Sunday 28 October 2007

Todd Beamer's Odd Phone Call and the Silent Crash of Flight 93

Airfone allegedly recovered from the Flight 93 debrisA key element of the official 9/11 story is the phone call Todd Beamer made from United Airlines Flight 93 shortly before it supposedly crashed in rural Pennsylvania. It was at the end of this call that Beamer was heard declaring: "Let's roll," before joining a passenger revolt against the terrorists. Without this now-famous call to battle, 9/11 would arguably have been less effective in motivating the public to get behind the war on terror. By May 2002, the Washington Post reported, Beamer's phrase "Let's roll" had been "Embraced and promoted by President Bush as a patriotic battle cry," and was "now emblazoned on Air Force fighter planes, city firetrucks, school athletic jerseys, and countless T-shirts, baseball caps and souvenir buttons. It's also commemorated in popular songs." [1] The London Evening Standard called Beamer's final words "a symbol of America's determination to fight back." [2] Rowland Morgan, author of the book Flight 93 Revealed, concluded: "Truly, the Let's Roll slogan had become a call to arms--just at a time the White House needed it most." [3] Yet, an examination of Todd Beamer's phone call reveals numerous oddities, coincidences, and seeming impossibilities.

For 13 minutes, Beamer had spoken with Lisa Jefferson, a customer service supervisor at GTE Airfone's Chicago call center. He explained to her that his plane had been hijacked, and, assisted by a flight attendant sitting next to him, provided details about the flight. He also talked about his pregnant wife and two young sons. Being a devout Christian, he asked Jefferson to recite the Lord's Prayer with him, and then recited the 23rd Psalm. Before declaring his famous last words, Beamer said some of the passengers were going to try and seize control of the plane. At around 9:58 a.m., he put the phone down and was heard saying to someone else: "You ready? OK. Let's roll." [4]

The first thing that was odd about this call is the simple fact that Beamer was able to talk to Jefferson continuously for 13 minutes. In her 2002 book, his wife Lisa Beamer revealed that Jefferson had informed her "it was a miracle that Todd's call hadn't been disconnected." The reason: "Because of the enormous number of calls that day, the GTE systems overloaded and lines were being disconnected all around her as she sat at the operator's station outside of Chicago, talking to Todd. [Jefferson] kept thinking, This call is going to get dropped! Yet Todd stayed connected ... all the way to the end." [5] Very fortunate indeed this was, because if the call had become disconnected there would have been no "Let's roll" slogan for the war on terror.

A further oddity was Todd Beamer's remarkable calmness, despite the catastrophic situation he was in. Jefferson recalled: "Todd, when he came to me, he was calm. ... [H]e stayed calm through the entire conversation." [6] In her 2006 book, Called, Jefferson wrote: "[H]is voice was devoid of any stress. In fact, he sounded so tranquil it made me begin to doubt the authenticity and urgency of his call." [7] She told Beamer's wife: "If I hadn't known it was a real hijacking, I'd have thought it was a crank call, because Todd was so rational and methodical about what he was doing." [8]

At some point during the call, Beamer said he did not think he was going to survive, telling Jefferson: "I know we're not going to make it out of here." [9] He gave her his home phone number and said: "If I don't make it out of this, would you please call my family and let them know how much I love them?" [10] Yet he refused offers to be put through to his wife. Jefferson has recalled: "I asked if he wanted to be connected to his wife." But, "he said no, that he did not want to upset her as they were expecting their third child in January." [11]

However, before reaching the call center, Todd Beamer had supposedly been trying to call his wife, but was simply unable to get through. [12] According to a summary of passenger phone calls presented at the 2006 trial of Zacarias Moussaoui, Beamer tried making this call just before 9:44 a.m., but it had been "terminated upon connection." [13] His wife has recalled that she heard her phone ring twice before stopping, and then, moments later, ringing once more. She said: "When I picked it up, it was dead air. I feel fairly confident that it was Todd. It would be on his mind to call me, to protect me." [14] According to some accounts, he reached the call center because his call was automatically routed there when his attempt at reaching his wife failed. [15] (However, other accounts claim he'd reached it by dialing "0" on the Airfone. [16])

