Saturday 19 November 2011

On 9/11, the U.S. Military Was Preparing for a Simulated Nuclear War

Three B-52s from the 96th Bomb Squadron at Barksdale Air Force Base
While September 11, 2001 is well known as the day when the U.S. suffered its worst terrorist attack, what is little known is that it was also a day when large sections of the armed forces around the nation had been preparing to fight a simulated nuclear war, as part of major training exercises being conducted at the time. In their annual exercises "Vigilant Guardian" and "Global Guardian," the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and the United States Strategic Command (Stratcom) were scheduled to carry out what has been described as a "simulated air war," a "full-blown nuclear war" exercise, a "fictional nuclear war," and a "practice Armageddon."

No official attempts have been made to fully investigate these exercises and what effect they had on the military's response to the 9/11 attacks. But evidence indicates they caused at least some confusion over what was "real-world" and what was simulation, and they may also have been a factor behind the communication problems experienced by military personnel that day. Other evidence suggests that some actions that have been presented as reactions to the terrorist attacks may actually have been related to these exercises--actions such as raising the alert status of American armed services to Defcon 3 and closing the huge "blast doors" to NORAD's operations center in Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado. There is also evidence that other "practice Armageddon" exercises were being conducted at the time of the 9/11 attacks, but details of these are unknown.

Perhaps the most important exercise to consider is NORAD's exercise called "Vigilant Guardian." Close examination of this exercise is imperative due to the crucial role NORAD had to play in responding to the 9/11 attacks.

NORAD is the military organization responsible for monitoring and defending U.S. airspace. It was created during the Cold War, to protect North American airspace against nuclear attacks from the Soviet Union. Its Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center (CMOC) in Colorado, where numerous staffers were involved in Vigilant Guardian, was described by the BBC as "the nerve centre of North America's air defense." [1] The center's role, according to the Toronto Star, was "to fuse every critical piece of information NORAD has into a concise and crystalline snapshot." [2] And NORAD's Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) in Rome, New York, which was also participating in the exercise, was responsible for trying to coordinate the military's response to the hijackings on September 11. [3]

Vigilant Guardian, described as a "Cold War-style training exercise," was held annually by NORAD. It was reportedly scheduled to last two weeks and was several days underway on September 11. [4] All of NORAD, including its subordinate units, was participating in the exercise that day. [5] NORAD's CMOC was fully staffed for the exercise, with more than 50 members of staff in the Battle Management Center taking part. [6] According to Ken Merchant, NORAD's joint exercise design manager, the National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon--which also played a key role in the military's response to the 9/11 attacks--regularly contributed to NORAD exercises. It was therefore presumably set to play a role in Vigilant Guardian on September 11. [7]

Full details of Vigilant Guardian are unknown, but various accounts have given indications of what it involved. The 1st Air Force's book about the 9/11 attacks described Vigilant Guardian as a "simulated air war" and as "an air defense exercise simulating an attack on the United States." [8] It was a "transition to wartime operations command post exercise," according to an information page for exercise participants. [9] Ken Merchant called Vigilant Guardian a "full-blown nuclear war" exercise. [10] According to the Denver Post, it would involve "ever-escalating scenarios, from strained diplomacy to the outbreak of conventional warfare that headed inexorably toward nuclear conflict." [11]

Lieutenant Colonel William Glover, the commander of NORAD's Air Warning Center on September 11, said Vigilant Guardian involved NORAD "simulating war," with "attacks coming from the outside, Soviet-style bombers coming in, cruise-missile attacks, that type of thing." [12] The 9/11 Commission Report said the exercise "postulated a bomber attack from the former Soviet Union." [13] According to Merchant, it included "bomber response and intercontinental ballistic missile response." [14]

The imagined enemy in Vigilant Guardian was Russia. [15] Merchant told the 9/11 Commission that "NORAD must use Russia in its exercises at the strategic level since no other country poses a great enough threat to NORAD's capabilities and responsibilities." [16]

Full details of what scenarios were scheduled for September 11 are unknown, but some information has been revealed. Vanity Fair reported that Vigilant Guardian had been "designed to run a range of scenarios" that day, "including a 'traditional' simulated hijack in which politically motivated perpetrators commandeer an aircraft, land on a Cuba-like island, and seek asylum." [17] Jeff Ford, an Air Force lieutenant colonel who was working in the CMOC on September 11, recalled that it involved "air exercise events and then some scripted inputs that we were reacting to ... whether it be unknown aircraft that we scramble aircraft for to intercept, or whatever." According to Ford, "The big event that day was supposed to be a B-1 bomber that was flying out of Fairchild Air Force Base [in Washington State] and going out over the Pacific." [18]

The other major exercise simulating a nuclear war that is known to have been taking place on September 11 was Global Guardian. This annual exercise was run by Stratcom, which is "the single U.S. military command responsible for the day-to-day readiness of nuclear forces." [19] Like Vigilant Guardian, Global Guardian was scheduled to last about two weeks and had already been running for several days by September 11. [20]

Global Guardian was in fact held "in cooperation with" a number of other military exercises, including Vigilant Guardian. [21] Ken Merchant told the 9/11 Commission that it "was coordinated with Vigilant Guardian so the combined Stratcom offensive abilities and the NORAD defensive abilities could be exercised." [22]

Global Guardian, according to an official after-action report on the exercise, was designed to exercise Stratcom "and supporting forces during a simulated crisis, validate war-fighting procedures, and verify command relationships." [23] Military analyst William Arkin described it as an "all-out game involving multiple regional conflicts that lead to a global nuclear war." [24]

The goal of the exercise, according to the Omaha World-Herald, was to test Stratcom's "ability to fight a nuclear war." [25] One reporter said it would involve America fighting "a fictional nuclear war," and would test the "response to a fictional attack from another nation." [26] The adversary preparing this nuclear attack on the United States was a fictional rogue nation called "Slumonia," a small nuclear power in northeast Asia. [27]

Numerous military units were participating in Global Guardian in September 2001. [28] Around the U.S. and off its shores, bombers, missile crews, and submarines were taking part, following orders from Stratcom's command bunker at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska. [29] As well as Offutt, other Air Force bases around the U.S. that were involved in the exercise included Barksdale, Minot, and Whiteman Air Force bases, where "dozens of aircraft and hundreds of personnel" were participating. [30]

"Other support" for the exercise was provided by personnel at the Pentagon, Camp H. M. Smith in Hawaii, Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado, Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, Scott Air Force Base in Illinois, and NORAD's Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center. [31] According to William Arkin, several senior civilian and military leaders participated in Global Guardian exercises, including individuals from the offices of the secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, so presumably this was the case in the September 2001 Global Guardian. [32]

Admiral Richard Mies, at that time the commander in chief of Stratcom, has described how Global Guardian was proceeding when the 9/11 attacks took place. He said Stratcom had been "ready to respond to a potential attack from a hypothetical adversary. ... We had intelligence indicating that they were preparing to attack us." Stratcom was positioning its forces "to be ready to offer the president the ability to respond in a wide variety of ways. A lot of our command and control systems that, in peacetime, are normally not on alert were at a much, much higher state of alert and we had a number of aircraft, manned control aircraft that were airborne that were simulating their wartime roles." Preparations underway in the exercise included "elevating our readiness status to a heightened state of readiness," "preparing bombers to potentially launch, if required," and "getting submarines that were in port ready to go to sea."

Mies added that Global Guardian involved "a lot of the elements of what ultimately would be the nuclear command and control system in support of a national emergency." It included "an exercise secretary of defense" and "an exercise president." [33] Among the exercise's objectives were disseminating "presidential nuclear decisions ... to the forces," and preparing and issuing National Command Authority directives, so presumably the participants acting as the president and the secretary of defense were involved in these activities. [34] (The National Command Authority refers collectively to the president and the secretary of defense.)

At Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, according to journalists Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker, air crews taking part in the exercise were "pulling nuclear bombs and missiles out of their heavily guarded storage sites and loading them aboard B-52s" on the morning of September 11. Real, live nuclear weapons were being used, but "their triggers were not armed." [35]

American History magazine described the scene at the base: "Even though it was only a drill, the command center was tense, everyone proceeding as if the planes would soon take off on bombing runs, instead of just idling at the end of the runway." Then, at precisely 9:00 a.m. (Eastern time), "an alarm sounded across the base and the crews raced to their planes." After news was received about the terrorist attacks in New York, the base's command staff "ended the drill, but left the fueled and armed planes where they were." [36]

Also as part of Global Guardian, three E-4B National Airborne Operations Center planes that were based at Offutt Air Force Base were airborne on September 11. The E-4B, nicknamed the "Doomsday" plane during the Cold War, is a militarized version of a Boeing 747-200. It is equipped with advanced communications equipment, and in times of national emergency can act as an alternative command post from which top government officials can direct forces, execute war orders, and coordinate actions by civil authorities. Even after Global Guardian was terminated, the three E-4Bs remained in the air. [37]

That these training exercises were being conducted on the morning of September 11 raises important questions. As the Omaha World-Herald noted, the fact that Global Guardian was "in full swing" when the United States came under attack was "at least an odd coincidence." [38]

We need to investigate how much confusion military personnel experienced because they were preparing for a simulated attack on America at the time an actual attack on America took place. We already know of some instances of confusion caused by the exercises. For example, when Lieutenant General Thomas Keck, the commander of the 8th Air Force at Barksdale Air Force Base, who had been monitoring the Global Guardian exercise, was told a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center, he initially thought this was a simulated scenario. He therefore told the junior officer who had brought him the news: "That's not the way you interject a situation into a training exercise! When you have a scenario injection, you say, 'Sir, this is an exercise input,' and then you give me the information."

