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The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) practices scenarios based around suicidal pilots planning to deliberately crash stolen aircraft into the United Nations headquarters—a skyscraper in New York. The two scenarios are practiced on October 16 and October 23 as part of NORAD’s annual command post exercise called Vigilant Guardian. All of NORAD, including its Northeast Air Defense Sector based in Rome, New York, participates in this exercise. (US Congress. Senate. Committee on Armed Services 8/17/2004; Arkin 2005, pp. 545; GlobalSecurity (.org) 4/27/2005)
Simulation Involves Planned Suicide Plane Attack - General Richard Myers, currently the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will later describe the scenario practiced on October 16: “Due to recent arrests involving illegal drug trafficking in Maine, an individual steals a Federal Express plane and plans a suicide attack into the United Nations building in New York City.” In response to the simulated crisis, exercise participants follow hijack checklists, exercise command and control, and coordinate with external agencies.
Simulation Involves WMD Directed at the UN - The October 23 scenario, according to Myers, is based around “[w]eapons of mass destruction directed at the United Nations. An individual steals a Federal Express aircraft and plans a suicide attack on the United Nations building in New York City.” In response, exercise participants practice command and control, and coordinate with external agencies, and fighter jets conduct an interception of the stolen aircraft. (US Congress. Senate. Committee on Armed Services 8/17/2004) Federal Express currently flies mostly the DC-10 and the MD-11, which are both large jet planes, so presumably one of these kinds of aircraft is considered in the exercise scenarios. (Schneider 1/17/2001) The UN headquarters building—the target in the scenarios—is a 39-story high-rise, located just a few miles from the World Trade Center. (Arena 12/2/1999; Evening Standard 9/11/2002)
Scenarios Revealed in 2004 - The details of these two scenarios will come to light in August 2004 during a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee. They will be revealed by Myers, at that time the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, after Senator Mark Dayton (D-MN) asks him, “Did NORAD conduct exercises or develop scenarios, prior to September 11, 2001, to test a military reaction to an aircraft hijacking which appeared destined to result in a suicide crash into a high-value target?” (US Congress. Senate. Committee on Armed Services 8/17/2004) NORAD will state in 2004 that, until 9/11, it conducts four major exercises each year. Most of these include a hijack scenario, but not all of them involve planes being used as weapons. (Komarow and Squitieri 4/18/2004; Starr 4/19/2004) NORAD’s next Vigilant Guardian exercise, in 2001, will actually be several days underway on 9/11 (see (6:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). It will include a number of scenarios based around plane hijackings, with the fictitious hijackers targeting New York in at least one of those scenarios (see September 6, 2001, September 9, 2001, September 10, 2001, and (9:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 2004; Bronner 8/1/2006)
The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) practices for dealing with the simulated hijackings of two commercial aircraft by terrorists, as part of its annual training exercise called Vigilant Guardian. Whether the simulated hijackings take place simultaneously or at different times of the day is unclear. (9/11 Commission 2004; Spencer 2008, pp. 3)
Terrorists Threaten to 'Rain Terror from the Skies' - One of the two exercise scenarios involves the hijacking of a Boeing 747 bound from Tokyo, Japan, to Anchorage, Alaska. According to a document later produced by the 9/11 Commission, the scenario involves the “[t]hreat of harm to [the plane’s] passengers and possibly [a] large population within [the] US or Canada.” It includes what is apparently a fictitious Asian terrorist group called “Mum Hykro,” which is threatening to “rain terror from the skies onto a major US city unless the US declares withdrawal from Asian conflict.” During the hijacking scenario, some of the plane’s passengers are killed. The plane’s course is changed to take it to Vancouver, Canada, and then to San Francisco, California. In response to the hijacking, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and FAA headquarters direct military assistance, in the form of “covert shadowing” of the hijacked aircraft. NORAD has to liaise with the appropriate air traffic control centers. Its Alaskan region (ANR) and its Canadian region (CANR) participate in the scenario.