The question remains: If Todd Beamer really did not want to talk to his wife because she was pregnant and he was afraid he might upset her, why had be been trying to phone her in the first place? Even if we somehow accept that he'd changed his mind over the space of a few minutes, another question arises: Why had Beamer not instead asked Jefferson to try and put him through to his parents, or one of his sisters, or another relative, or a friend? Instead, he'd apparently been content to talk with a stranger, explaining to Jefferson: "I just want to talk to somebody and just let someone know that this is happening." [17]

Perhaps the oddest aspect of the call is what happened after 9:58, when Todd Beamer put the phone down to join the passenger revolt against the hijackers. Jefferson has recalled: "After he said, 'Let's roll,' he left the phone, and I would assume that's at the point that they went to charge the cockpit. And I was still on the line and the plane took a dive, and by then, it just went silent. I held on until after the plane crashed--probably about 15 minutes longer and I never heard a crash--it just went silent because--I can't explain it. We didn't lose a connection because there's a different sound that you use. It's a squealing sound when you lose a connection. I never lost connection, but it just went silent." [18]

Now how is this possible? Firstly, how could the call have remained connected after the plane crashed? According to the summary of passenger phone calls presented at the Moussaoui trial, Beamer's call lasted "3,925 seconds." [19] This would mean it did not end until 10:49 a.m., about three-quarters of an hour after Flight 93 supposedly crashed. And, secondly, how could there have been silence when the crash occurred?

Considering that Todd Beamer's call is central to the official 9/11 narrative, it would be helpful if a recording of it were available to be properly analyzed. However, all that supposedly exists is a summary written by Jefferson. According to journalist and author Jere Longman: "GTE-Verizon did not routinely tape its telephone calls. As a supervisor, [Jefferson] would have been the one to monitor the taping, but she did not want to risk losing the call." [20] In her own book, Jefferson claimed she had "not had a chance to press the switch in my office that initiates the taping of a conversation." [21] Rowland Morgan has pointed out that this means the evidence of Beamer's call is "single-sourced, unsubstantiated hearsay of which there was no record. ... [Jefferson] had no idea what Beamer's voice sounded like, and she would never hear it again to judge whether he had actually been speaking to her." [22] However, a week after 9/11 the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette had claimed otherwise, stating that, "because it was to an operator," the call "was tape-recorded." [23] If a recording of the call indeed exists, it has been kept well hidden.

Todd Beamer's call in fact only came to light five days after the attacks, in a report in the Post-Gazette. [24] Beamer's wife first learned of it three days after the attacks, in a phone call from United Airlines. Until then, the FBI had been keeping the information private until it had an opportunity to review it. (Yet how long does it take to review a written summary of a 13-minute phone call?) [25] An FBI agent had phoned Lisa Jefferson on the afternoon of 9/11. She recalled: "I was told to maintain secrecy. In fact, he stressed the importance of keeping the matter under wraps." [26] But why? What was there to hide?

Clearly, many things seem odd about Todd Beamer's phone call. For now, it is really up to each of us to decide what we think was going on. But it should concern us all that the war on terror is founded upon such dubious evidence. This war, after all, has caused the deaths of thousands of Americans, tens of thousands of Afghans, and over a million Iraqis. It's time to go back and properly investigate the event that started it all.

