Thursday, November 30, 2006



One question I’ve always had regarding the 9/11 hijackers is if you’re going to attack America, why train there? Why run the risk of getting caught? Why not train somewhere friendly, and then go to America and commit the attack quickly and quietly? What was so special about training in the U.S. that they had to sleep in the “lion’s den” for over a year in some cases?

A possible answer seems to have been provided just days after the attack. At least five men with names matching the five hijackers were reported to have been trained at various military bases in the U.S., notably the Naval Air Station in Pensacola Florida. This was according to Pentagon documents turned over to the FBI and reported on by mainstream news outlets, notably Newsweek and the Washington Post. Newsweek reported just four days after the attack

“U.S. military sources have given the FBI information that suggests five of the alleged hijackers of the planes that were used in Tuesday’s terror attacks received training at secure U.S. military installations in the 1990s.
Three of the alleged hijackers listed their address on drivers licenses and car registrations as the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Fla.—known as the “Cradle of U.S. Navy Aviation,” according to a high-ranking U.S. Navy source.
Another of the alleged hijackers may have been trained in strategy and tactics at the Air War College in Montgomery, Ala., said another high-ranking Pentagon official. The fifth man may have received language instruction at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Tex. Both were former Saudi Air Force pilots who had come to the United States, according to the Pentagon source.”

The Washington Post reported on September 16 seven cases of confused identity: “Two of 19 suspects […] have the same names as men listed at a housing facility for foreign military trainees at Pensacola. Two others […] have names similar to individuals listed in public records as using the same address inside the base.” Another matched a graduate of the Defense Language Institute in San Antonio. Finally, “men with the same names as two other hijackers [...] appear as graduates of the U.S. International Officers School at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., and the Aerospace Medical School at Brooks Air Force Base in San Antonio, respectively.”

But the identities were not exact: Newsweek explained: “there are slight discrepancies between the military training records and the official FBI list of suspected hijackers—either in the spellings of their names or with their birthdates.” The Post noted: "Some of the FBI suspects had names similar to those used by foreign alumni of U.S. military courses," the Air Force acknowledged in a statement. "However, discrepancies in their biographical data, such as birth dates 20 years off, indicate we are probably not talking about the same people." One military source told Newsweek it was possible that the hijackers stole the identities of the foreign students, but hijacked identities are primarily based on names and birthdates, which have to be the same, neither off by decades nor even “slightly discrepant.”

So does this fact fall under the “stolen identities” heading, under the “military training of suicide hijackers under slight pseudonyms” category, or in the realm of true and odd coincidences? It’s certainly clear which way the official story evolved. The documents were eventually seen as verifying that nearly a quarter of the hijackers had probably stolen identities, all conveniently available to the Pentagon’s leadership, and eventually just taken as a further verification of the terrorists’ existence. Investigative reporter Daniel Hopsicker tried to clear this up by asking an Air Force Public Relations Officer about the two Mohammed Attas. She asserted that “biographically, they’re not the same [person],” but when Hopsicker asked if he could meet the Air-Force trained Mohammed Atta, she told him she didn’t think he was "going to get that information.”

What if news revealed that five men matching names of five hijackers had received training in Iraq in the 1990s? In that context, such a connection would be seen as a smoking gun, but in this case, it’s just smoke and mirrors I don’t know why the Pentagon would have been looking through lists of its own trainees immediately after the attack. Did they suspect it the work of their own? Perhaps it really was a glimpse of Shadow 9-11, the work of high-level whistleblowers, whose story was simply too big for most people to comprehend. Or maybe this is another government-sponsored seam, a red herring designed to encourage conspiracy theorists and confuse the rest of us. And of course, even more so than with the other oddities I've lookedat,coincidence remains a distinct possibility. The miliatry trains a lot of people and there are plenty of Arabs with only so many names between them.