Additionally, some of the airmen at Barksdale who had been participating in the exercise appear to have been only vaguely aware of the real-world crisis. American History noted that after Global Guardian was called off, the crews in the B-52 bombers knew only "that something very serious was happening and they were not being ordered to stand down." Even by early afternoon, they had only heard "the most basic reports about the attacks on New York and the Pentagon." [39]

We also need to consider whether actions incorporated into the training exercises affected lines of communication that would have been critical for enabling a swift response to the terrorist attacks. Some evidence indicates this may have been the case. For example, one of the listed objectives of the September 2001 Global Guardian was to "simulate outages between NC2 [nuclear command and control] nodes requiring alternate routes to maintain connectivity." Another objective was for participants to "determine operational impacts and work-arounds to simulated C4I [command, control, communications, computers, and intelligence] outages." The official after-action report on the exercise did not elaborate on what these "simulated C4I outages" involved. [40]

Certainly, those in NORAD's CMOC, who had been participating in Vigilant Guardian, appear to have experienced significant communication problems. William Glover recalled that the time of the 9/11 attacks was his "first time, you know, thinking about the fog of war, because we didn't know what was going on." [41] Major General Rick Findley, NORAD's director of operations, commented, "I wouldn't call it flat-footed, but we were a little bit behind the power curve most of that morning as we were trying to figure out exactly what transpired." [42] And Lieutenant Colonel Steven Armstrong, NORAD's chief of plans and forces, has complained that he and his colleagues "were out there in an information void, just looking for anything that we could find." He said, "All the information we were getting at the time was really off the TV." [43]

The causes of this "information void" surely need to be investigated. Might it have been the result, at least partly, of an attack on military communications systems that was incorporated into one (or more) of the exercises that day?

Some actions carried out on September 11 have been reported as if they were responses to the terrorist attacks, but evidence suggests they may actually have been conducted as part of an exercise, or at least perceived within the military as being part of an exercise. Two such actions, described below, are the closing of the blast doors to NORAD's Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center and the order to raise the military's alert status to Defcon 3. If these actions were connected to the exercises taking place that day, it would raise further questions about how much confusion was caused by these exercises, and would indicate that the exercises continued even after it became obvious the U.S. was suffering a major terrorist attack.

On the morning of September 11, the thick steel doors to NORAD's operations center in Cheyenne Mountain were closed for the first time in a real-world crisis since the CMOC opened in 1966. [44] The two doors are three feet thick and each weighs 25 tons. [45] They were designed to seal the operations center, to protect it from a nuclear blast. [46]

The time the blast doors were closed at is unknown, although a BBC documentary placed the event at 10:15 a.m. [47] The reason they were shut is also unclear. A number of reports suggested they were closed in response to information the CMOC received about an aircraft that was incorrectly thought to have been hijacked and targeting Cheyenne Mountain. [48] However, as the Regina Leader-Post pointed out, "Protected by 2,600 feet of granite, the NORAD command center and hundreds of personnel in their green flight suits were actually in the safest place in North America." [49] The CMOC was therefore already safe against an aircraft crashing into the mountain.

Furthermore, the blast doors are located at the end of a tunnel, about a third of a mile into the mountain. [50] Closing them would therefore have been a needless action as protection against a threatening aircraft, as a plane could hardly have made it all the way along the tunnel to the entrance to the CMOC! Brigadier General Jim Hunter, the vice commander of the CMOC on September 11, commented on the lack of danger, saying, "They could have driven airliners into that mountain all day." [51]

It is worth considering if there was a different reason why the blast doors were shut. Might they have been closed as part of one of the exercises? Vigilant Guardian and Global Guardian both involved simulating a nuclear war. And since the doors were designed to protect the CMOC from a nuclear strike, it would seem logical that they might be closed during an exercise simulating a nuclear attack on the United States.

Furthermore, while the doors had never been closed in a real-world crisis before September 11, they had been closed during exercises. Air Force officer William Astore wrote that when he worked inside Cheyenne Mountain between 1985 and 1988, the blast doors were kept open, "except, of course, during 'exercises,' when the mountain 'buttoned up' its self-contained world." [52]

Another event on September 11 that has yet to be properly explained is the order to raise the defense readiness condition from Defcon 5, the lowest possible level, to Defcon 3, the highest alert level for 28 years. [53]

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld issued the order to go to Defcon 3 at around 10:45 a.m. after conferring with General Richard Myers, the acting chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Rumsfeld also discussed the issue with Vice President Dick Cheney over the air threat conference call, and later briefed President Bush on his actions and was given the president's approval for what he had done. [54]

However, some have questioned the appropriateness of this increased state of readiness to the situation on September 11. John Farmer, the senior counsel to the 9/11 Commission, pointed out that Defcon 3 is "a Cold War-era designation, devised to respond to a nuclear threat." [55] Farmer and other 9/11 Commission staffers have written that it was "suited more to a Cold War conflict than to al-Qaeda's attack." [56] And General Ralph Eberhart, the commander of NORAD on September 11, told the 9/11 Commission that Defcon 3 is "not intended for [events like] the attacks of 9/11 and thus could have complicated the response to the attacks." He said he did not think that raising the defense readiness condition would have "done anything for us" within the continental United States. [57]

Myers told the 9/11 Commission that the reason for going to Defcon 3 was "to improve our readiness and protection of our forces worldwide." [58] But evidence suggests that the order might have had some connection to the exercises taking place that day.

While it was apparently inappropriate as a response to the 9/11 attacks, raising the defense readiness condition is something that was incorporated into military exercises at that time. Staff Sergeant Brent Lanier, who was in NORAD's Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center on September 11 and was tasked with sending out a message about the increased alert status, has commented that while he'd never sent out an "actual Defcon change message" before then, he had "sent out false Defcon messages during exercises." [59]

It is also worth noting that details of the increased alert level were sent out in an "emergency action message" (EAM) issued at 10:52 a.m. on September 11. [60] EAMs appear to have been more suited to Cold War-type scenarios--like, perhaps, the practice nuclear wars being conducted by NORAD and Stratcom--than to a terrorist attack. For example, they have been defined by the U.S. military as "highly structured, authenticated messages primarily used in the command and control of nuclear forces." [61]

Furthermore, the EAM put out on September 11 appears to have been issued by the NMCC at the Pentagon. [62] And according to Ken Merchant, during NORAD exercises (like Vigilant Guardian), "More often than not, the NMCC ran conferences and interjected emergency action messages for NORAD." [63] The issuing of EAMs also appears to have been part of Stratcom exercises. One of the listed objectives for the September 2001 Global Guardian was for participants to "exercise first emergency action message via alternate means." [64]

Might the EAM on September 11 therefore have been issued in relation to Vigilant Guardian and/or Global Guardian, rather than in response to the real-world attacks? Or could there have been confusion within the military that this might have been the case?

Another question to address is whether there were other military exercises taking place at the time of the 9/11 attacks, in addition to Vigilant Guardian and Global Guardian, that simulated a nuclear war. William Arkin wrote in 1997 that Global Guardian was "merely one of many practice Armageddons the military continues to stage." He then named other "practice Armageddon" exercises. For example, the "Air Combat Command, which flies B-1, B-2, and B-52 bombers," conducted an exercise called "Crown Vigilance," and the U.S. Space Command, "which operates land-based missiles," ran an exercise called "Apollo Guardian." [65] Furthermore, a 1997 Department of Defense report listed a number of exercises that Global Guardian "links with," indicating that these exercises might run concurrently with Global Guardian. The list included Vigilant Guardian, which is known to have taken place around the same time as Global Guardian in 2001, and also Crown Vigilance, Apollo Guardian, and a NORAD exercise called "Amalgam Warrior." [66]

Ken Merchant in fact told the 9/11 Commission that Apollo Guardian had been "running on September 11, 2001." [67] Whether Crown Vigilance and Amalgam Warrior were also being conducted that day is unknown. And no details have been revealed about these exercises, such as what they involved, what simulations they included, who exactly participated in them, and--if they were taking place on September 11--what effect they had on the military's ability to respond to the real-world crisis.