[1] Peter Perl, "Hallowed Ground." Washington Post, May 12, 2002.
[2] James Langton, "Pain and Joy of 11." Evening Standard, August 19, 2002.
[3] Rowland Morgan, "Flight 93 'Was Shot Down' Claims Book." Daily Mail, August 18, 2006.
[4] Jere Longman, Among the Heroes: United Flight 93 and the Passengers and Crew Who Fought Back. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002, pp. 198-200 and 203-204; Wes Smith, "Operator Can't Forget Haunting Cries From Flight 93." Orlando Sentinel, September 5, 2002.
[5] Lisa Beamer and Ken Abraham, Let's Roll!: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Courage. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2002, p. 217.
[6] Wendy Schuman, "'I Promised I Wouldn't Hang Up.'" Beliefnet, 2006.
[7] Lisa Jefferson and Felicia Middlebrooks, Called. Chicago: Northfield Publishing, 2006, p. 33.
[8] Lisa Beamer and Ken Abraham, Let's Roll! p. 211.
[9] Douglas Holt, "Call Records Detail How Passengers Foiled 2nd Washington Attack." Chicago Tribune, September 16, 2001.
[10] Jere Longman, Among the Heroes, p. 200.
[11] Wes Smith, "Operator Can't Forget Haunting Cries From Flight 93."
[12] U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, "Stipulation [Regarding Flights Hijacked on September 11, 2001; September 11, 2001 Deaths; al Qaeda; Chronology of Hijackers' Activities; Zacarias Moussaoui; and the Computer Assisted Passenger Pre-Screening System (CAPPS)]." March 1, 2006, p. 11.
[13] U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, "Summary From Flight 93 Depicting: The Identity of Pilots and Flight Attendants, Seat Assignments of Passengers, and Telephone Calls From the Flight." July 31, 2006.
[14] Jaxon Van Derbeken, "Bound by Fate, Determination: The Final Hours of the Passengers Aboard SF-Bound Flight 93." San Francisco Chronicle, September 17, 2001.
[15] Karen Breslau, "The Final Moments of United Flight 93." Newsweek, September 22, 2001; Dennis B. Roddy, "Flight 93: Forty Lives, One Destiny." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, October 28, 2001; Glen Johnson, "Probe Reconstructs Horror, Calculated Attacks on Planes." Boston Globe, November 23, 2001; U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, March 1, 2006, p. 11.
[16] Jim McKinnon, "GTE Operator Connects With, Uplifts Widow of Hero in Hijacking." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, September 19, 2001; Jere Longman, Among the Heroes, pp. 198-199; Wes Smith, "Operator Can't Forget Haunting Cries From Flight 93."
[17] Jere Longman, Among the Heroes, p. 204.
[18] Wendy Schuman, "'I Promised I Wouldn't Hang Up.'"
[19] U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, July 31, 2006.
[20] Jere Longman, Among the Heroes, p. 199.
[21] Lisa Jefferson and Felicia Middlebrooks, Called, p. 36.
[22] Rowland Morgan, "Flight 93 'Was Shot Down' Claims Book."
[23] Jim McKinnon, "GTE Operator Connects With, Uplifts Widow of Hero in Hijacking."
[24] Jim McKinnon, "The Phone Line From Flight 93 Was Still Open When a GTE Operator Heard Todd Beamer Say: 'Are You Guys Ready? Let's Roll.'" Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, September 16, 2001.
[25] Lisa Beamer and Ken Abraham, Let's Roll! pp. 185-186.
[26] Lisa Jefferson and Felicia Middlebrooks, Called, p. 69.

Friday 19 October 2007

'Deaf, Dumb, and Blind': Were Communications Sabotaged on 9/11?

President Bush and Andrew CardOn September 12, 2001, the commander in chief of the Russian air force, General Anatoly Kornukov, offered his thoughts on the previous day's events: "Generally it is impossible to carry out an act of terror on the scenario which was used in the USA yesterday. ... The notification and control system for the air transport in Russia does not allow uncontrolled flights and leads to immediate reaction of the anti-missile defense. As soon as something like that happens here, I am reported about that right away and in a minute we are all up." [1] One would assume the defenses of the United States should have been more effective than those of Russia. Yet the 9/11 attacks seem to have proceeded with ease, and America's air defenses appear to have been almost non-existent at the time they were most needed.

While we still do not know exactly what caused this, evidence indicates that various methods were used to sabotage normal crisis responses, hence creating a state of paralysis. [2] Further evidence now shows that in the Washington, DC area (and elsewhere), various means of communication--including cell phones, secure government phones, and military radios--were not working properly on September 11, thus creating a communications blackout.

These problems hindered top government officials, members of the military, and emergency responders, as well as members of the public. A classified report was later produced, based on observations from a National Airborne Operations Center plane that was in the air that morning. According to author Dan Verton, this report "does not paint a favorable picture of the government's overall crisis management capabilities. According to one government official, the nation was 'deaf, dumb, and blind' for much of that horrible day in September." [3] The question we need to investigate is, were communications deliberately sabotaged, thereby helping to paralyze normal defenses and crisis management capabilities?

