From the archive, originally posted by: [ spectre ]



user : re_print / pass : re_print

9/11 Panel Suspected Deception by Pentagon
Allegations Brought to Inspectors General

By Dan Eggen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 2, 2006; Page A03

Some staff members and commissioners of the Sept. 11 panel concluded
that the Pentagon’s initial story of how it reacted to the 2001
terrorist attacks may have been part of a deliberate effort to mislead
the commission and the public rather than a reflection of the fog of
events on that day, according to sources involved in the debate.

Suspicion of wrongdoing ran so deep that the 10-member commission, in a
secret meeting at the end of its tenure in summer 2004, debated
referring the matter to the Justice Department for criminal
investigation, according to several commission sources. Staff members
and some commissioners thought that e-mails and other evidence provided
enough probable cause to believe that military and aviation officials
violated the law by making false statements to Congress and to the
commission, hoping to hide the bungled response to the hijackings,
these sources said.

In the end, the panel agreed to a compromise, turning over the
allegations to the inspectors general for the Defense and
Transportation departments, who can make criminal referrals if they
believe they are warranted, officials said.

“We to this day don’t know why NORAD [the North American Aerospace
Command] told us what they told us,” said Thomas H. Kean, the former
New Jersey Republican governor who led the commission. “It was just so
far from the truth. . . . It’s one of those loose ends that never got

Although the commission’s landmark report made it clear that the
Defense Department’s early versions of events on the day of the attacks
were inaccurate, the revelation that it considered criminal referrals
reveals how skeptically those reports were viewed by the panel and
provides a glimpse of the tension between it and the Bush

A Pentagon spokesman said yesterday that the inspector general’s office
will soon release a report addressing whether testimony delivered to
the commission was “knowingly false.” A separate report, delivered
secretly to Congress in May 2005, blamed inaccuracies in part on
problems with the way the Defense Department kept its records,
according to a summary released yesterday.

A spokesman for the Transportation Department’s inspector general’s
office said its investigation is complete and that a final report is
being drafted. Laura Brown, a spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation
Administration, said she could not comment on the inspector general’s

In an article scheduled to be on newsstands today, Vanity Fair magazine
reports aspects of the commission debate — though it does not mention
the possible criminal referrals — and publishes lengthy excerpts from
military audiotapes recorded on Sept. 11. ABC News aired excerpts last

For more than two years after the attacks, officials with NORAD and the
FAA provided inaccurate information about the response to the
hijackings in testimony and media appearances. Authorities suggested
that U.S. air defenses had reacted quickly, that jets had been
scrambled in response to the last two hijackings and that fighters were
prepared to shoot down United Airlines Flight 93 if it threatened

In fact, the commission reported a year later, audiotapes from NORAD’s
Northeast headquarters and other evidence showed clearly that the
military never had any of the hijacked airliners in its sights and at
one point chased a phantom aircraft — American Airlines Flight 11 —
long after it had crashed into the World Trade Center.

Maj. Gen. Larry Arnold and Col. Alan Scott told the commission that
NORAD had begun tracking United 93 at 9:16 a.m., but the commission
determined that the airliner was not hijacked until 12 minutes later.
The military was not aware of the flight until after it had crashed in

These and other discrepancies did not become clear until the
commission, forced to use subpoenas, obtained audiotapes from the FAA
and NORAD, officials said. The agencies’ reluctance to release the
tapes — along with e-mails, erroneous public statements and other
evidence — led some of the panel’s staff members and commissioners to
believe that authorities sought to mislead the commission and the
public about what happened on Sept. 11.

“I was shocked at how different the truth was from the way it was
described,” John Farmer, a former New Jersey attorney general who led
the staff inquiry into events on Sept. 11, said in a recent interview.
“The tapes told a radically different story from what had been told to
us and the public for two years. . . . This is not spin. This is not

Arnold, who could not be reached for comment yesterday, told the
commission in 2004 that he did not have all the information unearthed
by the panel when he testified earlier. Other military officials also
denied any intent to mislead the panel.

John F. Lehman, a Republican commission member and former Navy
secretary, said in a recent interview that he believed the panel may
have been lied to but that he did not believe the evidence was
sufficient to support a criminal referral.

“My view of that was that whether it was willful or just the fog of
stupid bureaucracy, I don’t know,” Lehman said. “But in the order of
magnitude of things, going after bureaucrats because they misled the
commission didn’t seem to make sense to me.”




How did the U.S. Air Force respond on 9/11? Could it have shot down
United 93, as conspiracy theorists claim? Obtaining 30 hours of
never-before-released tapes from the control room of NORAD’s Northeast
headquarters, the author reconstructs the chaotic military history of
that day-and the Pentagon’s apparent attempt to cover it up.
exclusive: Hear excerpts from the September 11 NORAD tapes. Click PLAY
after each transcript to listen


Tucked in a piney notch in the gentle folds of the Adirondacks’
southern skirts-just up from a derelict Mohawk, Adirondack & Northern
rail spur-is a 22-year-old aluminum bunker tricked out with antennae
tilted skyward. It could pass for the Jetsons’ garage or, in the
estimation of one of the higher-ranking U.S. Air Force officers
stationed there, a big, sideways, half-buried beer keg.

As Major Kevin Nasypany, the facility’s mission-crew commander, drove
up the hill to work on the morning of 9/11, he was dressed in his
flight suit and prepared for battle. Not a real one. The Northeast Air
Defense Sector (NEADS), where Nasypany had been stationed since 1994,
is the regional headquarters for the North American Aerospace Defense
Command (NORAD), the Cold War-era military organization charged with
protecting North American airspace. As he poured his first coffee on
that sunny September morning, the odds that he would have to defend
against Russian “Bear Bombers,” one of NORAD’s traditional simulated
missions, were slim. Rather, Nasypany (pronounced Nah-sip-a-nee), an
amiable commander with a thick mini-mustache and a hockey player’s
build, was headed in early to get ready for the NORAD-wide training
exercise he’d helped design. The battle commander, Colonel Bob Marr,
had promised to bring in fritters.

NEADS is a desolate place, the sole orphan left behind after the
dismantling of what was once one of the country’s busiest bomber
bases-Griffiss Air Force Base, in Rome, New York, which was otherwise
mothballed in the mid-90s. NEADS’s mission remained in place and
continues today: its officers, air-traffic controllers, and
air-surveillance and communications technicians-mostly American, with
a handful of Canadian troops-are responsible for protecting a
half-million-square-mile chunk of American airspace stretching from the
East Coast to Tennessee, up through the Dakotas to the Canadian border,
including Boston, New York, Washington, D.C., and Chicago.

It was into this airspace that violence descended on 9/11, and from the
NEADS operations floor that what turned out to be the sum total of
America’s military response during those critical 100-some minutes of
the attack-scrambling four armed fighter jets and one unarmed
training plane-emanated.

The story of what happened in that room, and when, has never been fully
told, but is arguably more important in terms of understanding
America’s military capabilities that day than anything happening
simultaneously on Air Force One or in the Pentagon, the White House, or
NORAD’s impregnable headquarters, deep within Cheyenne Mountain, in
Colorado. It’s a story that was intentionally obscured, some members of
the 9/11 commission believe, by military higher-ups and members of the
Bush administration who spoke to the press, and later the commission
itself, in order to downplay the extent of the confusion and
miscommunication flying through the ranks of the government.

The truth, however, is all on tape.

Through the heat of the attack the wheels of what were, perhaps, some
of the more modern pieces of equipment in the room-four Dictaphone
multi-channel reel-to-reel tape recorders mounted on a rack in a corner
of the operations floor-spun impassively, recording every radio
channel, with time stamps.

The recordings are fascinating and chilling. A mix of staccato bursts
of military code; urgent, overlapping voices; the tense crackle of
radio traffic from fighter pilots in the air; commanders’ orders
piercing through a mounting din; and candid moments of emotion as the
breadth of the attacks becomes clearer.

For the NEADS crew, 9/11 was not a story of four hijacked airplanes,
but one of a heated chase after more than a dozen potential
hijackings-some real, some phantom-that emerged from the turbulence
of misinformation that spiked in the first 100 minutes of the attack
and continued well into the afternoon and evening. At one point, in the
span of a single mad minute, one hears Nasypany struggling to parse
reports of four separate hijackings at once. What emerges from the
barrage of what Nasypany dubs “bad poop” flying at his troops from all
directions is a picture of remarkable composure. Snap decisions more
often than not turn out to be the right ones as commanders kick-start
the dormant military machine. It is the fog and friction of war
live-the authentic military history of 9/11.