Considering the nature of these simulated nuclear war exercises and the fact that they were "in full swing" at the time of the 9/11 attacks, it is remarkable that so little attention has been paid to them. The 9/11 Commission Report devoted only a few sentences to Vigilant Guardian in its notes section and made no mention of Global Guardian. [68]

Recently, an interviewer questioned Donald Rumsfeld about Global Guardian. The interviewer pointed out that because of this exercise, there had been "places like Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana where there were literally rows of B-52s loaded with live nuclear weapons," and noted, "With so much unknown about who was attacking in those early hours, there had to have been some urgency to deal with that much live weaponry out and about." He went on to ask Rumsfeld, "Were there concerns about having these live nuclear weapons out in aircraft in places like Barksdale that day?" Rumsfeld's answer was, "I don't know." The most he could say was to add, "Clearly, there's always concern." [69]

[1] Clear the Skies. BBC, September 1, 2002.
[2] Scott Simmie, "The Scene at NORAD on Sept. 11: Playing Russian War Games ... and Then Someone Shouted to Look at the Monitor." Toronto Star, December 9, 2001.
[3] Michael Bronner, "9/11 Live: The NORAD Tapes." Vanity Fair, August 2006; Philip Shenon, The Commission: The Uncensored History of the 9/11 Investigation. New York: Twelve, 2008, p. 203.
[4] William M. Arkin, Code Names: Deciphering U.S. Military Plans, Programs, and Operations in the 9/11 World. Hanover, NH: Steerforth Press, 2005, p. 545; "NORAD." The Early Edition, CBC, September 8, 2011; Tom Roeder, "Inside the Mountain: Rumor of a Threatening Jet Fed Tension." Colorado Springs Gazette, September 10, 2011.
[5] "Vigilant Guardian 01-2." Northeast Air Defense Sector, August 23, 2001; "NORAD."
[6] Jason Tudor, "Inner Space." Airman, March 2002; "NORAD."
[7] "Memorandum for the Record: Interview With Major Paul Goddard (Canadian Forces) and Ken Merchant." 9/11 Commission, March 4, 2004.
[8] Leslie Filson, Air War Over America: Sept. 11 Alters Face of Air Defense Mission. Tyndall Air Force Base, FL: 1st Air Force, 2003, pp. 55, 122.
[9] Neil A. Cleveland, "Special Instructions (Spins) Vigilant Guardian 01-2." Northeast Air Defense Sector, August 23, 2001.
[10] "Memorandum for the Record: Interview With Major Paul Goddard (Canadian Forces) and Ken Merchant."
[11] Kevin Simpson, "Rearmed Forces: 9/11 Changed Military Life in Colorado." Denver Post, August 28, 2011.
[12] "NORAD."
[13] 9/11 Commission, The 9/11 Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2004, p. 458.
[14] "Memorandum for the Record: Interview With Major Paul Goddard (Canadian Forces) and Ken Merchant."
[15] Kevin Simpson, "Rearmed Forces."
[16] "Memorandum for the Record: Interview With Major Paul Goddard (Canadian Forces) and Ken Merchant."
[17] Michael Bronner, "9/11 Live."
[18] Thomas Doscher, "In Their Own Words--NORAD Members Recall September 11: Jeff Ford." Defense Video & Imagery Distribution System, September 8, 2011.
[19] Rita Clark, Vincent A. Giroux Jr., and Todd White, History of the United States Strategic Command, June 1, 1992 - October 1, 2002. Offutt Air Force Base, NE: Command Historian's Office, United States Strategic Command, January 2004, p. 50; William M. Arkin, Code Names, p. 59; "Global Guardian.", May 7, 2011.
[20] Joe Dejka, "When Bush Arrived, Offutt Sensed History in the Making." Omaha World-Herald, September 8, 2002; Bill Kelly, "Military Insiders Tell of Bush 9/11 Visit for the First Time." NET Radio, September 1, 2011.
[21] Nuclear Weapon Systems Sustainment Programs. Washington, DC: Office of the Secretary of Defense, May 1997; William M. Arkin, Code Names, p. 378.
[22] "Memorandum for the Record: Interview With Major Paul Goddard (Canadian Forces) and Ken Merchant."
[23] Exercise Global Guardian 2001-2 Joint After-Action Report. United States Strategic Command, December 4, 2001, p. A1.
[24] William M. Arkin, "The Beat Goes On." Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, November 1, 1997.
[25] Joe Dejka, "Inside Stratcom on Sept. 11 Offutt Exercise Took Real-Life Twist." Omaha World-Herald, February 27, 2002.
[26] Bill Kelly, "Rumsfeld Reflects on Offutt Air Force Base Role on 9/11." NET Radio, August 30, 2011; Bill Kelly, "Military Insiders Recall Bush's 9/11 Stop at Stratcom." NET News, September 7, 2011.
[27] Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker, Counterstrike: The Untold Story of America's Secret Campaign Against Al-Qaeda. New York: Times Books, 2011; Bill Kelly, "Military Insiders Tell of Bush 9/11 Visit for the First Time."
[28] Exercise Global Guardian 2001-2 Joint After-Action Report, pp. A6-A7.
[29] Stephen Buttry, "Final Words, Final Hours Before All Changed." Omaha World-Herald, September 10, 2002.
[30] Mario Villafuerte, "Practice Becomes Reality Within Minutes." New Orleans Times-Picayune, September 8, 2002; J. J. Green, "Confusion in the Air, Terror on the Ground." WTOP, September 6, 2011.
[31] Exercise Global Guardian 2001-2 Joint After-Action Report, p. A2.
[32] William M. Arkin, Code Names, p. 379.
[33] Bill Kelly, "Military Insiders Tell of Bush 9/11 Visit for the First Time."
[34] Exercise Global Guardian 2001-2 Joint After-Action Report, p. A4.
[35] Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker, Counterstrike; Bill Kelly, "Military Insiders Tell of Bush 9/11 Visit for the First Time."
[36] Gregory A. Freeman, "Code Alpha: The President is Coming!" American History, October 2006.
[37] Stephen I. Schwartz (Editor), Atomic Audit: The Costs and Consequences of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Since 1940. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 1998, p. 210; "E-4B National Airborne Operations Center." Federation of American Scientists, April 23, 2000; Joe Dejka, "Inside Stratcom on Sept. 11 Offutt Exercise Took Real-Life Twist."
[38] Joe Dejka, "Inside Stratcom on Sept. 11 Offutt Exercise Took Real-Life Twist."
[39] Gregory A. Freeman, "Code Alpha."
[40] Exercise Global Guardian 2001-2 Joint After-Action Report, p. A4.
[41] "NORAD."
[42] Steve Mertl, "Canadian General Who Led NORAD on 9/11 Praises its Performance, Considering." Canadian Press, September 10, 2006.
[43] "In Their Own Words--NORAD Members Recall September 11, Part 3: Steve Armstrong." North American Aerospace Defense Command, September 9, 2011.
[44] Scott Simmie, "The Scene at NORAD on Sept. 11"; William B. Scott, "Exercise Jump-Starts Response to Attacks." Aviation Week & Space Technology, June 3, 2002; Pam Zubeck, "NORAD Chief Will Testify at 9/11 Hearing." Colorado Springs Gazette, June 14, 2004; "In Their Own Words--NORAD Members Recall September 11, Part 3: Steve Armstrong."
[45] Pat McKenna, "The Border Guards." Airman, January 1996; "Facts About Unusual Aspects of NORAD." Colorado Springs Gazette, May 10, 2008.
[46] Scott Simmie, "The Scene at NORAD on Sept. 11"; William J. Astore, "Leaving Cheyenne Mountain." The Nation, May 5, 2008.
[47] Clear the Skies.
[48] Ibid.; Pam Zubeck, "NORAD Chief Will Testify at 9/11 Hearing"; T. R. Reid, "Military to Idle NORAD Compound." Washington Post, July 29, 2006.
[49] Will Chabun, "Regina Airport Authority's CEO Recalls NORAD on 9/11." Regina Leader-Post, September 12, 2011.
[50] Pat McKenna, "The Border Guards"; "NORAD to Patrol Skies Over NYC During Convention, Anticipates Attack on U.S. Before Election." Reuters, August 25, 2004; John Hazlehurst, "Opening Cheyenne Mountain Could be Tourism Boom." Colorado Springs Business Journal, February 2, 2007.
[51] Will Chabun, "Regina Airport Authority's CEO Recalls NORAD on 9/11."
[52] William J. Astore, "Leaving Cheyenne Mountain."
[53] Dan Balz and Bob Woodward, "A Day to Speak of Anger and Grief." Washington Post, January 30, 2002; 9/11 Commission, The 9/11 Commission Report, p. 326; Alfred Goldberg et al., Pentagon 9/11. Washington, DC: Defense Department, Office of the Secretary, Historical Office, 2007, p. 131.
[54] Air Threat Conference Call, Transcript. U.S. Department of Defense, September 11, 2001; "Testimony of U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld Prepared for Delivery to the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States." 9/11 Commission, March 23, 2004; 9/11 Commission, The 9/11 Commission Report, pp. 326, 554; George W. Bush, Decision Points. New York: Crown, 2010, p. 133.
[55] John Farmer, The Ground Truth: The Untold Story of America Under Attack on 9/11. New York: Riverhead Books, 2009, p. 235.
[56] John Farmer et al., "A New Type of War: The Story of the FAA and NORAD Response to the September 11, 2001 Attacks." Rutgers Law Review, September 7, 2011.
[57] "Memorandum for the Record: Interview With CINC NORAD (Commander in Chief NORAD), General Edward 'Ed' Eberhart." 9/11 Commission, March 1, 2004.
[58] "Statement of General Richard Myers, USAF, Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff, Before the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States." 9/11 Commission, June 17, 2004.
[59] Jason Tudor, "Inner Space."
[60] Air Threat Conference Call, Transcript; "UA93 and Andrews Timeline." 9/11 Commission, n.d.
[61] "JITC EAM OT&E Support." Joint Interoperability Test Command, October 24, 2002; "CJCSI 5721.01E: The Defense Message System and Associated Legacy Message Processing Systems." Joint Chiefs of Staff, August 13, 2010.
[62] Air Threat Conference Call, Transcript.
[63] "Memorandum for the Record: Interview With Major Paul Goddard (Canadian Forces) and Ken Merchant."
[64] Exercise Global Guardian 2001-2 Joint After-Action Report, p. A4.
[65] William M. Arkin, "The Beat Goes On."
[66] Nuclear Weapon Systems Sustainment Programs.
[67] "Memorandum for the Record: Interview With Major Paul Goddard (Canadian Forces) and Ken Merchant."
[68] 9/11 Commission, The 9/11 Commission Report, p. 458.
[69] Bill Kelly, "Rumsfeld Reflects on Offutt Air Force Base Role on 9/11."

