Sunday 14 December 2008

What Do NORAD's 9/11 Computer Chat Logs Reveal?

Air National Guard troops at NORAD's Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS)
In April 2006, journalist Michael Bronner received in the post 30 hours of recordings he had requested from the Pentagon. These recordings, which came as a series of computer audio files on three CDs, had captured events on the operations floor at NORAD's Northeast Air Defense Sector throughout the day of September 11, 2001. [1] NORAD--the North American Aerospace Defense Command--is the military organization responsible for monitoring and defending the airspace of North America. Its Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), based in Rome, New York, is responsible for monitoring and protecting 500,000 square miles of airspace above the northeast U.S., including the airspace over New York City and Washington, DC. [2] It was within this airspace that the 9/11 attacks occurred, and from the NEADS operations floor that the U.S. military's response originated. Evidence of what happened there that day is clearly in the public interest and of obvious importance for attempts to unravel how the attacks were able to succeed. In an August 2006 Vanity Fair article based on the recordings, Bronner therefore referred to these "NORAD tapes" as "the authentic military history of 9/11." [3]

However, the NORAD tapes are not the only record of the actions of NORAD and its Northeast Air Defense Sector on September 11. In her recent book Touching History: The Untold Story of the Drama that Unfolded in the Skies Over America on 9/11, commercial pilot and author Lynn Spencer revealed the existence of other crucial documentation. Yet, more than seven years on from 9/11, this record remains unreleased to the public and its contents are almost completely unknown.

Spencer described how, at around 9:25 a.m. on September 11, Master Sergeant Joe McCain, the mission crew commander technician at NEADS, received a call from the Continental U.S. NORAD Region (CONR) headquarters at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida. Major General Larry Arnold and his staff at Tyndall had been trying to gather information about the ongoing crisis, and wanted to know the transponder codes for the two fighter jets that had been launched in response to the first hijacking. The CONR officer that made the call told McCain to "send [the transponder codes] out on chat." By "chat," he meant NORAD's computer chat system. [4]

According to Spencer, the chat system used by NORAD that day was "similar to the chat rooms on most Internet servers, but classified." It had three chat rooms that could be used by anyone with proper access. One room was specifically for NEADS, and connected its ID, surveillance, and weapons technicians to its alert fighter squadrons, and was where NEADS received status reports on fighter units and their aircraft. Another chat room was for CONR, and was where its three sectors--NEADS, the Western Air Defense Sector (WADS), and the Southeast Air Defense Sector (SEADS)--communicated with each other and could "upchannel" information to CONR headquarters. The third room was the Air Warfare Center (AWC), where senior NORAD commanders from the three NORAD regions--CONR, Canada, and Alaska--communicated with each other. Although NEADS was allowed to monitor this room, it could not type into it. [5]

Furthermore, when a training exercise was taking place, one or two additional chat windows would be open specifically for communicating exercise information, so as to help prevent it being confused with real-world information. [6] This fact is of particular significance, as the whole of NORAD, including the staff at NEADS, was involved in at least one major training exercise the morning of 9/11. The annual "Vigilant Guardian" exercise has been described as "an air defense exercise simulating an attack on the United States," and was scheduled to include a simulated hijacking that day. [7] According to Larry Arnold, who was the commanding general of NORAD's Continental U.S. Region, this exercise was only canceled after the second World Trade Center tower was hit at 9:03 a.m. [8]

NORAD kept paper logs of the communications that took place in its computer chat rooms. As Spencer described, at NEADS it was Joe McCain's responsibility "to monitor the chats and keep paper logs of everything that is happening. ... These chat logs help to keep everyone on the same page, but in a situation like the one unfolding [on 9/11] they have to be updated almost instantaneously to achieve that end." [9] These logs are actually referred to in the notes at the back of the 9/11 Commission Report. However, this is only in relation to a single communication made across the chat system. As the report described: "At 10:31, General Larry Arnold instructed his staff to broadcast the following over a NORAD instant messaging system: '10:31 Vice president has cleared to us to intercept tracks of interest and shoot them down if they do not respond per [General Arnold].'" [10] This detail makes clear that crucial information was being communicated in the NORAD chat rooms. Yet, to date, we know practically nothing about what else was being discussed in them.

Clearly, the details of the NORAD chat logs for the day of 9/11 need to be made public and must be carefully examined. They may not tell us the full story of the U.S. military's response to the attacks, nor give us all the answers we require about why the military failed so catastrophically to protect the nation. But they will surely fill a large gap in the puzzle.

[1] Michael Bronner, "9/11 Live: The NORAD Tapes." Vanity Fair, August 2006.
[2] Leslie Filson, Sovereign Skies: Air National Guard Takes Command of 1st Air Force. Panama City, FL: 1st Air Force, 1999, p. 51; Michael Bronner, "9/11 Live: The NORAD Tapes."
[3] Michael Bronner, "9/11 Live: The NORAD Tapes." The NORAD tapes were previously subpoenaed by the 9/11 Commission in November 2003. (See Philip Shenon, "9/11 Panel Issues Subpoena to Pentagon." New York Times, November 8, 2003; Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton, Without Precedent: The Inside Story of the 9/11 Commission. New York: Knopf, 2006, pp. 85-88.) However, the Commission played only a few short excerpts from the tapes, during its final public hearing on June 17, 2004. In August 2007, the producers of the popular 9/11 documentary film Loose Change received audio files of the NORAD tapes, which they made fully available to members of the public over the Internet. (See "NORAD Live and Uncut." Official Loose Change Blog, August 30, 2007.)
[4] 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. 139.
[5] Ibid. p. 139.
[6] Ibid. pp. 139-140.
[7] Hart Seely, "Amid Crisis Simulation, 'We Were Suddenly No-Kidding Under Attack.'" Newhouse News Service, January 25, 2002; Leslie Filson, Air War Over America: Sept. 11 Alters Face of Air Defense Mission. Tyndall Air Force Base, FL: 1st Air Force, 2003, pp. 41 and 122; Michael Bronner, "9/11 Live: The NORAD Tapes."
[8] Leslie Filson, Air War Over America, p. 59.
[9] Lynn Spencer, Touching History, p. 140.
[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, pp. 42 and 465-466.

Friday 31 October 2008

The Phantom USA Today Building Fire and the Evacuation of Arlington's 'Twin Towers' on 9/11

The first firefighters at the scene of the Pentagon attack

In a recent interview, Assistant Chief James Schwartz of the Arlington County Fire Department (ACFD) revealed an intriguing detail relating to the 9/11 Pentagon attack. Just before the Pentagon was hit, ACFD responded to alarms going off at the USA Today building, located a few miles from there. Yet it is unclear whether there was actually any fire. Other evidence indicates that, as a result of this alarm, when the Pentagon was hit a significant number of fire and medical units were already on the road nearby and available to quickly respond to the attack. Curiously, the two buildings of the USA Today complex were known as the "Twin Towers." [1]

In his interview, Assistant Chief Schwartz told McClatchy Washington Bureau that, after the two towers of the World Trade Center had been hit on September 11, the Emergency Communications Center (ECC), which is the focal point of all police and fire 911 calls for Arlington County, started receiving phone calls from buildings along the Potomac River and along the flight path for Washington's Reagan National Airport. These were made by people concerned about what they should do. Among the callers were the building managers at the USA Today towers, who were afraid their complex might be a terrorist target and wanted to know if they should evacuate it. [2]

The USA Today complex is in Rosslyn, Virginia, just a few miles down the road from the Pentagon. [3] It includes the two tallest high-rise buildings in Arlington County--the "Twin Towers"--the tallest of them being 30-stories high. [4]

Schwartz recalled, "Our communications center, who didn't have a lot of other guidance to give them, told [the USA Today building managers] that if they felt better, based on what they were watching on the television and the situation as it was shaping up then, if they felt better to evacuate the building, then they should in fact do that."

Curiously, Schwartz said: "Shortly after that, we had a fire response for alarm bells at the USA Today building. ... And I was actually dispatched to that building first [before heading to the Pentagon]. By the time I got to the elevator, the transmissions were coming out about the situation as it was unfolding at the Pentagon. I did not go to the USA Today building. I drove directly to the Pentagon." [5]

Some early news reports even claimed that there was a fire at the USA Today building. At 9:46 a.m., local radio station WTOP reported, "We're hearing from a caller who says she is eyewitness to another hit here in town; the USA Today building may also be on fire in addition to the Pentagon." [6] The Washington Post described reports from "sources unknown" that the "USA Today building in Rosslyn was supposedly enveloped in smoke." [7] But according to the Associated Press, "Radio reports about an explosion at the USA Today building in Rosslyn were false." [8]

Schwartz told McClatchy Washington Bureau he believed the USA Today building alarm had gone off because "people who were evacuating decided that they would pull the fire alarm in order to get everybody out of the building, and that initiated a response on our part." [9] But USA Today spokesman Steve Anderson, who was in the building the morning of 9/11, has stated that employees of USA Today and its parent company Gannett only began evacuating after the Pentagon attack occurred, not before it, as would likely have been the case if Schwartz's theory were correct. [10]

What, if anything, is the significance of all this? Was it just a coincidence that an alarm sounded for the USA Today building just before the Pentagon was hit? Could the alarm have simply been set off by someone who was panicked by the events in New York, and concerned that this building might be the next target? Or could the incident have a more sinister meaning?

