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Sunday, May 6, 2012

911 - The 90-Minute Stand Down


The 90-Minute Stand Down on 9/11: Why Was the Secret Service's Early Request for Fighter Jets Ignored?


Two DC Air National Guard F-16C Fighting Falcon aircraft over Washington, DC
Shortly after the second World Trade Center tower was hit, at 9:03 a.m. on September 11, 2001, an officer at Andrews Air Force Base, just outside Washington, DC, was notified that the Secret Service wanted fighter jets launched over the nation's capital. It was now obvious the U.S. was under terrorist attack, and Washington would have been an obvious potential target. And yet the Secret Service's request came to nothing.

No fighters had taken off from Andrews by 9:37 a.m., when the Pentagon was hit. Nor had any launched by the time Flight 93 apparently crashed in Pennsylvania, shortly after 10:00 a.m., while flying toward Washington. In fact, fighters did not launch from Andrews until over 90 minutes after the second attack in New York. The first fully armed fighters did not launch from there until more than two hours after that attack. So why was the Secret Service's early request for help not acted upon? Why did fighter jets only take off from this massive Air Force base to defend the capital well after the morning's attacks had ended?

SECRET SERVICE CALLS FAA HEADQUARTERS
The Secret Service agent who made the early request that fighter jets be launched appears to have been Nelson Garabito. Garabito was responsible for coordinating the president's movements, and was also the Secret Service's liaison to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). He was in the Secret Service Joint Operations Center (JOC) at the White House that morning. Just after Flight 175 crashed into the South Tower at 9:03 a.m., Garabito called Terry Van Steenbergen, his counterpart at the FAA, who was at the FAA headquarters in Washington. According to the 9/11 Commission, shortly into the call, Van Steenburgen told Garabito "that there were more planes unaccounted for--possibly hijacked--in addition to the two that had already crashed."

Possibly in response to this information, Garabito appears to have asked Van Steenbergen to arrange for fighters to be launched over Washington. Van Steenbergen asked three of his colleagues at the FAA to call various air bases to see if they could get fighters into the air. One of these colleagues, Karen Pontius, had previously worked at Andrews Air Force Base, so she made the call to the FAA air traffic control tower there. [1] Garabito would have been unable to call the tower himself, because, according to a 9/11 Commission memorandum, the Secret Service "did not have a phone line to the Andrews tower."

FAA HEADQUARTERS REQUESTS FIGHTERS
Pontius spoke to Steve Marra, an air traffic controller in the Andrews tower. Marra has recalled that Pontius "told him to launch F-16s to cap the airspace over Washington." He relayed this information to the District of Columbia Air National Guard (DCANG), which is based at Andrews, across the airfield from the control tower. [2] Marra appears to have done so when DCANG officer Major Daniel Caine phoned the tower and asked if any air traffic control measures were being implemented in response to the attacks. [3] Caine later recalled that the tower controller--i.e. Marra--told him "that they just received the scramble order." However, oddly, Caine told the 9/11 Commission that the Andrews tower "would not have been in the loop for any Secret Service orders to scramble aircraft." [4]

If the DC Air National Guard was notified of this early "scramble order," why was that order not acted upon? Pilots and others working for the DCANG at Andrews were already well aware of the crisis taking place. Upon learning of the second crash, someone at the unit reportedly yelled, "We're under a terrorist attack!" [5] And, seeing the television coverage of the burning WTC towers, an officer exclaimed, "Well, holy shit, if this is a terrorist attack, we need to get something in the air!"

Furthermore, a request from the Secret Service should have carried considerable weight. According to author Lynn Spencer, "Given that the Secret Service provides protection to the president--and that the president, and the vice president when the president is not available, is the ultimate commander in chief of the military--the Secret Service also has certain authority over the military and, in this case, the DC Guard." [6]

CAINE CALLS HIS SECRET SERVICE CONTACT
After his call to the control tower, Daniel Caine called his contact at the Secret Service, Kenneth Beauchamp, who was at the White House JOC. Caine later told the 9/11 Commission that, on reflection, he believed it was his hearing that the tower had received the "scramble order" that prompted him to call Beauchamp. [7]

And yet Beauchamp supposedly contradicted the Secret Service's request for fighters. Even though it was obvious that the U.S. was under attack, and it should have been clear that Washington was a likely target for any further attacks, he said the Secret Service did not require assistance from the DCANG. Caine had asked: "Do you have any additional information? Are you guys going to need some help?" and Beauchamp replied, "No, but I'll call you back if that changes." [8]

Caine has said that during this call, which he described as "a very quick, confusing conversation," Beauchamp told him that "things were happening and he'd call me back." [9] However, Beauchamp did not call Caine back. [10] (Another Secret Service agent, though, did subsequently call Caine, and asked about getting fighters launched. [11])

According to Lieutenant Colonel Marc Sasseville, the acting operations group commander under the 113th Wing of the DCANG, at the time Caine spoke to Beauchamp, "we weren't thinking about defending anything. Our primary concern was what would happen to the air traffic system." [12] But when Brigadier General David Wherley, the commander of the DC Air National Guard, subsequently called the Secret Service JOC shortly after the Pentagon was hit and spoke to Beauchamp, Beauchamp implored him to launch jets to protect Washington. Beauchamp said: "We want you to put a CAP [combat air patrol] up over the city. We need some fighters now." [13]

DCANG PILOT 'STANDING BACK, WAITING'
Between the second WTC attack at 9:03 a.m. and the Pentagon attack at 9:37 a.m., the DCANG fighter pilots on duty at Andrews appear to have been waiting around and doing very little, when they should have been hurrying to get airborne.

One of those pilots, Captain Brandon Rasmussen, was promptly informed of the second crash in New York after it occurred, and immediately realized its implications. He recalled: "I think everybody knew that this was a coordinated attack that was happening. We had no idea who it was by, but it was definitely intentional when you get two airplanes hitting both towers." And yet, he said: "At that point, we didn't know what we could possibly do; that's New York City way up the road. So … like everybody else in America, we're just standing by and watching the news."