Saturday 24 September 2011

Secret Service Simulated Crashing Planes into the White House Before 9/11

The White House
Despite claims by the U.S. government that the events of 9/11 were unexpected, from 1998 the Secret Service was "crashing planes into the White House ... on a simulation program provided by the military" during training exercises, according to a retired Secret Service agent who had been involved with running those simulations. When this individual and his Secret Service colleagues learned that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center on the morning of September 11, 2001, one of those colleagues pointed to him and commented, "You know all about that." [1]

The existence of these plane crash simulations was revealed by Paul Nenninger, who worked for the Secret Service for 26 years, in a chapter he wrote for a book published in 2005. In 1997, Nenninger had been assigned to the Secret Service's James J. Rowley Training Center, just outside Washington, DC, in Beltsville, Maryland, where he served as program manager in charge of the Security and Incident Modeling Lab (SIMLAB). [2]

Nenninger wrote that on the morning of September 11, he had been at the Secret Service headquarters in Washington for a board meeting. One of the last people to arrive for the meeting reported that a plane had just crashed into the World Trade Center. "Across from me sat a lady who was formerly the special agent in charge of the White House," Nenninger wrote. "She pointed at me and said, 'You know all about that.'" Nenninger then explained to the others there for the meeting "that the training center had been crashing planes into the White House since 1998 on a simulation program provided by the military. It was done to test the security responses of the various agencies that interact to provide security and support to the White House." [3]

For the training simulations Nenninger was involved with, the Secret Service had what Nenninger described as "a very good piece of analytical software" called the Joint Conflict and Tactical Simulation (JCATS), which had been developed by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. [4] The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in California is a research institution for science and technology applied to national security. [5] It has had a longstanding relationship with the U.S. Department of Defense for research and development for advanced defense technologies. [6]

JCATS was unveiled by computer scientists at LLNL in 1997 and was, at that time, the laboratory's most powerful combat program. It was then distributed to the Secret Service by the Joint Warfighting Center at Fort Monroe, Virginia, which was the program's Defense Department sponsor. By the start of 2000, as well as the Secret Service, JCATS was being used by such agencies as the Air Force Security Forces, the Special Operations Command, the Marine Corps., and the Army. [7]

JCATS simulations were particularly popular with the Secret Service's special operations units. Nenninger wrote that when these units "found that their military counterparts used similar software, and when possible did not launch an operation without a chance to have it simulated, they requested more and more time in SIMLAB." [8]

The U.S. military used JCATS "primarily for training individual commanders in battlefield operations and tactics," according to LLNL's magazine, Science & Technology Review. Using JCATS, "war games" that were "extremely accurate" and therefore provided "directly applicable and credible training" could be "set up to simulate combat situations, with teams of officers playing the various forces." [9] JCATS was used, among other things, to rehearse possible combat options in support of the 1999 Kosovo conflict. But as well as combat scenarios, JCATS could simulate exercises for purposes such as counterterrorism, hostage rescue, and site security. [10]

Nenninger did not state explicitly that the simulated plane crashes in the Secret Service exercises were imagined to be part of a mock terrorist attack, rather than, say, a simple aircraft accident. However, what he wrote did suggest that this had been the case. Nenninger asked, "Can you imagine really crashing planes into buildings?" He then added that "simulations allow you to ... practice something that you will never be able to do live in the real world ... and ... also allow you to practice scenarios that can be attempted by a terrorist or other deranged individual." So presumably the computer simulations of planes crashing into the White House were based around the scenario of a crash that was caused by "a terrorist or other deranged individual." [11]

Supporting this contention, in May 2001, then-Secretary of the Treasury Paul O'Neill testified that the Secret Service had been running "interagency tabletop exercises in preparation for terrorist attacks on the White House." [12] (However, O'Neill did not specify whether the exercises he was referring to included computer simulations of planes crashing into the White House.)

If, as has been suggested, rogue individuals working inside the military and other U.S. government agencies were responsible for planning and perpetrating the 9/11 attacks, JCATS would presumably have been a useful tool to help them prepare those attacks. It might, for example, have identified weaknesses in the security at the World Trade Center, therefore making it easier for operatives to sneak in and plant explosives, to be used to bring down the buildings on September 11. Science & Technology Review said JCATS was "ideally suited" to the task of evaluating site security. LLNL itself used the software to "evaluate the effectiveness of existing physical defenses and response actions against different threats." [13]

It would be important to find out whether any of the agencies that used JCATS ever ran computer simulations of attacks on the World Trade Center or Pentagon prior to 9/11. This is certainly a possibility worth considering, since, as Science & Technology Review pointed out, "The realism of JCATS simulations in urban settings makes it extremely valuable for assessing and strengthening site security at a range of government facilities." Furthermore, JCATS allowed users to "import blueprints of specific buildings for urban warfare and site security exercises." [14]

JCATS simulations may also have identified weaknesses in America's air defenses, and might have helped determine how those weaknesses could be exploited so the nation would be unprotected against an aerial attack. Nenninger in fact pointed out that in the Secret Service exercises he was involved with, JCATS could handle "FAA radar"--a feature that would presumably have made the program useful for evaluating air defenses. [15]

There is a significant amount of evidence suggesting that training exercises run by the military and other government agencies played an important role in enabling the 9/11 attacks to be prepared and carried out. [16] It would therefore be worth considering whether the Secret Service training exercises described by Paul Nenninger, involving computer simulations of planes crashing into the White House, played a role in the planning and/or perpetration of the attacks. In particular, did the Secret Service conduct any of these simulations in the weeks or months just before 9/11? Was it even running--or scheduled to run--one of these simulations on the day of 9/11 itself?

It is perhaps worth noting that on possibly three occasions during the morning of September 11, suspicious aircraft appeared to be on a collision course for the White House. Just after 9:30 a.m., air traffic controllers spotted "an unidentified aircraft flying at unusually high speed directly toward the White House," according to the Washington Post. This was reportedly the aircraft that subsequently hit the Pentagon. [17] Secret Service agents at the White House believed at one point that the aircraft was less than a minute away from impact with their building. [18]

From 10:02 a.m. until around 10:15 a.m., government officials in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House were receiving reports that an aircraft, presumably hijacked, was approaching Washington. Then at around 10:30 a.m., those in the PEOC were notified that another hijacked aircraft was approaching, and was only 5 to 10 miles away. This suspicious aircraft turned out to be just a medevac helicopter, according to the 9/11 Commission Report. [19]

In light of the important relationship there appears to have been between training exercises and the events of September 11, it would also make sense to consider the role that could have been played by the Joint Conflict and Tactical Simulation--a powerful computer program that, in Nenninger's words, allowed agencies "to practice scenarios that can be attempted by a terrorist."