A possible and more disquieting reason why someone might have set off the alarm is suggested by an incident described in a federally funded report on the emergency response to the attack on the Pentagon. The 2002 Arlington County After-Action Report stated, "Just one minute before the Pentagon crash, in response to a 911 telephone call at 9:37 a.m., the [Arlington County Emergency Communications Center] dispatched several [fire and medical] units to an apartment fire at 1003 Wilson Boulevard in Rosslyn." But by the time the first engine arrived there, "the apartment fire was out." [11]

The address of the USA Today complex has been reported as "1000 and 1110 Wilson Boulevard." [12] This would indicate that the alleged "apartment fire" at 1003 Wilson Boulevard and the USA Today building incident described by Schwartz were one and the same thing. What was the result of this apparent false alarm? According to the After-Action Report, "by sheer coincidence, there were a significant number of units already on the road near the Pentagon at the time of the attack." [13]

Consequently, numerous firefighters arrived at the crash scene within about five minutes of the attack on the Pentagon. Captain Chuck Gibbs of the Arlington County Fire Department arrived at 9:40 a.m. A minute later, ACFD Battalion Chief Bob Cornwell arrived and assumed initial incident command responsibilities. At the same time, ACFD Truck 105 arrived at the scene. Then, at 9:42, ACFD Captain Edward Blunt arrived and established emergency medical services control. [14]

So, at the very least, the setting off of the USA Today building alarm suggests that someone may have had foreknowledge of the Pentagon attack, and wanted to ensure a swift emergency response to it. Establishing who this person, or persons, was will be one of the tasks of a new investigation of the 9/11 attacks. Investigators will also need to establish what exactly this person(s) knew, and from where they gained their foreknowledge.

But might this incident have further significance? We know, for example, that there were numerous training exercises being held or prepared for by the U.S. military and other government agencies on the morning of 9/11. Some of these exercises are known to have had an uncanny resemblance to the actual attacks. [15] Therefore, could there have been an exercise based around the scenario of an aircraft crashing into the "Twin Towers" of the USA Today complex that was scheduled to occur at the same time as the Pentagon was hit? The confusion created by such an exercise could have led to the false alarm of a fire at the complex. Giving some credence to this possibility is the fact that, as well as being the home of USA Today, the Arlington Twin Towers also housed "several Department of Defense employees," according to the Washington Business Journal. [16]

The fact that existing investigations have failed to even consider these questions proves how urgent it is that we now have a proper, unrestrained investigation into 9/11.

[1] Greg A. Lohr, "Gannett Nails Down Dates for Headquarters Move." Washington Business Journal, September 7, 2001.
[2] Michael Doyle, "Extended Interview with Chief Jim Schwartz." McClatchy Washington Bureau, 2008; Patrick Creed and Rick Newman, Firefight: Inside the Battle to Save the Pentagon on 9/11. New York: Presidio Press, 2008, p. 48.
[3] Jeff Zillgitt, "Put Sports Aside: Tragedy Affects all Americans." USA Today, September 13, 2001.
[4] Suzanne White and Greg A. Lohr, "Arlington's Twin Towers Evacuate Tenants." Washington Business Journal, September 11, 2001; Patrick Creed and Rick Newman, Firefight, p. 9.
[5] Michael Doyle, "Extended Interview with Chief Jim Schwartz."
[6] Mark K. Miller, "Three Hours That Shook America: A Chronology of Chaos." Broadcasting & Cable, August 26, 2002.
[7] Joel Achenbach, "Nation's Capital in State of Shock." Washington Post, September 11, 2001.
[8] Matthew Barakat, "Pentagon Employees Feel the Building Shake." Associated Press, September 11, 2001.
[9] Michael Doyle, "Extended Interview with Chief Jim Schwartz."
[10] Greg A. Lohr, "Media Work Tirelessly to Convey 'Magnitude' of Story." Washington Business Journal, September 14, 2001; "September 11, 2001." James Madison University Alumni Association, October 2, 20i01.
[11] 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, p. A9.
[12] Greg A. Lohr, "Gannett Nails Down Dates for Headquarters Move."
[13] Arlington County, After-Action Report on the Response to the September 11 Terrorist Attack on the Pentagon, p. A9.
[14] Ibid. pp. A5-A6 and 1-1.
[15] "Complete 9/11 Timeline: Military Exercises Up to 9/11." History Commons.
[16] Suzanne White and Greg A. Lohr, "Arlington's Twin Towers Evacuate Tenants."

Wednesday 8 October 2008

Fake Firefighters and Military Imposters at the Pentagon After 9/11

The Pentagon crash site

Several entries in the Complete 9/11 Timeline (copied below) describe what appear to have been individuals disguised as firefighters or military personnel, who were involved in the rescue and recovery efforts at the Pentagon following the attack there on September 11, 2001. What these individuals were doing is unknown, but possibilities need to be investigated, such as whether they were there to tamper with, plant, or remove evidence. That this may have been the case is given weight by the fact that some people who appeared to be members of the military were witnessed stealing crash debris from in front of the Pentagon.

Fairly early on in the firefighting operation at the Pentagon, what appeared to be a crew of firefighters was seen behaving completely at odds with how firefighters are trained to act. An Arlington County firefighter working on the building's second floor witnessed the crew walking past burning fires, apparently to get to fires elsewhere in the building. But, as authors Patrick Creed and Rick Newman have pointed out: "Firefighters are trained never to go through a fire without putting it out, since it might seal off your exit. You might as well walk into a burning room and lock the door behind you."

Then, on September 12, the Defense Protective Service (DPS), which guards the Pentagon, arrested three people at the Pentagon who were dressed as firefighters, but were not firefighters.

Beginning that same day, a couple of firefighters involved in the recovery effort were repeatedly assisted by a mysterious man who appeared to work for the military, but who wore no identifying badge and was known to them only as "Johnny." This man said if the firefighters needed anything from the military, he could help them, and even introduced them to some friends of his who said they worked for Special Forces. But on the evening of September 14, Johnny suddenly disappeared. When the two firefighters asked around, they found that no one at the Pentagon knew who "Johnny" was, and none of the agencies involved in the recovery effort said he worked for them. The two firefighters started to wonder if he'd been an imposter who'd perhaps managed to gain access to the site before security had been tightened there.

The presence of these fake personnel raises the question of why they were at the Pentagon. Were these men just "thrill seekers," as the chief of the DPS has claimed, there for their own misguided reasons? Or could they have been at the site for a more sinister purpose, perhaps as part of a coordinated operation to plant or remove evidence from the crime scene?

This latter possibility has some evidence to support it. Shortly after the attack occurred, DPS officer Lt. Robbie Turner saw people apparently stealing plane debris from the road in front of the Pentagon. Turner has recalled, "We had to try to stop other people from pilfering the wreckage because, believe it or not, there were people--military personnel involved--you know, included, rather, that was picking up the wreckage of the plane from off the highway." Another DPS officer, Roosevelt Roberts Jr., worked during the afternoon and evening of 9/11 at the heliport near where the Pentagon was hit. He has recalled that, in that time, "We had a lot of people vandalizing, stealing evidence."


(Between 11:00 a.m. and 12:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001: Mystery Firefighters Seen Behaving Oddly inside Pentagon
A mysterious fire crew is witnessed inside the Pentagon, behaving completely at odds with how firefighters are trained to act. [Creed and Newman, 2008, pp. 137] Chad Stamps is a firefighter with Rescue 104 of the Arlington County Fire Department. [National Fire and Rescue, 5/2002] Along with his crew, he has been fighting fires on the second floor of the Pentagon's outer E Ring. With fires burning around him, he is astonished to see another crew walk past, carrying two packs of hose line, apparently on its way to fight fires elsewhere in the Pentagon. Describing this incident, authors Patrick Creed and Rick Newman will point out: "Firefighters are trained never to go through a fire without putting it out, since it might seal off your exit. You might as well walk into a burning room and lock the door behind you. Yet there they went." Seeing the crew passing by, Stamps thinks, "This is totally disjointed." [Creed and Newman, 2008, pp. 137] The odd behavior of this crew is perhaps notable because there is at least one reported incident of fake firefighters being caught at the Pentagon following the attack there: On September 12, three people will be arrested who are not firefighters, yet who are dressed in firefighting gear (see September 12, 2001). [Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 170]

