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 StandDown.net. 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: http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A42754-2002Jan26
[2] General Richard B. Myers, Senate Confirmation Hearing. Senate Armed Services Committee. September 13, 2001. Accessed August 5, 2005 at: http://www.attackonamerica.net/genrichardbmyerssenateconfirmationhearing9132001.htm
[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: http://emperors-clothes.com/9-11backups/bg915.htm
[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. http://www.popularmechanics.com/technology/military_law/1227842.html?page=3
[7]Ruppert, Michael C. http://www.fromthewilderness.com/free/ww3/060704_tripod_fema.html

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