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NORAD’s air defence computer system, the AN/FYQ-93. [Source: Federation of American Scientists]A technician at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) instructs personnel on the NEADS operations floor to turn off their “sim switches,” apparently so as to remove from their radar screens simulated information for a training exercise that was being conducted this morning. [Northeast Air Defense Sector, 8/23/2001; North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission, 2004]
Staffer Complained, 'Let's Get Rid of This Goddamn Sim' - A few minutes earlier, at 9:30 a.m., a member of staff on the operations floor complained about simulated information—presumably false tracks—appearing on NEADS radar screens. He said: “You know what, let’s get rid of this godd_mn sim. Turn your sim switches off. Let’s get rid of that crap.” [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001; North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001] (A “sim switch” presumably allows simulated material on radar scopes to be turned on or off.)
Technician Instructs, 'Turn Off Your Sim Switches' - Now a member of NEADS staff, who according to a 9/11 Commission document is Technical Sergeant Jeffrey Richmond, gives an instruction to the NEADS surveillance technicians, “All surveillance, turn off your sim switches.” Seconds later, apparently in response to this instruction, someone on the operations floor tells a colleague, “You got your sim switches down.” [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission, 2004]
Sim Switches Turned On for Day's Exercise - Simulated material (“sim”) is apparently appearing on NEADS radar screens because of the NORAD training exercise, Vigilant Guardian, that was being conducted this morning (see (6:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Former Deputy Secretary of Defense John Hamre has revealed that NORAD has the capacity to inject simulated material into the system, “as though it was being sensed for the first time by a radar site.” In a training exercise in December 1998, for example, NORAD ran “30 different simulations, some of them being mass attacks, some of them being single missiles.” An information page on the current exercise stated, “All of NEADS, operations personnel are to have their sim switches turned ‘on’ starting at 1400Z 6 Sept. 01 till endex [the end date of the exercise].” Since Vigilant Guardian was originally scheduled to continue until September 13, this would mean NEADS personnel had their sim switches turned on this morning. [US Department of Defense, 1/15/1999; Northeast Air Defense Sector, 8/23/2001]
Radar Equipment Set to Display 'Sim Tracks' - A memo outlining special instructions for Vigilant Guardian participants further detailed how NORAD equipment needed to be set to display simulated material during the exercise. It stated: “The exercise will be conducted sim over live on the air sovereignty string. The Q-93 must be placed in the mixed mode to allow the telling [i.e. the communicating of information between facilities] of sim tracks.” [Northeast Air Defense Sector, 8/23/2001] The Q-93 is a piece of equipment used by NORAD, which is described as “a suite of computers and peripheral equipment configured to receive plot data from ground radar systems,” and which “performs track processing.” [General Accounting Office, 12/24/1992 ; Federation of American Scientists, 4/23/2000] The Q-93 also “receives flight plans from the FAA, and has bi-directional communications with NORAD headquarters and a real-time link to AWACS [Airborne Warning and Control System planes].” [Satterthwaite, Corman, and Herm, 6/2002]
Exercise Supposedly Canceled Earlier On - While NEADS radar scopes are still displaying simulated material as late as 9:34 a.m., some accounts will claim the Vigilant Guardian exercise was canceled shortly after 9:03 a.m., when the second World Trade Center tower was hit (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Airman, 3/2002; Filson, 2003, pp. 59] And according to a report in the Toronto Star, “Any simulated information” for the exercise was “purged from the [radar] screens” at NORAD’s operations center in Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, shortly before the second WTC tower was hit (see (9:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Toronto Star, 12/9/2001] However, NEADS will receive a phone call from the operations center at 10:12 a.m. in which the caller asks it to “terminate all exercise inputs coming into Cheyenne Mountain” (see 10:12 a.m. September 11, 2001). [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001]
Weapons being driven across Andrews Air Force Base to the flight line on September 11. [Source: Corensa Brooks / District of Columbia Air National Guard]Munitions workers with the District of Columbia Air National Guard (DCANG) unload bullets and missiles from storage sheds, and work toward getting fighter jets armed to launch in response to the attacks, but even by 10:42 a.m., when two pilots take off, no jets have been armed with missiles. [Filson, 2003, pp. 78, 82]
Ordered to Prepare Jets - The munitions crew with the 113th Wing of the DC Air National Guard at Andrews Air Force Base, just outside Washington, has been ordered to uncrate missiles and bring them across the base, while the unit’s maintenance officer has been told to prepare fighters for take off (see (Shortly After 9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002; Filson, 2003, pp. 78; 9/11 Commission, 3/8/2004 ; Spencer, 2008, pp. 157] According to author Lynn Spencer, the unit’s “war-reserve missiles… are never touched, but are kept operational and in minimal numbers for non-alert wings like the DC Guard to allow for contingencies such as this.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 156]
Commander Anticipated Order - Colonel Don Mozley, the commander of the 113th Logistics Group, had been anticipating the order to get jets armed and ready to fly, and so has already instructed his weapons officer to “break out the AIM-9s and start building them up.” The missiles need to be transported across the base from its far side, which will take time. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002]
Missiles Unloaded onto Trailer - The munitions crew unloads bullets and AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles from storage sheds onto a flatbed trailer. Senior Master Sergeant David Bowman, the 113th Wing munitions supervisor, will later recall: “There were six of us there and we had 28 missiles to unload, and they each have three components. And if you drop one, you can’t use it anymore. We were doing it as fast as we could, because for all we knew the terrorists were getting ready to hit us.” Another officer will say the crew prepares the missiles “really fast,” but “we didn’t do it unsafely.”
45 Minutes to Get Missiles across Base - However, the trailer that carries the missiles has a maximum speed of 25 miles per hour and needs a security escort. It takes 45 minutes before the weapons crew has brought missiles across the base to the flight line, where aircraft park. Usually it takes much longer—three hours—to bring weapons from the storage sheds and load them onto fighter jets, according to two senior officers with the unit. Once the missiles have been carried across the base, it takes “no more than 10 minutes” to load each one onto an aircraft, according to one of those officers.
Jets Loaded with Ammo after Exercise - The arming of the fighter jets is apparently speeded up because one of the munitions staff had thought to load the jets with ammunition after members of the 113th Wing recently came back from a training exercise. [Filson, 2003, pp. 78, 84; Rasmussen, 9/18/2003; Spencer, 2008, pp. 157] Three days earlier, members of the wing returned to Andrews after spending two weeks in Nevada for the “Red Flag” exercise (see Late August-September 8, 2001). [Washington Post, 4/8/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 156] Master Sergeant Joseph Proctor, one of the unit’s “weapons guys,” had decided to take a load crew and put some ammunition in the jets brought back from Nevada, as these were empty following the exercise. According to Captain Brandon Rasmussen, a pilot with the unit, Proctor’s reason for doing this was so “they wouldn’t be in a rush on Tuesday morning [i.e. September 11],” and “he was thinking local flying and just to help us out a little bit.” Rasmussen will later thank Proctor because of the benefit his actions have on the unit’s response to the attacks, telling him, “If you hadn’t have done that we’d been dead in the water.” [Rasmussen, 9/18/2003]
Jets Not Fully Armed at 10:42 - Yet in spite of actions like these, even by 10:42 a.m. on September 11, two F-16s that take off from Andrews have not yet been armed with missiles (see 10:42 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Filson, 2003, pp. 82] Chief Master Sergeant Roy Belknap, the 113th Wing production superintendent, will later recall: “We had two air-to-air birds on the ramp… that already had ammo in them. We launched those first two with only hot guns. By then, we had missiles rolling up, so we loaded those other two airplanes while the pilots were sitting in the cockpit.” [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002] Those aircraft, the first jets to take off with missiles as well as guns, will launch at 11:11 a.m. (see 11:11 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Filson, 2003, pp. 84; 9/11 Commission, 2004; 9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004]
The air traffic control tower at an Army airfield near the Pentagon receives a call from someone at Washington’s Reagan National Airport—presumably an air traffic controller—who instructs it to recall all its aircraft. [US Army Center for Military History, 11/14/2001 ] Davison Army Airfield is at Fort Belvoir, 12 miles south of the Pentagon. The 12th Aviation Battalion, which is the Military District of Washington’s aviation support unit, is stationed there. This includes three helicopter companies that fly UH-1 “Huey” and UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters. [Military District of Washington, 8/2000]
Airfield Told to Land All Aircraft 'Very Quickly' - According to a supervisor of air traffic control at Davison Airfield who is currently in the airfield’s control tower, shortly before the time when the Pentagon is hit a controller at his facility receives the call from Reagan Airport telling them to recall all their air traffic. The supervisor, who will say that the caller is “going crazy,” takes over the call. The caller then tells him to “recall all your traffic. Just make sure that everybody lands.… [H]e was like, telling us, everybody that you got outside, bring them in and land them quickly, very quickly.” The supervisor tells him, “Give me a reason and I’ll do it,” but the caller responds, “I can’t tell you the reason, but you need to do this.” [US Army Center for Military History, 11/14/2001 ] (At around 9:32 a.m., according to the 9/11 Commission, Washington’s Dulles Airport notified Reagan Airport of a “radar target tracking eastbound at a high rate of speed” toward Washington (see 9:32 a.m. September 11, 2001), so it is plausible that this is what has prompted Reagan Airport to call the Davison control tower. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 33] )
Davison Airfield Recalls Its Aircraft - After the caller hangs up, the supervisor at Davison Airfield instructs the air traffic controller at his facility to “tell everybody to come in.” The controller then starts “recalling everybody that just departed,” and the supervisor approves “for them to make it straight in, the helicopters to land straight in without using the regular traffic pattern.” The control tower recalls its aircraft individually, rather than putting out a single broadcast telling all aircraft to return to the airfield. The supervisor will recall: “[E]verybody was coming in. And at that time when everybody was coming in… I was like thinking, why? Why do they want to recall everybody? That means that something is going on.” While the control tower is still recalling its aircraft, the supervisor looks out of a window to the northeast, and notices a large black cloud of smoke in the area of the Pentagon, the result of the attack there. [US Army Center for Military History, 11/14/2001 ] It is unclear what aircraft from Davison Airfield are airborne and recalled to base. But a 12th Aviation Battalion helicopter and its crew that are always on standby for “contingency” missions have been away this morning, conducting a traffic survey (see Early Morning September 11, 2001). They are presumably recalled at this time, if not beforehand. [Army Center of Military History, 11/14/2001 ]
A KC-135 Stratotanker. [Source: Boeing]The two F-15 fighter jets launched from Otis Air National Guard Base in response to Flight 11 (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001) are finally able to refuel, after they request to rendezvous with a tanker plane that was scheduled to refuel Otis fighters out on training missions this morning. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 153]
Fighters Low on Fuel - By around 9:35 a.m., according to author Lynn Spencer, the two Otis fighters are running increasingly low on fuel and need to find a fuel tanker right away. For about the last 25 minutes, technicians at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) have been searching for a tanker (see (9:09 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 112 and 152-153] A member of staff at NEADS in fact talked over the radio with a KC-135 tanker from Bangor, Maine, at around 9:05 a.m., and the plane’s crew agreed to provide support to the Otis fighters launched in response to Flight 11 (see 9:04 a.m.-9:06 a.m. September 11, 2001). [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001; North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001] However, the pilots of these fighters have apparently not heard back from NEADS about whether it has been able to find a tanker for them. Now one of the pilots, Major Daniel Nash, has come up with a solution. Prior to being put on alert duty, he had been acting as the scheduling officer at Otis Air Base, and he therefore knows that a training mission a number of Otis fighters were scheduled to fly today called for refueling (see (9:00 a.m.-9:24 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Consequently he knows about the KC-135 tanker plane from Bangor that NEADS communicated with earlier on, which had been scheduled to support those fighters during their training. [102nd Fighter Wing, 2001; Spencer, 2008, pp. 152-153]
Tanker Heading toward Training Airspace - The tanker plane, which has the call sign “Maine 85,” is one of the eight KC-135s that are attached to the 101st Air Refueling Wing, based at Bangor International Airport. Its pilots are Lieutenant Colonel Adam Jenkins and Lieutenant Colonel Andy Marshall. [Portland Press Herald, 9/13/2001; Bangor Daily News, 9/9/2011] It had been scheduled to rendezvous with the Otis fighters on their training mission about 20 minutes from now in “Whiskey 105,” the military training airspace just south of Long Island, where Nash and his fellow Otis pilot Timothy Duffy had earlier been flying in a “holding pattern” (see 9:09 a.m.-9:13 a.m. September 11, 2001). The KC-135 should be on its way there now. Nash calls Duffy and tells him, “[W]e have a tanker scheduled for the training missions this morning off the coast in 105.” Duffy calls NEADS and requests that the KC-135 orbit at 20,000 feet above New York’s JFK International Airport. NEADS then coordinates with the 101st Air Refueling Wing to borrow the tanker. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 153]
Tanker Directed toward New York - The KC-135 is instructed to fly toward Manhattan. Jenkins will later recall, “We were told to start heading west to the city.” The voice over his radio tells him, “We’ll give you details along the way.” [Bangor Daily News, 9/9/2011] Soon, the KC-135 is flying an orbit over JFK Airport and the two Otis fighters then take turns refueling. [Grant, 2004, pp. 21; Grant and Thompson, 10/6/2006, pp. 4 ; Spencer, 2008, pp. 153] According to the 9/11 Commission Report, the two Otis fighters arrived over Manhattan at 9:25 a.m. (see 9:25 a.m. September 11, 2001), but accounts of most witnesses on the ground indicate they do not arrive there until after 10:00 a.m. (see (9:45 a.m.-10:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 24]
Minutes after the attack on the Pentagon, an E-4B National Airborne Operations Center plane takes off from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, near Dayton, Ohio, bound for an undisclosed location. E-4Bs are highly modified Boeing 747s, fitted with sophisticated communications equipment, that act as flying military command posts. Nicknamed “Doomsday” planes during the Cold War, they serve the president and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. They can also support the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) during major disasters, like hurricanes or earthquakes. Wright-Patterson is one of the few designated bases for these special planes. The US military possesses four of them in total, one of which is constantly kept on alert. [Federation of American Scientists, 4/23/2000; Dayton Daily News, 9/12/2001] Three of the E-4Bs are airborne this morning, due to their role in a pre-scheduled military exercise called Global Guardian (see Before 9:00 a.m. September 11, 2001, (9:27 a.m.) September 11, 2001, and (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Omaha World-Herald, 2/27/2002] The E-4B from Wright-Patterson will return to the base later in the day. [Dayton Daily News, 9/12/2001]
Brigadier General David Wherley, the commander of the District of Columbia Air National Guard (DCANG), speaks to a Secret Service agent over the phone, but declines the agent’s request to launch DCANG fighter jets without first receiving an order to do so from someone more senior. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 184]
Wherley Takes over Call - Wherley has just arrived at the headquarters of the DCANG’s 121st Fighter Squadron at Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington (see (Shortly After 9:39 a.m.) September 11, 2001). At the operations desk there, Major Daniel Caine passed Wherley a phone he was talking over, before heading off to prepare to get airborne. [Filson, 2003, pp. 78; Vogel, 2007, pp. 445]
Caller Wants Jets over Washington - Wherley finds that the caller Caine was speaking with is from the Secret Service. They want the DCANG to put up a combat air patrol (CAP) over Washington. But, according to author Lynn Spencer: “Wherley knows that there has never been a CAP anywhere over this country, much less over Washington. Such a request—coming from someone not even in the military—is unheard of.” Wherley understands the power of the Secret Service, and knows that with its responsibility to protect the president it clearly has some authority over other agencies, including the military. “But still, such an order from a Secret Service agent seems rather far-reaching.” He therefore tells the caller, “I would feel more comfortable receiving such an order from someone higher in the chain of command, preferably in the military.”
Wherley Told to Call 'Operations Center' - According to Spencer, the agent gives Wherley “a phone number and tells him to call over to the White House Operations Center, where Vice President [Dick] Cheney has been ushered.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 184] Presumably the “Operations Center” is the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House, where Cheney is evacuated to by his Secret Service agents (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [ABC News, 9/14/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 39-40] However, other accounts, including Wherley’s interview with the 9/11 Commission, will state that Wherley subsequently calls someone at the Secret Service’s White House Joint Operations Center (JOC), not the PEOC (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Filson, 2003, pp. 79; 9/11 Commission, 8/28/2003] (Wherley’s current call is also with an agent at the JOC. [9/11 Commission, 3/8/2004 ; 9/11 Commission, 3/11/2004 ] )
An E-4B National Airborne Operations Center, with the call sign “Venus 77,” takes off from Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington, DC, in response to the attack on the Pentagon. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001 ; 9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004; Farmer, 2009, pp. 206] The E-4B is a highly modified Boeing 747, fitted with sophisticated communications equipment, which can serve as a flying military command post during a national emergency. The US military has four of these planes. [Federation of American Scientists, 4/23/2000; Dayton Daily News, 9/12/2001; Verton, 2003, pp. 143] Venus 77 takes off at 9:43 a.m., according to John Farmer, who will be senior counsel to the 9/11 Commission. [Farmer, 2009, pp. 206] But the flight tracking strip from Andrews Air Force Base will record it as having taken off at 9:45 a.m. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001 ; 9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004] The plane is initially directed toward Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska. But shortly after taking off, its pilot tells air traffic control that he wants to fly to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. [Farmer, 2009, pp. 206] Wright-Patterson is one of the few designated bases for the E-4B. Another E-4B has actually been on the ground there and takes off around this time (see Shortly After 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Dayton Daily News, 9/12/2001] The pilot of Venus 77 is cleared to head to Wright-Patterson and so he turns west. But he then says he wants to turn back east and hold south of Washington. He will be cleared to do so at 9:47 a.m. and his plane will eventually settle into a holding pattern over Richmond, Virginia. [Farmer, 2009, pp. 206-207] Farmer will claim that Venus 77 is the “mystery plane”—an unidentified white aircraft—seen over Washington around this time (see (9:41 a.m.-9:42 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Farmer, 2009, pp. 372] However, that plane was reported to be “circling the White House” at 9:41 a.m., before Venus 77 takes off. [ABC News, 9/11/2001] Another E-4B, with the call sign “Word 31,” took off from Andrews Air Force Base at around 9:27 a.m. (see (9:27 a.m.) September 11, 2001), so that aircraft might be the “mystery plane” seen flying over Washington. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001 ; Verton, 2003, pp. 143-144; 9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004]
NORAD fails to notify the Pentagon’s air threat conference call that its fighter jets have set up a combat air patrol (CAP) over Washington, DC, until at least 50 minutes after the CAP has been established. [US Department of Defense, 9/11/2001 ; US Department of Defense, 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission, 6/9/2004] The National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon commenced an air threat conference call at 9:37 a.m. in response to the terrorist attacks (see 9:37 a.m.-9:39 a.m. September 11, 2001). A NORAD representative has been on the conference from the outset. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 37-38] However, an after-action report produced by the NMCC will state that NORAD is “unable to provide accurate updates on [the] CAP status in [the] air threat conference.” It takes “50 minutes from the time the CAP [is] established overhead DC for NORAD to report it in the conference.” [9/11 Commission, 6/9/2004]
Combat Air Patrol Is Established by 10:00 a.m. - F-16 fighters that were scrambled from Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, at 9:24 a.m. (see 9:24 a.m. September 11, 2001) reach Washington and set up a CAP over the city at 9:49 a.m., according to a timeline provided to CNN by “informed defense officials.” [CNN, 9/17/2001] The 9/11 Commission, however, will conclude that the F-16s establish the CAP at “approximately 10:00 a.m.” (see (Between 9:49 a.m. and 11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 34] This would mean that NORAD informs the air threat conference call that a CAP has been established over Washington at around 10:39 a.m. to 10:50 a.m., according to the NMCC’s after-action report.
Transcripts Suggest NORAD Reports the CAP at a Later Time - However, transcripts of the air threat conference call will indicate that NORAD reports that a CAP has been established over Washington even later than this, at 10:55 a.m. At about 10:08 a.m., the NORAD representative on the conference is asked if they can provide “information on fighter coverage over the Washington area.” The NORAD representative says, “We have no further information at this point.” At 10:40 a.m., the NORAD representative indicates that a CAP has not yet been established, but will be soon. They report: “We have confirmation currently of two fighters… currently inbound. Estimate time 10 minutes overhead at CAP point north of Langley [Air Force Base] for protection of the Washington, DC, area.”
NORAD Says the CAP Has Been Established at 10:55 a.m. - But 13 minutes later, at 10:53 a.m., the NORAD representative says there is still no CAP over Washington. They report, “We have two F-16s scrambling out of Andrews Air Force Base,” just outside Washington (see 10:42 a.m. September 11, 2001), but add that there is “no airborne CAP at this time.” Two minutes later, the NORAD representative indicates that a CAP has at last been set up over Washington. “We have a report of two fighters airborne over DC,” they say. At around 11:05 a.m., the NORAD representative will be asked to confirm “that two F-16s are still on CAP in the vicinity of Washington” and they will reply, “That is affirmative.” [US Department of Defense, 9/11/2001 ; US Department of Defense, 9/11/2001]
NORAD’s Continental United States Region (CONR) is told it will not need to provide fighter jets to escort Air Force One when the plane takes off from Sarasota, Florida. [National Guard Bureau, 11/19/2001] While President Bush is visiting the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota (see (8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001), Air Force One is on the ground at Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport. [Wall Street Journal, 3/22/2004 ; US Air Force, 2/29/2012 ] Major General Larry Arnold, the CONR commander, will later recall that around this time, CONR “knew that the president was down in Florida” but it “didn’t know what he was going to do.” “Eventually,” he will say, “we asked the question: If he takes off, do we need to escort?” Arnold will not state who CONR, which is based at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, asks this question to. But the person or agency says no. CONR will only be asked to provide fighters to escort Air Force One after 9:54 a.m., when the plane takes off from Sarasota (see 9:54 a.m. September 11, 2001). “[T]he airplane took off and we got immediate word that the Secret Service had asked us to escort [it],” Arnold will recall. [National Guard Bureau, 11/19/2001] He will say that CONR “received tasking from the Secret Service through the Joint [Chiefs of] Staff and NORAD to follow the president and protect him.” [Code One Magazine, 1/2002] In Florida, NORAD has two fighters on alert at Homestead Air Reserve Base and two fighters on alert at Tyndall Air Force Base. [Airman, 12/1999; St. Petersburg Times, 7/4/2004] However, its Southeast Air Defense Sector (SEADS) will scramble fighters from Ellington Field in Texas to escort Air Force One (see (After 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Your Houston News, 9/19/2001; Rosenfeld and Gross, 2007, pp. 40] Furthermore, these fighters will only reach Air Force One at around 11:29 a.m., more than 90 minutes after the plane takes off (see (11:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [USA Today, 9/11/2001; St. Petersburg Times, 7/4/2004]
Ben Robinson. [Source: US Air Force]An Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) plane is directed toward Sarasota, Florida, where President Bush is currently located, and will accompany Air Force One as it carries Bush back to Washington, DC. The AWACS has been flying a training mission off the east coast of Florida (see Before 9:55 a.m. September 11, 2001). NORAD now instructs it to head toward Sarasota, on Florida’s west coast.