September 12, 2001: People Disguised as Firefighters Arrested at Pentagon
The Defense Protective Service (DPS)--the law enforcement agency that guards the Pentagon--arrests three people at the Pentagon who are dressed in firefighting gear but are not firefighters. Further details of who these people are and why they are at the Pentagon are unstated. John Jester, the chief of the DPS, later reflects: "When you have a major event, certain people are like moths around a light bulb. They come to the scene as thrill seekers." Reportedly, incident command, DPS, and FBI officials are worried by the "absence of an effective identification system to control the large number of people that [are passing] through the outer perimeter fence to support firefighting and recovery operations" at the Pentagon. [Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 170]


September 12-14, 2001: Apparently Fake Military Official Helps with Pentagon Recovery, then Disappears
A mysterious man, who is initially assumed to be working for the military, assists firefighters involved in the Pentagon recovery efforts, but then disappears without trace and is thought to have been an impostor who had managed to slip inside the Pentagon grounds.
"Johnny" - Arlington firefighter Bob Gray is introduced by his colleague Bobby Beer to a man wearing a hard hat. Beer introduces the man only as "Johnny," and adds, "He's our go-between with PenRen [the Pentagon Renovation Program], and he knows some of the military guys too." Although "Johnny" is not wearing any identifying badge or ID, he seems knowledgeable, appears "taut and serious, with a purposeful military stance," and even introduces Gray and Beer to a couple of friends of his who say they work for Special Forces. Johnny says if Gray and Beer need anything from the military, he can help. As a security perimeter has now been set up around the crash site, Gray assumes Johnny must be there officially. [Creed and Newman, 2008, pp. 367-368]
Disappears - Johnny turns out to be very helpful and assists Gray and Beer repeatedly. But, on the evening of September 14, he suddenly disappears. Gray and Beer ask around, but no one at the Pentagon seems to know exactly who Johnny is or what his last name is, and none of the agencies involved in the recovery effort say he worked for them. Johnny's disappearance appears to follow an error he had made after firefighters discovered two bodies inside the Pentagon's E Ring. Johnny mistakenly called the truck used to remove bodies to the temporary morgue prematurely, before FBI agents had the chance to photograph and document the remains. Gray and Beer start to wonder if Johnny in fact had no official standing, and was an impostor.
Clearance - According to authors Patrick Creed and Rick Newman, "It wasn't unusual at high-profile crime scenes for law-enforcement pretenders to show up and insinuate themselves into the work." Johnny would have required "some kind of clearance to get through the concentric security perimeters that sprung up around the building--unless he'd been inside the wire before security tightened. It was possible that he had wandered in at the very beginning and simply stayed--there was enough food, water, and basic support on the scene to survive for days. Somebody who was determined enough to sleep inside one of the tents, or even on the grass, could easily have bypassed security."
Tighter Security - However, the FBI has now become stricter about security, and is ushering out volunteers and scrutinizing anyone without airtight credentials. Gray and Beer conclude that Johnny may have come to the attention of the FBI when he called the body truck, leading agents to inquire who he was, and this could have prompted his disappearance from the Pentagon. [Creed and Newman, 2008, pp. 416-418]


(After 10:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Police See People, Including Military Personnel, Stealing Debris from Pentagon Crash Site
Two Pentagon police officers see people--some of them members of the military--stealing crash debris from in front of the Pentagon. After the Pentagon was hit, Lt. Robbie Turner had been helping the injured at a triage area. When, at around 10:15 a.m., reports are received of a possible second plane heading for the Pentagon (see (10:15 a.m.-10:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001), he sets about evacuating people away from there. As this is going on, he later recalls: "[W]e had to try to collect up evidence, as much of the evidence as we possibly could. Take pictures of it or whatever." However, some people are apparently trying to steal plane debris from the road in front of the Pentagon. According to Turner, "[W]e had to try to stop other people from pilfering the wreckage because, believe it or not, there were people--military personnel involved--you know, included, rather, that was picking up the wreckage of the plane from off the highway as we were running away." [Library of Congress, 12/3/2001] Later on in the day, around 3:00 p.m., another Pentagon police officer, Roosevelt Roberts Jr., is called to the heliport near where the Pentagon was hit, and remains there for the next 13 hours. He will recall that, during this time, "we had a lot of people vandalizing, stealing evidence." He does not specify who these people are, or what this "evidence" is that is being stolen and vandalized. [Library of Congress, 11/30/2001]

Wednesday 1 October 2008

Davison Army Airfield and the 12th Aviation Battalion on 9/11: Pentagon Attack Oral Histories Reveal New Details

A UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter at Davison Army Airfield
Minutes after the Pentagon was hit on September 11, two aircraft were seen on the radar screen at a nearby Army airfield, circling the Pentagon and rapidly descending, with one of them emitting an emergency distress signal. The identities of these aircraft are unclear, as is the reason one of them was emitting the distress signal. These and other details about the 9/11 Pentagon attack were revealed by a supervisor of air traffic control at the airfield, in one of over 1,300 oral histories relating to the attack that were recorded by military employees. To date, only a small number of the oral histories have been publicly released, which raises questions about what important details might be in the other, unreleased interviews.

The supervisor of air traffic control (whose name is blacked out in the transcript of his interview) was working at the control tower at Davison Army Airfield, which is located at Fort Belvoir, an Army base 12 miles south of the Pentagon. He was informed that news reports were saying an aircraft had hit the Pentagon. He then looked at the radar scope, which showed two aircraft circling above the Pentagon. The supervisor described: "We have a small radar up in the tower cap. It's called the D-Bright. It's a tower display just to make sure that when the aircraft reports--just for us to ensure that when he reports like, six miles west of the airport, it's actually six miles." [1]

Aircraft are fitted with an electronic device called a transponder that identifies a plane on a controller's screen and gives information such as its exact location and altitude. Pilots can signify to air traffic controllers that they are experiencing a general in-flight emergency by dialing 7700 into their transponder. [2] The Davison supervisor has recalled that he looked "at where the Pentagon area is [on the radar scope], and I look, and there was an aircraft squawking 7700, meaning emergency. And it was circling--it was coming down and fast, and it was circling." He also noticed another aircraft: "And there was another target with no markings or anything--it was just a target," with none of the accompanying information that would be emitted by a transponder, such as the aircraft's call sign and speed. He continued describing the two aircraft: "But there was an aircraft circling the area squawking, emergency, emergency. ... And there was another aircraft coming in--descending rapidly and very fast. So it circled around--they circled around and both tags they disappeared. But they stay in the air." [3]

What were these aircraft and why was one of them emitting the distress code? Two U.S. military aircraft are known to have been in the air near the Pentagon around this time, just after the attack there. But neither should have had any reason for emitting a distress code.

One of these was a C-130 cargo plane that had reportedly taken off from Andrews Air Force Base at 9:30 a.m. The pilot, Steve O'Brien, has claimed he witnessed the Pentagon being hit from the air at 9:37, and then he reported to air traffic controllers, "looks like that aircraft crashed into the Pentagon." [4]

The other aircraft was a mysterious jet plane that was witnessed circling above the White House, shortly after the time when the Pentagon was hit. [5] (The White House is about three miles from the Pentagon.) An analysis by CNN later revealed this to have been an E-4B National Airborne Operations Center (NAOC), which is a militarized version of a Boeing 747 that is fitted with sophisticated communications equipment and is used as a flying command post. The U.S. Air Force possesses just four of them. [6] It is known that one of the E-4Bs took off from an unspecified airfield outside of Washington shortly before the time of the Pentagon attack, as part of a major training exercise called Global Guardian, which was being conducted by the U.S. Strategic Command (Stratcom). [7]

Was the supervisor at Davison Airfield watching one or both of these aircraft--the C-130 and the E-4B--on his radar scope? If so, why was one of them emitting the 7700 distress code? If it was other aircraft that he saw, what were they? And, again, why was one of them emitting the distress code?

According to the military newspaper Pentagram, Davison Army Airfield's principal missions include maintaining "a readiness posture in support of contingency plans," exercising "operational control" of the local airspace, and providing "aviation support for the White House, U.S. government officials, Department of Defense, Department of the Army, and other government agencies." [8] Stationed at the airfield is the 12th Aviation Battalion, which is the aviation support unit for the Military District of Washington. The battalion operates UH-1 "Huey" and UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters. [9]

This raises two key questions: Could 12th Aviation Battalion helicopters have helped protect the Pentagon on September 11, and, if they could, why didn't they?

A possible reason their response may have been hindered is revealed in another of the Pentagon oral histories, this one an interview with a helicopter pilot and training officer with the 12th Aviation Battalion. He said that at least some members of the battalion were away from base that morning at a shooting range at Fort A.P. Hill, for their annual weapons training. They had driven there--a journey of one and a half to two hours. Having headed out early in the morning, they were at the range at the time of the attacks on the World Trade Center. They only learned of these when the sister of one of their captains called her brother with news of the attacks, presumably after seeing them on television. They were still at Fort A.P. Hill at the time the Pentagon was hit. It was only then, according to the training officer, that "we just pretty much packed up and came back up here and came into work." [10]

When the members of the battalion finally made it back to base, they were broken down into aviation crews and briefed on what to expect at the Pentagon. Even then, they were unable to launch. This was because they "were locked down until further notice," because, "at that point, aviation got hit the hardest, so nobody was flying anywhere unless we had specific permission."

