The 9/11 Commission's Incredible Tales
Flights 11, 175, 77, and 93
By David Ray Griffin
December 13, 2005
At the end of 2004, I published The 9/11 Commission Report: Omissions and Distortions1. Shortly before that book appeared, I delivered a lecture in which I set out to summarize its major points. (That lecture is now available in both print and DVD form.)2 Unfortunately, The 9/11 Commission Report itself3 contains so many omissions and distortions that I was able to summarize only the first half of my book in that lecture. The present lecture summarizes the second half of the book, which deals with the Commission's explanation as to why the US military was unable to intercept any of the hijacked airplanes.
This explanation was provided in the first chapter of The 9/11 Commission Report. Although that chapter is only 45 pages long, the issues involved are so complex that my analysis of it required six chapters. One of the complexities is the fact that the 9/11 Commission's account of why the military could not intercept the hijacked airliners is the third version of the official account we have been given. To understand why three versions of this story have been deemed necessary, we need to review the standard operating procedures that are supposed to prevent hijacked airliners from causing the kinds of damage that occurred on 9/11.
Standard Operating Procedures
Standard operating procedures dictate that if an FAA flight controller notices anything that suggests a possible hijacking--if radio contact is lost, if the plane's transponder goes off, or if the plane deviates from its flight plan--the controller is to contact a superior. If the problem cannot be fixed quickly--within about a minute--the superior is to ask NORAD--the North American Aerospace Defense Command--to scramble jet fighters to find out what is going on. NORAD then issues a scramble order to the nearest Air Force base with fighters on alert. On 9/11, all the hijacked airliners occurred in NORAD's Northeast Air Defense Sector, which is known as NEADS. So all the scramble orders would have come from NEADS.
The jet fighters at the disposal of NEADS could respond very quickly: According to the US Air Force website, F-15s can go from "scramble order" to 29,000 feet in only 2.5 minutes, after which they can then fly over 1800 miles per hour (140). (All page numbers given parenthetically in the text are to David Ray Griffin, The 9/11 Commission Report: Omissions and Distortions). Therefore--according to General Ralph Eberhart, the head of NORAD--after the FAA senses that something is wrong, "it takes about one minute" for it to contact NORAD, after which, according to a spokesperson, NORAD can scramble fighter jets "within a matter of minutes to anywhere in the United States" (140). These statements were, to be sure, made after 9/11, so we might suspect that they reflect a post-9/11 speed-up in procedures. But an Air Traffic Control document put out in 1998 warned pilots that any airplanes persisting in unusual behavior "will likely find two [jet fighters] on their tail within 10 or so minutes" (141).
The First Version of the Official Story
On 9/11, however, that did not happen. Why not? Where was the military? The military's first answer was given immediately after 9/11 by General Richard Myers, then the Acting Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Mike Snyder, a spokesman for NORAD. They both said, independently, that no military jets were sent up until after the strike on the Pentagon. That strike occurred at 9:38, and yet American Airlines Flight 11 had shown two of the standard signs of hijacking, losing both the radio and the transponder signal, at 8:15. This means that procedures that usually result in an interception within "10 or so minutes" had not been carried out in 80 or so minutes.
That enormous delay suggested that a stand-down order, canceling standard procedures, must have been given. Some people started raising this possibility.
The Second Version of the Official Story
Very quickly, a new story appeared. On Friday, September 14, CBS News said: "contrary to early reports, US Air Force jets did get into the air on Tuesday while the attacks were under way," although they arrived too late to prevent the attacks (141-42).4 This second story was then made official on September 18, when NORAD produced a timeline stating the times that it was notified about the hijackings followed by the times at which fighters were scrambled (143). The implicit message of the timeline was that the failure was due entirely to the FAA, because in each case it notified the military so late that interceptions were impossible.
Not quite everyone, however, accepted that conclusion. Some early members of the 9/11 truth movement, doing the math, showed that NORAD's new timeline did not get it off the hook.5 With regard to the first flight: Even if we accept NORAD's claim that NEADS was not notified about Flight 11 until 8:40 (which would mean that the FAA had waited 20 minutes after it saw danger signs before it made the call), NORAD's implicit claim that it could not have prevented the first attack on the WTC is problematic. If fighters had immediately been scrambled from McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey, they could easily have intercepted Flight 11 before 8:47, which is when the north tower of the WTC was struck.
NORAD, to be sure, had a built-in answer to that question. It claimed that McGuire had no fighters on alert, so that NEADS had to give the scramble order to Otis Air Force Base in Cape Cod. Critics argued that this claim is probably false, for reasons to be discussed later. They also pointed out that the F-15s, even if they had to come from Otis, might have made it to Manhattan in time to intercept Flight 11, if the scramble order had been given immediately, at 8:40, and then the fighters had taken off immediately. NORAD said, however, that the scramble order was not given until 8:46 and that the F-15s did not get airborne until 8:52 (144-45). It looked to critics, therefore, like the failure was not entirely the FAA's.
Even less plausible, the critics said, was NORAD's claim that NEADS did not have time to prevent the second attack. According to NORAD's timeline, NEADS had been notified about United Airlines Flight 175 at 8:43, 20 minutes before the south tower was struck. The F-15s originally ordered to go after Flight 11 were now to go after Flight 175. According to NORAD, as we saw earlier, the scramble order to Otis was given at 8:46. In light of the military's own statement that F-15s can go from scramble order to 29,000 feet in 2.5 minutes, the F-15s would have been streaking towards Manhattan by 8:49. So they could easily have gotten there before 9:03, when the south tower was struck. NORAD said, however, that it took the fighters six minutes just to get airborne.6 Critics said that it looked as if at least a slow-down order had been issued.
Critics also pointed out that even if the F-15s did not take off, as NORAD said, until 8:52, they still could have gotten to Manhattan in time to prevent the second attack, assuming that they were going full speed. And, according to one of the pilots, they were. Lt. Col. Timothy Duffy said they went "full-blower all the way." And yet, according to NORAD's timeline, when the south tower was hit at 9:03, the F-15s were still 71 miles away. Doing the math showed that the fighters could not have been going even half-blower (146). It still looked like a stand-down order, or at least a slow-down order, had been issued.