Pilot Thinks This Is an Exercise - Several months previously, Major General Larry Arnold, the commanding general of NORAD’s Continental US Region, made arrangements with Brigadier General Ben Robinson, the commander of the 552nd Air Control Wing at Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma, for AWACS support to be provided during training exercises simulating attacks on the United States. As Arnold will later recall, the pilot of the AWACS that NORAD now contacts “thought it was an exercise.” However the pilot is then told “what happened at the World Trade Center” and realizes “his responsibility was to follow the president.” Arnold will say: “We told him to follow Air Force One, and he asked the question we all asked: ‘Where is it going?’ We said: ‘We can’t tell you. Just follow it.’” [Filson, 2002; Code One Magazine, 1/2002; Filson, 2003, pp. 86-87]
AWACS Escorts President to Washington - The time the AWACS plane gets close enough to Air Force One to be of assistance to it is unclear. According to journalist and author Bill Sammon, by around 10:30 a.m., it has not yet arrived to protect the president’s plane. [Sammon, 2002, pp. 107] Arnold will recall that NORAD maintains “the AWACS overhead the whole route,” as Air Force One flies to Barksdale Air Force Base, then Offutt Air Force Base, and then back to Washington. [Code One Magazine, 1/2002]
AWACS Is a 'Wonderful Asset' - According to Mark Rosenker, the director of the White House Military Office, AWACS planes “give you the big picture in the sky. They’re able to identify what’s a friend, what’s a foe.” Rosenker, who will fly with Bush on Air Force One after it takes off from Sarasota (see 9:54 a.m. September 11, 2001), says the AWACS is “a wonderful asset to have up there for us, it tremendously helped us to be able to guide for where we needed to go, to what potential problems we might encounter.… [I]t was an important part of what we needed to do to guarantee the safety of the president of the United States.” [White House, 8/29/2002]
Two F-16s belonging to the 147th Fighter Wing. [Source: Gonda Moncada / Texas Military Forces]Four armed F-16 fighter jets belonging to the Texas Air National Guard are directed toward Air Force One in order to escort the president’s plane. [BBC, 9/1/2002; CBS News, 9/11/2002; Bombardier, 9/8/2006 ; Rosenfeld and Gross, 2007, pp. 40]
SEADS Sends Fighters toward Air Force One - Air Force One has taken off from Sarasota, Florida (see 9:54 a.m. September 11, 2001), and the White House has requested a fighter escort for it (see 9:59 a.m. September 11, 2001). [St. Petersburg Times, 7/4/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 38] NORAD’s Southeast Air Defense Sector (SEADS) orders jets that belong to the 147th Fighter Wing of the Texas Air National Guard toward the president’s plane. [Code One Magazine, 4/2002; Filson, 2003, pp. 87; Rosenfeld and Gross, 2007, pp. 40] Major General Larry Arnold, the commanding general of NORAD’s Continental US Region, will later recall: “We were not told where Air Force One was going. We were told just to follow the president.” [Code One Magazine, 1/2002]
Ellington Field an 'Alert' Site - The 147th Fighter Wing is based at Ellington Field, a joint civil and military use airport about 15 miles south of Houston. [Houston Chronicle, 12/9/2003; GlobalSecurity (.org), 8/21/2005; GlobalSecurity (.org), 1/21/2006] Ellington Field is one of NORAD’s seven “alert” sites around the US, which all have a pair of armed fighters ready to take off immediately if called upon. [Airman, 12/1999; Air Force Magazine, 2/2002]
Pilots Not Told What Their Target Is - Two of the F-16s sent toward Air Force One are on the ground at Ellington Field and have been placed on “battle stations,” with the pilots sitting in the cockpits, when the scramble order is received. [Code One Magazine, 4/2002] The other two have been flying a training mission (see After 9:55 a.m. September 11, 2001), and are pulled off it to escort Air Force One. [American Defender, 12/2001 ; Spencer, 2008, pp. 255] Among the four pilots are Shane Brotherton and Randy Roberts. Their new mission is so secret that their commander does not tell them where they are going. When they ask what their target is, the commander says, “You’ll know when you see it.” Brotherton will later recall, “I didn’t have any idea what we were going up [for] until that point.” [CBS News, 9/11/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 255]
Jets First to Reach Air Force One - At least two of the 147th Fighter Wing F-16s will be seen from Air Force One at around 11:30 a.m., although an official will tell reporters on board that fighters are escorting the plane about 15 minutes before that time (see (11:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001). They are the first fighters to reach Air Force One after it left Sarasota, according to most accounts. [USA Today, 9/11/2001; CBS News, 9/11/2002; Filson, 2003, pp. 87; St. Petersburg Times, 7/4/2004; Rosenfeld and Gross, 2007, pp. 40; Spencer, 2008, pp. 255] However, a few accounts will indicate the first jets to reach it belong to a unit of the Florida Air National Guard located at Jacksonville International Airport (see (10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [US Department of Defense, 9/2001; Daily Telegraph, 12/16/2001] The 147th Fighter Wing F-16s will accompany Air Force One all the way to Washington, DC. [Filson, 2003, pp. 87-88; Galveston County Daily News, 7/9/2005]
McChord Air Force Base. [Source: Michel Teiten]Major Kevin Nasypany, the mission crew commander at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), calls NORAD’s Western Air Defense Sector (WADS), which is at McChord Air Force Base in Washington State, to request assistance. He says: “I’d like to… steal some aircraft out of Fargo from you guys.… Bring up the weapons too, if possible,” to which WADS replies: “Yep, ok. We will do that.” [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001] The three F-16s launched from Langley Air Force Base at 9:30 (see (9:25 a.m.-9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001) are in fact from the North Dakota Air National Guard’s 119th Fighter Wing, which, though based at Fargo, ND, has had a detachment of two F-16s on alert at Langley since late 2000. However, these are under the command of NEADS, not WADS. [Virginian-Pilot, 9/22/2001; New York Times, 10/16/2001; McChord Air Museum, 2007] It is therefore not clear what specific fighters are now being referred to when Nasypany speaks of the “aircraft out of Fargo,” nor is it clear if and when these planes are launched. Colonel John Cromwell, the commander of WADS, will later recall that he calls every fighter wing commander west of the Mississippi, and by midday (3:00 p.m. ET) has more than 100 fighter jets on alert. [News Tribune (Tacoma, WA), 6/3/2006]
JFK International Airport. [Source: Eheik, via Wikimedia Commons]The two F-15 fighter jets launched from Otis Air National Guard Base in response to the hijacked Flight 11 (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001) are about 15 miles from the World Trade Center, flying over New York’s JFK International Airport, when the first WTC tower collapses. [Cape Cod Times, 8/21/2002; Filson, 10/22/2002; Walling, 2015, pp. 12] From 9:09 a.m. to 9:13 a.m., the fighters flew in a “holding pattern” in military-controlled airspace over the Atlantic Ocean (see 9:09 a.m.-9:13 a.m. September 11, 2001). At 9:13 a.m., they left their holding pattern and flew directly toward Manhattan (see 9:13 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20, 24] However, the fighters are 15 miles away from the WTC 46 minutes later, when the South Tower collapses (see 9:59 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Cape Cod Times, 8/21/2002] “When the first tower collapsed, we were headed away from Manhattan over [JFK Airport],” Major Daniel Nash, the pilot of one of the fighters, will later recall. [Filson, 10/2/2002] “When we turned around, all we saw was Lower Manhattan covered in dust and debris,” he will say. [Cape Cod Times, 8/21/2002] The other fighter is escorting a Delta Air Lines plane into JFK Airport at this time. Lieutenant Colonel Timothy Duffy, its pilot, will recall that as he is escorting the plane, “I just remember seeing some, some motion out of the corner of my eye and all I could see was a tan cloud that was over southern Manhattan.” [Fox News, 9/8/2011; WCAI, 9/9/2011] Duffy says to Nash over the radio, “It looks like the building collapsed.” Nash thinks, “There were just tens of thousands of people killed.” “I thought it was the start of World War III,” he will comment. [Cape Cod Times, 8/21/2002] The two Otis fighters arrived over Manhattan at 9:25 a.m., according to the 9/11 Commission Report (see 9:25 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 24] However, the accounts of numerous witnesses on the ground will indicate that they arrive over Manhattan sometime after 10:00 a.m. (see (9:45 a.m.-10:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001).
Logo of the 148th Fighter Wing. [Source: Air National Guard]Although the White House has requested a fighter escort for Air Force One (see 9:59 a.m. September 11, 2001), fighter jets that are kept on alert at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida reportedly fail to launch in order to accompany the president’s plane after it takes off from Sarasota, Florida (see 9:54 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Filson, 2003, pp. 87; St. Petersburg Times, 7/4/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 38]
Fighters on 'Battle Stations' but Not Launched - The 148th Fighter Wing of the Minnesota Air National Guard has a full time active duty detachment at Tyndall Air Force Base, near Panama City. [Filson, 1999; US Air Force, 2004; GlobalSecurity (.org), 8/21/2005] This unit serves as one of NORAD’s seven “alert” sites around the US, which all have a pair of fighter jets on the runway, armed, fueled, and ready to take off within minutes if called upon. [Airman, 12/1999; Air Force Magazine, 2/2002; Bergen Record, 12/5/2003] But, according to the 1st Air Force’s book about 9/11, although NORAD’s Southeast Air Defense Sector (SEADS) puts the alert jets at Tyndall on “battle stations,” it does not launch them. The jets’ pilots sit “in their cockpits awaiting word to go, but Air Force One moved so quickly they were never scrambled.” Instead, F-16s from Ellington Field in Texas are scrambled, and escort Air Force One to Barksdale Air Force Base (see (After 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (11:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Filson, 2003, pp. 87] However, in a 2002 interview, Major General Larry Arnold, the commanding general of NORAD’s Continental US Region, will claim that after NORAD is told “just to follow the president” on Air Force One, it “scrambled available airplanes from Tyndall and then from Ellington in Houston, Texas. The Ellington F-16s chased Air Force One and landed with the president at Barksdale AFB in Louisiana.” [Code One Magazine, 1/2002]
Other Alert Fighters in Florida Not Launched - NORAD also keeps two fighters on alert at Homestead Air Reserve Base, near Miami, Florida, but it is unclear whether these are scrambled after Air Force One, and apparently they never accompany the president’s plane (see (10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Philip Melanson, an expert on the Secret Service, will later comment: “I can’t imagine by what glitch the protection was not provided to Air Force One as soon as it took off. I would have thought there’d be something in place whereby one phone call from the head of the security detail would get the fighters in the air immediately.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 87; St. Petersburg Times, 7/4/2004]
An F-15 Eagle from the 125th Fighter Wing. [Source: Shaun Withers / US Air Force]Fighter jets belonging to a military unit in Jacksonville, Florida, launch to escort Air Force One after it takes off from Sarasota, Florida (see 9:54 a.m. September 11, 2001), some accounts will later indicate. [New York Times, 9/16/2001; Daily Telegraph, 12/16/2001] However, other accounts will indicate that these jets, if launched, never reach the president’s plane. [Code One Magazine, 1/2002; CBS News, 9/11/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 255]
Fighters Reportedly Launched - The New York Times will report that at 10:41 a.m., Air Force One is “headed toward Jacksonville to meet jets scrambled to give the presidential jet its own air cover.” [New York Times, 9/16/2001] And, according to a report in the Daily Telegraph, after Air Force One climbs to 40,000 feet, it is “joined by an escort of F-16 fighters from a base near Jacksonville.” [Daily Telegraph, 12/16/2001] These reports are presumably referring to jets belonging to the 125th Fighter Wing, a unit of the Florida Air National Guard located at Jacksonville International Airport. The wing keeps two F-15s on alert at Homestead Air Reserve Base, near Miami, ready for immediate takeoff, as part of NORAD’s air sovereignty mission. [Airman, 12/1999; GlobalSecurity (.org), 8/21/2005; Florida Air National Guard, 2009]
Fighters Likely Launched from Homestead - If 125th Fighter Wing jets are scrambled to accompany Air Force One, it appears they would be the unit’s F-15s on alert at Homestead, rather than its fighters at Jacksonville Airport. Major Charles Chambers, who is at the National Military Command Center at the Pentagon, will state within a week of the attacks, “Fighters had been scrambled from Homestead [Air Reserve Base] and were escorting Air Force One westward.” [US Department of Defense, 9/2001] In contrast, at Jacksonville International Airport, according to a 2007 report in the Florida Times-Union, “Within hours of the 2001 terrorist attacks, the wing’s aircraft were sitting on a JIA runway ready for the order to scramble.” [Florida Times-Union, 9/15/2007] And an account published by the Florida Air National Guard will only say, “On Sept. 11, 2001, several loaded F-15 aircraft lined Runway 13/31 [at Jacksonville Airport] for the first time in history.” [Eagle's Eye, 2007 ]
Fighters Apparently Do Not Reach Air Force One - Most accounts will contradict Chambers’ claim that, if indeed 125th Fighter Wing jets are scrambled toward the president’s plane, they are subsequently “escorting Air Force One westward.” According to the 1st Air Force’s book about 9/11, it is in fact “[f]our F-16s from the 147th Fighter Wing, Texas Air National Guard,” that accompany Air Force One “from the panhandle of Florida to Barksdale Air Force Base.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 87] CBS News will report that the first fighters to reach Air Force One are two F-16s from the 147th Fighter Wing (see (11:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [CBS News, 9/11/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 255] And Major General Larry Arnold, the commanding general of NORAD’s Continental US Region, will only say that 147th Fighter Wing F-16s “chased Air Force One and landed with the president at Barksdale AFB in Louisiana,” making no mention of any 125th Fighter Wing jets being scrambled. [Code One Magazine, 1/2002] At NORAD’s other alert site in Florida besides Homestead—a unit at Tyndall Air Force Base—the two alert fighters are put on “battle stations,” but apparently do not take off to escort Air Force One (see (10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Filson, 2003, pp. 87]
NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) contacts an Air National Guard unit in Toledo, Ohio, and requests that it launch two fighter jets in response to the attacks. [WTOL, 9/11/2006; Lynn Spencer, 2008; Spencer, 2008, pp. 178]
First Time that Unit Has Answered a NORAD Request - The 180th Fighter Wing of the Ohio Air National Guard is based at Toledo Express Airport. It has 20 F-16 fighter jets and about three dozen pilots. [Toledo Blade, 12/9/2001] Its “primary mission” is “to provide combat ready F-16C and support units capable of deploying worldwide in minimum response time.” [180th Fighter Wing, 9/19/2001; GlobalSecurity (.org.), 10/21/2001] The unit is not one of NORAD’s seven alert facilities around the US, and this is believed to be the first time it has ever answered a request for help from NORAD. [Airman, 12/1999; Toledo Blade, 12/9/2001]
Call due to Concern over Delta 1989 - According to author Lynn Spencer, a weapons technician at NEADS makes the call to the 180th FW due to concerns about Delta Air Lines Flight 1989, which is incorrectly thought to have been hijacked (see 9:39 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 177-178] NEADS has already contacted units in Minnesota and Michigan about this aircraft (see (Shortly After 9:41 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (9:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 1/23/2004 ; Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006] The weapons technician calls the Toledo unit after Master Sergeant Joe McCain gives an update across the NEADS operations floor: “Delta 89! Hard right turn!” According to Spencer, the weapons technician knows the 180th FW is much better positioned than the Selfridge unit’s fighters are to reach Delta 1989. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 178]
NORAD Commander Gives Different Explanation - But according to Larry Arnold, the commander of the Continental United States NORAD Region, the weapons technician’s call might also be in response to concerns over Flight 93. Arnold will say that NEADS calls the 180th FW “because we thought [Flight] 93 or Delta Flight 1989 might be headed toward Chicago.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 71] Two Toledo pilots who initially answer the call from NEADS appear to believe the call is a joke, but their wing commander then picks up the line and responds appropriately (see 10:01 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 178-179]
Unit Prepared for Crisis Like This - Although it is not one of NORAD’s alert facilities, Lt. Col. Gary Chudzinski, a former commander of the 180th FW, will later comment that the Toledo unit has always been aware that it could be alerted to crises such as the current one, “but you just don’t expect it.” According to General Paul Sullivan, who heads all Ohio Air National Guard units, the 180th FW’s pilots practice “air interception,” but a typical mission focuses on either a plane ferrying drugs or enemy fighters approaching America’s coasts. [Airman, 12/1999; Toledo Blade, 12/9/2001] Two 180th FW jets will take off from the Toledo unit at 10:17 a.m. (see 10:17 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Toledo Blade, 12/9/2001; WTOL, 9/11/2006]
An officer at NORAD’s operations center in Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, calls NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) and asks it to stop “exercise inputs” being sent to the operations center.
NORAD Calls Chief of Exercises at NEADS - The NORAD officer, a “Captain Taylor,” calls NEADS, where the phone is answered by Captain Brian Nagel. [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001] Nagel is chief of NEADS live exercises. [Filson, 2003, pp. 74] After introducing himself, Taylor says, “What we need you to do right now is to terminate all exercise inputs coming into Cheyenne Mountain.” Nagel gives Taylor an extension number and suggests that he call it to get the exercise inputs stopped. Taylor replies, “I’ll do that.” [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001] According to an article in Vanity Fair, “inputs” are simulated scenarios that are put into play for training exercises. [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006] NORAD has been conducting a major exercise this morning called Vigilant Guardian (see (6:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Arkin, 2005, pp. 545]
Exercise Includes Simulated Radar Information - Taylor is presumably referring specifically to false tracks that have been transmitted onto NORAD radar screens for the exercise. NORAD has the capability to inject simulated material, including mass attacks, into the system during exercises, “as though it was being sensed for the first time by a radar site.” [US Department of Defense, 1/15/1999] All of the operations personnel at NEADS have been instructed to “have their sim switches turned ‘on’” (presumably to allow simulated information to appear on their radar screens) from September 6 until the end of Vigilant Guardian, on September 13. An information page on the exercise stated that a “sim test track will be in place and forward told [i.e. transferred to a higher level of command] to both NORAD and CONR,” NORAD’s Continental United States Region. [Northeast Air Defense Sector, 8/23/2001]
Exercise Supposedly Called Off Earlier - More than 50 members of the battle staff at the NORAD operations center have been participating in Vigilant Guardian this morning. [Airman, 3/2002; 9/11 Commission, 3/1/2004 ] Some accounts will claim this exercise was canceled shortly after 9:03 a.m., when the second World Trade Center tower was hit (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Airman, 3/2002; Filson, 2003, pp. 59] And a report in the Toronto Star will state, “Any simulated information” for the exercise was “purged from the [radar] screens” at the operations center shortly before the second tower was hit (see (9:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Toronto Star, 12/9/2001] But a member of staff at NEADS complained at 9:30 a.m. about simulated material still appearing on radar screens there, and at 9:34 a.m. the NEADS surveillance technicians were instructed to turn off their “sim switches” (see 9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001). [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001; North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission, 2004]
Michael Irwin. [Source: Publicity photo]Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Gould, a military aide who is accompanying President Bush on his visit to Florida, makes a call requesting a fighter escort and other assets to support Air Force One as it flies away from Sarasota. Gould, who has tactical control of all the military assets that support the president, including presidential aircraft, was with Bush on Air Force One when the plane took off from Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport (see 9:54 a.m. September 11, 2001). He has talked with Colonel Mark Tillman, Air Force One’s pilot, about the plane’s ability to evade other aircraft. “At this point we don’t know the scope of this attack and what’s in front of us,” Gould will later recall. Gould will say that because he “thought there was a threat,” he makes a phone call and asks for three things: fighter jets to escort Air Force One, a refueling plane, and an AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System plane) to provide the ability to “see” around the president’s plane.
Request Relayed over Conference Call - Gould will say, in 2011, that he calls the Pentagon to make this request. [Lompoc Record, 9/11/2011; Santa Barbara News-Press, 9/11/2011] However, other evidence indicates that he contacts the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House with the request, and the request is then passed on to the Pentagon over the air threat conference call. A transcript of the air threat conference call shows that at 10:14 a.m., Colonel Michael Irwin, the director of operations for the White House Military Office, who is in the PEOC, says he has “just talked to [the] mil aide” on Air Force One, and then adds: “We’d like AWACS over Louisiana. We’d like fighter escort.” [US Department of Defense, 9/11/2001 ]
Fighters and AWACS Later Accompany Air Force One - An AWACS on a training mission off the coast of Florida is directed toward Air Force One and will accompany it all the way to Washington, DC (see Before 9:55 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Code One Magazine, 1/2002] Fighters will also arrive to escort the president’s plane. However, it will be over an hour before they reach it (see (11:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [USA Today, 9/11/2001] It is unclear if and when a refueling plane reaches Air Force One.
Logo of the 1st Fighter Wing. [Source: US Air Force]The 1st Fighter Wing at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, notifies NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) that it is unable to provide fighter jets to escort the president’s plane, Air Force One, because a lieutenant general at the Air Combat Command (ACC) has instructed the wing to stand by. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 239-240] The White House has requested a fighter escort for Air Force One (see 9:59 a.m. September 11, 2001), and officers at the headquarters of the Continental US NORAD Region in Florida have been calling around to find any available jets that might be able to provide that escort, irrespective of what branch of the military they belong to. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 38; Spencer, 2008, pp. 239]
Wing Told to Stand By - As a result, a colonel from the 1st Fighter Wing now calls NEADS. He says that although his unit would love to help, the lieutenant general at ACC has told it to stand by, as, technically, the wing belongs to ACC, not NORAD. Author Lynn Spencer will comment, “In times of war, commanders can waive a significant amount of the military bureaucracy and make such decisions.” However, “they are assuming an enormous personal responsibility if they do so and something terribly wrong happens.” Personnel at NEADS are thus “reminded of the military bureaucracy governing orders and authorizations.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 239-240]
Wing's F-15s Take Off Following Attacks - F-15s from the 1st Fighter Wing will take off later on—“within two hours” of the terrorist attacks, according to one account—to provide “protection for the National Command Authority and the rest of the nation’s civilian and military leadership,” and to patrol the skies of the East Coast. [Air Force Association, 10/2/2002; Langley Air Force Base, 1/2005; 1st Fighter Association, 3/14/2006] Eventually, fighters from Ellington Field in Texas and elsewhere will escort Air Force One (see (11:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Code One Magazine, 1/2002; Filson, 2003, pp. 87]
ACC Is Air Force's Combat Arm - The ACC, which is headquartered at Langley Air Force Base, is the main combat arm of the US Air Force, and is responsible for supplying forces to regional military commanders around the world. [Virginian-Pilot, 9/20/2001; US Air Force, 2/26/2010] The 1st Fighter Wing is the “host unit” at Langley, and, as such, operates and maintains one of the largest fighter bases in the ACC. It includes three fighter squadrons, which fly the F-15 Eagle fighter jet. [Virginian-Pilot, 9/20/2001; Langley Air Force Base, 11/2003; Air Force Print News, 11/9/2006]
F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft at the 180th Fighter Wing. [Source: Jodi Joice / US Air Force]Two F-16 fighter jets take off from a military unit in Toledo, Ohio, in response to the morning’s attacks, but accounts will conflict over what their mission is and who the pilots are. [Toledo Blade, 12/9/2001; Filson, 2003, pp. 71; WTOL, 9/11/2006] The 180th Fighter Wing of the Ohio Air National Guard is based at Toledo Express Airport. Although the unit is not one of NORAD’s seven alert facilities around the US, it has recently received a call from NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), requesting that it launch two of its fighters (see 10:01 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Airman, 12/1999; Toledo Blade, 12/9/2001; WTOL, 9/11/2006; Spencer, 2008, pp. 178-179] The 180th Maintenance Squadron, which is responsible for maintaining the unit’s aircraft and equipment, was also contacted, and has loaded the F-16s’ guns with 500 rounds of 20-caliber ammunition. [180th Fighter Wing, 9/19/2001; WTOL, 9/11/2006]
Jets Head East - The two F-16s, which were being set up for training missions, now take off and head east. [Toledo Blade, 12/9/2001] According to author Lynn Spencer, they are piloted by Scott Reed and Ed Rinke. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 179] However, a local television station will report that the pilots are Scott Reed and Keith Newell. [WTOL, 9/11/2006]
Mission Unclear - It is unclear what role the two jets play in defending the nation. Toledo Air National Guard officials will later refuse to talk about this morning’s events, even in the general terms permitted by the military. [Toledo Blade, 12/9/2001] According to Spencer, NEADS wanted the 180th FW jets to respond to Delta Air Lines Flight 1989, which is incorrectly thought to have been hijacked and will land in Cleveland at around 10:18 (see (10:18 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The 9/11 Commission will similarly say the Toledo jets are ordered to intercept Delta 1989. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/16/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 27-28; Spencer, 2008, pp. 177-178] But Larry Arnold, the commander of the Continental United States NORAD Region, will say the 180th FW was contacted “because we thought [Flight] 93 or Delta Flight 1989 might be headed toward Chicago.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 71] NEADS battle commander Colonel Robert Marr will say the two F-16s “never had a track close enough that they were directed to engage. [But] if a valid direction had come from the appropriate level to engage a target, or shoot down a target at some time, they could have done that.”