[1] Paul L. Nenninger, "Simulation at the Secret Service: As Real as it Gets." In Learning Rants, Raves, and Reflections: A Collection of Passionate and Professional Perspectives, edited by Elliott Masie, pp. 175-187. San Francisco: Pfeiffer, 2005, p. 175.
[2] Ibid. p. 299.
[3] Ibid. p. 175.
[4] Ibid. p. 176.
[5] Glenn Chapman, "U.S. Lab Debuts Super Laser." Agence France-Presse, May 30, 2009.
[6] Wayne Shotts, "Tapping the Full Power of Conflict Simulation." Science & Technology Review, January/February 2000.
[7] "Simulating Warfare is no Video Game." Science & Technology Review, January/February 2000; Paul L. Nenninger, "Simulation at the Secret Service," p. 176.
[8] Paul L. Nenninger, "Simulation at the Secret Service," p. 184.
[9] Wayne Shotts, "Tapping the Full Power of Conflict Simulation."
[10] "Simulating Warfare is no Video Game."
[11] Paul L. Nenninger, "Simulation at the Secret Service," pp. 177-178.
[12] "Testimony of Paul H. O'Neill, Secretary of the Treasury, Before the Senate Committee on Appropriations, Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, State, and the Judiciary." Department of the Treasury, May 8, 2001.
[13] Wayne Shotts, "Tapping the Full Power of Conflict Simulation."
[14] "Simulating Warfare is no Video Game."
[15] Paul L. Nenninger, "Simulation at the Secret Service," p. 185.
[16] See, for example, "Pentagon Medics Thought 9/11 Attack Was Part of a Drill." Shoestring 9/11, June 15, 2008; "Rehearsing 9/11: How Training Exercises Foretold the Attacks of September 11." Shoestring 9/11, January 27, 2009; "Did Training Exercises Prevent Andrews Air Force Base From Responding to the 9/11 Attacks?" Shoestring 9/11, October 26, 2009; "NORAD Exercise a Year Before 9/11 Simulated a Pilot Trying to Crash a Plane into a New York Skyscraper--The United Nations Headquarters." Shoestring 9/11, July 27, 2010; "'Let's Get Rid of This Goddamn Sim': How NORAD Radar Screens Displayed False Tracks All Through the 9/11 Attacks." Shoestring 9/11, August 12, 2010; "Army Command Center at the Pentagon Planned to Hold Exercise in Week After 9/11 Based on a Plane Hitting the WTC." Shoestring 9/11, March 26, 2011.
[17] Don Phillips, "Air Traffic Controllers Spotted Unidentified Aircraft." Washington Post, September 11, 2001; 9/11 Commission, The 9/11 Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2004, p. 9.
[18] "The Footnotes of 9/11." CNN Presents, CNN, September 11, 2011.
[19] Air Threat Conference Call, Transcript. U.S. Department of Defense, September 11, 2001; 9/11 Commission, The 9/11 Commission Report, pp. 41-42.

Wednesday 24 August 2011

Aviation Thriller Novel Predicted Plane Hitting WTC and Other Aspects of 9/11

'Blackout' by John J. NanceA thriller novel published in February 2000 predicted the possibility of a commercial aircraft crashing into the World Trade Center in a terrorist attack, and described other scenarios closely resembling aspects of the 9/11 attacks. Indeed, the similarity between these scenarios and events in the United States 19 months after the book's release suggests that someone--perhaps an individual working in the U.S. military or intelligence community--might have had foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks and passed on some of what they knew to the book's author as storyline ideas, maybe as an attempt at warning people of the impending catastrophe.

The novel, Blackout, was written by New York Times best-selling author John J. Nance, who is "arguably the king of the modern-day aviation thriller," according to Publishers Weekly. [1] The book's plot revolves around the two main characters, Washington Post reporter Robert MacCabe and FBI agent Kat Bronsky, investigating what has caused two American jumbo jets to crash. It appears that terrorists are using a special ray gun stolen from the government to blind or kill pilots in flight, thereby leading to their planes crashing. [2]

At one point in the story, Bronsky describes a scenario chillingly similar to what happened in the 9/11 terrorist attacks, when two Boeing 767s were crashed into the World Trade Center. She is explaining to MacCabe her fear that the terrorists will cause another plane crash. She says: "They're going to shoot down another airliner somewhere. You know that, don't you?" She continues: "So who's next? Are we going to get a seven-forty-seven impacting the World Trade Center in New York because the two pilots were neutralized on takeoff from Newark [Airport] or Kennedy [Airport]?" [3]

What is more, one of the terrorists responsible for causing the plane crashes in Blackout is called "Ben Laren"--a name similar to that of (Osama) bin Laden, who, according to the official story, ordered the 9/11 attacks. [4]

In the weeks after 9/11, evidence was revealed indicating that some people may have had advance knowledge of the attacks in New York and at the Pentagon, and had therefore been able to profit by trading in companies whose stock plummeted after the attacks. This was another scenario predicted, with remarkable accuracy, in Blackout.

After a third aircraft crashes, Bronsky and MacCabe are considering what the terrorists' motivation might be. Bronsky suggests, "What if the chaos [caused by the terrorist attacks] itself is their objective?" She elaborates, saying: "How can you make lots of money from seriously undermining the airlines? How about selling their stock short or softening up the industry for financial takeovers?" She suggests that the terrorists "may already be getting precisely what they want from collapsing airline market prices." MacCabe asks, "Are the stock prices down today?" to which Bronsky replies: "Big-time. As much as a 10 percent drop. If this continues, they'll go into free fall." MacCabe then suggests, "We should be looking for someone buying a lot of airline stock at the bottom, or selling them short." [5]

This could almost be a description of what happened around the time of 9/11. The San Francisco Chronicle reported, shortly after September 11, that an "international investigation in the United States and several other countries" was "trying to determine whether people with advance knowledge of the attacks sought to profit from the trading" in particular airline stocks. [6]

According to the Associated Press: "In the days before the attacks, unusually high numbers of put options were purchased for the stocks of AMR Corp. and UAL Corp., the parent companies of American Airlines and United Airlines, which each had two planes hijacked. There was no such trend involving other carriers." [7] (Put options are investments that only pay off when a stock drops in price.) There was also a significant jump in short selling of the stocks of AMR Corp. and UAL Corp. during the month before the attacks, with increases of 20 percent and 40 percent, respectively. (A short sale is effectively a financial market bet that a particular stock will drop in value.) [8]

Similar to the "collapsing airline market prices" caused by the attacks on U.S. aircraft in Blackout, shares in the parent companies of the two airlines whose planes were targeted on 9/11 fell by 39 percent and 42 percent on the first day of trading after September 11. [9]

Nance's book even suggests that rogue employees working inside the government might be involved in perpetrating terrorist attacks against their own people, to help them achieve their political or military goals. A character in Blackout, scientist Dr. Thomas Maverick, asks Robert MacCabe if he is familiar with something called "the Sputnik Syndrome." Maverick explains what this is, saying: "There are many versions of the principle. Pearl Harbor is another. In other words, in order to spark a unified determination to develop a weapon or a military capability, there has to be a substantial threat." He adds, "If the threat doesn't already exist and you're the national leader who knows it's needed, you may have to invent it."

Maverick says, "That's what I'm convinced Franklin Roosevelt did by sacrificing Pearl Harbor to get us in the war in time to win it." [10] (This is presumably a reference to the contention that President Franklin D. Roosevelt knew in advance of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, but chose to do nothing about it, because he wanted some kind of national shock to get the reluctant U.S. into the Second World War. [11]) Maverick adds, "That was also what Sputnik did for our space program and our military abilities in space."

He then describes how this principle might explain the motivation for the attacks on American aircraft. He says, "Up until the past few months, there has been no credible threat out there that anyone was developing anti-eyeball guns for use against military or civilian targets, and thus no reason for the new president to overrule the old ban" on developing such weapons. (Maverick has revealed that a U.S. "black project" to develop antipersonnel laser weapons had been canceled by the president, and work on such projects in the future prohibited, following an accident during testing. But terrorists might have got hold of the laser developed by the project and used it to cause the plane crashes.)

Kat Bronsky asks, "Are you implying that this black project will benefit from having their stolen prototypes used against civilian airliners?" Maverick replies: "Think about the predictable response when these mysterious crashes are revealed as being caused by such lasers. Publicly, there will be a call for an international ban on research. Privately--secretly--we already have advanced technology and can press forward to dominate the science while pretending to adhere to our own international ban. ... We'll order thousands of weapons produced and stockpiled, and more research done, in order to be ready if someone violates the ban."