So anyway, here is the list of hijackers with curiously similar identities to US-trained operatives: the four foreign nationals training in Pensacola were mostly related and shared names with the equally related Saeed Alghamdi (#17), Ahmed Alghamdi (#8), Hamza Alghamdi (#9) and Ahmad Alnami (#19). That would be quite a coincidence. An “Abdulaziz Alomari (#5),” with curious and little-noted identity entanglements with three different individuals, had attended aerospace Medical School at Brooks Air Force Base in Texas. A Saeed Alghamdi (#17) had been to the Defense Language School in Monterrey, California - possibly the same man who bunked with the others in Pensacola, or perhaps a different person again. A Mohammed Atta (#1 of course) had attended International Officers School at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery Alabama, the student of “strategy and tactics” at the base’s Air War College. If these identities were stolen the leader of the group picked the right pedigree, his strategically patsy-like actions while on his globetrotting terror mission belie the training.

[1] Alleged Hijackers May Have Trained at U.S. Bases
[1] George Wehrfritz, Catharine Skipp and John Barry. "The Pentagon has turned over military records on five men to the FBI." Newsweek. September 15 2001. Accessed at:
[2] Guy Gugliotta and David S. Fallis. "2nd Witness Arrested: 25 Held for Questioning." Washington Post. September 16, 2001; Page A29. Accessed at:
[3] Hopsicker, Daniel. "Did Terrorist Pilots Train at U.S. Military Schools?" Original Link: Accessed at:

Wednesday, November 29, 2006


As the official story goes, while Pope John Paul II was preparing to visit Manila in early 1995, with security ratcheting up everywhere, two early al Qaeda masterminds were mapping out his route. They were preparing to dress in ecclesiastical garb and blend in to the procession with bombs beneath their robes, and even collected pictures of the pontiff to ensure they would kill the right guy. The 9-11 Commission concluded they also plotted to assassinate President Clinton there in November, but missed their chance. [1] They were staying in a hotel (Dona Josefa Apartments, room 603) only 200 yards from the Vatican embassy, and almost as close to the local police station. They moved in on December 8, 1994. They had few visitors over the next month, but one, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), was reportedly financing their operation and was in and out of room 603.

Yousef and Murad also built a lot of bombs, one of which blew up prematurely on January 6. The two men fled their burning room, explaining they’d had a mishap with fireworks and would be back soon. Later on one of the culprits made good on his promise and was arrested by local authorities as he returned to the smoking scene. The suspect was quickly identified as Abdul Murad, an al Qaeda-linked Kuwaiti trained and licensed to fly commercial airliners in U.S. flight schools, and wanted in connection with the 1993 WTC attack. Ramzi Yousef, suspected mastermind of that attack, was the other guy in room 603, and returned with Murad. But when he saw the police, he fled, and evaded capture for a bit longer.

But Yousef did leave behind his lap-top computer and some disks, apparently too heavy to take with him as he fled. Of course they were full of top secret terrorist information. Investigators found an apparent mess of data on this computer – flight numbers, Arabic-sounding code-names, references to timers, all under the heading “Bojinka.” Yousef in fact had allegedly executed a test-run just weeks before, planting a small practice bomb beneath his seat. It worked, killing a Japanese businessman on the next leg of the plane’s flight and injuring others, forcing an emergency landing. [2]

A Graphic Used by CNN in their original reporting in 1995-96.
Bojinka was soon discovered to be the itinerary for eleven terrorists to plant eleven nitroglycerine bombs, much more powerful than the test bomb, on eleven U.S. jetliners, timed to explode simultaneously over the Pacific. And it was set up to go, possibly soon. White House Counter-terrorism “Czar” Richard Clarke mentioned Bojinka in his book Against All Enemies, by details if not by name. He wrote how he received a message from Manila regarding Ramzi Yousef and his devious plan, which featured undetectable liquid bombs to be assembled in eye drop bottles on board the planes. The bombers were then to mimic Yousef’s trial run and disembark, leaving the others to die. Clarke called the FAA and told them to stop all flights originating in the Pacific. When flights resumed, liquids were not allowed on board. [3] Officials later estimated 4,000 people would likely have died if the plot hadn’t been intercepted. Vincent Cannistraro, former CIA counter-terrorism director later said of this plan “we had never seen anything that complicated or ambitious before. It was unparalleled.” [4]

Within a few weeks of Bojinka’s discovery, Yousef was rounded up in Pakistan and joined Murad in prison. According to Peter Lance, that wacky KSM happened to be living in the same building, and when he saw reporters from Time show up, he told them all about the arrest with his own face but the clever pseudonym “Khalid Sheikh.” [5] The next day Yousef was flown to the U.S. and helicoptered to jail in Manhattan. An FBI agent reportedly shouted to him over the noise “you see the Trade Centers down there, they're still standing, aren't they?” Yousef allegedly responded “they wouldn't be if I had enough money and enough explosives.” [6]