What is more, the 12th Aviation Battalion had "two crews that are always on standby for any kind of contingency mission." According to the training officer, one of these crews had been "launched earlier that morning." They had been "flying around doing a traffic survey." [11] So, all in all, it appears to have been a rather unsuccessful day for the 12th Aviation Battalion.

Another detail revealed in the oral history of the supervisor of air traffic control at Davison Army Airfield is that, just before the Pentagon was hit, someone from Washington's Reagan National Airport--presumably an air traffic controller--called Davison Airfield and instructed it to recall its aircraft. The caller was "going crazy," and was "telling us, recall all your traffic. Just make sure that everybody lands ... he was like, telling us, everybody that you got outside, bring them in and land them quickly, very quickly." The supervisor responded to him, "Give me a reason and I'll do it," to which the caller replied, "I can't tell you the reason, but you need to do this." After the caller hung up, the supervisor told the air traffic controller at his facility, "Okay, tell everybody to come in." The Davison controller started "recalling everybody that just departed," and the supervisor "approved for them to make it straight in, the helicopters to land straight in without using the regular traffic pattern." According to the supervisor: "Everybody was coming in. And at that time when everybody was coming in ... I was like thinking, why? Why do they want to recall everybody? That means that something is going on." [12]

This raises more questions: Exactly what aircraft from Davison Army Airfield were airborne at that time? And could any of them have helped protect the Pentagon had they been informed of the threat to it in time, and had they not been urgently recalled to base?

Furthermore, the Davison air traffic control supervisor was unhappy about the odd behavior of the air traffic controllers at Reagan National Airport, who were responsible for the airspace around that area. He later visited the airport's control tower and talked to one of the controllers there, wanting to know why they had not alerted Davison Airfield or the Pentagon to the aircraft that hit the Pentagon. The supervisor described: "I was asking him, did you know that the aircraft was coming this way? And he said, yes. We were tracking him for so many miles."

The supervisor asked: "Why you didn't say anything to Davison? Why you didn't say anything to the Pentagon? Because if you would have said something, my controller at the Pentagon would have called the DPS unit," meaning the Defense Protective Service, which guards the Pentagon, "and it would have alerted them that there was something coming to Washington, DC, an aircraft with hostile intentions or something." The controller's reply was, "Well, you know what, it never occurred to me," and "we didn't know that he was going to hit the Pentagon." The supervisor responded, "I know, but all these buildings around here and, you know, we're also an air traffic control facility, you should have said something, you should have said something." [13]

Surely this behavior was suspicious and needs to be investigated? The controllers at the Reagan National Airport tower were aware that two planes had flown into the World Trade Center, so should have realized America was under attack. [14] And yet it supposedly did not occur to them to alert the Pentagon or the Davison air traffic control tower to an unidentified aircraft approaching Washington--the location of the White House, the Capitol, the U.S. Supreme Court, and many other government buildings. We need to find out what was really going on.

The information described above comes from just two of the Pentagon attack oral histories. The website has 41 of them available to view. [15] But the military gathered more than 1,300 interviews with survivors, rescuers, and other witnesses to the Pentagon attack. [16] What new details about 9/11 might the other oral histories reveal?

Clearly we need a new and unrestrained investigation of the September 11 attacks. But a good start would be for all 1,300 of these interviews to be made publicly available.

[1] "NEIT 321." U.S. Army Center of Military History, November 14, 2001.
[2] Wm. Steven Humphrey, "With Deadly Intent: Dr. Todd Curtis on the Modern Hijacker." Portland Mercury, September 13, 2001.
[3] "NEIT 321."
[4] 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. 25-26; "The Secret History of 9/11: The U.S. Government Reacts." CBC, September 10, 2006.
[5] "The White House Has Been Evacuated." Breaking News, CNN, September 11, 2001.
[6] "E-4B National Airborne Operations Center." Federation of American Scientists, April 23, 2000; Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees. CNN, September 12, 2007.
[7] Joe Dejka, "Inside Stratcom on Sept. 11 Offutt Exercise Took Real-Life Twist." Omaha World-Herald, February 27, 2002; Dan Verton, Black Ice: The Invisible Threat of Cyber-Terrorism. New York: Osborne/McGraw-Hill, 2003, pp. 143-144.
[8] Jody T. Fahrig, "Davison Army Airfield Hosts Open House." Pentagram, May 7, 1999.
[9] "Davison U.S. Army Airfield." Military District of Washington, August 2000.
[10] "NEIT 322." U.S. Army Center of Military History, November 14, 2001.
[11] Ibid.
[12] "NEIT 321."
[13] Ibid.
[14] 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, pp. 144-145.
[15] "Army Center of Military History Interviews."
[16] Milan Simonich, "Sgt. Dennis Lapic: Army History Team." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, September 11, 2002; Steve Vogel, "The Attack Recounted, by Those Who Were There." Washington Post, September 27, 2007.

Sunday 24 August 2008

The Andrews Air Force Base Stand Down: How the 'Capital Guardians' Failed to Guard the Capital on 9/11

Two F-16C Fighting Falcons from the 121st Fighter Squadron, District of Columbia Air National Guard

"Thank God that guy's there! Where has he been?"

- Firefighter Mike Smith, upon seeing the first military fighter jetarriving over the Pentagon, 10:40 a.m., September 11, 2001

At the time the 9/11 attacks began, many of the pilots with the District of Columbia Air National Guard (DCANG) were in the headquarters of the 121st Fighter Squadron at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland. They had been suspicious upon learning of the first crash in New York, but when a second plane hit the World Trade Center the emergency became obvious. "We're under a terrorist attack!" someone yelled. One DCANG officer at the base exclaimed, "Well, holy shit, if this is a terrorist attack, we need to get something in the air!" According to Lt. Col. Steve Chase, who was at the operations desk there: "People just launched into action. There was a buzz in the unit." [1]

Andrews Air Force Base is located just 10 miles southeast of Washington, DC, and has been described as "one of the most modern bases in the Air Force." [2] Yet the first fighter jet did not take off from there until well after the time the Pentagon was hit--possibly as late as 10:38 a.m.--and this was armed only with training ammunition. [3] The first properly armed jets took off at 10:52 a.m. [4]

Why did the units at Andrews perform so badly? Why did this base fail to protect the nation's capital and prevent an attack on the nearby Pentagon? Despite the absence of any serious official investigation of these questions, evidence already available indicates that a number of subtle but effective measures may have been used to deliberately sabotage the emergency response and render the DC Air National Guard useless.

Andrews Air Force Base is a huge military installation in Prince George's County, Maryland. [5] It is the home of the 113th Wing and associated units of the DC Air National Guard, including the 121st Fighter Squadron. [6]

According to a book published by the 1st Air Force, the 113th Wing "is not part of the NORAD [North American Aerospace Defense Command] air sovereignty force and did not have an alert mission" in 2001. [7] However, evidence clearly indicates it still should have been involved in defending the Washington area in response to the 9/11 attacks. Shortly before September 11, the "DC Military" website stated that the 113th Wing's mission included providing "capable and ready response forces for the District of Columbia in the event of a natural disaster or civil emergency." [8] The day of 9/11, Knight Ridder reported, "Air defense around Washington, DC, is provided mainly by fighter planes from Andrews Air Force Base." [9] Indeed, the DC Air National Guard was known as the "Capital Guardians." [10] And while he has said, "We've never been an air defense unit," Lt. Col. Phil Thompson--the chief of safety for the 113th Wing--admitted, "We practice scrambles [i.e. taking off as fast as possible, to inspect enemy aircraft], we know how to do intercepts and other things." [11]

Why then didn't Andrews AFB successfully defend Washington? The following five key pieces of evidence suggest its ability to respond to the attacks may well have been sabotaged:

The 121st Fighter Squadron had recently participated in a massive training exercise in Nevada. "Red Flag," an exercise held four times a year at Nellis Air Force Base, ran from August 11 to September 7, 2001, and the 121st FS only returned from it on September 8. [12] Most of the DC Air National Guard pilots are involved with the unit on a part-time basis, while flying commercial jet planes in their civilian lives. [13] Apparently as a result of Red Flag, most of the 121st FS's pilots were back at their usual airline jobs, and the unit only had seven pilots available on September 11. [14] Prior to taking off in response to the attacks, some of these pilots had been uploading onto disks the flight data they would need once airborne, such as navigational waypoints, maps, and frequencies. Reportedly, these disks "still contain[ed] all the Nellis data from the Red Flag training exercise they just returned from." [15] This raises the question of whether the job of replacing the exercise data delayed the takeoffs.