Therefore, Maverick explains, "If antipersonnel laser weapons were stolen and sold on the black market," the "black project managers" responsible for developing the weapons would know that "it would only be a matter of time before some military or terrorist group used one and created a new Sputnik Syndrome, thus rescuing them from the shadowy netherworld of project shutdown." [12]

Interestingly, considering that the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor is cited by Dr. Maverick as an example of the "Sputnik Syndrome," the 9/11 attacks were immediately compared, by many individuals, to Pearl Harbor. CNN's Wolf Blitzer noted on the evening of September 11, "There's been a lot of comparisons to Pearl Harbor." [13] Senators Chuck Hagel and John Warner both called the attacks America's "second Pearl Harbor." [14] Indeed, before going to the White House residence on the night of September 11, President Bush dictated for the White House daily log, "The Pearl Harbor of the 21st century took place today." [15]

This "second Pearl Harbor" resulted in dramatic political changes. Domestically, it led to increased surveillance and restrictions on civil liberties, with the anti-terrorism USA Patriot Act being signed into law in a matter of weeks following the attacks, with overwhelming support. [16]

The U.S. also adopted a preemptive military policy, which was formalized when included in the National Security Strategy published in September 2002. This document stated, "To forestall or prevent ... hostile acts by our adversaries, the United States will, if necessary, act preemptively." This was the first time a U.S. president had set out a formal national strategy doctrine that included preemption. [17]

Furthermore, whereas U.S. defense spending had remained fairly steady during the late 1990s, from 2002 it was climbing by about $50 billion each financial year. [18] Federal funding for defense, military operations, homeland security, and related activities was about 35 percent higher in fiscal year 2005 than it had been just prior to 9/11. [19]

Almost exemplifying the "Sputnik Syndrome" principle described in Blackout, one senior Pentagon official told reporter Rowan Scarborough: "I hate to say this and would never say this in public, but 9/11 had its benefits. We never would have gone into Afghanistan and started this war without it. There just was not the national will." [20] In fact, as early as the evening of September 11, President Bush told his most senior principal national security advisers: "This is a great opportunity. We have to think of this as an opportunity." [21]

What needs to be properly investigated is whether 9/11 was an example of "if the threat doesn't already exist ... you may have to invent it." In other words, was it an "inside job"?

As we can see, Blackout quite accurately predicted several aspects of the 9/11 attacks. And yet this book was released in February 2000, and was therefore likely written about two years before 9/11. How could its author have had such foresight?

Perhaps the similarities between the scenarios in Blackout and what happened around September 11, 2001 were just a remarkable coincidence. But another possibility worth considering is that someone had learned details of the attacks being planned for September 11 and suggested some of what they knew to John Nance as possible storyline ideas for his books. Maybe that person saw this as the only way they could make such information public, or they wanted to warn people of what was being planned. If so, who could this person be, and how did they learn of the plans for 9/11?

As well as being the author of 19 books, John J. Nance is a decorated Air Force pilot and a retired airline captain. He has flown a wide variety of jet aircraft, including Boeing 727s, 737s, and 747s. He is an internationally recognized air safety analyst and works as an aviation consultant for ABC News. [22]

In the acknowledgments section of Blackout, Nance mentions "a cadre of law enforcement, legal, aviation, and communications compatriots" who assisted him with the book. He gives credit to a particular retired FBI agent. And he gives thanks, anonymously, to an "individual inside the U.S. State Department who helped with a myriad of information from Vietnam to the way a secretary of state uses communications," and also to a "source who helped with the capabilities of the National Reconnaissance Office"--the highly secretive U.S. intelligence agency that operates many of the nation's spy satellites. [23] Presumably, with his professional background, Nance has additional contacts in the U.S. military and other government agencies besides those mentioned here.

Might one of these contacts have learned in advance of the 9/11 plot, and suggested some of its details to Nance as possible ideas for his books? If so, this person could potentially be an important whistle-blower on government complicity in 9/11. There are, presumably, numerous other potential whistle-blowers like them.

[1] "Fiction Review: Blackout." Publishers Weekly, January 31, 2000.
[2] Ibid.; Eugen Weber, "LA Confidential." Los Angeles Times, April 16, 2000.
[3] John J. Nance, Blackout. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 2000, pp. 319-320.
[4] Ibid. p. 251.
[5] Ibid. pp. 344-345.
[6] Christian Berthelsen, "New Scrutiny of Airlines Options Deals." San Francisco Chronicle, September 19, 2001.
[7] Dave Carpenter, "Exchange Examines Odd Jump." Associated Press, September 18, 2001.
[8] Christian Berthelsen, "Data Shows Heavy Airline-Stock Short Selling." San Francisco Chronicle, September 22, 2001; Christian Berthelsen and Scott Winokur, "Suspicious Profits Sit Uncollected." San Francisco Chronicle, September 29, 2001.
[9] Dave Carpenter, "Exchange Examines Odd Jump."
[10] John J. Nance, Blackout, p. 405.
[11] See, for example, John Hartl, "Videos Examine Pearl Harbor From Different Vantage Points." Seattle Times, December 7, 1991; Richard Bernstein, "'Day of Deceit': On Dec. 7, Did We Know We Knew?" New York Times, December 15, 1999.
[12] John J. Nance, Blackout, pp. 404-406.
[13] "America Under Attack." CNN, September 11, 2001.
[14] Janet Hook and Greg Miller, "Uprooted but Resolute, Congress Vows Justice." Los Angeles Times, September 12, 2001; Joseph Fitchett, "Like the Attack in 1941, Air Terrorism Could Provoke Severe Repercussions." New York Times, September 12, 2001.
[15] David Kohn, "Bush on 9/11: Moment to Moment." CBS News, September 2, 2003.
[16] David Lerman, "Critics Say Patriot Act Could Impose on Civil Liberties." Daily Press, October 28, 2001; George Lardner Jr., "On Left and Right, Concern Over Anti-Terrorism Moves." Washington Post, November 16, 2001.
[17] The National Security Strategy of the United States of America. Washington, DC: The White House, September 2002, p. 15; Stefan Halper and Jonathan Clarke, America Alone: The Neo-Conservatives and the Global Order. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004, pp. 141-142.
[18] "How 9/11 Changed America: In Statistics." BBC News, September 1, 2006.
[19] Steven M. Kosiak, "Funding for Defense, Military Operations, Homeland Security, and Related Activities Since 9/11." Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, October 18, 2004.
[20] Rowan Scarborough, Rumsfeld's War: The Untold Story of America's Anti-Terrorist Commander. Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, Inc., 2004, pp. iii.
[21] Bob Woodward, Bush at War. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002, pp. 31-32.
[22] Waka Tsunoda, "With Latest Thriller, Nance Delivers His Richest Characters Yet." Associated Press, August 24, 2003; "John J. Nance." ABC News, January 6, 2006; "John J. Nance Biographic Information." John Nance Productions, n.d.
[23] John J. Nance, Blackout.

Monday 11 July 2011

The 9/11 Hijackers: Amateur Aviators Who Became Super-Pilots on September 11

A Cessna 172
"To hit something with an airplane is easy only if
you have been flying for 20 years."

- Boeing 767 pilot quoted in the Boston Globe

"The conspiracy apparently did not include
a surplus of skilled pilots."

- The Washington Post

In the days after 9/11, numerous pilots and aviation experts commented on the elaborate maneuvers performed by the aircraft in the terrorist attacks, and the advanced skills that would have been necessary to navigate those aircraft into their targets. The men flying the planes must have been "highly skilled pilots" and "extremely knowledgeable and capable aviators," who were "probably military trained," these experts said.

And yet the four alleged hijackers who were supposedly flying the aircraft were amateur pilots, who had learned to fly in small propeller planes, and were described by their instructors as having had only "average" or even "very poor" piloting skills. But on their first attempt at flying jet aircraft, on September 11, 2001, these men were supposedly able to fly Boeing 757s and 767s at altitudes of tens of thousands of feet, without any assistance from air traffic control. Three of them were apparently able to successfully navigate their planes all the way to the intended targets, which they hit with pinpoint accuracy.

For such poor pilots to carry out such skilled flying would surely have been extremely unlikely, perhaps impossible. And yet this is what is claimed in the official account of 9/11.

Numerous experts commented that the hijackers who flew the aircraft in the 9/11 attacks must have been highly trained and skillful pilots. Tony Ferrante, the head of the Federal Aviation Administration's investigations division, spent several days after 9/11 carefully piecing together the movements of the four aircraft targeted in the attacks. According to author Pamela Freni, Ferrante's "hair stood on end when he realized the precision with which all four airplanes had moved toward their targets." Ferrante said, "It was almost as though it was choreographed," and explained, "It's not as easy as it looks to do what [the hijackers] did at 500 miles an hour." [1]

Darryl Jenkins, the director of the Aviation Institute at George Washington University, told the New York Times that the men who carried out the attacks "knew what they were doing down to very small details." He said, "Every one of them was trained in flying big planes." The Times reported that a "number of aviation experts agreed" with Jenkins and had said that "the hijackers must have been experienced pilots." John Nance, an airline pilot, author, and aviation analyst, said that "the direct hits on the two towers and on the Pentagon suggested to him that the pilots were experienced fliers." Nance pointed to the "smooth banking of the second plane to strike the towers," and said that "precisely controlling a large jet near the ground, necessary for the Pentagon attack, also required advanced skill." Nance concluded, "There's no way an amateur could have, with any degree of reliability, done what was done" in the 9/11 attacks. [2]

A pilot who had been with a major carrier for more than 30 years told CNN that to "pull off the coordinated aerial attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon ... the hijackers must have been extremely knowledgeable and capable aviators." The pilot added, "They know what they were doing." [3]

Robin Lloyd, a Boeing 737 captain with a British airline, told The Telegraph that "the hijackers had to be experienced pilots with more than just a rudimentary knowledge of navigation." Lloyd, who co-runs the Professional Pilots' Rumour Network website, which is "regarded worldwide as one of the prime sources of accurate information for the aviation industry," said the terrorists at the controls of the hijacked aircraft "had to be 100 percent switched on people, 100 percent experienced pilots, probably military trained." He said someone like Osama bin Laden "wouldn't have access to pilots of the caliber needed to pull it off." [4]

John Roden, the president of Aviation Advisory Service, an Oakland, California, consulting firm, said the piloting necessary to navigate the planes to their targets "was very skillful. This is practically fighter pilot technique." [5] And a U.S. Air Force officer who flew over 100 sorties during the Vietnam War concluded that the hijacked aircraft "either had a crack fighter pilot in the left seat or they were being maneuvered by remote control." [6]

Two of the aircraft targeted in the 9/11 attacks were Boeing 757s and the other two were Boeing 767s. Experts have commented how difficult it would have been for amateur pilots, like the alleged hijackers, to fly such aircraft.