Of particular concern is that communications were so badly affected around the Pentagon, which, as the headquarters of the U.S. Department of Defense, had a crucial role to play that morning. These problems were summarized in the 2002 Arlington County After-Action Report on the Response to the September 11 Terrorist Attack on the Pentagon. This found that when the Pentagon was hit at 9:37 a.m., "all area communications seemed simultaneously overwhelmed. Firefighters calling the [Arlington County Emergency Communications Center] couldn't get through. Relatives of Pentagon workers found cellular and land lines jammed." The report added: "Cellular and landline telephone communications were virtually unreliable or inaccessible during the first few hours of the response." [4]

Furthermore, "Emergency traffic jammed radio channels." This is apparent in the account of Officer Aubrey Davis of the Pentagon police. Davis accompanied Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld to the crash site immediately after the Pentagon was struck. Davis's radio was "crackling with frantic pleas from his control room regarding Rumsfeld's whereabouts." However, Davis has recalled: "I kept saying, 'We've got him,' but the system was overloaded, everyone on the frequency was talking, everything jumbled, so I couldn't get through and they went on asking." [5]

The problems didn't just occur around the Pentagon. Considering its role as a center of government, it is alarming that communications were also badly hit in the Washington, DC area in general. Numerous government officials were affected:

CIA Director George Tenet was in Washington at the time the first World Trade Center tower was hit, having breakfast at the St. Regis Hotel. After being informed of the attack in New York, he left the hotel to be driven back to CIA headquarters, located about eight miles outside Washington in Langley, Virginia. As Tenet described in his recent memoir: "With all hell breaking loose, it was hard to get calls through on the secure phone. Essentially, I was in a communications blackout between the St. Regis and Langley, the longest twelve minutes of my life." [6]

As speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert was third in line for the presidency, behind the vice president. He'd seen the second plane hitting the WTC live on television while in his office suite on the second floor of the U.S. Capitol building, and was then informed that Vice President Dick Cheney would soon be calling him on the secure phone in his office. However, the secure phone was not working properly, and several attempts at calling Cheney were unsuccessful. Hastert has recalled: "On that dreadful day I couldn't make the thing work. No matter what I did, I couldn't connect with the vice president. As the minutes passed, my frustrations grew." It was not until mid-morning that Cheney and Hastert were finally able to speak to each other. [7]

Secretary of State Colin Powell was away in Lima, Peru at the time the attacks occurred. During his seven-hour flight back to Washington, as journalist Bob Woodward described, "Powell found that he couldn't talk to anybody because his communications were connected to the system in the U.S., which was swamped." [8] In a speech at the State Department, Powell later complained: "I never felt more useless in my life than on the morning of the 11th of September. Phones [were] gone because of what happened here and what happened to the [communications] system here in Washington. They couldn't get a phone line through. I was able to get some radio communications--two radio spots on the way back--but for most of that seven-hour period, I could not tell what was going on here in my capital, and I'm the secretary of state!" [9]

Although he was away in Florida for a reading demonstration at a school in Sarasota, President George W. Bush reportedly experienced some serious problems in his attempts at contacting colleagues back in Washington. According to the 9/11 Commission Report: "The president told us he was frustrated with the poor communications that morning. He could not reach key officials, including Secretary Rumsfeld, for a period of time. The line to the White House shelter conference room--and the vice president--kept cutting off." [10] Thomas Kean, the chairman of the 9/11 Commission, has pointed out the significance of this: "That was scary on both sides because the president is the only one who can give certain orders that need to be given." [11]

After he left the school at 9:35 a.m. and was being driven to Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, Bush was reportedly unable to contact his staff at the White House. According to the CBC, "all the secure telephone lines were down. The communications system [was] overloaded." The president ended up borrowing a cell phone, but reportedly even that did not work. [12]

The problems continued after he got on Air Force One. Despite the plane's elaborate communications equipment, its phones worked only sporadically. At some point later in the morning, the president's closest advisor Karen Hughes tried contacting Bush through the White House switchboard. Hughes has recalled: "[T]he military operator came back to me and in a voice that, to me, sounded very shaken said, 'Ma'am, I'm sorry, we can't reach Air Force One.'" Hughes described this as "a very, very, frightening moment," because "I never had that happen before." [13]

Why were lines of communication jammed at this most crucial time, while America was under attack and in the hours afterwards? The nearest thing to an official explanation seems to be that they somehow overloaded because of the increased volume of calls made by people reacting to the attacks. For example, according to the New York Times, within minutes of the attacks there were "tens of millions of [phone] calls--many from worried relatives and friends--that threatened to clog the system." [14] Similarly, the federally funded Arlington County After-Action Report on the response to the Pentagon attack referred to radio channels that were "initially oversaturated," and to "cellular telephone systems" that were "overloaded and ineffective." [15]