This is extraordinary! An Air Force base just 10 miles from Washington had learned that the nation was under attack. And yet the immediate response of its pilots was to stand around watching television!

Rasmussen said it was only after the news broke about the Pentagon being hit that "we knew that we were going to be sticking around home and being quite busy," and "the squadron leadership went into action." [14] DCANG commander David Wherley only headed across the base from his office to the fighter squadron building, to assist his unit's response to the attacks, after a woman at his office saw on television that the Pentagon had been hit and started shrieking. [15]

But even after the Pentagon attack, the DCANG pilots were not immediately told to prepare for takeoff. Rasmussen recalled that at that point, "I'm just kind of standing back, waiting for somebody to task me with something." He added, "I was just waiting at the ops desk for someone to say, 'Okay, we've been cleared to take off and go.'" [16]

FIRST JET LAUNCHES AT 10:38
The first DCANG jet to take off from Andrews Air Force Base was an F-16 that had just returned from a training mission over North Carolina. It had little fuel remaining, carried no missiles, and had only practice ammunition. It took off at 10:38 a.m., an hour after the attack on the Pentagon. [17] Two more F-16s took off at 10:42 a.m., but these were also armed with only practice ammunition and had no missiles. [18] At 11:11 a.m., Rasmussen and Daniel Caine took off in their F-16s, the first fighters to launch from Andrews armed with missiles as well as bullets. [19] By that time, the attacks were long over.

Rasmussen has expressed his and the other DCANG pilots' frustration at having to wait around before being allowed to get airborne. He said that when his unit finally received authorization for its jets to take off, "We were relieved to actually be given permission to go up and do something, instead of feeling totally helpless. I mean, we are fighter pilots, just like guard dogs chomping at the bit, ready to go." [20]

DCANG PROVIDES 'CAPABLE AND READY RESPONSE FORCES'
Although the DC Air National Guard was not part of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) air defense force, its mission at the time of the 9/11 attacks included providing "capable and ready response forces for the District of Columbia in the event of a natural disaster or civil emergency." Lieutenant Colonel Phil Thompson, the chief of safety for the DCANG, said, "We practice scrambles, we know how to do intercepts and other things." [21] The unit was in fact known as the "Capital Guardians," implying that it was responsible for protecting Washington, DC. [22]

The fact that, in spite of an early request for help from the Secret Service, it took the DC Air National Guard so long to put together a response to the attacks should be of concern to all Americans. The unit's disastrously slow emergency response needs to be thoroughly probed as part of a rigorous new investigation of the 9/11 attacks.

NOTES
[1] "USSS Statements and Interview Reports." 9/11 Commission, July 28, 2003; 9/11 Commission, The 9/11 Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (Authorized Edition) . New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2004, pp. 464-465; "Memorandum for the Record: Interview With Terry Van Steenbergen." 9/11 Commission, March 30, 2004.
[2] "Memorandum for the Record: Visit to Reagan National Airport Control Tower in Alexandria, VA and Andrews Air Force Base Control Tower." 9/11 Commission, July 28, 2003.
[3] Leslie Filson, Air War Over America: Sept. 11 Alters Face of Air Defense Mission. Tyndall Air Force Base, FL: 1st Air Force, 2003, p. 76.
[4] "Memorandum for the Record: Interview With Major John Daniel Caine, USAF, Supervisor of Flying at 121st Squadron, 113th Wing, Andrews Air Force Base on September 11, 2001." 9/11 Commission, March 8, 2004.
[5] Steve Vogel, "Flights of Vigilance Over the Capital." Washington Post, April 8, 2002.
[6] Lynn Spencer, Touching History: The Untold Story of the Drama That Unfolded in the Skies Over America on 9/11. New York: Free Press, 2008, p. 123.
[7] "Memorandum for the Record: Interview With Major John Daniel Caine." 
[8] Lynn Spencer, Touching History, p. 124.
[9] Leslie Filson, Air War Over America, p. 76.
[10] "Memorandum for the Record: Interview With Major John Daniel Caine." 
[11] Leslie Filson, Air War Over America, p. 78.
[12] William B. Scott, "F-16 Pilots Considered Ramming Flight 93."Aviation Week & Space Technology, September 9, 2002.
[13] "Memorandum for the Record: BG David Wherley, on September 11, 2001, Commander of the 113th Wing of the USAF Air National Guard, Andrews AFB." 9/11 Commission, August 28, 2003; Lynn Spencer,Touching History, pp. 184-185.
[14] Brandon Rasmussen, interviewed by Leslie Filson, September 18, 2003.
[15] Steve Vogel, "Flights of Vigilance Over the Capital"; Steve Vogel, The Pentagon: A History. New York: Random House, 2007, pp. 445-446; Lynn Spencer, Touching History, p. 184.
[16] Brandon Rasmussen, interviewed by Leslie Filson.
[17] Steve Vogel, "Flights of Vigilance Over the Capital"; William B. Scott, "F-16 Pilots Considered Ramming Flight 93""UA93 and Andrews Timeline." 9/11 Commission, n.d. 
[18] William B. Scott, "F-16 Pilots Considered Ramming Flight 93"; Leslie Filson, Air War Over America, p. 82; Brandon Rasmussen, interviewed by Leslie Filson.
[19] Leslie Filson, Air War Over America, p. 84; "Relevant Andrews Transmissions." 9/11 Commission, February 17-18, 2004.
[20] Brandon Rasmussen, interviewed by Leslie Filson.
[21] "Andrews Air Force Base: Partner Units." DCMilitary.com, Summer 2001William B. Scott, "F-16 Pilots Considered Ramming Flight 93"; Leslie Filson, Air War Over America, p. 76.
[22] Lynn Spencer, Touching History, p. 122.
-------------------------------------------------------

Did Training Exercises Prevent Andrews Air Force Base From Responding to the 9/11 Attacks?


