Tuesday, January 9, 2007


Two hijacked planes had targeted Washington – AA77 and UA93. The Langley pilots, those nearest to Washington during the attack were somehow never told of either. So why were they even in the air? According to the 9/11 Commission, they were chasing American 11 an hour after it crashed. According to the 9/11 Commission, they were going to intercept Flight 11. While the Otis pilots had been looking for it until at least 9:03 am, well after it had crashed, somehow it was misreported to NEADS at 9:21 that American 11 was still airborne and headed for Washington. Thus, the commission concludes, the Langley pilots were going to intercept the ghost flight nearly an hour after it crashed. The Commission reported: “we have not been able to identify the source of this mistaken FAA information.” [1]

Did someone make this up, or were they actually seeing it as a radar blip on their screens? During the course of the 9/11 Commission’s hearings, I recall an official testifying that a number of reported hijackings that morning turned out to be “phantoms.” These non-existent planes turning up as real on radar screens further confused response, notably by distracting the Langley pilots from a real plane – American 77 – that was official invisible on these same screens until right before it hit the Pentagon.

FAA Administrator Jane Garvey told Richard Clarke, after the first two planes had crashed, “we have reports of eleven aircraft off course or out of communications, maybe hijacked.” [2] Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta said “we probably had maybe about ten unaccounted for planes.” [3] Florida State Congressman Adam Putnam, who was aboard Air Force One with President Bush, was told at 11:30 there was a threat against them. Putnam explained “at the time… [the President] said that there were six aircraft that were not accounted for.” [4] In his bunker beneath the White House, Cheney had at least two possible run-ins with ghost planes, which he aggressively ordered shot down. Were all of these simply the result of confusion and uncertainty, with every communications problem getting a plane called in as a possible hijack? Or was there something stranger at work?

Among the air-based War Games being held that morning was Operation Northern Vigilance, set up in the arctic with Canadian assistance. They were there, NORAD explained, “to monitor a Russian air force exercise” that was happening just on the other side of the North Pole. [5] In addition to possibly drawing fighters and radar attention away from the East Coast, Northern Vigilance also, for whatever reason, involved radar “inserts,” blips that would look like planes to radar controllers but in reality corresponded to nothing. How many inserts were used, on whose screens, and inserted into which air traffic regions are all questions that remain unanswered. As it became clear an attack was underway, at 9:00 am, NORAD officially cancelled the exercise and erased the inserts. But until that time, they may have added to the confusion in the air. And this is only the reported possible source of such phantom flights. There are so many other ways in which false radar/transponder data could be seen as real and thus conceal the attack planes beneath a swarm of decoys. The confusion would only have to hold for about 30-45 minutes, just long enough to get all the targets – or at least all but one – through our normal air defenses. If this was the plan, it worked like a charm and the catalyzing event was realized.

[1] 9/11 Commission Final Report. Page 26
[2] Clarke, Richard A. “Against All Enemies: Inside America’s War on Terror.” New York. Free Press. 2004. Page 4.
[3], [4] “Clear the Skies.” BBC Video. 2002.
[5] Ruppert, Michael C. “Crossing the Rubicon.” 2004. Page 342.
[6] Thompson and the CCR. The Terror Timeline. 2004. Page 386.

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