“The real story is actually better than the one we told,” a NORAD
general admitted to 9/11-commission staffers when confronted with
evidence from the tapes that contradicted his original testimony. And
so it seems.

Subpoenaed by the commission during its investigation, the recordings
have never been played publicly beyond a handful of sound bites
presented during the commission’s hearings. Last September, as part of
my research for the film United 93, on which I was an associate
producer, I requested copies from the Pentagon. I was played snippets,
but told my chances of hearing the full recordings were nonexistent. So
it was a surprise, to say the least, when a military public-affairs
officer e-mailed me, a full seven months later, saying she’d been
cleared, finally, to provide them.

“The signing of the Declaration of Independence took less
coordination,” she wrote.

I would ultimately get three CDs with huge digital “wav file”
recordings of the various channels in each section of the operations
floor, 30-some hours of material in full, covering six and a half hours
of real time. The first disc, which arrived by mail, was decorated with
blue sky and fluffy white clouds and was labeled, in the playful Apple
Chancery font, “Northeast Air Defense Sector-DAT Audio Files-11 Sep

“This is not an exercise”t 8:14 a.m., as an Egyptian and four Saudis
commandeered the cockpit on American 11, the plane that would hit the
north tower of the World Trade Center, only a handful of troops were on
the NEADS “ops” floor. That’s the facility’s war room: a dimly lit den
arrayed with long rows of radarscopes and communications equipment
facing a series of 15-foot screens lining the front wall. The rest of
the crew, about 30 Americans and five or six Canadians, were checking
e-mails or milling around the hall. A briefing on the morning’s
training exercise was wrapping up in the Battle Cab, the glassed-in
command area overlooking the ops floor.

On the Dictaphone decks, an automated voice on each channel ticked off,
in Greenwich Mean Time, the last few moments of life in pre-9/11
America: “12 hours, 26 minutes, 20 seconds”-just before 8:30 a.m.
eastern daylight time.

The first human voices captured on tape that morning are those of the
“ID techs”-Senior Airman Stacia Rountree, 23 at the time, Tech
Sergeant Shelley Watson, 40, and their boss, Master Sergeant Maureen
“Mo” Dooley, 40. They are stationed in the back right corner of the ops
floor at a console with several phones and a radarscope. Their job in a
crisis is to facilitate communications between NEADS, the civilian
F.A.A., and other military commands, gathering whatever information
they can and sending it up the chain. Dooley-her personality at once
motherly and aggressive-generally stands behind the other two, who
are seated.

The tapes catch them discussing strategy of an entirely domestic order:

08:37:08O.K., a couch, an ottoman, a love seat, and what else … ? Was
it on sale … ? Holy smokes! What color is it?

In the background, however, you can make out the sound of Jeremy
Powell, then 31, a burly, amiable technical sergeant, fielding the
phone call that will be the military’s first notification that
something is wrong. On the line is Boston Center, the civilian
air-traffic-control facility that handles that region’s high-flying

08:37:52BOSTON CENTER: Hi. Boston Center T.M.U. [Traffic Management
Unit], we have a problem here. We have a hijacked aircraft headed
towards New York, and we need you guys to, we need someone to scramble
some F-16s or something up there, help us out.POWELL: Is this
real-world or exercise?BOSTON CENTER: No, this is not an exercise, not
a test.PLAY | STOP

Powell’s question-“Is this real-world or exercise?”-is heard nearly
verbatim over and over on the tapes as troops funnel onto the ops floor
and are briefed about the hijacking. Powell, like almost everyone in
the room, first assumes the phone call is from the simulations team on
hand to send “inputs”-simulated scenarios-into play for the day’s
training exercise.

Boston’s request for fighter jets is not as prescient as it might seem.
Standard hijack protocol calls for fighters to be
launched-“scrambled”-merely to establish a presence in the air. The
pilots are trained to trail the hijacked plane at a distance of about
five miles, out of sight, following it until, presumably, it lands. If
necessary, they can show themselves, flying up close to establish
visual contact, and, if the situation demands, maneuver to force the
plane to land.

At this point, certainly, the notion of actually firing anything at a
passenger jet hasn’t crossed anyone’s mind.

In the ID section, the women overhear the word “hijack” and react,
innocently enough, as anyone might with news of something exciting
going on at work:

8:37:56WATSON: What?DOOLEY: Whoa!WATSON: What was that?ROUNTREE: Is
that real-world?DOOLEY: Real-world hijack.WATSON: Cool!PLAY | STOP

For the first time in their careers, they’ll get to put their training
to full use.

Almost simultaneously, a P.A. announcement goes out for Major Nasypany,
who’s taking his morning constitutional.

08:37:58P.A.: Major Nasypany, you’re needed in ops pronto. P.A.: Major
Nasypany, you’re needed in ops pronto.[Recorded phone line:]SERGEANT
MCCAIN: Northeast Air Defense Sector, Sergeant McCain, can I help
you?SERGEANT KELLY: Yeah, Sergeant Kelly from Otis, how you doing
today?SERGEANT MCCAIN: Yeah, go ahead.SERGEANT KELLY: The-I’m gettin’
reports from my TRACON [local civilian air traffic] that there might be
a possible hijacking.SERGEANT MCCAIN: I was just hearing the same
thing. We’re workin’ it right now.SERGEANT KELLY: O.K., thanks.PLAY |

“When they told me there was a hijack, my first reaction was ‘Somebody
started the exercise early,'” Nasypany later told me. The day’s
exercise was designed to run a range of scenarios, including a
“traditional” simulated hijack in which politically motivated
perpetrators commandeer an aircraft, land on a Cuba-like island, and
seek asylum. “I actually said out loud, ‘The hijack’s not supposed to
be for another hour,'” Nasypany recalled. (The fact that there was an
exercise planned for the same day as the attack factors into several
conspiracy theories, though the 9/11 commission dismisses this as
coincidence. After plodding through dozens of hours of recordings, so
do I.)

n tape, one hears as Nasypany, following standard hijack protocol,
prepares to launch two fighters from Otis Air National Guard Base, on
Cape Cod, to look for American 11, which is now off course and headed
south. He orders his Weapons Team-the group on the ops floor that
controls the fighters-to put the Otis planes on “battle stations.”
This means that at the air base the designated “alert” pilots-two in
this case-are jolted into action by a piercing “battle horn.” They
run to their jets, climb up, strap in, and do everything they need to
do to get ready to fly short of starting the engines.

Meanwhile, the communications team at NEADS-the ID techs Dooley,
Rountree, and Watson-are trying to find out, as fast as possible,
everything they can about the hijacked plane: the airline, the flight
number, the tail number (to help fighter pilots identify it in the
air), its flight plan, the number of passengers (“souls on board” in
military parlance), and, most important, where it is, so Nasypany can
launch the fighters. All the ID section knows is that the plane is
American Airlines, Flight No. 11, Boston to Los Angeles, currently
somewhere north of John F. Kennedy International Airport-the point of
reference used by civilian controllers.

ID tech Watson places a call to the management desk at Boston Center,
which first alerted NEADS to the hijack, and gets distressing news.

08:39:58WATSON: It’s the inbound to J.F.K.?BOSTON CENTER: We-we don’t
know.WATSON: You don’t know where he is at all?BOSTON CENTER: He’s
being hijacked. The pilot’s having a hard time talking to the-I mean,
we don’t know. We don’t know where he’s goin’. He’s heading towards
Kennedy. He’s-like I said, he’s like 35 miles north of Kennedy now at
367 knots. We have no idea where he’s goin’ or what his intentions
are.WATSON: If you could please give us a call and let us know-you
know any information, that’d be great.BOSTON CENTER: Okay. Right now, I
guess we’re trying to work on-I guess there’s been some threats in
the cockpit. The pilot-WATSON: There’s been what?! I’m
sorry.UNIDENTIFIED VOICE: Threat to the … ?BOSTON CENTER: We’ll call
you right back as soon as we know more info.