Response Is 'Very Quick' - Marr will describe the 180th FW’s response to NEADS’s request for assistance as “very, very, very quick.” [Toledo Blade, 12/9/2001] However, the fourth hijacked aircraft, Flight 93, has already crashed by the time the two jets take off (see (10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 30]
Brigadier General David Wherley, the commander of the District of Columbia Air National Guard (DCANG) at Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington, wants his fighter jets to intercept a suspicious aircraft coming down the Potomac River toward the capital, which is apparently thought to be Flight 93, although that plane has already crashed (see (10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 4/8/2002; Filson, 2003, pp. 79-81; 9/11 Commission, 8/28/2003]
Numerous Suspicious Aircraft - According to the Washington Post, the DCANG has learned there are “about a half-dozen suspicious aircraft in the air across the country, among them hijacked United Airlines Flight 93, on a path toward Washington.” Wherley will add: “Nobody knew it had crashed. We just knew there was an airplane out there that could be coming to Washington. We knew the threat was real.”
Fighters Launched due to False Report - The first three DCANG fighters to take off in response to the attacks are ordered to go after this alleged inbound aircraft. [Washington Post, 4/8/2002] Lieutenant Colonel Phil Thompson, the chief of safety for the DC Air National Guard, will later recall: “We had something coming down the Potomac at low altitude. Brigadier General Wherley is standing here, and we’ve got the tower with the Secret Service agent, and they want us to launch anything we’ve got. And the general said, ‘Do it.’” [Filson, 2003, pp. 81] DCANG pilot Billy Hutchison, who takes off at 10:38 a.m. (see (10:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001), will describe, “There was an aircraft coming down the Potomac that they needed me in the air for” that had to “be prevented from reaching the DC area.” He is told this aircraft is “coming from Pennsylvania.” [9/11 Commission, 2/27/2004] And pilot Marc Sasseville, who, along with Heather Penney Garcia, takes off at 10:42 a.m. (see 10:42 a.m. September 11, 2001), later says: “We all realized we were looking for an airliner—a big airplane. That was Flight 93; the track looked like it was headed toward DC at that time.” [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002; Vogel, 2007, pp. 446]
Incorrect Report Comes from Secret Service - According to Major David McNulty, the senior intelligence officer of the DCANG, his understanding is that “the information about the plane coming down the river” came from the Secret Service’s White House Joint Operations Center. [9/11 Commission, 3/11/2004 ] FAA personnel are also receiving similar information from the Secret Service. At 10:32, an FAA employee tells John White, a manager at the FAA’s Herndon Command Center, “Secret Service is reporting one unknown eight miles out, flying inbound.” Two minutes later, this employee says they are “[t]rying to tell [the] Secret Service about [Flight] 93,” because the Secret Service is “a little bit behind, still getting reports.” They then tell White, “Secret Service is saying the aircraft they are talking is coming up the Potomac right now.” [9/11 Commission, 11/4/2003] Fire and rescue workers are evacuated away from the Pentagon site around this time, in response to a report from the FBI of a hijacked aircraft flying toward Washington (see (10:15 a.m.-10:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001). This may be the same alleged plane that the DCANG and FAA learn of. [US Department of Health and Human Services, 7/2002, pp. A30 ; Fire Engineering, 11/2002]
Aircraft Supposedly a Helicopter - The incoming aircraft is apparently a false alarm. [9/11 Commission, 8/28/2003] After searching for it, Hutchison will be instructed to fly back toward Washington because, he will say, “the plane had been lost.” [9/11 Commission, 2/27/2004] According to a 9/11 Commission memorandum, “FAA tapes and transcripts” reveal the aircraft to be “an Army National Guard helicopter based out of Davison Field, Fort Belvoir, Virginia, which had become isolated in Maryland as events unfolded and which wanted to return to its home field.” [9/11 Commission, 3/11/2004 ]
Secret Service Thinks Plane Crashed at Camp David - However, at 10:36, the FAA employee relays that the “Secret Service is saying they believe United 93 hit Camp David.” Seconds later, they add that the Secret Service is “confirming that UA 93 did go into Camp David.” [9/11 Commission, 11/4/2003] Even President Bush is given an incorrect report of a plane going down near Camp David around this time (see (10:37 a.m.-11:09 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Sammon, 2002, pp. 108] So this erroneous information may be what leads to Hutchison being informed that the aircraft he was sent after has been lost. [9/11 Commission, 2/27/2004]
Entity Tags: US Secret Service, David Wherley, Billy Hutchison, Phil Thompson, David McNulty, John White, Marc Sasseville, District of Columbia Air National Guard, Heather Penney Garcia, Federal Aviation Administration
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Joe McGrady. [Source: John P. Meyer]Two F-15 fighter jets take off from Otis Air National Guard Base in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, the first to do so after NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) ordered the base to launch all of its available aircraft (see (10:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001). However, these two fighters are unarmed. [9/11 Commission, 10/14/2003 ; Spencer, 2008, pp. 245-246] The 102nd Fighter Wing of the Massachusetts Air National Guard operates from Otis Air Base, and is responsible for defending the northeastern US against various threats, including terrorist attacks. [Cape Cod Times, 9/12/2001; Cape Cod Times, 9/12/2001] The aircraft maintenance squadron officer started preparing the unit’s F-15s for combat less than 15 minutes after the second attack in New York (see (9:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 155] But despite the reportedly “furious pace of the weapons handlers” who “hurried to fix all available jets with live weapons,” only a few fighters have so far been loaded with any armament. [Cape Cod Times, 9/8/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 245]
Fighters Launch with No Weapons - The first two fighters to take off are piloted by Dennis Doonan and Joe McGrady. As they are the first pilots to start their F-15s and taxi off the flight line (the parking and servicing area for aircraft), they are paired up. But Doonan suddenly realizes that, though he is being sent into a combat situation, his fighter is unarmed. He radios McGrady and tells him, “I’m Winchester!” (“Winchester” is the code word for having no weapons.) McGrady’s aircraft is also unarmed, so McGrady immediately radios squadron commander Lieutenant Colonel Jon Treacy and in a panic tells him: “We’re Winchester, SOF [supervisor of flying]! We’re Winchester!” But Treacy instructs him: “Just go! You need to get airborne now!” McGrady and Doonan head out for takeoff, not knowing where they are going or what they will have to do, but realizing that if they have to take out a target, they must do so with their own aircraft. Once they are airborne, they will intercept a KC-10 tanker plane and four A-10 jets (see (11:04 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and then set up a combat air patrol over Boston. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 245-247]
Other Fighters Take Off Armed - Another two F-15s will take off from Otis Air Base shortly after McGrady and Doonan’s fighters (see (Shortly After 10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). These aircraft will have had their guns loaded and armed for use, but one of them will take off with only one missile loaded instead of two. [Cape Cod Times, 9/11/2006; Richard, 2010, pp. 15-16, 18] The 102nd Fighter Wing’s two F-15s that are kept on “alert”—armed and ready for immediate takeoff—launched at 8:46 a.m., in response to the hijacked Flight 11 (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20] Fourteen of the base’s fighters will be “mission capable” by the end of the day, and six fighters will be airborne at a time, according to Technical Sergeant Michael Kelly, the full-time technician in the command post at Otis Air Base. [9/11 Commission, 10/14/2003 ]
Two F-15s take off from Otis Air National Guard Base in Massachusetts, becoming the second pair of fighter jets to take off from the base after NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) ordered it to launch all of its available aircraft. [9/11 Commission, 10/14/2003 ; Spencer, 2008, pp. 245-246; Richard, 2010, pp. 18] The fighters belong to the 102nd Fighter Wing, which is based at Otis Air Base, and are piloted by Major Martin Richard and Major Robert Martyn. [102nd Fighter Wing, 2001; Cape Cod Times, 9/11/2006] The 102nd Fighter Wing launched its two F-15s that are kept on “alert”—ready for immediate takeoff—at 8:46 a.m., in response to the hijacked Flight 11 (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20] Another two of the unit’s F-15s have just taken off (see (10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 245-246] Richard is one of several 102nd Fighter Wing pilots who were out for a training mission over the Atlantic Ocean earlier this morning (see (9:00 a.m.-9:24 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The pilots were called back to their base following the attacks in New York (see (9:25 a.m.-9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). It is unclear whether Martyn also participated in the training. [Cape Cod Times, 9/11/2006]
Pilot Doesn't Know What Is Going On - After landing back at Otis Air Base, Richard headed into the operations building and phoned his wife. He told her, “I don’t know what’s going on, but I am going flying.” Richard will later recall: “My feelings were of trepidation. I didn’t know what was going on and didn’t know what the two scrambled aircraft [i.e. the two fighters launched from his base in response to Flight 11] were doing.” Richard and Martyn had then been called to the operations desk, where Lieutenant Colonel Jon Treacy, their unit’s supervisor of flying, told them they would be flying two of the first four fighters to be subsequently taking off from the base. [102nd Fighter Wing, 2001; Richard, 2010, pp. 14-15] Around that time, NEADS called the unit and instructed it to launch all of its available fighters, and the pilots had then been sent out to their aircraft (see (10:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 245]
Fighter Only Has One Missile Loaded - When he arrived at his fighter, Richard found Technical Sergeant Matthew Jackson loading the second of two AIM-9 heat-seeking missiles onto it. Dennis Mills, the crew chief, told Richard that his plane was fueled up and had a “hot gun with bullets,” meaning the 20mm gun was loaded and armed for use. Richard, who was impatient to get airborne, instructed Jackson to not bother loading the second missile onto his aircraft.
Intelligence Officer Warns of Eight Suspicious Aircraft - Then, Sergeant Joe Kelleher, the unit’s intelligence specialist, arrived, out of breath. Kelleher said: “There are up to eight airliners airborne with bombs on board. We know of an American [Airlines] jet out of Dulles [International Airport] and a United [Airlines] jet. I think you are going after the United jet.” The United Airlines aircraft he referred to, according to Richard, was Flight 93. [Richard, 2010, pp. 15-16] However, this plane crashed in Pennsylvania shortly after 10:00 a.m. (see (10:03 a.m.-10:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 30] Richard will comment, “We were finding out real-time what the actual air picture was, and the information was not accurate.” Kelleher continued: “They are turning jets away from Europe and the rumor is some have crashed because they’ve run out of fuel. It’s friggin’ chaos!”
Fighters Take Off from Base - In their fighters, Richard and Martyn now taxi to the runway and take off from Otis Air Base. While climbing to altitude, Richard keeps his fighter’s engines in afterburner so as to gather the most speed he can. [Richard, 2010, pp. 16, 18] Richard and Martyn will be directed to intercept a C-130 military cargo plane (see (After 10:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and will subsequently be sent over New York to intercept and identify aircraft there (see (11:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [102nd Fighter Wing, 2001; Cape Cod Times, 9/11/2006; Airman, 9/3/2011]
A Secret Service agent at the White House calls the District of Columbia Air National Guard (DCANG) at Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington, and asks it to launch fighter jets immediately. According to author Lynn Spencer, a report has been received at the White House from the FAA “that there are three planes unaccounted for,” and the Secret Service has therefore determined “it needs fighters up now.” It calls the DCANG to request these jets. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 236] Apparently around the same time, the DCANG receives a call from someone else at the White House—presumably another Secret Service agent—declaring the Washington area “a free-fire zone.” Lieutenant Colonel Marc Sasseville, one of the DCANG pilots, will later comment, “That meant we were given authority to use force, if the situation required it, in defense of the nation’s capital, its property, and people.” [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002] Between 10:38 a.m. and 11:11 a.m., five DCANG fighter jets will take off from Andrews to defend Washington (see (10:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001, 10:42 a.m. September 11, 2001, and 11:11 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 2004; 9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004; Vogel, 2007, pp. 446] The Secret Service contacted the DCANG several times earlier on, requesting that it launch fighters (see (Shortly After 9:04 a.m.) September 11, 2001, (Shortly After 9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001, and (Shortly After 9:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Filson, 2003, pp. 78; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 465] Brigadier General David Wherley, the commander of the DC Air National Guard, has been on the phone with Secret Service agents at the White House, who have told him his jets should “turn away any airplane that attempts to fly within 20 miles of the Washington area,” and the pilots can use “whatever force is necessary” to prevent another aircraft hitting a building (see (10:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (Between 10:16 a.m. and 10:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/28/2003; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 44; Spencer, 2008, pp. 218]
Billy Hutchison. [Source: Family photo]The first fighter jet to launch from Andrews Air Force Base, 10 miles southeast of Washington, takes off in response to the attacks. [9/11 Commission, 6/17/2004; GlobalSecurity (.org), 1/21/2006] The F-16 belongs to the 121st Fighter Squadron, which is part of the 113th Wing of the District of Columbia Air National Guard, and is piloted by Major Billy Hutchison. It is one of three F-16s that were flying on a training mission in North Carolina, over 200 miles from Andrews (see 8:36 a.m. September 11, 2001), and which have finally been recalled to the base (see (9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (9:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002; American Forces Press Service, 5/12/2005] Although the three jets met with a refueling plane, they did not fill their tanks up completely. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 216-217] Hutchison’s aircraft is the only one of them with enough fuel remaining to take off again immediately, though he only has 2,800 pounds, which is equivalent to one-eighth of a tank in a car. His jet has no missiles, and only training ammunition.
Pilot Takes Off, Instructed to Protect Washington - Immediately after landing at Andrews at 10:36 a.m., Hutchison takes off again at the instruction of Brigadier General David Wherley, the commander of the DC Air National Guard. He is instructed “to intercept an aircraft coming toward DC and prevent it from reaching DC,” he will later recall. [Washington Post, 4/8/2002; Filson, 2003, pp. 79-81; 9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004] According to author Lynn Spencer, Lieutenant Colonel Phil Thompson, the supervisor of flying (SOF) at Andrews, tells Hutchison to “use whatever force is necessary to prevent [the aircraft] from getting to DC.” Thompson adds: “You are weapons free. Do you understand?” “Weapons free” means the decision to shoot at a target now rests solely with Hutchison. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 219] However, according to the 9/11 Commission, the “weapons free” instruction goes out to other pilots that launch from Andrews at 10:42 and after, but apparently not to Hutchison. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 44] Thompson will tell Aviation Week and Space Technology magazine simply that he instructs Hutchison “to ‘do exactly what [air traffic control] asks you to do.’ Primarily, he was to go ID [identify] that unknown [aircraft] that everybody was so excited about” (see (10:30 a.m.-10:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002] Hutchison takes off “without afterburner to conserve fuel, go across the White House over the Georgetown area and continue northwest up the Potomac,” he will recall (see 10:39 a.m.-10:45 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Filson, 2003, pp. 81]
Conflicting Timelines - Conflicting times will later be given for when Hutchison takes off from Andrews. The pilots with the 121st Fighter Squadron will admit that their own recollection of the morning’s timeline “is fuzzy.” [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002] According to 113th Wing operations desk records, Hutchison takes off at 10:33 a.m. [Filson, 2003, pp. 81, 89] Based on an interview with David Wherley, the 9/11 Commission states he is airborne at 10:38 a.m. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 44, 465] Recordings of air traffic controller transmissions confirm this time. [9/11 Commission, 2004; 9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004] But in her 2008 book Touching History, Lynn Spencer will claim Hutchison took off significantly earlier, some time after 9:50 but before Flight 93 crashed (which was just after 10:00 a.m.). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 216-220] (However, she will later amend her claim, saying instead, “Radio data indicates that Hutchison’s flight did not depart from Andrews… until just after 10:35.” [Lynn Spencer, 2008] ) Two more fighters will take off from Andrews at 10:42 a.m. (see 10:42 a.m. September 11, 2001) and another two take off at 11:11 a.m. (see 11:11 a.m. September 11, 2001). Due to his plane’s limited fuel, Hutchison will only be airborne for about 10 minutes, and he lands back at Andrews at 10:47 a.m. (see 10:47 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/28/2003; 9/11 Commission, 2004; 9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004; Vogel, 2007, pp. 446]
One Jet Landed Already - The first of the three F-16s to return from the training mission over North Carolina landed at Andrews at 10:14 a.m., but did not take off again to defend Washington (see 10:14 a.m. September 11, 2001). The other F-16, piloted by Lou Campbell, landed with Hutchison’s jet at 10:36 a.m. [9/11 Commission, 2004; 9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004; 9/11 Commission, 2/27/2004] The 113th Wing is not part of NORAD’s air sovereignty force and, according to the 1st Air Force’s book about 9/11, does not have an alert mission. [Filson, 2003, pp. 76] According to Phil Thompson, “We’ve never been an air defense unit,” but “We practice scrambles, we know how to do intercepts and other things.” [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002]
Heather Penney Garcia. [Source: Johnathon Orrell]Two F-16 fighter jets belonging to the District of Columbia Air National Guard (DCANG) take off from Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington, but they have no missiles and only training bullets for their guns. The pilots are Lieutenant Colonel Marc Sasseville and Lieutenant Heather Penney Garcia. [Filson, 2003, pp. 82; 9/11 Commission, 2004; Vogel, 2007, pp. 446]
Possibly Given Shootdown Authorization - Before they headed to their jets, Sasseville and Penney Garcia were given a short briefing by Brigadier General David Wherley, the commander of the DC Air National Guard. Wherley will later recall telling Sasseville that he has “weapons free flight-lead control,” meaning he is responsible for deciding whether to fire on hostile aircraft (see (Between 9:40 a.m. and 10:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Filson, 2003, pp. 82; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 44; Vogel, 2007, pp. 446] But Sasseville will say he does not recall receiving any such rules of engagement until after he has taken off. [9/11 Commission, 3/8/2004 ]
Jets Only Have Training Ammunition - The two pilots run out to their jets and climb into the cockpits. But their F-16s are armed only with “hot” guns and 511 rounds of non-explosive training practice (TP) ammunition. According to Sasseville: “They had two airplanes ready to go, and were putting missiles on numbers three and four. Maintenance wanted us to take the ones with missiles, but we didn’t have time to wait on those.”
Rookie Pilot 'Never Scrambled Before' - Penney Garcia, who is a rookie pilot, will later say: “I’d never scrambled before, I’d never done this. I was screaming to the maintainers to pull the chocks, and the guys were pulling the pins to arm the guns. We were going without INS [inertial navigation system].” Sasseville and Penney Garcia are airborne about six minutes after reaching their jets. They are unaware that fighters launched from Langley Air Force Base are also flying over Washington, at around 20,000 feet (see (Between 9:49 a.m. and 11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002; Filson, 2003, pp. 82]
Told to Look for Hijacked Plane - Over their radios, Sasseville and Penney Garcia receive instructions from their squadron to look for a hijacked aircraft approaching from the northwest and heading toward Georgetown (see (10:30 a.m.-10:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001). But, Sasseville will later recall, “We didn’t know what we were looking for—how high he was coming, or low, or where he was going.” [Vogel, 2007, pp. 446] He will say, “I don’t have the whole picture, but have word from Washington National Approach that something is coming.”
Pilot 'Making Things Up on the Fly' - The two jets will fly over Washington at low altitudes, around 5,000 or 6,000 feet. Sasseville will later say, “I didn’t want to get too low for a good radar angle, and not too high, so we could get somewhere fast.” He will admit that he is “making things up on the fly,” as he has no precedent to draw upon. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002; Filson, 2003, pp. 82] Another DCANG pilot, Billy Hutchison, launched from Andrews four minutes before Sasseville and Penney Garcia take off, but he is airborne for less than 10 minutes (see (10:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and 10:47 a.m. September 11, 2001). The next DCANG jets to take off, which will be armed with missiles, launch at 11:11 a.m. (see 11:11 a.m. September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 2004; 9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004; Vogel, 2007, pp. 446]
The first fighter jet that launched from Andrews Air Force Base, just outside Washington, in response to the morning’s attacks lands at its base less than 10 minutes after taking off. [9/11 Commission, 2004; 9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004] The F-16, which is piloted by Major Billy Hutchison, was ordered to take off immediately after arriving back at Andrews from a training mission in North Carolina (see (10:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Hutchison has made two loops up the Potomac River, and flown over the burning Pentagon (see 10:39 a.m.-10:45 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 235] His aircraft had only 2,800 pounds of fuel—equivalent to one-eighth of a tank in a car—remaining when he took off, and he’d subsequently noticed his fuel gauge pegged at the lowest level it can indicate, 400 pounds. He announced to the air traffic controller he was communicating with, “I’ve got to go.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 79; Spencer, 2008, pp. 248] Hutchison will later recall that his plane is “on vapors” when he lands. [9/11 Commission, 2/27/2004] By now, two more F-16s have taken off from Andrews (see 10:42 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Filson, 2003, pp. 82; Vogel, 2007, pp. 446] Hutchison’s jet is refueled and loaded with weapons, and he will then take off again to defend Washington. [9/11 Commission, 2/27/2004; Spencer, 2008, pp. 249]
Two F-15 fighter jets from Otis Air National Guard Base, Massachusetts, patrol the airspace over New York, first assisting and then later replacing another pair of F-15s that arrived over the city earlier on. [9/11 Commission, 10/14/2003 ; Cape Cod Times, 9/11/2006; Richard, 2010, pp. 25-26, 88] The two fighters belong to the 102nd Fighter Wing, and are piloted by Major Martin Richard and Major Robert Martyn. They took off from Otis Air Base at around 10:30 a.m. (see (Shortly After 10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and have already intercepted a military cargo plane that was returning to the US from England (see (After 10:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [102nd Fighter Wing, 2001; Westover Patriot, 10/2001 ; 9/11 Commission, 10/14/2003 ; Richard, 2010, pp. 18-20]
Fighters Directed toward New York - The fighters were flying southwest toward New York when their pilots received orders from NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), instructing them to “continue southwest and set up a combat air patrol over bull’s-eye.” “Bull’s-eye”—the reference point from which all positional reporting originates—had been set as the location of the now-collapsed World Trade Center towers. The fighters therefore continued toward the city.