Furthermore, when the 9/11 attacks began, three F-16s belonging to the 121st FS were 207 miles away from base, flying a training mission in North Carolina, where they'd gone "to drop some bombs and hit a refueling tanker." [16] Therefore, three of the squadron's seven pilots were unavailable to respond to the attacks. Critically, the F-16s were out of radio range with the base. So when weapons officer Major Daniel Caine wanted to recall them, he had to contact a tanker refueling plane they were scheduled to meet and ask its pilot to pass on an urgent "return to base" message. [17] The three fighter jets did not arrive back at Andrews until after the Pentagon was hit. [18]

Unlike other Air National Guard units, the DC Air National Guard reported to the president rather than a state governor. The president, in turn, had delegated that authority to the Department of Defense. Also, because of its responsibility to protect the president, the Secret Service had a level of authority over the DCANG, and 121st FS officers had a close relationship with Secret Service agents who worked at Andrews Air Force Base. [19]

After the second attack in New York, at 9:03 a.m., Daniel Caine called a contact in the Secret Service that he was friends with. He asked: "Do you have any additional information? Are you guys going to need some help?" Even though it was now obvious the U.S. was under attack and that Washington was a likely target for terrorists, the agent responded, "No, but I'll call you back if that changes." Lt. Col. Marc Sasseville, the commander of the 121st FS, has claimed: "At that time, we weren't thinking about defending anything. Our primary concern was what would happen to the air traffic system." [20]

It wasn't until after 9:34 a.m., when the Secret Service learned of an unidentified aircraft approaching the White House, that an agent at the White House Joint Operations Center called Caine to request help. He asked: "Can you guys do anything? Can you get some fighters in the air as soon as possible?" [21] This was more than half an hour after the second plane hit the WTC. However, the emergency response was delayed even further. Caine has recalled, "Then [the Secret Service agent] told us to stand by and that somebody else would call." The 113th Wing's maintenance section started getting several F-16s armed and ready to fly. Finally, in a subsequent phone call, the Secret Service ordered Andrews AFB, "Get in the air now!" [22]

The DC Air National Guard's ability to respond to the attacks may also have been hindered because it was being denied the information it needed about what was happening, and had to rely instead upon CNN. At around 9:30 a.m., its intelligence officer went onto the SIPRNET--the Department of Defense's classified version of the Internet--in search of pertinent information, but to no avail. He phoned anyone he could think of who might be able to help, including the Air Combat Command Intelligence Squadron at Langley Air Force Base, the 9th Air Intelligence Squadron at Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina, Washington's FBI field office, and the White House Joint Operations Center. Yet he was unable to find out anything more than what he'd learned from television. Author Lynn Spencer has claimed, "As DCANG is a general purpose F-16 unit, no one [was] specifically tasked with keeping the squadron informed." [23]

The question to be investigated is whether this apparent agency-wide information blackout can be dismissed as the result of mere confusion, or was it due to sabotage?

The actions of Brigadier General David Wherley Jr. are particularly notable. As the commander of the DC Air National Guard, Wherley surely had a crucial role to play in responding to the attacks. However, although accounts are vague and sometimes contradictory, descriptions of what he did give us serious cause for concern.

Wherley was in the headquarters of the 113th Wing the morning of September 11. Yet reports indicate he only started taking action after 9:37 a.m., when the Pentagon was hit. According to the Washington Post, Wherley's "first inkling that the attacks would go beyond New York was when one of his officers, whose husband worked at the Pentagon, saw on television that the building had been hit and began shrieking." [24] After taking a moment to comfort the officer, he "raced out of his office and ran several hundred yards to the headquarters of the DC Guard's 121st Fighter Squadron." But then, upon learning that the Secret Service wanted Andrews to launch fighter jets, Wherley told squadron officers he wanted more explicit authorization, saying: "We have to get instructions. We can't just fly off half-cocked." [25]

Wherley talked over the phone with the Secret Service, which wanted the DCANG to establish a combat air patrol (CAP) over Washington. Yet he seemed reluctant to help. He told the Secret Service agent, "I would feel more comfortable receiving such an order from someone higher in the chain of command, preferably in the military." He was given the number for the Presidential Emergency Operations Center--a bunker below the White House--which he then called. The Secret Service agent who answered implored Wherley: "We want you to put a CAP up over the city. We need some fighters now." Yet Wherley was "not very comfortable taking orders from a Secret Service agent. That's just not how things are done." He asked, "Is there anybody else there from the military available to talk?" As there was not, he asked, "Is the vice president available?" The vice president was on the phone with the president. Only after further reflection did Wherley finally agree to help, saying: "Okay, then. What exactly do they want me to do?" [26]

Wherley then had to wait for the Secret Service to determine "exactly" what it wanted. According to the Washington Post, the instructions came "within a half-hour." Again, another delay. [27] The Secret Service agent who got back to Wherley said he had received instructions that came from the vice president. The guidance was "to send up the aircraft, with orders to protect the White House and take out any aircraft that threatened the Capitol." If the 9/11 Commission is correct, these instructions were not passed on to the first fighter jet that took off from Andrews, but instead only to "the pilots that launched at 10:42 and afterward." By that time, of course, the attacks were long over. [28]

Taking into account these five pieces of evidence (and presumably there are other relevant details that we are as yet unaware of) it is unsurprising that the DCANG was so slow in responding to the 9/11 attacks. The first fighter jet to take off from Andrews Air Force Base in response was an F-16 piloted by Major Billy Hutchison--one of the aircraft that had been away on a training mission in North Carolina and had just returned to the base. Hutchison's was the only one of the three returning jets with enough fuel remaining to take off again immediately, though he had just 2,800 pounds, which is equivalent to one-eighth of a tank in a car. He had no missiles and only training ammunition. He took off "without afterburner to conserve fuel, go across the White House over the Georgetown area and continue northwest up the Potomac." [29]

The time when Hutchison took off is unclear. Different accounts have said he did so "Within minutes of American Airlines Flight 77 hitting the Pentagon," [30] some time roughly around 10:00 a.m. [31], or "about 50 minutes after the Pentagon was hit." [32] According to 113th Wing operations desk records, he did not take off until 10:33 a.m. [33], and, according to the 9/11 Commission, he was not airborne until 10:38 a.m. [34]

Hutchison has recalled that he circled low over the Pentagon some time after taking off. [35] Many witnesses who were on the ground have recalled seeing the first military jet arriving over the Pentagon following the attack there at around 10:40 a.m., or "closer to 11" o'clock, according to the New York Times. In other words, the first Andrews jet to reach the Pentagon in response to the 9/11 attacks only arrived an hour or more after it had been hit--far too late to have been any use in preventing the attack there. Understandably, upon seeing the F-16 above, one firefighter exclaimed: "Thank God that guy's there! Where has he been?" [36]

The next two F-16s to launch from Andrews took off at 10:42 a.m. These also had no missiles, and only non-explosive training rounds for their Gatling guns--"hardly enough to bring down an airliner," the pilots have conceded. Finally, at 10:52 a.m., the first fighters armed with live ammunition and AIM-9 air-to-air missiles took off. [37] Their pilots were instructed to establish a combat air patrol over Washington and intercept any incoming aircraft. [38]

So, although the DC Air National Guard is meant to have realized, "We're under a terrorist attack!" when the second plane hit the World Trade Center, and immediately to have "launched into action," its first properly armed fighters did not take off until more than an hour after the Pentagon was hit, and more than two hours after the first attack in New York.

The information currently available on Andrews Air Force Base and what happened there on 9/11 is vague, often contradictory, and only serves to raise new questions. For example, we know that, as well as the 113th Wing, there were other units at the base with fighter jets available. These included Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 321, which flew the sophisticated F/A-18 Hornet, and Naval Air Facility, Washington, DC, which provided "Naval air operations support for the Naval District of Washington," and also had F/A-18 Hornets available. [39] Yet little is known about these units' activities on September 11 and what they could have done to defend the capital.

It seems logical to assume, however, that fighter jets from Andrews should have been in the air protecting Washington and the Pentagon long before the Pentagon was hit. The question of why they failed to do so needs to be part of a serious and unrestrained new investigation of the 9/11 attacks.