However, another possibility that needs to be properly investigated is that there was a deliberate assault on communications channels, carried out by powerful and treasonous individuals working within the U.S. government and military. This could have been one of the methods used to ensure the 9/11 attacks succeeded. We can see at least three goals this paralysis would have achieved:

1) Loyal and honest government and military employees would be severely hindered in their ability to react to the attacks. It would take longer for them to learn what was happening, and even after they knew, it might be impossible for them to organize an effective crisis response.

2) Officials within the U.S. government and military who were involved in planning and/or perpetrating the attacks could disguise their complicity. While the attacks were taking place, they could act as if they were genuinely trying to organize an emergency response, when in fact they knew that their communications would likely not get through and would be to no avail. For example, George Bush, Dick Cheney, and George Tenet all acted suspiciously on 9/11, and should be investigated as to whether they were in any way complicit in helping plan or perpetrate the attacks. Yet at the time the attacks occurred, all three appeared to be victims of the communication paralysis.

3) By sabotaging communications among members of the public, such as by jamming cell phone signals, the 9/11 perpetrators would have greater control over the flow of information from the scenes of the attacks. They would be better able to put out the official story, and get this well established in the public consciousness, before too much contradictory evidence leaked out.

Considering the communication difficulties experienced on September 11, it is curious to note changes that had recently taken place at the CIA headquarters in Langley. On August 7, 2001, a fire lasting several hours led to the forced evacuation of the old headquarters building and the nearby new headquarters building. The fire was supposedly started when a workman dropped a welder down an elevator shaft, igniting wood at the bottom. Subsequently, A. B. "Buzzy" Krongard, the CIA's executive director at the time, instigated evacuation procedures that were followed by CIA employees in response to the 9/11 attacks a month later. Significantly, he equipped key CIA officials with tiny walkie-talkies, so they could still communicate if cell phones were not working. [16]

Was the CIA just lucky? Or had Krongard known something that the rest of us did not, that there would come a day in the near future when cell phones would not work?

[1] "Sensation: Russia Also Became an Object for Air Terrorists' Attacks." Pravda Online, September 12, 2001. Note that this article refers to Kornukov as the commander in chief of the Russian Navy. However, countless other news articles confirm that he was in fact the commander of the air force.
[2] See, for example, my previous blog entries: "Ringing Like Crazy: Were U.S. Military Phones 'War-Dialed' on 9/11?" and "The Stratcom Stand Down on 9/11."
[3] Dan Verton, Black Ice: The Invisible Threat of Cyber-Terrorism. New York: Osborne/McGraw-Hill, 2003, pp. 150-151.
[4] Arlington County, Virginia, report, Titan Systems Corp., Arlington County: After-Action Report on the Response to the September 11 Terrorist Attack on the Pentagon. 2002, pp. A34 and C36.
[5] Ibid. p. A39; Andrew Cockburn, Rumsfeld: His Rise, Fall, and Catastrophic Legacy. New York: Scribner, 2007, pp. 1-2.
[6] George Tenet, At the Center of the Storm: My Years at the CIA. New York: HarperCollins, 2007, pp. 161-162.
[7] Dennis Hastert, "'We Still Feel the Pain of Sept. 11.'" Arlington Heights Daily Herald, September 11, 2002; Dennis Hastert, Speaker: Lessons From Forty Years in Coaching and Politics, Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, Inc., 2004, pp. 5-6; Stephen F. Hayes, Cheney: The Untold Story of America's Most Powerful and Controversial Vice President. New York: HarperCollins, 2007, pp. 340-341; David Espo, "Former House Speaker Seeks Graceful Exit." Associated Press, June 16, 2007.
[8] Bob Woodward, Bush at War. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2002, pp. 9-10.
[9] Steve Barrett, "Powell Asks NSTAC to Keep Nation Inside the Information Loop." Telecom News, 2002.
[10] 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. 40.
[11] "The Secret History of 9/11: The U.S. Government Reacts." CBC, September 10, 2006.
[12] National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States: Twelfth Public Hearing. 9/11 Commission, June 17, 2004; Philip Shenon and Christopher Marquis, "Panel Says Chaos in Administration Was Wide on 9/11." New York Times, June 18, 2004; "The Secret History of 9/11: The U.S. Government Reacts." CBC, September 10, 2006.
[13] "The President's Story." CBS News, September 10, 2003; Meet the Press, NBC, April 4, 2004; "The Secret History of 9/11: The U.S. Government Reacts." CBC, September 10, 2006.
[14] Lisa Guernsey, "Keeping the Lifelines Open." New York Times, September 20, 2001.
[15] Arlington County, Virginia, report, Titan Systems Corp., Arlington County: After-Action Report on the Response to the September 11 Terrorist Attack on the Pentagon. 2002, pp. 12-13 and C9.
[16] "CIA Headquarters Evacuated for Fire." Associated Press, August 7, 2001; "Fire at CIA Headquarters Building to be Probed." Reuters, August 8, 2001; Ronald Kessler, The CIA at War: Inside the Secret Campaign Against Terror. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2003, pp. 222-223.