Group Threatens to Blow up Plane - In the other hijacking scenario, 10 members of another fictitious terrorist group, “Lin Po,” seize control of a Boeing 747 bound from Seoul, South Korea, to Anchorage. The hijackers have weapons on board that were smuggled onto the plane in small tote bags by ground crew members prior to takeoff. Gas containers were also smuggled onto the aircraft by baggage handlers before takeoff. Arming devices are attached to these containers, which can be remotely detonated. The terrorist group issues demands and threatens to blow up the plane if these are not met. The CIA and NSA caution that the group has the means and motivation to carry out a chemical and biological attack. The group kills two of the plane’s passengers and threatens to use the gas it has on board in some manner. In response to the simulated hijacking, NORAD directs fighter jets to get in a position to shoot down the hijacked airliner, and orders ANR to intercept and shadow it. In the scenario, the 747 eventually lands in Seattle, Washington. (9/11 Commission 2004)
Most NORAD Exercises Include Hijack Scenario - Vigilant Guardian is one of four major exercises that NORAD conducts each year. Most of these exercises include a hijack scenario. (Komarow and Squitieri 4/18/2004) Ken Merchant, NORAD’s joint exercise design manager, will tell the 9/11 Commission in 2003 that he cannot “remember a time in the last 33 years when NORAD has not run a hijack exercise.” (9/11 Commission 11/14/2003 ) This year’s Vigilant Guardian will include additional aircraft hijacking scenarios on September 9 and September 10 (see September 9, 2001 and September 10, 2001), and a further simulated plane hijacking is scheduled for the morning of September 11 (see (9:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 2004; Bronner 8/1/2006)
Personnel at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) practice their responses to a simulated plane hijacking in which terrorists plan to blow up a hijacked airliner over New York City. The scenario is part of the annual NORAD training exercise Vigilant Guardian. (9/11 Commission 2004; Spencer 2008, pp. 3) In the scenario, the fictitious hijackers take over a McDonnell Douglas DC-10 aircraft bound from London, Britain, to JFK International Airport in New York. According to a document later produced by the 9/11 Commission, the terrorist hijackers have explosives on the plane and “plan to detonate them over NYC.” As the scenario plays out, a “Blue Force” is able to divert the hijacked aircraft. When the terrorists then realize they are not near New York, they “detonate [the] explosives over land near the divert location.” There are no survivors. (9/11 Commission 2004) NEADS is based in Rome, New York, and will play a key role in coordinating the US military’s response to the 9/11 attacks two days later. On the morning of September 11, its personnel will be scheduled to practice another scenario based around an aircraft hijacking, presumably as part of the same Vigilant Guardian exercise (see (9:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 17; Bronner 8/1/2006)
The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), which is responsible for detecting and responding to any attack on the mainland United States, is in the early stages of a major training exercise called Vigilant Guardian that is to take place off the shores of the northeastern US and Canada. The exercise is not scheduled to really take off until the following day, September 11 (see (6:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001), but simulated intelligence briefings and meetings are now being held to set the stage for the mock engagements to come. According to author Lynn Spencer, Vigilant Guardian “is the kind of war game that the Russians usually respond to, even in this post-Cold War era.” The Russians have in fact announced that they will be deploying aircraft to several of their “Northern Tier” bases on September 11. Russian jets have penetrated North American airspace during previous NORAD exercises, and Colonel Robert Marr, the commander of NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), has prepared for them to do so again during the current exercise. If this happens, armed US fighter jets will intercept the Russian aircraft and escort them back to their own territory. In case there is any confrontation, Marr has ordered that his alert fighter jets be loaded with additional fuel and weapons. According to Spencer, on September 11, all alert fighters will be “loaded with live missiles in anticipation of any show of force that might be needed to respond to the Russians.” (Spencer 2008, pp. 3-5) NORAD has already announced that it is deploying fighters to Alaska and Northern Canada to monitor a Russian air force exercise being conducted in the Russian Arctic and North Pacific Ocean throughout this week (see September 9, 2001). (BBC 2001, pp. 161; North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/9/2001) According to the 9/11 Commission, the Vigilant Guardian exercise will in fact postulate “a bomber attack from the former Soviet Union.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 458)
Personnel at NORAD’s Southeast Air Defense Sector (SEADS) at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, practice for the scenario of an aircraft being hijacked by Cuban asylum seekers. The scenario is part of the annual NORAD training exercise, Vigilant Guardian. (9/11 Commission 2004; Spencer 2008, pp. 3) In the scenario, the fictitious hijackers take over an Ilyushin IL-62 jet airliner that took off from Havana, Cuba. The hijackers, who are “demanding political asylum, demand to be taken to” New York City, according to a document later produced by the 9/11 Commission. As the scenario plays out, the FAA requests support from NORAD. The FAA directs the plane toward Jacksonville, Florida, but the hijackers then demand to be taken to Atlanta, Georgia. Finally, the hijacked plane lands safely at Dobbins Air Force Base in Georgia. (9/11 Commission 2004) The following morning, September 11, personnel at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) in Rome, New York, are scheduled to practice what is apparently a similar plane hijacking scenario, presumably as part of the same Vigilant Guardian exercise (see (9:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001). According to Vanity Fair, that scenario will involve “politically motivated perpetrators” seeking asylum “on a Cuba-like island.” (Bronner 8/1/2006)
Lieutenant Colonel Dawne Deskins and other day shift employees at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) in Rome, NY, start their workday. NORAD is conducting a week-long, large-scale exercise called Vigilant Guardian. (Seely 1/25/2002) Deskins is regional mission crew chief for the Vigilant Guardian exercise. (ABC News 9/11/2002)
Exercise Includes Simulated Attack on the US - Vigilant Guardian is described as “an exercise that would pose an imaginary crisis to North American Air Defense outposts nationwide”; as a “simulated air war”; and as “an air defense exercise simulating an attack on the United States.” According to the 9/11 Commission, it “postulated a bomber attack from the former Soviet Union.” (Seely 1/25/2002; Filson 2003, pp. 55 and 122; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 458) Vigilant Guardian is described as being held annually, and is one of NORAD’s four major annual exercises. (Filson 2003, pp. 41; Arkin 2005, pp. 545; GlobalSecurity (.org) 4/27/2005) However, one report says it takes place semi-annually. (Scott 6/3/2002) Accounts by participants vary on whether 9/11 is the second, third, or fourth day of the exercise. (Code One Magazine 1/2002; Seely 1/25/2002; Kampouris 9/11/2002) Vigilant Guardian is a command post exercise (CPX), and in at least some previous years was conducted in conjunction with Stratcom’s Global Guardian exercise and a US Space Command exercise called Apollo Guardian. (US Congress n.d.; Arkin 2005, pp. 545; GlobalSecurity (.org) 4/27/2005) All of NORAD is participating in Vigilant Guardian on 9/11. (Scott 6/3/2002)
Exercise Includes Simulated Hijacking - Vanity Fair reports that the “day’s exercise” (presumably Vigilant Guardian) is “designed to run a range of scenarios, including a ‘traditional’ simulated hijack in which politically motivated perpetrators commandeer an aircraft, land on a Cuba-like island, and seek asylum.” (Bronner 8/1/2006) However, at NEADS, most of the dozen or so staff on the operations floor have no idea what the exercise is going to entail and are ready for anything. (Cooper 8/5/2004)
NORAD Fully Staffed and Alert - NORAD is currently running a real-world operation named Operation Northern Vigilance (see September 9, 2001). It may also be conducting a field training exercise calling Amalgam Warrior on this morning (see 9:28 a.m. September 11, 2001). NORAD is thus fully staffed and alert, and senior officers are manning stations throughout the US. The entire chain of command will be in place and ready when the first hijacking is reported. An article later says, “In retrospect, the exercise would prove to be a serendipitous enabler of a rapid military response to terrorist attacks on September 11.” (Scott 6/3/2002; Kelly 12/5/2003) Colonel Robert Marr, in charge of NEADS, will say: “We had the fighters with a little more gas on board. A few more weapons on board.” (ABC News 9/11/2002) However, Deskins and other NORAD officials later are initially confused about whether the 9/11 attacks are real or part of the exercise (see (8:38 a.m.-8:43 a.m.) September 11, 2001).