FAA's New York Center Does Not Respond to Communication - Richard and Martyn tried checking in with the FAA’s New York Center, but received no reply. NEADS therefore instructed them to instead check in with the FAA’s New York Terminal Radar Approach Control. As they were flying to New York, NEADS also told the two pilots that their mission was “to intercept, divert, or, if unsuccessful in those, to call them for authorization to shoot down” aircraft. Richard will later comment, “That certainly got our attention.” [102nd Fighter Wing, 2001; Richard, 2010, pp. 24]
Fighters Join Two Aircraft Already over New York - Two fighters that took off from Otis Air Base at 8:46 a.m. in response to the hijacked Flight 11 (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001), piloted by Lieutenant Colonel Timothy Duffy and Major Daniel Nash, arrived over New York earlier in the morning (see 9:25 a.m. September 11, 2001 and (9:45 a.m.-10:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and established a combat air patrol over the city. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20, 24; Boston Globe, 9/11/2005] Richard and Martyn arrive, joining these two fighters over New York, at approximately 11:00 a.m., Nash will say. [9/11 Commission, 10/14/2003 ]
Fighters Set Up a 'Point Defense' around New York - Martyn then calls Duffy over the radio. Referring to his own fighter by its call sign, Martyn says, “Panta one is on station at 15,000 feet.” Duffy instructs him, “Panta one, orbit over bull’s-eye and stand by.” Richard will describe the tactic the four fighters then employ, writing: “Duff decided to set up a point defense around the city.… Ground Zero was our reference point and the targets in the area were called out in reference to it.… Since we were flying in a void of actionable information, we decided that the most effective way to win this battle was to let the enemy come to us.” [Richard, 2010, pp. 25-26] While Duffy and Nash fly about 10,000 feet above New York, Richard and Martyn fly at around 18,000 feet. [Filson, 10/2/2002]
Fighters Intercept and Identify Aircraft - Richard will recall that he and Martyn “darted around the city, chasing down airliners, helicopters, and anything else in the air,” making sure that “everything in the air was visually identified, intercepted, and guided to land at the closest airfield.” [Richard, 2010, pp. 36] They spend several hours identifying helicopters that have no flight plans and are heading for Ground Zero. Many of these helicopters belong to organizations that want to help, and are there to provide relief and aid. [102nd Fighter Wing, 2001; Richard, 2010, pp. 74] When necessary, the two fighters are able to refuel from a KC-135 tanker plane that is orbiting above them at 20,000 feet.
Fighters Replaced by Other Aircraft from Otis Air Base - After Duffy and Nash head back to Otis Air Base (see (2:15 p.m.) September 11, 2001), Richard and Martyn continue clearing the skies over New York and eastern New Jersey. Richard will describe the following few hours as “mostly boredom interspersed with moments of sheer terror.” [Richard, 2010, pp. 72, 74, 88] Richard and Martyn finally return to Otis Air Base at around 6:00 p.m. [102nd Fighter Wing, 2001] Another two F-15s belonging to the 102nd Fighter Wing take their place patrolling the airspace above New York. These fighters are flown by pilots that Richard will only refer to by their nicknames, “Psycho Davis” and “Doo Dah Ray.” These pilots participated, along with Richard, in a training mission over the Atlantic Ocean early this morning (see (9:00 a.m.-9:24 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Richard, 2010, pp. 88]
A KC-10 air tanker. [Source: Jerry Morrison / US Air Force]Two unarmed fighter jets intercept a suspicious target flying toward the United States from the east, which turns out to be some US military aircraft returning from Europe that are unaware of the terrorist attacks in America. [9/11 Commission, 2004; Spencer, 2008, pp. 246-247] The two F-15 fighters belong to the 102nd Fighter Wing of the Massachusetts Air National Guard, and are piloted by Dennis Doonan and Joe McGrady. They were the first fighters to take off from Otis Air National Guard Base, Massachusetts, after NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) ordered the base to launch all of its available aircraft (see (10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). However, the two fighters had not yet been armed.
Fighters Directed toward Target - The weapons controller the two pilots are communicating with instructs them, “Fly 090 for 100 to intercept,” meaning they are to fly east for 100 miles. Knowing his plane is unarmed, McGrady is concerned that he might have to take out their target by crashing into it. To his relief, when he gets near it, he discovers the target is a convoy of five US military aircraft: a KC-10 tanker plane and four A-10 jets. Those onboard the planes, which are returning to the US from Europe, are unaware of the catastrophic events taking place in America.
Fighters Sent toward Boston - Doonan and McGrady radio the A-10 flight lead with diversion instructions. [102nd Fighter Wing, 2001; Spencer, 2008, pp. 245-247] The A-10s are directed to land at Barnes Air National Guard Base in Massachusetts. [Richard, 2010, pp. 22] Doonan and McGrady are then instructed to fly to Boston to establish a combat air patrol over the city. Doonan decides that the KC-10 in the convoy can assist them with refueling once they are over Boston, and radios its pilot with instructions to accompany him. The pilot asks, “What’s going on?” Doonan gives no details, only replying, “It’s serious sh_t and you’re coming with us.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 247]
Aircraft Returning from Europe - The KC-10 has the call sign “Gold 99,” while the four A-10s have the call signs “Mazda 41,” “Mazda 42,” “Mazda 43,” and “Mazda 44.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission, 2004; Richard, 2010, pp. 21] The five aircraft had been on their way to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, according to author Lynn Spencer. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 247] But the FAA’s New York Center told NEADS that their planned destination was Bangor International Airport in Maine. [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001] According to Spencer, and also to a report written by the 102nd Fighter Wing’s historian, the aircraft have been flying to the US from the Azores, off Portugal. [102nd Fighter Wing, 2001; Spencer, 2008, pp. 247] But the New York Center indicated to NEADS that they came from Morón Air Base in southern Spain. [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001; International Civil Aviation Organization, 1/12/2006 ] Such journeys from Europe to the US are “common flights between the continents,” according to 102nd Fighter Wing pilot Martin Richard. [Richard, 2010, pp. 21]
Aircraft Not Answering Radio Communications - NEADS personnel were concerned because it had not been confirmed that the five aircraft were “friendly” and because the aircraft repeatedly failed to respond to NEADS’s radio communications (see (10:31 a.m.-10:47 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001] According to Spencer, the aircraft were “out of radio range.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 247] However, NEADS personnel established that, as the aircraft had only been 174 miles away, they should have been hearing the radio communications. [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/11/2001]
Weapons load crew members from the District of Columbia Air National Guard arming an F-16 on September 11. [Source: Corensa Brooks / District of Columbia Air National Guard] (click image to enlarge)Two District of Columbia Air National Guard (DCANG) fighter jets take off from Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington, to defend the capital, the first DCANG planes to launch armed with missiles as well as bullets. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002; 9/11 Commission, 2004; 9/11 Commission, 2/17/2004; 9/11 Commission, 3/11/2004 ] The two F-16s are piloted by Captain Brandon Rasmussen and Major Daniel Caine. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002] Although Caine was his unit’s supervisor of flying (SOF) this morning, he decided earlier on that he was going to get airborne, and so Lieutenant Colonel Phil Thompson has taken his place as SOF (see (Shortly After 9:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Filson, 2003, pp. 76; Spencer, 2008, pp. 184]
Commander Supposedly Gave Shootdown Authority - As Caine and Rasmussen were passing the SOF area on the way to their fighters, they were quickly briefed by Brigadier General David Wherley, the commander of the DC Air National Guard. Wherley had by then received instructions from the Secret Service for his fighter jets to follow (see (10:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (Between 10:16 a.m. and 10:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001). According to author Lynn Spencer, he told the two pilots: “You need to establish a CAP [combat air patrol] over Washington. Intercept any incoming aircraft 60 miles out and use whatever force necessary to keep it from targeting buildings downtown.” Wherley said, “You will be weapons free,” which means the decision whether to fire on a hostile aircraft rests with the lead pilot, and added, “Just be careful.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 44; Spencer, 2008, pp. 238] However, Rasmussen will contradict this account, saying that once he is airborne, “we still haven’t been told, ‘You are clear to engage anybody.’ They just said, ‘Get airborne as quick as you can.’” But while the two pilots were getting suited up ready to fly, Caine, who will be the flight lead, had reassured Rasmussen that he would take responsibility for firing on any hostile planes. He’d said: “Whatever you do, don’t be the first one to shoot.… Let me be the first one to shoot, if it comes to that, and then do what I do.” [Rasmussen, 9/18/2003]
Fighters Loaded with Missiles - Three DCANG jets took off from Andrews earlier on, but none of them were armed with missiles (see (10:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and 10:42 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Vogel, 2007, pp. 446] Missiles were loaded onto Caine and Rasmussen’s F-16s while they were sitting in the cockpits. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002] Rasmussen will later recall that “we were probably 20 to 30 minutes behind” the previous two jets to launch, “because they were loading heat-seeking missiles on the aircraft.… Once they armed us up, we just rolled right down the runway and blasted off.” The jets take off with hot guns and two AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles each. According to Rasmussen, this is the first time he has flown with live missiles. He will say, “I had never flown with real missiles and had never so much as seen them on the jet.”
Communicate with FAA Controllers - After taking off, Caine and Rasmussen communicate with the FAA’s Washington Center, “primarily to control us and give us an idea of the air picture,” according to Rasmussen. The Washington Center normally controls all of the air traffic in the area. However, its controllers are not trained as weapons controllers. Rasmussen will say: “[W]e’re used to working with AWACS [Airborne Warning and Control System] weapons controllers or GCI [ground control intercept].” GCI is “a ground-based radar facility with weapons controllers who will give you the tactical air picture; control and coordinate who is targeting what aircraft; and run the air war that way.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 84; Rasmussen, 9/18/2003]
Airborne for 3-4 Hours - DCANG pilot Marc Sasseville, who took off at 10:42 a.m., was initially the CAP commander, but Caine takes over this responsibility from him once he is in the air. [9/11 Commission, 3/8/2004 ; Vogel, 2007, pp. 446] Caine and Rasmussen will remain airborne for three or four hours, which is at least twice as long as the usual maximum duration for an air-to-ground sortie, of about an hour and a half. [Rasmussen, 9/18/2003]
Logo of the 192nd Fighter Wing. [Source: Air National Guard]More fighter jets arrive over Washington, DC. These include F-16s from Richmond, Virginia, and Atlantic City, New Jersey. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002] The Atlantic City jets belong to the 177th Fighter Wing (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and the Richmond jets belong to the 192nd Fighter Wing. [GlobalSecurity (.org.), 10/21/2001; Code One Magazine, 10/2002] Fighters from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia (see (Between 9:49 a.m. and 11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and Andrews Air Force Base, just outside Washington (see 10:42 a.m. September 11, 2001 and 11:11 a.m. September 11, 2001), are already flying over the capital. Captain Brandon Rasmussen, who took off from Andrews at 11:11 a.m., actually flies out to intercept the fighters from Richmond, apparently not realizing who they are. He will later recall: “I ended up running an intercept out of a two-ship out of Richmond, two-ship F-16 out of Richmond that just came flying north. In essence, we would find whatever we could on the radar, ask [the FAA’s] Washington Center if they knew who it was, and if they didn’t, we would run an intercept on them to visual identify who they were.” [Rasmussen, 9/18/2003] According to Aviation Week and Space Technology magazine, with jets from different units arriving over Washington, “The air picture was confused, at best, and radio frequencies were alive with chatter.” [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002]
Helicopters belonging to the 12th Aviation Battalion. [Source: United States Army]Helicopter crews with an Army aviation unit based near the Pentagon are initially unable to launch after returning from weapons training, because, they are told, they are “locked down until further notice.” [Army Center of Military History, 11/14/2001 ] The 12th Aviation Battalion is stationed at Davison Army Airfield, which is at Fort Belvoir, 12 miles south of the Pentagon. It is the Military District of Washington’s aviation support unit, and includes three helicopter companies that fly UH-1 “Huey” and UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters. [Military District of Washington, 8/2000] But at the time of the attacks on the World Trade Center, an unspecified number of the battalion’s members were away at the shooting range at Fort AP Hill, for their annual weapons training (see 8:46 a.m.-9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). They only set out on the one and a half to two hours drive back to base after the Pentagon was hit. One of the battalion’s helicopter pilots, who says the Pentagon is “basically one of our missions,” will later recall that after arriving back at Davison Airfield, his company commander “pretty much had us all get together, and he broke us down into aviation crews… and then he briefed us on what to expect.” The battalion’s helicopters are put “online,” meaning “we preflight our aircraft, got ready, and we went ahead and took everything out.” But, the pilot will say: “then basically we were locked down until further notice. That’s what we were told. And at that point, aviation got hit the hardest, so nobody was flying anywhere unless we had specific permission.… It was a waiting game.” The first helicopter to take off from Davison Airfield transports some engineers to the Pentagon, though the time it launches at is unstated. The 12th Aviation Battalion helicopters will subsequently be involved with supporting Operation Noble Eagle, the new homeland defense mission after 9/11. [Army Center of Military History, 11/14/2001 ]
F-18 fighter jets from Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 321 (VMFA-321) arrive in the airspace over Washington, DC, to assist the air defense of the capital, but NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) is initially unable to authenticate the pilots’ identities. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 264-265] Earlier on, a Marine with VMFA-321 called Trey Murphy, a friend of his who works as a weapons controller at NEADS, to offer his unit’s assistance. Minutes later, Murphy told a general from VMFA-321 who called NEADS, “[W]e could use your airplanes” (see (9:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 188]
Pilot Gives Incorrect Authentication Code - Now Murphy tries to get the authentication code from one of the Marine pilots who has arrived over Washington, which will show that he is who he says he is, and that his orders are legal. However, the pilot responds with incorrect authentication, giving a code that has too many letters. Murphy again tries to authenticate him, but the pilot responds, “Dude, I don’t know what you’re trying to tell me.”
Weapons Controller Improvises Plan of Action - Murphy quickly realizes what the problem is: The VMFA-321 fighters are not normally part of NORAD, and so do not have NORAD authenticators. Instead, their authenticators are from the Air Combat Command. Realizing this is a problem that will recur as more non-NORAD fighters get airborne, Murphy instructs his fellow weapons controller Michael Julian to help him call the squadron commanders of the non-NORAD jets that are taking off to patrol the Northeast US, so as to resolve the issue. Doing so is critically important because, as author Lynn Spencer will point out, “The authentication system is set up to ensure that a pilot knows he is being given a valid order, and a pilot cannot legally comply with an order unless he can authenticate it first.” Murphy calls VMFA-321 at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland, over a secured line and quickly improvises a plan of action. Soon after, faxes are sent off over secured lines to the squadrons that are launching aircraft, to make sure they all follow this plan.
Murphy Checks in Marine Pilots - The Marine pilots that have arrived over Washington have now devised their own plan for checking in with NEADS. Since Murphy is a former Marine, some of them know him and recognize his voice. They have therefore decided they will accept orders from him alone. After one of the pilots insists to another NEADS weapons controller that he will only take orders from Murphy, Murphy gets on the line and checks him in, saying: “All right! Devil 1-1… I authenticate.… You’re in the [combat air patrol]. Here’s your mission.… I’m turning you over to my controller.” After the pilot responds, “Roger that!” Murphy checks in the rest of the Marine fighters. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 264-265]
An E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft from Tinker Air Force Base, Oklahoma. [Source: John K. McDowell / US Air Force]An Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) plane that is on its way back to its base in Oklahoma is called by NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) and instructed to head to Washington, DC, in order to provide radar and radio coverage, and help NEADS to communicate with fighter jets that are in the airspace over the capital.
Poor Communications over Washington - NEADS is having trouble communicating with fighters that have arrived over Washington (see (Between 9:49 a.m. and 11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (11:25 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and the radio reception is nonexistent when those aircraft go below 20,000 feet. As Major General Larry Arnold, the commanding general of NORAD’s Continental US Region, will later recall, NORAD’s “picture over DC was pretty poor. And the communication was poor.” As a result, “the aircrews themselves” of the fighters over Washington “coordinated the refueling and the combat air patrols.”
NEADS Contacts AWACS Heading toward Oklahoma - NEADS weapons controller Trey Murphy therefore gets on the radio to an AWACS belonging to the 552nd Air Control Wing, based at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma. [Code One Magazine, 1/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 265-266] An AWACS is a modified Boeing 707 equipped with long-range radar and sophisticated communications equipment, which can track aircraft within a radius of several hundred miles. [New York Times, 9/23/1995; Asia Times, 1/27/2000] The AWACS Murphy contacts had been flying a training mission earlier in the morning, somewhere near Washington (see Before 9:55 a.m. September 11, 2001), but was directed to return to Tinker, supposedly as a result of the “immediate confusion after the attacks” (see (Between 9:05 a.m. and 11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001).
AWACS Told to Head to Washington - Murphy instructs the pilot of the AWACS to turn around and head back toward Washington. He says: “Here’s the deal. We need you to cover the NCA [national capital area].” The pilot responds, “Roger that,” and asks, “Where do you want us?” Murphy replies: “No, no. You’re the one with the big jet with the rotor-dome on it. You tell me where you need to go to get me a surface to infinity look at that area.” As author Lynn Spencer will later describe, with Murphy’s request, “The problem of radar and radio coverage over DC has been solved.” After it arrives over the Washington area, according to Arnold, “The AWACS could talk to the Northeast [Air Defense] Sector and provide a better picture to them.” [Code One Magazine, 1/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 265-266]
One of the FAA’s Cessna Citation V jet planes. [Source: Unknown]Although it was recently redirected toward Richmond, Virginia, the plane carrying Attorney General John Ashcroft tries again to head to Washington, DC, and a military fighter jet arrives to escort it into the capital. [Washington Post, 9/28/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002 ; Ashcroft, 2006, pp. 118] Ashcroft’s plane, a small government Cessna jet, has been trying to return to Washington after an engagement in Milwaukee was aborted due to the terrorist attacks (see Shortly After 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). Ashcroft has ignored requests to land, and so his plane has been threatened with being shot down by the military and diverted to Richmond (see 11:11 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Newsweek, 9/24/2001; Newsweek, 3/10/2003; Spencer, 2008, pp. 257-258]
Pilot Persuaded to Head toward Washington - However, Ashcroft still wants to reach Washington. He therefore calls the Justice Department command center for assistance. Then, according to author Lynn Spencer, “With some high-level coordination,” one of the protective agents on Ashcroft’s plane “convinced the pilot to try once again to enter the city.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 272] The pilot, David Clemmer, negotiates to have fighter jets escort the plane into Washington. [Newsweek, 9/24/2001; Washington Post, 9/28/2001]
Controller Requests Fighter Escort - The FAA’s Washington Center consequently calls the Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) at Washington’s Reagan National Airport. The Washington Center controller says: “Hey, we’ve got November 4 out here. He wants to land at [Reagan Airport]. There’s some concern and they want a fighter escort.” TRACON controller Dan Creedon recognizes the plane’s N-number (specifically, N4) as belonging to one of the FAA’s jet aircraft, and confirms, “Yeah, November 4 is based out of Washington.” He then calls District of Columbia Air National Guard (DCANG) pilot Major Daniel Caine, who recently launched from Andrews Air Force Base to defend Washington (see 11:11 a.m. September 11, 2001), and tells him of the plane requesting a fighter escort. When Caine asks who is on it, Creedon replies: “I don’t know. My assumption is FAA-1 or DOT-1,” meaning FAA Administrator Jane Garvey or Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta.
DCANG Pilot Gets Langley Jets to Provide Escort - Caine says the jets launched from Langley Air Force Base (see (9:25 a.m.-9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001) that are defending Washington (see (Between 9:49 a.m. and 11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001) will handle this. He forwards Creedon’s request to Major Dean Eckmann, the lead pilot from Langley. Eckmann responds that the inbound plane “can have one” of his fighters. He then directs his wingman, Major Brad Derrig, to intercept it. [9/11 Commission, 12/1/2003; 9/11 Commission, 12/1/2003; Spencer, 2008, pp. 272-273] While Ashcroft’s plane is waiting for Derrig’s fighter to arrive, it is put in a holding pattern outside of Washington. [9/11 Commission, 12/17/2003 ] Ashcroft’s plane will be escorted to Reagan Airport, but the time it lands at is unclear (see (12:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Newsweek, 9/24/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 3/21/2002 ; USA Today, 8/13/2002; Vogel, 2007, pp. 453]
Several early news reports suggest that US military fighter jets may have shot down an aircraft, perhaps Flight 93. Ireland’s Thomas Crosbie Media reports, “A Boeing 767 has crashed near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.… US anti-aircraft fighters are in place—unconfirmed reports say this plane was shot out of the sky by US defense.” [TCM Breaking News, 9/11/2001] Forbes states, “There are reports of a fourth airliner [having] been brought down near Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland, by US military fighters.” [Forbes, 9/11/2001] And the Northwestern Chronicle states, “Air Force officials say an airliner has been forced down by F-16 fighter jets near Camp David.” [Northwestern Chronicle, 9/11/2001] However, according to later reports, military officials say US aircraft did not shoot down any of the hijacked planes. [CNN, 9/11/2001]
President Bush (center, bending) and others look out the windows of Air Force One as their fighter escort arrives. [Source: White House]President Bush, his entourage, and reporters accompanying them on board Air Force One notice fighter jets escorting their plane for the first time. Air Force One is currently flying westward over Mississippi, toward Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana. [USA Today, 9/11/2001; Sammon, 2002, pp. 109; CBS News, 9/11/2002] The White House requested a fighter escort for it (see 9:59 a.m. September 11, 2001) and the Secret Service asked Major General Larry Arnold, the commanding general of NORAD’s Continental US Region, to provide that escort. [Code One Magazine, 1/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 38; Spencer, 2008, pp. 255]
Passengers Notice Fighters - Now, air traffic control radios Colonel Mark Tillman, the pilot of Air Force One, and notifies him, “[Y]ou’ve got two F-16s at about your—say, your 10 o’clock position.” [CBS News, 9/11/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 255] Reporters on board notice a fighter flying alongside the plane’s right wing, and then spot another one alongside its left wing. [USA Today, 9/11/2001] According to a photographer on the plane, these jets are “so close that we could see the pilot’s head.” [BBC, 9/1/2002] Bush also notices the fighters. [Sammon, 2002, pp. 109] White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett will later recall: “The staff, and the president and us, were filed out along the outside hallway of his presidential cabin there and looking out the windows. And the president gives them a signal of salute, and the pilot kind of tips his wing, and fades off and backs into formation.” [CBS News, 9/11/2002]
Fighters Maybe Arrived Earlier, but Remained out of Sight - According to most accounts, the jets alongside Air Force One belong to the 147th Fighter Wing of the Texas Air National Guard. [CBS News, 9/11/2002; Filson, 2003, pp. 87; St. Petersburg Times, 7/4/2004; Rosenfeld and Gross, 2007, pp. 40; Spencer, 2008, pp. 255] But a few accounts will indicate they belong to a unit of the Florida Air National Guard in Jacksonville (see (10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [US Department of Defense, 9/2001; Daily Telegraph, 12/16/2001] Four 147th Fighter Wing jets have been directed toward the president’s plane to accompany it (see (After 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Filson, 2003, pp. 87; Rosenfeld and Gross, 2007, pp. 40] But according to Sarasota Magazine, Air Force One is “currently being escorted by six jet fighters.” [Sarasota Magazine, 11/2001] Fifteen minutes earlier, at 11:14 a.m., an official, whose identity is unstated but who is not a member of the White House staff, told the reporters on Air Force One that the plane already had plenty of military escort, but the fighters were not visible at that time, presumably meaning they were escorting the plane from a distance. [USA Today, 9/11/2001]
Jets Protecting '80-Mile Bubble' around Air Force One - The two jets seen by the passengers on Air Force One are reportedly being flown by pilots Shane Brotherton and Randy Roberts of the 147th Fighter Wing. Roberts will later recall, “We were trying to keep an 80-mile bubble… around Air Force One, and we’d investigate anything that was within 80 miles.” [CBS News, 9/11/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 255] The 147th Fighter Wing jets will accompany Air Force One to Barksdale Air Force Base, then on to Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, and finally to Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington, DC. [Filson, 2003, pp. 87-88; Galveston County Daily News, 7/9/2005]
Colonel Mark Tillman, the pilot of Air Force One, is informed that an unidentified aircraft is heading toward his plane, and one of the fighter jets that is escorting Air Force One then goes and intercepts this suspicious aircraft. [Aero-News Network, 7/19/2012; KFDI, 12/11/2012] Air Force One is flying toward Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana and has now been joined by two F-16 fighters belonging to the 147th Fighter Wing of the Texas Air National Guard (see (11:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Rosenfeld and Gross, 2007, pp. 40; Aviationist, 9/9/2011]
Pilot Says Aircraft Will Be Shot Down if It Is Hostile - The pilot of one of the fighters calls Tillman and tells him, “There’s a guy coming off New Orleans, looks like New Orleans, and he’s coming off and he’s climbing right at us, he’s coming right up at us.” He says he has instructed the pilot of the other fighter to head out to locate and identify the aircraft, and, he says, if the aircraft is “not a friendly, he’s gonna go ahead and splash him.” Tillman asks the pilot, “Who has got shootdown authority here?” and is told, “You have shootdown authority.” He then phones the president’s office, downstairs on Air Force One, and says to the person who answers, “Let the president know: the fighters on the wing say that I have shootdown authority.” Tillman then hears “a little chuckle in the background,” which, he will later say, is the “president and everybody laughing ‘cause Tillman thinks he has shootdown authority.”