F-16s belonging to the DC Air National Guard at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland

Why did airplanes fly around for an hour and a half without
interceptors being scrambled from Andrews [Air
Force Base] ... right next to the capital?


- Paul Hellyer, Canadian minister of national defense, 1963-1967

Many aircraft at a military base just outside Washington, DC, were taking part in training exercises around the time the terrorist attacks occurred on September 11, 2001, it has been revealed. But whether these exercises impaired the ability of the various units at the base to effectively respond to the attacks has never been properly investigated.

On September 11, FAA air traffic controller James Ampey was on duty in the control tower at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, near the District of Columbia border. He later told the 9/11 Commission that there was "an unusually high number of aircraft taking off and landing at Andrews that morning, because previously scheduled military exercises were under way." Ampey apparently did not tell the Commission what specific exercises these were, or the time period during which the aircraft were "taking off and landing" at the base. [1] However, other publicly available information offers minor clues about these exercises.

'GLOBAL GUARDIAN' EXERCISE
Journalist and author Dan Verton has described that, around the time of the Pentagon attack on 9/11 (9:37 a.m.), "civilian and military officials were boarding a militarized version of a Boeing 747, known as the E-4B National Airborne Operations Center (NAOC), at an airfield outside of the nation's capital. They were preparing to conduct a previously scheduled Defense Department exercise." [2] The airfield Verton referred to could well have been Andrews Air Force Base, as this is located only 10 miles from Washington. [3] Indeed, according to Miles Kara, who was a professional staff member of the 9/11 Commission, primary source information reveals that an E-4B took off from Andrews that morning, and was airborne at 9:27 a.m. [4] The exercise Verton referred to was likely "Global Guardian," which was "in full swing" when the attacks began, and for which three E-4Bs were launched. Global Guardian was an annual exercise run by the U.S. Strategic Command, to test its ability to fight a nuclear war. [5] Whether other aircraft taking off or landing at Andrews were also participating in Global Guardian is unknown.

NORAD EXERCISE ON 9/11
Another major exercise taking place on September 11 was "Vigilant Guardian." It seems less likely, however, that aircraft at Andrews would have participated in this.

The annual Vigilant Guardian exercise was being conducted by the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), including its Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS). [6] Vigilant Guardian has been described as "an air defense exercise simulating an attack on the United States," and was scheduled to include a simulated hijacking during the morning of September 11. [7] However, the DC Air National Guard (DCANG), which is based at Andrews, was not part of the NORAD air defense force. [8] Furthermore, members of the DCANG had just returned from a major training exercise in Nevada. With only a few pilots available, 9/11 was reportedly a "light flying day" for the unit, which would indicate that it would not have participated in Vigilant Guardian or any other major exercises that morning. [9] And since Andrews was not one of NORAD's seven "alert" sites around the U.S., it seems unlikely that any of the other military organizations there would have been involved in a NORAD exercise. [10]

NUMEROUS ORGANIZATIONS AT ANDREWS
While only limited information is available indicating what exercises the planes at Andrews were involved in, we know that numerous military organizations are located at the base, in addition to the DCANG, some of which may have had air defense capabilities. And some of them could well have been participating in the exercises Ampey referred to.

Among more than 60 separate organizations located at Andrews Air Force Base are units from the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force Reserve, and Air National Guard. [11] These include Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 321, which flies the F/A-18 Hornet fighter jet, and Naval Air Facility, Washington, DC, which has numerous aircraft available, including the F/A-18 Hornet. [12] Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 321 at least appears to have had air defense capabilities that may have been able to provide protection against the attacks on September 11: At around 9:50 a.m. that morning, one of its officers called a friend who worked at NEADS, and said: "Dude, get us in the war. I've got wrench turners on our planes uploading weapons. What can we do?" [13]

Another unit at Andrews was the 1st Helicopter Squadron. Its primary mission was "to support [Department of Defense] contingency plans for transport of key government officials should a national emergency arise." It had around 200 members of staff, and possessed 19 twin-engine UH-1N "Huey" helicopters. Many of these helicopters reportedly flew throughout the day of September 11. [14] Whether the 1st Helicopter Squadron was involved in the training exercises that morning is unknown.

DID EXERCISES AFFECT THE EMERGENCY RESPONSE?
It is essential to investigate whether the training exercises impaired the organizations at Andrews in their ability to respond to the 9/11 attacks. Were any of them delayed or otherwise hindered as a result of their participation in an exercise? Were assets, such as aircraft and personnel, which could otherwise have been utilized in the response to the attacks, unavailable because they were being used in an exercise? Were military and civilian air traffic controllers in the Washington area perhaps confused about flights in their region because of the exercises taking place?

In a news report published on the day of 9/11, Knight Ridder stated, "Air defense around Washington, DC, is provided mainly by fighter planes from Andrews Air Force Base." [15] Indeed, the DC Air National Guard is known as the "Capital Guardians." [16] According to a 9/11 Commission memorandum, "Many planes were scrambled out of Andrews" throughout the day of September 11. [17] And yet the first fighter jet to take off from there in response to the attacks was an unarmed DCANG F-16, which took off at 10:38 a.m., more than 30 minutes after the attacks had come to an end. [18] Might fighter jets have been able to respond earlier on, only the emergency responses of units at Andrews were somehow delayed by the training exercises?

AIR GUARD HINDERED BY TRAINING MISSION AND RECENT EXERCISE
As mentioned above, it seems unlikely that the DC Air National Guard would have been involved in a major training exercise on September 11. However, other circumstances seem to have significantly reduced its ability to respond to the attacks.