Personnel in NORAD’s operations center in Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, take part in a major Cold War-style training exercise called Vigilant Guardian, a war game in which the theoretical enemy is Russia. (9/11 Commission 3/1/2004 ; Simpson 8/28/2011; Roeder 9/10/2011) All of NORAD, including its subordinate units (see (6:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001), participates in the exercise. (Northeast Air Defense Sector 8/23/2001; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 9/8/2011) More than 50 people in the NORAD Battle Management Center in Cheyenne Mountain take part. (Tudor 3/2002; Doscher 9/8/2011) Vigilant Guardian is an annual exercise and is scheduled to last two weeks. (Arkin 2005, pp. 545; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 9/8/2011) It has been underway for several days. Those in the Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center (CMOC) have been participating in it “for at least three or four days,” according to Lieutenant Colonel Steven Armstrong, NORAD’s chief of plans and forces. (North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/9/2011)
Vigilant Guardian Is a 'Full-Blown Nuclear War' Exercise - Vigilant Guardian is a “transition to wartime operations command post exercise,” according to an information page for its participants. (Northeast Air Defense Sector 8/23/2001) The 1st Air Force’s book about 9/11 will describe it as a “simulated air war.” (Filson 2003, pp. 55) Lieutenant Colonel William Glover, the commander of NORAD’s Air Warning Center, will later recall that it involves NORAD “simulating war.… You know, attacks coming from the outside, Soviet-style bombers coming in, cruise-missile attacks, that type of thing.” (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 9/8/2011) Ken Merchant, NORAD’s joint exercise design manager, will tell the 9/11 Commission that Vigilant Guardian is a “full-blown nuclear war” exercise, and includes bomber response and intercontinental ballistic missile response. (9/11 Commission 3/4/2004)
Russia Is Imagined Enemy - The theoretical enemy in the exercise is Russia. (Simpson 8/28/2011) According to the 9/11 Commission Report, the exercise “postulated a bomber attack from the former Soviet Union.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 458) Merchant will explain that “NORAD must use Russia in its exercises at the strategic level since no other country poses a great enough threat to NORAD’s capabilities and responsibilities.” (9/11 Commission 3/4/2004)
Personnel Updated on Exercise during Shift Change - Armstrong will later recall that today starts off “like any other day. We came in thinking it would be a normal day… we did a standard shift changeover in the morning and we were getting right into where we were at in relation to the exercise.” He will describe that in a shift change during the exercise, “We’d say, ‘Okay, here’s what happened during the night shift (or the day shift),’ and we’d give each other an update, and then we’d start planning for whatever was on the agenda for that day.” (North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/9/2011) According to the Denver Post, after commencing his shift, Armstrong “mapped out strategy in a chess game of ever-escalating scenarios, from strained diplomacy to the outbreak of conventional warfare that headed inexorably toward nuclear conflict” with Russia. (Simpson 8/28/2011)
B-1 Bomber Scheduled to Fly out over Pacific Ocean - The “planned big event for the day” in the exercise is “supposed to be a B-1 bomber that was flying out of Fairchild Air Force Base [in Washington State] and going out over the Pacific,” according to Jeff Ford, an Air Force lieutenant colonel who is working in the CMOC. Ford will add that there are “other things going on as part of the exercise, air exercise events, and then some scripted inputs that we were reacting to there in the Air Warning Center, whether it be unknown aircraft that we scramble aircraft for to intercept—or whatever.” (Doscher 9/8/2011)
Exercise Posture Allegedly Helps Response to Attacks - Vigilant Guardian will reportedly end after 9:03 a.m., when the second plane hits the World Trade Center (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and the CMOC personnel participating in it will then become involved in responding to the real-world attacks. (Tudor 3/2002; Toronto Star 11/11/2008) Glover will claim that the CMOC’s response to the terrorist attacks benefits from the position the operations center is in for the exercise. He will say NORAD is “lucky” because “all the directorates such as operations, logistics, security, all those folks were up in the [Cheyenne] Mountain on an exercise posture.” He will add that “these are the same folks that we would bring up in case of contingencies or in time of going to war. So, in reality, I had all the guys up into the NORAD Battle Management Center that I needed to conduct the exercise as well as the contingency operations that happened on 9/11.” (Doscher 9/8/2011)
