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Complete 911 Timeline

US Air Security

Project: Complete 911 Timeline
Open-Content project managed by matt, Paul, KJF, mtuck, paxvector

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The NORAD emblem.The NORAD emblem. [Source: NORAD]The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), the military organization responsible for monitoring and defending US airspace, gradually reduces the number of aircraft it has on “alert”—armed and ready for immediate takeoff—in response to the changing nature of the threats it has to defend against, so that there will be just 14 fighter jets on alert across the continental United States when the 9/11 attacks take place. [Jones, 2011, pp. 7-8 pdf file]
NORAD Has 1,200 Interceptor Aircraft in 1960 - NORAD is a bi-national organization, established by the US and Canada in 1958 to counter the threat posed by the Soviet Union. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 16] It is initially responsible for intercepting any Soviet long-range bombers that might attack the Northern Hemisphere. By 1960, it has about 1,200 interceptor aircraft dedicated to this task. But during the 1960s, the Soviets become less reliant on manned bombers, and shift instead to ballistic missiles. In response to this changed threat and also budget constraints, the number of NORAD interceptor aircraft goes down to about 300 by the mid-1970s.
NORAD's Mission Changes after Cold War Ends - With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact in 1991, the threats NORAD has to counter change significantly. During the early 1990s, NORAD’s mission consequently changes from one of air defense to one of maintaining “air sovereignty,” which NORAD defines as “providing surveillance and control of the territorial airspace.” The new mission includes intercepting suspicious aircraft, tracking hijacked aircraft, assisting aircraft in distress, and counterdrug operations. [General Accounting Office, 5/3/1994, pp. 14-15; 9/11 Commission, 2/3/2004 pdf file; Jones, 2011, pp. 7 pdf file] As this change takes place, the number of aircraft defending American airspace is reduced. In 1987, there are 52 fighters on alert in the continental United States. [Filson, 1999, pp. 112-113] But by December 1999, there are just 14 alert fighters remaining around the continental US. [Airman, 12/1999]
Number of Alert Sites Goes Down Prior to 9/11 - The number of NORAD “alert sites”—bases where the alert aircraft are located—is also reduced in the decades prior to 9/11. During the Cold War, there are 26 of these sites. [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 16] By 1991, there are 19 of them, according to Major General Larry Arnold, the commander of NORAD’s Continental US Region from 1997 to 2002. [Filson, 2003, pp. v] By 1994, according to a report by the General Accounting Office, there are 14 alert sites around the US. [General Accounting Office, 5/3/1994, pp. 1] And by 1996, only 10 alert sites remain. [Utecht, 4/7/1996, pp. 9-10]
Military Officials Call for Eliminating Alert Sites - In the 1990s, some officials at the Pentagon argue for the alert sites to be eliminated entirely. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 16-17] The Department of Defense’s 1997 Report of the Quadrennial Defense Review indicates that the number of alert sites around the continental US could be reduced to just four, but the idea is successfully blocked by NORAD (see May 19, 1997). [Filson, 2003, pp. iv-v, 34-36; 9/11 Commission, 2/3/2004 pdf file] However, three alert sites are subsequently removed from the air sovereignty mission. These are in Atlantic City, New Jersey; Burlington, Vermont; and Great Falls, Montana. [American Defender, 4/1998]
Seven Alert Sites Remain - By December 1999, therefore, there are just seven alert sites around the continental US, each with two fighters on alert. These sites are Homestead Air Reserve Base, Florida; Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida; Portland Air National Guard Base, Oregon; March Air Reserve Base, California; Ellington Air National Guard Base, Texas; Otis Air National Guard Base, Massachusetts; and Langley Air Force Base, Virginia. Only two of these sites—Otis ANGB and Langley AFB—serve the northeastern United States, where the hijackings on September 11 will take place. [Airman, 12/1999; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 17]

Entity Tags: North American Aerospace Defense Command, Larry Arnold

Timeline Tags: 9/11 Timeline

Category Tags: US Air Security

Authorities are aware of, and concerned about, the possibility of a suicide attack using a hijacked plane, according to a paper on the threat of terrorism against commercial aviation by Brian Michael Jenkins of the RAND Corporation. “The nightmare of governments is that suicidal terrorists will hijack a commercial airliner and, by killing or replacing its crew, crash into a city or some vital facility,” the paper says. “It has been threatened in at least one case: In 1977, an airliner believed to have been hijacked, crashed, killing all on board. And in 1987, a homicidal, suicidal ex-employee boarded a commercial airliner where he shot his former boss and brought about the crash of the airliner, killing all 44 on board. Fear of such incidents is offered as a powerful argument for immobilizing hijacked aircraft on the ground at the first opportunity and also, some argue, for armoring the flight deck.” The paper asks: “What are we likely to see in the future? Perhaps fewer but deadlier and more sophisticated terrorist hijackings.” [Jenkins, 3/1989, pp. 10-11] The 1987 incident refers to Pacific Southwest Airlines Flight 1771, which is believed to have been hijacked on its way from Los Angeles to San Francisco by a disgruntled former employee. [Time, 12/21/1987] Jenkins will repeat his warning of terrorists possibly using a plane as a weapon in a threat assessment for the New York Port Authority in 1993 (see After February 26, 1993). [Jenkins and Edwards-Winslow, 9/2003, pp. 11]

Entity Tags: Brian Michael Jenkins, RAND Corporation

Category Tags: US Air Security

Captain Tom Herring, an F-15 pilot with the Florida Air National Guard.Captain Tom Herring, an F-15 pilot with the Florida Air National Guard. [Source: Airman]Fighter jets are regularly scrambled by the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) in response to suspicious or unidentified aircraft flying in US airspace in the years preceding 9/11. [General Accounting Office, 5/3/1994, pp. 4; Associated Press, 8/14/2002] For this task, NORAD keeps a pair of fighters on “alert” at a number of sites around the US. These fighters are armed, fueled, and ready to take off within minutes of receiving a scramble order (see Before September 11, 2001). [American Defender, 4/1998; Air Force Magazine, 2/2002; Bergen Record, 12/5/2003; Grant, 2004, pp. 14] Various accounts offer statistics about the number of times fighters are scrambled:
bullet A General Accounting Office report published in May 1994 states that “during the past four years, NORAD’s alert fighters took off to intercept aircraft (referred to as scrambled) 1,518 times, or an average of 15 times per site per year.” Of these incidents, the number of scrambles that are in response to suspected drug smuggling aircraft averages “one per site, or less than 7 percent of all of the alert sites’ total activity.” The remaining activity, about 93 percent of the total scrambles, “generally involved visually inspecting unidentified aircraft and assisting aircraft in distress.” [General Accounting Office, 5/3/1994, pp. 4]
bullet In the two years from May 15, 1996 to May 14, 1998, NORAD’s Western Air Defense Sector (WADS), which is responsible for the “air sovereignty” of the western 63 percent of the continental US, scrambles fighters 129 times to identify unknown aircraft that might be a threat. Over the same period, WADS scrambles fighters an additional 42 times against potential and actual drug smugglers. [Washington National Guard, 1998]
bullet In 1997, the Southeast Air Defense Sector (SEADS)—another of NORAD’s three air defense sectors in the continental US—tracks 427 unidentified aircraft, and fighters intercept these “unknowns” 36 times. The same year, NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) handles 65 unidentified tracks and WADS handles 104 unidentified tracks, according to Major General Larry Arnold, the commander of the Continental United States NORAD Region on 9/11. [American Defender, 4/1998]
bullet In 1998, SEADS logs more than 400 fighter scrambles. [Grant, 2004, pp. 14]
bullet In 1999, Airman magazine reports that NORAD’s fighters on alert at Homestead Air Reserve Base in Florida are scrambled 75 times per year, on average. According to Captain Tom Herring, a full-time alert pilot at the base, this is more scrambles than any other unit in the Air National Guard. [Airman, 12/1999]
bullet General Ralph Eberhart, the commander of NORAD on 9/11, will later state that in the year 2000, NORAD’s fighters fly 147 sorties. [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004 pdf file]
bullet According to the Calgary Herald, in 2000 there are 425 “unknowns,” where an aircraft’s pilot has not filed or has deviated from a flight plan, or has used the wrong radio frequency, and fighters are scrambled 129 times in response. [Calgary Herald, 10/13/2001]
bullet Between September 2000 and June 2001, fighters are scrambled 67 times to intercept suspicious aircraft, according to the Associated Press. [Associated Press, 8/14/2002]
Lieutenant General Norton Schwartz, the commander of the Alaskan NORAD Region at the time of the 9/11 attacks, will say that before 9/11, it is “not unusual, and certainly was a well-refined procedure” for NORAD fighters to intercept an aircraft. He will add, though, that intercepting a commercial airliner is “not normal.” [Air Force Magazine, 9/2011 pdf file] On September 11, 2001, NEADS scrambles fighters that are kept on alert in response to the hijackings (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001 and 9:24 a.m. September 11, 2001). [New York Times, 10/16/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20, 26-27]

Entity Tags: Larry Arnold, North American Aerospace Defense Command, Northeast Air Defense Sector, Western Air Defense Sector, Norton Schwartz, Southeast Air Defense Sector, Ralph Eberhart, Tom Herring

Timeline Tags: 9/11 Timeline

Category Tags: US Air Security

Virginia BuckinghamVirginia Buckingham [Source: Publicity photo]Data compiled by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) shows that over this period Boston’s Logan Airport has one of the worst records for security among major US airports. Flight 11 and Flight 175 depart from Logan on 9/11. While it is only America’s eighteenth busiest airport, it has the fifth highest number of security violations. FAA agents testing its passenger screening are able to get 234 guns and inert hand grenades and bombs past its checkpoint guards or through its X-ray machines. Though it is possible that the high number of violations is because the FAA tests more frequently at Logan than elsewhere, an official later quoted by the Boston Globe says lax security is the only explanation, as all checkpoints at every major airport are meant to be tested monthly. In contrast, Newark Airport, from where Flight 93 departs on 9/11, has an above average security record. Washington’s Dulles Airport, from where Flight 77 takes off, is below average, though not as bad as Logan. Officials familiar with security at Logan will, after 9/11, point to various flaws. For example, the State Police office has no video surveillance of the airport’s security checkpoints, boarding gates, ramp areas, or perimeter entrances. [Boston Globe, 9/26/2001] Security cameras had been put into use at most US airports in the mid-1980s. When Virginia Buckingham takes over as executive director of Massachusetts Port Authority in 1999, she is surprised at the lack of cameras at Logan, and orders them that year. Yet by 9/11, they still will not have been installed. [Boston Herald, 9/29/2001; Boston Globe, 9/30/2001] In spite of Logan’s poor security record, after 9/11 the Boston Globe will report, “[A]viation specialists have said it is unlikely that more rigorous attention to existing rules would have thwarted the 10 hijackers who boarded two jets at Logan on Sept. 11.” [Boston Globe, 10/17/2001]

Entity Tags: Newark International Airport, Washington Dulles International Airport, Virginia Buckingham, Federal Aviation Administration, Logan International Airport

Category Tags: Warning Signs, US Air Security

According to a 2002 review of FAA records by the Associated Press, the prohibited airspace protecting the White House is violated at least 94 times during the years from 1992 to 2002. Most violations do not lead to significant sanctions against the offending pilots, usually just a letter of warning. [CBS News, 4/4/2002]

Category Tags: US Air Security

Steve Elson.Steve Elson. [Source: 911Report LLC]A Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) internal memo warns that small knives have been used in hijackings. The memo states, “Small knives (blade length of four inches or less), the most frequently employed weapon to hijack aircraft (in the US), were used in three incidents.” Details of the memo will later be provided to the 9/11 Commission by Steve Elson, an FAA special agent for security. According to Elson, the memo is widely distributed to agency security officials. Elson will quit the FAA 1999 in frustration over lax security. [New York Magazine, 9/24/2001; Elson, 9/4/2003; Salon, 8/3/2004; Linda Ellman, 2005; Village Voice, 2/8/2005] By 9/11 it will still be legal to bring small knives onto planes (see July 8-August 30, 2001).

Entity Tags: Federal Aviation Administration, Steve Elson

Category Tags: US Air Security

Colin Powell, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recommends that the number of aircraft dedicated to defending US airspace be reduced, a recommendation echoed by the General Accounting Office (GAO) over a year later. The continental air defense mission, carried out by the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), was developed during the Cold War to protect against any Soviet bombers that might try to attack the US via the North Pole. In 1960, NORAD had about 1,200 fighter jets dedicated to this task, but now its US portion comprises 180 Air National Guard fighters, located in 10 units and 14 alert sites around the US. In February 1993, Powell issues a report in which he suggests that, due to the former Soviet Union no longer posing a significant threat, the air defense mission could be transferred to existing general-purpose combat and training forces. In May 1994, the GAO issues a report agreeing with Powell, saying that a “dedicated continental air defense force is no longer needed.” The report also says: “NORAD plans to reduce the number of alert sites in the continental United States to 14 and provide 28 aircraft for the day-to-day peacetime air sovereignty mission. Each alert site will have two fighters, and their crews will be on 24-hour duty and ready to scramble within five minutes.” [US Department of Defense, 2/12/1993; General Accounting Office, 5/3/1994] NORAD will play a key role in responding to the hijackings on 9/11. By then, it will have just 14 fighters available around the US on “alert”—on the runway, fueled, and ready to take off within minutes of being ordered into the air. [Code One Magazine, 1/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 17]

Entity Tags: General Accounting Office, Colin Powell, North American Aerospace Defense Command