The same problem existed with respect to NORAD's explanation of its failure to protect the Pentagon. NORAD again blamed the FAA, saying that although the FAA knew about the hijacking of American Airlines Flight 77 before 9:00, it did not notify NEADS until 9:24, too late for NEADS to respond.
Again, doing the math showed that this explanation did not work. NORAD claimed that it issued the scramble order immediately, at 9:24. The attack on the Pentagon did not occur until 14 minutes later, at 9:38. That would have been more than enough time for fighters to get there from Andrews Air Force Base, which is only a few miles away. Why, then, did NORAD not prevent the attack?
Part of NORAD's answer was that no fighters were on alert at Andrews, so that NEADS had to give the scramble order to Langley Air Force Base, which is about 130 miles away. Also, it again took the pilots 6 minutes to get airborne, so they did not get away until 9:30.
However, even if those explanations are accepted, the scrambled F-16s, critics pointed out, could go 1500 miles per hour, so they could have reached Washington a couple of minutes before the Pentagon was struck. According to NORAD, however, they were still 105 miles away. That would mean that the F-16s were going less than 200 miles per hour, which would not even be one-quarter blower (147-48).
In all three cases, therefore, NORAD's attempt to put all the blame on the FAA failed. Critics were able to show, especially with regard to the second and third flights, that NORAD's new story still implied that a stand-down order must have been issued. It is perhaps not surprising, therefore, that the 9/11 Commission came up with a third story, which is not subject to the same objections.
The main question, however, is still the same: Is it true? One reason to suspect that it is not true is the very fact that it is the third story we have been given. When suspects in a criminal case keep changing their story, we assume that they must be trying to conceal the truth. But an even more serious problem with the Commission's new story is that many of its elements are contradicted by credible evidence or are otherwise implausible. I will show this by examining the Commission's treatment of each flight, beginning with Flight 11.
THE COMMISSION'S TREATMENT OF AMERICAN AIRLINES FLIGHT 11
A Picture of FAA Incompetence
As we saw, flight controllers are supposed to react quickly if they see any one of the three standard signs of a hijacking. But Flight 11 hit the Trifecta, showing all three signs, and yet no one at the Boston FAA Center, we are told, took any action for some time. Eventually, Boston, having heard hijackers giving orders, called the FAA Command Center in Herndon. Herndon then called FAA headquarters in Washington, but no one there, we are told, called the military. Finally, the FAA center in Boston called NEADS directly at 8:38 (158).
To accept this story, we would have to believe that although the FAA should have notified the military about Flight 11 within a minute of seeing the danger signals at 8:15, the FAA personnel at Boston, Herndon, and Washington were all so incompetent that 23 minutes passed before the military was notified. We would then need to reconcile this picture of top-to-bottom dereliction of duty, which contributed to thousands of deaths, with the fact that no FAA personnel were fired.
An 8-Minute Phone Call
The next implausible element in the story involves Colonel Robert Marr, the commander at NEADS. As we saw earlier, if he had had planes scrambled immediately, even from Otis, they might have prevented the first attack on the World Trade Center. And yet, we are told, he called down to Florida to General Larry Arnold, the head of NORAD's US Continental Region, to get authorization to have planes scrambled, and this phone call took 8 minutes (165).7
Besides the fact that this would be an extraordinarily long phone call in an emergency situation, this call was not even necessary. The Commission, to be sure, would have us believe that Marr had to get approval from superiors. But the very document from the Department of Defense cited by the Commission indicates that anyone in the military chain of command, upon receiving "verbal requests from civil authorities for support in an . . . emergency may . . . immediately respond" (166).8 Colonel Marr, therefore, could have responded on his own.
Evidence of Earlier Notification
But this tale of an 8-minute phone call is probably not the biggest lie in the Commission's story about Flight 11. That award seems to belong to the claim that although the FAA saw signs of a hijacking at 8:15, the military was not notified until 8:38. Laura Brown, the FAA's Deputy in Public Affairs, reportedly said that the National Military Command Center in the Pentagon had set up an air threat teleconference that morning at about 8:20 (187).9 If she is correct, it would seem that the military knew about Flight 11's erratic behavior shortly after 8:15, which suggests that the FAA had followed standard procedures.
I turn now to the Commission's treatment of Flight 175.
THE COMMISSION'S TREATMENT OF UNITED AIRLINES FLIGHT 175
More FAA Incompetence
The Commission claims that NORAD did not intercept this flight because the FAA never reported its hijacking until after it crashed. According to the Commission, the FAA flight controller did not even notify a manager until 8:55. This manager then called the FAA Command Center at Herndon, saying: "[The situation is] escalating . . . big time. We need to get the military involved." But no one at Herndon, we are told, called the military or even FAA headquarters. As a result, NORAD did not learn about the hijacking of Flight 175 until 9:03, when it was crashing into the WTC's south tower (175).
Contradicting Earlier Reports
One problem with this story is that such incompetence by FAA officials is not believable. An even more serious problem is that this story is contradicted by many prior reports.
One of these is NORAD's own previous timeline. As we saw earlier, NORAD had maintained since September 18, 2001, that it had been notified about Flight 175 at 8:43. If that was not true, as the Commission now claims, NORAD must have been either lying or confused when it put out its timeline one week after 9/11. And it is hard to believe that it could have been confused so soon after the event. So it must have been lying. But that would suggest that it had an ugly truth to conceal. The Commission, being unable to embrace either of the possible explanations, simply tells us that NORAD's previous statement was incorrect, but without giving us any explanation as to how this could be.
The Commission's claim that the military did not know about Flight 175 until it crashed is also contradicted by a report involving Captain Michael Jellinek, a Canadian who on 9/11 was overseeing NORAD's headquarters in Colorado. According to a story in the Toronto Star, Jellinek was on the phone with NEADS as he watched Flight 175 crash into the south tower. He then asked NEADS: "Was that the hijacked aircraft you were dealing with?"--to which NEADS said yes (176).
Two Problematic Teleconferences
Still another problem with the Commission's new story is that there appear to have been two teleconferences during which FAA officials would have talked to the military about Flight 175. I have already mentioned the teleconference initiated by the National Military Command Center in the Pentagon. The 9/11 Commission claims, to be sure, that this teleconference did not begin until 9:29 (186-88), long after Flight 175 had crashed into the south tower. But this late starting time is contradicted by Richard Clarke (188). It is also contradicted by Laura Brown of the FAA, who said that it started at about 8:20. Although Brown later, perhaps under pressure from superiors, changed the starting time to 8:45 (187), this was still early enough for discussions of Flight 175 to have occurred.