Aircraft Is Just a Learjet Flown by a Civilian - The suspicious aircraft is intercepted by the fighter that went to locate and identify it. It turns out to be a Learjet piloted by a civilian, according to Tillman, which has just taken off from Lakefront Airport in New Orleans. “My angle coming in [toward Barksdale Air Force Base] was coming right over New Orleans and he’s taking off, coming right at me,” Tillman will say. [US Air Force, 2/29/2012 ; Aero-News Network, 7/19/2012; KFDI, 12/11/2012] If this is correct, it is unclear why the aircraft was permitted to take off, since the FAA ordered a nationwide ground stop at around 9:26 a.m., which was supposed to prevent any aircraft taking off across the US (see (9:26 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [US Congress. House. Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure, 9/21/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 25] “It’s the only guy in the country that didn’t get the word we’re not flying today,” Tillman will comment. Finally, according to Tillman, the FAA’s Houston Center gets the Learjet back on the ground. [KFDI, 12/11/2012] Air Force One then heads on to Barksdale Air Force Base, where it will land at 11:45 a.m. (see 11:45 a.m. September 11, 2001). [CBS News, 9/11/2002]
Raven Rock Mountain, the location of ‘Site R.’ [Source: Unknown]After arriving at the alternate military command center outside Washington, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz reports that the computer and communications systems there are hardly functioning. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld ordered Wolfowitz to leave the Pentagon and relocate to the alternate command center—“Site R”—earlier on, and Wolfowitz was transported there by helicopter (see (11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 132; Vogel, 2007, pp. 441] Site R is located inside Raven Rock Mountain, about six miles north of Camp David, on the Pennsylvania-Maryland border. [Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 11/2001] According to authors Patrick Creed and Rick Newman, it “was designed as a duplicate of the NMCC” (the National Military Command Center, inside the Pentagon). “If an attack took out the NMCC, or it needed to be evacuated for any reason, Site R would become the Pentagon’s primary command center.” Since joining the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 1998 as its director of operations, Vice Admiral Scott Fry had “instituted regular drills and other measures to make sure Site R could rapidly get up to speed in an emergency, without glitches that might be fatal in a war setting.” [Creed and Newman, 2008, pp. 174] Yet when he calls the Pentagon from this alternate command center, Wolfowitz reports that “the computer and communication systems there functioned poorly or not at all.” He is, however, able to participate in video teleconference calls. [Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 132] These problems are not reported as causing any significant hindrance in the emergency response to the attacks. But Creed and Newman will comment: “The authority to order major military action rested jointly with the senior civilian leaders at both the White House and the Defense Department. Only they, together, could order troops to move, or missiles to fly. If the NMCC went down before Site R was up and running, the communications link required to utilize the nation’s military might be severed, for the first time since the system was put in place in 1947.” [Creed and Newman, 2008, pp. 174-175]
Two A-10 aircraft from Barksdale Air Force Base. [Source: Greg Steele / US Air Force]Because no fighter jets are available at Barksdale Air Force Base, the Air Force Reserve places two A-10 jets, which are intended for close air support of ground forces, on alert in order to defend the base and the president’s plane, Air Force One, which landed at Barksdale at 11:45 a.m. (see 11:45 a.m. September 11, 2001). Lieutenant General Thomas Keck, the commander of the 8th Air Force, is responsible for protecting President Bush and Air Force One from any attack while they are at his base, and he realizes something needs to be done to provide cover for Barksdale. He therefore calls Brigadier General Jack Ihle, the commander of the 917th Wing of the Air Force Reserve at Barksdale, and requests help. When Keck asks Ihle if he can provide “any kind of defense,” Ihle immediately answers, “You got it!” The Air Force Reserve at Barksdale has no fighters, but it does have A-10 Warthogs, which are twin-engine jet aircraft known as “tank killers,” because they can deliver heavy firepower against tanks and ground forces. Despite the plane’s relatively slow speed, the A-10’s “gun is deadly,” according to Keck. Two A-10s are therefore parked at the end of the base’s runway on cockpit alert, with crews ready to take off immediately if required. Keck will later recall, “We felt better having them there, and then NORAD sent over a couple of F-16s before long.” [American History, 10/2006 ; GlobalSecurity (.org), 7/7/2011] (Keck is presumably referring to the fighters launched by the Louisiana Air National Guard’s 159th Fighter Wing to follow Air Force One after it leaves Barksdale (see (1:45 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Filson, 2003, pp. 87; Associated Press, 12/30/2007] ) Two of the four F-16 fighters from the 147th Fighter Wing of the Texas Air National Guard that escorted Air Force One as it came in to land at Barksdale fly a combat air patrol overhead, while the other two are on the ground with Air Force One while the president is at the base, according to the Bombardier, the newspaper for Barksdale Air Force Base. [Bombardier, 9/8/2006 ]
Norton Schwartz. [Source: US Department of Defense]The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) launches fighter jets in response to a Korean Airlines passenger jet that is mistakenly suspected of being hijacked. [CNN, 8/14/2002; Air Force Magazine, 7/2009] Korean Airlines Flight 85 is a Boeing 747 bound from Seoul, South Korea, to New York, and currently heading for a refueling stop in Anchorage, Alaska. For reasons that are unclear, its pilots entered the code signaling a hijacking into a text message they sent to their airline at 11:08 a.m. The FAA was alerted to this, and it in turn alerted NORAD (see (Shortly Before 12:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [USA Today, 8/12/2002]
Fighters Launched from Alaska Base - Lieutenant General Norton Schwartz, the commander of the Alaskan NORAD Region, will later recall: “Given what had happened on the East Coast, it was entirely plausible to me this was an analog on the West Coast. So naturally, we took this seriously.” Schwartz orders Elmendorf Air Force Base, near Anchorage, to launch two F-15 fighter jets armed with missiles to intercept and shadow Flight 85. [Anchorage Daily News, 9/8/2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 257] The jets belong to the 3rd Wing. [Commemorative Air Force, Inc., 4/2/2008 ] Schwartz’s instructions for the fighter pilots are: “Tail the aircraft.… Follow Flight 85 at a position out of sight of passengers. Follow so the four-man flight crew—and anyone in the cockpit with them—couldn’t see them either.” [Anchorage Daily News, 9/8/2002] The two jets will fly about a mile behind Flight 85, shadowing it so its crew and passengers do not realize there are fighters in close proximity. [Alaska Legislature. Joint Senate and House Armed Services Committee, 2/5/2002]
Canadian Fighters Launched - Two Royal Canadian Air Force CF-18 fighter jets are also launched in response to Flight 85, although whether they take off before or after the 3rd Wing F-15s is unstated. [Anchorage Daily News, 9/29/2001] After Flight 85’s pilots refuse to confirm that their plane is not hijacked, Schwartz will threaten to have the plane shot down (see (Shortly After 1:24 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 278] The NORAD jets will escort Flight 85 until it lands at Whitehorse Airport in Canada at 2:54 p.m. (see 2:54 p.m. September 11, 2001). [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 9/12/2001; USA Today, 8/12/2002]
An F-15 from the 159th Fighter Wing. [Source: Louisiana National Guard]Fighter jets belonging to the Louisiana Air National Guard’s 159th Fighter Wing are launched in order to accompany Air Force One after it takes off from Barksdale Air Force Base. [Filson, 2003, pp. 87; Associated Press, 12/30/2007] The 159th Fighter Wing is located at Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base New Orleans, in Belle Chasse, Louisiana. [GlobalSecurity (.org), 1/21/2006]
SEADS Scrambles Fighters - Although the wing is not one of NORAD’s alert units around the US, NORAD’s Southeast Air Defense Sector (SEADS) scrambles four of its fighters around the time President Bush is leaving Barksdale Air Base on board Air Force One (see 1:37 p.m. September 11, 2001). The fighters had already been loaded with live missiles by the time Air Force One landed at the base (see 11:45 a.m. September 11, 2001). According to weapons officer Major Jeff Woelbling, “As we were all watching the news, the wing leadership decided to configure our jets and get ready.”
Military Unaware of Air Force One's Route - At the time Air Force One leaves Barksdale, SEADS is unaware of its next destination. Lieutenant Colonel Randy Riccardi, the commander of the 122nd Fighter Squadron, which is part of the 159th Fighter Wing, will later recall, “When Air Force One took off out of Barksdale, we were scrambled because SEADS didn’t know his route of flight.” Riccardi will add: “We were in a four-ship and turned north toward Barksdale and the president was already airborne. We were 300 miles behind him since SEADS didn’t know where he was going.” The 159th Fighter Wing jets will accompany Air Force One until it is near Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska (see 2:50 p.m. September 11, 2001). They then turn around and return to base. [Filson, 2003, pp. 87] When Air Force One landed at Barksdale, it was already being escorted by jets from the 147th Fighter Wing of the Texas Air National Guard (see (After 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (11:29 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Those jets will continue escorting the president’s plane until it reaches Washington, DC. [Galveston County Daily News, 7/9/2005; Bombardier, 9/8/2006 ]
The three F-16 fighter jets that launched from Langley Air Force Base to defend Washington, DC (see (9:25 a.m.-9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001) land back at their base after flying a combat air patrol (CAP) over the capital. The flight lead, Major Dean Eckmann, was refueling on a tanker when the order came for the three fighters to return to base. The two other pilots, Captain Craig Borgstrom and Major Brad Derrig, immediately headed back to Langley and Eckmann joined them shortly after. [Leslie Filson, 2002; Longman, 2002, pp. 222; Spencer, 2008, pp. 277]
Fighters Kept Planes Away from Washington - During the four hours they were over Washington, the three F-16s, which belong to the 119th Fighter Wing of the North Dakota Air National Guard, kept aircraft away from the capital. According to Borgstrom, they only had to intercept a few planes. He will say: “It wasn’t intercept upon intercept. It was one here and, maybe 50 minutes later, one here. There was not a lot of it.” Borgstrom will recall that the three fighters were alone in flying a CAP over Washington for about the first hour, but were then joined by other aircraft “from all over the place.” By the time they headed back to Langley Air Force Base, Borgstrom will say that he “personally counted 17 other fighters in the CAP.” [Leslie Filson, 2002]
Pilots Learn Details of Attacks - The three pilots had been unaware of precisely why they were scrambled and did not realize the threat was from hijacked planes (see (9:30 a.m.-2:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 45] They only learn the details of the terrorist attacks after landing back at Langley. Borgstrom is surprised to see over a dozen trailers carrying missiles lined up near the runway. He will recall, “I thought, ‘What the heck is going on?’” because, “At this point, I still didn’t know it was airliners” that were involved in the attacks. [Leslie Filson, 2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 277] According to Eckmann, it is only after they land that the three pilots learn about the World Trade Center towers collapsing. Eckmann learns of the collapses in a phone call with his wife. [Leslie Filson, 12/6/2002] Borgstrom asks his crew chief, “What else did they get?” As Borgstrom will later recall, the crew chief says he isn’t sure, “but he thought there was some others,” presumably meaning more planes and targets involved. Borgstrom recalls, “So at that point I was like, oh no, a really terrible thing has happened.” [Leslie Filson, 2002; Spencer, 2008, pp. 277] According to Eckmann, the three pilots only learn about Flight 93 on the following day, September 12. [Leslie Filson, 12/6/2002]
The two F-15 fighter jets that launched from Otis Air National Guard Base in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, in response to the hijacked Flight 11 (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001) land back at their base after flying a combat air patrol (CAP) over New York City. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002; Filson, 10/2/2002] The F-15s, which belong to the 102nd Fighter Wing of the Massachusetts Air National Guard, are piloted by Major Daniel Nash and Lieutenant Colonel Timothy Duffy. [Rosenfeld and Gross, 2007, pp. 35]
Fighters Intercepted about 100 Aircraft - Duffy and Nash’s job during the CAP was to identify and divert all aircraft from the Manhattan area. Duffy will later recall, “We would pull up next to them and tip our wings or fly across in front of them to get them to leave the area.” [102nd Fighter Wing, 2001; 9/11 Commission, 1/7/2004 ] He will say that during their time flying over Manhattan, “All of the sudden, you get contacts coming toward the city that are unidentified and aren’t talking to anybody, and we were getting real nervous.” [Filson, 10/22/2002] Duffy will estimate that the two fighters intercepted and escorted about 100 aircraft in total, including emergency, military, and news helicopters, plus dozens of small private planes whose pilots were unaware of the attacks on New York. Some of those pilots had seen the smoke over the city and decided to investigate. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002; Cape Cod Times, 8/21/2002]
One Fighter over Manhattan at All Times - Duffy and Nash had alternated their responsibilities, so that one of them would remain over Manhattan at all times while the other would intercept aircraft or be refueled by a tanker plane over the ocean (see (Shortly After 9:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001). After flying the CAP for about two hours, they were joined by a couple more F-15s from Otis Air Base (see (11:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). While those jets flew at around 18,000 feet, Nash and Duffy remained at around 10,000 feet. [Cape Cod Times, 8/21/2002; Filson, 10/2/2002; Filson, 10/22/2002; 9/11 Commission, 1/7/2004 ] Eventually, after several hours flying over Manhattan, Nash and Duffy were ordered to return to their base.
Base Hectic with Activity - Upon landing, they find that Otis Air Base is very different to how it was when they took off. Rows and rows of their unit’s fighters are lined up near the runway, surrounded by about 100 maintenance personnel who are frantically working to prepare the aircraft for battle. [Spencer, 2008, pp. 273-274] Armed security officers in flak jackets are guarding every entrance to the base; personnel are swarming in the buildings; and officers are trying to locate all the reserve pilots.
Pilot Learns of Pentagon Attack - The two fighter pilots had been poorly informed about what was going on regarding the terrorist attacks, and were only told in passing by an air traffic controller that there had been an attack in Washington (see (8:53 a.m.-10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). After he gets out of his plane, Nash is informed by a crew member that an aircraft crashed into the Pentagon. [Cape Cod Times, 8/21/2002; Michael Bronner, 2006] Nash and Duffy subsequently go to their unit’s “intelligence shop” and describe what they have done since taking off from the base hours earlier. [Filson, 10/2/2002]
Gallatin Field Airport in Bozeman, Montana. [Source: Gallatin Field Airport]Several dozen emergency management officials and federal staff from Eastern US states, including Virginia and Washington, DC, are flown back to their home states from Montana. They are among hundreds of emergency management personnel who have been attending the annual conference of the National Emergency Management Association (NEMA) in Big Sky, Montana, which began on September 8 (see September 8-11, 2001). [Natural Hazards Observer, 3/2001; State Government News, 10/2001 ] The emergency managers learned of the attacks in New York while waiting to participate in a series of conference sessions on domestic preparedness (see After 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). [State Government News, 10/2001 ; Stateline (.org), 9/10/2002] The conference’s organizers then began arranging for military aircraft to fly state emergency management leaders back to their capitals. [New York Times, 9/12/2001]
Seven Hours before Plane Cleared to Fly Managers Home - An Air Force C-17 cargo plane now flies more than 40 emergency managers and federal staff from the airport in Bozeman, Montana, back to their home states. They have had to wait at the airport for more than seven hours while others at the conference site arranged clearance from the FAA for the aircraft to take them home. [State Government News, 10/2001 ] Military aircraft reportedly fly about 23 emergency management directors back to their home states on this day. [Stateline (.org), 10/11/2001] Ed Jacoby, the director of the New York State Emergency Management Office, was flown back to New York State earlier on (see (After 11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [119th Fighter Wing, 10/25/2001; Stateline (.org), 9/10/2002] Many of those attending the NEMA conference who are unable to get on emergency military flights to take them home have to instead drive hundreds, or in some cases thousands, of miles to get back to their states. [State Government News, 10/2001 ]
The plane with General Henry Shelton, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, on board lands at Andrews Air Force Base, just outside Washington, DC, after repeatedly being denied permission to enter US airspace. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001 ; Air Force Magazine, 9/2011 ] At the time of the attacks on the World Trade Center, Shelton was flying toward Europe to attend a NATO conference. After he learned of the second attack, he ordered that his plane turn around and head back to the US (see (8:50 a.m.-10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell, 2010, pp. 430-431] However, for a number of hours, the plane, nicknamed “Speckled Trout,” was refused clearance to return because the nation’s airspace had been shut down (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). After flying in a “holding pattern” near Greenland and later flying in another holding pattern over Canada, the plane was finally cleared to fly back into the United States (see (After 9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Air Force Magazine, 9/2011 ] It was escorted by F-16 fighter jets as it flew into the US airspace. [Sanger Herald, 10/17/2013] After flying over New York, Speckled Trout lands at Andrews Air Force Base. [Air Force Magazine, 9/2011 ] It is recorded as having landed at 4:40 p.m. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001 ] “We landed to find the normally bustling Air Force base like a ghost town,” Shelton will later recall. “Like so many government institutions, parts of the base bad been evacuated.” At the base, Shelton is “met by an entourage of three District of Columbia patrol cars and about a dozen motorcycle cops,” which will escort his car, “lights flashing and sirens blaring,” to the Pentagon. [Shelton, Levinson, and McConnell, 2010, pp. 433-434; UNC-TV, 1/27/2013] He will join other senior officials in the National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon at 5:40 p.m. (see 5:40 p.m. September 11, 2001). [Myers, 2009, pp. 159]
Two F-15 fighter jets that have been patrolling the airspace above New York are instructed to investigate a supposedly suspicious aircraft, but upon inspection find it to be the tanker plane that has been providing them with fuel. [Richard, 2010, pp. 130-131] The two fighters, which belong to the 102nd Fighter Wing at Otis Air National Guard Base, Massachusetts, are piloted by Major Martin Richard and Major Robert Martyn. [102nd Fighter Wing, 2001] They arrived over New York at around 11:00 a.m., after being instructed to set up a combat air patrol over the city (see (11:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 10/14/2003 ; Richard, 2010, pp. 24]
NEADS Reports Suspect Aircraft over Long Island - After patrolling the New York airspace for several hours, the two pilots are preparing to fly back to Otis Air Base. Suddenly, a controller at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) calls and alerts them to a suspicious aircraft in the area. The controller says, “We have a report of a light aircraft flying erratically, 15 west of your position over Long Island.” After Martyn acknowledges the message, the two fighters bank hard to the left and descend. Richard reaches an altitude of about 500 feet, but, as his plane’s radar sweeps, he looks around and sees nothing there. He calls out, “Picture clear,” and then reports back to NEADS. The NEADS controller then tells Richard to “skip it,” and says the suspect aircraft is now “20 northeast of your position, at 30,000 feet.” He asks if the two fighters have enough fuel to investigate it and Richard responds, “Affirmative.” Richard and Martyn then reform and increase their power. However, Richard will later write, “It didn’t make any sense that a large aircraft would make it from the city, head northeast, and climb to 30,000 feet undetected.”
Pilot Inspects Aircraft, Finds It Is Tanker Plane - Martyn asks the NEADS controller, “Are you sure that’s not the tanker we just used over Ground Zero?” but the controller retorts, “Unknown.” Martyn says to Richard over the radio, “That’s the tanker we just were refueling with,” and asks him if he has enough fuel left to go and identify the target. Richard says he has and then flies above Martyn. He closes in to within about three miles of the aircraft NEADS identified, and can see the engines and the boom, revealing it to indeed be the tanker that has been providing them with fuel. He thinks to himself, “How could [NEADS] have screwed this up?” He will later reflect, “It was incredible to me that they didn’t know this was the tanker we had just left!” Richard calls NEADS and tells the controller there, “It’s the tanker.” Sheepishly, the controller confirms the message. [Richard, 2010, pp. 130-131] Richard and Martyn then return to Otis Air Base at around 6:00 p.m. [102nd Fighter Wing, 2001]
An unidentified fast-moving aircraft is noticed flying toward Air Force One as it is bringing President Bush back to Washington, DC, but the aircraft turns out to be just a Learjet, reportedly “in the wrong place at the wrong time.” [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002; Filson, 2003, pp. 88] Bush announced he would be returning to Washington while he was at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska (see (4:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001), and his plane left the base and headed for the capital shortly after 4:30 p.m. (see (4:33 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Sammon, 2002, pp. 123; Bush, 2010, pp. 135] As Air Force One is approaching Andrews Air Force Base, just outside Washington, fighter jets belonging to the District of Columbia Air National Guard (DCANG) and the 119th Fighter Wing are flying combat air patrols over the capital. They have been joined by a number of other fighters from across the northeast US.