Timeline Tags: 9/11 Timeline

Category Tags: US Air Security, Counterterrorism Policy/Politics

A 20-year-old Ethiopian man hijacks a Lufthansa Airbus bound from Frankfurt to Addis Ababa, via Cairo. Wielding a gun (which is subsequently found to be just a starter pistol), he forces the pilot to divert the plane to New York. The 11-hour ordeal ends after the plane lands at JFK International Airport and the hijacker surrenders to the FBI. [CNN, 3/14/1996; Guardian, 2/8/2000; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 457]
Fears of Plane Being Crashed - Journalist Eric Margolis, who is on the plane, will later say that he and the other passengers are “convinced the hijacker… intended to crash the plane into Manhattan.” [Eric Margolis (.com), 2/13/2000] While giving television commentary on the morning of 9/11, Larry Johnson—currently the deputy director of the State Department’s Office of Counter Terrorism—will say it was feared when the plane was flown to New York “that it might be crashed into something.” [NBC, 9/11/2001]
Air Force Responds - In response to the hijacking, F-15 fighter jets are scrambled from Otis Air National Guard Base in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, from where fighters will also be launched in response to the first hijacking on 9/11 (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). Later, F-16s are scrambled from Atlantic City, New Jersey. The fighters intercept the Lufthansa aircraft off the coast of eastern Canada, and initially trail it from a distance of about ten miles. As the plane approaches JFK Airport, the fighters move in to a distance of five miles. They do a low fly-by as the plane lands at JFK. They circle overhead for a while, until the hijacking situation is resolved, and then return to their bases. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 29]
Participants in Response Also Involved on 9/11 - This is the last hijacking to occur prior to 9/11 involving US air traffic controllers, FAA management, and military coordination. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 14; Utica Observer-Dispatch, 8/5/2004] At least two of the military personnel who participate in the response to it will play key roles in responding to the 9/11 attacks. Robert Marr, who on 9/11 will be the battle commander at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), is currently the assistant deputy commander of operations at Griffiss Air Force Base in Rome, NY. [Post-Standard (Syracuse), 3/27/2005] On this occasion, he talks with his counterpart at the FAA and explains that the FAA needs to start a request up its chain of command, so the military can respond quickly if the hijacking—which takes place in Europe—comes to the United States. He then informs his own chain of command to be prepared for a request for military assistance from the FAA. Several hours later, Marr is notified that military assistance has been authorized, and the fighter jets are scrambled from Otis and Atlantic City. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 26-27] Timothy Duffy, who will be one of the F-15 pilots that launches from Otis Air Base in response to the first hijacking on 9/11, is also involved. His role on this occasion is unreported, though presumably he pilots one of the jets scrambled from Otis after the Lufthansa plane. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 29]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Federal Aviation Administration, Larry C. Johnson, Northeast Air Defense Sector, Robert Marr, Otis Air National Guard Base, Timothy Duffy

Category Tags: Warning Signs, US Air Security

Frank Corder piloted this Cessna, which crashed into the White House lawn and skidded up to the side of the building.Frank Corder piloted this Cessna, which crashed into the White House lawn and skidded up to the side of the building. [Source: Getty Images]A suicidal and apparently apolitical pilot named Frank Corder steals a single-engine plane from an airport north of Baltimore, Maryland, and attempts to crash it into the White House. He crashes into a wall two stories below the presidential bedroom (President Clinton is not there at the time). Corder is killed on impact. [Time, 9/26/1994; New York Times, 10/3/2001] A Time magazine story shortly after the incident notes, “The unlikely incident confirmed all too publicly what security officials have long feared in private: the White House is vulnerable to sneak attack from the air. ‘For years I have thought a terrorist suicide pilot could readily divert his flight from an approach to Washington to blow up the White House,’ said Richard Helms, CIA director from 1966 to 1972.” The article further notes that an attack of this type had been a concern since 1974, when a disgruntled US Army private staged an unauthorized helicopter landing on the South Lawn. Special communications lines were established between the Secret Service and Washington’s National Airport control tower to the Secret Service operations center, but the line is ineffective in this case because no flight controller pays attention to the flight in time. [Time, 9/26/1994]

Entity Tags: Richard Helms, Frank Corder, US Secret Service, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton

Category Tags: Warning Signs, US Air Security

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) holds a training exercise based on the scenario of an aircraft hijacking, which involves a real plane playing the part of the hijacked aircraft. The exercise will be described to the 9/11 Commission in 2004 by Major Paul Goddard, who is the chief of live exercises for the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) at the time of the 9/11 attacks. According to Goddard, the exercise, held in 1995, is called “Twin Star” and the FAA invites NORAD to participate in it, “since a real commercial airliner was to be shadowed by a fighter intercept.” Goddard will tell the 9/11 Commission his understanding is that the exercise involves the entire FAA system, and the National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon also participates in it. [9/11 Commission, 3/4/2004] Colin Scoggins, the military operations specialist at the FAA’s Boston Center on 9/11, will describe what is apparently this exercise when he is interviewed by the 9/11 Commission in 2003. He will say he believes the exercise is “joint FAA/military” and is conducted “in 1995 or 1996.” According to Scoggins, the exercise involves “a military scramble to escort a hijacked aircraft,” but the fighter jets taking part are “unable to intercept” the mock hijacked plane. [9/11 Commission, 9/22/2003 pdf file] Apparently describing the same exercise in a documentary film, Scoggins will say, “We had run a hijack test years before [9/11] and the fighters never got off on the appropriate heading, and it took them forever to catch up.” [Michael Bronner, 2006]

Entity Tags: North American Aerospace Defense Command, Colin Scoggins, National Military Command Center, Twin Star, Paul Goddard, Federal Aviation Administration

Timeline Tags: 9/11 Timeline

Category Tags: US Air Security, Military Exercises

US officials identify crop dusters and suicide flights as potential weapons that could threaten the Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia. They take steps to prevent any air attacks. They ban planes from getting too close to Olympic events. During the games, they deploy Black Hawk helicopters and US Customs Service jets to intercept suspicious aircraft over the Olympic venues. Agents monitor crop-duster flights within hundreds of miles of downtown Atlanta. They place armed fighter jets on standby at local air bases. Flights to Atlanta get special passenger screening. Law enforcement agents also fan out to regional airports throughout northern Georgia “to make sure nobody hijacked a small aircraft and tried to attack one of the venues,” says Woody Johnson, the FBI agent in charge. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will use this same security blanket approach to other major events, referring to the approach as “Atlanta Rules.”(see January 20, 1997) [Chicago Tribune, 11/18/2001; Clarke, 2004, pp. 108-09; Wall Street Journal, 4/1/2004]

Entity Tags: Woody Johnson, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Richard A. Clarke

Category Tags: Warning Signs, Counterterrorism Policy/Politics, US Air Security

Marvin Bush.Marvin Bush. [Source: Eric Draper / White House]A security company called Stratesec acquires an $8.3 million contract to help provide security at the World Trade Center. It is one of numerous contractors hired in the upgrade of security at the WTC following the 1993 bombing. Stratesec, which was formerly called Securacom, is responsible for installing the “security-description plan”—the layout of the electronic security system—at the World Trade Center. It has a “completion contract” to provide some of the center’s security “up to the day the buildings fell down,” according to Barry McDaniel, its CEO.
Involved with Airport Security - Another of Stratesec’s biggest security contracts, between 1995 and 1998, is with the Metropolitan Washington Airport Authority, providing electronic security for Reagan National Airport and Dulles International Airport. Its work includes maintaining the airfield access systems, the CCTV (closed circuit television) systems, and the electronic badging systems. American Airlines Flight 77—one of the planes hijacked on 9/11—takes off from Dulles.
Directors Include Bush Family Member - Marvin P. Bush, the youngest brother of future President George W. Bush, is a director at Stratesec from 1993 to June 2000, when most of its work on these big projects is done. Wirt D. Walker III, a distant relative of George W. Bush, is chairman of the board at Stratesec from 1992, and its CEO from 1999 until January 2002. Another of Stratesec’s directors, from 1991 to 2001, is Mishal Yousef Saud Al Sabah, who is a member of the Kuwaiti royal family. Al Sabah is also chairman of an investment company called the Kuwait-American Corporation (KuwAm), which, between 1993 and 1999, holds a large, often controlling share of Stratesec. In 1996, it owns 90 percent of the company; by 1999 it owns 47 percent.
Other Interests - Walker and Al Sabah are also co-investors in two inter-related aviation companies: Aviation General and Commander Aircraft. According to a 2005 report by freelance journalist Margie Burns: “Aviation General boasted of its international clientele. A 1996 press release announced its sale of airplanes to the National Civil Aviation Training Organization (NCATO) of Giza, Egypt, ‘the sole civilian pilot training organization in Egypt.’ The announcement mentions Al Sabah as chairman of KuwAm and board member of Commander Aircraft Company.” NCATO also has contractual partnerships with several US flight schools, including Embry-Riddle University in Florida.
Connections with Foreign Company a Delicate Matter - According to Wayne Black, the head of a Florida-based security firm, it is delicate for a security company serving international facilities to be so interlinked with a foreign-owned company. He suggests, “Somebody knew somebody.” Black also points out that when a company has a security contract, “you know the inner workings of everything.” Furthermore, if another company is linked to the security company, then “what’s on your computer is on their computer.” After 9/11 Stratesec CEO Barry McDaniel will be asked whether FBI or other agents have questioned him or others at Stratesec about their security work related to 9/11. He answers, “No.” [American Reporter, 1/20/2003; Prince George's Journal, 2/4/2003; Progressive Populist, 3/1/2003; Progressive Populist, 4/15/2003; Washington Spectator, 2/15/2005] Other companies involved with the security overhaul during this time include Ensec Inc., which is in charge of creating a new parking access control system, E-J Electric Installation Co., and Electronic Systems Associates, a division of Syska Hennessy. [Access Control & Security Systems, 7/1/1997; CEE News, 1/1/2001; CEE News, 10/1/2001; Building Design and Construction, 7/1/2002]

Entity Tags: Mishal Yousef Saud Al Sabah, Kuwait-American Corporation (KuwAm), Marvin Bush, Stratesec, Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, World Trade Center, Wirt D. Walker III, Washington Dulles International Airport, Ensec, Inc., Embry-Riddle University, National Civil Aviation Training Organization, E-J Electric Installation Co., Commander Aircraft, Aviation General, Electronic Systems Associates

Category Tags: US Air Security, WTC Investigation

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) finds at least 136 security violations at Boston’s Logan Airport between 1997 and early 1999. Flights 11 and 175 will depart from Logan on 9/11. Massachusetts Port Authority, which operates the airport, is fined $178,000 for these breaches, which include failing to screen baggage properly and easy access to parked planes. In summer 1999, a teenager is able to climb over the airport’s security fence, walk two miles across the tarmac, board a 747, and fly on it to London. In September 1999, the Boston Globe finds that doors are often left open at the airport, making it possible for potentially anyone to gain access to planes on the ground. [Boston Globe, 9/12/2001; Washington Post, 9/12/2001] After 9/11, an analysis by the Boston Globe will conclude that Logan’s security record is “dismal” (see 1991-2000). [Boston Globe, 9/26/2001]

Entity Tags: Massachusetts Port Authority, Logan International Airport, Federal Aviation Administration

Category Tags: US Air Security

William Cohen.William Cohen. [Source: US Department of Defense]Secretary of Defense William Cohen issues a comprehensive assessment of America’s defense requirements, called the Report of the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR). This is a six-month analysis of the “threats, risks and opportunities for US national security,” and reviews all aspects of the US defense strategy. [US Department of Defense, 5/19/1997] Among other things, the 1997 QDR outlines the conversion of six continental air defense squadrons to general purpose, training or other missions. It calls for there being just four “alert” air defense sites around the US: at Otis, Massachusetts; Homestead, Florida; Riverside, California; and Portland, Oregon. [US Department of Defense, 5/1997; Filson, 2003, pp. 348] Major General Larry Arnold, who is commanding general of NORAD’s Continental Region on 9/11, later says: “The QDR didn’t make any sense at all. [T]here was a fight just to maintain the number of alert sites that we had. We felt we could operate fairly reasonably with about ten sites and thought eight was the absolute highest risk we could take.” NORAD Commander in Chief General Howell M. Estes III has written to the Joint Chiefs of Staff that a minimum of seven alert sites are needed to maintain America’s air sovereignty. In the end, three extra alert sites are added to the four suggested in the QDR. These are at Hampton, Virginia; Panama City, Florida; and Ellington, Texas. Larry Arnold later says, “I didn’t feel particularly comfortable with seven [alert sites] because there are great large distances between the alert sites.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 36] Other bases will lose their NORAD air defense functions over the next year, including those in Fresno, California; Fargo, North Dakota; Duluth, Minnesota; Burlington, Vermont; Atlantic City, New Jersey; and Great Falls, Montana. [US Department of Defense, 5/1997] Of these closed bases, the most critical loss on 9/11 will be the Atlantic City, New Jersey base, located about halfway between New York City and Washington. Boston air traffic control, apparently unaware the base has lost its air defense function will try and fail to contact the base shortly after learning about the first hijacking of the morning, Flight 11 (see (8:34 a.m.) September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: Howell M. Estes III, Larry Arnold, William S. Cohen

Timeline Tags: 9/11 Timeline

Category Tags: Counterterrorism Policy/Politics, US Air Security

A modernization program of the 1st Air Force’s air operation centers, which include NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), is started. Over the next several years, Litton Data Systems is tasked with computerizing the way the Air National Guard accomplishes its air sovereignty mission, which is the surveillance of US skies in coordination with the FAA. Until now, flight plans from the FAA have been “compiled in logs and have to be searched by hand to identify aircraft,” according to National Guard magazine. “The new system will mean fewer manual inquiries and phone contact with FAA officials about commercial aircraft. The FAA flight plan is now hooked up via computer with the new R/SAOCs [Regional/Sector Air Operation Centers] so operators can easily track friendly aircraft through our air space without having to get someone on the phone or thumb through written log books of flight plans. Composite air pictures are now shown in real time on the screen with no delay in transmission. Plans on the screen are shown as they are happening.” The software also allows computer simulations to be used for training purposes, so operators can “go through a situation at their terminals as if it were happening.” Col. Dan Navin, the special assistant to the commander of 1st Air Force, says, “It will enhance our ability to do what many say is the most important job of the Air Force, and that is air sovereignty.” The new systems should be fully operational in all seven 1st Air Force air operation centers by 2003. [National Guard, 9/1997] It is possible that this software is being used on the morning of 9/11, when a NORAD training exercise will include simulated information, known as “inject,” being shown on its radar screens (see (9:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Toronto Star, 12/9/2001]

Entity Tags: Northeast Air Defense Sector, 1st Air Force, Air National Guard, Litton Data Systems