Yousef and Murad were joined in the conspiracy charge by an Afghan named Wali Khan Amin Shah. CNN reported on the Bojinka trial in mid-1996, starting with jury selection on May 13. [7] Ramzi knew his rights, and chose to represent himself. His co-defendants Murad and Shah retained a defense team that called five witnesses, as CNN reported, “including a police officer from the Philippines who admitted that he had mixed up evidence he had examined.” Yousef maintained he’d been framed by Philippines police, but the three were finally convicted on all counts of attempted murder and related charges on September 5. The charges carried out a mandatory life sentence at least, with the sentencing scheduled for December 5. [8] Case closed… Long silence...

[1] 9-11 Commission Final Report. Page 147.
[2] “Oplan Bojinka.” Wikipedia. Accessed November 11, 2005 at:
[3] Clarke, Richard. “Against all Enemies.” 2004. Pages 93-94.
[4] Brzezinski, Matthew. “Bust and Boom: Six years before the September 11 attacks, Philippine police took down an al Qaeda cell that had been plotting, among other things, to fly explosives-laden planes into the Pentagon.”
Washington Post. December 30 2001. Page W09
[5] Lance Page 328, cited from Paul Thompson and the Center for Cooperative Research, the Terror Timeline, 2004, Page 14
[6] Paul Thompson and the Center for Cooperative Research, the Terror Timeline, 2004, Page 14
[7] CNN. “Terrorism trial begins in New York.” May 13, 1996. Accessed November 10, 2005 at:
[8] CNN. “Plane Terror Suspects Convicted on all Counts.” September 5, 1996. Acc. Nov. 9, 2005 at:

Tuesday, November 28, 2006


September 13, 2001: The nation is still staggering, in deep shock over the most devastating act of terrorism in American history. With the body count still not finalized but sitting near 6,000 (well-down from initial estimates of 20,000), General Richard B. Myers, Vice-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), sits under oath in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee. This is his confirmation hearing, scheduled weeks before, to be promoted to the post of JCS Chairman, the highest U.S. military post. It was surely a bittersweet event for him. He had already started his tenure as acting JCS Chairman two days earlier - on the morning of September 11th. He had been standing in for his superior Henry Shelton, who had just that morning left on a trip to Europe on prearranged but unspecified business. [1] In the hearing, this curious coincidence was ignored, but Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI) asked the candidate about the failed military response during the attack, with which Myers was closely involved.

Levin: “Was the defense department asked to take action against any specific aircraft? […] And did you take action against – for instance, there has been statements that the aircraft that crashed in Pennsylvania was shot down. Those stories continue to exist.”
Myers: “Mr. Chairman, the armed forces did not shoot down any aircraft. When it became clear what the threat was, we did scramble fighter aircraft, AWACS, radar aircraft and tanker aircraft to begin to establish orbits in case other aircraft showed up in the FAA system that were hijacked. But we never actually had to use force.”
Levin: “Was that order that you just described given before or after the Pentagon was struck? Do you know?”
Myers: “That order, to the best of my knowledge, was after the Pentagon was struck.”

With his first-hand knowledge of what happened only two days earlier, he maintained that his military did not scramble any fighters in response until after the Pentagon was hit by the third hijacked plane of the morning at 9:37. This was thirty-five minutes – at least - after a second hijacked airliner plowed into the World Trade Center at 9:03, clarifying to everyone we were at war – and quickly losing. How could the mightiest Air Force on Earth be so slow responding to such an urgent emergency?

This was not merely Myers’ confused recollection; the next day, Major Mike Snyder, a spokesman for the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), backed him up on this point. According to the Boston Globe: “[Snyder] said the fighters were not scrambled for more than an hour after the first hijacking was reported, by which time the three buildings were struck […] Never before had a hijacked airliner been steered into a skyscraper, Snyder noted, in trying to explain the lack of immediate response.” [3]

So on September 14, that was the official story, confirmed by both Myers and Snyder, by both the JCS and NORAD, and generally taken as fact. Even long after this official story had changed, then-Mayor of New York Rudy Giuliani would confirm this original assessment. He told the 9/11 Commission in May 2004 that he was told he just minutes before the first World Trade Tower collapsed at 9:58 that fighters had just been scrambled to protect New York “twelve minutes ago.” [4] By this account, the jets were airborne at about 9:46, exactly an hour after the first attack in New York.