There was also a teleconference initiated by the FAA. According to the 9/11 Commission, this teleconference was set up at 9:20 (205). On May 22, 2003, however, Laura Brown sent to the Commission a memo headed: "FAA communications with NORAD on September 11, 2001."10 The memo, which used the term "phone bridges" instead of "teleconference," began: "Within minutes after the first aircraft hit the World Trade Center, the FAA immediately established several phone bridges." Since the attack on the north tower was at 8:47, "within minutes" would mean that this teleconference began about 8:50, a full half hour earlier than the Commission claims. The memo made clear, moreover, that the teleconference included both NORAD and the National Military Command Center in the Pentagon. During this teleconference, Brown's memo said:
The FAA shared real-time information . . . about the . . . loss of communication with aircraft, loss of transponder signals, unauthorized changes in course, and other actions being taken by all the flights of interest. (253)
And by 8:50, everyone agrees, Flight 175 was a "flight of interest"--everyone except, of course, the 9/11 Commission, which claims that FAA headquarters had not yet learned about it. Laura Brown's memo, in any case, was read into the Commission's record on May 23, 2003.11 But when the Commission published its final report, it simply pretended that this memo did not exist. Only through this pretense could the Commission claim that the FAA's teleconferences did not begin until 9:20.
For several reasons, therefore, it appears that the Commission's claim that the military was not notified about Flight 175 until after it struck the south tower is a lie from beginning to end. I turn now to the Commission's treatment of Flight 77 and the attack on the Pentagon.
THE COMMISSION'S TREATMENT OF AMERICAN AIRLINES FLIGHT 77 AND THE ATTACK ON THE PENTAGON
As we saw earlier, if the FAA told NORAD about Flight 77 at 9:24, as NORAD's timeline of September 18 said, NEADS should have had fighter jets over Washington well before 9:38, when the Pentagon was struck. The 9/11 Commission's solution to this problem was to tell another new tale, according to which the FAA never told NORAD about Flight 77.
One inconvenient fact was that General Larry Arnold, the head of NORAD's US Continental region, had, in open testimony to the Commission in 2003, repeated NORAD's statement that it had been notified about this hijacking at 9:24. Other NORAD officials, moreover, had testified that fighters at Langley had been scrambled in response to this notification. The Commission handled this problem by simply saying that these statements by Arnold and the other NORAD officials were "incorrect" (192). The Commission again did not explain why NORAD officials had made incorrect statements. But it said that those statements were "unfortunate" because they "made it appear that the military was notified in time to respond" (192). The Commission's task was to convince us that this was not true.
More FAA Incompetence
Basic to the Commission's new story about Flight 77 is another tale of incredible incompetence by FAA officials. This tale goes like this: At 8:54, the FAA controller in Indianapolis, after seeing Flight 77 go off course, lost its transponder signal and even its radar track. Rather than reporting the flight as possibly hijacked, however, he assumed that it had crashed. Evidently it did not occur to him that a possible crash should be reported. In any case, he later, after hearing about the other hijackings, came to suspect that Flight 77 may also have been hijacked. He then shared this suspicion with Herndon, which in turn shared it with FAA headquarters. But no one, we are told, called the military. The result, the Commission says, is that "NEADS never received notice that American 77 was hijacked" (192).
Explaining the Langley Scramble: Phantom Flight 11
But even if we could believe this implausible tale, there is still the problem of why F-16s at Langley Air Force Base were airborne at 9:30. FAA incompetence again comes to the rescue. At 9:21--35 minutes after Flight 11 had crashed into the World Trade Center--some technician at NEADS, we are told, heard from some FAA controller in Boston that Flight 11 was still in the air and was heading towards Washington. This NEADS technician then notified the NEADS Mission Crew Commander, who issued a scramble order to Langley. So, the Commission claims, the Langley jets were scrambled in response to "a phantom aircraft," not to "an actual hijacked aircraft" (193). This new story, however, is riddled with problems.
One problem is simply that phantom Flight 11 had never before been mentioned. As the Commission itself says, this story about phantom Flight 11 "was not recounted in a single public timeline or statement issued by the FAA or Department of Defense" (196). It was, for example, not in NORAD'S official report, Air War Over America, the foreword for which was written by General Larry Arnold.12
General Arnold's ignorance of phantom Flight 11 was, in fact, an occasion for public humiliation. The 9/11 Commission, at a hearing in June of 2004, berated him for not remembering that the Langley jets had really been scrambled in response to phantom Flight 11, not in response to a warning about Flight 77. Commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste began a lengthy grilling by asking: "General Arnold. Why did no one mention the false report received from the FAA that Flight 11 was heading south during your initial appearance before the 9/11 Commission back in May of last year?" After an embarrassing exchange, Ben-Veniste stuck the knife in even further, asking:
General, is it not a fact that the failure to call our attention to the . . . the notion of a phantom Flight 11 continuing from New York City south . . . skewed the official Air Force report, . . . which does not contain any information about the fact that . . . you had not received notification that Flight 77 had been hijacked? . . . [S]urely by May of last year, when you testified before this commission, you knew those facts. (197).
In Alice in Wonderland, the White Queen says: "It is a poor memory that remembers only backwards." One must wonder if General Arnold felt that he was being criticized for not remembering the future--that is, for not "remembering" a story that had been invented only after he had given his testimony. Arnold, in any case, simply replied that he "didn't recall those facts in May of last year."
But if those alleged facts were real facts, that reply would be beyond belief. According to the Commission's new story, NORAD, under Arnold's command, failed to scramble fighter jets in response to Flights 11, 175, 77, and 93. The one time it scrambled fighters, it did so in response to a false report. Surely that would have been the biggest embarrassment of Arnold's professional life. And yet 20 months later, he "didn't recall those facts."