Three days earlier, on September 8, members of the DCANG returned from a major exercise in Nevada, called "Red Flag." Most of its fighter pilots, who flew commercial planes in their civilian lives and were involved with the unit on only a part-time basis, were consequently away, either back at their airline jobs or on leave, according to different accounts. The unit reportedly had just seven pilots available on 9/11. [19] At least three of these were inexperienced, junior pilots. [20] And of the seven pilots, three had taken off shortly before the first attack in New York occurred, for a routine training mission around 200 miles away from base, over North Carolina. They did not arrive back at Andrews until after the attacks had ended. [21]

While discussing the 9/11 attacks, in 2004, Paul Hellyer, a former Canadian minister of national defense, posed the question, "Why did airplanes fly around for an hour and a half without interceptors being scrambled from Andrews [Air Force Base] … right next to the capital?" He said: "With a quick-reaction alert they should have been in the air in five minutes or 10 minutes. If not, as a minister of national defense, which in the United States would be the secretary of defense, I would want to say, 'Why not?'" [22]

His questions are as pertinent today as they were five years ago.

NOTES
[1] "Memorandum for the Record: Visit to Reagan National Airport Control Tower in Alexandria, VA and Andrews Air Force Base Control Tower." 9/11 Commission, July 28, 2003.
[2] Dan Verton, Black Ice: The Invisible Threat of Cyber-Terrorism. Emeryville, CA: McGraw-Hill/Osborne, 2003, pp. 143-144.
[3] "Andrews AFB, Maryland." GlobalSecurity.org, March 3, 2002.
[4] Miles Kara, "9/11: The Mystery Plane; Not so Mysterious." 9/11 Revisited, June 30, 2009.
[5] Joe Dejka, "Inside StratCom on Sept. 11 Offutt Exercise Took Real-Life Twist." Omaha World-Herald, February 27, 2002Joe Dejka, "When Bush Arrived, Offutt Sensed History in the Making." Omaha World-Herald, September 8, 2002.
[6] William B. Scott, "Exercise Jump-Starts Response to Attacks." Aviation Week & Space Technology, June 3, 2002; William M. Arkin, Code Names: Deciphering U.S. Military Plans, Programs, and Operations in the 9/11 World. Hanover, NH: Steerforth Press, 2005, p. 545.
[7] Leslie Filson, Air War Over America: Sept. 11 Alters Face of Air Defense Mission. Tyndall Air Force Base, FL: 1st Air Force, 2003, p. 122;Michael Bronner, "9/11 Live: The NORAD Tapes." Vanity Fair, August 2006.
[8] William B. Scott, "F-16 Pilots Considered Ramming Flight 93."Aviation Week & Space Technology, September 9, 2002; Leslie Filson, Air War Over America, p. 76.
[9] "Memorandum for the Record: Interview With Major David McNulty, Chief of Intelligence, 121st Fighter Squadron, Air National Guard, Andrews Air Force Base." 9/11 Commission, March 11, 2004.
[10] Pat McKenna, "FANGs Bared." Airman, December 1999.
[11] "Andrews Air Force Base: Welcome." DCMilitary.com, Summer 2001;"Andrews AFB, Maryland."
[12] "Andrews Air Force Base: Tenant Units." DCMilitary.com, February 9, 2001"Andrews Air Force Base: Partner Units." DCMilitary.com, Summer 2001.
[13] Lynn Spencer, Touching History: The Untold Story of the Drama That Unfolded in the Skies Over America on 9/11. New York: Free Press, 2008, p. 188.
[14] "Capital Flying." Air Force Magazine, January 2001"Andrews Air Force Base: Andrews Units." DCMilitary.com, Summer 2001;"Memorandum for the Record: Visit to Reagan National Airport Control Tower in Alexandria, VA and Andrews Air Force Base Control Tower."
[15] Steve Goldstein, "Focus of Training for Terrorist Attacks has Been Chemical, Biological Warfare." Knight Ridder, September 11, 2001.
[16] Steve Vogel, "Flights of Vigilance Over the Capital." Washington Post, April 8, 2002; William B. Scott, "F-16 Pilots Considered Ramming Flight 93."
[17] "Memorandum for the Record: Visit to Reagan National Airport Control Tower in Alexandria, VA and Andrews Air Force Base Control Tower."
[18] 9/11 Commission, The 9/11 Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (Authorized Edition). New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2004, p. 44;Miles Kara, "Relevant Andrews Transmissions." 9/11 Commission, February 17-18, 2004; Steve Vogel, The Pentagon: A History. New York: Random House, 2007, p. 446.
[19] Steve Vogel, "Flights of Vigilance Over the Capital"; "Memorandum for the Record: Interview of Major Billy Hutchison, 113th Fighter Wing Air National Guard, Andrews Air Force Base." 9/11 Commission, February 27, 2004"Memorandum for the Record: Interview With Major David McNulty"; Lynn Spencer, Touching History, p. 156.
[20] "Memorandum for the Record: Interview of Major Billy Hutchison"; Lynn Spencer, Touching History, pp. 236-237. These pilots were Eric Haagenson, Lou Campbell, and Heather Penney Garcia.
[21] "Memorandum for the Record: Visit to Reagan National Airport Control Tower in Alexandria, VA and Andrews Air Force Base Control Tower"Miles Kara, "Relevant Andrews Transmissions""Memorandum for the Record: Interview With Major John Daniel Caine, USAF, Supervisor of Flying at 121st Squadron, 113th Wing, Andrews Air Force Base on September 11, 2001." 9/11 Commission, March 8, 2004.
[22] "Paul Hellyer, Former Defence Minister of Canada Questions the Lack of Fighter Response on 9/11 and Comments on the Shallowness of the 9/11 Investigation." Connect the Dots, May 27, 2004.
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The F-16s That Failed to Protect Washington on 9/11: Was the Langley Jets' Emergency Response Sabotaged?


An F-16 taking off from Langley Air Force Base
Langley Air Force Base was the second military base that launched fighter jets to defend America in response to the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Three of its F-16s were ordered to take off toward Washington at 9:24 a.m. that morning, but by the time they were airborne, more than 40 minutes had passed since the first attack on the World Trade Center, and almost half an hour since the second.