Dooley is standing over Watson, shouting whatever pertinent information
she hears to Nasypany, who’s now in position in the center of the

08:40:36DOOLEY: O.K., he said threat to the cockpit!PLAY | STOP

This last bit ratchets the tension in the room up considerably.

At Otis Air National Guard Base, the pilots are in their jets,
straining at the reins. (“When the horn goes off, it definitely gets
your heart,” F-15 pilot Major Dan Nash later told me, thumping his
chest with his hand.) But at NEADS, Nasypany’s “tracker techs” in the
Surveillance section still can’t find American 11 on their scopes. As
it turns out, this is just as the hijackers intended.

Radar is the NEADS controllers’ most vital piece of equipment, but by
9/11 the scopes were so old, among other factors, that controllers were
ultimately unable to find any of the hijacked planes in enough time to
react. Known collectively as the Green Eye for the glow the radar rings
give off, the scopes looked like something out of Dr. Strangelove and
were strikingly anachronistic compared with the equipment at civilian
air-traffic sites. (After 9/11, NEADS was equipped with
state-of-the-art equipment.)

In order to find a hijacked airliner-or any airplane-military
controllers need either the plane’s beacon code (broadcast from an
electronic transponder on board) or the plane’s exact coordinates. When
the hijackers on American 11 turned the beacon off, intentionally
losing themselves in the dense sea of airplanes already flying over the
U.S. that morning (a tactic that would be repeated, with some
variations, on all the hijacked flights), the NEADS controllers were at
a loss.

“You would see thousands of green blips on your scope,” Nasypany told
me, “and now you have to pick and choose. Which is the bad guy out
there? Which is the hijacked aircraft? And without that information
from F.A.A., it’s a needle in a haystack.”

At this point in the morning, more than 3,000 jetliners are already in
the air over the continental United States, and the Boston controller’s
direction-“35 miles north of Kennedy”-doesn’t help the NEADS
controllers at all.

On tape, amid the confusion, one hears Major James Fox, then 32, the
leader of the Weapons Team, whose composure will stand out throughout
the attack, make an observation that, so far, ranks as the
understatement of the morning.

08:43:06FOX: I’ve never seen so much real-world stuff happen during an
exercise.PLAY | STOP

Less than two minutes later, frustrated that the controllers still
can’t pinpoint American 11 on radar, Nasypany orders Fox to launch the
Otis fighters anyway.

08:44:59FOX: M.C.C. [Mission Crew Commander], I don’t know where I’m
scrambling these guys to. I need a direction, a destination-NASYPANY:
O.K., I’m gonna give you the Z point [coordinate]. It’s just north
of-New York City.FOX: I got this lat long, 41-15, 74-36, or
73-46.NASYPANY: Head ’em in that direction.FOX: Copy that.PLAY | STOP

Having them up, Nasypany figures, is better than having them on the
ground, assuming NEADS will ultimately pin down American 11’s position.
His job is to be proactive-to try to gain leverage over the situation
as fast as possible. His backstop is Colonel Marr, the battle commander
and Nasypany’s superior up in the Battle Cab, whose role is more
strategic, calculating the implications of each move several hours down
the line.

Marr, 48 at the time (and since retired), is a well-liked leader. Most
of his conversations on 9/11 are unrecorded: he speaks over a secure
phone with his superior, Major General Larry Arnold, stationed at
NORAD’s command center at Tyndall Air Force Base, in Florida, or over
an intercom with Nasypany. In the latter case, only Nasypany’s side of
the conversations is recorded.

In the last lines of his first briefing to Marr, Nasypany unwittingly,
in his last line, trumps Fox in the realm of understatement.

08:46:36NASYPANY: Hi, sir. O.K., what-what we’re doing, we’re tryin’
to locate this guy. We can’t find him via I.F.F. [the Identification
Friend or Foe system]. What we’re gonna do, we’re gonna hit up every
track within a 25-mile radius of this Z-point [coordinate] that we put
on the scope. Twenty-nine thousand [feet] heading 1-9-0 [east]. We’re
just gonna do-we’re gonna try to find this guy. They can’t find him.
There’s supposedly been threats to the cockpit. So we’re just doing the
thing … [off-mic conversation] True. And probably right now with
what’s going on in the cockpit it’s probably really crazy. So, it
probably needs to-that will simmer down and we’ll probably get some
better information.PLAY | STOP

American 11 slammed into the north tower of the World Trade Center four
seconds into this transmission.

ore than 150 miles from Manhattan, within the same minute as American
11 hits the tower, the stoplight in the Alert Barn at Otis Air National
Guard Base on Cape Cod turns from red to green, Colonel Marr and
General Arnold having approved Nasypany’s order to scramble the
fighters. The pilots taxi out and fire the afterburners as the planes
swing onto the runway. NEADS has no indication yet that American 11 has

Five minutes later, Rountree, at the ID station, gets the first report
of the crash from Boston Center (as her colleagues Watson and Dooley

08:51:11ROUNTREE: A plane just hit the World Trade Center.WATSON:
What?ROUNTREE: Was it a 737?UNIDENTIFIED MALE (background): Hit
what?WATSON: The World Trade Center-DOOLEY: Who are you talking to?
[Gasps.]WATSON: Oh!DOOLEY: Get-pass-pass it to them-WATSON: Oh my
God. Oh God. Oh my God.ROUNTREE: Saw it on the news. It’s-a plane
just crashed into the World Trade Center.DOOLEY: Update New York! See
if they lost altitude on that plane altogether.

Watson places a call to civilian controllers at New York Center.

WATSON: Yes, ma’am. Did you just hear the information regarding the
World Trade Center?NEW YORK CENTER: No.WATSON: Being hit by an
aircraft?NEW YORK CENTER: I’m sorry?!WATSON: Being hit by an
aircraft.NEW YORK CENTER: You’re kidding.WATSON: It’s on the world
news.PLAY | STOP

In light of this news, someone asks Nasypany what to do with the
fighters-the two F-15s from Otis Air National Guard Base-which have
now just blasted off for New York at full afterburner to find American
11. (The flying time at full speed from Cape Cod to New York is about
10 minutes.) Pumped with adrenaline, Nasypany doesn’t miss a beat.

08:52:40NASYPANY: Send ’em to New York City still. Continue!
Go!NASYPANY: This is what I got. Possible news that a 737 just hit the
World Trade Center. This is a real-world. And we’re trying to confirm
this. Okay. Continue taking the fighters down to the New York City
area, J.F.K. area, if you can. Make sure that the F.A.A. clears it-
your route all the way through. Do what we gotta do, okay? Let’s press
with this. It looks like this guy could have hit the World Trade
Center.PLAY | STOP

“I’m not gonna stop what I initially started with scrambling
Otis-getting Otis over New York City,” Nasypany recalled when I
played him this section of his tape. “If this is a false report, I
still have my fighters where I want them to be.”

Meanwhile, confusion is building on the ops floor over whether the
plane that hit the tower really was American 11. Rumors that it was a
small Cessna have started to circulate through the civilian air-traffic
system. ID tech Rountree is on the phone with Boston Center’s military
liaison, Colin Scoggins, a civilian manager, who at first seems to
confirm that it was American 11 that went into the tower.

08:55:18BOSTON CENTER (Scoggins): Yeah, he crashed into the World Trade
Center.ROUNTREE: That is the aircraft that crashed into the World Trade
Center?BOSTON CENTER (Scoggins): Yup. Disregard the-disregard the
tail number [given earlier for American 11].ROUNTREE: Disregard the
tail number? He did crash into the World Trade Center?BOSTON CENTER
(Scoggins): That’s-that’s what we believe, yes.PLAY | STOP

But an unidentified male trooper at NEADS overhears the exchange and
raises a red flag.

