:29 a.m.-12:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). A minute later, Leidig states that it has just been confirmed that Flight 11 is still airborne and is heading toward Washington, DC. (This incorrect information apparently arose minutes earlier during a conference call between FAA centers (see 9:21 a.m. September 11, 2001).) (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 37) NMCC conference calls are moderated by the DDO. (9/11 Commission 7/21/2003 ) Leidig will tell the 9/11 Commission that they are conducted over “a special phone circuit, and it’s classified to be able to pass information, relay information between very senior leadership all the way over to the White House.” (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004)
NMCC Struggled to Convene Conference - Some officers currently on duty in the NMCC will later complain about circumstances that delayed the establishing of the significant event conference. Chambers will recall that the conference took “much longer than expected to bring up.” (US Department of Defense 9/2001) Gardner will tell the 9/11 Commission that the NMCC had been “struggling to build the conference,” which “didn’t get off as quickly as hoped.” (9/11 Commission 5/5/2004) He will describe his “frustration that it wasn’t brought up more quickly.” (9/11 Commission 5/12/2004)
Other Conference and Connection Problems Delayed Call - Preparations for the conference were disrupted as a result of the CIA convening a National Operations and Intelligence Watch Officer Network (NOIWON) conference call between government agencies in the Washington area, reportedly at sometime between 9:16 a.m. and 9:25 a.m. (see (Between 9:16 a.m. and 9:25 a.m.) September 11, 2001). According to a 9/11 Commission memorandum, the NMCC had “abandoned its attempt to convene a [significant event conference] so its watch officers could participate in the NOIWON conference.” (Federal Aviation Administration 9/11/2001; Federal Aviation Administration 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/21/2003 ) Another factor that slowed attempts to convene the significant event conference was a problem with connecting some agencies to it. According to Chambers, “A couple of the civil agencies couldn’t be reached and others kept dropping off moments after connecting.” He will recall, “We finally decided to proceed without those agencies that were having phone problems.” (US Department of Defense 9/2001) Leidig had announced that the NMCC would have to start without those agencies and add them to the conference later on. (9/11 Commission 5/12/2004)
Call Ends after Five Minutes - The significant event conference ends after only a few minutes, following a recommendation by NORAD that it be reconvened as an “air threat conference.” It is brought to an end at around 9:34 a.m., and will resume as an air threat conference at 9:37 a.m. (see 9:37 a.m.-9:39 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 4/29/2004 ; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 37)
The National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon commences an “air threat conference” at 9:37 a.m. in response to the terrorist attacks, which will last for more than eight hours and have numerous high-level government and military officials participating at various times.
NORAD Reports Two More Hijackings - Captain Charles Leidig opens the call at 9:39 a.m. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 37-38) As the acting deputy director for operations (DDO) in the NMCC during the attacks, Leidig is responsible for moderating the air threat conference and generating a military response to the crisis. (9/11 Commission 4/29/2004 ) He begins the call saying: “An air attack against North America may be in progress. NORAD, what’s the situation?” NORAD says it has conflicting reports, and its latest information is of “a possible hijacked aircraft taking off out of JFK [International Airport in New York], en route to Washington, DC.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 38) NORAD says the FAA has also passed it information about a second additional hijacking. Major Charles Chambers, who is currently on duty in the NMCC, will later recall, “This was probably a communications mix-up, but we all thought for a while that there were a total of five hijackings.” (US Department of Defense 9/2001)
NMCC Reports Pentagon Attack - The NMCC reports that there has been a crash into the mall side of the Pentagon and requests that the secretary of defense be added to the conference. (However, despite being in the Pentagon when it is hit, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld will not enter the NMCC and join the air threat conference until around 10:30 a.m. (see (10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001).) (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 38) The air threat conference is broadcast over a loudspeaker inside the NMCC. (Ragavan and Mazzetti 8/31/2003) According to Chambers, “Questions were flying left and right on the conference, and trying to keep things straight was very difficult.” (US Department of Defense 9/2001)
NORAD Recommended Air Threat Conference - Leidig and Commander Pat Gardner, the assistant DDO, had earlier on decided to convene an all-purpose “significant event conference” in response to the attacks on the World Trade Center. That call commenced at 9:29 a.m. (see 9:29 a.m.-9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001). NORAD had recommended that it be reconvened as an air threat conference. (9/11 Commission 4/29/2004 ; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 37) According to Chambers, an air threat conference is used when aircraft are considered to be hostile and involves many more people than are in a significant event conference, including the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the secretary of defense, and officials from the White House. (US Department of Defense 9/2001) However, Leidig thought a significant event conference was the correct kind of call for the situation. He will tell the 9/11 Commission that an air threat conference “had Cold War implications and brought a different group of people to a conference.” (9/11 Commission 4/29/2004 ) Gardner will say that threat conferences are intended for dealing with external threats. (9/11 Commission 5/12/2004)
Deputy Director Ordered Upgrading of Conference - All the same, Leidig gave the order to transition to an air threat conference. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 37) He will tell the 9/11 Commission that, in retrospect, the reason he thinks he did so “was because he perceived an air threat at that time.” (9/11 Commission 4/29/2004 ) Therefore, the significant event conference was brought to an end at around 9:34 a.m., and resumes as an air threat conference three minutes later. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 37) Staff Sergeant Val Harrison could have established the air threat conference either by leaving all of those participating in the significant event conference on the line and then adding new participants one at a time, or by simply hanging up on everyone in the significant event conference and then having the computer do a mass dialing. Harrison recommended the second option. Leidig had agreed, and directed her to disconnect the conference call and start over.
Problem with Connecting Some Agencies - As happened with the significant event conference, there are problems connecting several agencies to the air threat conference. (US Department of Defense 9/2001) Despite repeated attempts, operators struggle to get the FAA connected (see (9:29 a.m.-12:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001), and it will take until 10:17 a.m. for an FAA representative to finally join the call (see 10:17 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/21/2003 ; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 37) Other agencies had not understood what Leidig meant about convening the new conference, and so did not hang up their phones when the NMCC disconnected the previous conference call. As a result, all the NMCC got from them was a busy signal over the line. Chambers will recall, “As with the [significant event conference], it took longer than expected to convene the [air threat conference].” (US Department of Defense 9/2001)
Top Officials Participate - Throughout the more than eight hours the air threat conference is running for, numerous key officials will participate in it at various times, including President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, acting Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Richard Myers, military personnel from the Presidential Emergency Operations Center below the White House, and the president’s military aide on Air Force One. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 37) Brigadier General Montague Winfield, the original DDO, who had Leidig take his place so he could attend a pre-scheduled meeting (see 8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001), will later recall, “All of the governmental agencies… that were involved in any activity that was going on in the United States… were in that conference.” (ABC News 9/11/2002)
Winfield Runs Conference after Returning to Post - Winfield will take over the running of the air threat conference from Leidig after returning to his post at around 10:30 a.m. (see (10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (CNN 9/4/2002; 9/11 Commission 4/29/2004 ; 9/11 Commission 6/17/2004) But although NMCC conference calls are moderated by the DDO, Rumsfeld will use the DDO’s phone to participate in the air threat conference, meaning that Winfield is unable to moderate the conference when the defense secretary is participating. (9/11 Commission 7/21/2003 )
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