It became clear with a CBS News broadcast that very night that this was actually not the case, that two fighter pilots had been sent at 8:52 from Massachusetts, and soon we had confirmation of another pair sent from Langley AFB in Virginia at 9:30. So why the early confusion?

I don't know the reason for this incongruity, but I do know the effects. On September 11, NORAD knew as of 8:40 (by their own account) that American 11 was (possibly) hijacked and headed to New York. Three minutes later, they learned a second airliner, United 175, was also (possibly) hijacked. As of 8:46, when flight 11 hit the Word Trade Center, they knew what kind of (possible) hijackings these were – just as UA175 changed course and headed for New York itself. Fighter interception should have been a no-brainer at this point, and authorization to shoot to kill should have been sought swiftly to defend future targets. Yet fifty-one minutes later, the new JCS Chairman tells us under oath, NORAD hadn’t got a single fighter off the ground? Honestly, that doesn’t even make sense. It looks like a stand-down.

Rumors began to spread of just this possibility, and persisted well past the reports on 9/14 and after that fighters were scrambled. In September 2003 Michael Meacher, former British Environment Minister, wrote an article for the Manchester Guardian called “This War on Terrorism is Bogus.” He pointed out that no fighters were scrambled from the nation’s premier Andrews Air Force Base, only ten miles from the Pentagon, during the course of the attack. Meacher wondered “was this inaction simply the result of key people disregarding, or being ignorant of, the evidence? Or could US air security operations have been deliberately stood down on September 11? If so, why, and on whose authority?” [5]

It’s a good question; Andrews is the nation’s premiere Air Force base, home of Air Force One, and touchdown point for world leaders visiting the U.S. It is in many ways the central staging ground for the most elaborate airspace defense in the world – yet no fighters were sent from there until well after the attack was over with. Mark R. Elsis of put it “there is only one explanation. Our Air Force was ordered to stand down on 9/11.” [6]

I had always found a direct stand-down order a possibility, but too simple of one – did Meacher and Elsis mean an indirect, de facto stand-down or a direct, de jure one? A formal stand-down order is an order, official, total, and enforced as such. Are we really to believe that of the hundreds of pilots ready to take off and help in such a crisis, all told by their superiors to stay on the ground, none would be angry and courageous enough to speak up? Even I, in my profound cynicism, find this hard to swallow. A de jure stand-down seems unlikely to me, and a simplistic argument that looks for an easily identifiable smoking gun of complicity.

Mike Ruppert took this line as well in mid-2004: “There never was a stand down order issued. That would have been way too incriminating and risky a piece of evidence. And it also might have been ignored by eager fighter pilots who had trained their whole lives to respond to a hostile aircraft killing Americans. There are several statements that the "new" NORAD procedures transferring scramble authority to Rumsfeld on June 1, 2001 were ignored by several NORAD commanders on 9/11 including General Larry Arnold. That's exactly what I would have expected.” [7]

However, a close look at the facts reveals an air defense system not just broken but peculiarly broken on that “fateful” morning, with the same net result as a de facto stand-down order. That is, stand down or no, the defense was as ineffective as if there had been, and it hardly seems any less purposeful than Meacher or Elsis suggests.

[1] Balz, Dan and Bob Woodward. “America's Chaotic Road to War: Bush's Global Strategy Began to Take Shape in First Frantic Hours After Attack.” Washington Post. January 27, 2002. Page A01. Accessed November 6, 2004 at:
[2] General Richard B. Myers, Senate Confirmation Hearing. Senate Armed Services Committee. September 13, 2001. Accessed August 5, 2005 at:
[3] Johnson, Glen. "Facing Terror Attack's Aftermath: Otis Fighter Jets Scrambled Too Late to Halt The Attacks" The Boston Globe. September 15, 2001 Third Edition Page A1. Accessed at:
[4] Thompson, Paul and the Center for Cooperative Research. The Terror Timeline: Year by Year, Day by Day, Minute by Minute. New York. Regan books. 2004. Page 439
[5] Ruppert, Michael C. Crossing the Rubicon: The Decline of the American Empire at the End of the Age of Oil. Gabriola Island, BC, Canada. New Society Publishers 2004 P. 309
[6] Chertoff, Benjamin et al. “Debunking 9/11 Myths.” Popular Mechanics, March 2005.
[7]Ruppert, Michael C.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Three Abdul Alomaris?