Category Tags: US Air Security, Military Exercises

Major General Larry Arnold, who became commander of the Continental United States NORAD Region (CONR) in December 1997, fights to preserve the resources assigned to US air sovereignty (see May 19, 1997 and Late August 2001). To emphasize the need for air bases with fighter jets on alert, Arnold frequently gives a presentation describing “asymmetric” threats and including a slide featuring Osama bin Laden. As Arnold will later recall: “[W]e thought that the biggest threat to the US in the briefing that I always gave… was going to come from an asymmetric threat, from a terrorist or a rogue nation, or maybe associated with the drug cartels to some degree. The picture that we used to have on one of our slides there, dating all the way back to 1997 and 1998, was Osama bin Laden.” [Filson, 2002] Colonel Alan Scott, who serves under Arnold at CONR, will later describe the “El Paso example” that Arnold uses to illustrate the need for more alert sites. Scott says: “We had fairly large gaps between our seven alert sites pre-9/11. The largest was between Riverside, CA, and Houston, TX. El Paso, TX, was in the middle of those two alert sites. There was no perceived ‘military’ threat from Mexico. As the threat of terrorism arose, General Arnold began to use the example in his talks to various groups. The example was that if a terrorist called and said in one hour he would overfly El Paso, TX, and spray deadly gas, we would watch it live on CNN because we could not get aircraft to that location in time to stop the attack.” [Filson, 7/14/2002]

Entity Tags: Larry Arnold, North American Aerospace Defense Command, Alan Scott

Category Tags: US Air Security

The FAA creates “Red Teams” —small, secretive teams traveling to airports and attempting to foil their security systems—in response to the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am 747 over Scotland. According to later reports, the Red Teams conduct extensive testing of screening checkpoints at a large number of domestic airports in 1998. The results were frightening: “We were successful in getting major weapons—guns and bombs—through screening checkpoints with relative ease, at least 85 percent of the time in most cases. At one airport, we had a 97 percent success rate in breaching the screening checkpoint.… The individuals who occupied the highest seats of authority in the FAA were fully aware of this highly vulnerable state of aviation security and did nothing.” [New York Times, 2/27/2002] In 1999, the New York Port Authority and major airlines at Boston’s Logan Airport will be “fined a total of $178,000 for at least 136 security violations [between 1999-2001]. In the majority of incidents, screeners hired by the airlines for checkpoints in terminals routinely [fail] to detect test items, such as pipe bombs and guns.” [Associated Press, 9/12/2001]

Entity Tags: Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, Federal Aviation Administration

Category Tags: US Air Security

Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke chairs a tabletop exercise at the White House, involving a scenario where anti-American militants fill a Learjet with explosives, and then fly it on a suicide mission toward a target in Washington, DC. Officials from the Pentagon, Secret Service, and FAA attend, and are asked how they would stop such a threat. Pentagon officials say they could launch fighters from Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, but would need authorization from the president to shoot the plane down, and currently there is no system to do this. The 9/11 Commission later states: “There was no clear resolution of the problem at the exercise.” [Slate, 7/22/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 345, 457-458]

Entity Tags: Langley Air Force Base, US Secret Service, US Department of Defense, Federal Aviation Administration, Richard A. Clarke

Timeline Tags: 9/11 Timeline

Category Tags: Warning Signs, Military Exercises, Counterterrorism Policy/Politics, US Air Security

Three terrorism specialists present an analysis of security threats to FAA security officials. Their analysis describes two scenarios involving planes as weapons. In one, hijacked planes are flown into nuclear power plants along the East Coast. In the other, hijackers commandeer Federal Express cargo planes and simultaneously crash them into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, the White House, the Capitol, the Sears Tower, and the Golden Gate Bridge. Stephen Gale, one of the specialists, later says the analysis is based in part upon attempts that had been made in 1994 to crash airplanes in the Eiffel Tower and the White House (see September 11, 1994) (see December 24, 1994). Gale later recalls that one FAA official responds to the presentation by saying, “You can’t protect yourself from meteorites.” [Washington Post, 5/19/2002]

Entity Tags: Pentagon, Federal Aviation Administration, World Trade Center, James L. Jones, Golden Gate Bridge, Federal Express, Sears Tower

Category Tags: Warning Signs, US Air Security

At some point during his tenure as commander in chief of NORAD (see August 14, 1998), General Richard Myers expresses concerns about the adequacy of the radar system over the US, which NORAD shares with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in what is called the Joint Surveillance System. Myers will later tell the 9/11 Commission that NORAD is unable to “correlate” over 50 percent of the unknown radar tracks it picks up, either because it cannot launch an interceptor aircraft in time or because it cannot deal with the tracks appropriately. Some of them disappear from radar before NORAD can correlate them with the FAA. Myers makes Pentagon officials aware of the problem, telling them, “don’t think we’re providing 100 percent air sovereignty here… we’re looking outward, and a number of those tracks are never correlated.” He will recall that in connection with the internal radar issue, “I saw a letter I put out talking about a potential terrorist issue… that’s why you would want these radars up… it’s kind of a future issue.” According to Myers, there is talk about the future potential of a terrorist threat as a rationale for “trying to get people to address the FAA/[Air Force] radar funding issue in a more robust way.” Myers also finds NORAD’s command and control software inadequate. He will tell the 9/11 Commission that the “system was very old and was contracted to be replaced, but the contractor did not perform. The issue was how many tracks the system could handle at once; NORAD kept modifying the equipment to allow more inputs but it needed a new system.” However, Myers will also confirm to the 9/11 Commission that “from a technical radar standpoint, NORAD had pretty good coastal range, and that the activity on 9/11 was within the radar area that was accessible to NORAD.” [9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 6/9/2004]

Entity Tags: Joint Surveillance System, North American Aerospace Defense Command, Richard B. Myers

Category Tags: US Air Security

Mary Carol Turano is appointed director of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Boston Civil Aviation Security Field Office (CASFO). This is the office that oversees security at Logan Airport, from where Flights 11 and 175 depart on 9/11. Yet Turano has little experience in airport security, and has not even begun the basic training that all FAA special agents must undergo. During her tenure, according to an agent who is assigned to Logan, staff that document security violations become frustrated, as she allows violations to accumulate without taking appropriate action. After 9/11, it will be revealed that she lacks the identification badge necessary for unescorted access to secure areas. An official familiar with airport security procedures will comment, “An organization does well what a commander checks, and how can you check what they do if you don’t have a ramp access badge?” Turano is subsequently reassigned. [Associated Press, 9/29/2001; Boston Globe, 9/29/2001; WBUR (Boston), 10/4/2001; Thomas, 2003, pp. 61; 9/11 Commission, 3/11/2004 pdf file] Logan Airport’s poor record for security continues while she heads CASFO (see 1991-2000 and 1997-September 1999).

Entity Tags: Boston Civil Aviation Security Field Office, Mary Carol Turano, Federal Aviation Administration

Category Tags: US Air Security

The FAA issues the first of three warnings this year to US airports and airlines urging a “high degree of vigilance” against threats to US civil aviation from al-Qaeda. It specifically warns against a possible terrorist hijacking “at a metropolitan airport in the Eastern United States.” The information is based on statements made by Osama bin Laden and other Islamic leaders, and intelligence obtained after the US cruise missile attacks in August. All three warnings come in late 1998, well before 9/11. [Boston Globe, 5/26/2002]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, Federal Aviation Administration

Category Tags: US Air Security, Counterterrorism Action Before 9/11

As the military community is discussing the future of continental air defense in a post-Cold War world (see May 19, 1997), Major General Larry Arnold, the commander of the 1st Air Force, orders a study to review the Air Force’s air sovereignty mission. At his request, Major General Paul Pochmara forms a 12-member roles and mission (RAM) team to gather information and ideas on the subject. The team has a one-hour presentation that outlines the military’s responsibility for protecting the nation’s air sovereignty. Major General Mike Haugen, a member of the team, will later say that the group discusses everything from technology to the future of the air sovereignty mission to the terrorist threat. Haugen will say: “We made some pretty bold predictions in our briefing.… In fact, it included a photo of Osama bin Laden as the world’s most dangerous terrorist.… We didn’t predict how the terrorists would strike but predicted they would strike.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 37-38] A 9/11 Commission memorandum will add, “Osama bin Laden is featured on the cover of the brief developed by the RAM team, and he figures prominently in the study.” Colonel Alan Scott of the Continental US NORAD Region will tell the Commission: “As we started talking about Osama bin Laden, the examples we gave in our mission brief were the first WTC bombing, the Tokyo subway, Oklahoma City bombing, and Atlanta Olympics. What we did was connect those dots. The conclusion we drew was that we had a viable threat.” [9/11 Commission, 6/9/2004]

Entity Tags: Mike Haugen, Paul Pochmara, Alan Scott, Larry Arnold, North American Aerospace Defense Command, 1st Air Force

Category Tags: US Air Security

At some point during the two-year period preceding 9/11, NORAD fighters perform a mock shootdown over the Atlantic Ocean of a jet loaded with chemical poisons heading toward the US. [USA Today, 4/18/2004]

Entity Tags: North American Aerospace Defense Command

Timeline Tags: 9/11 Timeline

Category Tags: Military Exercises, US Air Security

Logo of the 1st Air Force.Logo of the 1st Air Force. [Source: 1st Air Force]The 1st Air Force air sovereignty team, which, as part of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), is responsible for the air defense of the continental United States, scores an unprecedented “grand slam” in a four-day evaluation of its effectiveness in performing the air sovereignty mission. The three air defense sectors responsible for protecting the skies above the continental US—the Northeast, Southeast, and Western sectors—have their command and control skills tested in the Air Combat Command Operational Readiness Inspections (ORI). The 1st Air Force headquarters is concurrently tested in the NORAD Operational Evaluation (NOE). All are rated “outstanding,” the highest score possible on a five-tier scale. Only recently, on October 1, 1997, the Air National Guard had assumed command and control of the 1st Air Force and the Continental United States NORAD Region. Retired Col. Dan Navin, former 1st Air Force vice commander, says, “No transition can be truly complete until it is proven that the mission is being performed the right way. This ‘ORI’ proved exactly that, and validated the confidence the senior leaders of the Air Force had in the Air National Guard.” [Filson, 1999, pp. vi, 114-115, 184; American Defender, 3/1999] The Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) is responsible for an area of over 500,000 square miles of airspace, including that over New York City and Washington, DC. All the hijackings on 9/11 will occur within this area. [Filson, 1999, pp. 51; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 17] Despite its “outstanding” rating two-and-a-half years earlier, NEADS will fail to intercept any of the four hijacked airliners.

Entity Tags: North American Aerospace Defense Command, 1st Air Force, Northeast Air Defense Sector

Category Tags: US Air Security

Lieutenant Colonel Mark Stuart, an intelligence officer at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), drafts a briefing that he then gives at various venues, on the threat of terrorists using aircraft to crash into buildings. According to a memo of his 2003 interview with the 9/11 Commission, Stuart briefs “over time in 1999, 2000, and 2001 the logical progression that linked hijackings to the use of explosives in vehicles [a probable reference to the 1998 African embassy bombings] and then, logically, to the use of aircraft.” Stuart gives his briefing at annual intelligence conferences at both the Continental United States NORAD Region (CONR) and NORAD itself. At CONR, the receiving official is Colonel Tom Glenn; at NORAD it is Navy Captain Michael Kuhn. According to the 9/11 Commission memo, the hijacking scenarios that Stuart conceives are “primarily personal views; there was no substantive intelligence. He based his analysis on the boldness of past terrorist actions.” Stuart also discusses his analyses with his counterparts at NORAD’s Southeast Air Defense Sector (SEADS)—a Major Clegg—and its Western Air Defense Sector (WADS)—a Lieutenant Colonel Schauer. In all cases, he briefs that a hijacking would originate overseas, inbound to the US. He never imagines it could originate inside the US. Stuart believes that security vulnerabilities overseas make it far more likely that hijackings will come from outside the US. He never imagines multiple hijackings in any scenario, although he envisions terrorists taking over planes and piloting them at the last possible moment as they crash. Stuart will be at NEADS on 9/11, and will participate in its response to that day’s attacks. [9/11 Commission, 10/30/2003 pdf file]

Entity Tags: North American Aerospace Defense Command, Continental US NORAD Region, Mark E. Stuart

Category Tags: Warning Signs, US Air Security

The FAA’s Office of Civil Aviation Security Intelligence sends an internal memo summarizing the al-Qaeda hijacking threat. After reciting information available on the topic, a few principal scenarios are presented. One of them is a “suicide hijacking operation.” The 9/11 Commission will comment on this and another memo the previous year, “In 1998 and 1999, the FAA intelligence unit produced reports about the hijacking threat posed by bin Ladin and al-Qaeda, including the possibility that the terrorist group might try to hijack a commercial jet and slam it into a US landmark.” However, FAA analysts consider this an option of last resort, because “it does not offer an opportunity for dialogue to achieve the key goal of obtaining [Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman] and other key captive extremists.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 345, 561; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 53 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Federal Aviation Administration, Omar Abdul-Rahman, Al-Qaeda

Category Tags: Warning Signs, US Air Security, Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman

According to USA Today, “In the two years before the Sept. 11 attacks, the North American Aerospace Defense Command conduct[s] exercises simulating what the White House [later] says was unimaginable at the time: hijacked airliners used as weapons to crash into targets and cause mass casualties.” One of the imagined targets is the World Trade Center. According to NORAD, these scenarios are regional drills, rather than regularly scheduled continent-wide exercises. They utilize “[n]umerous types of civilian and military aircraft” as mock hijacked aircraft, and test “track detection and identification; scramble and interception; hijack procedures; internal and external agency coordination; and operational security and communications security procedures.” The main difference between these drills and the 9/11 attacks is that the planes in the drills are coming from another country, rather than from within the US. Before 9/11, NORAD reportedly conducts four major exercises at headquarters level per year. Most of them are said to include a hijack scenario (see Before September 11, 2001). [USA Today, 4/18/2004; CNN, 4/19/2004]