Pilots Told They Will Be Escorting Air Force One - Among the pilots flying over Washington are Lieutenant Colonel Marc Sasseville and Lieutenant Heather Penney of the DCANG, who are flying their second mission of the day. Sasseville and Penney are instructed to contact an Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) plane in their area and “expect special tasking.” When they make contact with the AWACS plane, its controller directs them to fly about 160 miles to the west and says they are going to “escort Air Force One.” Two of the 119th Fighter Wing’s jets offer to accompany Sasseville and Penney, and Sasseville accepts.
Unidentified Aircraft Seen Flying toward Air Force One - A short time later, an AWACS controller reports that a fast-moving unidentified aircraft is flying toward Air Force One. The aircraft is currently about 70 miles southwest of the president’s plane, but is on a “cutoff vector” to Air Force One. The controller reports that the suspicious plane is flying above 40,000 feet, whereas Air Force One is “in the 20,000 feet range.” All the same, Sasseville directs the 119th Fighter Wing’s jets to intercept the aircraft and they quickly do so.
Aircraft Is Not a Threat - The suspicious aircraft turns out to be just a Learjet “that hadn’t yet landed after aircraft nationwide had been ordered out of the air,” according to Aviation Week and Space Technology magazine. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002; Filson, 2003, pp. 88] However, the FAA ordered that all airborne aircraft must land at the nearest airport many hours earlier, at around 9:45 a.m. (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [US Congress. House. Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure, 9/21/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 25] The plane is simply “in the wrong place at the wrong time,” according to author Leslie Filson. [Filson, 2003, pp. 88] “There was a Learjet vectored on Air Force One,” Sasseville will tell the 9/11 Commission, “but it was nothing.” [9/11 Commission, 3/11/2004 ] The two DCANG fighters and the two 119th Fighter Wing jets will subsequently accompany Air Force One as it flies into Andrews Air Force Base. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002]
US Secretary of State Colin Powell and his deputy, Richard Armitage, discuss a list of demands to be put to Pakistan the next day. The demands are to be issued as a result of 9/11, perceived Pakistani assistance to radical Islamists, and the need for Pakistan’s help with any campaign against al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. According to authors Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark, although the US is opposed to the nuclear proliferation operations headed by Pakistani scientist A. Q. Khan, Powell and Armitage “back […] off from pursuing the nuclear question, reasoning that the priority was to get [Pakistani leader Pervez] Musharraf’s commitment to fighting terrorism.” The demands are put to Mahmood Ahmed, director of Pakistan’s ISI intelligence agency, the next day (see September 13-15, 2001). [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 305]
In 2007, Los Angeles Times journalist Steven Braun, coauthor of a book on arms dealer Victor Bout, will claim, “We now know that one of Bout’s pals approached an American intelligence agent soon after the [9/11] attacks, suggesting that the US use his operation in arming the Northern Alliance against the Taliban and al-Qaeda. We don’t know for sure if the US accepted, but European intelligence officials believe a relationship blossomed. Within two years, Bout was flying for us not only in Iraq, but also in Afghanistan.” [Harper's, 7/26/2007] The Bout associate Braun refers to is Sanjivan Ruprah. In November 2001, Ruprah contacts an FBI agent and offers a deal. He and Bout will secretly help the US arm the Northern Alliance in its fight against the Taliban, and help the US gain information on al-Qaeda and other militant groups. He and Bout would provide and deliver many millions of dollars’ worth of weapons that the Northern Alliance has already told Bout that they need. It is unclear if the deal ever goes through, and some experts and officials doubt it. However, one European official will later say, “We know Bout had his aircraft near Afghanistan and made them available to the US efforts almost immediately. They needed him and he had the only airlift capacity in the region.… The deal was, if he flew, the US would leave him alone.” Richard Chichakli, a close associate of Bout’s, will later boast that Bout organized three flights carrying US personnel to Afghanistan. (He will later withdraw the claim.) Ruprah twice flies to the US for secret talks with the FBI about such deals, despite being on a UN travel ban list. Such contacts are kept secret from US officials attempting to arrest Bout. Ruprah will be arrested in Belgium in February 2002, and documents found in his possession are the only reason anything is known about his secret talks with the FBI. Two months later, he is freed on bail and immediately skips the country. He is soon arrested in Italy, then curiously freed on bail again, and then escapes again. He has not been rearrested since. [Farah and Braun, 2007, pp. 194-202] Prior to 9/11, Bout was the main arms dealer for the Taliban, greatly assisting al-Qaeda in the process. He had been supplying weapons to the Northern Alliance until about 1996, but switched sides once the Taliban gained the upper hand in the conflict (see October 1996-Late 2001). But despite these alleged US ties, it 2002 it will be reported that Bout has recently been helping al-Qaeda and the Taliban transport gold (see Summer 2002). He will work for the US military in Iraq in 2003 (see Late April 2003-2007).
Pakistani ISI Director Lt. Gen. Mahmood Ahmed is periodically meeting and communicating with top Taliban leader Mullah Omar during this time. He is advising him to resist the US and not to hand over bin Laden (see September 17-18 and 28, 2001). According to journalist Kathy Gannon, he is also giving Omar and other Taliban leaders advice on how to resist the US military. Omar has almost no education and very little understanding of the Western world. Mahmood, by contrast, has just come from meetings with top officials in the US (see September 13-15, 2001). Gannon will later write that each time Mahmood visited Omar, he gave him “information about the likely next move by the United States. By then, [he] knew there weren’t going to be a lot of US soldiers on the ground. He warned Mullah Omar that the United States would be relying heavily on aerial bombardment and on the Northern Alliance.” Mahmood gives additional pointers on targets likely to be hit, command and control systems, anti-aircraft defense, what types of weapons the US will use, and so forth. [Gannon, 2005, pp. 93-94] Immediately after 9/11, Mahmood had promised Pakistan’s complete support to help the US defeat the Taliban (see September 13-15, 2001).
In the days just after the 9/11 attacks, top US officials give approval to use the Predator drone in Afghanistan. The first Predator drones and missiles reached the Afghanistan theater on September 16. Two days later, the Predator is first used, flying over Kabul and Kandahar, but without carrying weapons. On October 7, the unnamed nearby country hosting the drones grants approval for armed Predators to be used. The first armed mission is flown later the same day. The CIA is in charge of most Predator flights in the region. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004 ] The speed in which the Predator is deployed in Afghanistan is noticeable, considering that just one week before 9/11, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice concluded that the armed Predator was not ready to be used there (see September 4, 2001).
During an attempt at transcribing tape recordings of communications at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) from September 11, a tape is damaged. [9/11 Commission, 10/28/2003 ; Farmer, 2009, pp. 274] In a corner of the NEADS operations floor, four Dictaphone multi-channel tape recorders recorded every radio channel on September 11. [Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006] Technical Sergeant James Tollack, the resident expert in digital voice recording systems at McGuire Air Force Base, New Jersey, arrived at NEADS on September 20, in order to transcribe the facility’s recordings from September 11 (see (September 20-October 4, 2001)).
Tape Reformatted during Rebooting - On the following day, one of the tapes Tollack is working from becomes damaged, causing much of the information on it to be lost. Interviewed by the 9/11 Commission in 2004, Tollack will explain what happens. He will say a civilian contractor assists him as they reboot the system, but this causes the tape to be re-formatted, and so the information on it is lost. [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/21/2001; 9/11 Commission, 3/22/2004] Tollack has at least been able to transcribe a portion of the recording of the NEADS mission crew commander position on the tape before the malfunction occurs. [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/21/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/29/2004] Colonel Robert Marr, the battle commander at NEADS, is subsequently informed of what has happened, including the loss of information. [9/11 Commission, 3/22/2004]
Reason Tape Is Damaged Disputed - When members of the 9/11 Commission staff visit NEADS during their investigation of the September 11 attacks, they will be told that Tollack caused the tape to malfunction and reformat. However, Tollack will dispute this. He will deny having caused the tape to malfunction and profess ignorance as to why he was subsequently asked to stop listening to and transcribing the tapes.
Unclear if Tollack Continues Transcribing Tapes - The Commission staff members will also be told that after the tape is damaged, Tollack is instructed to stop transcribing the tapes because Department of Defense officials are concerned that they could be permanently lost. [9/11 Commission, 7/29/2004; Farmer, 2009, pp. 274] And according to journalist and author Philip Shenon, by the time the Commission gains possession of the tapes, around December 2003, NORAD has still “not prepared transcripts itself” of their contents. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 208] However, Tollack will remain at NEADS for at least another 10 days after the equipment malfunction occurs, until the first week of October. Furthermore, two or three days after the tape is damaged, General Ralph Eberhart, the commander of NORAD, visits NEADS and discusses with Tollack the importance of getting the information from the tapes (see (Between September 23 and September 24, 2001)). [9/11 Commission, 3/22/2004] It is therefore unclear when Tollack stops transcribing the tapes, and how much progress he has made before he stops.
Recordings Not Backed Up, Later Restored - The Dictaphone tape recorders that record the radio channels at NEADS are run by General Dynamics. [9/11 Commission, 10/28/2003 ] Richard Crane, General Dynamics’ technical representative to NEADS, will tell the 9/11 Commission that he believes, given the importance of 9/11, the NEADS tapes should have been copied immediately, but were not. Although General Dynamics lacks the capability to do this, Dictaphone could have made backups. And at some point after September 11, it is discovered that Dictaphone can transfer a digital audio tape to DVD for just $150. [9/11 Commission, 10/28/2003 ] However, most of the deleted information on the damaged tape is apparently later restored. In November 2003, it will be reported that Dictaphone “has recovered most of the tracks.” [US Department of Defense, 11/25/2003]
The US military must develop a single integrated picture (SIP) to meet the emerging threat of cruise missile proliferation, says a study directed by Stephen R. Woodall, a defense expert with the National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA), a defense industry lobby group. [Woodall, 9/25/2001 ] A SIP would be a graphic representation of the airspace around a battle zone that would detect and track all airborne objects, discriminating friend from foe. At the moment, the different branches of the military cannot share a common picture of the battlefield in real time. The US is especially vulnerable to low-flying cruise missiles because they are difficult to detect and intercept. The Defense Department created a SIP program three years ago headed by Navy Captain Jeffery W. Wilson to improve the integration between disparate data collection and tracking systems used by the different services, but making them work together is still a distant goal. Says Stephen Woodall: “A SIP would improve homeland defense. ‘You need a SIP around the United States.’ NORAD can see every airplane in the sky and every satellite in space, but that is ‘not good enough for cruise missile defense.’” A cruise missile attack was part of a recent military exercise named Amalgam Virgo ‘01 (see June 1-2, 2001). According to Woodall, “The conclusion of [Amalgam Virgo] was that ‘we are naked. We have no capability to deal with that kind of problem.’” [National Defense, 11/2001; National Defense, 12/2001; National Defense, 9/2002] The deployment of a new mobile radar command center immediately after the 9/11 attacks also underscores the need for further advances in this field (September 12, 2001).
Security is extremely poor at USAMRIID, the Fort Detrick, Maryland, laboratory linked to the 2001 anthrax attacks, as well as other bio-weapons facilities, in the years prior to the anthrax attacks. The security flaws are documented in two reports that will be completed in 2002. One report will be produced by Sandia National Laboratories, which focused on USAMRIID, and the other by the US Army Inspector General’s office, which examined security at Fort Detrick, as well as other locations, including Battelle Memorial Institute. The existence of these reports will first be disclosed in a joint news report by McClatchy Newspapers, ProPublica, and PBS’s Frontline. According to the McClatchy/ProPublica/PBS article, the reports “describe a haphazard system in which personnel lists included dozens of former employees, where new hires were allowed to work with deadly germs before background checks were done, and where stocks of anthrax and other pathogens weren’t adequately controlled.” Additionally, “The existing security procedures… were so lax they would have allowed any researcher, aide, or temporary worker to walk out of the Army bio-weapons lab at Fort Detrick, Md., with a few drops of anthrax.” The FBI will later claim to have identified, and eliminated as suspects, 419 people at Fort Detrick and other locations who either had access to the lab where Bruce Ivins worked, or who had received samples from anthrax flask RMR-1029. The FBI and Justice Department will claim that RMR-1029 was the source of the anthrax used in the attacks, and that Ivins was the sole perpetrator of the attacks (see August 6, 2008). Both of these claims will be called into question (see August 1-10, 2008, August 3-18, 2008, August 5, 2008, August 9, 2008, April 22, 2010, and February 15, 2011). [Propublica, 10/24/2011]
Ummah Tameer-e-Nau’s headquarters in Kabul. [Source: CBC]In early October 2001, Secretary of State Colin Powell visits Pakistan and discusses the security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. He offers US technical assistance to improve the security of Pakistan’s nukes, but Pakistan rejects the offer. Powell also says that the CIA learned of a secret meeting held in mid-August 2001 between two Pakistani nuclear scientists and al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri (see Mid-August 2001). As a result of US pressure, Pakistan arrests the two scientists, Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood and Chaudiri Abdul Majeed, on October 23. The Pakistani ISI secretly detains them for four weeks, but concludes that they are harmless and releases them. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 264-268; Frantz and Collins, 2007, pp. 269-271] In mid-November, after the Taliban is routed from Kabul (see November 13, 2001), the CIA takes over the headquarters there of Ummah Tameer-e-Nau (UTN), a charity founded by the two scientists. In addition to charity material, they find numerous documents and pieces of equipment to help build WMD, including plans for conducting an anthrax attack. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 322] As a result, on December 1, CIA Director George Tenet, Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, head of the CIA Counterterrorist Center’s WMD branch, and a CIA analyst named Kevin make an emergency trip to Pakistan to discuss the issue. Accompanied by Wendy Chamberlin, the US ambassador to Pakistan, Tenet meets with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and urges him to take stronger action against the two scientists and their UTN charity. Musharraf reluctantly agrees, and the two men are rearrested. According to a 2007 book by Tenet, after being tested by a team of US polygraph experts and questioned by US officials, “Mahmood confirmed all we had heard about the August 2001 meeting with Osama bin Laden, and even provided a hand-drawn rough bomb design that he had shared with al-Qaeda leaders.” During the meeting, an unnamed senior al-Qaeda leader showed Mahmood a cannister that may have contained some kind of nuclear material. This leader shared ideas about building a simple firing system for a nuclear “dirty bomb” using commercially available supplies. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 264-268; Frantz and Collins, 2007, pp. 269-271] However, on December 13, the two scientists are quietly released again. The US does not officially freeze UTN’s assets until December 20, and Pakistan apparently follows suit a short time later (see December 20, 2001). [Wall Street Journal, 12/24/2001; Frantz and Collins, 2007, pp. 271]
Entity Tags: Wendy Chamberlin, Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Pervez Musharraf, Al-Qaeda, Chaudiri Abdul Majeed, Colin Powell, George J. Tenet, Osama bin Laden, Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, Ummah Tameer-e-Nau
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network
In the late autumn of 2001, when US-allied forces are overrunning Taliban positions in Afghanistan, the Darunta camp run by al-Qaeda is seized and searched. Al-Qaeda leader Midhat Mursi (a.k.a. Abu Khabab al-Masri) ran al-Qaeda’s WMD program and conducted crude chemical weapons experiments there. The CIA recovers one document there by Mursi that refers to connections between al-Qaeda and Pakistani nuclear scientists. It reads, in part, “As you instructed us you will find attached a summary of the discharges from a traditional nuclear reactor, amongst which are radioactive elements that could be used for military ends. One can use them to contaminate an area or halt the advance of the enemy. It is possible to get more information from our Pakistani friends who have great experience in this sphere.” [Bergen, 2006, pp. 345; Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 294] This could be a reference to links between al-Qaeda and the Pakistani nuclear scientists working with the Ummah Tameer-e-Nau charity front (see 2000 and Mid-August 2001).
A set of aluminum tubes arrives at the docks in Dubai addressed to a company called Gulf Technical Industries (GTI), which is owned by Peter Griffin, a long-time A. Q. Khan associate. Griffin will later recall that he gets a call from his office manager: “He said he’d been advised by a shipping company there was a consignment of aluminum tubes that had just arrived at Dubai docks for GTI but he could not find any record of us having ordered them.” Griffin realizes immediately that the aluminum tubes may well be for use in a nuclear weapons program by the Khan network. He will comment, “I sensed right away it was [Bukhary Sayed Abu] Tahir,” an associate of both Khan and Griffin (see August 1997). Griffin calls Tahir, who admits the tubes are really for him, but that he has used the name of Griffin’s company for the delivery. Although Griffin and Tahir have an ongoing business relationship, Griffin is angry at being used, and says: “This is the end of it. If you do anything like this again I’ll take you to court in Dubai. Do you hear?” It appears that the tubes are for Libya’s illicit nuclear weapons program, and that, in Griffin’s words, he is being set up “as the fall guy” if anything should go wrong. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 366-367]
Nine Republican senators, led by conservatives Jesse Helms (R-NC), Trent Lott (R-MS), and Jon Kyl (R-AZ), send a letter to President Bush urging him to withdraw from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (see May 26, 1972, May 1, 2001, and June 2001). They explain their position by arguing that the ABM Treaty has become “the most significant obstacle to improved relations between the United States and Russia.” This argument is a complete reversal of conservatives’ earlier positions: that arms control agreements such as the ABM Treaty did nothing to stabilize relations between the US and its nuclear-armed opponents. The argument also flies in the face of public and private statements by Russian leaders, who consider the treaty one of the key elements of stable US-Russian relations. Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly stressed the importance of the treaty in maintaining nuclear parity between the two nations (see July 2001), even as Russia seeks to reduce its nuclear arsenal from 6,000 to 1,500 deployed missiles. In 2008, author J. Peter Scoblic will speculate as to why conservatives wish to withdraw from the treaty: “For isolationists, missile defense renewed the dream of Fortress America, allowing us to retreat even further from crises abroad. For nationalists and moralists, missile defense was a shield against engagement and detente in the event that, say, North Korea was to develop a nuclear-armed ICBM (see August 31, 1998). For neoconservatives, missile defense was a necessary adjunct to their proactive vision of changing regimes and democratizing the world” (see March 12, 2001). [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 174-176]
A second attempt at crafting and ratifying the Biological Weapons and Toxin Convention (BWC) fails after US officials disrupt the negotiations with what the journal New Scientist calls “a last-minute demand it knew other governments would reject.” The conference members hoped to complete the negotiation of an enforcement and verification protocol. The BWC would ban all biological warfare, and would provide enforcement for the ban, something the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention lacks. The US scuttled earlier talks on the new convention by abruptly pulling out of the proceedings (see July 23-25, 2001). Though US officials continue to insist that the Bush administration is in favor of a new treaty, European Union officials now believe that the US has no intention of allowing any such treaty to be ratified. EU officials question if they can continue to work with US officials on any international arms control treaties. One hundred and forty-four nations are attempting to salvage the talks, but the US’s participation is considered critical. An hour before the talks were to wrap up for the week, the US introduces a demand to strike a mandate under which treaty members have been negotiating legally binding compliance measures. Other nations have long since accepted the legally binding mandate, and, until Friday afternoon, US delegates had not voiced an objection. When US officials suddenly demand that the mandate be “terminated” in favor of a measure that would merely require signatories to follow current technological developments, it sparks an uproar among other delegates from European and Asian countries. To prevent the outright failure of the Review Conference, the chairman suspends negotiations until November 2002. Oliver Meier of the arms-control lobbying group Vertic says: “[T]here was never a question of that [measure] substituting for the negotiating mandate. If the US wanted to discuss that it could have brought it up any time during the three weeks.” The last-minute demand, says Meier, “was obviously an attempt to sabotage the conference.” Jan van Aken of the Sunshine Project, a German-American anti-bioweapons group, calls the US officials “liars” and characterizes their behavior as “insulting.” EU officials refuse to continue meeting with US officials after the sudden demand. Elisa Harris of the Center for International and Security Studies says that a failure to reach an agreement on the treaty “would send a very bad signal to proliferators that the international community lacks the will to enforce compliance with the BWC.” [New Scientist, 12/10/2001; Nuclear Threat Initiative, 2/2002; Common Dreams, 8/5/2002; Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 1/2003]