[1] Steve Vogel, "Flights of Vigilance Over the Capital." Washington Post, April 8, 2002; 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.
[2] "Andrews AFB, Maryland.", March 3, 2002.
[3] NBC Nightly News. NBC, September 11, 2001; Steve Vogel, "Flights of Vigilance Over the Capital"; 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.
[4] Steve Vogel, The Pentagon: A History. New York: Random House, 2007, p. 446.
[5] "Andrews Air Force Base: Welcome.", Summer 2001; "Andrews AFB, Maryland."
[6] "Andrews Air Force Base: Partner Units.", Summer 2001; "113th Wing.", October 21, 2001.
[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. 76.
[8] "Andrews Air Force Base: Partner Units."
[9] Steve Goldstein, "Focus of Training for Terrorist Attacks has Been Chemical, Biological Warfare." Knight Ridder, September 11, 2001.
[10] Lynn Spencer, Touching History, p. 122.
[11] William B. Scott, "F-16 Pilots Considered Ramming Flight 93." Aviation Week & Space Technology, September 9, 2002.
[12] "Photo: Exercise Routine." Las Vegas Review-Journal, August 22, 2001; Steve Vogel, "Flights of Vigilance Over the Capital"; William M. Arkin, Code Names: Deciphering U.S. Military Plans, Programs, and Operations in the 9/11 World. Hanover, NH: Steerforth Press, 2005, p. 476.
[13] Steve Vogel, "Flights of Vigilance Over the Capital."
[14] Lynn Spencer, Touching History, p. 156.
[15] Ibid. pp. 236-237.
[16] William B. Scott, "F-16 Pilots Considered Ramming Flight 93"; Leslie Filson, Air War Over America, p. 79.
[17] Lynn Spencer, Touching History, p. 124.
[18] Leslie Filson, Air War Over America, p. 79; Lynn Spencer, Touching History, pp. 216-218.
[19] Steve Vogel, The Pentagon, p. 445; Lynn Spencer, Touching History, pp. 122-123.
[20] William B. Scott, "F-16 Pilots Considered Ramming Flight 93"; Lynn Spencer, Touching History, p. 124.
[21] 9/11 Commission, The 9/11 Commission Report, p. 9; Lynn Spencer, Touching History, p. 156.
[22] William B. Scott, "F-16 Pilots Considered Ramming Flight 93"; Leslie Filson, Air War Over America, p. 78.
[23] Leslie Filson, Air War Over America, p. 79; Lynn Spencer, Touching History, pp. 155-156.
[24] Steve Vogel, "Flights of Vigilance Over the Capital."
[25] Steve Vogel, The Pentagon, pp. 445-446.
[26] Lynn Spencer, Touching History, pp. 184-185.
[27] Steve Vogel, "Flights of Vigilance Over the Capital."
[28] 9/11 Commission, The 9/11 Commission Report, p. 44.
[29] Steve Vogel, "Flights of Vigilance Over the Capital"; Leslie Filson, Air War Over America, pp. 79-81.
[30] William B. Scott, "F-16 Pilots Considered Ramming Flight 93."
[31] Lynn Spencer, Touching History, pp. 216-220.
[32] Steve Vogel, "Flights of Vigilance Over the Capital."
[33] Leslie Filson, Air War Over America, pp. 81 and 89.
[34] 9/11 Commission, The 9/11 Commission Report, p. 44.
[35] Leslie Filson, Air War Over America, pp. 81-82.
[36] David E. Sanger and Don Van Natta Jr., "In Four Days, a National Crisis Changes Bush's Presidency." New York Times, September 16, 2001; Patrick Creed and Rick Newman, Firefight: Inside the Battle to Save the Pentagon on 9/11. New York: Presidio Press, 2008, pp. 130-131.
[37] William B. Scott, "F-16 Pilots Considered Ramming Flight 93"; Leslie Filson, Air War Over America, pp. 82-84; Steve Vogel, The Pentagon, p. 446.
[38] Lynn Spencer, Touching History, p. 238.
[39] "Andrews Air Force Base: Partner Units."

Saturday 5 July 2008

"Shockingly Calm": The Phone Calls From the Planes on 9/11

Flight 175 approaching the South Tower
A number of people received phone calls the morning of September 11, 2001 that they believed were made by individuals on board the planes that crashed in New York, Washington, and Pennsylvania. Descriptions of these calls, however, reveal something odd. According to the official story we have been told, the callers were in an unprecedented crisis, stuck on planes under the control of murderous terrorists, and with no knowledge of whether they were going to be allowed to live or die. Yet in many of the phone calls, the caller appears to have been remarkably calm. Perhaps if just a few of them--for example, those with specific personal experiences, like the flight attendant who was a former police officer--had maintained their composure, then this would be less remarkable. Yet the large majority of the callers displayed this same calmness. In their recollections, some of the people who received the calls have indeed commented on this fact, apparently surprised by it. Some of them have also commented on the absence of panic, screaming, or other sounds of chaos in the background.

At the very least, these details appear highly unusual. As with much else about the events of 9/11, these phone calls raise serious questions. Were they really being made from the four planes targeted that morning, by passengers and crew members? Or is it possible the perpetrators of the attacks were faking them, in a cruel deception intended to help establish the official story, and this was why the callers were able to maintain such calmness? The calls need to be subjected to far closer and more critical scrutiny than has so far occurred, as part of a real investigation into the attacks, in order to establish the truth.

The following summary shows how odd the calls appear to be:

A computer presentation shown during the 2006 trial of Zacarias Moussaoui summarized the phone calls allegedly made from the four flights targeted on 9/11. According to this presentation, two people successfully made calls from Flight 11, the first plane to supposedly be taken over by hijackers: flight attendants Betty Ong and Madeline "Amy" Sweeney. [1]

Betty Ong called the American Airlines Southeastern Reservations Office in North Carolina, and spoke for about 25 minutes with employees there. Ong said she thought her plane was being hijacked, that two flight attendants had been stabbed and injured, and that a passenger had perhaps been fatally stabbed. She said Mace spray had been used, and "we can't breathe." [2] Despite these harrowing circumstances, as the New York Times described, Ong "could not have sounded much calmer." [3] Nydia Gonzalez, one of the American Airlines employees who received the call, described Ong as speaking in "a very calm, professional, and poised demeanor," and added, "Betty was calm, professional, and in control throughout the call." [4] Reportedly, when Ong's family heard the recording of her call, they "couldn't believe the calm in Betty's voice." [5] In the plane's final moments, when Ong asked those on the other end of her call to "pray for us," she was still speaking "in a composed voice." [6] As the plane approached the World Trade Center, according to Vanessa Minter, another of the employees receiving Ong's call: "You didn't hear hysteria in the background. You didn't hear people screaming." [7]

Amy Sweeney contacted the American Airlines Flight Services Office at Boston's Logan Airport. After her first calls got broken off, she was finally able to speak for 13 minutes, up to about 8:45. Sweeney reported "that the plane had been hijacked; a man in first class had his throat slashed; two flight attendants had been stabbed ... the flight attendants were unable to contact the cockpit; and there was a bomb in the cockpit." [8] Michael Woodward, the manager with whom Sweeney talked, later told the FBI that despite reporting such horrific events, "during the entire conversation," Sweeney's voice "remained calm and even." [9] Even just before Flight 11 crashed, Sweeney retained her composure. After reporting that her plane was flying very low, Woodward recalled, she "took a very slow, deep breath and then just said, 'Oh, my God!' Very slowly, very calmly, very quietly. It wasn't in panic." [10] Furthermore, Woodward noted, he "did not hear any noise in the background during the conversation." [11]

Three people reportedly made successful phone calls from Flight 175, the plane that hit the South Tower of the WTC: one flight attendant and two passengers. While brief descriptions are available of the call made by the attendant--thought to be Robert Fangman--these reveal no details of his level of composure. [12] Some relevant information is available regarding the other calls from this aircraft.

Passenger Brian Sweeney left a short message on his wife's answering machine, and then called his mother. [13] In his message to his wife, Julie, he stated, "The plane I'm on has been hijacked, and it doesn't look good." According to Julie Sweeney, Brian "sounded calm. ... He was not crying." [14] Details of his composure during the call to his mother are unstated. The other passenger, Peter Hanson, twice called his father, and told him about the hijacking. [15] According to the Los Angeles Times, "In the first call, Peter was calm." According to Hanson's father, "His voice was soft, not too nervous." Whether he was also calm in his second call is unstated. [16]

Two individuals have been reported as making phone calls from the third hijacked plane, Flight 77: attendant Renee May and passenger Barbara Olson. No details have been revealed of whether Renee May remained calm during her call. But, according to Newsweek, Barbara Olson phoned her husband and "was calm and collected as she told him how hijackers had used boxcutters and knifes to take control of the plane and had herded the passengers and crew to the back." [17] Her husband Ted Olson--who at that time was the United States solicitor general--described to CNN: "She sounded very, very calm. ... In retrospect, enormously, remarkably, incredibly calm." [18]

The majority of the phone calls made from the planes allegedly came from Flight 93, the aircraft said to have crashed in Pennsylvania after passengers attempted to retake control from the hijackers. At least 12 individuals reportedly made calls. Most of them displayed a surprising degree of calmness.