Entity Tags: World Trade Center, North American Aerospace Defense Command

Timeline Tags: 9/11 Timeline

Category Tags: US Air Security, Military Exercises

A map showing the planned flight path of Payne Stewart’s plane and the crash site location.A map showing the planned flight path of Payne Stewart’s plane and the crash site location. [Source: CNN]A runaway Learjet crashes near Mina, South Dakota, after flying on autopilot for several hours. On board is champion golfer Payne Stewart, along with five others. It is believed the accident is due to a loss of cabin pressure at high altitude, which would have caused all on board to go unconscious from lack of oxygen. [ABC News, 10/25/1999; Washington Post, 10/26/1999; National Transportation Safety Board, 11/28/2000] After air traffic controllers lost contact with the plane, it was tracked by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), assisted by several Air Force and Air National Guard fighters and an AWACS radar control plane, up until when it crashed. It was also tracked on radar screens inside the National Military Command Center in the Pentagon. [CNN, 10/26/1999] The Learjet had departed Orlando, Florida at 9:19 a.m., bound for Texas. The FAA says controllers lost contact with it at 9:44 a.m. [Washington Post, 10/26/1999] , but according to a later report by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) the plane first failed to respond to air traffic control at 9:33 a.m., after which the controller repeatedly tried to make contact for the next 4 1/2 minutes, without success. [National Transportation Safety Board, 11/28/2000] NORAD’s Southeast Air Defense Sector was notified of the emergency at 9:55 a.m. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 459] At 10:08 a.m., two F-16 fighters from Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida that were on a routine training mission had been asked by the FAA to intercept the Learjet, but never reached it. At about 10:52 a.m., a fighter from Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, was directed to within 9 miles of it, and at around 11:00 a.m. began a visual inspection of the plane. It accompanied the Learjet from 11:09 to 11:44 a.m. At 11:59 a.m., according to early accounts, four Air National Guard fighters and a refueling tanker from Tulsa, Oklahoma were told to chase the Learjet, but got no closer than 100 miles from it. However, the NTSB later claims that two Tulsa fighters were with it between 12:25 and 12:39 p.m., and were able to visually inspect it. At 12:54 p.m., two Air National Guard fighters from Fargo, North Dakota intercepted the Learjet. Soon after 1:14 p.m., it crashed in swampland, after spiraling to the ground. [Washington Post, 10/26/1999; Associated Press, 10/27/1999; National Transportation Safety Board, 11/28/2000] During its flight, the FAA had routed air traffic around the Learjet, and made sure no other planes flew beneath it, due to the danger of it crashing. [Associated Press, 10/26/1999] There is some discussion as to what could have been done had the plane been on a collision course with a populated area, with CNN reporting, “[O]nly the president has the authority to order a civilian aircraft shot down.” Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon says the military has no written instructions for shooting down manned civilian planes. According to a 1997 military instruction, the shooting down of unmanned objects such as missiles requires prior approval from the secretary of defense. [US Department of Defense, 7/31/1997 pdf file; CNN, 10/26/1999] A Pentagon spokesman says the fighters that monitored the Learjet had no missiles, but two other fighters on “strip alert” at Fargo had been armed but didn’t take off. [CNN, 10/26/1999] The 9/11 Commission will later compare NORAD’s response to this incident with its response to Flight 11 on 9/11, and claim: “There is no significant difference in NORAD’s reaction to the two incidents.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 459]

Entity Tags: Payne Stewart, Federal Aviation Administration, North American Aerospace Defense Command, National Military Command Center, Eglin Air Force Base, Tyndall Air Force Base, Southeast Air Defense Sector

Category Tags: US Air Security

TIPOFF is a US no-fly list of individuals who should be detained if they attempt to leave or enter the US. There are about 60,000 names on this list by 9/11 (see December 11, 1999). Apparently there had been no prohibition of travel inside the US, but on this day an FAA security directive puts six names on a newly created domestic no-fly list. All six are said to be associates of World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef, including his uncle, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM). On August 28, 2001, six more names will be added to this list. Apparently all 12 names are associated with al-Qaeda or other Islamic extremist groups. 9/11 Commissioner Bob Kerrey will later note the discrepancy of the 60,000-name list with the 12-name list and comment, “seems to me, particularly with what was going on at the time, that some effort would have been made to make—to produce a larger list than [only 12 names].” [9/11 Commission, 1/27/2004] The FAA’s chief of security in 2001, Cathal Flynn, will later say that he was “unaware of the TIPOFF list” until after the September 11 attacks. 9/11 Commissioner Slade Gorton will say that this admission is “stunning, just unbeleivable,” and an “example of absolute incompetence” at the FAA. Other FAA officials will say they are aware of the larger list, but do not make much use of it. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 115] On the day of 9/11, two of the 9/11 hijackers will be on the 60,000-name TIPOFF list but not the 12-name domestic list, so airport security does not know to stop them from boarding the planes they hijack that day (see August 23, 2001).

Entity Tags: TIPOFF, Slade Gorton, Cathal Flynn, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Bob Kerrey, Al-Qaeda, Ramzi Yousef

Timeline Tags: 9/11 Timeline

Category Tags: Al-Qaeda Malaysia Summit, Counterterrorism Action Before 9/11, US Air Security, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed

The FAA issues an advisory to airports and air carriers, setting forth its views on the hijacking threat. The advisory states that while conditions for hijackings of airliners had been less favorable in the 1980s and 1990s, “We believe that the situation has changed. We assess that the prospect for terrorist hijacking has increased and that US airliners could be targeted in an attempt to obtain the release of indicted or convicted terrorists imprisoned in the United States.” However, “the terrorist hijacking of a US airliner is more probable outside the United States due to access to safe havens.” [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 59 pdf file; New York Times, 9/14/2005]

Entity Tags: Federal Aviation Administration

Category Tags: US Air Security

It is reported that the US Secret Service is using an “air surveillance system” called Tigerwall. This serves to “ensure enhanced physical security at a high-value asset location by providing early warning of airborne threats.” Tigerwall “provides the Secret Service with a geographic display of aircraft activity and provides security personnel long-range camera systems to classify and identify aircraft. Sensor data from several sources are fused to provide a unified sensor display.” [US Department of Defense, 2000; US Department of the Navy, 9/2000, pp. 28 pdf file] Among its responsibilities, the Secret Service protects America’s highest elected officials, including the president and vice president, and also provides security for the White House complex. [US Congress, 5/1/2003] Its largest field office with over 200 employees is in New York, in Building 7 of the World Trade Center. [Tech TV, 7/23/2002] Whether the Secret Service, in New York or Washington, will make use of Tigerwall on 9/11 is unknown. Furthermore, in New York the Secret Service has a Stinger missile secretly stored in the WTC, to be used to protect the president if the city were attacked when he visited. Presumably it keeps this is in Building 7, where its field office is. [Weiss, 2003, pp. 379] As well as Tigerwall, the Secret Service appears to have other air surveillance capabilities. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will describe that on 9/11, the Secret Service had “a system that allowed them to see what FAA’s radar was seeing.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 7] Barbara Riggs, a future deputy director of the Secret Service who is in its Washington, DC headquarters on 9/11, will describe the Secret Service “monitoring radar” during the attacks. [PCCW Newsletter, 3/2006; Star-Gazette (Elmira), 6/5/2006] Furthermore, since 1974 the Secret Service operations center has possessed a special communications line from the control tower of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. This hotline allows air traffic controllers monitoring local radar to inform agents at the White House of any planes that are off course or appear to be on a “threatening vector.” [Time, 9/26/1994]

Entity Tags: US Secret Service

Category Tags: Counterterrorism Policy/Politics, US Air Security

The FBI and FAA jointly publish the yearly National Intelligence Estimate report mandated by Congress. It reads, “FBI investigations confirm domestic and international terrorist groups operating within the US but do not suggest evidence of plans to target domestic civil aviation. Terrorist activity within the US has focused primarily on fundraising, recruiting new members, and disseminating propaganda. While international terrorists have conducted attacks on US soil, these acts represent anomalies in their traditional targeting which focuses on US interests overseas.” This differs from assessments in previous years that suggested there were groups targeting domestic aviation. The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry will conclude that assessment is “relatively low… notwithstanding historical intelligence information to the contrary.” [US Congress, 9/18/2002]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11 Commission

Category Tags: Counterterrorism Policy/Politics, US Air Security

US Army Lieutenant General Michael A. Canavan is appointed associate administrator for civil aviation security at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), a position that includes being the “hijack coordinator” (see 8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Federal Aviation Administration, 11/2000] In early 1998, Canavan participated in reviewing a CIA plan to capture Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. He was then the commander of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which oversees the military’s counterterrorism operations and covert missions. He objected to the plan, saying it was too complicated for the CIA and “out of their league.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 113] The plan was later canceled (see 1997-May 29, 1998). It is not known if Canavan’s appointment at the FAA is related to his prior involvement in counterterrorism or to any intelligence that al-Qaeda might target civil aviation. He will leave the post in October 2001, after only 10 months, reportedly after clashing with other FAA officials. [Los Angeles Times, 10/13/2001]

Entity Tags: Federal Aviation Administration, Mike Canavan

Category Tags: US Air Security

The FAA gives 15 warnings to domestic airlines between January and August 2001, but about one general security warning a month had been common for a long time. [CNN, 5/17/2002] Even a government official later calls the content of these 15 warnings “standard fare.” [Miami Herald, 5/17/2002] As one newspaper later reports, “there were so many [warnings] that airline officials grew numb to them.” [St. Petersburg Times, 9/23/2002] In May 2002, in response to recent revelations about what was known before 9/11, the major airlines will hold a press conference claiming they were never warned of a specific hijacking threat, and were not told to tighten security. For instance, an American Airlines spokesman states that the airline “received no specific information from the US government advising the carrier of a potential terrorist hijacking in the United States in the months prior to September 11, 2001. American receives FAA security information bulletins periodically, but the bulletins were extremely general in nature and did not identify a specific threat or recommend any specific security enhancements.” [Miami Herald, 5/17/2002] Bush administration officials later state that the terror information they are receiving is so vague that tighter security does not seem required. [Associated Press, 5/18/2002] However, it seems that even these general warnings are never passed on to airline employees. Rosemary Dillard, a supervisor for American Airlines, states, “My job was supervision over all the flight attendants who flew out of National, Baltimore, or Dulles. In the summer of 2001, we had absolutely no warnings about any threats of hijackings or terrorism, from the airline or from the FAA.” [New York Observer, 6/20/2004] The content of these seemingly harmless warnings remain classified after 9/11. They are said to be exempted from public disclosure by a federal statute that covers “information that would be detrimental to the security of transportation if disclosed.” [New York Observer, 6/20/2004]

Entity Tags: American Airlines, Bush administration (43), Federal Aviation Administration, Rosemary Dillard

Timeline Tags: 9/11 Timeline

Category Tags: Counterterrorism Policy/Politics, Warning Signs, US Air Security

A series of top-secret security briefings are given to airport officials at the top 19 airports in the US. The airports warned include those at Boston, Washington, and Newark, which are eventually used by the hijackers. A 9/11 Commission Report on this later notes, “The briefings highlight the threat posed by terrorists in general and bin Laden in particular, including his threats against aviation. The renewed interest in hijacking by terrorist groups [is] also covered.” The briefings note that if “the intent of the hijacker is not to exchange hostages for prisoners, but to commit suicide in a spectacular explosion, a domestic hijacking would probably be preferable.” But they also note that such a hijacking would be harder to carry out. Around the same time, the FAA distributes an unclassified CD-ROM presentation to airlines and airports. “The presentation cite[s] the possibility that terrorists might conduct suicide hijackings but state[s]: ‘Fortunately, we have no indication that any group is currently thinking in that direction.’” This briefing and presentation doesn’t lead to any upgrade in security or improved passenger screening at the airports. Apparently, the information isn’t widely shared with pilots, flight attendants, passenger screeners, and the like, and it doesn’t lead to any specific FAA advisories or actions. [New York Times, 2/10/2005; Newsday, 2/11/2005; New Jersey Star-Ledger, 2/11/2005] For instance, Dave Machett, a pilot who is president of the grassroots organization Airline Pilots Security Alliance, says that “Not one word” reached the pilots. “The flight crews were kept completely in the dark about this growing threat.” [Newsday, 2/11/2005] 9/11 Commissioner Tim Roemer comments, “The FAA deserves to be raked over the coals for ignoring the warnings and being more concerned about reducing air traffic congestion than dealing with possible terrorist attacks.” [New Jersey Star-Ledger, 2/11/2005]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Federal Aviation Administration, Tim Roemer, Dave Machett

Category Tags: Counterterrorism Policy/Politics, US Air Security

In 2005 (see February 10, 2005), it will be revealed that of the FAA’s 105 daily intelligence summaries between these dates, 52 mention bin Laden, al-Qaeda, or both. Most of the mentions are “in regard to overseas threats.” None of the warnings specifically predict something similar to the 9/11 attacks, but five of them mention al-Qaeda’s training for hijackings and two reports concern suicide operations unconnected to aviation. [Associated Press, 2/11/2005] One of the warnings mentions air defense measures being taken in Genoa, Italy, for the July 2001 G-8 summit to protect from a possible air attack by terrorists (see July 20-22, 2001). However, the New Jersey Star-Ledger is virtually the only newspaper in the US to report this fact. [New Jersey Star-Ledger, 2/11/2005] Despite all these warnings, the FAA fails to take any extra security measures. They do not expand the use of in-flight air marshals or tighten airport screening for weapons. A proposed rule to improve passenger screening and other security measures ordered by Congress in 1996 has held up and is still not in effect by 9/11. The 9/11 Commission’s report on these FAA warnings released in 2005 (see February 10, 2005) will conclude that FAA officials were more concerned with reducing airline congestion, lessening delays, and easing air carriers’ financial problems than preventing a hijacking. [Associated Press, 2/11/2005] The FAA also makes no effort to expand its list of terror suspects, which includes only a dozen names by 9/11 (see April 24, 2000). The former head of the FAA’s civil aviation security branch later says he wasn’t even aware of TIPOFF, the government’s main watch list, which included the names of two 9/11 hijackers before 9/11. Nor is there any evidence that a senior FAA working group responsible for security ever meets in 2001 to discuss “the high threat period that summer.” [New York Times, 2/10/2005]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11 Commission, US Congress, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: 9/11 Timeline

Category Tags: Warning Signs, Key Warnings, Counterterrorism Policy/Politics, US Air Security