08:56:31MALE NEADS TECH: I never heard them say American Airlines
Flight 11 hit the World Trade Center. I heard it was a civilian

Dooley, the ID desk’s master sergeant, takes the phone from Rountree to
confirm for herself, and the story veers off course …

DOOLEY (to Boston): Master Sergeant Dooley here. We need to have-are
you giving confirmation that American 11 was the one-BOSTON CENTER
(Scoggins): No, we’re not gonna confirm that at this time. We just know
an aircraft crashed in and …DOOLEY: You-are you-can you say-is
anyone up there tracking primary on this guy still?BOSTON CENTER
(Scoggins): No. The last [radar sighting] we have was about 15 miles
east of J.F.K., or eight miles east of J.F.K. was our last primary hit.
He did slow down in speed. The primary that we had, it slowed down
below-around to 300 knots.DOOLEY: And then you lost ’em?BOSTON CENTER
(Scoggins): Yeah, and then we lost ’em.PLAY | STOP

The problem, Scoggins told me later, was that American Airlines refused
to confirm for several hours that its plane had hit the tower. This
lack of confirmation caused uncertainty that would be compounded in a
very big way as the attack continued. (Though airlines have their own
means of monitoring the location of their planes and communicating with
their pilots, they routinely go into information lockdown in a crisis.)

Amid the chaos, Nasypany notices that some of his people are beginning
to panic, so he makes a joke to relieve the tension.

08:57:11NASYPANY: Think we put the exercise on the hold. What do you
think? [Laughter.]

Just at that moment, in one of the dark, U-shaped air-traffic-control
areas at New York Center, on Long Island, a half-dozen civilian
controllers are watching a second plane that’s turned off course:
United 175, also scheduled from Boston to Los Angeles. As the
controllers try to hail the pilots, a manager comes running in and
confirms that the plane that hit the first tower was, indeed, a
commercial airliner, rather than a small Cessna. It’s just at that
moment that United 175, 38 minutes into its flight and now near
Allentown, Pennsylvania, moving southwest farther and farther off
course, makes a sudden swing northeast toward Manhattan.
Suddenly-instinctively-the civilian controllers know: it’s another
hijacking, and it’s not going to land.

The controllers start speculating what the hijacker is aiming at-one
guesses the Statue of Liberty-and the room erupts in profanity and
horror. One controller is looking at his scope, calling out the rate of
descent every 12 seconds as he watches the radar refresh. It is not
until the last second, literally, that anyone from New York Center
thinks to update NEADS. ID tech Rountree fields the call.

09:03:17ROUNTREE: They have a second possible hijack!PLAY | STOP

Almost simultaneously, United 175 slams into the south tower of the
World Trade Center, something several NEADS personnel witness live on
CNN, including Colonel Marr, the commanding officer. (Dooley told me
she remembers looking up toward the Battle Cab and, for a long moment,
seeing Marr’s jaw drop and everyone around him frozen.)

On the ops floor, there is considerable confusion as to whether the
second hijacking New York Center just called in is the same plane that
hit the second tower, or whether there are now three missing planes.

09:03:52NASYPANY (to Marr): Sir, we got-we’ve got unconfirmed second
hit from another aircraft. Fighters are south of-just south of Long
Island, sir. Right now. Fighters are south of Long Island.

There’s seemingly enough commotion in the Battle Cab that Nasypany
needs to clarify: “Our fighters … ” The two F-15s, scrambled from
Otis, are now approaching the city.

In the background, several troops can be heard trying to make sense of
what’s happening.

09:04:50-Is this explosion part of that that we’re lookin’ at now on
TV?-Yes.-Jesus …-And there’s a possible second hijack also-a
United Airlines …-Two planes?…-Get the fuck out …-I think
this is a damn input, to be honest.PLAY | STOP

The last line-“I think this is a damn input”-is a reference to the
exercise, meaning a simulations input. It’s either gallows humor or
wishful thinking. From the tape, it’s hard to tell.

“We’ve already had two. Why not more?”eanwhile, flying southwest over
the ocean, the two fighters from Otis Air National Guard Base are
streaking toward Manhattan. The pilots are startled, to say the least,
when they see billowing smoke appear on the horizon; no one’s briefed
them about what’s going on. They were scrambled simply to intercept and
escort American 11-a possible hijacking-and that is all they know.

“From 100 miles away at least, we could see the fire and the smoke
blowing,” Major Dan Nash, one of the F-15 pilots, told me. “Obviously,
anybody watching CNN had a better idea of what was going on. We were
not told anything. It was to the point where we were flying supersonic
towards New York and the controller came on and said, ‘A second
airplane has hit the World Trade Center.’ … My first thought was
‘What happened to American 11?'”

With both towers now in flames, Nasypany wants the fighters over
Manhattan immediately, but the weapons techs get “pushback” from
civilian F.A.A. controllers, who have final authority over the fighters
as long as they are in civilian airspace. The F.A.A. controllers are
afraid of fast-moving fighters colliding with a passenger plane, of
which there are hundreds in the area, still flying normal routes-the
morning’s unprecedented order to ground all civilian aircraft has not
yet been given. To Nasypany, the fact that so many planes are still in
the sky is all the more reason to get the fighters close. (“We’ve
already had two,” he told me, referring to the hijackings. “Why not

The fighters are initially directed to a holding area just off the
coast, near Long Island.

asypany isn’t happy, and he makes sure that’s duly noted for posterity
as he calls out to Major Fox, the leader of the Weapons Team.

09:07:20NASYPANY: Okay, Foxy. Plug in. I want to make sure this is on
tape…. This is what-this is what I foresee that we probably need to
do. We need to talk to F.A.A. We need to tell ’em if this stuff’s gonna
keep on going, we need to take those fighters on and then put ’em over
Manhattan, O.K.? That’s the best thing. That’s the best play right now.
So, coordinate with the F.A.A. Tell ’em if there’s more out there,
which we don’t know, let’s get ’em over Manhattan. At least we got some
kinda play.PLAY | STOP

He tells the Battle Cab he wants Fox to launch two more fighters from
Langley Air Force Base, in Virginia, to establish a greater presence
over New York, but the request is refused. The order from the Battle
Cab is to put the Langley jets on battle stations only-to be ready,
but not to launch.

“The problem there would have been I’d have all my fighters in the air
at the same time, which means they’d all run out of gas at the same
time,” Marr later explained.

Incredibly, Marr has only four armed fighters at his disposal to defend
about a quarter of the continental United States. Massive cutbacks at
the close of the Cold War reduced NORAD’s arsenal of fighters from some
60 battle-ready jets to just 14 across the entire country. (Under
different commands, the military generally maintains several hundred
unarmed fighter jets for training in the continental U.S.) Only four of
NORAD’s planes belong to NEADS and are thus anywhere close to
Manhattan-the two from Otis, now circling above the ocean off Long
Island, and the two in Virginia at Langley.

Nasypany starts walking up and down the floor, asking all his section
heads and weapons techs if they are prepared to shoot down a civilian
airliner if need be, but he’s jumping the gun: he doesn’t have the
authority to order a shootdown, nor does Marr or Arnold, or Vice
President Cheney, for that matter. The order will need to come from
President Bush, who has only just learned of the attack at a photo op
in Florida.

On the ops floor, you hear Nasypany firmly pressing the issue. He
briefs Marr on the armaments on board the F-15s, and how he sees best
to use them “if need be”:

9:19:44NASYPANY: My recommendation, if we have to take anybody out,
large aircraft, we use AIM-9s in the face…. If need be.PLAY | STOP

If there’s another hijacking and the jets can engage, Nasypany is
telling Marr, a missile fired into the nose of the plane will have the
greatest chance of bringing it down.

But the prospect soon becomes real. Mo Dooley’s voice erupts from the
ID station on the operations floor.

9:21:37DOOLEY: Another hijack! It’s headed towards Washington!NASYPANY:
Shit! Give me a location.UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Okay. Third
aircraft-hijacked-heading toward Washington.PLAY | STOP

This report, received from Colin Scoggins at Boston Center, will set
off a major escalation in the military response to the attack,
resulting in the launch of additional armed fighter jets. But 20 months
later, when the military presents to the 9/11 commission what is
supposed to be a full accounting of the day, omitted from the official
time line is any mention of this reported hijacking and the fevered
chase it engenders.

t was the Friday before Memorial Day weekend, 2003, and the hearing
room in the Hart Senate Office Building, in Washington, was half empty
as the group of mostly retired military brass arranged themselves at
the witness table before the 9/11 commission. The story the NORAD
officers had come to tell before the commission was a relatively
humbling one, a point underscored by the questions commission chairman
Thomas Kean introduced during his opening remarks: How did the
hijackers defeat the system, and why couldn’t we stop them? These were
important questions. Nearly two years after the attack, the Internet
was rife with questions and conspiracy theories about 9/11-in
particular, where were the fighters? Could they have physically gotten
to any of the hijacked planes? And did they shoot down the final
flight, United 93, which ended up in a Pennsylvania field?