NORAD Monitoring Russian Exercise - NORAD was created in 1958, during the Cold War, to protect North American airspace against nuclear attacks from the Soviet Union. (Shenon 4/25/2004; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 8/6/2004; Dick 11/2004) According to the Toronto Star, “Whether it’s a simulation or a real-world event, the role of the [CMOC] is to fuse every critical piece of information NORAD has into a concise and crystalline snapshot.” (Simmie 12/9/2001) As well as the Vigilant Guardian exercise, NORAD is currently in the middle of an operation called Northern Vigilance, with its fighter jets deployed to Alaska and Northern Canada to monitor an exercise being run by the Russian Air Force (see September 9, 2001). (North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/9/2001) The battle staff members in Cheyenne Mountain are positioned to deal with both this operation and the exercise. (9/11 Commission 3/1/2004 )
Colonel Robert Marr, the battle commander at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), speaks over the phone with Major General Larry Arnold, the commander of the Continental United States NORAD Region (CONR), about the day’s training exercise. Marr is in the battle cab at NEADS, in Rome, New York, while Arnold is at the CONR headquarters at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida. (9/11 Commission 1/23/2004 ; 9/11 Commission 2/2/2004 ) All of NORAD, including NEADS, is currently participating in the major annual exercise, Vigilant Guardian. (Northeast Air Defense Sector 8/23/2001; Arkin 2005, pp. 545; Doscher 9/8/2011) Marr has just been in a staff meeting, and now checks in with Arnold to make sure their communication lines are up and ready for the exercise. (Grant 2004, pp. 19) Marr tells Arnold that the personnel on the NEADS operations floor are ready to begin the exercise. Marr will tell the 9/11 Commission that his “primary communication” on this day “is to higher headquarters,” presumably meaning Arnold. However, the two men are not on a continual open line. (9/11 Commission 1/23/2004 ) Arnold will tell the Commission that he and Marr “did not stay on the line continually, but spoke when information needed to be passed,” throughout the day. (9/11 Commission 2/3/2004 )
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. (Dejka 2/27/2002; Buttry 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. (Arkin 11/1/1997; Ruff 2/21/2002; Dejka 2/27/2002; Buttry 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.; Wasiak 12/1999 ; Villafuerte 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.” (Kelly 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. (Parker 6/1998 ) It is unclear if a computer network attack is incorporated into Global Guardian in 2001.
The battle cab at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) is staffed this morning due to the sector’s participation in the training exercise, Vigilant Guardian. (9/11 Commission 10/28/2003 ; 9/11 Commission 10/30/2003 ; Jones 2011, pp. 24) The battle cab is a glass-walled command area that overlooks the NEADS operations floor. (Filson 2003, pp. 55; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 460) The “battle staff”—presumably the personnel working in it—is only formed when a training exercise or an “air defense event” is underway, according to Lieutenant Colonel Dawne Deskins, who is on duty in the battle cab. (9/11 Commission 10/30/2003 ) Because NEADS is currently participating in an exercise, therefore, the battle cab is manned this morning. (9/11 Commission 10/30/2003 ) “If the exercise had not been planned, there would not have been any staffing in the battle cab,” Lieutenant Colonel Ian Sanderson, who is also in the battle cab this morning, will later say. He will add that if a battle cab has not already been formed and is required, it would be necessary to call the NEADS director of operations in order to arrange for one to be set up. Forming a battle cab would only take a few minutes once it is understood that a serious incident is taking place, according to Sanderson. Sanderson will comment that if the battle staff had not already been in place when the terrorist attacks began this morning, the NEADS operations floor would still have functioned the same way. But the advantage of already having the battle staff in place is that “key figures of authority [are] there and ready to respond” when NEADS learns of the crisis. (9/11 Commission 10/29/2003 ) Vigilant Guardian is a major annual air defense exercise simulating an attack on the United States (see (6:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Across NORAD, “from Alaska to Canada and throughout the continental United States,” author Leslie Filson will describe, “battle staffs [are] poised to fight the simulated air war” this morning, due to their participation in it. (Filson 2003, pp. 55, 122; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 458; Arkin 2005, pp. 545)
When the FAA’s Boston Center first contacts NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) to notify it of the hijacking of Flight 11 (see (8:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001), personnel there initially mistake the hijacking for a simulation as part of an exercise.