The cases of confused identity regarding the alleged hijackers are many and well-covered elsewhere. Here I'll cover on telling case I haven't seen anyone else take on. Not that I've really looked. I'd rather keep my illusion of a "hot exclusive story:" the tale of the three Abdul Alomaris.

This case of mistaken identity arose in the first days after the attack. The BBC reported on September 13th that the trail of evidence led investigators from a rental car left behind in Maine to two houses in Vero Beach, Florida. One house had been rented by two brothers from Saudi Arabia, Adnan and Ameer Bukhari, both certified pilots and clearly suspects at this early stage. According to the landlord, Adnan Bukhari and another man who lived in the house next door “had described themselves as Saudi pilots.” They gave as addresses Saudi Arabian Airlines PO boxes in the Kingdom. [1] A CBS News report from the following day explained that agents were questioning Adnan Bukhari, whom they described as a 41-year-old flight engineer. He was at the time a student at Flight Safety Academy, a Miami-area flight school, as had been “an apparent relative of Bukhari, Ameer Bukhari,” until he was killed in a mid-air collision exactly a year before Tuesday's attack.” [2] If by “exactly a year” they mean that Ameer, a man linked with the 9-11 hijackers through direct evidence, died in a mid-air collision on September 11, 2000, that seems more than a little spooky to me. And that it allegedly happened at a place called “Flight Safety” is less spooky than ironic.

The BBC piece states that Bukhari’s unnamed neighbor was also a Flight Safety student, also involved with Saudi aviation. Both men lived there “with their wives and children.” [3] CBS’ report from the 15th explained that this neighbor was one “Abdul Alomari.” [4] An article from the same day in the Florida paper, the St. Petersburg Times, referred to him as “Adbulrahman Al Omari.” [5] Direct evidence from the hijackers’ leavings had led investigators to this man “who lived with his wife and four children.” [6] They clarify that this was indeed one of the hijackers, seated next to Atta on Flight 11, and he apparently had not yet shown up to clarify his innocence. [7] But he was living with his family; this is something we’ve never heard of any the hijackers doing. What could be behind this bizarre identity mix-up? Did the hijacker steal the name of the happily married Abdulrahman Alomari, change it somewhat, and then commit his horrific act? Was the family rented, and the name an alias?

The U.K. paper the Telegraph reported that a man named Abdulaziz Alomari, an engineer from Riyadh, had taken flight training in the U.S. – in Denver during the early 1990s - at which time his passport was stolen. He said he went back home in 2000 and was working for the government, at the Saudi telecommunications authority in Riyadh, and was at his desk there when the 9-11 attack occurred. “They gave my name and my date of birth,” he said, “but I am not a suicide bomber. I am here. I am alive.” Along with a Saudi Airlines pilot named Saeed Al-Ghamdi, Alomari told the Telegraph he was, as they put it, “furious that the hijackers' "personal details" - including name, place, date of birth and occupation - matched their own.” [8] Same name. Same locations and DOB. Still alive. Presuming this was double-checked, and the Saudis are notoriously secretive, it would be a clear indication that the man pegged as the hijackers had stolen their identities, and somehow, a Saudi Government employee’s identity had been tacked onto one of the government-identified hijackers – by who exactly and for what purpose is unclear.

Left: The real Abdulaziz Alomari, a Government employee in Saudi Arabia: “I am here. I am alive.” Right: Official mugshot of the hijacker with the same name and birthdate.