1) Flight attendant Sandy Bradshaw phoned the United Airlines maintenance facility in San Francisco and reported her plane had been hijacked, and that the hijackers had pulled a knife and killed a flight attendant. The manager who took the call later described Bradshaw as being "shockingly calm." [19] Bradshaw subsequently phoned her husband, who later recalled, "She sounded calm, but like her adrenaline was really going." [20]

2) Another flight attendant, CeeCee Lyles--who was a former police officer--called her husband. He described, "She was surprisingly calm," considering the screaming he heard in the background. [21]

3) Passenger Mark Bingham called his family, and talked to his aunt and his mother. His aunt found him sounding "calm, matter-of-fact." His mother recalled: "His voice was calm. He seemed very much composed, even though I know he must have been under terrible duress." [22] She also said a background discussion between passengers she could hear, about taking back the plane from the hijackers, sounded like a "calm boardroom meeting." [23]

4) Another passenger, Tom Burnett, called his wife Deena four times. Deena Burnett later recalled his third call: "[I]t was as if he was at Thoratec [the company he worked for], sitting at his desk, and we were having a regular conversation. It was the strangest thing because he was using the same tone of voice I had heard a thousand times. It calmed me to know he was so confident." [24] According to journalist and author Jere Longman, in his fourth call, Tom was "speaking in a normal voice, calm." [25]

5) Passenger Lauren Grandcolas called her husband, Jack, and left a message on the answering machine. Jack Grandcolas later recalled, "She sounded calm." [26] According to Jere Longman, "It sounded to Jack as if she were driving home from the grocery store or ordering a pizza." [27] Furthermore, Jack Grandcolas has described: "There is absolutely no background noise on her message. You can't hear people screaming or yelling or crying. It's very calm, the whole cabin, the background, there's really very little sound." [28]

6) Jeremy Glick called his wife, Lyz, and told her his plane had been hijacked. She recalled, "He was so calm, the plane sounded so calm, that if I hadn't seen what was going on on the TV, I wouldn't have believed it." [29] She has added: "I was surprised by how calm it seemed in the background. I didn't hear any screaming. I didn't hear any noises. I didn't hear any commotion." [30]

7) Todd Beamer talked for 13 minutes with GTE-Verizon supervisor Lisa Jefferson. According to Jefferson, Beamer "was amazingly calm and composed as he told her of the hijacking of Flight 93 and passengers' plans to rush their captors." [31] Jefferson said he "stayed calm through the entire conversation. He made me doubt the severity of the call." [32] She later 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." [33]

8) Honor Elizabeth Wainio spoke with her stepmother, Esther Heymann. Heymann has said that Wainio "really was remarkably calm throughout our whole conversation." [34] According to Jere Longman, when Wainio was not talking, Heymann "could not hear another person. She could not hear any conversation or crying or yelling or whimpering. Nothing." [35]

9) Linda Gronlund left a voice mail message at the home of her sister, saying that terrorists who said they had a bomb had hijacked her plane. [36] Her sister has described that, during the call, Gronlund "got real calm and said, 'Now my will is in my safe and my safe is in my closet. And this is the combination.'" [37]

10) Edward Felt spoke with 911 dispatcher John Shaw just minutes before Flight 93 reportedly crashed, and said his plane had been hijacked. According to Shaw, Felt "was crying ... frightened, scared, and anxious." But Felt's brother Gordon, who heard the recording of the call, has disputed this, saying: "My brother was not scared. He was very composed, under the circumstances." [38] Felt's wife, who heard the recording of the 911 call and also the Flight 93 cockpit voice recording, said Edward "was very calm in the face of death." [39]

Indeed, author Jere Longman said he'd "heard tapes of a couple of the phone calls made from [Flight 93] and was struck by the absence of panic in the voices." [40]

Only two other people are reported to have made successful calls from Flight 93. Passenger Marion Britton appears to be the only clear example of a caller sounding panicked. She called her friend Fred Fiumano. According to Fiumano, Britton "was crying and--you know--more or less crying and screaming and yelling." [41] Fiumano said he heard a lot of screaming in the background near the end of the call. [42] Joseph DeLuca, also a passenger, called his father and reported there were terrorists on his plane. But he has been described simply as having "sounded sad" during the call. [43]

[1] 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.
[2] Public Hearing. 9/11 Commission, January 27, 2004; 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. 5.
[3] Philip Shenon, "A Calm Voice as Disaster Unfolded in the Sky." New York Times, January 28, 2004.
[4] Public Hearing. 9/11 Commission, January 27, 2004.
[5] Jennifer Julian, "One of the Last Calls." ABC11 Eyewitness News, September 11, 2002.
[6] Steven Knipp, "Sept. 11: An Angel Named Betty Ong." Pacific News Service, September 8, 2004.
[7] "Calm Before the Crash." ABC News, July 18, 2002.
[8] 9/11 Commission, The 9/11 Commission Report, pp. 6 and 453; U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, "Summary From Flight 93."
[9] "FBI FD-302, Michael Woodward." Federal Bureau of Investigation, September 14, 2001.
[10] "Calm Before the Crash."
[11] "FBI FD-302, Michael Woodward."
[12] Scott McCartney and Susan Carey, "American, United Watched and Worked in Horror as Sept. 11 Hijackings Unfolded." Wall Street Journal, October 15, 2001; "The Four Flights: Staff Statement No. 4." 9/11 Commission, January 27, 2004; 9/11 Commission, The 9/11 Commission Report, pp. 7-8; 9/11 Commission, Staff Report. August 26, 2004, p. 21.
[13] 9/11 Commission, Staff Report, p. 22; U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, "Summary From Flight 93."
[14] K. C. Myers, "Message From Air is Final Goodbye." Cape Cod Times, September 12, 2001.
[15] 9/11 Commission, Staff Report, pp. 21-23.
[16] Richard A. Serrano, "Moussaoui Jury Hears the Panic From 9/11." Los Angeles Times, April 11, 2006.
[17] Michael Isikoff, "'I Can't Just Sit Back.'" Newsweek, September 19, 2001.
[18] "Recovering From Tragedy." Larry King Live, CNN, September 14, 2001.
[19] 9/11 Commission, Staff Report, p. 40; United States of America v. Zacarias Moussaoui. United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, April 11, 2006.
[20] Angie Cannon, "Final Words From Flight 93." U.S. News & World Report, October 29, 2001.
[21] Brad Townsend, Chip Brown, and Gerry Fraley, "Trapped in the Skies, Captives Fought Back." Dallas Morning News, September 17, 2001.
[22] "World Leaders Express Horror, Outrage." CNN, September 12, 2001; Jere Longman, Among the Heroes: United Flight 93 and the Passengers and Crew Who Fought Back. New York: HarperCollins, 2002, pp. 129-130.
[23] Phil Hirschkorn, "More 9/11 Families Testify for Moussaoui." CNN, April 21, 2006.
[24] Deena Burnett with Anthony Giombetti, Fighting Back: Living Life Beyond Ourselves. Altamonte Springs, FL: Advantage Books, 2006, p. 66.
[25] Jere Longman, Among the Heroes, p. 118.
[26] David Segal, "A Red Carpet Tragedy." Washington Post, April 26, 2006.
[27] Jere Longman, Among the Heroes, p. 128.
[28] United 93: The Families and the Film. Directed by Kate Solomon, Working Title Films, 2006.
[29] Matthew Brown, "Hero's Family Perseveres." Bergen Record, October 5, 2001.
[30] Jane Pauley, "No Greater Love." NBC News, September 11, 2006.
[31] Jim McKinnon, "13-Minute Call Bonds her Forever With Hero." Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, September 22, 2001.
[32] Wendy Schuman, "'I Promised I Wouldn't Hang Up.'" Beliefnet, 2006.
[33] Lisa Beamer and Ken Abraham, Let's Roll!: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Courage. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2002, p. 211.
[34] "Stories of Flight 93." Larry King Live, CNN, February 18, 2006.
[35] Jere Longman, Among the Heroes, pp. 171-172.
[36] 9/11 Commission, Staff Report, p. 44.
[37] Jane Pauley, "No Greater Love."
[38] Richard Gazarik, "Felt Reaches 911 Just Before Crash." Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, September 8, 2002.
[39] Chuck Biedka, "911 Dispatcher Recalls Frantic Cell Phone Call From Flight 93." Valley News Dispatch, September 11, 2002.
[40] Jere Longman, Among the Heroes, p. xi.
[41] Jane Pauley, "No Greater Love."
[42] "FBI FD-302, Unidentified Person re: Marion Britton." Federal Bureau of Investigation, September 20, 2001; United States of America v. Zacarias Moussaoui.
[43] Jere Longman, Among the Heroes, p. 161.

Sunday 15 June 2008

Pentagon Medics Thought 9/11 Attack Was Part of a Drill

Medical workers responding to the Pentagon attack
The morning of September 11, 2001, the U.S. Army's DiLorenzo Tricare Health Clinic (DTHC) had over 200 staff members working in its offices at the Pentagon, available to offer primary and emergency care to Department of Defense employees. [1] Following the attack on the Pentagon, DTHC workers were involved with the emergency response, performing triage and treatment in the clinic and at other locations within the building. [2]

Curiously, several DTHC workers have indicated that, when they were ordered to evacuate after the Pentagon was hit, they initially thought this was a drill. Admittedly, the clinic is located in the basement and on the east of the building--the opposite side to where it was impacted--and so people there had not heard or felt the crash. [3] Yet, considering that the two crashes occurring in New York made it obvious the U.S. was under attack, this reaction seems surprising. An examination of the accounts of these workers and other evidence raises the possibility that their confusion was because a drill was scheduled to take place there that day. Remarkably, there is evidence that such a drill might have been based around a plane hitting the Pentagon.