A. Q. Khan (left) and Pervez Musharraf (right). [Source: CBC] (click image to enlarge)After CIA Director George Tenet visits Pakistan and pressures the Pakistani government to take stronger action against the charity front Ummah Tameer-e-Nau (UTN) (see Early October-December 2001), the CIA learns more about the organization. The CIA was previously aware that the two prominent nuclear scientists who co-founded UTN, Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood and Chaudiri Abdul Majeed, had met with Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, and advised them on how to make a nuclear weapon (see Mid-August 2001). However, the CIA discovers that other nuclear scientists are also connected to UTN, including Mirza Yusef Beg, a former member of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC), and Humayun Niaz, also formerly with the PAEC. At least two senior Pakistani military officers are also connected to UTN. All these men are brought in and questioned by US officials. But the CIA is unable to question two others connected to UTN, Muhammad Ali Mukhtar, a nuclear physicist who worked for the PAEC as a weapons expert, and Suleiman Asad, who worked at A. Q. Khan’s Kahuta Research Laboratories (KRL) in its weapons design division. The CIA reasons that these two scientists would be the type of nuclear bomb makers bin Laden was most interested in. However, the Pakistani government claims that the two are in Burma working on a top secret project and cannot be brought back to Pakistan for questioning. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 320-321] Shortly after 9/11, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf called one of the leaders of Burma and asked if the two scientists could be given asylum there. [New York Times, 12/9/2001] The CIA is also interested in talking to Hamid Gul, a former ISI director and UTN’s honorary patron, but Pakistan will not allow him to be questioned either, even though he had met with Mahmood in Afghanistan around the time Mahmood met with bin Laden and al-Zawahiri. As a result, the CIA is unable to learn just how much UTN could have assisted al-Qaeda with weapons of mass destruction. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 320-321]
Entity Tags: Suleiman Asad, Ummah Tameer-e-Nau, Pervez Musharraf, Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood, Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission, Mullah Omar, Humayun Niaz, Hamid Gul, Chaudiri Abdul Majeed, Central Intelligence Agency, Muhammad Ali Mukhtar, Osama bin Laden, Kahuta Research Laboratories, Mirza Yusef Beg
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network
The A. Q. Khan nuclear proliferation ring sets up a new company in Malaysia to replace a plant in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, that was shut down. The Dubai plant, the Desert Electrical Equipment Factory, was closed down by the network the previous year due to a British customs investigation into the smuggling ring’s operations in Dubai (see Late March 2000). Under a contract with Khan associate Bukhary Sayed Abu Tahir, the new company in Malaysia manufactures centrifuge components for the Libyan nuclear program. [Armstrong and Trento, 2007, pp. 194-195]
Dugway Proving Ground. [Source: Public domain]The US Army responds to a journalistic investigation and confirms that it has been making weapons-grade anthrax in recent years, in violation of an international treaty. The US offensive biological weapons program was supposedly closed in 1969 when the US signed an international biological weapons treaty. In 1998, scientists at the US Army’s Dugway Proving Ground in Utah turned small quantities of wet anthrax into powder (see Spring 1998 and After). This weaponized anthrax appears to be very similar or identical to the anthrax used in the recent attacks. Molecular biologist Barbara Hatch Rosenberg says: “This is very significant.… There’s never been an acknowledgment that any U.S. facility had weaponized anthrax.… The question is, could someone have gotten hold of a very small amount and used it in the letters?” Some argue that this production of anthrax is in violation of an international biological weapons treaty that the US signed while others argue it is not. It is believed about six scientists at Dugway have the expertise to make powdered anthrax. The FBI has intensively questioned those at Dugway who have worked with anthrax. [Baltimore Sun, 12/13/2001; New York Times, 12/13/2001]
Senate Democrats criticize the Bush administration’s decision to unilaterally withdraw from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty with Russia (see May 26, 1972 and December 13, 2001). Joseph Biden (D-DE), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, says the withdrawal will cause an arms buildup not only in Russia but in Pakistan and India, thereby increasing tensions in southern Asia. President Bush’s priorities are “out of whack,” Biden says, and adds that the US should be more worried about terrorists with weapons of mass destruction than countries with long-range ballistic missiles. “September 11 indicated our country is vulnerable,” Biden says. “The thing we remain the least vulnerable to is an ICBM attack from another nation.” Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle warns that the withdrawal could “rupture relations with key countries around the world,” and raises questions about future arms races involving other countries. Bush officials counter that if terrorists get their hands on long-range missiles, they will use them, and the US must be prepared to defend against such an attack. [CNN, 12/14/2001]
Non-proliferation expert John Rhinelander says that the US’s unilateral withdrawal from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty (see May 26, 1972 and December 13, 2001) threatens nuclear reduction programs between the US and Russia. Rhinelander, who helped negotiate the 1972 treaty, says, “Russia still possesses approximately 6,000 deployed strategic nuclear weapons, many of which are on hair-trigger alert; an even larger number of tactical nuclear weapons; and the huge inventory of weapon-grade fissile materials and chemical-weapon stocks. This arsenal constitutes the largest single threat to the US and the most potent proliferation risk in the world. It can be handled only through negotiation and cooperation between the US and Russia, especially mutual nuclear weapons reductions. This task will be near impossible if President Bush acts unilaterally on the ABM Treaty, which Russia, US allies, and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty community (including the US through 2000) regard as a cornerstone of strategic stability. The more the United States disassociates itself from the ABM Treaty, the less likely it is that Russia will cooperate in nuclear reductions or keep their nuclear infrastructure open to intrusive inspections.” [Carter, 2004, pp. 272-273]
US nuclear missiles such as this one will no longer be restricted under the ABM treaty. [Source: Associated Press / CNN]President Bush announces that the US is unilaterally withdrawing from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty (see May 26, 1972). The treaty, negotiated with the former Soviet Union in 1972, sets strict limitations on missile and missile defense developments by both Russia and the US. After the six-month withdrawal period is concluded in mid-2002, the US will begin developing an anti-missile defense system, an outgrowth and extension of the old “Star Wars” system (see March 23, 1983). Bush tells reporters: “Today I am giving formal notice to Russia that the United States of America is withdrawing from this almost 30-year-old treaty.… I have concluded the ABM treaty hinders our government’s ability to develop ways to protect our people from future terrorist or rogue state missile attacks.” Bush explains: “The 1972 ABM treaty was signed by the United States and the Soviet Union at a much different time, in a vastly different world. One of the signatories, the Soviet Union, no longer exists and neither does the hostility that once led both our countries to keep thousands of nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert, pointed at each other.… Today, as the events of September 11 made all too clear, the greatest threats to both our countries come not from each other, or from other big powers in the world, but from terrorists who strike without warning or rogue states who seek weapons of mass destruction.” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld calls the treaty “outdated.” [White House, 12/13/2001; CNN, 12/14/2001]
Follows Failure to Persuade Russia to Drop Treaty - The decision follows months of talks in which Bush officials attempted without success to persuade Russia to set the treaty aside and negotiate a new one more favorable to US interests. Bush says that he and Russian President Vladimir Putin “have also agreed that my decision to withdraw from the treaty will not in any way undermine our new relationship or Russian security.” Putin calls Bush’s decision a “mistake,” and says the two nations should move quickly to create a “new framework of our strategic relationship.” Putin says on Russian television that the US decision “presents no threat to the security of the Russian Federation.” He also says that the US and Russia should decrease their present stockpiles of nuclear weapons. He wants what he calls “radical, non-reversible and verifiable reductions in offensive weapons”; in turn, the Bush administration is against any sort of legally binding agreements. Putin says, “Today, when the world has been faced with new threats, one cannot allow a legal vacuum in the sphere of strategic stability.” [CNN, 12/14/2001; CNN, 12/14/2001]
'Abdication of Responsibility' - Senate Democrats (see December 13-14, 2001) and non-proliferation experts (see December 13, 2001) strongly question the decision to withdraw. Singapore’s New Straits Times writes: “History will one day judge the US decision to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in the same way it views the US failure in 1919 to join the League of Nations—as an abdication of responsibility, a betrayal of humankind’s best hopes, an act of folly. By announcing the decision now, in the midst of a war on terrorism that commands worldwide support, the Bush administration has also displayed a cynicism that will adversely affect the mood of cooperation that has characterized international relations since September 11.” [Carter, 2004, pp. 272-273] Sweden’s foreign ministry warns of possibly “serious consequences for the future of international disarmament.” [BBC, 12/13/2001]
Seizure of Presidential Power - Regardless of the wisdom of withdrawing from the treaty, Bush’s decision has another effect that is subjected to far less public scrutiny: by unilaterally withdrawing the US from the treaty on his own authority, Bush, in the words of author Charlie Savage, “seized for the presidency the power to pull the United States out of any treaty without obtaining the consent of Congress.” Savage, writing in 2007, will note that the Constitution does not provide a clear method of withdrawing the US from an international treaty. However, he will write, judging from the fact that the US Senate must vote to ratify a treaty before it becomes binding, it can be inferred that the Founders intended for the legislature, not the executive branch, to have the power to pull out of a treaty. In Volume 70 of the Federalist Papers, Alexander Hamilton wrote that treaties are far too important to entrust to the decision of one person who will be in office for as few as four years. Hamilton wrote, “The history of human conduct does not warrant that exalted opinion of human virtue which would make it wise in a nation to commit interests of so delicate and momentous a kind, as those which concern its intercourse with the rest of the world, to the sole disposal of a magistrate created and circumstanced as would be a president of the United States.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 140]
Pentagon ‘Nuclear Posture Review.’ [Source: Federation of American Scientists]White House guidance and the Defense Department’s 2001 “Nuclear Posture Review” (NPR) together lead to the creation of a new set of nuclear strike options—OPLAN 8044 Revision 03—against nations that may plan to acquire weapons of mass destruction. These strike options are secretly presented to certain members of Congress. The new nuclear strike options will not be revealed until November 2007, when the Federation of American Scientists receives a partially declassified document from the US Strategic Command (STRATCOM) that details the strike plans. The planning for the new strike options began shortly after the 9/11 attacks, and the US Strategic Command created scenarios for attacking countries such as Russia, China, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, and North Korea; the plan will take effect on March 1, 2003, just weeks before the US invasion of Iraq. Until the documents become publicly available in 2007, Bush administration and Pentagon officials will insist that not only has the US not changed its nuclear policy, it has actually decreased the role of nuclear weapons in its strategic planning (see March 10, 2002, March 9, 2002, and October 9, 2007). Those disavowals will be proven false. Instead, according to the STRATCOM document, one of the first options delineated in the NPR is the use of these newly created nuclear strike options. The significance of the NPR’s new options is in the fact that before now, such scenarios have not been included in the national strategic plans, and “on-the-shelf” plans for nuclear bombing and missile strikes against “rogue” states have not been available. Although the details of the strikes remain classified, it is evident that the planning for these strikes goes far deeper than simple retaliation, but includes, in the words of scientist Hans Kristensen: “actual nuclear warfighting intended to annihilate a wide range of facilities in order to deprive the states the ability to launch and fight with WMD. The new plan formally broadened strategic nuclear targeting from two adversaries (Russia and China) to a total of seven.” [Defense, 1/8/2002 ; Federation of American Scientists, 11/5/2007]
The CIA’s Joint Task Force on Iraq, headed by career officer Valerie Plame Wilson, sends approximately 30 Iraqi-American civilians back to Iraq to interrogate family members who are weapons scientists. The agency hopes that the operation will help close some gaps in the agency’s Iraq intelligence. The plan was devised by Charlie Allen, the CIA’s assistant director for collection. The operation produces a very accurate picture of Iraq’s weapons programs, though the CIA does not realize this at the time. Every single one of family members (see, e.g., May 2002-September 2002) participating in the program return from Iraq with the same information—that Iraq’s nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons programs have long since been abandoned. The program is short-lived. It is shut down by officials in the CIA’s Directorate of Operations who are reportedly jealous of Charlie Allen’s incursions onto its operational turf. The program’s results are buried and never distributed to other bodies within the intelligence community. [Risen, 2006, pp. 183-184; Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 12-14]
In 2006, British and NATO forces take over from US forces in the southern regions of Afghanistan where Taliban resistance is the strongest. The British discover that between 2002 and 2005, the US had not monitored Taliban activity in the southern provinces or across the border in Quetta, Pakistan, where most of the Taliban leadership resides. NATO officers describe the intelligence about the Taliban in these regions as “appalling.” Most Predators were withdrawn from Afghanistan around April 2002 (see April 2002) and satellites and others communications interception equipment was moved to Iraq around the same time (see May 2002). One US general based in Afghanistan privately admits to a reporter that NATO will pay the price for the lack of surveillance in those regions. This general says the Iraq war has taken up resources and the US concentrated what resources they had left in the region on areas where they thought al-Qaeda leaders were, giving little attention to regions only occupied by the Taliban. As a result, at the end of 2005, NATO intelligence estimates that the Taliban have only 2,000 fighters. But Taliban offensives in 2006 show this number to be a dramatic underestimate. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 359]
Rock Island Arsenal in Illinois produces 500 Mark-77 firebombs for the US Marines. [Sydney Morning Herald, 8/9/2003] Mark-77 firebombs are a more advanced and perfected design (see 1963-1973) of the napalm bombs that were used during Vietnam (see August 2003).
Members of the US Fifth Special Forces Group pose with future Afghan president Hamid Karzai, whom they are protecting.
[Source: US Military]The Atlantic Monthly will later report, “By the beginning of 2002, US and Northern Alliance forces had beaten the Taliban but lost bin Laden. At that point the United States faced a consequential choice: to bear down even harder in Afghanistan, or to shift the emphasis in the global war on terror somewhere else.… Implicitly at the beginning of 2002, and as a matter of formal policy by the end, it placed all other considerations second to regime change in Iraq.” [Atlantic Monthly, 10/2004] In February, 2002, Gen. Tommy Franks allegedly tells Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL), “Senator, we have stopped fighting the war on terror in Afghanistan. We are moving military and intelligence personnel and resources out of Afghanistan to get ready for a future war in Iraq” (see February 19, 2002). [Council on Foreign Relations, 3/26/2004] This shift from Afghanistan to Iraq involves a change of focus and attention (see Early 2002). Additionally, while the total number of US troops (less than 10,000) in Afghanistan does not go down, there is a considerable shift of specialized personnel and equipment many months before the war in Iraq will begin:
On February 15, 2002, President Bush directs the CIA to conduct operations in Iraq (see Early 2002). In mid-March, the CIA tells the White House that it is cutting back operations in Afghanistan (see Spring 2002).
Most of Task Force 5, a top-secret elite CIA and military special forces group, is called home from Afghanistan to prepare for operations in Iraq (see Early 2002).
In March 2002, Fifth Group Special Forces, an elite group whose members speak Arabic, Pashtun, and Dari, that is apparently different from Task Force 5, is sent from Afghanistan to Iraq (see March 2002).
The US Air Force’s only two specially-equipped spy planes that had successfully intercepted the radio transmissions and cell phone calls of al-Qaeda’s leaders are pulled from Afghanistan to conduct surveillance over Iraq. NSA satellites are “boreholed,” (or redirected) from Afghanistan to Iraq as well
(see May 2002).
Almost all Predator drones are withdrawn from Afghanistan and apparently moved to the Persian Gulf region for missions over Iraq (see April 2002).
More personnel will shift to Iraq in late 2002 and early 2003 (see Late 2002-Early 2003). In 2007, retired US Gen. James L. Jones, a former NATO supreme commander, will say that Iraq caused the US to “take its eye off the ball” in Afghanistan. [New York Times, 8/12/2007]
Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, National Security Agency, Thomas Franks, George W. Bush, Flynt Leverett, Al-Qaeda, James L. Jones, Bush administration (43), Daniel Robert (“Bob”) Graham, Central Intelligence Agency, Taliban
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan
As the United States and its allies ready themselves for war with Iraq, numerous press reports say that the US military may use newly-developed “directed energy” weapons during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Directed energy weapons (DEW) are based on laser technology. The most advanced DEW and most likely to be actually deployed is a high-powered microwave (HPM) used to destroy enemy electronics by releasing an electro-magnectic pulse or EMP, akin to an electric surge caused by lightning. The danger of an electro-magnetic pulse was first realized in the 1960s during nuclear weapons research. A nuclear explosion can release enough radiation to “fry” electronic equipment. The US and Soviet militaries are known to have devoted considerable efforts to harden their equipment against such damage. Since the 1980s, the United States has also researched the use of a high-powered microwave as an offensive weapon to disable enemy communications, electric, and computing equipment. Such research has taken place primarily at Kirtland Air Force Base, in New Mexico, under the purview of the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Directed Energy Directorate. The Kirtland center has about 600 employees and a 120 million dollars annual budget. US companies such as TRW, Raytheon and Lockheed Martin are also involved in the field. [Economist, 1/30/2003; Reuters, 2/2/2003; New York Times, 2/20/2003; Associated Press, 3/19/2003]
In a press conference, President Bush issues an invitation for “talks” with North Korea, an odd offering considering that just days before, he had lumped North Korea in with Iran and Iraq as the so-called “axis of evil” in the world (see January 29, 2002). Bush also promises that the US will not attack North Korea, again an odd promise considering that weeks before, the US’s Nuclear Posture Review (see December 31, 2001) had been reported to include plans for a nuclear assault against that nation. During the same press conference, Bush undermines his own peace offering by calling North Korea a “despotic regime” and railing against it for mistreating its citizens. When the North Koreans do offer to reopen negotiations, Bush will refuse (see April 2002). [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 237-238]
General Tommy Franks allegedly tells Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL), who is on a visit to US Central Command: “Senator, we have stopped fighting the war on terror in Afghanistan. We are moving military and intelligence personnel and resources out of Afghanistan to get ready for a future war in Iraq.” [Council on Foreign Relations, 3/26/2004] (In his memoirs, Graham quotes Franks as saying that “military and intelligence personnel are being re-deployed to prepare for an action in Iraq.”) [Graham and Nussbaum, 2004, pp. 125; Knight Ridder, 6/18/2005] Franks will deny making the comment. [Knight Ridder, 6/18/2005] The New Yorker magazine will also report on a redeployment of resources to Iraq at this time (see Early March 2002). [New Yorker, 10/27/2003] In 2009, Graham will tell a Vanity Fair reporter: “In February of ‘02, I had a visit at Central Command, in Tampa, and the purpose was to get a briefing on the status of the war in Afghanistan. At the end of the briefing, the commanding officer, Tommy Franks, asked me to go into his office for a private meeting, and he told me that we were no longer fighting a war in Afghanistan and, among other things, that some of the key personnel, particularly some Special Operations units and some equipment, specifically the Predator unmanned drone, were being withdrawn in order to get ready for a war in Iraq. That was my first indication that war in Iraq was as serious a possibility as it was, and that it was in competition with Afghanistan for materiel. We didn’t have the resources to do both successfully and simultaneously.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]
In February 2002, the Belgian government secretly indicts Victor Bout, the world’s biggest illegal arms dealer, on charges of money laundering and illegal weapons trafficking. For the first time, he can be legally arrested and Interpol issues a secret arrest warrant for him anywhere in the world. Later that month, solid intelligence indicates Bout is going to be on a flight from Moldova to Greece. An encrypted message is sent by British intelligence field agents once the plane takes off, alerting their superiors in London that they are preparing to arrest Bout in Athens. But shortly after the message is sent, Bout’s plane veers away from its flight plan and disappears off radar screens into mountainous terrain. It reappears on radar about ninety minutes later and lands in Athens. British special forces raid the plane, but find it empty except for the pilot and a few passengers. One European intelligence official familiar with the operation will later say, “There were only two intelligence services that could have decrypted the British transmission in so short a time. The Russians and the Americans. And we know for sure it was not the Russians.” [Farah and Braun, 2007, pp. 202-203] It has been alleged that the US began secretly working with Bout shortly after 9/11, despite his previous connections to the Taliban (see Shortly After September 11, 2001).