The Joint Chiefs of Staff holds a large, worldwide exercise called Positive Force, which focuses on the Defense Department’s ability to conduct large-scale military operations and coordinate these operations. [Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, 8/14/2000 pdf file] The 2001 Positive Force exercise is a “continuity of operations exercise,” meaning it deals with government contingency plans to keep working in the event of an attack on the US. [Guardian, 4/15/2004] Over a dozen government agencies, including NORAD, are invited to participate. The exercise prepares them for various scenarios, including non-combatant evacuation operations, cyber attacks, rail disruption, and power outages. It includes “a series of simulated attacks against the maritime, surface and aviation sectors” of America’s national security transportation infrastructure. [US Congress, 5/8/2001; Provider Update, 10/2001; GlobalSecurity (.org), 6/9/2002] Apparently, one of the scenarios that was considered for this exercise involved “a terrorist group hijack[ing] a commercial airliner and fly[ing] it into the Pentagon.” But the proposed scenario, thought up by a group of Special Operations personnel trained to think like terrorists, was rejected. Joint Staff action officers and White House officials said the additional scenario is either “too unrealistic” or too disconnected to the original intent of the exercise. [Air Force Times, 4/13/2004; Boston Herald, 4/14/2004; Washington Post, 4/14/2004; New York Times, 4/14/2004; Guardian, 4/15/2004]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Pentagon, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: 9/11 Timeline

Category Tags: Military Exercises, US Air Security

The FAA sends a warning to US airlines that Middle Eastern militants could try to hijack or blow up a US plane and that carriers should “demonstrate a high degree of alertness.” The warning stems from the April 6, 2001, conviction of Ahmed Ressam over a failed plot to blow up Los Angeles International Airport during the millennium celebrations. This warning expires on July 31, 2001. [Associated Press, 5/18/2002] This is one of 15 general warnings issued to airlines in 2001 before 9/11 (see January-August 2001), but it is more specific than usual. [CNN, 3/2002; CNN, 5/17/2002]

Entity Tags: Federal Aviation Administration, Los Angeles International Airport, Ahmed Ressam

Category Tags: Counterterrorism Policy/Politics, Warning Signs, US Air Security

The FAA conducts 27 briefings for airline companies in this time period. However, each briefing only addresses hijacking threats overseas. This is despite the fact that from March to May, the FAA conducted briefings for US airports that raised concerns about hijackings in the domestic US, and even told airports that if hijackers wanted to end a hijacking with a suicidal “spectacular explosion” it would make more sense to do it in the domestic US (see March-May 2001). Also during roughly the same May to September time period, about half of the FAA’s daily intelligence briefings mention bin Laden or al-Qaeda, and one of those specifically referred to an al-Qaeda plot using planes as weapons. Even though some of these mentions are connected to domestic threats, airlines are only briefed about the overseas threats (see April 1, 2001-September 10, 2001). [New Jersey Star-Ledger, 2/11/2005; Newsday, 2/11/2005]

Entity Tags: Federal Aviation Administration, Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden

Category Tags: Counterterrorism Policy/Politics, US Air Security

Brian Sullivan.Brian Sullivan. [Source: PBS]Brian Sullivan, a retired Federal Aviation Administration risk management specialist, writes a letter to Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.), concerned about an alarming lack of security at Boston’s Logan Airport. Flights 11 and 175 take off from Logan on 9/11. [Associated Press, 9/14/2001; Village Voice, 9/15/2004] The previous night a local TV station aired a report of an undercover investigation, which found that, nine times out of 10, a crew was able to get knives and other weapons through Logan’s security checkpoints, including the ones later used by the 9/11 hijackers. Sullivan writes: “With the concept of jihad, do you think it would be difficult for a determined terrorist to get on a plane and destroy himself and all other passengers? Think what the result would be of a coordinated attack which took down several domestic flights on the same day. With our current screening, this is more than possible. It is almost likely.” Following his letter, Sullivan has a videotape of the TV investigation hand-delivered to Kerry’s office. [Insight on the News, 6/17/2002; 9/11 Commission, 2/11/2004, pp. 4; New York Post, 3/15/2004] After 9/11, Kerry will say that his response was to pass the letter and videotape to the General Accounting Office, and consequently it began an undercover investigation into the matter. [Associated Press, 9/14/2001; Boston Globe, 9/15/2001] Sullivan will confirm Kerry having responded to his letter, and having asked the Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General to look into the matter. He comments, “I think Sen. Kerry did get it to the right people and they were about to take action.” [MSNBC, 9/16/2001] However, in the run-up to the 2004 presidential election where Kerry is the Democratic candidate, Sullivan will accuse him of having done “the Pontius Pilate thing and passed the buck.” An article in the right-wing New York Post will claim that Kerry’s only response to Sullivan was a brief letter towards the end of July 2001, and says Sullivan’s letter to him had made clear that the Department of Transportation was ineffective in responding to complaints about security problems. [New York Post, 3/15/2004]

Entity Tags: Logan International Airport, Brian Sullivan, John Kerry

Category Tags: Warning Signs, US Air Security

A Senior Executive Intelligence Brief (SEIB) sent to top White House officials is entitled, “Terrorist Groups Said Cooperating on US Hostage Plot.” It warns of a possible hostage plot against the US abroad to force to release of prisoners being held in the US, including Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman (see July 1990). The report notes operatives might hijack an aircraft or storm a US embassy overseas. SEIBs are typically based on the previous day’s President Daily Briefing (see January 20-September 10, 2001), so it is probable President Bush is given this information. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 255-256, 533; US District Court of Eastern Virginia, 5/4/2006, pp. 2 pdf file] This report leads to an FAA warning to airlines noting the potential for “an airline hijacking to free terrorists incarcerated in the United States.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 255-256]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, White House, Omar Abdul-Rahman

Timeline Tags: 9/11 Timeline

Category Tags: Warning Signs, Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, Presidential Level Warnings, US Air Security

During this period, apparently, there are only 14 fighter planes on active alert to defend the continental United States (and six more defending Canada and Alaska). [Bergen Record, 12/5/2003] However, in the months before 9/11, rather than increase the number, the Pentagon is planning to reduce the number still further. Just after 9/11, the Los Angeles Times will report, “While defense officials say a decision had not yet been made, a reduction in air defenses had been gaining currency in recent months among task forces assigned by [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld to put together recommendations for a reassessment of the military.” By comparison, in the Cold War atmosphere of the 1950s, the US had thousands of fighters on alert throughout the US. [Los Angeles Times, 9/15/2001] In fact, there will be high level military discussions as late as September 8, 2001, where the option of eliminating the bases altogether is considered (see September 7-8, 2001). As late as 1998, there were 175 fighters on alert status. [Bergen Record, 12/5/2003] Also during this time, FAA officials try to dispense with “primary” radars altogether, so that if a plane were to turn its transponder off, no radar could see it. NORAD rejects the proposal [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002]

Entity Tags: Federal Aviation Administration, US Department of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld

Timeline Tags: 9/11 Timeline

Category Tags: Counterterrorism Policy/Politics, US Air Security

Although the CIA, FBI, and White House Counterterrorism Security Group (CSG) are well aware that there is a heightened threat environment at this time because of warning signs of an impending al-Qaeda attack, the Department of Transportation is not informed of this. Although he is responsible for the FAA, Coast Guard, and other agencies that should help prepare for a domestic terrorist attack, Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta will later tell the 9/11 Commission, “We had no information of that nature at all.” When he testifies to the Commission, Mineta will not recall any special effort by the White House to warn his department, or any special interagency meetings during this period. Author Philip Shenon will say that this is “proof of how little the Bush White House had done to prepare domestic agencies for a terrorist attack that summer,” adding that this shows that Mineta “and the Transportation Department had no sense at all of how dire the terrorist warning were in 2001.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 116]

Entity Tags: US Department of Transportation, Norman Mineta

Timeline Tags: 9/11 Timeline

Category Tags: US Air Security

In response to some hijacking incidents abroad, an FAA advisory committee looks at the FAA’s longstanding “preemptive surrender” approach regarding the response to attempted hijackings. [Freedom Daily, 12/7/2005] This policy, called the Common Strategy, teaches “flight crews that the best way to deal with hijackers [is] to accommodate their demands, get the plane to land safely, and then let law enforcement or the military handle the situation,” according to the 9/11 Commission. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 85] Less than three months before 9/11, the FAA advisory committee decides to upgrade the training manuals and official guidance for responding to hijacking attempts. The updated materials are to be available some time in the fall of this year. FAA official Mike Morse says the new scenario prepared for in training “will be one involving a team of hijackers with a higher degree of sophistication and training.” In addition, the scenario will “replicate what we’ve faced in some of the international hijackings abroad in recent years.” [Freedom Daily, 12/7/2005] An exercise to study the new policy will take place during the summer (see Summer 2001).

Entity Tags: Mike Morse, Federal Aviation Administration

Category Tags: US Air Security

The FAA takes part in a training exercise based around the hijacking of a Boeing 767, the same kind of aircraft as those that hit the Twin Towers on 9/11. The exercise is conducted as part of efforts to update the strategy for dealing with hijackings. Its participants include the FAA, the FBI’s Miami field office, Miami-Dade County Police Department, a SWAT team, and Varig Airlines, and it utilizes a 767. Further details are unknown, but the hijacking exercise presumably takes place somewhere in the Miami area of Florida. [9/11 Commission, 9/15/2003, pp. 6 pdf file]

Entity Tags: FBI Miami Field Office, Federal Aviation Administration, Miami-Dade County Police Department, Varig Airlines

Category Tags: US Air Security, Military Exercises

A military instruction is issued by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, outlining the procedure for dealing with hijackings within the United States. The instruction, titled “Aircraft Piracy (Hijacking) and Destruction of Derelict Airborne Objects,” states that “the administrator, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), has exclusive responsibility to direct law enforcement activity related to actual or attempted aircraft piracy (hijacking) in the ‘special aircraft jurisdiction’ of the United States. When requested by the administrator, Department of Defense will provide assistance to these law enforcement efforts.” It adds that the National Military Command Center (NMCC) within the Pentagon “is the focal point within Department of Defense for providing assistance. In the event of a hijacking, the NMCC will be notified by the most expeditious means by the FAA. The NMCC will, with the exception of immediate responses as authorized by reference d, forward requests for DOD assistance to the secretary of defense for approval.” [US Department of Defense, 6/1/2001 pdf file] Some will later assume that this requirement for defense secretary approval was new with this instruction. [New York Observer, 6/20/2004] But it has in fact been a requirement since 1997, when the previous instruction was issued, if not earlier. [US Department of Defense, 7/31/1997 pdf file] Although the defense secretary has this responsibility, the 9/11 Commission will conclude that, on the day of 9/11, the “secretary of defense did not enter the chain of command until the morning’s key events were over.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 15 pdf file] Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld will later claim that, up to 9/11, terrorism and domestic hijackings were “a law enforcement issue.” [9/11 Commission, 3/23/2004; PBS, 3/25/2004; US Department of Defense, 6/14/2005]

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, Federal Aviation Administration, US Department of Defense, National Military Command Center

Category Tags: US Air Security, Counterterrorism Policy/Politics

Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke gives a direct warning to the FAA to increase security measures in light of an impending terrorist attack. The FAA refuses to take such measures. [New Yorker, 1/14/2002]

Entity Tags: Richard A. Clarke, Federal Aviation Administration

Timeline Tags: 9/11 Timeline

Category Tags: Counterterrorism Policy/Politics, US Air Security

NORAD is already planning for the Amalgam Virgo 02 exercise. This exercise, scheduled for June 2002, will involve the simulation of two simultaneous commercial aircraft hijackings. One plane, a Delta 757, flown by Delta pilots, will fly from Salt Lake City, Utah, to Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage, Alaska. It will be “hijacked” by FBI agents posing as terrorists. The other plane will be a Navy C-9 bound from Oak Harbor, Washington, to Vancouver, British Columbia, and will be “hijacked” by Royal Canadian Mounted Police. On both planes, military personnel will act as civilian passengers. US and Canadian fighters are to respond, and either force the planes to land or simulate shooting them down. Describing Amalgam Virgo 02 to the 9/11 Commission, NORAD’s Major General Craig McKinley later says, “Threats of killing hostages or crashing were left to the script writers to invoke creativity and broaden the required response for players.” About 1,500 people will participate in the exercise. USA Today will note that this is an exception to NORAD’s claim that, prior to 9/11, it focused only on external threats to the US and did not consider the possibility of threats arising from within the US. 9/11 Commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste will similarly comment that this planned exercise shows that, despite frequent comments to the contrary, the military considered simultaneous hijackings before 9/11. [CNN, 6/4/2002; American Forces Press Service, 6/4/2002; Associated Press, 6/5/2002; 9/11 Commission, 5/23/2003; USA Today, 4/18/2004]

Entity Tags: Craig McKinley, North American Aerospace Defense Command, Richard Ben-Veniste, Amalgam Virgo

Timeline Tags: 9/11 Timeline

Category Tags: US Air Security, Military Exercises

On July 5, 2001, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke gave a dramatic briefing to representatives from several domestic agencies on the urgent al-Qaeda threat (see July 5, 2001). However, the warnings given generally are not passed on by the attendees back to their respective agencies. The domestic agencies were not questioned about how they planned to address the threat and were not told what was expected of them. According to the 9/11 Commission, attendees later “report that they were told not to disseminate the threat information they received at the meeting. They interpreted this direction to mean that although they could brief their superiors, they could not send out advisories to the field.” One National Security Council official has a different recollection of what happened, recalling that attendees were asked to take the information back to their agencies and “do what you can” with it, subject to classification and distribution restrictions. But, for whatever reason, none of the involved agencies post internal warnings based on the meeting, except for Customs which puts out a general warning based entirely on publicly known historical facts. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 258, 264] The FAA issues general and routine threat advisories that don’t reflect the level of urgency expressed by Clarke and others (see January-August 2001). FAA Administrator Jane Garvey later claims she was unaware of a heightened threat level, but in 2005 it will be revealed that about half of the FAA’s daily briefings during this time period referred to bin Laden or al-Qaeda (see April 1, 2001-September 10, 2001). [New York Times, 4/18/2004] Clarke said rhetorically in the meeting that he wants to know if a sparrow has fallen from a tree. A senior FBI official attended the meeting and promised a redoubling of the FBI’s efforts. However, just five days after Clarke’s meeting, FBI agent Ken Williams sends off his memo speculating that al-Qaeda may be training operatives as pilots in the US (see July 10, 2001), yet the FBI fails to share this information with Clarke or any other agency. [Washington Post, 5/17/2002; Clarke, 2004, pp. 236-37] The FBI will also fail to tell Clarke about the arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui (see August 16, 2001), or what they know about Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar (see August 23, 2001).