Lieutenant Colonel Dawne Deskins, mission crew chief for the Vigilant Guardian exercise currently taking place (see (6:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001), will later say that initially she and everybody else at NEADS think the call from Boston Center is part of Vigilant Guardian. (Seely 1/25/2002) Although most of the personnel on the NEADS operations floor have no idea what the day’s exercise is supposed to entail, most previous major NORAD exercises included a hijack scenario. (Komarow and Squitieri 4/18/2004; Cooper 8/5/2004) The day’s exercise is in fact scheduled to include a simulated hijacking later on. (Bronner 8/1/2006)
Major Kevin Nasypany, the NEADS mission crew commander, had helped design the day’s exercise. Thinking the reported hijacking is part of it, he actually says out loud, “The hijack’s not supposed to be for another hour.” (Bronner 8/1/2006)
In the ID section, at the back right corner of the NEADS operations floor, technicians Stacia Rountree, Shelley Watson, and Maureen Dooley react to the news. Dooley, the leader of the ID section, tells the other members of her team: “We have a hijack going on. Get your checklists. The exercise is on” (see (8:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Rountree asks, “Is that real-world?” Dooley confirms, “Real-world hijack.” Watson says, “Cool!” (Bronner 8/1/2006; Spencer 2008, pp. 25)
When NEADS Commander Robert Marr sees his personnel reacting to the news of the hijacking (see (8:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001), he reportedly thinks the day’s exercise “is kicking off with a lively, unexpected twist.” Even when a colleague informs him, “It’s a hijacking, and this is real life, not part of the exercise,” Marr thinks: “This is an interesting start to the exercise. This ‘real-world’ mixed in with today’s simex [simulated exercise] will keep [my staff members] on their toes.” (Spencer 2008, pp. 26)
Major General Larry Arnold, who is at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, also later says that when he first hears of the hijacking, in the minutes after NEADS is alerted to it, “The first thing that went through my mind was, is this part of the exercise? Is this some kind of a screw-up?” (ABC News 9/11/2002; 9/11 Commission 5/23/2003) According to author Lynn Spencer: “Even as NORAD’s commander for the continental United States, Arnold is not privy to everything concerning the exercise. The simex is meant to test commanders also, to make sure that their war machine is operating as it should.” (Spencer 2008, pp. 38)
At 8:43 a.m., Major James Fox, the leader of the NEADS weapons team, comments, “I’ve never seen so much real-world stuff happen during an exercise.” (Bronner 8/1/2006)
At NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), a huddle of people is gathered around one of the radar scopes. NEADS Commander Robert Marr initially thinks this hubbub is due to the NORAD training exercise (presumably Vigilant Guardian) that is taking place on this day (see (6:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). He will later recall: “I’ve seen many exercises… and as I saw that huddle I said, ‘There’s got to be something wrong, something is happening here.’ You usually see that whenever they find a track on the scope that looks unusual; it’s usually an indicator that something is getting ready to kick off.” (Filson 2003, pp. 55) According to author Lynn Spencer, Marr thinks the day’s exercise “is kicking off with a lively, unexpected twist.… His bet is that his simulations team has started off the exercise by throwing out a ‘heart attack card’ to see how the troops respond to a first-aid call from a fellow soldier, testing their first responder training.” (Spencer 2008, pp. 26) He sends Lieutenant Colonel Dawne Deskins, the regional mission crew commander for the exercise, to check out what is going on. (Filson 2003, pp. 55) Deskins speaks briefly over the phone with the FAA’s Boston Center about the Flight 11 hijacking (see (8:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Spencer 2008, pp. 26) She then runs back to the “battle cab”—the glass-walled room that overlooks the NEADS operations floor—and speaks to Marr with urgency in her voice. (Filson 2003, pp. 55) She tells him: “It’s a hijacking, and this is real life, not part of the exercise. And it appears that the plane is heading toward New York City.” Although Deskins has specifically stated, “not part of the exercise,” Marr reportedly thinks, “This is an interesting start to the exercise.” According to Spencer, he thinks “This ‘real-world’ mixed in with today’s simex [simulated exercise] will keep [his staff members] on their toes.” Regardless of whether the crisis is real or not, Marr decides to instruct that the two alert F-15s at Otis Air National Guard Base be ordered to battle stations (see (8:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Spencer 2008, pp. 26-27)
NORAD has had fighter jets deployed to Alaska and Northern Canada for the past two days. They are there for a real-world maneuver called Operation Northern Vigilance, tasked with monitoring a Russian air force exercise being conducted in the Russian Arctic all this week (see September 9, 2001). (North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/9/2001) At its operations center deep inside Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, NORAD is also reportedly at “full ‘battle staff’ levels for a major annual exercise that tests every facet of the organization.” The operations center is now contacted by NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), based in Rome, New York. NEADS says the FAA believes there is a hijacking in progress and is asking NORAD for support; this is not part of the exercise. As the Toronto Star will later report: “In a flash, Operation Northern Vigilance is called off. Any simulated information, what’s known as an ‘inject,’ is purged from the screens.” (Simmie 12/9/2001) NORAD has the capacity to inject simulated material, including mass attacks, during exercises, “as though it was being sensed for the first time by a radar site.” (US Department of Defense 1/15/1999) However, Northern Vigilance is a military operation, not a training exercise. (North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/9/2001; US Congress 3/11/2005) So presumably the “simulated information” is part of a NORAD exercise currently taking place, such as Vigilant Guardian (see (6:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Therefore, many minutes into the real 9/11 attacks, there may be false radar blips appearing on the screens of NORAD personnel. Additional details, such as whose radar screens have false blips and over what duration, are unclear. However, while the Toronto Star will indicate that the simulated material is removed from NORAD radar screens shortly before 9:03 a.m., when the second attack on the World Trade Center takes place, at 10:12 a.m. an officer at the operations center will call NEADS and ask it to “terminate all exercise inputs coming into Cheyenne Mountain” (see 10:12 a.m. September 11, 2001). (North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/11/2001; Simmie 12/9/2001) This would indicate that the NORAD operations center continues receiving simulated radar information for over an hour more, until after Flight 93 has crashed (see (10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and the terrorist attacks have ended. The Russians, after seeing the attacks on New York and Washington on television, will quickly communicate that they are canceling their Russian Arctic exercise. (Simmie 12/9/2001; Alberts 10/19/2002)