Fifth Group Special Forces—an elite group whose members speak Arabic, Pashtun, and Dari—is pulled from its mission in Afghanistan and sent to Iraq where the group is assigned the task of locating Saddam Hussein. Members of Fifth Group, who spent six months developing a network of local sources and alliances and who believe they were close to finding Osama bin Laden, are upset with the orders. “We were going nuts on the ground about that decision,” one of them will later recall. [Guardian, 3/26/2004] They are replaced by the Seventh Group Special Forces, who are Spanish speakers experienced mostly in Latin America. They have no local rapport or knowledge. [Guardian, 3/26/2004; Newsweek, 8/28/2007] They are also replaced by the Third Group Special Forces, which is trained to operate in sub-Saharan Africa. They speak French and various African languages. [MSNBC, 7/29/2003] CIA official Gary Schroen will later comment, “Well, you could see changes being made in the US military staffing in Afghanistan, that the Green Beret units, the Fifth Special Forces group, for the most of it, were being pulled out to refit and get ready for Iraq. And it was clear that the kind of guys that I think a lot of us believed were essential US military personnel with special operations capabilities were being pulled away.” [PBS Frontline, 6/20/2006]
While former ambassador Joseph Wilson is still in Africa learning about the supposed Iraq-Niger uranium deal (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), Douglas Rohn, an analyst for the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), writes an intelligence assessment, titled “Niger: Sale of Uranium to Iraq Is Unlikely,” that disputes recent Italian intelligence reports (see October 15, 2001 and February 5, 2002) suggesting that Iraq attempted to purchase uranium from Niger. The assessment reiterates INR’s view that France controls the uranium industry and “would take action to block a sale of the kind alleged in a CIA report of questionable credibility from a foreign government service.” It adds that though “some officials may have conspired for individual gain to arrange a uranium sale,” Nigerien President Mamadou Tandja’s government would have been unlikely to risk relations with the US and other key aid donors. And it cites the logistical difficulties of a secret transaction requiring “25 hard-to-conceal 10-ton trailers” that would have had to travel 1,000 miles and cross one international border before reaching the sea. “A whole lot of things told us that the report was bogus,” Greg Thielmann, a high-ranking INR official, will later explain to Time magazine. “This wasn’t highly contested. There weren’t strong advocates on the other side. It was done, shot down.” The assessment, drafted in response to interest from the vice president’s office (see (February 13, 2002)), is sent to the White House Situation Room and Secretary of State Colin Powell. [Time, 7/21/2003; US Congress, 7/7/2004, pp. 59; Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 96-97; Unger, 2007, pp. 241]
After the existence of the Defense Department’s new Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) (see December 31, 2001) is leaked to the media, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Richard Myers, goes on CNN to claim that the document has little real meaning in an operational sense, but instead is just a policy document that outlines the general US deterrence strategies towards nations with weapons of mass destruction. Nuclear weapons are just one part of that strategy, Myers says. Myers says that the document merely preserves the president’s options “in case this country or our friends and allies were attacked with weapons of mass destruction, be they nuclear, biological, chemical, or for that matter high explosives.” He adds: “It’s been the policy of this country for a long time that the president would always reserve the right up to and including the use of nuclear weapons if that was appropriate. So that continues to be the policy.” [CNN, 3/10/2002] Myers’ attempts to downplay the NPR are inaccurate, as it is a new operational policy that plans for pre-emptive nuclear strikes against countries attempting to create weapons of mass destruction, if the White House deems such strikes necessary. [Federation of American Scientists, 11/5/2007]
CIA Paris Station Chief Bill Murray sends numerous reports to agency headquarters dismissing the theory that Iraq attempted to purchase uranium from Niger. In one cable, he writes, “Do you want me to send a weekly report that the Eiffel Tower is still standing as well?” [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 99]
After exhaustive discussions, White House negotiator Charles Pritchard is able to convince the North Koreans that the US is serious about wanting to reopen negotiations (see Late March, 2001 and February 2002). Once the North Koreans make their overtures for reopening talks, President Bush once again reverses course, abandoning the 2001 policy changes in favor of what officials call a “bold approach” that will deal with all outstanding issues, including nuclear proliferation and human rights abuses, without protracted negotiations. The opportunity to test Bush’s rhetoric never comes; North Korea will soon admit to having the capability to enrich uranium in violation of the Agreed Framework (see October 4, 2002), a development that radically alters US-North Korean relations for the worse. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 238]
Around April 2002, most Predator drones are withdrawn from Afghanistan and apparently moved to the Persian Gulf region for missions over Iraq. Senator Bob Graham (D-FL) will later call the Predator “just about the perfect weapon in our hunt for Osama bin Laden.” He will later comment that their removal is “a clear case of how the Bush administration’s single-minded focus on Iraq undermined the war against al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.” [Graham and Nussbaum, 2004, pp. 121; Washington Post, 10/22/2004; Rashid, 2008, pp. 134] Additionally, over the next years, all new Predators built are sent to Iraq and none to Afghanistan. A former Central Command official will say in 2007, “If we were not in Iraq, we would have double or triple the number of Predators across Afghanistan, looking for Taliban and peering into the tribal areas.” [New York Times, 8/12/2007]
Dr. David Franz, a former commander of USAMRIID, the US Army’s top biological laboratory, says of the 2001 anthrax attacks: “I think a lot of good has come from it. From a biological or a medical standpoint, we’ve now five people who have died, but we’ve put about $6 billion in our budget into defending against bioterrorism.” Plentiful evidence suggests that the anthrax came from USAMRIID, but investigators say they have no suspects at all. They also say they have come up “against some closely held military secrets” which are slowing down the investigation. “Federal investigators tell ABC News that military and intelligence agencies have withheld a full listing of all facilities and all employees dealing with top-secret anthrax programs where important leads could be found.” [ABC News, 4/4/2002]
An RC-135 “Rivet Joint” spy plane. [Source: Defense Department]In May 2002, the US Air Force’s only specially-equipped RC-135 “Rivet Joint” U spy planes—credited with having successfully intercepted the radio transmissions and cellphone calls of al-Qaeda’s leaders—are pulled from Afghanistan to conduct surveillance over Iraq. In June 2003, some RC-135s will finally return to support operations in Afghanistan. Retired Air Force colonel Rick Francona will later comment, “It’s not just the platform itself, it’s the linguists that man the platform. They were being really overworked.” He also says, “I don’t think there is any question that the effort against al-Qaeda was degraded.” [MSNBC, 7/29/2003; Guardian, 3/26/2004] NSA satellites are also “boreholed,” (redirected) from Afghanistan to Iraq. [Atlantic Monthly, 10/2004]
The Rand Corporation publishes a report reviewing the potential to weaponize space. The authors identify four main classes of space weapons that could be developed in the future. The study does not argue in favor of or against the development of these weapons, nor does it address any other issues related to US space policy. Directed-energy weapons, one type of weapon profiled in the report, could destroy targets in space or on the ground. An example of this type of weapon would be a laser. A major hindrance to the development direct-energy weapons is that they would require millions of watts of power. Kinetic-energy weapons could be used against missile targets in space or high up in the Earth’s atmosphere. Its destructive force would come solely from the combination of mass and velocity. Space-based kinetic energy weapons would be launched from space against targets the Earth’s surface, such as large ships, tall buildings, and fuel tanks. The last type of weapons reviewed in the study is space-based conventional weapons that would also be used to attack land targets. The weapons could use radio-frequency or high-power-microwave munitions to destroy their targets. [Space (.com), 5/15/2002; Preston et al., 10/1/2002]
The Bush administration, prodded by State Department official John Bolton, refuses to certify that Russia is in compliance with international accords banning chemical and biological weapons. As a result, Russia is no longer eligible for State Department and Defense Department funding for nuclear nonproliferation programs (see January 10, 2001 and After). The Clinton administration harbored similar concerns, but believed that helping Russia secure its loose nuclear weapons and technology was more important than holding Russia in noncompliance in the CBW accords. In related negotiations, Bolton successfully impedes progress in negotiations in a liability agreement with the US over the securing of “loose nukes”; Bolton insists on absolving US government officials, as well as private firms and personnel, of any liability for accidents or even sabotage encountered as part of the nonproliferation programs. The dispute will not be resolved until September 2006. [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 209]
Dr. Sawsan Alhaddad is one of about 30 Iraqi-Americans who have agreed to participate in a CIA intelligence gathering operation (see 2002). Her brother, Saad Tawfiq, is known by the CIA to have been a key figure in Saddam Hussein’s clandestine nuclear weapons program. The CIA has asked Alhaddad to return to Iraq and ask her brother if he would be willing to defect to the US. If he does not want to leave, she is to ask him several questions about Iraq’s supposed nuclear weapons program. She goes to Iraq in early September. A few days into her visit she begins asking him questions about Iraq’s nuclear weapons program. How close is Iraq to developing nuclear weapons? What process is it using for isotope separation? And, what are the names of the scientists who are working on the program? Tawfiq is surprised the CIA appears to actually believe that Iraq has a nuclear weapons program. He tells her the program ended in 1991. As James Risen reports in his book State of War: “We don’t have the resources to make anything anymore, he told her. We don’t even have enough spare parts for our conventional military. We can’t even shoot down an airplane. We don’t have anything left. If the sanctions are ever lifted, then Saddam is certain to restart the programs. But there is nothing now.” When Sawsan returns to the US, she tells her CIA debriefers everything her brother had told her. But the agents conclude that her brother must have been lying. All of the other Iraqi-Americans who traveled to Baghdad seeking information on behalf of the CIA return with the exact same answer—Iraq has no nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons programs. [Risen, 2006, pp. 183-184]
USAMRIID. [Source: Public domain]After extensive testing, the DNA sequence of the anthrax sent through the US mail in 2001 is deciphered, and it strongly supports suspicions that the bacteria originally came from USAMRIID, the US Army’s biological laboratory at Fort Detrick, Maryland. Furthermore, analysis of genetic drift determines that the attacker’s anthrax was not separated from the source anthrax at USAMRIID for many generations. It suggests that USAMRIID or USAMRIID samples given to Dugway Proving Ground in Utah and/or Porton Downs in Britain are the most likely sources of the anthrax used in the attacks. [New Scientist, 5/2/2002]
Bush and Putin at a Kremlin news conference announcing the SORT signing. [Source: September 11 News (.com)]Presidents George W. Bush and Vladimir Putin sign a joint US-Russian treaty, the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), agreeing to reduce their strategic nuclear arsenals from some 6,000 warheads, respectively, to between 1,700 and 2,200 warheads apiece. Bush allies hail the agreement as evidence of Bush’s willingness to negotiate with other nations and his desire to reduce and perhaps end the threat of mutual nuclear annihilation. However, the treaty is very similar in content to an informal agreement between Presidents Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin in 1997. And SORT has far more flexibility built into its framework than either Clinton or Yeltsin had discussed: it does not call for the destruction of delivery vehicles, as the START I and II agreements had (see May 1982 and After), nor does it call for the destruction of warheads themselves, as START III had. In reality, either side can merely remove weapons from missiles and bombers, store them, and redeploy them in the future. Secretary of State Colin Powell will reassure conservative senators in June that “the treaty will allow you to have as many warheads as you want.” Arms reduction opponent John Bolton (see June 2001) approves the treaty, later noting that it “provided ‘exit ramps’ to allow for rapid change.” The treaty—only 500 words long—provides for no verification protocols whatsoever. And, as author J. Peter Scoblic will later write, “in a bit of diplomatic quantum mechanics, the treaty’s warhead limit was slated to take effect on the very day that it expired—December 31, 2012—meaning it would be valid for no more than twenty-four hours.” Scoblic will conclude that the treaty, in line with Bush’s “new strategic framework” (see May 1, 2001), is “still designed to fight nothing less than an all-out nuclear war with Russia.” [Federation of American Scientists, 5/24/2002; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 177-178] Bush sees little need for the treaty, or any treaty, saying that “mutual trust” between the US and Russia should suffice (see July 2001). He agrees to this treaty in what Scoblic later calls a “condescending” manner, saying, “If we need to write it down on a piece of paper, I’ll do that.” Bolton will later call the treaty “the end of arms control.” [Scoblic, 2008, pp. 184]
A secret CIA report that says North Korea is enriching “significant quantities” of uranium and this is happening with Pakistan’s help (see June 2002) is withheld from some officials at the State Department. The report, which was drafted for the White House, is classified top secret sensitive compartmentalized information, and is not provided to the State Department’s Arms Control and Disarmament Agency (ACDA), although it is highly significant for their work. Norm Wulf, the ACDA’s deputy assistant director, will suspect that John Bolton, the under secretary of state for arms control, is involved in the withholding. Wulf will say that before Bolton arrived at the State Department in 2001, intelligence about North Korea’s enrichment program and links to Pakistan had been piling up on his desk for three years. However, by 2002 Wulf thinks that he is not getting all the information he should. “I became less and less trustful of the evidence and the more clever people who saw it in its original form. Between the raw intelligence and me were several filters. There were hostile relations between Bolton, his staff, and the non-proliferation bureau.” Authors Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark will say that the CIA report “had to be buried” because administration officials “only wanted Congress to focus on Iraq, as this was where [they] were determined that US forces should go. All other threats, especially those greater than Iraq, would have to be concealed, defused, or downplayed.” [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 336-337] The CIA report will be revealed in the press in early 2003, just before the Iraq war begins. [New Yorker, 1/27/2003]
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice writes to US congresspeople, telling them that the Bush administration will continue to provide North Korea with shipments of heavy fuel oil and nuclear technology. These deliveries are in accordance with the Agreed Framework (see October 21, 1994). However, a few weeks previously the CIA had informed the White House that the Koreans had violated the framework by starting uranium enrichment, with Pakistani help (see June 2002). This meant that the Koreans had forfeited any entitlement to US assistance, but Rice, in the words of authors Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark, “plumped for ignorance” of the CIA report. [New Yorker, 1/27/2003; Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 336-337]
A US-built C-130 transport aircraft belonging to the Pakistani air force collects parts for nuclear missiles in North Korea and carries them back to Pakistan. The flight is tracked by US intelligence, as are several similar flights around this time. According to the New York Times, “It was part of the military force that President Pervez Musharraf had told President Bush last year would be devoted to hunting down the terrorists of al-Qaeda, one reason the administration was hailing its new cooperation with a country that only a year before it had labeled a rogue state.” [New York Times, 11/24/2002; Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 337]
Nuclear Threat Initiative logo. [Source: Nuclear Threat Initiative]The US decides to oversee the removal of two nuclear weapons’ worth of nuclear material from the Vinca Institute in Serbia, part of a defunct Yugoslavian nuclear weapons program. Unfortunately, the Bush administration has cut funding for the government’s nuclear nonproliferation programs so drastically (see January 10, 2001 and After) that it is forced to rely on the efforts of a private foundation. The Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI), founded by former Democratic Senator Sam Nunn and media tycoon Ted Turner, contributes $5 million to the effort—double the funding contributed by the State Department. US and Serbian authorities, in conjunction with NTI, transport 5,000 rods of highly enriched uranium from the site, most likely to be stored at Russia’s Ulyanovsk Nuclear Processing Plant. “Serbia might have decided to sell this material to Iraq,” says national security expert Joseph Cirincione. “It’s a good thing for all of us that that possibility has now been eliminated.” When the operation is successfully concluded, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, whose department oversees the securing of “loose” nuclear material from around the world, learns of it through newspaper reports. [Nuclear Threat Initiative, 8/23/2002; New York Times, 8/23/2002; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 208]
The Defense Science Board authors a report titled “Special Operations and Joint Forces in Countering Terrorism” recommending an increase of more than $7 billion in the Pentagon’s budget. It says the war on terrorism is a “real war” and describes the enemy as “committed, resourceful and globally dispersed… with strategic reach.” The US will have to wage “a long, at times violent, and borderless war” that “requires new strategies, postures and organization,” it adds. The report includes suggestions to develop the capability to tag key terrorist figures with special chemicals so they can be tracked by laser; a proposal to create a special SWAT team charged with secretly seeking and destroying chemical, biological and nuclear weapons anywhere in the world; and a plan to establish a “red team” known as the Proactive, Preemptive Operations Group, (P2OG), which would conduct secret operations aimed at “stimulating reactions” among terrorists and states suspected of possessing weapons of mass destruction. [Board, 8/16/2002; United Press International, 9/26/2002; Los Angeles Times, 10/27/2002; Asia Times, 11/5/2002]
Proactive, Preemptive Operations Group, (P2OG) - The unit would provoke terrorist cells into action, perhaps by stealing their money or tricking them with fake communications, in order to expose them. The exposed cells would then be taken care of by “quick-response” teams. The US would use the revelation of such cells as an opportunity to hold “states/sub-state actors accountable” and “signal to harboring states that their sovereignty will be at risk.” The P2OG would require at least $100 million and about 100 people, including specialists in information operations, psychological operations, computer network attack, covert activities, signal intelligence, human intelligence, special operations forces and deception operations. According to the DSB, it should be headed by the Special Operations Executive in the White House’s National Security Council. But according to sources interviewed by United Press International (UPI), people in the Defense Department want to see the group under the Pentagon’s authority. [Board, 8/16/2002; United Press International, 9/26/2002; Los Angeles Times, 10/27/2002; Asia Times, 11/5/2002]
Tagging terrorists - Intelligence operatives would penetrate terrorist cells and tag leaders’ clothes with chemicals that would make them trackable by a laser. The agents would also collect DNA samples from objects and papers that are handled by the targets. Information about the terrorist’s DNA would be kept in a database. The program would cost $1.7 billion over a 5-year period beginning in 2004. [Board, 8/16/2002; United Press International, 9/26/2002]
Special SWAT team - The SWAT Team would consist of special forces soldiers whose specialty would be searching and destroying nuclear, chemical or biological weapons sites anywhere in the world. They would also be trained to offer protection to US soldiers operating nearby and be responsible for “consequence management,” like enacting quarantines. The program would cost about $500 million a year and would be headed by US Special Operations Command. To effectively detect the presence of such weapons, the DSB advocates allocating about $1 billion a year on the research and development of new sensor and “agent defeat” technologies. [Board, 8/16/2002; United Press International, 9/26/2002]
Expanding US Special Forces - The panel recommends increasing the size of US Special Forces by about 2 percent a year. It also proposes that more special forces operations be conducted jointly with conventional forces. Its budget should be increased by “billions,” the report also says. [Board, 8/16/2002; United Press International, 9/26/2002]
Panel to speculate on possible terrorist attack scenarios - A panel of roughly 24 creative, highly respected analysts would be convened to speculate on the nature of future terrorists attacks against the US. The report recommends allocating $20 million a year for the program. [Board, 8/16/2002; United Press International, 9/26/2002]
Intelligence Reserve - A $100 million-a-year reserve program would be established that would put former intelligence retirees on call to assist with intelligence tasks and to participate in counterterrorism exercises when needed. [Board, 8/16/2002; United Press International, 9/26/2002; Asia Times, 11/5/2002]
Addition of 500 people who would focus on identifying characteristics of potential adversaries - $800 million would be spent on the addition of over 500 people to existing military and intelligence agencies who would “focus on understanding effects of globalization, radicalism, cultures, religions, economics, etc., to better characterize potential adversaries.” [Board, 8/16/2002; United Press International, 9/26/2002]
Increase budget of Joint Warfare Analysis Center (JWAC) and Joint Forces Command's net assessment center - $200 million more would be allocated to the Joint Warfare Analysis Center and Joint Forces Command’s net assessment center. JWAC is a cell of about 500 planners and target analysts who work in Dahlgren, Va. [Board, 8/16/2002; United Press International, 9/26/2002]
Increase surveillance and reconnaissance budgets - The panel envisions infusing $1.6 billion per year into intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance budgets over the next six years. Spending would be focused on tying together unmanned aerial vehicles, manned platforms, space-based sensors and databases. A portion of the funds would also be used to develop “a rich set of new ground sensor capabilities” aimed at the surveillance of small terrorist cells. [Board, 8/16/2002; United Press International, 9/26/2002]
Urban Training Center - A dedicated urban training range would be constructed on the West Coast emphasizing “small unit action, leadership initiative and flexibility.” Relatively low-level soldiers would also be trained on how to determine the logistics of the back-up fire they need while they are in battle. The program would need $300 million a year for the next six years. [Board, 8/16/2002; United Press International, 9/26/2002]
Database providing 3-d view of most of the cities of the world - The report recommends developing a detailed database of most of the cities in the world which would allow soldiers to view a three-dimensional display of the cities including “buildings [doors and windows included],… streets and alleys and underground passages, obstacles like power lines and key infrastructure like water and communications lines,” the UPI reports. [Board, 8/16/2002; United Press International, 9/26/2002] Critics warn that the changes proposed by the report would allow the military to engage in covert activities currently handled by the CIA. However unlike the CIA, the military would not be subject to Congressional oversight. But William Schneider Jr, the DSB chairman, downplays those concerns. “The CIA executes the plans but they use Department of Defense assets,” Schneider says, adding that his board’s recommendations do not advocate any changes to US policies banning assassinations, or requiring presidents to approve US covert operations in advance. He also insists that such changes would not preclude congressional oversight. [Asia Times, 11/5/2002]
The K2 (Karshi-Khanabad) US airbase in southeastern Uzbekistan. It was established in late 2001. [Source: Confidential source via Robin Moore]The Central Asian nation of Uzbekistan has recently signed a treaty committing the US to respond to “any external threat” to the country. Uzbekistan’s foreign minister explains: “The logic of the situation suggests that the United States has come here with a serious purpose, and for a long time.” According to a Washington Post report, the other Central Asian nations—Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan—have similar agreements with the US. The US claims it is supporting democracy in these nations, but experts say authoritarianism has been on the rise since 9/11. The US military has been in Uzbekistan since 2001. A new US military base in Uzbekistan currently holds about 1,000 US soldiers, but is being greatly enlarged. The article makes the general point that the US is replacing Russia as the dominant power in Central Asia. [Washington Post, 8/27/2002]
In autumn 2002, US Delta Force units train on a mobile biological weapons factory to prepare them for dealing with mobile biological weapons factories in Iraq. The factory is just like the factories the US accuses the Iraqi government of having but which it does not have. The chief designer of the factory is Steven Hatfill, who is also the FBI’s main suspect at the time for the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). Hatfill began designing the factory while working for Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), a contractor for the US military and the CIA. He begins gathering parts to build it in 2000, and construction began in September 2001, at a metalworking plant near Fort Detrick, Maryland. SAIC fired him in March 2002, after he failed to get a high-level security clearance and he came under suspicion for the October 2001 anthrax attacks. But Hatfill continues to work on the half-built factory on his own, for no pay, until it is finished later that year. Once it is done, Hatfill continues to advise the US military about it, and sometimes supervises Delta Force training exercises on it at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. However, at the same time, the Justice Department and the FBI is heavily investigating Hatfill for the anthrax attacks, and there is a conflict between agencies over Hatfill’s continued role with the factory. The FBI wants to confiscate the factory, but the military will not give it up. Its equipment includes a fermenter, a centrifuge, and “a mill for grinding clumps of anthrax into the best size for penetrating human lungs,” according to experts familiar with it. However, its components are not connected and it is never used to make lethal germs. The FBI examines the unit but finds no anthrax spores or any other evidence linking it to the anthrax attacks. [New York Times, 7/2/2003] Hatfill will be cleared of any connection to the anthrax attacks in 2008 (see June 27, 2008).
The Defense Intelligence Agency releases an intelligence assessment entitled “Iraq’s Reemerging Nuclear Program” that claims, “Iraq has been vigorously trying to procure uranium ore and yellowcake” for the production of nuclear weapons. The DIA is referring to the tale of the Iraq-Niger uranium deal (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, October 15, 2001, October 18, 2001, November 20, 2001, February 5, 2002, March 1, 2002, Late April or Early May 2002-June 2002, and Late June 2002), as well as purported dealings with Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The assessment says that “DIA cannot confirm whether Iraq succeeded in acquiring uranium ore and/or yellowcake from these sources.” [Defense Intelligence Agency, 9/2002 ; Unger, 2007, pp. 259]
During a joint press conference with US President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the two leaders make two factually incorrect statements, which are quickly contested by experts.
Tony Blair states, “We only need to look at the report from the International Atomic Agency [IAEA] this morning showing what has been going on at the former nuclear weapons sites to realize that” Saddam is a real threat. [US President, 9/16/2002] But no such report exists. [Washington Times, 9/27/2002] What Blair is actually referring to is a set of commercial satellite photographs showing signs of new construction at a site the US had bombed in 1998. [MSNBC, 9/7/2002; Guardian, 9/9/2002; Associated Press, 9/10/2002] That same day, Mark Gwozdecky, a spokesman for the UN agency, says the agency had drawn no conclusion from those photographs. [MSNBC, 9/7/2002] On September 9, the Guardian of London will report that according to “a well-placed source” the photographs do not support Blair’s statement. “You cannot draw any conclusions,” the source explains. “The satellites were only looking at the top of a roof. You cannot tell without inspectors on the ground.” [Guardian, 9/9/2002] The following day, Hans Blix, head of UNMOVIC, will similarly tell reporters: “… [S]atellites don’t see through roofs. So we are not drawing conclusions from them. But it would be an important element in where, maybe, we want to go to inspect and monitor.” [Associated Press, 9/10/2002; Globe and Mail, 9/11/2002]
Bush asserts, “I would remind you that when the inspectors first went into Iraq and were denied—finally denied access [in 1998], a report came out of the Atomic—the IAEA that they were six months away from developing a weapon,” adding, “I don’t know what more evidence we need.” [US President, 9/16/2002; Washington Times, 9/27/2002] But Bush’s statement is quickly refuted by an MSNBC news report published later that day, which includes an excerpt from the summary of the 1998 IAEA report Bush cited. The summary reads, “[B]ased on all credible information available to date… the IAEA has found no indication of Iraq having achieved its program goal of producing nuclear weapons or of Iraq having retained a physical capability for the production of weapon-useable nuclear material or having clandestinely obtained such material.” [MSNBC, 9/7/2002; Dean, 2004, pp. 138] The text of the actual report, authored by IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei, reads: “There are no indications that there remains in Iraq any physical capability for the production of weapon-usable nuclear material of any practical significance.” [Washington Times, 9/27/2002] When confronted by MSNBC reporters on this point, an unnamed senior White House official states, “What happened was, we formed our own conclusions based on the report.” [MSNBC, 9/7/2002] Later, when The Washington Times presses Deputy Press Secretary Scott McClellan for an explanation, he says, “[Bush is] referring to 1991 there. In ‘91, there was a report saying that after the war they found out they were about six months away.” But this too is challenged by Gwozdecky, spokesman for the UN agency, who says that no such report was ever published by the IAEA in 1991. Apparently the President’s accusations are based on two news articles that were published more than a decade ago—“a July 16  story in the London Times by Michael Evans and a July 18  story in the New York Times by Paul Lewis.” But as The Washington Times notes, “Neither article cites an IAEA report on Iraq’s nuclear-weapons program or states that Saddam was only six months away from ‘developing a weapon’—as claimed by Mr. Bush.” Instead the two news articles reported that at that time, UN inspectors had concluded that Iraq was only six months away from the large-scale production of enriched uranium. But as the 1998 report shows, both 1991 news stories are outdated. [Washington Times, 9/27/2002]
Judith Miller. [Source: Washington Post]Judith Miller and Michael Gordon of the New York Times report in a front page story that Iraq is trying to obtain materials to build a nuclear weapon. Citing unnamed senior administration officials, they break the story of the aluminum tubes that were confiscated in Jordan in July 2001 (see July 2001) and write that both “American intelligence experts” and top officials believe the tubes were meant to be used as centrifuge rotors in a nuclear enrichment program. “In the last 14 months, Iraq has sought to buy thousands of specially designed aluminum tubes, which American officials believe were intended as components of centrifuges to enrich uranium,” reports the newspaper. “The diameter, thickness and other technical specifications of the aluminum tubes had persuaded American intelligence experts that they were meant for Iraq’s nuclear program….” Officials cited in the article warn that the US must not wait for more evidence before taking action to disarm Iraq because the first sign of a “smoking gun” may be a mushroom cloud. [New York Times, 9/8/2002] (The “smoking gun/mushroom cloud” analogy was conceived by presidential speech writer Michael Gerson a few days earlier; see September 4, 2002 for details.) What Gordon and Miller’s sources did not tell them, and what they neglected to find out on their own, was that the country’s top nuclear experts do not believe the tubes are suitable for rotors (see, e.g., July 2001-March 2003, August 17, 2001, and Late 2001). For example, Houston G. Wood III, a retired Oak Ridge physicist, filed a report with the US government more than a year before (see August 17, 2001) concluding that the tubes were not meant for centrifuges. When he reads the New York Times story, he is shocked. In an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation more than a year later, he will recount his initial reaction: “My first thought was, ‘This must be some new tubes,’ you know. And then… and then when I realized that these were the tubes that I had been looking at a year before, I was just… I was… I was just shocked. I couldn’t believe that, you know, here we were, saying that these tubes were, you know, the same tubes that I’d come to the conclusion a year before were not valid for centrifuges, and here they’re saying they are. So, er… that was a real surprise.” [Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 10/27/2003] In subsequent stories about the tubes, the Times will note that there is a debate, however these reports will appear in the back pages of the newspaper (see, e.g., September 13, 2002). [New York Times, 5/26/2004]
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