On hand, dressed in business suits (with the exception of Major General
Craig McKinley, whose two stars twinkled on either epaulet), were Major
General Larry Arnold (retired), who had been on the other end of the
secure line with NEADS’s Colonel Marr throughout the attack, and
Colonel Alan Scott (retired), who had been with Arnold at NORAD’s
continental command in Florida on 9/11 and who worked closely with Marr
in preparing the military’s time line. None of the military men were
placed under oath.

Their story, in a nutshell, was one of being caught off guard
initially, then very quickly ramping up to battle status-in position,
and in possession of enough situational awareness to defend the
country, and the capital in particular, before United 93, the fourth
hijacked plane, would have reached Washington.

Major General Arnold explained to the commission that the military had
been tracking United 93 and the fighters were in position if United 93
had threatened Washington. “It was our intent to intercept United
Flight 93,” Arnold testified. “I was personally anxious to see what 93
was going to do, and our intent was to intercept it.”

Colonel Marr, the commanding officer at NEADS on 9/11, had made similar
comments to ABC News for its one-year-anniversary special on the
attacks, saying that the pilots had been warned they might have to
intercept United 93, and stop it if necessary: “And we of course passed
that on to the pilots: United Airlines Flight 93 will not be allowed to
reach Washington, D.C.”

hen I interviewed him recently, Marr recalled a conversation he had had
with Arnold in the heat of the attack. “I remember the words out of
General Arnold’s mouth, or at least as I remember them, were ‘We will
take lives in the air to save lives on the ground.'” In actuality,
they’d never get that chance.

In the chronology presented to the 9/11 commission, Colonel Scott put
the time NORAD was first notified about United 93 at 9:16 a.m., from
which time, he said, commanders tracked the flight closely. (It crashed
at 10:03 a.m.) If it had indeed been necessary to “take lives in the
air” with United 93, or any incoming flight to Washington, the two
armed fighters from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia would have been
the ones called upon to carry out the shootdown. In Colonel Scott’s
account, those jets were given the order to launch at 9:24, within
seconds of NEADS’s receiving the F.A.A.’s report of the possible
hijacking of American 77, the plane that would ultimately hit the
Pentagon. This time line suggests the system was starting to work: the
F.A.A. reports a hijacking, and the military reacts instantaneously.
Launching after the report of American 77 would, in theory, have put
the fighters in the air and in position over Washington in plenty of
time to react to United 93.

In testimony a few minutes later, however, General Arnold added an
unexpected twist: “We launched the aircraft out of Langley to put them
over top of Washington, D.C., not in response to American Airlines 77,
but really to put them in position in case United 93 were to head that

How strange, John Azzarello, a former prosecutor and one of the
commission’s staff members, thought. “I remember being at the hearing
in ’03 and wondering why they didn’t seem to have their stories
straight. That struck me as odd.”

The ears of another staff member, Miles Kara, perked up as well. “I
said to myself, That’s not right,” the retired colonel, a former army
intelligence officer, told me. Kara had seen the radar re-creations of
the fighters’ routes. “We knew something was odd, but we didn’t have
enough specificity to know how odd.”

As the tapes reveal in stark detail, parts of Scott’s and Arnold’s
testimony were misleading, and others simply false. At 9:16 a.m., when
Arnold and Marr had supposedly begun their tracking of United 93, the
plane had not yet been hijacked. In fact, NEADS wouldn’t get word about
United 93 for another 51 minutes. And while NORAD commanders did,
indeed, order the Langley fighters to scramble at 9:24, as Scott and
Arnold testified, it was not in response to the hijacking of American
77 or United 93. Rather, they were chasing a ghost. NEADS was entering
the most chaotic period of the morning.

“Chase this guy down”t 9:21 a.m., just before Dooley’s alert about a
third hijacked plane headed for Washington, NEADS is in the eye of the
storm-a period of relative calm in which, for the moment, there are
no reports of additional hijackings.

The call that sets off the latest alarm (“Another hijack! It’s headed
towards Washington!”) comes from Boston and is wholly confounding:
according to Scoggins, the Boston manager, American 11, the plane they
believed was the first one to hit the World Trade Center, is actually
still flying-still hijacked-and now heading straight for D.C.
Whatever hit the first tower, it wasn’t American 11.

The chase is on for what will turn out to be a phantom plane.

9:21:50NASYPANY: O.K. American Airlines is still airborne-11, the
first guy. He’s heading towards Washington. O.K., I think we need to
scramble Langley right now. And I’m-I’m gonna take the fighters from
Otis and try to chase this guy down if I can find him.PLAY | STOP

Arnold and Marr approve scrambling the two planes at Langley, along
with a third unarmed trainer, and Nasypany sets the launch in motion.

It’s a mistake, of course. American 11 was, indeed, the plane that hit
the first tower. The confusion will persist for hours, however. In
Boston, it is Colin Scoggins who has made the mistaken call.

“When we phoned United [after the second tower was hit], they confirmed
that United 175 was down, and I think they confirmed that within two or
three minutes,” Scoggins, the go-to guy at Boston Center for all things
military, later told me. “With American Airlines, we could never
confirm if it was down or not, so that left doubt in our minds.”

An unwieldy conference call between F.A.A. centers had been
established, and Scoggins was monitoring it when the word came
across-from whom or where isn’t clear-that American 11 was thought
to be headed for Washington. Scoggins told me he thinks that the
problem started with someone overheard trying to confirm from American
whether American 11 was down-that somewhere in the flurry of
information zipping back and forth during the conference call this
transmogrified into the idea that a different plane had hit the tower,
and that American 11 was still hijacked and still in the air. The
plane’s course, had it continued south past New York in the direction
it was flying before it dipped below radar coverage, would have had it
headed on a straight course toward D.C. This was all controllers were
going on; they were never tracking an actual plane on the radar after
losing American 11 near Manhattan, but if it had been flying low
enough, the plane could have gone undetected. “After talking to a
supervisor, I made the call and said [American 11] is still in the air,
and it’s probably somewhere over New Jersey or Delaware heading for
Washington, D.C.,” Scoggins told me.

ver the next quarter-hour, the fact that the fighters have been
launched in response to the phantom American 11-rather than American
77 or United 93-is referred to six more times on Nasypany’s channel
alone. How could Colonel Scott and General Arnold have missed it in
preparing for their 9/11-commission testimony? It’s a question Arnold
would have to answer later, under oath.

In the middle of the attack, however, the hijackers’ sabotaging of the
planes’ beacons has thrown such a wrench into efforts to track them
that it all seems plausible.

9:23:15ANDERSON: They’re probably not squawking anything [broadcasting
a beacon code] anyway. I mean, obviously these guys are in the
cockpit.NASYPANY: These guys are smart.UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yeah, they
knew exactly what they wanted to do.PLAY | STOP

Another officer asks Nasypany the obvious question.

9:32:20MAJOR JAMES ANDERSON: Have you asked-have you asked the
question what you’re gonna do if we actually find this guy? Are we
gonna shoot him down if they got passengers on board? Have they talked
about that?PLAY | STOP

Approval for any such order would have to come from the commander in
chief. Just after 9:30, however, the president was in his motorcade
preparing to leave the Emma Booker Elementary School, in Sarasota, for
the airport and the safety of Air Force One. The 9/11 commission
determined that the president had not been aware of any further
possible hijackings and was not yet in touch with the Pentagon.

But a clear shootdown order wouldn’t have made a difference. The
Langley fighters were headed the wrong way-due east, straight out to
sea into a military-training airspace called Whiskey 386, rather than
toward Washington, which NEADS believed was under attack. According to
the 9/11 commission, the Langley pilots were never briefed by anyone at
their base about why they were being scrambled, so, despite having been
given the order from NEADS to fly to Washington, the pilots ended up
following their normal training flight plan out to sea-a flight plan
dating from the Cold War. As one pilot later told the commission, “I
reverted to the Russian threat-I’m thinking cruise-missile threat
from the sea.”