Aviation experts told the Chicago Tribune, "Unlike a small private plane where pilots generally fly visually, a commercial plane like those hijacked [on September 11] requires a vast command of navigation techniques as well as in-depth knowledge of their myriad systems, from hydraulics to the autopilot." [7] Michael Barr, the director of aviation safety programs at the University of Southern California, and several commercial airline pilots told the Boston Globe that "they assumed that the terrorists were skilled pilots who had to have received some training in flying transport jets, particularly the Boeing 757 and 767 aircraft." [8]

Steven Wallach, an aviation consultant and former airline captain, said that if the hijackers "took the controls at high altitude and a long distance from their targets"--as allegedly happened--"then they likely had considerable training in a 767 or 757." Wallach said the hijackers "would have had to descend and navigate to Washington and New York. They would have had to know how to operate the autopilot, as well as other intricate functions." Boeing 767s and 757s have highly sophisticated "glass cockpits" that include video screens and digital readouts, which require the pilots to have an advanced level of computer skills. "To navigate with that glass cockpit, it can be pretty tricky," Wallach said. [9]

Some experts commented specifically on the flying skills that would have been necessary to crash planes into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center.

Kieran Daly, the editor of the Internet publication Air Transport Intelligence, said, "Flying an aircraft into a building is not as simple as it appears." He said the hijackers "would have needed some experience to have been able to steer the planes into the World Trade Centre." [10] Robin Lloyd compared the targets of the WTC towers to "narrow runways tipped vertically." From "switching off the autopilot," the hijackers "would have to know how to control the aircraft and be able to find the target," he said. Lloyd said that "rag-trousered terrorists with no flying experience could not have hit" the Twin Towers. [11]

Michael Barr said the hijackers who flew the planes into the WTC "had to change course ... had to know how to navigate." [12] Barr, who is a former Air Force fighter-bomber pilot, said the hijacker pilots "almost had to hit the towers like they were threading the eye of a needle." He commented on the difficulty the pilots would have had in synchronizing their attacks so they hit the two WTC towers about 15 minutes apart, saying: "The routes they were flying were very different--one plane coming from the north and the other coming from the south. That adds greatly to the complexity and it requires a degree of skill to prevent the planes from banking too much or descending too fast while keeping on course." Barr added that the piloting skills apparently exhibited by the hijackers indicated that "months and months of planning and training were involved." He concluded, "Unfortunately, these guys were good." [13]

A 767 pilot told the Boston Globe: "The perpetrators were trained pilots and trained to operate the 757-767 family of aircraft. ... [I]t did not seem to bother them that the flying was very demanding." This pilot noted that video showed that the second aircraft to hit the WTC was banked, or turning, as it struck the tower, "making the maneuver more difficult." He added, "To hit something with an airplane is easy only if you have been flying for 20 years." [14]

Niki Lauda, the former Formula One world champion who is also a pilot and owned his own airline, said on German TV that whoever flew the aircraft into the WTC must have been "properly trained to fly a plane like that." He said: "You have to know exactly what the turning radius of a plane like that is, if I am trying to hit the World Trade Center. That means, these had to be fully trained 767 or 757 pilots. ... It certainly could not be the case that some half-trained pilot tries it somehow, because then he will not hit it." [15]

A particularly high level of skill would have been needed to fly an aircraft into the west wall of the Pentagon. CBS News reported: "Radar shows Flight 77 did a downward spiral, turning almost a complete circle and dropping the last 7,000 feet in two and a half minutes. ... [T]he complex maneuver suggests the hijackers had better flying skills than many investigators first believed." [16] A "top aviation source" called the maneuver "a nice, coordinated turn," which, according to one law enforcement official, was the work of "a great talent ... virtually a textbook turn and landing." [17] Other "aviation sources" told the Washington Post that the aircraft that hit the Pentagon "was flown with extraordinary skill." [18]

According to the Chicago Tribune, authorities said the terrorist who flew American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon displayed "proficiency in the aircraft's advanced navigation and automated flight systems. ... Such systems require pilots to program the desired course heading and altitude into an onboard computer, and the plane carries out the instructions." [19]

Dave Esser, the head of the aeronautical engineering department at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida, told CNN that "the highest level of navigational ability would have been needed" with Flight 77. Roger Richie, a spokesman for Flight Safety Academy, a flight school in Vero Beach, Florida, added: "It's not that simple when you're heading over [Ohio], to come back and find the Pentagon. You need to know what you are doing." [20]

Ed Soliday, a highly qualified and experienced former airline captain, told the 9/11 Commission that he had been talking about piloting skills with a military officer at the Pentagon, and had remarked to the officer "how tough it would be for any pilot, including himself, to hit the Pentagon directly." Soliday said the "feel" to hit the Pentagon by flying a 757 manually would not have been easy, particularly because of the building's low profile, and would have required the pilot who undertook the task to have had significant "simulator time." Soliday told the Commission that "if he were going to do the Pentagon, he would try to do it all on the autopilot because of how difficult it was." [21] However, the autopilot on Flight 77 was disengaged at 9:29 a.m. and remained off for the final eight minutes the plane was in the air, according to a study of information from the plane's flight data recorder by the National Transportation Safety Board. [22]

The 767 pilot who talked to the Boston Globe similarly said hitting the Pentagon would have been "extremely difficult." He added, "One degree off and [the pilot] either overshoots it or undershoots it." [23] Gary Eitel, an experienced military pilot, said that "the maneuver performed by Flight 77, as described in official reports, was beyond the capabilities of 90 percent of even the best and most experienced pilots in the world." Eitel said that "he was amazed by the piloting skill used to steer Flight 175 into the second tower. Flight 77 boggled his mind." [24]

Niki Lauda said that "to fly downwards out of a curve and still hit the building in its core, I would have to be the best trained [pilot] of all." He speculated that "a normal airline pilot would have a hard time with that, because you are simply not prepared for things like that." Therefore, Lauda concluded, "They must have had some super-training to have been able to handle an airliner so precisely." [25]

While these experts indicated an extraordinary level of piloting skills would have been necessary to carry out the 9/11 attacks, the four men supposedly at the controls of the hijacked aircraft were in fact notable for their lack of such skills and for their limited flying experience.

Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi, allegedly the terrorists who flew American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175 into the World Trade Center, were at best mediocre pilots, according to several accounts. They learned to fly between July and December 2000 at a flight school in Venice, Florida. They were enrolled in the school's Accelerated Pilot Program and trained in a Cessna 172, a small single-engine propeller plane. In mid-December 2000, the two men passed their commercial pilot tests and received their licenses. [26] Rudi Dekkers, the owner of the flight school, said he had "heard from the instructors" that Atta and Alshehhi "were average students," and "the examiner told me the same." [27]

The closest Atta and Alshehhi came to flying a jet aircraft before September 11 was the two days they spent at the SimCenter flight school in Opa-Locka, Florida, in late- December 2000, where they had six hours of training in a Boeing 727 simulator. Henry George, the owner of the SimCenter who trained Atta and Alshehhi in the simulator, said the two men were provided with "a mini, mini introduction" to jet flight. George found their flying skills to be unremarkable. He later recalled: "Looking back, they were average pilots for their experience level. Nothing particularly bad about their flying, but nothing remarkable either." [28]

Of the four men supposedly at the controls of the hijacked aircraft on September 11, Hani Hanjour stood out for his particularly weak flying skills. This 29-year-old from Saudi Arabia is alleged to have flown Flight 77 into the Pentagon. That, as we have seen, would have been a particularly difficult task, even for the best pilots. Hanjour, however, was a hopeless pilot.