Furthermore, the pilots were hindered by an extraordinary combination of confusion, communications problems, conflicting orders, breaches of protocol, and other difficulties. Consequently, when the Pentagon was hit at 9:37 a.m., the jets were further away from it than they'd been when they took off. According to witnesses on the ground, fighters did not arrive over the Pentagon until around 10:40 a.m.--more than an hour too late to protect it from the attack.

A close examination of publicly available accounts raises the possibility that deliberate attempts were made to sabotage the ability of the Langley jets to respond to the 9/11 attacks, thereby paralyzing normal, well-practiced procedures. In this article, I focus on three particular aspects of the jets' response.

Firstly, I examine the initial order to launch F-16s from Langley AFB. Notably, instead of the usual two jets taking off, a third pilot took off in a spare jet. This left the unit with no supervisor of flying (SOF) to communicate with other agencies and pass on vital information to the pilots. Secondly, I question why, instead of heading toward Washington as instructed, the jets initially flew out over the ocean, where they were of no use in defending against further attacks. I look at the mysterious role played by the Fleet Area Control and Surveillance Facility in Virginia Beach, which was handling the jets while they were over the ocean. Could this facility have been misdirecting them? Thirdly, I look at the breakdown of communications between the military and the Langley jets, and the confusion experienced by the pilots that this contributed to.

Taken together, the sheer number of things that went wrong appears highly suspicious, and makes clear the urgent need for a new and unrestrained investigation of 9/11, to find out what was really going on that day and who was behind the attacks.

LANGLEY AIR FORCE BASE
Langley Air Force Base is in Hampton City, southeastern Virginia, about 130 miles south of the Pentagon. [1] It covers some 2,900 acres, and employs about 9,000 permanent military personnel and 3,000 civilians. It is the headquarters of the Air Combat Command, which provides active Air Force pilots to deploy for overseas combat missions, and the home of the 1st Fighter Wing, which is one of the largest fighter wings in the Air Combat Command. [2]

Crucially, on 9/11 the 119th Fighter Wing of the North Dakota Air National Guard had a small detachment at Langley AFB. Although it had only four aircraft and 18 full-time members of staff, this unit was involved in the air defense mission of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD). It was one of NORAD's seven "alert" sites around the U.S., all of which kept a pair of fighter jets ready for immediate takeoff. [3] As author Lynn Spencer described: "As an alert site, the [119th Fighter Wing's] pilots are always just five minutes away from rolling out of the hangars in their armed fighters. They live, eat, and sleep just steps from jets." [4]

JETS TAKE OFF BUT LOSE THEIR SUPERVISOR
At 9:24 a.m. on September 11, NORAD's Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), which is based in Rome, New York, ordered jets belonging to the 119th Fighter Wing to scramble (i.e. launch immediately) from Langley AFB. [5] In public accounts and testimony, NORAD officials subsequently claimed these jets were scrambled in response to either Flight 77 (the third hijacked aircraft) or Flight 93 (the fourth hijacked aircraft). However, according to various evidence uncovered by the 9/11 Commission, the scramble was in response to an incorrect report that Flight 11 (the first hijacked aircraft) hadn't crashed into the World Trade Center and was heading south toward Washington. The Langley jets were initially ordered toward the DC area, but their heading was soon adjusted to send them to the Baltimore area, about 35 miles north of Washington, so as to block the path of the supposedly southbound Flight 11 as it approached the capital. [6]

It is important to recognize here that, despite the unprecedented nature of the 9/11 attacks, the task the F-16s were being asked to perform was a well-practiced and routine one. Even before September 11, NORAD regularly launched fighters in response to suspicious aircraft. It reportedly performed 67 such scrambles between September 2000 and June 2001. [7] And a 1994 General Accounting Office report stated: "Overall, during the past four years, NORAD's alert fighters took off to intercept aircraft (referred to as scrambled) 1,518 times, or an average of 15 times per site per year. Of these incidents, the number of suspected drug smuggling aircraft averaged … less than 7 percent of all of the alert sites' total activity. The remaining activity generally involved visually inspecting unidentified aircraft and assisting aircraft in distress." [8] So, over that period, NORAD launched fighters to intercept suspicious aircraft once per day on average. Yet on September 11, the performance of the NORAD jets launched from Langley AFB was disastrous.

Problems began as the jets prepared to take off. The 1st Air Force's book about 9/11 stated that the fighters were "given highest priority over all other air traffic at Langley Air Force Base." [9] But according to Lynn Spencer, while on the runway, they were instructed to "hold for an air traffic delay," because the FAA's Washington Center had not yet cleared airliners out of the way for their intended path. [10] All the same, the fighters were finally airborne at 9:30 a.m. [11]

THREE JETS LAUNCH INSTEAD OF TWO
Of particular significance is that, instead of just launching its two F-16s that were kept on alert, the 119th Fighter Wing launched a third jet at this time. Unlike the two fully-armed alert jets, this aircraft had guns only and no missiles. [12] Its pilot was Captain Craig Borgstrom, the operations manager at the alert unit. In the event of a scramble order, he was supposed to man the battle cab and serve as the supervisor of flying. As the SOF, he had a critical role to play. He was responsible for monitoring scrambled jets, working with local air traffic controllers, and communicating with NEADS so as to get all necessary information about the jets' mission to pass on to the pilots. But by taking off himself, Borgstrom left his unit without an SOF. [13]

The reason for this alarming breach of protocol was that, shortly before 9:24, someone from NEADS called Borgstrom and asked him with urgency, "How many total aircraft can you launch?" When Borgstrom replied that, other than the two pilots on alert duty, he was the only pilot at the unit that day, the caller instructed him: "Suit up and go fly! We need all of you at battle stations!" [14] The two alert pilots were apparently shocked when they were told that their SOF would be taking off with them. According to Spencer, it "doesn't make any sense to" Major Dean Eckmann, the unit's lead pilot, and his initial response was "What?" [15] The other pilot, Major Brad Derrig, was "stunned. ... [N]ot much surprises him, but this does." And the unit's crew chiefs and mechanics were "bewildered" when they watched Borgstrom taking off, as they had "just been left with no commanding officer in the midst of a situation completely foreign to them." [16]