Captain Jennifer Glidewell, the chief nurse at the acute care section of the DTHC, has described how she mistook the evacuation for part of a training exercise. Like numerous others at the clinic, Glidewell had seen the TV coverage reporting the attacks in New York. When informed that two planes--not one--had hit the World Trade Center, she said out loud: "That wasn't an accident. That was terrorism." A man had then run through the clinic, looking serious and yelling, "Everybody get out!" Glidewell started evacuating the place, herself leaving with Sergeant Matthew Rosenberg, a medic there. Yet Glidewell has recalled that, as she and Rosenberg saw "throngs of people going out," they were "thinking fire drill. I still had not made the connection." [4]

After being told there was a patient in the Pentagon's center courtyard requiring attention, Glidewell and Rosenberg headed there. [5] Authors Patrick Creed and Rick Newman have described, "When they entered the courtyard, the first thing they saw was smoke, billowing up out of the opposite side of the building." They saw a man, "running with his arms up in the air, screaming, his clothes hanging off him like rags." Yet Glidewell thought this was part of a training exercise: "When Glidewell saw his face, her first thought was that it was the best moulage job she had ever seen. Moulage was the makeup medical practitioners put on mock patients during exercises, to simulate injuries." Only as she realized his injuries were genuine did reality sink in. She grabbed her radio and yelled into it: "This is not a drill! This is real!" [6]

Other DiLorenzo Clinic employees have also recalled mistaking the response to the Pentagon attack for a drill:

• Dr. Veena Railan was examining a patient when she heard the call to evacuate. She recalled: "I was not very sure what was happening, what was going on at that time. Maybe this is a drill because of what happened in New York." [7]
• U.S. Air Force Surgeon General Paul Carlton had been at the Pentagon for a meeting. [8] After the building was hit, he'd gone to the DTHC and volunteered to head a team of medics that was going to the center courtyard. [9] As they rushed there, a young sergeant "was under the impression that this crash was yet another exercise." Carlton told him, "I think this one's for real, my friend." [10]
• Captain Liza Lindenberg, a physician at the DTHC, heard about the WTC being hit. She was discussing this with a couple of colleagues, "and we were jokingly saying that maybe we should go home for the day because of the incident." She then "heard a thud, like a construction crane, and then all of a sudden people started yelling that we should be evacuating." However, "Not until we went out the door did I see these plumes of smoke and thought, this is definitely not a drill." [11]
• Major Bridget Larew had been told two planes had hit the WTC. She realized, "That wasn't a coincidence; that is terrorism." After the man ran through the clinic, yelling at everyone to evacuate, she saw "people streaming by the glass doors as they were exiting the building." She said aloud, "I don't think this is an exercise." After helping an injured victim, she "went back out to the front desk to see if I had other providers because, by now, the people, our medical teams were starting to come back in the building, realizing that this was not a drill and that they needed to be here with us to get supplies and stuff." [12]
• Staff Sergeant Keith Pernell saw the television footage of the second plane hitting the WTC and was thinking, "What's going on?" Although he did not hear or feel the impact when the Pentagon was hit, he heard the order to "Get out!" Yet, he has recalled, "We just thought it was a regular fire drill." [13]
• Sergeant Mark Maxey Davis knew about the first--but not the second--plane hitting the WTC. When someone walked into the office he was in and said they all needed to evacuate the building, he has recalled, "I just thought it was a routine fire drill or something like that." As he walked out, he "didn't grab anything because, again, I just thought it was something routine." When he got outside, he saw people running from the center courtyard. As he was leaving the North Parking area, he looked back and saw the smoke coming from the Pentagon. Yet he "wasn't even afraid then because I just thought it was maybe something caught on fire." [14]

While these accounts do not prove the DTHC was due to take part in a training exercise that day, other evidence further supports this possibility.

Major Lorie Brown was the chief nurse at the DiLorenzo Tricare Health Clinic on September 11. According to Brown, the clinic "actually had our MASCAL equipment out of the storage areas" that morning, "because we were doing an inventory." ("MASCAL" equipment is that which is required for situations with "mass casualties.") Brown has continued: "So there were many pieces that just fell into place and worked so well on that day. It was just fortuitous. It was just amazing that way that things kind of happened the way they did." [15]

Sergeant Matthew Rosenberg said that, on September 11: "We had virtually completed our MASCAL plan. I was setting up training for medics, I was in the process of ordering new supplies, and trying to reinvent what we would do, how we would go about it." Furthermore, "Believe it or not, the day prior to" September 11, he had been "on the phone with the FBI, and we were talking, 'so who has command should this happen, who has the medical jurisdiction, who does this, who does that,' and we talked about it and talked about it, and he helped me out a lot." [16] Might Brown and Rosenberg have been implying they had been preparing for a training exercise due to take place on 9/11?

What is more, as the Washington Post reported, early in the morning of September 11, before the attacks occurred in New York, Rosenberg had been "down on Corridor 8" of the Pentagon (where the DTHC is located), "grateful for an uninterrupted hour in which he could study a new medical emergency disaster plan based on the unlikely scenario of an airplane crashing into the place." [17] Could he have been studying this in preparation for an exercise that day, which would be based on a plane crashing into the Pentagon?

Extraordinary as this possibility may sound, it would not have been the first time the DTHC participated in such a drill. The clinic had been involved in at least two training exercises in the 12 months prior to 9/11, based around the scenario of an aircraft crashing into the Pentagon. The DiLorenzo Clinic's Action Response Team (DART) had been developing a new MASCAL plan and, for that purpose, participated in several large tabletop exercises with other organizations such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and civilian medical agencies. [18]

In late October 2000, Lorie Brown and others from the DTHC took part in the Pentagon Mass Casualty Exercise, held in the Office of the Secretary of Defense conference room. One of the scenarios practiced for was a passenger aircraft crashing into the Pentagon, with 341 victims. [19] And in May 2001, the DTHC held an exercise along with the Air Force Flight Medicine Clinic and Arlington County Emergency Medical Services, which practiced for the scenario of an airplane with 35 passengers on board crashing into the Pentagon's west face--the same side as was impacted in the attack on 9/11. [20]

We therefore have evidence indicating the DiLorenzo Tricare Health Clinic was due to hold a training exercise on September 11, and that this exercise may have been based around the scenario of a plane hitting the Pentagon. Certainly this possibility is something that needs to be urgently examined as part of a new investigation of 9/11. If a training exercise was scheduled to take place at the Pentagon that day, what precisely did it involve? When was it due to start? Who planned it? And why has its existence never been publicly admitted?

[1] Alfred Goldberg et al., Pentagon 9/11. Washington, DC: Defense Department, Office of the Secretary, Historical Office, 2007, p. 107.
[2] 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, p. B1.
[3] Janet Boivin, "Pentagon Nurse Quells Chaos of Terrorist Attack." Nursing Spectrum, September 24, 2001; Soldiers to the Rescue: The Medical Response to the Pentagon Attack. Washington, DC: Office of Medical History, September 2004, pp. 7 and 111; Alfred Goldberg et al., Pentagon 9/11, p. 107; Patrick Creed and Rick Newman, Firefight: Inside the Battle to Save the Pentagon on 9/11. New York: Presidio Press, 2008, p. 57.
[4] Soldiers to the Rescue, p. 19; Patrick Creed and Rick Newman, Firefight, pp. 57-58.
[5] Soldiers to the Rescue, p. 39.
[6] Ibid. p. 19; Patrick Creed and Rick Newman, Firefight, p. 58.
[7] Soldiers to the Rescue, p. 125.
[8] Dean E. Murphy, September 11: An Oral History. New York: Doubleday, 2002, p. 216.
[9] Alfred Goldberg et al., Pentagon 9/11, p. 109.
[10] Dean E. Murphy, September 11: An Oral History, p. 222.
[11] Soldiers to the Rescue, p. 85.
[12] Ibid. p. 83.
[13] Ibid. p. 111.
[14] Ibid. p. 69.
[15] Ibid. p. 7.
[16] Ibid. p. 39.
[17] David Maraniss, "September 11, 2001." Washington Post, September 16, 2001.
[18] Soldiers to the Rescue, p. 7.
[19] Dennis Ryan, "Contingency Planning Pentagon MASCAL Exercise Simulates Scenarios in Preparing for Emergencies." MDW News Service, November 3, 2000.
[20] Arlington County, After-Action Report on the Response to the September 11 Terrorist Attack on the Pentagon, p. B17; James A. Geiling, "Overview of Command and Control Issues: Setting the Stage." Military Medicine, September 2002; Alfred Goldberg et al., Pentagon 9/11, pp. 23 and 107.