At NEADS, a 28-year-old staff sergeant named William Huckabone, staring
at his Green Eye, is the first to notice that the Langley jets are off
course. His voice is a mix of stress and dread as he and the controller
next to him, Master Sergeant Steve Citino, order a navy air-traffic
controller who’s handling the fighters to get them turned around toward
Baltimore to try to cut off the phantom American 11. The navy
air-traffic controller seems not to understand the urgency of the

9:34:12NAVY A.T.C.: You’ve got [the fighters] moving east in airspace.
Now you want ’em to go to Baltimore?HUCKABONE: Yes, sir. We’re not
gonna take ’em in Whiskey 386 [military training airspace over the
ocean].NAVY A.T.C.: O.K., once he goes to Baltimore, what are we
supposed to do?HUCKABONE: Have him contact us on auxiliary frequency
2-3-4 decimal 6. Instead of taking handoffs to us and us handing ’em
back, just tell Center they’ve got to go to Baltimore.NAVY A.T.C.: All
right, man. Stand by. We’ll get back to you.CITINO: What do you mean,
“We’ll get back to you”? Just do it!HUCKABONE: I’m gonna choke that
guy!CITINO: Be very professional, Huck.HUCKABONE: O.K.CITINO: All
right, Huck. Let’s get our act together here.PLAY | STOP

All hell is breaking loose around them. Boston Center has called in
with another suspected hijacking-the controllers there don’t know the
call sign yet-and ID tech Watson is speed-dialing everyone she can to
find a position on the resurrected American 11. In the course of a call
to Washington Center, the operations manager there has sprung new
information about yet another lost airplane: American 77.

9:34:01WASHINGTON CENTER: Now, let me tell you this. I-I’ll-we’ve
been looking. We’re-also lost American 77-WATSON: American
77?DOOLEY: American 77’s lost-WATSON: Where was it proposed to head,
sir?WASHINGTON CENTER: Okay, he was going to L.A. also-WATSON: From
where, sir?WASHINGTON CENTER: I think he was from Boston also. Now let
me tell you this story here. Indianapolis Center was working this
guy-WATSON: What guy?WASHINGTON CENTER: American 77, at flight level
3-5-0 [35,000 feet]. However, they lost radar with him. They lost
contact with him. They lost everything. And they don’t have any idea
where he is or what happened.PLAY | STOP

his is a full 10 minutes later than the time Major General Arnold and
Colonel Scott would give in their testimony; reality was a lot messier.
Forty minutes prior, at 8:54 a.m., controllers at Indianapolis Center
had lost radar contact with American 77, flying from Washington Dulles
to LAX, and assumed the plane had crashed because they weren’t aware of
the attack in New York. Though they soon realized this was another
hijacking and sent warnings up the F.A.A. chain, no one called the
military; it was only by chance that NEADS’s Watson got the information
in her call to Washington Center.

As Watson takes in the information from Washington Center, Rountree’s
phone is ringing again. By this point, the other ID techs have taken to
calling Rountree “the bearer of death and destruction” because it seems
every time she picks up the phone there’s another hijacking. And so it
is again. At Boston Center, Colin Scoggins has spotted a low-flying
airliner six miles southeast of the White House.

9:35:41ROUNTREE: Huntress [call sign for NEADS] ID, Rountree, can I
help you?BOSTON CENTER (Scoggins): Latest report, [low-flying] aircraft
six miles southeast of the White House.ROUNTREE: Six miles southeast of
the White House?BOSTON CENTER (Scoggins): Yup. East-he’s moving
away?ROUNTREE: Southeast from the White House.BOSTON CENTER (Scoggins):
Air-aircraft is moving away.ROUNTREE: Moving away from the White
House?BOSTON CENTER (Scoggins): Yeah….ROUNTREE: Deviating away. You
don’t have a type aircraft, you don’t know who he is-BOSTON CENTER
(Scoggins): Nothing, nothing. We’re over here in Boston so I have no
clue. That-hopefully somebody in Washington would have
better-information for you.PLAY | STOP

This will turn out to be American 77, but since the hijackers turned
the beacon off on this plane as well, no one will realize that until
later. Depending on how you count, NEADS now has three reported
possible hijackings from Boston (the phantom American 11 and two
unidentified planes) as well as Washington Center’s report that
American 77 is lost.

Of these four vague and ultimately overlapping reports, the
latest-word of a plane six miles from the White House-is the most
urgent. The news sets off a frenzy.

9:36:23NASYPANY: O.K., Foxy [Major Fox, the Weapons Team head]. I got a
aircraft six miles east of the White House! Get your fighters there as
soon as possible!MALE VOICE: That came from Boston?HUCKABONE: We’re
gonna turn and burn it-crank it up-MALE TECH: Six miles!HUCKABONE:
All right, here we go. This is what we’re gonna do-NASYPANY: We’ve
got an aircraft deviating eight [sic] miles east of the White House
right now.FOX: Do you want us to declare A.F.I.O. [emergency military
control of the fighters] and run ’em straight in there?NASYPANY: Take
’em and run ’em to the White House.FOX: Go directly to
Washington.CITINO: We’re going direct D.C. with my guys [Langley
fighters]? Okay. Okay.HUCKABONE: Ma’am, we are going A.F.I.O. right now
with Quit 2-5 [the Langley fighters]. They are going direct
Washington.NAVY A.T.C.: Quit 2-5, we’re handing ’em off to Center right
now.HUCKABONE: Ma’am, we need to expedite that right now. We’ve gotta
contact them on 2-3-4-6.PLAY | STOP

“Six miles south, or west, or east of the White House is-it’s seconds
[away],” Nasypany told me later. “Airliners traveling at 400-plus
knots, it’s nothing. It’s seconds away from that location.”

The White House, then, is in immediate danger. Radar analysis in the
following weeks will show that the plane abruptly veers away and turns
toward the Pentagon, though the controllers at NEADS have no way of
knowing this in the moment. Looking in the general capital area, one of
the tracker techs thinks he spots the plane on radar, then just as
quickly loses it.

9:37:56MALE TECH: Right here, right here, right here. I got him. I got
him.NASYPANY: We just lost track. Get a Z-point [coordinate] on
that…. O.K., we got guys lookin’ at ’em. Hold on…. Where’s Langley
at? Where are the fighters?PLAY | STOP

The fighters have no chance. They’re about 150 miles away, according to
radar analysis done later. Even at top speed-and even if they know
the problem is suicide hijackings of commercial airliners rather than
Russian missiles-it will take them roughly 10 minutes to get to the

9:38:50NASYPANY: We need to get those back up there-I don’t care how
many windows you break!… Goddammit! O.K. Push ’em back!

But the Pentagon is already in flames, American 77 having plowed
through the E-ring of the west side of the building seconds before, at
9:37:46. The Langley fighters will not be established over Washington
for another 20 minutes.

“You were just so mad”n the ops floor, everyone is staring at CNN on
the overhead screen. Seeing the first pictures of the Pentagon in
flames is gut-wrenching. Nasypany’s voice can be heard cursing in
frustration: “Goddammit! I can’t even protect my N.C.A. [National
Capital Area].” You hear troops prod one another to stay focused.

CITINO: O.K.-let’s watch our guys, Huck. Not the TV.

“The more it went on, the more unbelievable it got, and then the one
that did the Pentagon,” Dooley told me, “we just couldn’t believe it.
You were just so mad that you couldn’t stop these guys and so you’re
looking for the next one. Where are they going next?”

It looks like Washington again. Three minutes after the Pentagon is
hit, Scoggins, at Boston Center, is back on the phone. The Boston
controllers are now tracking Delta 1989-Boston to Las Vegas-which
fits the same profile as the other hijackings: cross-country, out of
Boston, lots of fuel, and possibly off course. But this one’s different
from the others in one key respect: the plane’s beacon code is still
working. In this chase, NEADS will have a chance, as the excitement in
Dooley’s last line reflects:

9:40:57ROUNTREE: Delta 89, that’s the hijack. They think it’s possible
hijack.DOOLEY: Fuck!ROUNTREE: South of Cleveland. We have a code on him
now.DOOLEY: Good. Pick it up! Find it!MALE TECH: Delta what?ROUNTREE:
Eight nine-a Boeing 767.DOOLEY: Fuck, another one-PLAY | STOP

They quickly find the plane on radar-it’s just south of Toledo-and
begin alerting other F.A.A. centers. They’re not sure where the plane
is headed. If it’s Chicago, they’re in big trouble, because they don’t
have any planes close enough to cut it off. Marr and Nasypany order
troops to call Air National Guard bases in that area to see if anyone
can launch fighters. A base in Selfridge, Michigan, offers up two
unarmed fighters that are already flying, on their way back from a
training mission.