An Arizona flight school Hanjour attended in 1996 found the young Saudi to be a "weak student" who "was wasting our resources," according to the school's owner. [29] An instructor at another Arizona flight school who taught Hanjour for four months in 1998 later stated: "As a pilot, Hani Hanjour was very poor. His knowledge of the academic side of training was weak, his flying skills were marginal, but most significantly his judgment was very poor." The instructor recalled that Hanjour "was not well educated nor was he very intelligent." Hanjour had "a poor understanding of the basic principles of aviation" and "poor technical skills." [30]

Instructors at a flight school that Hanjour attended early in 2001 "found his piloting skills so shoddy and his grasp of English so inadequate that they questioned whether his pilot's license was genuine," according to the New York Times. The staff at the school "feared that his skills were so weak that he could pose a safety hazard if he flew a commercial airliner." [31] An instructor at the school who trained Hanjour in a Boeing 737 simulator while he was there said Hanjour "proved to be such a bad pilot," and described Hanjour as "totally clueless." [32] One of the school's employees later said of Hanjour: "I'm still to this day amazed that he could have flown into the Pentagon. He could not fly at all." [33]

As the day of the attacks came closer, Hanjour's skills remained weak. An instructor at a Maryland flight school who provided flight lessons to Hanjour in mid-August 2001--less than a month before 9/11--found Hanjour to be "a poor student" who had "particular difficulty landing the aircraft." [34] After he was taken on three test flights at the school, Hanjour's request to rent a plane there was refused without more training. [35]

The Washington Post concluded that Hanjour's "limited flying abilities do afford an insight into one feature of the attacks: The conspiracy apparently did not include a surplus of skilled pilots." [36]

The terrorist allegedly at the controls of United Airlines Flight 93, which reportedly crashed in Pennsylvania after its passengers fought back against their plane's hijackers, was Ziad Jarrah, a 26-year-old from the Lebanon. While he was a better pilot than Hani Hanjour, Jarrah still appears to have had only mediocre flying skills.

Jarrah learned to fly during the latter half of 2000, spending about six months at a flight school in Florida where he trained in a Cessna 152, a small, two-seat propeller plane. [37] Jarrah became an "average" pilot, according to Arne Kruithof, the owner of the flight school. Kruithof said of Jarrah: "We had to do more to get him ready than others. His flight skills seemed to be a little bit out there." [38]

In June 2001, only three months before 9/11, Jarrah had two sessions of training at a flight school in Philadelphia, but his request to rent a plane from the school was denied due to his poor flying skills. Herbert Hortman, the owner of the flight school, told the 9/11 Commission he was surprised that Jarrah had qualified for his pilot's license, considering his limited flying ability. Hortman "speculated that a less than reputable flight school had issued the license." [39]

Despite his mediocre skills, Jarrah intended to crash Flight 93 into the White House or the U.S. Capitol building until he was stopped in his tracks by the plane's courageous passengers, according to the official account of 9/11. [40]

We can see that the four men who were allegedly at the controls of the aircraft targeted in the 9/11 attacks had poor or mediocre skills and limited flying experience. So how could these amateur pilots, who had trained in small propeller planes, suddenly exhibit extraordinary proficiency in their first attempts at flying large jet aircraft? Was this the greatest example of beginner's luck in all history? Or is the official explanation of the 9/11 attacks wrong? A new investigation of those attacks is urgently required to address this question and find out the truth of what happened on September 11, 2001.

[1] Pamela Freni, Ground Stop: An Inside Look at the Federal Aviation Administration on September 11, 2001. Lincoln, NE: iUniverse, Inc., 2003, p. 76; "Memorandum for the Record: Interview With Tony Ferrante." 9/11 Commission, April 19, 2004.
[2] James Glanz, "Terrorists Were Well Trained, but not Necessarily in Flying." New York Times, September 13, 2001.
[3] "Hijackers 'Knew What They Were Doing.'" CNN, September 12, 2001.
[4] Nicole Martin and Andrew Hibberd, "Hijackers May Have Murdered the Pilots." The Telegraph, September 12, 2001.
[5] Henry K. Lee, "Experts Assess How Skilled Hijackers Were." San Francisco Chronicle, September 13, 2001.
[6] "September 11: U.S. Government Accused." Portugal News, August 3, 2002.
[7] Jon Hilkevitch, "Hijackers Flew Skillfully to Targets, Experts Say." Chicago Tribune, September 13, 2001.
[8] Matthew Brelis, "Pilots Say Crews Likely Overpowered, Slain." Boston Globe, September 12, 2001.
[9] Ken Kaye, "Questions Remain on Flight Training." South Florida Sun-Sentinel, September 22, 2001.
[10] Nicole Martin, "Pilots 'Must Have Been Murdered' Before Jets Were Aimed at Buildings." Irish Independent, September 12, 2001.
[11] Nicole Martin and Andrew Hibberd, "Hijackers May Have Murdered the Pilots."
[12] Matthew Brelis, "Pilots Say Crews Likely Overpowered, Slain."
[13] Jon Hilkevitch, "Hijackers Flew Skillfully to Targets, Experts Say."
[14] Matthew Brelis, "Pilots Say Crews Likely Overpowered, Slain."
[15] Webster Griffin Tarpley, 9/11 Synthetic Terror: Made in USA. Joshua Tree, CA: Progressive Press, 2005, p. 190.
[16] "Primary Target." CBS News, September 21, 2001.
[17] Amy Goldstein, "Hijackers Led by Core Group." Washington Post, September 30, 2001; Steve Fainaru and Alia Ibrahim, "Mysterious Trip to Flight 77 Cockpit." Washington Post, September 10, 2002.
[18] Marc Fisher and Don Phillips, "On Flight 77: 'Our Plane is Being Hijacked.'" Washington Post, September 12, 2001.
[19] Jon Hilkevitch, "Hijackers Flew Skillfully to Targets, Experts Say."
[20] "Experts Say Hijackers Needed Special Skills." CNN, September 14, 2001.
[21] "Memorandum for the Record: Interview With Captain Ed Soliday, Former Vice President of Safety, Security, and Quality Assurance for United Airlines." 9/11 Commission, November 21, 2003.
[22] John O'Callaghan and Daniel Bower, "Study of Autopilot, Navigation Equipment, and Fuel Consumption Activity Based on United Airlines Flight 93 and American Airlines Flight 77 Digital Flight Data Recorder Information." National Transportation Safety Board, February 13, 2002.
[23] Matthew Brelis, "Pilots Say Crews Likely Overpowered, Slain."
[24] Michael C. Ruppert, Crossing the Rubicon: The Decline of the American Empire at the End of the Age of Oil. Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers, 2004, p. 350.
[25] Webster Griffin Tarpley, 9/11 Synthetic Terror, p. 191.
[26] House Committee on the Judiciary, INS's March 2002 Notification of Approval of Change of Status for Pilot Training for Terrorist Hijackers Mohammed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi. 107th Cong., 2nd Sess., March 19, 2002; 9/11 Commission, The 9/11 Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2004, pp. 224, 227.
[27] Rudi Dekkers, interview by Quentin McDermott, A Mission to Die For. Australian Broadcasting Corporation, October 21, 2001.
[28] David Firestone and Dana Canedy, "FBI Documents Detail the Movements of 19 Men Believed to be Hijackers." New York Times, September 15, 2001; David A. Lombardo, "Hijack Pilots Showed Average Skills, Say Their Instructors." Aviation International News, November 2001.
[29] Amy Goldstein, Lena H. Sun, and George Lardner Jr., "Hanjour a Study in Paradox." Washington Post, October 15, 2001.
[30] Statement of [Name Redacted]. Canfield, Shapiro, Baer, Heller & Johnston, LLP, May 1, 2002.
[31] Jim Yardley, "A Trainee Noted for Incompetence." New York Times, May 4, 2002.
[32] [Name Redacted], interview by the FBI. Federal Bureau of Investigation, September 17, 2001.
[33] Jim Yardley, "A Trainee Noted for Incompetence."
[34] "Memorandum for the Record: Interview of Benjamin L. Connor." 9/11 Commission, April 12, 2004.
[35] Justin Paprocki, "Airport Owners Panic Over Plummeting Profits." Capital News Service, September 19, 2001; Thomas Frank, "Tracing Trail of Hijackers." Newsday, September 23, 2001.
[36] Amy Goldstein, Lena H. Sun, and George Lardner Jr., "Hanjour a Study in Paradox."
[37] Der Spiegel Magazine, Inside 9/11: What Really Happened. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2002, p. 12; "Statement for the Record, FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, Joint Intelligence Committee Inquiry." U.S. Congress, September 25, 2002.
[38] Jere Longman, Among the Heroes: United Flight 93 and the Passengers and Crew Who Fought Back. New York: HarperCollins, 2002, p. 91.
[39] "Profile: Ziad Samir Jarrah, DOB: May 11, 1975." Federal Bureau of Investigation, March 20, 2002; "Memorandum for the Record: Interview of Herbert Hortman, Owner of Hortman Aviation, Philadelphia, PA." 9/11 Commission, April 27, 2004.
[40] 9/11 Commission, The 9/11 Commission Report, p. 14.