The decision to send the unit's SOF into the air caused serious problems. In her book Touching History: The Untold Story of the Drama That Unfolded in the Skies Over America on 9/11, Lynn Spencer explicitly pointed out two examples. Firstly, at around 9:30 a.m., Tech Sgt. Jeremy Powell called from NEADS, wanting to tell Borgstrom that his jets' mission was to set up a combat air patrol over Washington and intercept an airliner heading for the city. But with Borgstrom gone, the phone rang and rang. Finally, a sergeant answered it and told an incredulous Powell that the SOF had taken off. Powell knew that the alert unit at Langley was meant to keep an SOF on duty 24/7, and was speechless. Presumably, Borgstrom's absence meant the three F-16s did not receive Powell's message about what their mission was. [17]

Then, at around 9:34 a.m., William Huckabone, a staff sergeant at NEADS, noticed that the F-16s were drastically off course, heading east out over the ocean instead of north toward the Baltimore area (see below for details). The jets urgently needed to be redirected onto their intended course. But, as Spencer described, Huckabone could not "get word to the jets through their SOF--he's flying!" [18] Presumably there were other times when the absence of the SOF meant NEADS, and perhaps other agencies, were unable to quickly pass important information to the jets, but these incidents have not yet been reported.

Furthermore, we do not know who at NEADS instructed Borgstrom to take off in the spare jet, thereby leaving his unit without its SOF. In an interview, Borgstrom later said, "to this day, I don't know who it was" that made the call. [19] When Jeremy Powell had called from NEADS and learned that Borgstrom had taken off in a third jet, he exclaimed: "Three? I only scrambled two!" [20] Whoever instructed Borgstrom to take off should be rigorously questioned about why they issued such an unprecedented--and dangerous--order.

DID NAVY CONTROLLERS SEND THE JETS THE WRONG WAY?
After being delayed during takeoff, things got significantly worse for the Langley jets. Major Kevin Nasypany, the NEADS mission crew commander, had ordered them to fly north, toward the Baltimore area. [21] But at around 9:34 a.m., William Huckabone noticed that instead they were going east over the ocean, toward a military training airspace called Whiskey 386. [22] As a result, when the Pentagon was hit at 9:37 a.m., the Langley fighters were about 150 miles from there--further away from the Pentagon than they had been when they took off. [23]

The 9/11 Commission put forward rather elaborate reasons why the jets headed in the wrong direction, such as that the scramble order had not conveyed complete instructions for the pilots to follow, and that "a 'generic' flight plan--prepared to get the aircraft airborne and out of local airspace quickly--incorrectly led the Langley fighters to believe they were ordered to fly due east ... for 60 miles." [24]

However, evidence shows that the question of why the jets went so drastically off course requires further investigation. For example, a Navy facility was responsible for handling the F-16s while they were out over the ocean. The Fleet Area Control and Surveillance Facility in Virginia Beach, Virginia, is the Navy air traffic control agency that handles all over-water military operations. It is known by the call sign "Giant Killer." [25] When Nasypany asked Major James Fox--the leader of the NEADS weapons team--why the Langley jets had flown out over the ocean, Fox replied, "Giant Killer sent them out there." [26] Certainly, what little has been reported about the actions of this facility appears quite bizarre and suspicious.

UNCONCERNED CONTROLLERS
When William Huckabone first noticed that the Langley jets were off course, along with Master Sergeant Steve Citino he called Giant Killer to try and get them redirected onto the correct heading. Yet the Navy controller who answered their call sounded indifferent, as if he were oblivious to the seriousness of the situation. He responded: "You've got [the Langley F-16s] moving east in airspace. Now you want 'em to go to Baltimore?" Huckabone said yes, told the controller to get the jets to call NEADS, and asked him to inform the FAA's Washington Center that the F-16s needed to head toward Baltimore. Yet the controller showed no sense of urgency, saying: "All right, man. Stand by. We'll get back to you." In frustration, Citino snapped: "What do you mean, 'We'll get back to you'? Just do it!" After hanging up the phone, Huckabone joked, "I'm gonna choke that guy!" [27]

Another controller at Giant Killer showed similar indifference a couple of minutes later, when Huckabone again contacted the facility. Kevin Nasypany had just ordered that the Langley F-16s be sent toward the White House, and declared "AFIO" (Authorization for Interceptor Operations) for Washington airspace, which would give the military authority over the FAA for that airspace. Huckabone told the Navy controller: "Ma'am, we are going AFIO right now with [the Langley fighters]. They are going direct [to] Washington." The declaration of AFIO was an unusual and unique event. When Dean Eckmann, the lead Langley pilot, was finally notified of it, he was startled, because, according to Spencer: "He has never, in all his years of flying, received such an order. He's only heard about it and, to him, it means no less than the start of World War III." Yet, in response to Huckabone's information, the controller at Giant Killer appears to have shown no signs of emotion, and offered only modest reassurance that the Langley fighters would be given the necessary clearance. She said, "We're handing 'em off to [the FAA's Washington] Center right now." Apparently unsettled by the controller's lack of urgency, Huckabone instructed her: "Ma'am, we need that expedited right now! We need to contact them on 234.6. ... Do you understand?" [28]

As previously mentioned, one consequence of all the problems with the fighter response was that at the time the Pentagon was hit, the Langley jets were further from it than they had been when they took off. They had flown almost 60 miles out over the Atlantic Ocean and were 150 miles from Washington. [29] In fact, numerous witnesses on the ground have recalled seeing the first fighter jet arriving over the Pentagon possibly an hour or more after the Pentagon attack. [30] Authors Patrick Creed and Rick Newman have placed this at 10:40 a.m. [31] According to the New York Times, "witnesses, including a reporter for the New York Times who was headed toward the building, did not see any [fighter jets over the Pentagon] until closer to 11 [o'clock]." [32] Upon seeing the first jet arriving overhead, one firefighter commented: "Thank God that guy's there! Where has he been?" [33]

COMMUNICATION BREAKDOWN AND CONFUSION
Another indication that the Langley F-16s' ability to respond to the crisis was being sabotaged is that military personnel repeatedly experienced problems when trying to communicate with them. Lynn Spencer described three particular incidents in which NEADS was unable to contact the fighters, although presumably there were other occurrences of this problem.