Unlike this living man, the other two Abdul Alomaris wound up in Florda. The 9/11 Commission’s Final Report gave as facts about hijacker Alomari: he was a late-arriving “muscle” hijacker, and thus required no flight-training. All the muscle hijackers, including Alomari, were between 20 and 28 years old. Alomari “had graduated with honors from High School, had attained a (university) degree… was married, and had a daughter.” [1] The report does not mention if this daughter was his only child, or one of four, nor does it either confirm or deny that his wife and daughter lived with him in the U.S. or whether he was a trained pilot. [11] The “Abdulrahman Alomari” from Vero Beach that immediate evidence indicated was one of the hijackers does not seem to be the same person. The St. Petersburg Times found, by looking at Florida records, that their Alomari was 38 years old, not “20-28,” and a trained pilot, working for Saudi Airlines, and receiving further training in Florida. Although the 9/11 Commission paints him as a late arrival, the St. Petersburg Times found that he had first gotten a Florida driver’s license in 1994. [12]

So on reviewing this evidence, it appears there may be three Abdul Alomaris:
- Abdulaziz Alomari – Alive and well, employed by the Saudi Government, received flight training in the U.S. years ago (not Florida), marital status unknown.
- Abdulrahman Alomari – Long-time resident of Florida since 1994, a trained pilot, married with four children, living and training in Florida in 2001, apparently disappeared around 9-11.
- Abdulaziz Alomari – alleged hijacker, obviously dead, married with one child, first arrived in the U.S. in mid-2001, presumably did not live with his family, presumably not a trained pilot.
Of course this is all very top-secret, so most of us will likely never know who these men were – or if they even existed. What’s disturbing is when it sometimes seems like the authorities don’t know either, or don’t care.

[1], [5], [12] “Names of hijackers.” St. Petersburg Times (Florida). September 15, 2001. Accessed November 2. 2004 at:
[2], [7] “Focus On Florida.” CBS News. September 14, 2001. Copied November 2, 2004 from:
[3], [4], [6] “Evidence trails lead to Florida.” BBC News. September 13, 2001. Accessed October 30, 2004 at:
[8] Harrison, David. “Revealed: the men with stolen identities.” The Telegraph. September 23 2001. Copied Nov 3, 2004 from:
[9] “Hijack 'suspects' alive and well” BBC News. September 23, 2001. Accessed November 3, 2004 at:
[10] National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. The 9-11 Commission Final Report. Authorized Edition. New York. W.W. Norton. 2004. Page 232
[11] 9/11 Commssion Final Report. Page 231.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Wargame One: Vigilant Guardian

OPERATION VIGILANT GUARDIAN: The ironically dubbed “Vigilant Guardian” was the first to be widely acknowledged, notably in the BBC’s excellent 2002 documentary Clear the Skies. The exercise, as the official one-paragraph web page explains, was a regular, yearly exercise designed to simulate a “crisis to North American Air Defense outposts nationwide.” [1] As a result of Vigilant Guardian, according to NEADS Commander Colonel Robert Marr, “The fighters were cocked and loaded, and even had extra gas on board.” [2] Exact details remain classified, but it was a multi-day exercise, already going on for at least a day as the attacks began.

Three different accounts of first notification of a hijacking indicate that there were to be simulated hijackings in at least Vigilant Guardian: Major General Larry Arnold said “the first thing that went through my mind was, is this part of the exercise? Is this some kind of a screw-up?” [3] Sergeant Jeremy Powell at NEADS, where Vigilant Guardian was being carried out, was contacted by Boston Flight Control at 8:38 am. The Boston controller told him there was a hijacked plane headed to New York. Powell responded “is this real-world or exercise?” He received the answer “no this is not an exercise, not a test.” [4]

The most relevant account is that of Lt. Colonel Dawne Deskins. As NEADS regional overseer of Vigilant Guardian, she should have understood better than anyone what to expect from the drill. Newhouse News Service reported her response to the crisis: "At 8:40, Deskins noticed senior technician Jeremy Powell waving his hand. Boston Center was on the line, he said. It had a hijacked airplane. “It must be part of the exercise,” Deskins thought. At first, everybody did. [After clarifying with FAA] Deskins ran up a short flight of stairs to the Battle Cab and reported the hijacked plane real world, not a simulation.” [5]

Name Meaning: “Vigilant or Amalgam means it is a HQ NORAD sponsored exercise. Guardian means it is a multi-command CPX, or command post exercise (no live-fly). So on 9/11, NORAD was conducting a NORAD-wide, multi-command, command post exercise with no live-fly." - Major Don Arias, NORAD press spokesman who was on duty and involved in the response the morning of 9/11, to Mike Ruppert. As reprinted in Crossing the Rubicon, page 368.