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Federal Aviation Administration, Zacarias Moussaoui, US Customs Service, Nawaf Alhazmi, Al-Qaeda, Counterterrorism and Security Group, George J. Tenet, Condoleezza Rice, Andrew Card, Ken Williams, Richard A. Clarke, Khalid Almihdhar, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: 9/11 Timeline

Category Tags: Counterterrorism Policy/Politics, US Air Security

The FBI issues another warning to domestic law enforcement agencies about threats stemming from the convictions in the millennium bomb plot trial. The FAA also issues a warning to the airlines, telling them to “use the highest level of caution.” [CNN, 3/2002] This is another one of 15 general warnings issued to airlines in 2001 before 9/11 (see January-August 2001), but it is more specific than usual. [CNN, 3/2002; CNN, 5/17/2002] Also on this day, the State Department issues a public warning of a possible terrorist threat in the Saudi Arabia region. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 259, 534]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Federal Aviation Administration, US Department of State

Category Tags: Counterterrorism Policy/Politics, US Air Security

The FAA issues another alert to US airlines. It mentions “reports of possible near-term terrorist operations… particularly on the Arabian Peninsula and/or Israel.” It states the FAA has no credible evidence of specific plans to attack US civil aviation, but notes that some “currently active” terrorist groups are known to “plan and train for hijackings” and are able to build and conceal sophisticated explosive devices in luggage and consumer products. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 259] This alert will expire by 9/11. Note that pilots and flight attendants later claim they were never told about warnings such as these. The airlines also disagree about the content of pre-9/11 warnings generally. [CNN, 3/2002; Ananova, 5/17/2002] For instance, American Airlines states these warnings were “extremely general in nature and did not identify a specific threat or recommend any specific security enhancements.” [Ananova, 5/17/2002 Sources: American Airlines]

Entity Tags: Federal Aviation Administration

Category Tags: Counterterrorism Policy/Politics, US Air Security

The CIA sends a message to the FAA asking the FAA to advise corporate security directors of US airlines, “A group of six Pakistanis currently based in La Paz, Bolivia may be planning to conduct a hijacking, or possibly a bombing or an act of sabotage against a commercial airliner. While we have no details of the carrier, the date, or the location of this or these possibly planned action(s), we have learned the group has had discussions in which Canada, England, Malaysia, Cuba, South Africa, Mexico, Atlanta, New York, Madrid, Moscow, and Dubai have come up, and India and Islamabad have been described as possible travel destinations.” [US Congress, 9/18/2002] In late July, the government of Bolivia arrested six Pakistanis, though it is not clear if they are the same six or an additional six. One of them appeared to be related to Mir Aimal Kasi, a militant who killed two CIA employees in front of CIA headquarters in 1993 (see January 25, 1993). [Tenet, 2007, pp. 156] The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry will later note, “While this information was not related to an attack planned by al-Qaeda, it did alert the aviation community to the possibility that a hijacking plot might occur in the US shortly before the September 11 attacks occurred.” [US Congress, 9/18/2002] It has not been reported if the FAA actually passed this message on to the US airlines or not. There have been no reports of any extra security measures taken by the airlines, airports, or the FAA in the month before 9/11 in places such as New York City and Atlanta.

Entity Tags: Mir Aimal Kasi, 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Aviation Administration

Timeline Tags: 9/11 Timeline

Category Tags: Warning Signs, US Air Security

James Woods.
James Woods. [Source: Disney Enterprises/ Publicity photo]Actor James Woods, flying first class on an airplane, notices four Arabic-looking men, the only other people in the first class section. He concludes they are Islamic militants intent on hijacking the plane, acting very strangely (for instance, only talking in whispers). [Boston Globe, 11/23/2001] He tells a flight attendant, “I think this plane is going to be hijacked,” adding, “I know how serious it is to say this.” He conveys his worries to the pilots, and they assure him that the cockpit would be locked. [New Yorker, 5/27/2002] The flight staff later notifies the FAA about these suspicious individuals. Though the government will not discuss this event, it is highly unlikely that any action is taken regarding the flight staff’s worries [New Yorker, 5/27/2002] Woods will not be interviewed by the FBI until after 9/11. Woods will say the FBI believes that all four men took part in the 9/11 attacks, and the flight he was on was a practice flight for them. [O'Reilly Factor, 2/14/2002] Woods believes one was Khalid Almihdhar and another was Hamza Alghamdi. [New Yorker, 5/27/2002] The FBI later will report that this may have been one of a dozen test run flights starting as early as January (see May 24-August 14, 2001). Flight attendants and passengers on other flights later recall men looking like the hijackers who took pictures of the cockpit aboard flights and/or took notes. [Associated Press, 5/29/2002] The FBI has not been able to find any evidence of hijackers on the flight manifest for Woods’ flight. [New Yorker, 5/27/2002]

Entity Tags: James Woods, Federal Aviation Administration, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Hamza Alghamdi, Khalid Almihdhar

Timeline Tags: 9/11 Timeline

Category Tags: Alhazmi and Almihdhar, Other 9/11 Hijackers, Warning Signs, US Air Security

About 100 members of the 174th Fighter Wing, part of the New York Air National Guard, are deployed to Sultan Air Base, Saudi Arabia, to patrol the no-fly zone over southern Iraq, as part of the ongoing Operation Southern Watch. This is the unit’s second deployment there, its first having been in March 2001. [Post-Standard (Syracuse), 9/11/2001; Post-Standard (Syracuse), 9/12/2001; US Congress, 3/1/2005; 174th Fighter Wing, 12/9/2005] The 174th FW is located at Hancock Field Air National Guard Base, five miles north of Syracuse, in Central New York State. It is currently equipped with 17 F-16 fighters. These are kept in a six-bay shelter where they are, reportedly, “ready to fly in any weather, at a moment’s notice.” [Airman, 1/2001; Post-Standard (Syracuse), 9/25/2001; GlobalSecurity (.org), 4/26/2005] However, Hancock Field is not one of NORAD’s two “alert” sites in the northeast US. [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] The unit has 350 full-time staff and 650 part-timers, who work one weekend each month plus two full weeks a year. [Post-Standard (Syracuse), 9/25/2001; Post-Standard (Syracuse), 10/24/2001] The 100 members of the unit who go to Saudi Arabia are due to arrive back at Hancock Field at around 3 p.m. on 9/11, but as a consequence of the day’s events are diverted to Canada. [Post-Standard (Syracuse), 9/14/2001] They will eventually arrive back at the base on September 14. [Post-Standard (Syracuse), 9/15/2001] In the months after 9/11, 174th FW fighters are involved in flying combat air patrols over New York City. [Post-Standard (Syracuse), 12/8/2001; New York State, 3/26/2003]

Entity Tags: Operation Southern Watch, New York Air National Guard, 174th Fighter Wing

Timeline Tags: 9/11 Timeline

Category Tags: Military Exercises, US Air Security

The FAA issues a warning to airlines concerning disguised weapons. According to later testimony by National Security Adviser Rice, the FAA is concerned about reports that the terrorists have made breakthroughs in disguising weapons as cell phones, key chains, and pens. [CNN, 3/2002; Reuters, 5/16/2002 Sources: Condoleezza Rice] However, the major airlines later deny receiving such notification. For instance, a Delta spokesperson states: “We were not aware of any warnings or notifications of any specific threats.” [Fox News, 5/16/2002]

Entity Tags: Federal Aviation Administration

Category Tags: US Air Security

The CIA cable watchlisting Alhazmi, Almihdhar, and two others (the sections mentioning Shakir and bin Attash are blacked out).The CIA cable watchlisting Alhazmi, Almihdhar, and two others (the sections mentioning Shakir and bin Attash are blacked out). [Source: FBI] (click image to enlarge)Thanks to the request of Margaret Gillespie, an FBI analyst assigned to the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center, the CIA sends a cable to the State Department, INS, Customs Service, and FBI requesting that “bin Laden-related individuals” Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, Ahmad Hikmat Shakir, and Salah Saeed Mohammed bin Yousaf (an alias for Khallad bin Attash) be put on the terrorism watch list. All four individuals had attended the January 2000 al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000). The cable mostly focuses on Almihdhar, briefly outlining his attendance at the Malaysia summit and his subsequent travel to the US in January 2000 and July 2001. Since March 2000, if not earlier, the CIA has had good reason to believe Alhazmi and Almihdhar were al-Qaeda operatives living in the US, but apparently did nothing and told no other agency about it until now. The hijackers are not located in time, and both die in the 9/11 attacks. FBI agents later state that if they been told about Alhazmi and Almihdhar sooner, “There’s no question we could have tied all 19 hijackers together” given the frequent contact between these two and the other hijackers. [Newsweek, 6/2/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 538; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 32-36, 302] However, in what the Washington Post calls a “critical omission,” the FAA, the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, and the FBI’s Financial Review Group are not notified. The two latter organizations have the power to tap into private credit card and bank data, and claim they could have readily found Alhazmi and Almihdhar, given the frequency the two used credit cards. [Washington Post, 7/25/2003] Furthermore, counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke and his Counterterrorism Security Group are not told about these two operatives before 9/11 either. [Newsweek, 3/24/2004] The CIA later claims the request was labeled “immediate,” the second most urgent category (the highest is reserved for things like declarations of war). [Los Angeles Times, 10/28/2001] The FBI denies that it was marked “immediate” and other agencies treated the request as a routine matter. [Los Angeles Times, 10/18/2001; US Congress, 9/20/2002] The State Department places all four men on the watch list the next day. [US Congress, 7/24/2003 pdf file] However, this watch list, named TIPOFF, checks their names only if they use international flights. There is another watch list barring suspected terrorists from flying domestically. On 9/11, it contains only 12 names, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and other al-Qaeda figures, and some names are added as late as August 28, 2001. But none of these four men are added to this domestic list before 9/11.(see April 24, 2000). [9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004]

Harry Samit, an agent at the FBI’s Minneapolis field office, drafts a memo to the FAA summarizing the facts of the Zacarias Moussaoui case. In it, he writes, “Minneapolis believes that Moussaoui, [his roommate Hussein] al-Attas, and others not yet known were engaged in preparing to seize a Boeing 747-400 in commission of a terrorist act. As Moussaoui denied requests for consent to search his belongings and was arrested before sufficient evidence of criminal activity was revealed, it is not known how far advanced were his plans to do so.” He also mentions Moussaoui’s physical and marital arts training and expresses concern that France, where Moussaoui will soon be deported, may not be able to hold him or his property for long. But Mike Maltbie of the FBI’s Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) instructs the Minneapolis field office not to send the memo because he is also drafting a memo on the Moussaoui case that will be sent to the FAA and other agencies. However Maltbie’s memo lacks a threat assessment and does not mention Minneapolis’ suspicions that Moussaoui might be planning a terrorist act involving a hijacked airplane. The memo does not result in any FAA action. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 174-7 pdf file; Los Angeles Times, 3/20/2006] A meeting between Samit and a Minneapolis FAA officer will also fail to produce any FAA action (see September 4, 2001).

Entity Tags: Michael Maltbie, FBI Headquarters, Harry Samit, Zacarias Moussaoui, FBI Minnesota field office, Radical Fundamentalist Unit

Timeline Tags: 9/11 Timeline

Category Tags: Zacarias Moussaoui, US Air Security

F-15s from the 1st Fighter Wing at Langley Air Force Base patrol the southern no-fly zone in support of Operation Southern Watch.F-15s from the 1st Fighter Wing at Langley Air Force Base patrol the southern no-fly zone in support of Operation Southern Watch. [Source: Jack Braden / United States Air Force]At the time of the 9/11 attacks, the 94th Fighter Squadron, which is stationed at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia, is away on a 90-day combat deployment to Saudi Arabia for Operation Southern Watch, to enforce the no-fly zone over southern Iraq. Two days before 9/11, on September 9, the 27th Fighter Squadron, which is also stationed at Langley AFB, returns from Saudi Arabia, where it has been performing the same mission. [BBC, 12/29/1998; Air Force Association, 10/2/2002; 1st Fighter Association, 2003] The 94th and 27th Fighter Squadrons are two of the three F-15 fighter squadrons that are part of the 1st Fighter Wing, which is the “host unit” at Langley AFB. The third of these is the 71st Fighter Squadron. Between them, the three squadrons have 54 “primary assigned” F-15C fighter jets. [Langley Air Force Base, 11/2003; GlobalSecurity (.org), 2/12/2006] On September 11, most of the F-15s of the 71st FS are also away from base, for the Red Flag exercise in Nevada (see (Late August-September 17, 2001)). [Virginian-Pilot, 9/24/2001; Langley Air Force Base, 9/15/2006]
Langley Jets Not Part of NORAD Alert Unit - Langley Air Force Base, which is 130 miles south of the Pentagon, is one of two “alert sites” that NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) can call upon to get jets quickly launched. However, the F-15s of the 1st Fighter Wing are not involved in this mission. Instead, that task belongs to the North Dakota Air National Guard’s 119th Fighter Wing, which has a small detachment at Langley AFB and keeps two fighter jets there ready to take off when required. [USA Today, 9/16/2001; Air Force Magazine, 2/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 17; Spencer, 2008, pp. 114] Despite not being part of the NORAD alert unit, aircraft from the 1st Fighter Wing are involved in the military response to the 9/11 attacks. Jets belonging to the 27th FS are airborne within two hours of the attacks, “providing protection for the National Command Authority and the rest of the nation’s civilian and military leadership.” [Air Force Association, 10/2/2002] And F-15s belonging to the 71st FS are launched from Langley AFB following the attacks, to patrol the skies of the East Coast. [Langley Air Force Base, 1/2005; 1st Fighter Association, 3/14/2006]
Possible Effect on 9/11 Response - Whether the deployment of the 94th Fighter Squadron to Saudi Arabia diminishes Langley AFB’s ability to respond on 9/11 is unknown. However, Air Force units are cycled through deployments like Operation Southern Watch by the Aerospace Expeditionary Force (AEF) Center, which is at Langley Air Force Base. And according to NORAD Commander Larry Arnold, “Prior to Sept. 11, we’d been unsuccessful in getting the AEF Center to be responsible for relieving our air defense units when they went overseas.” [Air Force Print News, 6/2000; GlobalSecurity (.org), 12/21/2002; Filson, 2003, pp. 99]

