Monday, February 9, 2009


Adam Larson / Caustic Logic
They Let It Happen

Note [added 2/8/09] While I am leaving this post up as-is and FWIW, the core point of it - the apparent "muzzling" represented by the 2001 order - seems to have been debunked. See Mike W's 9/11 Myths page. What I'd previously read as an exception to new restrictions was actually THE change to a MORE restrictive previous order. Good thing I had already called it a red herring, rather than hanging any weight on the issue. So for the record - the June 1 change can have had no direct role in impeding the 9/11 defense, and so it's implementation is not direct evidence of any LIHOP thinking. Apologies also for the late update.

As indicated by the swift fighter response in the Payne Stewart case, the Chain of Command was not ordinarily needed to get escort fighters off the ground – this could all be done automatically and at intermediate levels. But more tightly controlled actions, like issuing an order for these fighters to shoot down a civilian aircraft, constituted an emergency and had to originate with the President and pass through every link in the chain of command to the responsible fighter pilots.

But these guidelines, in effect since 1986, oddly changed just three months before September 11, extending the need for approval yet further down. A Defense Department directive of June 1 2001 stated: “In the event of a hijacking, the NMCC will be notified by the most expeditious means by the FAA. The NMCC will, with the exception of immediate responses […] forward requests for DoD assistance to the Secretary of Defense for approval.” [1] Aviation Week backed this up: “On Sept. 11, the normal scramble-approval procedure was for an FAA official to contact the National Military Command Center (NMCC) and request Pentagon air support. Someone in the NMCC would call NORAD's command center and ask about availability of aircraft, then seek approval from the Defense Secretary--Donald H. Rumsfeld--to launch fighters.” [2] In other words, the automatic scrambling of fighters was no more – the Secretary of Defense now had to personally sign off before fighters could be sent up, and specifically in response to a hijacking. Michael Ruppert wrote that this change in procedures “demonstrated a willful intent to centralize decision-making away from field commanders prior to the attacks.” [3]

But the 9/11 Commission’s final report states in its blameless way: “As they existed on 9/11, the protocols for the FAA to obtain military assistance from NORAD required multiple levels of notification and approval at the highest levels of government […] The NMCC would then seek approval from the Office of the Secretary of Defense to provide military assistance […] The protocols did not contemplate an intercept […] On the morning of 9/11, the existing protocol was unsuited in every respect for what was about to happen.” [4] They do not mention how recently and intentionally it had become so unsuited.

Of course “immediate response” actions were allowed without Rumsfeld’s immediate permission, and it appears some thought the attacks fit this exception – neither the Otis nor the Langley fighters, the first wave of defense (scrampled 8:52 and 9:30), were scrambled with Rumsfeld’s permission. He claims he never even arrived at the NMCC until 10:30 am. According to the Commission, Major General Larry Arnold, commander of the Continental U.S. NORAD Region said to one of his subordinates “go ahead and scramble [the Otis fighters], and we’ll get authorities later.” So the fighters were sent up, if slowly and with great confusion, and Rumsfeld’s procedure change becomes a red herring, if a telling one.

Sources: [5] Ruppert, Micheal C. Crossing the Rubicon. Gabriola Island, BC, Canada. New Society Publishers. 2004. Page 316
[6] Scott, William B. “Exercise Jump-Starts Response to Attacks.” Aviation week’s Aviation Now. June 3, 2002. Accessed April 27, 2003 at: (need subscription to read it now).
[7] See [5]. Ruppert. Page 337.
[8] National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States. 9/11 Commission Final Report. Page 17

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