In the NORAD operations center in Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, workers see the second aircraft crashing into the World Trade Center live on television. (Diedrich 10/7/2001) Major General Rick Findley, NORAD’s director of operations, later says that he now realizes “it was not an accident but a coordinated attack.” Then, he recalls, “At about that moment in time, every phone in this cab, and every phone over in the command center, and every phone in all the centers in this building were ringing off the hook.” Master Corporal Daniel Milne, the emergency action controller in the operations center, will similarly recall, “The feeling was total disbelief. Then the phones started ringing like crazy.” (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 9/11/2002; Dick 11/2004) It is unclear what causes all the phones to simultaneously ring. According to Aviation Week and Space Technology magazine, after the second tower is hit, “Calls from fighter units… started pouring into NORAD and sector operations centers, asking, ‘What can we do to help?’” (see (After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001) (Scott 6/3/2002) So this could be one factor. Also, a 1996 article in Airman magazine had quoted Stacey Knott, a technician in the NORAD operations center. She’d said, “Things can be pretty quiet in here.” However, “One of the busiest times is during exercises. This room fills up.… The phones are ringing off the hook, and I’ve got phones in each hand.” (McKenna 1/1996) On this morning, those in Cheyenne Mountain are in fact participating in a major exercise called Vigilant Guardian. (Scott 6/3/2002; CNN 9/11/2006) This is reportedly only canceled “shortly after” the second attack (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001) (Tudor 3/2002; Filson 2003, pp. 59) So it is plausible that this is also a factor in causing all the phones to suddenly ring. A similar thing appears to occur in the National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon. According to a news article based on the recollections of two officers who are there, after the second plane hits the WTC, “Phones in the center began ringing off the hook.” (Garamone 9/7/2006) Rick Findley later suggests that all the ringing phones are not a hindrance for NORAD, claiming, “The good news is we had lots of people here and we already had an operational architecture. We already had the command and control, the network, the phones, the data links. Everything was already in place that enabled us to react to the situation.” (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 9/11/2002)
A NORAD training exercise that is taking place this morning, presumably Vigilant Guardian (see (6:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001), is reportedly canceled shortly after 9:03, when the second World Trade Center tower is hit. (Tudor 3/2002) NORAD Commander Larry Arnold later says that after Flight 175 hits the South Tower, “I thought it might be prudent to pull out of the exercise, which we did.” (Filson 2003, pp. 59) According to author Lynn Spencer: “The phone calls start flying between the various NORAD command centers. General Arnold calls Maj. Gen. Rick Findley” at NORAD’s operations center in Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, “to give him the latest information and have him withdraw all forces from the simulated exercise.” (Spencer 2008, pp. 86) Arnold will recall, “As we pulled out of the exercise we were getting calls about United Flight 93 and we were worried about that.” (Filson 2003, pp. 59) Some early accounts say the military receives notification of the possible hijacking of Flight 93 at around 9:16 a.m. (see 9:16 a.m. September 11, 2001). (CNN 9/17/2001; 9/11 Commission 5/23/2003) However, the 9/11 Commission will later claim that NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) first receives a call about Flight 93 at 10:07 a.m. (see 10:05 a.m.-10:08 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004) Arnold will add, “Then we had another call from Boston Center about a possible hijacking, but that turned out to be the airplane that had already hit the South Tower but we didn’t know that at the time.” (Filson 2003, pp. 59)
A technician at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) tells a caller that the day’s training exercise has not yet been called off, despite the attacks in New York. (North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/11/2001) All of NORAD, including NEADS, has been participating in a major exercise called Vigilant Guardian this morning (see (6:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Scott 6/3/2002; Arkin 2005, pp. 545) According to some accounts, this exercise was canceled shortly after 9:03 a.m., when the second World Trade Center tower was hit (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Tudor 3/2002; Filson 2003, pp. 59) However, Sergeant Mark Jennings, a NEADS tracking technician, now answers a phone call, and the caller says he has been watching the coverage of the terrorist attacks on television “for about 10 minutes, and I said, ‘I wonder if they’re—did they suspend the exercise?’” Jennings informs the caller that the exercise has not yet been suspended, answering, “Not at this time, no.” He adds: “But I think they’re going to [suspend it]. I don’t know. Things look pretty horrific out there.” The caller acknowledges, “Alrighty, man.” (North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/11/2001)