9:54:54SELFRIDGE FLIGHT OFFICER: Here-here’s what we can do. At a
minimum, we can keep our guys airborne. I mean, they don’t have-they
don’t have any guns or missiles or anything on board. But we-NEADS
TECH: It’s a presence, though.PLAY | STOP

But NEADS is victim again to an increasingly long information lag. Even
before Rountree gets the urgent call that Delta 1989 is hijacked, a
civilian air-traffic controller in Cleveland in contact with the pilot
has determined that the flight is fine-that Delta 1989 isn’t a
hijacking after all.

eanwhile, however, NEADS has gotten a call from a NORAD unit in Canada
with yet another suspected hijacking headed south across the border
toward Washington. In the barrage of information and misinformation, it
becomes increasingly difficult for the controllers to keep count of how
many suspected hijackings are pending. So far, it is known that three
have hit buildings, but given the uncertainty about the fates of
American 11 and American 77-no one knows yet that this is the plane
that hit the Pentagon-the sense at NEADS is that there are possibly
three hijacked jets still out there, and who knows how many more yet to
be reported. At this point, no one on the military side is aware that
United 93 has been hijacked.

Then, over a crackly radio, one of the Langley fighter pilots, now in a
combat air patrol over Washington, is calling in urgently.

10:07:08PILOT: Baltimore is saying something about an aircraft over the
White House. Any words?CITINO: Negative. Stand by. Do you copy that, SD
[Major Fox]? Center said there’s an aircraft over the White House. Any
words?FOX: M.C.C. [Nasypany], we’ve got an aircraft reported over the
White House.PLAY | STOP

A fourth hijacking? Nasypany, who’s running full throttle, replies

NASYPANY: Intercept!FOX: Intercept!NASYPANY: Intercept and divert that
aircraft away from there.PLAY | STOP

On one channel, you hear a weapons tech very dramatically hailing the
fighters and ordering the intercept.

CITINO: Quit 2-5 [Langley fighters], mission is intercept aircraft over
White House. Use F.A.A. for guidance.FOX: Divert the aircraft away from
the White House. Intercept and divert it.CITINO: Quit 2-5, divert the
aircraft from the White House.PILOT: Divert the aircraft….PLAY | STOP

Meanwhile, Nasypany calls the Battle Cab. With a plane headed straight
for the White House, Nasypany needs an update on his rules of

10:07:39NASYPANY: Do you hear that? That aircraft over the White House.
What’s the word? … Intercept and what else? … Aircraft over the
White House.PLAY | STOP

The “what else?” is the big question: do they have the authority to
shoot? The request skips up the chain to Arnold.

“I was in Vietnam,” Arnold later told me. “When people are shooting at
you, you don’t know when it’s going to stop. And that same thought went
through my mind [on 9/11]. You begin to wonder, How can I get control
of this situation? When can we as a military get control of this

Arnold, in turn, passes the request for rules of engagement farther up
the chain.

It is in the middle of this, simultaneously, that the first call comes
in about United 93. ID tech Watson fields it.

10:07:16CLEVELAND CENTER: We got a United 93 out here. Are you aware of
that?WATSON: United 93?CLEVELAND CENTER: That has a bomb on
board.WATSON: A bomb on board?! And this is confirmed? You have a
[beacon code], sir?CLEVELAND CENTER: No, we lost his transponder.

The information is shouted out to Nasypany.

NASYPANY: Gimme the call sign. Gimme the whole nine yards…. Let’s get
some info, real quick. They got a bomb?PLAY | STOP

But by the time NEADS gets the report of a bomb on United 93, everyone
on board is already dead. Following the passengers’ counterattack, the
plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania at 10:03 a.m., 4 minutes
before Cleveland Center notified NEADS, and a full 35 minutes after a
Cleveland Center controller, a veteran named John Werth, first
suspected something was wrong with the flight. At 9:28, Werth actually
heard the guttural sounds of the cockpit struggle over the radio as the
hijackers attacked the pilots.

Werth’s suspicions about United 93 were passed quickly up the F.A.A.’s
chain of command, so how is it that no one from the agency alerted
NEADS for more than half an hour?

A former senior executive at the F.A.A., speaking to me on the
condition that I not identify him by name, tried to explain. “Our whole
procedures prior to 9/11 were that you turned everything [regarding a
hijacking] over to the F.B.I.,” he said, reiterating that hijackers had
never actually flown airplanes; it was expected that they’d land and
make demands. “There were absolutely no shootdown protocols at all. The
F.A.A. had nothing to do with whether they were going to shoot anybody
down. We had no protocols or rules of engagement.”

n his bunker under the White House, Vice President Cheney was not
notified about United 93 until 10:02-only one minute before the
airliner impacted the ground. Yet it was with dark bravado that the
vice president and others in the Bush administration would later
recount sober deliberations about the prospect of shooting down United
93. “Very, very tough decision, and the president understood the
magnitude of that decision,” Bush’s then chief of staff, Andrew Card,
told ABC News.

Cheney echoed, “The significance of saying to a pilot that you are
authorized to shoot down a plane full of Americans is, a, you know,
it’s an order that had never been given before.” And it wasn’t on 9/11,

President Bush would finally grant commanders the authority to give
that order at 10:18, which-though no one knew it at the time-was 15
minutes after the attack was over.

But comments such as those above were repeated by other administration
and military figures in the weeks and months following 9/11, forging
the notion that only the passengers’ counterattack against their
hijackers prevented an inevitable shootdown of United 93 (and
convincing conspiracy theorists that the government did, indeed,
secretly shoot it down). The recordings tell a different story, and not
only because United 93 had crashed before anyone in the military chain
of command even knew it had been hijacked.

At what feels on the tapes like the moment of truth, what comes back
down the chain of command, instead of clearance to fire, is a
resounding sense of caution. Despite the fact that NEADS believes there
may be as many as five suspected hijacked aircraft still in the air at
this point-one from Canada, the new one bearing down fast on
Washington, the phantom American 11, Delta 1989, and United 93-the
answer to Nasypany’s question about rules of engagement comes back in
no uncertain terms, as you hear him relay to the ops floor.

10:10:31NASYPANY (to floor): Negative. Negative clearance to shoot….
Goddammit!…FOX: I’m not really worried about code words at this
point.NASYPANY: Fuck the code words. That’s perishable information.
Negative clearance to fire. ID. Type. Tail.PLAY | STOP

The orders from higher headquarters are to identify by aircraft type
and tail number, and nothing more. Those orders-and the fact that the
pilots have no clearance to shoot-are reiterated by NEADS controllers
as a dramatic chase towards the White House continues. Two more
problems emerge: the controllers can’t find the White House on their
dated equipment, and they have trouble communicating with the Langley
fighters (which are referred to by their call signs, Quit 2-5 and Quit

CITINO: Quit 2-6, Huntress. How far is the-suspect aircraft?PILOT:
Standby. Standby…. About 15 miles, Huntress.CITINO: Huntress copies
two-two miles.PILOT: 15 miles, Huntress.CITINO: 15 miles. One-five …
noise level please … It’s got to be low. Quit 2-6, when able say
altitude of the aircraft…. Did we get a Z-track [coordinates] up for
the White House?HUCKABONE: They’re workin’ on it.CITINO: Okay. Hey,
what’s this Bravo 0-0-5 [unidentified target]?FOX: We’re trying to get
the Z-point. We’re trying to find it.HUCKABONE: I don’t even know where
the White House is.CITINO: Whatever it is, it’s very low. It’s probably
a helicopter.MALE VOICE: It’s probably the helicopter you’re watching
there…. There’s probably one flying over the [Pentagon].MALE VOICE:
It’s probably the smoke. The building’s smoked. [They’re seeing more
pictures of the flaming Pentagon on CNN.]HUCKABONE: Holy shit…. Holy
shit …CITINO: Yes. We saw that. O.K.-let’s watch our guys, Huck.
Not the TV…. Quit 2-6, status? SD, they’re too low. I can’t talk to
’em. They’re too low. I can’t talk to ’em.FOX: Negative clearance to
fire.CITINO: O.K. I told ’em mission is ID and that was it.FOX: Do
whatever you need to divert. They are not cleared to fire.PLAY | STOP

As it turns out, it’s just as well the pilots are not cleared to shoot.
Delta 1989 and the Canadian scare turn out to be false alarms. American
11 and United 93 are already down. And the fast-moving target near the
White House that the armed fighters are racing to intercept turns out
to be a friendly-a mistake by a civilian controller who was unaware
of the military’s scrambles, as weapons techs Huckabone and Citino, and
their senior director, Fox, suddenly realize.