Entity Tags: 71st Fighter Squadron, 94th Fighter Squadron, Operation Southern Watch, Larry Arnold, 27th Fighter Squadron, Langley Air Force Base

Timeline Tags: 9/11 Timeline

Category Tags: US Air Security, Military Exercises

FBI headquarters dispatches a memo to the entire US intelligence community summarizing what has been learned about Zacarias Moussaoui. The memo, written by Mike Maltbie, an agent in the FBI’s Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU), reports that the FBI has become suspicious of Moussaoui because he took flight simulation training for a 747 jet, a course normally taken by airline pilots. Moussaoui, who has no flying experience, paid cash for the training, the memo also notes. It also says that Moussaoui has radical Islamic fundamentalist beliefs and has been linked to Chechen militants. However, the memo does not include a threat assessment or indicate that some FBI investigators believe Moussaoui is part of a yet unknown plot to hijack an airplane and use it in a terrorist attack. As a later congressional inquiry will report, the memo fails to “recommend that the addressees take any action or look for any additional indicators of a terrorist attack, nor [does] it provide any analysis of a possible hijacking threat or provide any specific warnings.” [US Congress, 9/24/2002; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 175-6 pdf file] Several days earlier, Maltbie blocked the release of a memo from the FBI’s Minneapolis field office that was addressed to the FAA and did contain a threat assessment (see August 29-September 4, 2001). When the FAA receives the FBI memo, it decides not to issue a security alert to the nation’s airports in response. An FAA representative later explains to the New York Post, “[Moussaoui] was in jail and there was no evidence he was connected to other people.” [New York Post, 5/21/2002] The FBI memo contrasts sharply with an internal CIA warning sent out on August 24. That memo, which was based on less information, warned that Moussaoui might be “involved in a larger plot to target airlines traveling from Europe to the US” (see August 24, 2001). [US Congress, 9/18/2002] It turns out that prior to this time, al-Qaeda operative Ahmed Ressam had started cooperating with investigators. He had trained with Moussaoui in Afghanistan and will willingly share this information after 9/11. The FBI dispatch, with its notable lack of urgency and details, fails to prompt the agents in Seattle holding Ressam to question him about Moussaoui. Had the connection between these two men been learned before 9/11, presumably the search warrant for Moussaoui would have been approved and the 9/11 plot might have unraveled (see Late August-Early September 2001). [Sunday Times (London), 2/3/2002]

Entity Tags: Zacarias Moussaoui, Radical Fundamentalist Unit, Federal Aviation Administration, FBI Headquarters, Michael Maltbie, Central Intelligence Agency, 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, David Frasca, Ahmed Ressam

Timeline Tags: 9/11 Timeline

Category Tags: Zacarias Moussaoui, US Air Security

The Daily Mail will later report, “US aviation authorities were warned of a terrorist attack by an Islamic group only days before the September 11 atrocities. The CIA issued a confidential warning that Muslim fundamentalists were preparing a spectacular attack imminently, but it was unable to specify the target.” Around this time, author Salman Rushdie is traveling in North America to promote a new book. [Daily Mail, 10/7/2001] In 1989, Iranian clerics issued a fatwa (death threat) against Rushdie for perceived insults to Islam, but the fatwa was lifted in 1998 and Rushdie had recently emerged from hiding. [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 9/23/2001] According to the Daily Mail, aviation regulators conclude Rushdie is the likely target of this CIA warning, and the FAA imposes new restrictions on him on September 6, 2001 (see September 6, 2001). At least two airlines prevent Rushdie from flying with them at all. [Daily Mail, 10/7/2001] Apparently the FAA takes no other action and gives no other warning except for extra security measures involving Rushdie. The 9/11 Commission will later briefly mention the pre-9/11 restrictions on Rushdie but will not explain what the intelligence was exactly that led to the restrictions. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 56 pdf file]

Entity Tags: 9/11 Commission, Federal Aviation Administration, Salman Rushdie

Timeline Tags: 9/11 Timeline

Category Tags: Warning Signs, Key Warnings, US Air Security

Salman Rushdie.
Salman Rushdie. [Source: Public domain]The FAA places severe flight restrictions on author Salman Rushdie, who is in the US to promote a new book. The restrictions are so strict and costly that at least two airlines refuse to fly him at all. The FAA tells Rushdie’s publisher that US intelligence has given warning of “something out there” but fails to give any further details. One newspaper will later state, “The FAA confirmed that it stepped up security measures concerning Mr. Rushdie but refused to give a reason.” [London Times, 9/27/2001; Daily Mail, 10/7/2001] The Daily Mail will later report that the CIA secretly gave the FAA a “confidential warning that Muslim fundamentalists were preparing a spectacular attack imminently, but it was unable to specify the target.” But the only action the FAA takes is to require more security for Rushdie’s flights (see Shortly Before September 6, 2001). Rushdie had been the subject of an Iranian fatwa (death threat) until it was lifted in 1998. [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 9/23/2001]

Entity Tags: Salman Rushdie, Federal Aviation Administration

Timeline Tags: 9/11 Timeline

Category Tags: Warning Signs, Insider Trading/ Foreknowledge, US Air Security

The future of “continental air sovereignty” over America is in doubt. Discussions at the Air Force’s highest levels call for the dismantling of NORAD’s seven “alert” sites around the US and its command and control structure. [Filson, 2003, pp. 149] Maj. Gen. Larry Arnold, the commanding general of NORAD’s Continental Region, will later add that “the secretary of the Air Force, James G. Roche, stated that he and the then chief of staff of the Air Force, General John Jumper, had decided to withdraw funding for air defense, and they had made that decision on September 7, 2001.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 289] Earlier in the summer of 2001, “a reduction in air defenses had been gaining currency in recent months among task forces assigned by [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld to put together recommendations for a reassessment of the military” (see Summer 2001). [Los Angeles Times, 9/15/2001]

Entity Tags: US Department of the Air Force, Larry Arnold, John P. Jumper, James G. Roche, North American Aerospace Defense Command

Timeline Tags: 9/11 Timeline

Category Tags: Counterterrorism Policy/Politics, US Air Security

The air traffic control tower at Logan Airport.The air traffic control tower at Logan Airport. [Source: Public Domain]Several unidentified Middle Eastern men try unsuccessfully to get a tour of the air traffic control tower at Boston’s Logan Airport, while, later in the day, a Middle Eastern man is able to enter the tower and look around. In the first incident, around late morning or early afternoon, four or five Middle Eastern men approach an air traffic controller in the parking area while he is on a cigarette break. The controller will later describe two of the men as “approximately 38 to 42 years of age,” while the others are “approximately 30 to 34 years of age.” (Mohamed Atta, the oldest of the 9/11 hijackers, is 33 years old at the time of the attacks.) One of the older men has a mustache, and all of them are dressed casually. The men ask the controller to let them have a tour of the control tower, but he refuses. After a brief conversation, he gives the men a phone number to call if they want a tour. Later on this day, during the evening, a Middle Eastern man who introduces himself as a pilot is able to enter and tour the tower. The man is able to get to the tower’s 19th floor, even though access to that floor is restricted. Officials later surmise that he waited in one of the elevators until an employee on the 19th floor called for it, and then the employee went down after the Middle Eastern man got off. The man enters a room where some controllers are on break. When the controllers ask the man what he is doing, he says he is a pilot who wants a tour of the tower cab. An unnamed source will later describe: “He showed some ID, said he was a pilot, and because it was not a busy time, they said OK. It is not that unusual for a pilot to get a tour.” The man heads up the stairs to the tower cab where he spends about 15 minutes and engages the controllers there in conversation. He says he lives in Haverhill and has family in Afghanistan, and then leaves on his own. The two incidents on this day will be recalled as suspicious after the 9/11 attacks, but the identity of the Middle Eastern men will not be established. [Boston Globe, 9/16/2001; Boston Globe, 9/17/2001; 9/11 Commission, 2003]

Entity Tags: Logan International Airport

Timeline Tags: 9/11 Timeline

Category Tags: US Air Security, Possible Hijacker Associates in US

The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) commences Northern Vigilance, a military operation that involves it deploying fighter jets to Alaska and Northern Canada to monitor a Russian Air Force training exercise. The Russian exercise is scheduled to take place over the North Atlantic, Pacific, and Arctic Oceans from September 10 to September 14 (see September 10, 2001), and the NORAD fighters are set to stay in Alaska and Northern Canada until it ends. [BBC, 2001, pp. 161; North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/9/2001; Washington Times, 9/11/2001] As well as conducting this operation, NORAD is currently running a major exercise called Vigilant Guardian, which “postulated a bomber attack from the former Soviet Union,” according to the 9/11 Commission Report (see September 10, 2001, (6:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001, and (8:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 2004; 9/11 Commission, 3/1/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 458] The Russians will cancel their exercise on the morning of September 11 in response to the terrorist attacks in the United States (see (After 10:03 a.m.) September11, 2001), when they “knew NORAD would have its hands full,” according to the Toronto Star. [Toronto Star, 12/9/2001; Defense Video and Imagery Distribution System, 9/8/2011] It is unknown from which bases NORAD sends fighters for Northern Vigilance and how many US military personnel are involved. However, in December 2000, it took similar action—called Operation Northern Denial—in response to a “smaller scale” Russian “long-range aviation activity in northern Russia and the Arctic.” More than 350 American and Canadian military personnel were involved on that occasion. [Canadian Chief of Defense Staff, 5/30/2001, pp. 6 pdf file; North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/9/2001]

Entity Tags: Operation Northern Vigilance, North American Aerospace Defense Command

Timeline Tags: 9/11 Timeline

Category Tags: US Air Security, Military Exercises

The FBI conducts a training exercise based on the scenario of an aircraft hijacking at Washington Dulles International Airport, the airport from which American Airlines Flight 77—the third plane to be hijacked—will take off on 9/11 (see (8:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The FBI exercise is based around a “traditional” hijacking that involves hostages being taken by the hijackers, according to Dana Pitts, an airport operations manager for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. Members of the Dulles Airport staff provide some “operational support” during the exercise. Further details, including the date when the exercise is held, are unstated. [9/11 Commission, 10/16/2003 pdf file] The FBI is the agency that has jurisdiction if a hijacking or hostage-taking incident occurs on an aircraft that is still on the ground. [Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, 5/6/2000 pdf file; NPR, 9/20/2001]

Entity Tags: Washington Dulles International Airport, Dana Pitts, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: 9/11 Timeline

Category Tags: US Air Security, Military Exercises

A Tu-95 Bear bomber.A Tu-95 Bear bomber. [Source: Unknown]The Russian Air Force begins a major training exercise over the North Atlantic, Pacific, and Arctic Oceans that is scheduled to last all week, ending on September 14, and which is being monitored by US fighter aircraft. The exercise is set to include the participation of strategic Tu-160 Blackjack, Tu-95 Bear, and Tu-22 bombers, along with IL-78 tanker aircraft. It will involve the strategic bombers staging a mock attack against NATO planes that are supposedly planning an assault on Russia, and is set to include practice missile attacks. The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) has sent fighter jets to Alaska and Northern Canada to monitor the Russian exercise (see September 9, 2001). [BBC, 2001, pp. 161; North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/9/2001; Washington Times, 9/11/2001] NORAD is conducting its own exercise this week called Vigilant Guardian, which, according to the 9/11 Commission Report, “postulated a bomber attack from the former Soviet Union” (see September 10, 2001, (6:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001, and (8:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 458] Major General Rick Findley, NORAD’s director of operations, will later comment that when the Russians hold an exercise, “NORAD gets involved in an exercise, just to make sure that they understand we know that they’re moving around and that they’re exercising.” [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 9/11/2002] But NORAD has stated, “[I]t is highly unlikely that Russian aircraft [participating in the exercise] would purposely violate Canadian or American airspace.” [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/9/2001] The Russians will promptly cancel their exercise on September 11, in response to the terrorist attacks in the United States (see (After 10:03 a.m.) September11, 2001). [Toronto Star, 12/9/2001; Defense Video and Imagery Distribution System, 9/8/2011]

Entity Tags: Eric A. “Rick” Findley, Russian Air Force, North American Aerospace Defense Command