A second problem is that there is no way for this story about phantom Flight 11 to be verified. The Commission says that the truth of this story "is clear . . . from taped conversations at FAA centers; contemporaneous logs compiled at NEADS, Continental Region headquarters, and NORAD; and other records" (193-94). But when we look in the notes at the back of The 9/11 Commission Report, we find no references for any of these records; we simply have to take the Commission's word. The sole reference is to a NEADS audiofile, on which someone at the FAA's Boston Center allegedly tells someone at NEADS: "I just had a report that American 11 is still in the air, and it's . . . heading towards Washington" (194). The Commission claims to have discovered this audiofile. Again, however, we simply have to take the Commission's word. We cannot obtain this audiofile. And there is no mention of any tests, carried out by an independent agency, to verify that this audiofile, if it exists, really dates from 9/11, rather than having been created later, after someone decided that the story about phantom Flight 11 was needed.
But could not reporters interview the people at NEADS and the FAA who had this conversation? No, because the Commission says, nonchalantly: "We have been unable to identify the source of this mistaken FAA information" (194). This disclaimer is difficult to believe. It is now very easy to identify people from recordings of their voices. And yet the Commission was supposedly not able to discover the identity of either the individual at Boston who made the mistake or the NEADS technician who received and passed on this misinformation.
Another implausible element is the very idea that someone at Boston would have concluded that Flight 11 was still airborne. According to stories immediately after 9/11, flight controllers at Boston said that they never lost sight of Flight 11. Flight controller Mark Hodgkins later said: "I watched the target of American 11 the whole way down" (194) If so, everyone at the Boston Center would have known this. How could anything on a radar screen have convinced anyone at the Boston Center, 35 minutes later, that Flight 11 was still aloft?
Still another implausible element in the story is the idea that the Mission Commander at NEADS, having received this implausible report from a technician, would have been so confident of its truth that he would have immediately ordered Langley to scramble F-16s.13
This entire story about phantom Flight 11 is the Commission's attempt to explain why, if the US military had not been notified about Flight 77, a scramble order was issued to Langley at 9:24, which resulted in F-16s taking off at 9:30. As we have seen, every element in this story is implausible.
Why Were the Langley F-16s So Far from Washington?
Equally implausible is the Commission's explanation as to why, if the F-16s were airborne at 9:30, they were not close enough to Washington to protect the Pentagon at 9:38. To answer this question, the Commission once again calls on FAA incompetence.
The F-16s, we are told, were supposed to go to Baltimore, to intercept (phantom) Flight 11 before it reached Washington. But the FAA controller, along with the lead pilot, thought the orders were for the F-16s to go "east over the ocean," so at 9:38, when the Pentagon was struck, "[t]he Langley fighters were about 150 miles away" (201). Has there ever been, since the days of the Marx Brothers and the Three Stooges, such a comedy of errors? This explanation, in any case, is not believable. By the time of the scramble order, it was clear that the threat was from hijacked airliners, not from abroad. My six-year-old grandson would have known to double-check the order before sending the fighters out to sea.
The Military's Alleged Ignorance about Flight 77
Even more problematic is the Commission's claim that Pentagon officials were in the dark about the hijacking of Flight 77.
That claim is flatly contradicted by Laura Brown's memo. Having said that the FAA had established its teleconference with military officials "within minutes" of the first strike, she said that the FAA shared "real-time information" about "all the flights of interest, including Flight 77." Moreover, explicitly taking issue with NORAD's claim that it knew nothing about Flight 77 until 9:24, she said:
NORAD logs indicate that the FAA made formal notification about American Flight 77 at 9:24 a.m., but information about the flight was conveyed continuously during the phone bridges before the formal notification. (204)14
This statement about informal notification was known by the Commission. Richard Ben-Veniste, after reading Laura Brown's memo into the record, said: "So now we have in question whether there was an informal real-time communication of the situation, including Flight 77's situation, to personnel at NORAD."15 But when the Commission wrote up its final report, with its claim that the FAA had not notified the military about Flight 77 (whether formally or informally), it wrote as if this discussion had never occurred.16
The Pentagon's Alleged Ignorance of an Aircraft Headed Its Way
The Commission also claims that people in the Pentagon had no idea that an aircraft was heading in their direction until shortly before the Pentagon was struck. But this claim was contradicted by Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta, in open testimony given to the Commission itself. Mineta testified that at 9:20 that morning, he went down to the shelter conference room (technically the Presidential Emergency Operations Center) under the White House, where Vice President Cheney was in charge. Mineta then said:
During the time that the airplane was coming in to the Pentagon, there was a young man who would come in and say to the Vice President, "The plane is 50 miles out." "The plane is 30 miles out." And when it got down to "the plane is 10 miles out," the young man also said to the Vice President, "Do the orders still stand?" And the Vice President turned and whipped his neck around and said, "Of course the orders still stand. Have you heard anything to the contrary?" (220)17
When Mineta was asked by Commissioner Timothy Roemer how long this conversation occurred after he arrived, Mineta said: "Probably about five or six minutes," which, as Roemer pointed out, would mean "about 9:25 or 9:26."
According to the 9/11 Commission, no one in our government knew that an aircraft was approaching the Pentagon until 9:36,18 so there was no time to shoot it down. But the Commission had been told by Mineta that the vice president knew at least 10 minutes earlier, at 9:26. The 9/11 Commission dealt with Mineta's testimony in the same way it dealt with almost everything else that threatened its story--by simply ignoring it in the final report.19
This testimony by Mineta was a big threat not only because it indicated that there was knowledge of the approaching aircraft at least 12 minutes before the Pentagon was struck, but also because it implied that Cheney had issued stand-down orders. Mineta himself did not make this allegation, to be sure. He assumed, he said, that "the orders" mentioned by the young man were orders to have the plane shot down. Mineta's interpretation, however, does not fit with what actually happened: The aircraft was not shot down. That interpretation, moreover, would make the story unintelligible: If the orders had been to shoot down the aircraft if it got close to the Pentagon, the young man would have had no reason to ask if the orders still stood. His question makes sense only if the orders were to do something unexpected--not to shoot down the aircraft. The implication of Mineta's story is, therefore, that the attack on the Pentagon was desired.
Why Did the Scramble Order Go to Langley?
The same implication follows from another problem. Every part of the story about the fighters from Langley, we saw, is implausible. But an even more basic implausibility is the very claim that the order had to go to Langley because Andrews had no fighters on alert (158-59).