Wednesday 10 October 2007

The Stratcom Stand Down on 9/11

Stratcom's Command Center
It has been established that at the time the 9/11 attacks began, the United States Strategic Command (Stratcom) was in the middle of a major annual training exercise called Global Guardian. Stratcom is responsible for the readiness of America's nuclear forces, and the exercise aimed to test its ability to fight a nuclear war, being described as "one of many practice Armageddons" that the U.S. military routinely conducts. [1]

Questions arise over whether this exercise impeded the military--particularly the staff at Offutt Air Force Base near Omaha, Nebraska, where Stratcom is headquartered--in its ability to respond to the crisis. Global Guardian was not canceled until after 9:03, when the second WTC tower was hit. [2] In fact, some accounts suggest it did not end until after 9:37, when the Pentagon was struck. [3] So could military personnel have mistaken reports of the real attacks for part of the exercise? And might vital resources that could have helped stop the attacks have been unavailable, being used instead for the exercise?

Other evidence indicates that Stratcom may have been further hindered that morning. Perversely, this obstruction came in the form of preparations for a charity fundraiser event.

September 11, 2001 happened to be the day that multibillionaire Warren Buffet was scheduled to host his annual golf and tennis charity event, the Omaha Classic. [4] As the Omaha World-Herald reported: "The attacks on that Tuesday morning occurred as a tour group was preparing to visit Stratcom's underground command center," which is located below Offutt Air Force Base. The tour group was "in town for the ninth annual Buffett Classic golf tournament," which "attracts high-powered business and news media people from around the country." The group was scheduled to tour the command center and receive an unclassified mission briefing. [5]

Therefore, before the attacks in New York occurred, "Staff members had left the command center in anticipation of the tour group's visit." Furthermore, "Some of the visitors already were at Stratcom, having breakfast with then-commander in chief Adm. Richard Mies." It was only after 9:03 a.m., when the second World Trade Center tower was hit, that "Mies had to excuse himself from the group." And it was only after the visitors' "tour was canceled" that "the battle staff reconvened in the [command] center." [6] In other words, at the one time when the Stratcom battle staff was most urgently needed, they had just cleared out of their command center. And when the Stratcom commander in chief was needed to defend his country, he was instead having breakfast with a group of VIPs.

Although it is unclear what effect the absence of Mies and the members of the battle staff had upon Stratcom's ability to respond effectively to the 9/11 attacks, the underground command center where they should have been had significant capabilities that could, presumably, have been of much use. The command center is a large, theater-like bunker, 60 feet below Offutt, with sophisticated communications systems. The Lincoln Journal Star described it as "a military nerve center that collects and assesses information from high-tech 'eyes and ears' across--and above--the globe." [7] According to Stratcom's website, the senior controller in the command center had "a direct line to the National Military Command Center in Washington, DC, and to the other major command headquarters." This system of communication, called the Joint Chiefs of Staff Alerting Network, gave the commander in chief of Stratcom (i.e. Admiral Mies) the ability to make "prompt contact with the president, the secretary of defense, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and other unified commanders." Furthermore, "Through satellites and radio networks (VLF, LF, UHF and HF), the command center can communicate with aircraft in flight over any part of the world. A principal purpose of these networks is to pass National Command Authority [i.e. the president and secretary of defense] orders to the alert forces." Although only the U.S. president can order nuclear strikes, the commander in chief of Stratcom "can launch aircraft for survival." [8]