Timeline Tags: 9/11 Timeline

Category Tags: US Air Security, Military Exercises

Florida Air National Guard crew chiefs and a pilot scrambling to an F-15 during an alert drill at Homestead Air Reserve Base.Florida Air National Guard crew chiefs and a pilot scrambling to an F-15 during an alert drill at Homestead Air Reserve Base. [Source: Airman]Fighter jets that are scrambled by the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) in response to suspicious or unidentified aircraft in US airspace are able to take off within minutes of receiving a scramble order, in the years preceding 9/11. [Airman, 1/1996; Cape Cod Times, 9/15/2001; Spencer, 2008, pp. 117] NORAD keeps a pair of fighters on “alert” at a number of sites around the US. These fighters are armed and fueled, ready for takeoff. [American Defender, 4/1998; Air Force Magazine, 2/2002; Bergen Record, 12/5/2003] Even before 9/11, the fighters are regularly scrambled to intercept errant aircraft (see 1990-2001). [General Accounting Office, 5/3/1994, pp. 4; Associated Press, 8/14/2002]
Pilots Stay Close to Their Aircraft - Pilots on alert duty live near to their fighters, so they will be ready for a prompt takeoff if required. Author Lynn Spencer will write that pilots on alert duty at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia “live, eat, and sleep just steps from jets.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 117] According to Major Martin Richard, a pilot with the 102nd Fighter Wing at Otis Air National Guard Base in Massachusetts, “Every day” at his base, “365 days a year, 24 hours a day, at least two fighter pilots and four maintenance personnel ate, slept, and lived nestled adjacent to three fully loaded F-15 jets.” [Richard, 2010, pp. 8]
Fighters Can Get Airborne in Minutes - The fighters on alert are required to be in the air within minutes of a scramble order. General Ralph Eberhart, the commander of NORAD on 9/11, will tell the 9/11 Commission that they “have to be airborne in 15 minutes.” [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004] Richard will write that the objective of the alert pilots at his base is “to be airborne in 10 minutes or less if the ‘horn’ went off.” [Richard, 2010, pp. 8] According to other accounts, fighters on alert are generally airborne in less than five minutes. Airman magazine reports in 1996 that NORAD’s alert units “work around the clock, and usually have five minutes or less to scramble when the warning klaxon sounds.” [Airman, 1/1996] A few days after 9/11, the Cape Cod Times will report that, “if needed,” the fighters on alert at Otis Air Base “must be in the air within five minutes.” [Cape Cod Times, 9/15/2001] According to Spencer, pilots on alert duty at Langley Air Force Base are “always just five minutes away from rolling out of the hangars in their armed fighters.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 117] Captain Tom Herring, a full-time alert pilot at Homestead Air Reserve Base in Florida, says in 1999, “If needed, we could be killing things in five minutes or less.” [Airman, 12/1999] In 1994, NORAD is planning to reduce the number of alert sites in the continental United States and, according to a report published that year by the General Accounting Office, “Each alert site will have two fighters, and their crews will be on 24-hour duty and ready to scramble within five minutes.” [General Accounting Office, 5/3/1994, pp. 16]
'Everything Else Just Stops' following Scramble Order - Once an order to scramble is received, alert pilots try to get airborne as quickly as they can. According to Richard, being a pilot sitting on alert is “akin to being a fireman.” Richard will later recall that when the horn goes off, signaling for him to get airborne, “no matter where I was or what I was doing, I had to swiftly don my anti-g suit, parachute harness, and helmet, run to the jet where my maintenance crew was waiting, fire up the powerful jet engines, and check all of the systems while simultaneously talking with the Otis command post who had a direct feed from NEADS [NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector]. When the horn blew, a frantic, harrowing race into a high pressure situation ensued.” [Richard, 2010, pp. 8] Herring says: “We go full speed when that klaxon sounds and people know not to get in front of us, because we take scrambles very seriously.… We’re fired up about what we do and we’re the best at what we do.” [Airman, 12/1999] Technical Sergeant Don Roseen, who keeps the alert fighters at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida ready for instant takeoff, says in 1999 that these fighters are “hot and cocked, they are ready.” Roseen says that when the klaxon goes off, “everything else just stops.”
Suspicious Aircraft 'Could Be a Terrorist' - When they are taking off, pilots may be unaware exactly why they are being scrambled. Major Steve Saari, an alert pilot at Tyndall Air Force Base, says: “There are several different things you could run into and you don’t know until you’re airborne. And sometimes you can’t tell until you have a visual identification.” Saari says: “The unknown [aircraft] could be something as simple as a lost civilian or it could be somebody defecting from Cuba. It could be a terrorist or anything in-between.” [American Defender, 3/1999] According to Airman magazine, the unidentified aircraft might be “Cuban MiGs, drug traffickers, smugglers, hijackers, novice pilots who’ve filed faulty flight plans, or crippled aircraft limping in on a wing and a prayer.” [Airman, 12/1999]
Intercepted Aircraft Could Be Shot Down - Fighters can respond in a number of ways when they intercept a suspect aircraft. In 2011, Jeff Ford—at that time the aviation and security coordinator for the NORAD and USNORTHCOM Interagency Coordination Directorate—will say that before 9/11, scrambled fighters can “intercept the aircraft, come up beside it, and divert it in the right direction toward an airfield or find out what the problems are in order to assist.” [Defense Video and Imagery Distribution System, 9/8/2011] According to MSNBC: “[I]nterceptors can fly alongside a plane to see who’s flying it. They can also try to force it off course. Once it is apparent that it is not following directions, it might be forced over the ocean or to a remote airport—or even shot down.” [MSNBC, 9/12/2001] On September 11, 2001, NEADS will scramble fighters that are kept on alert in response to the hijackings (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001 and 9:24 a.m. September 11, 2001). [New York Times, 10/16/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20, 26-27]

Entity Tags: 102nd Fighter Wing, Tyndall Air Force Base, Don Roseen, Homestead Air Reserve Base, Jeff Ford, Tom Herring, Langley Air Force Base, Ralph Eberhart, Steve Saari, North American Aerospace Defense Command, Martin Richard, Otis Air National Guard Base, Northeast Air Defense Sector

Timeline Tags: 9/11 Timeline

Category Tags: US Air Security

Staff members at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) are apparently briefed on the possibility of terrorists deliberately crashing a plane into the World Trade Center. According to author Lynn Spencer, when Trey Murphy—a former US Marine who is now a weapons controller at NEADS—first sees the television footage on September 11 showing that a plane has hit the WTC, the news will bring to mind one of his briefings: “What if a terrorist flies an airplane with a weapon of mass destruction into the World Trade Center? It had always been one of the military’s big fears.… [T]he image on the [television] screen certainly reminded him of his briefing.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 179] It is also later reported that, in the two years prior to 9/11, NORAD conducts exercises simulating terrorists crashing hijacked aircraft into targets that include the WTC (see Between September 1999 and September 10, 2001). [USA Today, 4/18/2004] Yet, in May 2002, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice will claim, “I don’t think anybody could have predicted that these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center… that they would try to use an airplane as a missile, a hijacked airplane as a missile” (see May 16, 2002). [White House, 5/16/2002] And in 2004, NORAD commander General Ralph Eberhart will say, “Regrettably, the tragic events of 9/11 were never anticipated or exercised.” [USA Today, 4/18/2004]

Entity Tags: Trey Murphy, World Trade Center, Northeast Air Defense Sector

Timeline Tags: 9/11 Timeline

Category Tags: Warning Signs, US Air Security

Based on interviews with FBI officials, the New Yorker will report that, for several years prior to 9/11, the US government plans for “simulated terrorist attacks, including scenarios [involving] multiple-plane hijackings.” This presumably refers to more than just the Amalgam Virgo 02 exercise (see July 2001), which is based on the scenario of two planes being simultaneously hijacked. [New Yorker, 9/24/2001] Similarly, NORAD will state that before 9/11, it normally conducts four major exercises each year at headquarters level. Most of them include a hijack scenario, and some of them are apparently quite similar to the 9/11 attacks (see Between 1991 and 2001 and Between September 1999 and September 10, 2001). [USA Today, 4/18/2004; CNN, 4/19/2004] According to author Lynn Spencer, before September 11, “To prepare for their missions in support of NORAD, the Air National Guard pilots—some of the finest pilots in the world—often use hijacking scenarios to train for intercept tactics.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 84-85] John Arquilla, an associate professor of defense analysis at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, later says that while “No one knew specifically that 20 people would hijack four airliners and use them for suicide attacks against major buildings… the idea of such an attack was well known, [and] had been war gamed as a possibility in exercises before Sept. 11.” [Monterey County Herald, 7/18/2002]

Entity Tags: North American Aerospace Defense Command, United States, Air National Guard, John Arquilla

Timeline Tags: 9/11 Timeline

Category Tags: US Air Security, Military Exercises

On the morning of September 11, 2001, just hours before the 9/11 attacks begin, the Globe and Mail, Canada’s largest newspaper, reports a front page story entitled “Air-Travel Ban Keeps Rushdie Out of Canada.” The story notes that author Salman Rushdie was not allowed on an Air Canada flight into Canada on September 7, 2001, and he canceled a planned Canadian trip as a result. The article correctly notes that on September 6, the FAA “issued an emergency directive banning Mr. Rushdie from all flights in and out of the United States, reflecting a heightened state of alert” (see September 6, 2001). Rushdie is also having trouble flying inside the US because of the restrictions and one US flight he had recently scheduled had been canceled. The article says the FAA will not explain why the directive about Rushdie had been issued. [Globe and Mail, 9/11/2001] But the Daily Mail will later report that the CIA gave the FAA warning of a spectacular and imminent Muslim fundamentalist attack and the FAA incorrectly guessed this had to do with Rushdie traveling on a book tour (see Shortly Before September 6, 2001). Rushdie had been the subject of an Iranian fatwa (death threat) until it was lifted in 1998. He was in Houston, Texas, for a book reading as part of a North American book tour and planned to fly to Minneapolis on 9/11. [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 9/23/2001] This news report about the FAA’s heightened state of alert is only reported in the Globe and Mail before the 9/11 attacks begin. A search of the Lexis Nexus database shows articles about it in just six news sources in the weeks after the attacks. [United Press International, 9/11/2001; New York Post, 9/21/2001; Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 9/23/2001; London Times, 9/27/2001; Ananova, 9/27/2001; Daily Mail, 10/7/2001]

Entity Tags: Salman Rushdie, Federal Aviation Administration

Timeline Tags: 9/11 Timeline

Category Tags: Warning Signs, US Air Security

Ordering 

Time period


Categories

Key Events

Key Day of 9/11 Events (100)Key Hijacker Events (145)Key Warnings (95)

Day of 9/11

All Day of 9/11 Events (1227)Dick Cheney (52)Donald Rumsfeld (33)Flight AA 11 (145)Flight AA 77 (145)Flight UA 175 (87)Flight UA 93 (240)George Bush (114)Passenger Phone Calls (67)Pentagon (117)Richard Clarke (31)Shanksville, Pennsylvania (23)Training Exercises (56)World Trade Center (87)

The Alleged 9/11 Hijackers

Alhazmi and Almihdhar (343)Marwan Alshehhi (134)Mohamed Atta (204)Hani Hanjour (72)Ziad Jarrah (74)Other 9/11 Hijackers (172)Possible Hijacker Associates in US (80)Alleged Hijackers' Flight Training (73)Hijacker Contact w Government in US (33)Possible 9/11 Hijacker Funding (42)Hijacker Visas and Immigration (135)

Alhazmi and Almihdhar: Specific Cases

Bayoumi and Basnan Saudi Connection (51)CIA Hiding Alhazmi & Almihdhar (120)Search for Alhazmi/ Almihdhar in US (39)

Projects and Programs

Al-Qaeda Malaysia Summit (172)Able Danger (60)Sibel Edmonds (61)Phoenix Memo (27)Randy Glass/ Diamondback (8)Robert Wright and Vulgar Betrayal (67)Remote Surveillance (241)Yemen Hub (75)

Before 9/11

Soviet-Afghan War (105)Warning Signs (432)Insider Trading/ Foreknowledge (53)US Air Security (71)Military Exercises (66)Pipeline Politics (67)Other Pre-9/11 Events (55)

Counterterrorism before 9/11

Hunt for Bin Laden (158)Counterterrorism Action Before 9/11 (223)Counterterrorism Policy/Politics (249)

Warning Signs: Specific Cases

Foreign Intelligence Warnings (35)Bush's Aug. 6, 2001 PDB (39)Presidential Level Warnings (31)

The Post-9/11 World

9/11 Investigations (652)9/11 Related Criminal Proceedings (22)9/11 Denials (29)US Government and 9/11 Criticism (67)9/11 Related Lawsuits (24)Media (47)Other Post-9/11 Events (75)

Investigations: Specific Cases

9/11 Commission (257)Role of Philip Zelikow (87)9/11 Congressional Inquiry (41)CIA OIG 9/11 Report (16)FBI 9/11 Investigation (144)WTC Investigation (112)Other 9/11 Investigations (129)

Possible Al-Qaeda-Linked Moles or Informants

Abu Hamza Al-Masri (102)Abu Qatada (36)Ali Mohamed (78)Haroon Rashid Aswat (17)Khalil Deek (20)Luai Sakra (12)Mamoun Darkazanli (36)Nabil Al-Marabh (41)Omar Bakri & Al-Muhajiroun (25)Reda Hassaine (23)Other Possible Moles or Informants (169)

Other Al-Qaeda-Linked Figures

Abu Zubaida (99)Anwar Al-Awlaki (17)Ayman Al-Zawahiri (81)Hambali (39)Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (139)Mohammed Haydar Zammar (44)Mohammed Jamal Khalifa (47)Osama Bin Laden (228)Ramzi Bin Al-Shibh (105)Ramzi Yousef (67)Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman (57)Victor Bout (23)Wadih El-Hage (45)Zacarias Moussaoui (159)

Al-Qaeda by Region

"Lackawanna Six" (13)Al-Qaeda in Balkans (168)Al-Qaeda in Germany (189)Al-Qaeda in Italy (55)Al-Qaeda in Southeast Asia (149)Al-Qaeda in Spain (121)Islamist Militancy in Chechnya (50)

Specific Alleged Al-Qaeda Linked Attacks or Plots

1993 WTC Bombing (73)1993 Somalia Fighting (13)1995 Bojinka Plot (78)1998 US Embassy Bombings (121)Millennium Bomb Plots (43)2000 USS Cole Bombing (114)2001 Attempted Shoe Bombing (23)2002 Bali Bombings (36)2004 Madrid Train Bombings (82)2005 7/7 London Bombings (87)

Miscellaneous Al-Qaeda Issues

Alleged Al-Qaeda Linked Attacks (89)Alleged Al-Qaeda Media Statements (102)Key Captures and Deaths (124)

Geopolitics and Islamic Militancy

US Dominance (112)Alleged Iraq-Al-Qaeda Links (255)Iraq War Impact on Counterterrorism (83)Israel (61)Pakistan and the ISI (470)Saudi Arabia (249)Terrorism Financing (312)Londonistan - UK Counterterrorism (322)US Intel Links to Islamic Militancy (69)Algerian Militant Collusion (41)Indonesian Militant Collusion (20)Philippine Militant Collusion (74)Yemeni Militant Collusion (47)Other Government-Militant Collusion (23)

Pakistan / ISI: Specific Cases

Pakistani Nukes & Islamic Militancy (37)Pakistani ISI Links to 9/11 (73)Saeed Sheikh (59)Mahmood Ahmed (30)Haven in Pakistan Tribal Region (179)2008 Kabul Indian Embassy Bombing (10)Hunt for Bin Laden in Pakistan (154)

Terrorism Financing: Specific Cases

Al Taqwa Bank (29)Al-Kifah/MAK (54)BCCI (37)BIF (28)BMI and Ptech (21)Bin Laden Family (62)Drugs (71)

'War on Terrorism' Outside Iraq

Afghanistan (299)Drone Use in Pakistan / Afghanistan (49)Destruction of CIA Tapes (92)Escape From Afghanistan (61)High Value Detainees (179)Terror Alerts (50)Counterterrorism Action After 9/11 (352)Counterterrorism Policy/Politics (432)Internal US Security After 9/11 (125)
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