According to former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, around this time the acting Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Richard Myers speaks to him via video link (see 9:28 a.m. September 11, 2001). During their conversation, Myers mentions, “We are in the middle of Vigilant Warrior, a NORAD exercise.” (Clarke 2004, pp. 5) However, no other references have been found to this exercise, “Vigilant Warrior.” Considering that exercise terms are “normally an unclassified nickname,” (Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff 4/23/1998 ) this is perhaps a little odd. Could Richard Clarke have mistakenly been referring to the Vigilant Guardian exercise (see (6:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001), which is taking place on 9/11? According to a later news report though, NORAD confirms that “it was running two mock drills on Sept. 11 at various radar sites and Command Centers in the United States and Canada,” one of these being Vigilant Guardian. (Kelly 12/5/2003) If this is correct then there must be another NORAD exercise on 9/11. If not “Vigilant Warrior,” a possibility is that the exercise referred to by Richard Clarke is in fact “Amalgam Warrior,” which is a NORAD-sponsored, large-scale, live-fly air defense and air intercept field training exercise. Amalgam Warrior usually involves two or more NORAD regions and is held twice yearly, in the spring for the West Coast and in the autumn for the East Coast. (US Congress n.d.; McKenna 1/1996; Arkin 2005, pp. 254; GlobalSecurity (.org) 4/27/2005) Is it possible that in 2001 the East Coast Amalgam Warrior is being held earlier than usual (like Global Guardian (see 8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001)) and is taking place on 9/11? In support of this possibility is a 1997 Defense Department report that describes the Stratcom exercise Global Guardian, saying it “links with other exercise activities sponsored by the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Unified Commands.” The exercises it links with are Crown Vigilance (an Air Combat Command exercise), Apollo Guardian (a US Space Command exercise), and—significantly—the NORAD exercises Vigilant Guardian and Amalgam Warrior. (US Department of Defense 5/1997; GlobalSecurity (.org) 4/27/2005) Since in 2001, Vigilant Guardian (see (6:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001) is occurring the same time as Global Guardian, might Amalgam Warrior be as well? In his book Code Names, William Arkin says that Amalgam Warrior is “sometimes combined with Global Guardian.” (Arkin 2005, pp. 254) Amalgam Warrior tests such activities as tracking, surveillance, air interception, employing rules of engagement, attack assessment, electronic warfare, and counter-cruise-missile operations. A previous Amalgam Warrior in 1996 involved such situations as tracking unknown aircraft that had incorrectly filed their flight plans or wandered off course, in-flight emergencies, terrorist aircraft attacks, and large-scale bomber strike missions. Amalgam Warrior 98-1 was NORAD’s largest ever exercise and involved six B-1B bombers being deployed to Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, to act as an enemy threat by infiltrating the aerial borders of North America. (McKenna 1/1996; Arkin 2005, pp. 254; GlobalSecurity (.org) 4/27/2005) Another Amalgam Warrior in fall 2000 similarly involved four B-1 bombers acting as enemy forces trying to invade Alaska, with NORAD going from tracking the unknown aircraft to sending up “alert” F-15s in response. (Price 10/27/2000; Associated Press 10/29/2000) If either one (or both) of these exercises ending with the name “Warrior” is taking place on 9/11, this could be very significant, because the word “Warrior” indicates that the exercise is a Joint Chiefs of Staff-approved, Commander in Chief, NORAD-sponsored field training exercise. (North American Aerospace Defense Command 8/25/1989) Real planes would be pretending to be threats to the US and real fighters would be deployed to defend against them.
According to his own account, during a video conference with top officials that he is directing, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke asks acting Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Richard Myers, “I assume NORAD has scrambled fighters and AWACS. How many? Where?” Myers, who is at the Pentagon, replies, “Not a pretty picture, Dick. We are in the middle of Vigilant Warrior, a NORAD exercise, but… Otis has launched two birds toward New York. Langley is trying to get two up now [toward Washington]. The AWACS are at Tinker and not on alert.” Vigilant Warrior may be a mistaken reference to either the on-going war game Vigilant Guardian, or perhaps another exercise called Amalgam Warrior (see 9:28 a.m. September 11, 2001). Otis Air National Guard Base is in Massachusetts, 188 miles east of New York City; Langley is in Virginia, 129 miles south of Washington; Tinker Air Force Base is in Oklahoma. Clarke asks, “Okay, how long to CAP [combat air patrol] over DC?” Myers replies, “Fast as we can. Fifteen minutes?” (Clarke 2004, pp. 5) The first fighters don’t reach Washington until perhaps more than 30 minutes later (see (Between 9:49 a.m. and 11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). However, this account—or at least the time Clarke alleges the conversation occurs—is contradicted by Myers himself and Senator Max Cleland (D-GA). Myers claims he has been at a meeting on Capitol Hill with Cleland since about 9:00 a.m., and does not arrive back at the Pentagon until after it is hit, which is at 9:37 a.m. (Rhem 10/23/2001; Myers 9/11/2002; CNN 4/15/2003; Garamone 9/8/2006) Cleland confirms the existence of this meeting, and claims that Myers is with him until around the time of the Pentagon attack. (CNN 11/20/2001; Baxter and Galloway 6/16/2003) (There are, though, some inconsistencies in Myers and Cleland’s accounts of this period—see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001).
A technician at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) instructs personnel on the NEADS operations floor to turn off their “sim switches,” apparently so as to remove from their radar screens simulated information for a training exercise that was being conducted this morning. (Northeast Air Defense Sector 8/23/2001; North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission 2004)
Staffer Complained, 'Let's Get Rid of This Goddamn Sim' - A few minutes earlier, at 9:30 a.m., a member of staff on the operations floor complained about simulated information—presumably false tracks—appearing on NEADS radar screens. He said: “You know what, let’s get rid of this godd_mn sim. Turn your sim switches off. Let’s get rid of that crap.” (North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/11/2001; North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/11/2001) (A “sim switch” presumably allows simulated material on radar scopes to be turned on or off.)