One reason to doubt that claim is simply that it is, in a word, preposterous. Andrews has primary responsibility for protecting the nation's capital (160). Can anyone seriously believe that Andrews, given the task of protecting the Pentagon, Air Force One, the White House, the houses of Congress, the Supreme Court, the US Treasury Building, and so on, would not have fighters on alert at all times?
In addition to this a priori consideration, there is the empirical fact that the US military's own website said at the time--although it was modified after 9/11 (163-64)--that several fighter jets were kept on alert at all times. The 121st Fighter Squadron of the 113th Fighter Wing was said to provide "capable and ready response forces for the District of Columbia in the event of natural disaster or civil emergency." The Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 321 was said to be supported by a reserve squadron providing "maintenance and supply functions necessary to maintain a force in readiness." And the District of Columbia Air National Guard was said "to provide combat units in the highest possible state of readiness" (163).
The assumption that Andrews did have fighters on alert on which NORAD could have called is supported, moreover, by a report given by Kyle Hence of 9/11 Citizens Watch about a telephone conversation he had with Donald Arias, the Chief of Public Affairs for NORAD's Continental Region. After Arias had told Hence that "Andrews was not part of NORAD," Hence asked him "whether or not there were assets at Andrews that, though not technically part of NORAD, could have been tasked." Rather than answer, Arias hung up (161) There are many reasons to conclude, therefore, that the claim that there were no fighters on alert at Andrews is a lie.
The realization that Andrews must have had fighters on alert has many implications. For one thing, if Andrews had fighters on alert, then it would seem likely that McGuire did too, so that fighters to protect New York City did not have to be scrambled from Otis Air Force Base on Cape Cod. National security expert (and former ABC producer) James Bamford says, moreover, that NEADS was also able to call on "alert fighter pilots at National Guard units at Burlington, Vermont; Atlantic City, New Jersey; . . . and Duluth, Minnesota" (258). If so, then there were at least 7 bases from which NEADS could have scrambled fighters, not merely two, as the official story has it (158-59). And if that part of the official story is a lie, then it seems likely that that story as a whole is a lie. This conclusion will be reinforced by our examination of the Commission's treatment of United Airlines Flight 93.
THE COMMISSION'S TREATMENT OF UNITED AIRLINES FLIGHT 93
Flight 93 presented the 9/11 Commission with a different task. In relation to the previous flights, the Commission's task was to explain why the US military did not intercept and shoot them down. With regard to Flight 93, the Commission had to convince us that the military did not shoot it down. It sought to do this not by refuting the evidence, which is considerable, that the airliner was shot down, but by simply constructing a new story intended to show that the US military could not have shot down Flight 93.
The Military's Ignorance of the Hijacking
The Commission makes two major claims about Flight 93. The first one is that: "By the time the military learned about the flight, it had crashed" (229). The centrality of this claim is shown by the fact that it is repeated, almost mantra-like, throughout the Commission's chapter.20
Incredible FAA Incompetence
The main support for this claim is provided by yet another tale of amazing incompetence by FAA officials. At 9:28, we are told, the traffic controller in Cleveland heard "sounds of possible screaming" and noticed that Flight 93 had descended 700 feet, but he did nothing. Four minutes later, he heard a voice saying: "We have a bomb on board." This controller, not being completely brain dead, finally notified his supervisor, who in turn notified FAA headquarters. Later, however, when Cleveland asked Herndon whether the military had been called, the Commission claims, Herndon "told Cleveland that FAA personnel well above them in the chain of command had to make the decision to seek military assistance and were working on the issue" (227). To accept this account, we must believe that, on a day on which there had already been attacks by hijacked airliners, officials at FAA headquarters had to debate whether a hijacked airliner with a bomb on board was important enough to disturb the military. And we must believe that they were still debating this question 13 minutes later, when, we are told, the following conversation between Herndon and FAA headquarters occurred:
Command Center: Uh, do we want to think, uh, about scrambling aircraft?
FAA Headquarters: Oh, God, I don't know.
Command Center: Uh, that's a decision somebody's gonna have to make probably in the next ten minutes. (228)
But obviously the decision was that the military should not be disturbed, because 14 minutes later, at 10:03, when Flight 93 crashed in Pennsylvania, we are told, "no one from FAA headquarters [had yet] requested military assistance regarding United 93" (229). We are expected to believe, in other words, that FAA officials acted like complete idiots.
In any case, besides arguing, by means of this tale of incredible incompetence, that the FAA never formally notified the military about Flight 93, the Commission argued that there was also no informal notification during any teleconference. In this case, not being able to argue that the teleconferences began too late, the Commission argued that they were worthless. Its summary statement said: "The FAA, the White House, and the Defense Department each initiated a multiagency teleconference before 9:30. [But] none of these teleconferences . . . included the right officials from both the FAA and the Defense Department" (211).
Let us begin with the teleconference initiated by the National Military Command Center. Why was it worthless for transmitting information from the FAA to the military? Because, we are told, Pentagon operators were unable to get the FAA on the line. This is a very implausible claim, especially since, we are told, the operators were able to reach everyone else (230-31). Also, as we saw earlier, Laura Brown of the FAA seemed to have independent knowledge about when this teleconference started---which suggests that the FAA was reached.
Why was the FAA-initiated teleconference equally worthless? The problem here, the Commission claimed, was that the officer at the NMCC said that "the information was of little value" so he did not pay attention (234).
However, even if we could believe that no one at the Pentagon was monitoring the call, Laura Brown's memo had said that in addition to the phone bridge set up by the FAA with the Pentagon, the "Air Force liaison to the FAA . . . established contact with NORAD on a separate line." So even if no one at the Pentagon was paying attention, the military still would have received the information. Her memo said, moreover, that "[t]he FAA shared real-time information . . . about . . . all the flights of interest" (183), and the Commission itself agrees that by 9:34, FAA headquarters knew about the hijacking of Flight 93, so it was a "flight of interest." The Commission's claim is, therefore, flatly contradicted by this memo, which was read into the Commission's record.