The command center had eight massive video screens on the wall. After Richard Mies finally returned from his breakfast, these were "loaded up with data" that provided him with "the latest information on the unfolding drama." [9] Later in the day, at around 2:50 p.m., President Bush arrived at Offutt. At that time, the battle staff in the Stratcom command center was reportedly "watching the skies over the United States," and "tracking a commercial airliner" that was suspected of having been hijacked, "on its way from Spain to the United States." [10] We can gather, therefore, that the center's capabilities ought to have been of much use earlier on, when the attacks began. Yet, at that time, the command center had apparently been vacated.

At present, we have few hard answers, but many questions. Did all the command center's personnel leave it in advance of the visitors' tour, or just some of them? At what time exactly were they back in the center and able to effectively resume their duties? What effect did Richard Mies' absence have? Precisely what capabilities did Stratcom possess that might have been useful in responding to the kind of attacks that occurred on 9/11? The 9/11 Commission appears not to have investigated any of these crucial questions. Yet while we have few answers, one thing is already clear: This all looks highly suspicious.

[1] William Arkin, "The Beat Goes On." Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, November 1, 1997; Joe Dejka, "Inside Stratcom on Sept. 11 Offutt Exercise Took Real-Life Twist." Omaha World-Herald, February 27, 2002.
[2] Margo Bjorkman, "Weather Guard and Reservists Activate." Air Force Weather Observer, July/August 2002; Joe Dejka, "When Bush Arrived, Offutt Sensed History in the Making." Omaha World-Herald, September 8, 2002.
[3] Joe Dejka, "Inside Stratcom on Sept. 11 Offutt Exercise Took Real-Life Twist"; Dan Verton, Black Ice: The Invisible Threat of Cyber-Terrorism. New York: Osborne/McGraw-Hill, 2003, pp. 143-144.
[4] Grace Shim, "Warren Buffet, Others Speak About Terrorism at Omaha, Neb., Event." Omaha World-Herald, September 12, 2001; Stephen Buttry, "Final Words, Final Hours Before All Changed." Omaha World-Herald, September 10, 2002.
[5] Joe Dejka, "Inside Stratcom on Sept. 11 Offutt Exercise Took Real-Life Twist."
[6] Ibid.
[7] Don Walton, "Nelson, Stenberg on Nukes." Lincoln Journal Star, October 25, 2000; Joe Ruff, "Stratcom Commander: Mission is Broadening in Fight Against Terrorism." Associated Press, February 21, 2002.
[8] "Strategic Command Command Center." U.S. Strategic Command, June 22, 2001.
[9] Joe Dejka, "Inside Stratcom on Sept. 11 Offutt Exercise Took Real-Life Twist."
[10] Dan Balz and Bob Woodward, "America's Chaotic Road to War." Washington Post, January 27, 2002; "The President's Story." CBS News, September 10, 2003.

Wednesday 3 October 2007

"Ringing Like Crazy": Were U.S. Military Phones 'War-Dialed' on 9/11?

NORAD's Command Center

Activists and researchers have long tried to understand how the highly sophisticated U.S. military could have failed so completely to stop the attacks that took place on September 11, 2001. Statements made by several U.S. military personnel who were deeply involved in the crisis response that morning suggest an alarming method that may have been used to sabotage normal defenses. Revealed here for the first time, this is one possible reason that the military was in such a state of paralysis until it was too late to make a difference.

A key military installation on 9/11 was the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) operations center, located deep under Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado. Major General Eric Findley, NORAD's director of combat operations, was there, and has recalled events around the time of the first attacks. He had just been finishing breakfast when a colleague said to him: "The Federal Aviation Administration's asked for NORAD assistance with a hijacking." As he then came back to the battle cab, someone told him: "Sir, you wanna have a look at this." The monitor was showing television footage of the North Tower of the World Trade Center, with a burning hole in it from having just been hit by an airplane. Before Findley knew it, TV showed the second tower being struck. He said: "We've got a coordinated attack." [1]

