Point MC-9: The Activities of General Ralph Eberhart during the 9/11 Attacks

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NORAD is the US-Canadian military agency responsible for defending North American airspace. Its traditional operating procedures – according to which planes are to be intercepted when they deviate from their courses, turn off their transponders, or permanently lose radio contact – were not followed on 9/11.

As the commander-in-chief of NORAD on 9/11, General Ralph E. “Ed” Eberhart was ultimately responsible for all of NORAD’s failures on 9/11 – most importantly, the failure to intercept hijacked airliners before they could strike the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. The fourth airliner, UA 93, which was reportedly headed towards the nation’s capital, may have been shot down by NORAD, but NORAD has denied this. Accordingly, the official story about 9/11 is that NORAD was four-for-four in failing to intercept hijacked airliners that day.

Nevertheless, in spite of NORAD’s disastrous failures under General Eberhart’s leadership, he was never held accountable or even criticized. Indeed, he was promoted shortly after 9/11 and later called a “9/11 hero.” [1]

Unlike others, such as Gen. Richard Myers and Gen. Henry Shelton, Eberhart has not written an account of his actions on 9/11. Likewise, he was seldom discussed by the 9/11 Commission. Accordingly, we do not know much about his actions that day. But enough has been said and reported by officials and the media to add up to an official story about his actions.

The Official Account
  • “On the morning of 9/11 General Eberhart was in his office at headquarters—roughly 30 minutes away from Cheyenne Mountain, where the operations center is located.” [2]
  • “Eberhart received a call at 6:45 AM MDT (Mountain Daylight Time, or 8:45 AM EST [sic EDT] from CMOC’s [Cheyenne Mountain Operation Center’s] Command Director (CD) that informed him of the ongoing circumstance of a suspected hijacking on the East Coast. He was told that this was a non-exercise. He went to his office, and saw the CNN broadcast of the World Trade Center explosion.” [3]
  • It seemed to Eberhart that there was “great confusion in the system” at this time. (This was also stated by Canadian Lt. Gen. Rick Findley, the Battle Staff Director at Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center, who later told the 9/11 Commission that, following the second attack on the Twin Towers, there was “confusion as to how many, and which aircraft, were hijacked.” [4]) When Eberhart learned about the second WTC attack, it became obvious to him that “an ongoing and coordinated terrorist attack” was underway. [5]
  • Eberhart tried to contact Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Henry Shelton, but could not, because Shelton was on a plane to Europe to attend a NATO meeting. [6]
  • Eberhart then contacted the acting chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard Myers, who was on Capitol Hill meeting with Senator Max Cleland. Eberhart called Myers sometime between 9:03 and 9:30 AM, hence before the report of the Pentagon attack, which took place at approximately 9:37 AM. [7]
  • Eberhart updated Myers about the crisis, telling him that the Twin Towers had been hit, that NORAD would be launching fighter jets in response, and that he was working with the FAA to get all non-military planes in the United States grounded. [8]
  • According to Myers, Eberhart told him that there were “several hijack codes in the system,” [9] which meant, said Myers, “that the transponders in the aircraft [were] talking to the ground, and they’re saying … we’re being hijacked.” [10]
  • Eberhart next said that he was going to remain at Building 1 of Peterson Air Force Base – the headquarters of the US Air Force Space Command (of which Eberhart was also the commander) – because “he did not want to lose communication.” However, he then decided to drive to NORAD’s Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center, leaving at “approximately 9:30” EDT (or 7:30 MDT), which would have been shortly after his conversation with Myers. As to why Eberhart took this trip during the crisis, he explained that things had “quieted down” and the Operations Center “had communications capabilities not available at Peterson.” [11]
  • Although, according to the 9/11 Commission, making the 12-mile drive normally takes “roughly 30 minutes,” it took Eberhart 45 minutes. As a Washington Post story reported later, the trip “can be time-consuming if traffic is bad.” [12] During this period, it was later reported, Eberhart “couldn’t receive telephone calls as senior officials weighed how to respond,” [13] or at least could not hold them: He “lost a cell phone call with Vice President Dick Cheney.” [14]
  • At 9:49 AM, Eberhart, during the Pentagon’s air threat conference call, ordered “all air sovereignty aircraft to battle stations, fully armed.” [15]
  • The 9/11 Commission asked Eberhart why he, after realizing that there was an organized attack against the country, did not implement the plan called SCATANA (Security Control of Air Traffic and Air Navigation Aids), which would clear the sky of all non-military planes, so that the military would have complete control of the U.S. airspace. Eberhart explained that, with the radars it had, NORAD would not have been able to “control the airspace that day,” so if SCATANA had been implemented suddenly, even more problems would have developed. In response to those within NORAD who had advised him to implement it immediately, Eberhart said: “I will execute SCATANA once you have a modified SCATANA that … doesn’t cause a bad situation to become worse.” Two hours after the second plane hit the WTC, Eberhart was able to execute the modified SCATANA. [16]
The Best Evidence