Technician Instructs, 'Turn Off Your Sim Switches' - Now a member of NEADS staff, who according to a 9/11 Commission document is Technical Sergeant Jeffrey Richmond, gives an instruction to the NEADS surveillance technicians, “All surveillance, turn off your sim switches.” Seconds later, apparently in response to this instruction, someone on the operations floor tells a colleague, “You got your sim switches down.” (North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission 2004)
Sim Switches Turned On for Day's Exercise - Simulated material (“sim”) is apparently appearing on NEADS radar screens because of the NORAD training exercise, Vigilant Guardian, that was being conducted this morning (see (6:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Former Deputy Secretary of Defense John Hamre has revealed that NORAD has the capacity to inject simulated material into the system, “as though it was being sensed for the first time by a radar site.” In a training exercise in December 1998, for example, NORAD ran “30 different simulations, some of them being mass attacks, some of them being single missiles.” An information page on the current exercise stated, “All of NEADS, operations personnel are to have their sim switches turned ‘on’ starting at 1400Z 6 Sept. 01 till endex [the end date of the exercise].” Since Vigilant Guardian was originally scheduled to continue until September 13, this would mean NEADS personnel had their sim switches turned on this morning. (US Department of Defense 1/15/1999; Northeast Air Defense Sector 8/23/2001)
Radar Equipment Set to Display 'Sim Tracks' - A memo outlining special instructions for Vigilant Guardian participants further detailed how NORAD equipment needed to be set to display simulated material during the exercise. It stated: “The exercise will be conducted sim over live on the air sovereignty string. The Q-93 must be placed in the mixed mode to allow the telling [i.e. the communicating of information between facilities] of sim tracks.” (Northeast Air Defense Sector 8/23/2001) The Q-93 is a piece of equipment used by NORAD, which is described as “a suite of computers and peripheral equipment configured to receive plot data from ground radar systems,” and which “performs track processing.” (General Accounting Office 12/24/1992 ; Federation of American Scientists 4/23/2000) The Q-93 also “receives flight plans from the FAA, and has bi-directional communications with NORAD headquarters and a real-time link to AWACS [Airborne Warning and Control System planes].” (Satterthwaite, Corman, and Herm 6/2002)
Exercise Supposedly Canceled Earlier On - While NEADS radar scopes are still displaying simulated material as late as 9:34 a.m., some accounts will claim the Vigilant Guardian exercise was canceled shortly after 9:03 a.m., when the second World Trade Center tower was hit (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Tudor 3/2002; Filson 2003, pp. 59) And according to a report in the Toronto Star, “Any simulated information” for the exercise was “purged from the [radar] screens” at NORAD’s operations center in Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, shortly before the second WTC tower was hit (see (9:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Simmie 12/9/2001) However, NEADS will receive a phone call from the operations center at 10:12 a.m. in which the caller asks it to “terminate all exercise inputs coming into Cheyenne Mountain” (see 10:12 a.m. September 11, 2001). (North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/11/2001)
As part of a NORAD training exercise, a simulated plane hijacking was scheduled to occur around this time. It was to have been based around politically motivated perpetrators taking command of an aircraft, landing it on a Cuba-like island, and seeking asylum there. The hijacking was one of several simulated scenarios prepared for the day. Details of the other scenarios are unknown. Major Kevin Nasypany, the mission crew commander at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) who’d helped designed the exercise, initially thought the reports of Flight 11 being hijacked were because “Somebody started the exercise early.” (Bronner 8/1/2006) The exercise was canceled after the second plane hit the World Trade Center (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001).
An officer at NORAD’s operations center in Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, calls NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) and asks it to stop “exercise inputs” being sent to the operations center.
NORAD Calls Chief of Exercises at NEADS - The NORAD officer, a “Captain Taylor,” calls NEADS, where the phone is answered by Captain Brian Nagel. (North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/11/2001) Nagel is chief of NEADS live exercises. (Filson 2003, pp. 74) After introducing himself, Taylor says, “What we need you to do right now is to terminate all exercise inputs coming into Cheyenne Mountain.” Nagel gives Taylor an extension number and suggests that he call it to get the exercise inputs stopped. Taylor replies, “I’ll do that.” (North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/11/2001) According to an article in Vanity Fair, “inputs” are simulated scenarios that are put into play for training exercises. (Bronner 8/1/2006) NORAD has been conducting a major exercise this morning called Vigilant Guardian (see (6:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Arkin 2005, pp. 545)
Exercise Includes Simulated Radar Information - Taylor is presumably referring specifically to false tracks that have been transmitted onto NORAD radar screens for the exercise. NORAD has the capability to inject simulated material, including mass attacks, into the system during exercises, “as though it was being sensed for the first time by a radar site.” (US Department of Defense 1/15/1999) All of the operations personnel at NEADS have been instructed to “have their sim switches turned ‘on’” (presumably to allow simulated information to appear on their radar screens) from September 6 until the end of Vigilant Guardian, on September 13. An information page on the exercise stated that a “sim test track will be in place and forward told [i.e. transferred to a higher level of command] to both NORAD and CONR,” NORAD’s Continental United States Region. (Northeast Air Defense Sector 8/23/2001)
Exercise Supposedly Called Off Earlier - More than 50 members of the battle staff at the NORAD operations center have been participating in Vigilant Guardian this morning. (Tudor 3/2002; 9/11 Commission 3/1/2004 ) Some accounts will claim this exercise was canceled shortly after 9:03 a.m., when the second World Trade Center tower was hit (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Tudor 3/2002; Filson 2003, pp. 59) And a report in the Toronto Star will state, “Any simulated information” for the exercise was “purged from the [radar] screens” at the operations center shortly before the second tower was hit (see (9:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Simmie 12/9/2001) But a member of staff at NEADS complained at 9:30 a.m. about simulated material still appearing on radar screens there, and at 9:34 a.m. the NEADS surveillance technicians were instructed to turn off their “sim switches” (see 9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001). (North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/11/2001; North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission 2004)
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