Firstly, when at around 9:34 a.m. William Huckabone noticed the jets were off course, he supposedly had "no direct method of contacting the jets, as they are out of radio range over the ocean in Giant Killer's airspace." Then, at 9:36 a.m., when NEADS declared AFIO for Washington airspace, Steve Citino tried to contact pilot Dean Eckmann to notify him of this. But, according to Spencer, Citino initially received "no response; the fighters are not yet in radio range." [34] And, minutes later, Citino was still "having trouble communicating with the Langley fighters heading toward Washington," supposedly because "NEADS radio coverage east of Washington is poor." [35]

While Spencer's explanation--that the Langley jets were outside NEADS's radio range--may be correct, these communications problems should surely be investigated further, to check this. This is especially the case since, as tape recordings of the NEADS operations floor from September 11 have revealed, personnel there repeatedly complained about various communications problems that morning. For example, one member of staff at NEADS told an American Airlines employee, "We cannot call out for some reason." Later on, when a caller mentioned, "We're having a tough time getting hold of you guys," a NEADS employee responded, "We're having problems with our phone lines as well." [36] During a 2004 interview, 9/11 Commission staffers mentioned to NEADS employee Chief Master Sgt. Edward Aires that "they had heard in past interviews that there were communication lapses and difficulties between NEADS and Langley scrambles." [37] Might there have been deliberate attempts made to block communications to and from NEADS that morning?

PILOTS HEAR JUMBLED COMMUNICATIONS
What is more, the three Langley pilots were confused by what journalist and author Jere Longman described as a "jumble of radio communications." [38] According to the New York Times, as the pilots approached Washington, "Their radio frequencies became cluttered with orders and chatter." Pilot Brad Derrig recalled: "It was like getting 10 hours of conversation in about 10 minutes. No one knew what was going on." [39] Craig Borgstrom has said that he and the two other pilots "were hearing a lot of chatter but nothing about airliners crashing into buildings." He recalled: "There was some confusion for us, this was very abnormal. We were all three on different frequencies ... and were getting orders from a lot of different people." [40]

Could these jumbled communications have been part of a deliberate attempt at paralyzing the emergency response, by trying to prevent legitimate orders from reaching the pilots?

PILOTS CONFUSED AND UNINFORMED
The poor communications between the pilots and their contacts on the ground, combined with the lack of an SOF to pass information to and from the pilots, may help explain why the pilots had so little understanding of what was going on. They were even unsure of what their mission was. As the 9/11 Commission stated: "The Langley pilots were never briefed about the reason they were scrambled. ... The pilots knew their mission was to divert aircraft, but did not know that the threat came from hijacked airliners." [41]

Brad Derrig described the confusion--what he called "the smoke of war"--over what was happening that morning, saying, "No one knew exactly what was going on." [42] Craig Borgstrom said that, as the crisis unfolded, he "had no idea" the Pentagon and World Trade Center had been struck by suicide terrorists in airplanes. Describing the growing confusion, he said, "It was a mess." [43]

Borgstrom has said it was only when he caught sight of the burning Pentagon that he started thinking, "OK, maybe there's some type of attack going on," adding, "You start correlating Washington, DC, with New York." [44] When Dean Eckmann saw the Pentagon, he actually thought the Russians had attacked it. He told the 9/11 Commission: "I reverted to the Russian threat. ... I'm thinking cruise missile threat from the sea. You know, you look down and see the Pentagon burning, and I thought the bastards snuck one by us. ... No one told us anything." [45]

Eckmann and Derrig had even thought that they were headed to New York rather than Washington. Craig Borgstrom described: "The other two guys I was flying with initially thought that we were going to New York because they knew the Trade Center had been hit and they'd seen the smoke. ... I was more familiar with the area and knew we were going more toward DC." But, he recalled, as they approached Washington, "We still have not been intel briefed as to what's going on." [46] At that time, according to Lynn Spencer, when Brad Derrig "looks up to see smoke on the horizon in front of him, he assumes that he is looking at New York. He had heard about an aircraft hitting the World Trade Center just before they were scrambled, and with all the changes in coordinates they've been given, he has no idea that he's looking at Washington." [47]

Furthermore, it was only when the jets returned to base, after being airborne for over four hours, that the three pilots learned about Flight 93--the fourth hijacked plane, which supposedly crashed into a field in rural Pennsylvania. [48]

OTHER PROBLEMS
We have seen that there were numerous ways in which the Langley jets were hindered on 9/11: the delay while they were on the runway and the problems that occurred because the alert unit's supervisor of flying took off in a spare fighter; the fact that the F-16s flew east over the ocean, instead of going north as NEADS had instructed; the inexplicable indifference of the Navy controllers who were handling the jets while they were over the ocean; NEADS's repeated inability to contact the pilots directly; the jumbled communications the pilots were receiving over their radios; and the fact that the pilots were not informed about what was going on or what their exact mission was.

There is evidence of additional problems that further impeded the Langley F-16s that morning. Lynn Spencer described two notable incidents.