What about the White House videoconference, which was run by Richard Clarke? The Commissioners say: "We do not know who from Defense participated" (210). But this claim is completely unbelievable. One problem is that it contradicts the Commission's assurance that "the right people" were not involved in this conference: How could they know this if they did not know who was involved? The main problem, however, is simply that the claim is absurd. Surely any number of people at the Pentagon could have told the Commissioners who participated in Clarke's videoconference. Simpler yet, they could have looked at Clarke's book, Against All Enemies, which became a national best seller during the Commission's hearings. It clearly states that the participants from the Pentagon were Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and General Richard Myers, Acting Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (210-12).21 It also reports that the FAA was represented by its top official, Jane Garvey. And if these were not "the right people," who would have been?
The Commission's attempt to prove that the military could not have learned about Flight 93 from this videoconference is even more explicitly contradicted by Clarke, who reports that at about 9:35, Jane Garvey reported on a number of "potential hijacks," which included "United 93 over Pennsylvania" (232). Therefore, more than 25 minutes before Flight 93 crashed, according to Clarke, both Myers and Rumsfeld heard from the head of the FAA that Flight 93 was considered a potential hijack.
The Commission's tales about FAA incompetence and worthless teleconferences are, therefore, directly contradicted by Laura Brown's memo and Richard Clarke's book. Their combined testimony implies that the Commission's main claim--that "[b]y the time the military learned about the flight, it had crashed"--is a bald-faced lie.
Cheney's Arrival at the Shelter Conference Room
To recall where we are: The Commission's first major claim is that the US military could not have shot down Flight 93 because it did not know about the hijacking of this flight until after it crashed at 10:03. The Commission's second main point, to which we now turn, is that the authorization to shoot planes down was not issued until several minutes after 10:03.
In support of this point, the Commission claims that Vice President Cheney, who was known to have issued the shoot-down authorization from the shelter conference room under the White House, did not get down there until about almost 10:00, "perhaps at 9:58" (241). This claim, however, is doubly problematic.
One problem is that this claim is not supported by any documentation. The Commission says that the Secret Service ordered Cheney to go downstairs "just before 9:36"; that Cheney entered the underground corridor at 9:37; that he then, instead of going straight to the shelter conference room at the other end of the corridor, spent some 20 minutes calling the president and watching television coverage of the aftermath of the strike on the Pentagon (241). This timeline is said to be based on Secret Service alarm data showing that the Vice President entered the underground corridor at 9:37. However, The 9/11 Commission Report then says that this "alarm data . . . is no longer retrievable" (244). We must, therefore, simply take the Commission's claim on faith.
And this is very difficult, since the Commission's claim is contradicted by every prior report. A White House photographer, who was an eyewitness, and various newspapers, including the New York Times, said that Cheney went below shortly after 9:00. Richard Clarke's account suggests that Cheney went below before 9:15 (242). Even Cheney himself, speaking on "Meet the Press" five days after 9/11, indicated that he was taken downstairs at about that time (243). The Commission, showing its usual disdain for evidence that contradicts its story, makes no mention of any of these reports.
The most dramatic contradiction of the Commission's timeline was provided by Norman Mineta. In open testimony to the Commission itself, he said, as we saw earlier, that when he got to the underground shelter at 9:20, Cheney was already there and fully in charge. The Commission, insisting that Cheney did not get there until almost 10:00, simply omitted any mention of this testimony in its Final Report. But Mineta's testimony is still available for anyone to read.22
We can say with a very high level of confidence, therefore, that the Commission's account is a lie.
The Time of the Shoot-Down Authorization
The same is true of the Commission's claim that the shoot-down authorization was not issued until after 10:10.
In making this claim, the Commission tells a tale of yet another incredible error made by the FAA. Flight 93, according to the Commission, crashed at 10:03 (249-50). And yet sometime between 10:10 and 10:15, the Commission claims, the FAA told the military that Flight 93 was still headed towards Washington and was, in fact, only 80 miles out. Once again, FAA headquarters managed to call the military only when it had false information. In any case, we are told, the military requested permission to engage an aircraft and Cheney immediately gave the authorization (237). The implication is that the military could not possibly have shot down Flight 93, since it had crashed about 10 minutes earlier.
However, the Commission's new timeline is again contradicted by several previous reports.
First, although the Commission says that Richard Clarke did not receive the shoot-down authorization until 10:25, Clarke himself says that he received it some 35 or minutes earlier, at 9:45 or 9:50 (240).
Second, the story of Cheney's giving permission to engage an aircraft that was 80 miles out originally appeared in stories published shortly after 9/11. In these stories, the permission was given earlier, when Flight 93 truly was still aloft, after which an F-16 was sent in pursuit (239).
That original account is supported, moreover, by several reports stating that prior to crashing, Flight 93 was being tailed by US military fighters. One such report came from CBS; another came from a flight controller who had ignored an order not to talk to the media; and one such report even came from Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz (238-39). Evidently the Commission felt that if it could ignore statements from the secretary of transportation and even the vice president, it could also ignore a statement by the deputy secretary of defense.
In any case, the Commission's timeline, besides being contradicted by all those reports, is also contradicted by James Bamford's account, which is based on a transcript from ABC News. According to this account, Cheney's authorization was transmitted to Colonel Marr at NEADS, who then "sent out word to air traffic controllers to instruct fighter pilots to destroy the United jetliner." Marr reportedly said: "United Airlines Flight 93 will not be allowed to reach Washington, D.C." (238). But the Commission simply tells its new tale as if this report had never been broadcast.
The Commission's account is contradicted, finally, by reports that the shoot-down actually occurred. Major Daniel Nash, one of the two F-15 pilots sent to New York City from Otis, later reported that after he returned to base, he was told that a military F-16 had shot down an airliner in Pennsylvania (239).
That rumor was so widespread that during General Myers' interview with the Senate Armed Services Committee on September 13, 2001, chairman Carl Levin said that "there have been statements that the aircraft that crashed in Pennsylvania was shot down," adding: "Those stories continue to exist" (151).
Besides ignoring all these reports, the Commission also ignored reports from people who lived near the spot where the airliner came down. These reports spoke of missile-like noises, sightings of a small military airplane, debris falling from the airliner miles from its crash site, and the discovery of part of an engine far from the site (151).
There is, in sum, an enormous amount of evidence suggesting that the FAA did notify the military about Flight 93; that Cheney went down to the underground shelter about 45 minutes earlier than the Commission claims; that he gave the shoot-down authorization about 25 minutes earlier than the Commission claims; and that military jets went after and shot-down Flight 93. It would appear that if some committee had set out to construct a fable about Flight 93, every part of which could be easily falsified, it could not have improved on the Commission's tale. And yet our mainstream media have not reported any of these obvious falsehoods.
SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION
The Portrait of FAA Incompetence
The Commission, as we have seen, has attempted to exonerate the military for its failure to prevent the attacks of 9/11. According to the Commission, accounts suggesting that the military was notified in time to respond "overstated the FAA's ability to provide the military with timely and useful information that morning" (255). In its effort to correct that alleged overstatement, the Commission gave us a picture of incredible incompetence at every level of the FAA. We read of flight controllers who, instead of following instructions to treat every possible emergency as an actual one, would not respond after seeing two or even all three of the standard signs of a hijacking. We read of controllers who told the military that airplanes that had already crashed were still aloft and headed towards Washington. We read of officials at FAA headquarters who consistently refused to call the military--unless, of course, the airplane to be reported was merely a phantom.
This portrait of rampant incompetence by FAA officials is contradicted by several facts. One such fact is NORAD's timeline of September 18, 2001, which indicates that the FAA responded slowly but not nearly as slowly as the Commission now claims. A second fact is Laura Brown's memo of 2003, which says that the FAA was on the telephone with the military from about 8:50 on, talking about all flights of interest.
A third fact is that the FAA was called on to carry out an unprecedented operation that day: grounding all the aircraft in the country. And yet, the Commission itself says, the FAA "execut[ed] that unprecedented order flawlessly" (272-73). Is it plausible that FAA personnel, on the same day that they carried out an unprecedented task so flawlessly, would have failed so miserably with a task--asking the military to intercept problematic flights--that they had been carrying out about 100 times a year (140)?23
It would seem, therefore, that the first chapter of The 9/11 Commission Report is one long lie. As I have shown elsewhere, moreover, that is true of the report as a whole.24
Crisis and Challenge
This conclusion has, of course, frightening implications, because it is hard to imagine why the Commission would have engaged in such deceit except to cover up the fact that the attacks of 9/11 were orchestrated by forces within our own government, including our armed forces. And if that is the case, then our country is in even worse shape than already evident through the Downing Street Memos, which revealed that the administration had fixed the intelligence used to justify the war in Iraq. As Burns Weston, a professor of law, has said, we now have "a disparity between official 9/11 'spin' and independently researched 9/11 fact so glaring as to suggest the possibility of a constitutional crisis unlike anything our country has ever known."25
Overcoming this crisis must surely be the main task before us as American citizens today, because it is likely that, unless we can overcome this one, all the related crises--growing militarism and imperialism, growing plutocracy, increasing poverty in our country and around the world, increasing destruction of our planet's ecosystem, and so on--will simply continue to get worse.
The first step in overcoming our constitutional crisis is to have this crisis acknowledged. This is why the 9/11 truth movement is in one respect the most important movement in our country and even in our world today. This movement has accomplished its first task--providing evidence strong enough to convince anyone with an even slightly open mind that the official story is a lie.26 What is now needed is for this fact to be publicly recognized.
The main reason why this fact is not yet publicly recognized is that the mainstream media have thus far failed to deal with this issue. Although they have reported on a few of the falsehoods in the official account, they have thus far failed not only to discuss any of the evidence pointing to official complicity but even to expose any of the obvious problems in The 9/11 Commission Report, such as those mentioned in the present essay. If the Commission has created a new tale about the military's response that contradicts what the military had been saying since September 18, 2001; if the Commission has suppressed Laura Brown's memo and Norman Mineta's testimony; if the Commission has contradicted statements by Richard Clarke, Paul Wolfowitz, Vice President Cheney, and three high-ranking NORAD officials--Captain Michael Jellinek, Colonel Robert Marr, and General Larry Arnold--it seems elementary that our news organizations should report these contradictions. I cannot, at least, imagine how anyone from the mainstream media could support the contention that they should not report such contradictions.
Exposing such contradictions could, of course, lead to exposing evidence that the Bush-Cheney administration had prior knowledge of, and perhaps even orchestrated, the attacks of 9/11, which would mean that the whole post-9/11 "war on terror" has been based on deceit. I cannot imagine how anyone in the media could marshal a principled argument to the effect that, if that is true, the media are not obligated to report the relevant evidence.
Unfortunately, of course, principle is often over-ruled by other considerations. But we can hope that even the corporate owners of the mainstream media now realize that 9/11 has been used to justify policies that have greatly weakened our country and undermined its reputation and credibility in most of the world. And we can hope that they will, on the basis of this realization, put the welfare of our country and our planet ahead of any considerations that would prevent them from allowing the press to carry out its most important task as the Fourth Estate: exposing high crimes in high places.
1David Ray Griffin, The 9/11 Commission Report: Omissions and Distortions (Northampton: Interlink Books, 2005)--henceforth sometimes cited simply as O&D.
2The DVD, prepared by Ken Jenkins, is entitled "Truth and Politics: Unanswered Questions about 9/11." It is available at www.911Visibility.org and from KenJenkins@aol.com. The lecture has been transcribed (with slight modifications) by Ian Woods and published as "Truth and Politics of 9/11: Omissions and Distortions of The 9/11 Commission Report" in Global Outlook), Issue 10 (Spring-Summer 2005), 45-56.
3The 9/11 Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, Authorized Edition (New York: W. W. Norton, 2004).
4Reminder: All parenthetical references in the text are to Griffin, The 9/11 Commission Report: Omissions and Distortions.
5llarion Bykov and Jared Israel, "Guilty for 9-11: Bush, Rumsfeld, Myers, Section 1: Why Were None of the Hijacked Planes Intercepted?" (www.emperors-clothes.com/indict/911page.htm). This essay is listed in the Table of Contents under "Evidence of high-level government conspiracy in the events of 9-11."
6"NORAD's Response Times," September 18, 2001 (available at www.standdown.net/noradseptember182001pressrelease.htm).
7That this alleged phone call took 8 minutes is an inference from the fact that NEADS was supposedly notified about Flight 11 shortly before 8:38 whereas the scramble order was not given until 8:46 (The 9/11 Commission Report, 20).