Crucially, Findley has recalled that, at that moment, "every phone in this cab, and every phone over in the command center, and every phone in all the centers in this building were ringing off the hook." [2] Master Corporal Daniel Milne, the emergency action controller on duty in the NORAD operations center, has similarly recalled: "The feeling was total disbelief. Then the phones started ringing like crazy. I could not believe that we were under attack." [3] This wasn't just happening at NORAD. The American Forces Press Service has described events in the National Military Command Center (NMCC), located within the Pentagon, based on the recollections of two officers who were there. Like the NORAD operations center, the NMCC would have been one of the most important parts of the military that morning. After the second plane hit the WTC, phones there "began ringing off the hook." [4]

What caused all these phones to suddenly ring? Could it have been an influx of concerned agencies suddenly requesting help, now it was obvious the U.S. was under attack? Or was it something more sinister? A clue is in a 1996 article from the U.S. Air Force's own magazine, Airman. The article quoted Stacey Knott, a technician in the NORAD operations center: "Things can be pretty quiet in here." However, she added: "One of the busiest times is during exercises. This room fills up. ... The phones are ringing off the hook, and I've got phones in each hand." [emphasis added] [5]

It just so happens that NORAD was in the middle of a major annual exercise the morning of 9/11, called Vigilant Guardian. It involved "all HQ NORAD levels of command," and "would pose an imaginary crisis to North American Air Defense outposts nationwide." Vigilant Guardian was conducted in conjunction with a U.S. Space Command exercise called Apollo Guardian and a U.S. Strategic Command exercise called Global Guardian. [6] While little is known about Apollo Guardian, Global Guardian has been confirmed as being "in full swing" at the time the real attacks started. [7]

Furthermore, a military newsletter reported in 1998: "For the last few years, United States Strategic Command has incorporated computer network attack (CNA) scenarios into its annual major exercise known as Global Guardian. The primary purpose of including CNA is to test the processes we have in place in case of a real attack against our information infrastructure." To carry out these attacks, the U.S. Strategic Command (Stratcom) would employ "red team" members "and other organizations to act as enemy agents." The attacks would range "from attempting to penetrate the Command from the Internet to a 'bad' insider with access to a key command and control system." Most significantly, "The attackers also 'war dialed' our phones to tie up the phones and sent faxes to numerous fax machines throughout the Command." [emphasis added] Could a "computer network attack" where the phones were "'war dialed" have been incorporated into the exercise on 9/11? The 1998 article had ended: "We plan to increase the level of CNA in future Global Guardian exercises to imitate as closely as possible the technical capabilities of a hostile source." [8]

This raises many questions. Might a CNA incorporated into Global Guardian have provided a smokescreen for sabotaging the phone system, at a time when the U.S. military needed to communicate most effectively so as to respond to the real world attacks? If so, who was behind this act of treason? A thorough and dedicated criminal investigation would be required to identify these rogue individuals.

Major General Eric Findley has tried to suggest that it was not a problem when all the NORAD operations center phones suddenly started ringing. He told the CBC: "The good news is we had lots of people here and we already had an operational architecture. We already had the command and control, the network, the phones, the data links. Everything was already in place that enabled us to react to the situation." [9] Yet how believable is this? As Findley had himself stated, "every phone" had been "ringing off the hook." Now I can imagine that would be quite a hindrance when you are trying to respond to an unprecedented emergency. And if telephones "ringing like crazy" were really such a harmless occurrence, the U.S. military would have had no need to practice dealing with it during training exercises.

[1] "NORAD and September 11." CBC, September 11, 2002.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ray Dick, "Inside NORAD." Legion Magazine, November/December 2004.
[4] Jim Garamone, "9/11: Keeping the Heart of the Pentagon Beating." American Forces Press Service, September 7, 2006.
[5] Pat McKenna, "The Border Guards." Airman, January 1996.
[6] Hart Seely, "Amid Crisis Simulation, 'We Were Suddenly No-Kidding Under Attack.'" Newhouse News Service, January 25, 2002; "Vigilant Guardian.", April 14, 2002.
[7] Joe Dejka, "Inside Stratcom on Sept. 11 Offutt Exercise Took Real-Life Twist." Omaha World-Herald, February 27, 2002.
[8] Ward Parker, "Incorporating IA Into Global Guardian." IANewsletter, Summer 1998.
[9] "NORAD and September 11." CBC, September 11, 2002.