After the pilots had initially been misdirected over the ocean, NEADS weapons director Steve Citino forwarded coordinates to them, telling them to establish a combat air patrol over Washington. However, Citino apparently gave out the wrong coordinates. According to Spencer, "He inadvertently transposed two of the coordinates, and the F-16s turned onto a flight path that would take them 60 miles southwest of Washington." When he noticed the jets heading the wrong way, Citino had to contact them again to get them on the correct course. [49]

And after receiving the incorrect coordinates, lead pilot Dean Eckmann had a problem with his aircraft. The bearing pointer on its horizontal situation indicator, which shows a plane's position relative to its intended destination, froze, so he had to get the heading from one of the other pilots. [50]

These incidents are only what have been described in the publicly-available accounts. It seems reasonable to assume the jets experienced other complications that have so far gone unreported. A thorough and unrestrained investigation of the 9/11 attacks is imperative in order to reveal such problems, find out why the Langley F-16s were so badly obstructed in carrying out what should have been a routine emergency response, and uncover who was responsible for this.

NOTES
[1] Parsons Engineering Science, Inc., Draft: Work Plan for a Treatability Study in Support of the Intrinsic Remediation (Natural Attenuation) Option at IRP Site - 16. San Antonio, TX: Air Force Center for Environmental Excellence, June 1995, p. 1-3Jonathan Weisman, "Shoot-Down Order Issued on Morning of Chaos." USA Today, September 16, 2001.
[2] Parsons Engineering Science, Inc., Draft: Work Plan for a Treatability Study in Support of the Intrinsic Remediation (Natural Attenuation) Option at IRP Site - 16, p. 1-3"Langley AFB, Virginia." GlobalSecurity.org, January 21, 2006; Lynn Spencer, Touching History: The Untold Story of the Drama That Unfolded in the Skies Over America on 9/11. New York: Free Press, 2008, p. 114.
[3] 9/11 Commission, The 9/11 Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (Authorized Edition). New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2004, p. 17; Lynn Spencer, Touching History, p. 114.
[4] Lynn Spencer, Touching History, p. 117.
[5] 9/11 Commission, The 9/11 Commission Report, p. 27.
[6] Ibid. pp. 26-27, 34.
[7] Dan Collins, "Scrambling to Prevent Another 9/11." Associated Press, August 14, 2002.
[8] Jerry Herley et al., Continental Air Defense: A Dedicated Force is no Longer Needed. Washington, DC: United States General Accounting Office, May 3, 1994, p. 4.
[9] Leslie Filson, Air War Over America: Sept. 11 Alters Face of Air Defense Mission. Tyndall Air Force Base, FL: 1st Air Force, 2003, p. 63.
[10] Lynn Spencer, Touching History, p. 143.
[11] 9/11 Commission, The 9/11 Commission Report, p. 27.
[12] Ibid. p. 465; Lynn Spencer, Touching History, pp. 141-143.
[13] Lynn Spencer, Touching History, pp. 116, 118.
[14] Ann Scott Tyson, "A New Diligence in the American Blue Yonder."Christian Science Monitor, April 16, 2002; Lynn Spencer, Touching History, p. 118.
[15] Lynn Spencer, Touching History, p. 119.
[16] Ibid. p. 142.
[17] Ibid. p. 148.
[18] Ibid. p. 149.
[19] Craig Borgstrom, interview by Leslie Filson, circa 2002.
[20] Lynn Spencer, Touching History, p. 148.
[21] "Memorandum for the Record: Interview With NEADS Alpha Flight Mission Crew Commander (MCC), Lt. Col. Kevin J. Nasypany." 9/11 Commission, January 22-23, 2004; 9/11 Commission, The 9/11 Commission Report, p. 27.
[22] Michael Bronner, "9/11 Live: The NORAD Tapes." Vanity Fair, August 2006; Lynn Spencer, Touching History, p. 149.
[23] 9/11 Commission, The 9/11 Commission Report, p. 27.
[24] Ibid.; Staff Report: The Four Flights. 9/11 Commission, August 26, 2004, p. 96.
[25] Matthew L. Wald, "Military Air Controller is Criticized in Close Encounter." New York Times, February 10, 1997; Lynn Spencer, Touching History, p. 143.
[26] Lynn Spencer, Touching History, p. 151.
[27] Michael Bronner, "9/11 Live"; Lynn Spencer, Touching History, pp. 149-150.
[28] Lynn Spencer, Touching History, pp. 150-151.
[29] 9/11 Commission, The 9/11 Commission Report, p. 27; Lynn Spencer,Touching History, p. 151.
[30] "(10:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001: First Fighter Seen Arriving Over the Pentagon." Complete 9/11 Timeline.
[31] Patrick Creed and Rick Newman, Firefight: Inside the Battle to Save the Pentagon on 9/11. New York: Presidio Press, 2008, p. 130.
[32] David E. Sanger and Don Van Natta Jr., "In Four Days, a National Crisis Changes Bush's Presidency." New York Times, September 16, 2001.
[33] Patrick Creed and Rick Newman, Firefight, p. 131.
[34] Lynn Spencer, Touching History, pp. 149-150.
[35] Ibid. p. 180.
[36] "(9:12 a.m.-11:57 a.m.) September 11, 2001: NEADS and NORAD Experiencing Communications Problems." Complete 9/11 Timeline.
[37] "Memorandum for the Record: Interview With Bill Aires." 9/11 Commission, January 23, 2004.
[38] Jere Longman, Among the Heroes: United Flight 93 and the Passengers and Crew Who Fought Back. New York: HarperCollins, 2002, p. 76.
[39] Kevin Sack, "2 Pilots Praise Passengers Who Fought Hijackers." New York Times, November 15, 2001.
[40] Leslie Filson, Air War Over America, p. 66.
[41] 9/11 Commission, The 9/11 Commission Report, p. 45.
[42] Jere Longman, Among the Heroes, p. 222.
[43] Ann Scott Tyson, "A New Diligence in the American Blue Yonder."
[44] Leslie Filson, Air War Over America, p. 65.
[45] 9/11 Commission, The 9/11 Commission Report, p. 45.
[46] Craig Borgstrom, interview by Leslie Filson.
[47] Lynn Spencer, Touching History, p. 182.
[48] Kevin Sack, "2 Pilots Praise Passengers Who Fought Hijackers."
[49] Lynn Spencer, Touching History, pp. 180-181.
[50] Ibid. p. 181.
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