8 The 9/11 Commission Report (Ch. 1, note 103) cites "Aircraft Piracy (Hijacking) and Destruction of Derelict Airborne Objects," which was issued June 1, 2001. This document in turn cites Directive 3025.15, issued in 1997, which contains the statement quoted in the text. The idea that no standard procedures should prevent immediate responses in emergency situations is also stated in other places in the document of June 1, 2001. Section 4.4, after saying that the secretary of defense retains approval authority for various types of support, concludes by saying: "Nothing in this Directive prevents a commander from exercising his or her immediate emergency response authority as outlined in DoD Directive 3025.1." And Section 4.5 begins with these words: "With the exception of immediate responses under imminently serious conditions, as provided in paragraph 4.7.1., below. . . . " I have discussed this issue at greater length in the Afterword to the second edition of David Ray Griffin, The New Pearl Harbor: Disturbing Questions about the Bush Administration and 9/11 (Northampton: Interlink Books, 2004)---henceforth cited as NPH.
9Tom Flocco, "Rookie in the 9-11 Hot Seat?" tomflocco.com, June 17, 2004 (http://tomflocco.com/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=65). Flocco adds that Laura Brown later e-mailed him to say that that teleconference had not started until about 8:45, but Flocco suspects that her earlier statement, made to him while they were both present at the first hearing of the 9/11 Commission, was closer to the truth than her later statement, which she made "after returning to her office and conferring with superiors." Flocco's belief that the 8:20 time was correct was, he says, reinforced by a source in the Department of Transportation who told him that phone bridges, linking officials from NORAD, the Secret Service, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Transportation, were established at 8:20 (Tom Flocco, "9-11 Probe Continues to Bypass Executive Branch Testimony," tomflocco.com, October 13, 2003 (http://tomflocco.com/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=10). See my discussion in O&D 187.
10This memo is available at www.911truth.org/article.php?story=2004081200421797.
11National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, May 23, 2003 (http://www.911commission.gov/archive/hearing2/9-11Commission_Hearing_2003-05-23.htm).
12Air War over America: Sept. 11 Alters Face of Air Defense Mission (Public Affairs: Tyndall Air Force Base, 2003), by Leslie Filson (Foreword by Larry K. Arnold).
13Still another problem is that earlier, when the Commission was explaining why no fighters were scrambled in time to intercept Flight 11, it said that NEADS had to call General Arnold to get permission. But this time, we are told, NEADS simply issued the order, without calling General Arnold. This undermines the Commission's claim that the call to Arnold was necessary in relation to the earlier flight.
14Quoting Laura Brown, "FAA Communications with NORAD On September 11, 2001" (available at http://www.911truth.org/article.php?story=2004081200421797).
15National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, May 23, 2003 (http://www.911commission.gov/archive/hearing2/9-11Commission_Hearing_2003-05-23.htm).
16The idea that military officials knew about Flight 77 long before the Pentagon was struck is also supported by a New York Times story published four days after 9/11, which began: "During the hour or so that American Airlines Flight 77 was under the control of hijackers, up to the moment it struck the west side of the Pentagon, military officials in a command center on the east side of the building were urgently talking to . . . air traffic control officials about what to do" (Matthew Wald, "After the Attacks: Sky Rules; Pentagon Tracked Deadly Jet but Found No Way to Stop It," New York Times, September 15, 2001).
17Quoting "Statement of Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta before the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, May 23, 2003" (available at www.cooperativeresearch.org/timeline/2003/commissiontestimony052303.htm).
18Page 9 of The 9/11 Commission Report says 9:34. But 9:36 is the time given on pages 27 and 34, and it is the time that allows the Commission to claim that the military "had at most one or two minutes to react to the unidentified plane approaching Washington" (34).
19Still another thing ignored by the report is the US military's prodigious radar systems. The website for one of these systems, called PAVE PAWS, says that it is "capable of detecting and monitoring a great number of targets that would be consistent with a massive SLBM [Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile] attack" ("PAVE PAWS, Watching North America's Skies, 24 Hours a Day" (www.pavepaws.org). The PAVE PAWS system is surely not premised on the assumption that those SLBMs would have transponders. The claim that the military did not know about an aircraft approaching the Pentagon is, accordingly, absurd. After the strikes on the WTC, the US military, if the attacks of 9/11 had genuinely been surprise attacks carried out by foreigners, would have been on the highest state of alert and would not have hesitated to shoot down any unauthorized and unidentified aircraft approaching Washington. And as to the capability to do this, even if for some reason Andrews did not have fighters on alert that morning, the website of the Congressional Budget Office informs us that, in Fred Burks' summary statement, "ICBMs [Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles] travel at speeds up to 6 to 7 kilometers per second (approximately 14,000 miles per hour)" and can hence take down "an ICBM in a matter of minutes" (Burks, "Billions on Star Wars Missile Defense Can't Stop Four Lost Airliners on 9/11" (www.wanttoknow.info/911starwars), citing "Alternatives for Boost-Phase Missile Defense," July 2004 (http://www.cbo.gov/showdoc.cfm?index=5679&sequence=1&from=0).
20The 9/11 Commission Report, 30, 31, 34, 38, 44.
21The Commission's professed inability to discover the identity of the Pentagon participants, along with its neglect of Clarke's account, may have something to do with the fact that it endorsed General Myers' quite different account of his whereabouts, according to which he was up on Capitol Hill at the time. The Commission also endorsed an account of Rumsfeld's movements that is quite different from Clarke's account (O&D 217-19).
22"Statement of Secretary of Transportation Norman Y. Mineta before the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, May 23, 2003."
23The Calgary Herald (Oct. 13, 2001) reported that NORAD scrambled fighters 129 times in 2000; the FAA reported 67 scrambles between September 2000 and June 2001 (FAA News Release, August 9, 2002).
24See The 9/11 Commission Report: Omissions and Distortions and, for a brief summary, "The 9/11 Commission Report: A 571-Page Lie," 9/11 Visibility Project, May 22, 2005 (http://www.septembereleventh.org/newsarchive/2005-05-22-571pglie.php).
25This statement is in Weston's blurb for The 9/11 Commission Report: Omissions and Distortions.
26Overviews of this evidence are provided in my two books. Also, in "The Destruction of the World Trade Center: Why the Official Account Cannot Be True," I have laid out the case against the official story about the collapses of the WTC buildings much more fully than before.
? David Ray Griffin.