HUCKABONE: It was our guys [the fighters from Langley].CITINO: Yup. It
was our guys they saw. It was our guys they saw-Center saw.FOX: New
York did the same thing….CITINO: O.K., Huck. That was cool. We
intercepted our own guys.PLAY | STOP

At that point in the morning, Marr later told me, preventing an
accidental shootdown was a paramount concern. “What you don’t want
happening is a pilot having to make that decision in the heat of the
moment where he is bearing all that burden as to whether I should shoot
something down or not,” Marr said.

It is 12 minutes after United 93 actually crashed when NEADS’s Watson
first hears the word. Her voice is initially full of hope as she
mistakenly believes she is being told that United 93 has landed safely.

10:15:00WATSON: United nine three, have you got information on that
yet?WASHINGTON CENTER: Yeah, he’s down.WATSON: What-he’s
down?WASHINGTON CENTER: Yes.WATSON: When did he land? Because we have
confirmation-WASHINGTON CENTER: He did-he did-he did not land.

Here, on the tape, you hear the air rush out of Watson’s voice.

WATSON: Oh, he’s down down?MALE VOICE: Yes. Yeah, somewhere up
northeast of Camp David.WATSON: Northeast of Camp David.WASHINGTON
CENTER: That’s the-that’s the last report. They don’t know exactly
where.PLAY | STOP

“I know what spin is”n June 17, 2004, a year after the 9/11
commission’s initial public hearing, Major General Arnold and a more
robust contingent of NORAD and Pentagon brass arrived to testify before
the commission at its 12th and final public meeting. This time, they
would testify under oath.

The hearing began with an elaborate multi-media presentation in which
John Farmer Jr., the commission’s senior counsel, John Azzarello, and
another staff attorney, Dana Hyde, took turns illustrating, in
withering detail, the lag time between when the F.A.A. found out about
each of the hijacked aircraft and the time anyone from the agency
notified the military. Excerpts from the NEADS tapes and parallel
recordings from the F.A.A., which show the civilian side in equal
turmoil, were played in public for the first time. (Both sets of
recordings were provided to the commission only after being

The focus of the pointed questioning that followed wasn’t on why the
military didn’t do better, but rather on why the story Major General
Arnold and Colonel Scott had told at the first hearing was so wrong, in
particular with respect to the phantom American 11, which the officers
had never mentioned, and United 93, which they claimed to have been
tracking. Commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste, who cut his teeth 30 years
earlier working for the Watergate special prosecutor, led off the
questioning and came out swinging.

“General, is it not a fact that the failure to call our attention to
the miscommunication and the notion of a phantom Flight 11 continuing
from New York City south in fact skewed the whole reporting of 9/11?”
he asked Arnold, who replied that he had not been aware of those facts
when he testified the year before.

“I’ve been in government and I know what spin is,” Farmer, the senior
counsel, told me. The military’s story was “a whole different order of
magnitude than spin. It simply wasn’t true.” Farmer says he doesn’t
understand why the military felt the need to spin at all. “The
information they got [from the F.A.A.] was bad information, but they
reacted in a way that you would have wanted them to. The calls Marr and
Nasypany made were the right ones.”

Both Marr and Arnold bristled when I asked about the commission’s
suspicion that there had been an effort to spin the story. “I can’t
think of any incentive why we’d want to spin that,” Marr said, his eyes
tensing for the first time in what had been friendly interviews. “I’ll
be the first to admit that immediately after-in fact, for a long time
after-we were very confused with who was what and where, what reports
were coming in. I think with having 29 different reports of hijackings
nationwide, for us it was next to impossible to try and get back there
and figure out the fidelity [about the morning’s chronology] that the
9/11 commission ended up being able to show.”

zzarello, Farmer, and several other commission members I spoke to
dismissed this fog-of-war excuse and pointed out that not only had the
military already reviewed the tapes but that the false story it told at
the first hearing had a clear purpose. “How good would it have looked
for the government in general if we still couldn’t have stopped the
fourth plane an hour and 35 minutes [into the attack]?” Azzarello
asked. “How good would it have looked if there was a total breakdown in
communication and nothing worked right?”

If nothing else, it might have given the public a more realistic sense
of the limitations, particularly in the face of suicide terrorism, of
what is, without doubt, the most powerful military in the world.

As one of its last acts before disbanding, in July 2004, the 9/11
commission made referrals to the inspector general’s offices of both
the Department of Transportation (which includes the F.A.A.) and the
Defense Department to further investigate whether witnesses had lied.
“Commission staff believes that there is significant evidence that the
false statements made to the commission were deliberately false,”
Farmer wrote to me in an e-mail summarizing the commission’s referral.
“The false testimony served a purpose: to obscure mistakes on the part
of the F.A.A. and the military, and to overstate the readiness of the
military to intercept and, if necessary, shoot down UAL 93.” A
spokesman for the Transportation Department’s inspector general’s
office told me that the investigation had been completed, but he wasn’t
at liberty to share the findings, because the report had not been
finalized. A spokesman at the Pentagon’s inspector general’s office
said its investigation had also been completed, but the results are

oring over time-stamped transcripts that undercut the Pentagon’s
official story, one is tempted to get caught up in a game of “gotcha.”
For those on the operations floor in the thick of it that day, however,
the cold revelations of hindsight are a bitter pill to swallow.

Listening to the tapes, you hear that inside NEADS there was no sense
that the attack was over with the crash of United 93; instead, the
alarms go on and on. False reports of hijackings, and real responses,
continue well into the afternoon, though civilian air-traffic
controllers had managed to clear the skies of all commercial and
private aircraft by just after 12 p.m. The fighter pilots over New York
and D.C. (and later Boston and Chicago) would spend hours darting
around their respective skylines intercepting hundreds of aircraft they
deemed suspicious. Meanwhile, Arnold, Marr, and Nasypany were launching
as many additional fighters as they could, placing some 300 armed jets
in protective orbits over every major American city by the following
morning. No one at NEADS would go home until late on the night of the
11th, and then only for a few hours of sleep.

Five years after the attack, the controversy around United 93 clearly
eats at Arnold, Marr, Nasypany, and several other military people I
spoke with, who resent both conspiracy theories that accuse them of
shooting the flight down and the 9/11 commission’s conclusion that they
were chasing ghosts and never stood a chance of intercepting any of the
real hijackings. “I don’t know about time lines and stuff like that,”
Nasypany, who is now a lieutenant colonel, said in one of our last
conversations. “I knew where 93 was. I don’t care what [the commission
says]. I mean, I care, but-I made that assessment to put my fighters
over Washington. Ninety-three was on its way in. I knew there was
another one out there. I knew there was somebody else coming
in-whatever you want to call it. And I knew what I was going to have
to end up doing.” When you listen to the tapes, it couldn’t feel more
horrendously true.

When I asked Nasypany about the conspiracy theories-the people who
believe that he, or someone like him, secretly ordered the shootdown of
United 93 and covered it up-the corners of his mouth began to quiver.
Then, I think to the surprise of both of us, he suddenly put his head
in his hands and cried. “Flight 93 was not shot down,” he said when he
finally looked up. “The individuals on that aircraft, the passengers,
they actually took the aircraft down. Because of what those people did,
I didn’t have to do anything.”

On the day, however, there was no time for sentiment. Within 30 seconds
of the report that United 93 has crashed, killing everyone on board,
once again, the phone is ringing.

10:15:30POWELL: Southeast just called. There’s another possible hijack
in our area….NASYPANY: All right. Fuck …

{Michael Bronner was an associate producer on the movie United 93. His
article about military recruiters appeared in the September 2005 issue
of Vanity Fair.}

Leave a Reply