(the original page had this quote, but by 2006 the page makes no mention of a crisis but explains it is now "conducted in conjunction with USCINCSTRAT-sponsored GLOBAL GUARDIAN and USCINCSPACE-sponsored APOLLO GUARDIAN exercises. The exercise involves all HQ NORAD levels of command and is designed to exercise most aspects of the NORAD mission.")
[2] Scott, William B. “Exercise Jump-Starts Response to Attacks.” Aviation week’s Aviation Now. June 3, 2002. Accessed April 27, 2003 at:
[3] ABC News. “Terror Hits the Towers: How Government Officials Reacted
to Sept. 11 Attacks.” September 14, 2002. Accessed at:
[4] 9/11 Commission Final Report. Page 20
[5] Hart, Seely. “Amid Crisis Simulation, 'We Were Suddenly No-Kidding Under Attack.'” Newhouse News Service. January 25, 2002. Accessed May 7, 2003 at:

A Yawning Gap

On the evening of September 14 the first story of the Air Force response to the three-day old attack was aired on CBS News.- The two F-15 pilots were scrambled from Otis AFB on Cape Cod, Massachusetts at 8:52, just after the first plane's impact but well before the second. Despite what officials had thus far said, it seemed fighters did get airborne during the attack. This made us feel a little better.

After this news was reported, the official stance changed. On the 18th, NORAD published their final initial timeline, including the Otis scramble time as 8:52, and an additional scramble of fighters from Langley Air Force Base at 9:30, ceding two scrambles before the Pentagon was hit. This timeline changed yet again in 2004 as the 9/11 Commission released its findings. Most of the facts that follow are from this newer version of events (the scrambles just mentioned are agreed on in both versions).

At the time of the attacks, only fourteen fighters were routinely kept on ready and alert status across the US mainland. These were deployed and scrambled in pairs, so these fighters represented only seven actual deployments. Nearly all reported pre-9/11 threats of terrorist attacks, some involving hijackings, focused on New York or Washington D.C. Yet on that morning, only two of these seven deployments were in the Northeast sector, thick with air traffic (about 50% of the national total) and with threats against it (nearly all threats targeted New York or Washington). The BBC quoted Colonel Robert Marr, Commander of the North East Air Defense Sector (NEADS), as saying “I had determined, of course, that with only four aircraft we cannot defend the whole north eastern United States.” Worse, these deployments were on the northern and southern fringes of the area of vulnerability, in each case about 150 miles away from the nearest targeted site. One newspaper wondered why NORAD had left “what seems to be a yawning gap in the midsection of its air defenses on the East Coast – a gap with New York City at the center.”

Fighter Deployments

(Graphic by the Author, based on post-9/11 research - exact basing at the time of the attack is not clear, but clearly seems inadequate for what unfolded that day, revealing, at best, poor planning of the air defenses in a time of heightened alert)
1) Hancock Field Air National Guard Base (ANGB), Syracuse, NY. 174th Fighter Wing. Very close to Rome, NY HQ of NEADS.
2) Barnes ANGB, MA. 104th Fighter Wing
3) Bradley ANG base, CT. 103rd Fighter Wing.
4) Otis AFB, Falmouth, MA. Postings and status unclear. Scrambled two F-16s at 8:52.
5) Willow Grove, PA. 11th Fighter Wing.
6) Atlantic City ANGB, NJ. 177th Fighter Wing. Atlantic City had two F-16s In the air on 9/11 for a bombing exercise near the city. Boston flight controllers tried to contact the base at 8:34, but the phone just rang. They weren’t on “ready” status as they had been in previous years. This fighter pair was finally sent to Washington after 10:00.
7) Andrews AFB - it's actually closer than it looks here, only 10 miles from the Pentagon - home of the 113th wing DC Air National Guard and the Air National Guard Readiness Center. They did not get fighter off the ground on 9/11 until 10:42, and these were sent up without missiles. The pair sent had been in the air on a training mission in South Carolina as the attack began.
8) Langley AFB, VA. 10th Intelligence Squadron, Air Force Doctrine Center, Air Combat Command, 1st Fighter Wing. Scrambled two F-15s and an unidentified third plane at 9:30.