An examination of the evidence shows that Eberhart, rather than being considered a “9/11 hero,” may well be the opposite. This evidence can be divided into two categories:

  1. Eberhart made several contradictory and implausible statements.
  2. Eberhart also caused delays by virtue of his actions and omissions.

1. Eberhart made several contradictory and implausible statements:

The official story about Eberhart contains the following elements, discussed in the order they appeared in the summary above:

  • Eberhart said that he first tried to contact Gen. Shelton, finding that he was on the way to Europe. However, given that Shelton’s trip had been planned for some time, the claim that Eberhart did not know when his immediate superior (the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff) would be absent is not credible.
  • Eberhart said that he called General Myers while the latter was on Capitol Hill – which, as shown in the 9/11 Consensus Point about Myers, [17] was false.
  • Although Eberhart reported that the hijacked airliners, having used the hijack code, were talking to the ground, the failure of all eight pilots to squawk the hijack code is one of the main problems with the official account. [18]
  • Although Eberhart justified driving to the Operations Center by saying that things had “quieted down,” two hijacked airliners were still in the air (which his statements about several hijack codes implies that he believed).
  • If he had a good reason to get to the Operations Center, he could have taken the quick helicopter trip (rather than wasting 45 minutes or longer driving the distance). [19]
  • Although Eberhart claimed that he was unable to communicate by cell phone during the trip, he at 9:49 AM (7:49 Mountain) reportedly ordered – during an air threat conference call – interceptor pilots to get to their battle stations. [20]
  • Although “battle stations” sounds like an effective action, it actually means that pilots wait in their jets with the engines off, so they were not ready to scramble immediately. [21]
  • Eberhart’s claim that he could not implement SCATANA immediately, without making a bad situation worse, is not credible, given that SCATANA was a procedure set up for emergencies, and the modified SCATANA would have surely been already worked out, especially given the fact that NORAD was doing exercises at the time, including a plane crashing into a Manhattan skyscraper. Also the NORAD officers who were urging Eberhart to order SCATANA evidently saw no problem with doing so.

Accordingly, the official account about Eberhart contains inaccuracies, extraordinary claims, and actions and omissions through which the interception of the hijacked airliners would have been delayed.

2. Eberhart caused delays through further actions and omissions

There were additional irregularities regarding Eberhart’s actions, omissions, and statements:

  • It is standard operating procedure for NORAD to intercept a flight if it has lost radio contact, turned off its transponder, and gone off course. This was true of all four 9/11 flights and yet NORAD, under Eberhart, did not intercept any of them. [22]
  • As to why NORAD failed to intercept, it gave out a timeline in 2001, claiming NORAD knew about the hijackings and tried to intercept the airliners but could never get there in time. [23] NORAD told this story from 2001 until 2004. But then, in The 9/11 Commission Report, it gave a completely different account, according to which (1) the FAA failed to alert NORAD about American 11 until it was too late for jets to reach it and (2) the FAA failed to tell NORAD about all three of the other flights until after they had crashed. [24]
  • Regarding American 77 (which reportedly hit the Pentagon), Eberhart and the 9/11 Commission said that “NEADS never received notice that American 77 was hijacked.” [25] But if that were true, why did Eberhart, about six weeks after the attacks, tell the U.S. Senate that NORAD had scrambled jets at 9:24 AM after being notified that hijacked American 77 was coming towards Washington, adding that this was a “documented notification”? [26] Did the 2004 timeline mean that Eberhart’s 2001 statement to the Senate was a lie? Or did it mean that the FAA was lying when it emphatically said that it had shared “real-time information” with NORAD and the Pentagon about “all the flights of interest, including Flight 77.” [27]
  • As to why the new story may have emerged: The 9/11 research community had shown that NORAD’s first timeline did not excuse NORAD, because there would have been time to intercept the airliners before the Twin Towers and the Pentagon were hit. In June 2004, while the 9/11 Commission Report was being prepared, Eberhart said that this view was correct – that if NEADS had been told about the flights when the FAA claimed, his people would have been able to “shoot down all three of them — all four aircraft.” [28]
  • When Eberhart was interviewed by the 9/11 Commission in March 2004, he said he had “no knowledge of the circumstance [sic] that initiated the scramble” [29] of fighter jets at 9:24 AM from Langley. Having learned that NEADS had scrambled those fighters in response to a false report – that American 11, which had hit WTC 1, was still airborne and heading toward Washington DC – Eberhart said that he had learned about this false report only “recently.” [30] It seems incredible that the head of NORAD would have been ignorant about which fighters had been scrambled until two and a half years following the attacks.
  • Eberhart had the responsibility of setting the alert levels of the INFOCON, which defends against attacks on the Pentagon’s communications networks. Just 12 hours before the attacks, INFOCON was reduced to its least protective level and then not raised until after the second WTC attack. [31]
  • Eberhart was also in charge of many of NORAD’s military exercises (“war games”) that occurred on 9/11, such as Vigilant Guardian, which had a scenario in which terrorists hijacked an airliner with the aim of attacking New York City. The exercise was conducted “sim over live,” meaning the simulated hijackings were to be inserted into the live air traffic control system. As a result, NEADS personnel for some time were uncertain whether the radar tracks were real or simulated.
    According to Eberhart’s own testimony, he realized after the second WTC attack, hence shortly after 9:00 AM, that a “coordinated terrorist attack” was underway. Eberhart was the person with the primary responsibility to protect Canada and the US from attack, and yet he allowed the war games to continue until after 10:00 AM.
    Moreover, radar personnel at Cheyenne asked NEADS to “get rid of this goddamn sim.” According to a 9/11 Commission interview with Canadian Lt. Gen. Rick Findley, who was NORAD’s Battle Staff Director at Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center on the morning of September 11, there was, following the second attack, “confusion as to how many, and which aircraft, were hijacked.” [32] Nevertheless, the sim remained until after the time of the Pentagon attack (at 9:37 AM). When asked about the impact of the military exercises by the 9/11 Commission, Eberhart falsely claimed that they had “at most cost us 30 seconds.” [33]
  • Researcher and reporter Michael Kane of Global Free Press, who was on the scene at a 9/11 Commission Hearing, reported: “After General Eberhart’s sworn testimony, I asked him who was in charge of coordinating the multiple war games running on 9/11. He replied: ‘No Comment.’” [34] However, Lt. Col. Dawne Deskins from the North East Air Defense Sector (NEADS) told the Commission, “Exercises that are designed on the NORAD level are created at planning conferences. NORAD planning exercises are mostly held at Peterson,” which is where General Eberhart was in charge. [35]

Eberhart made several statements that were clearly false and others that were at least highly implausible, including:

  • that he decided it would be all right to drive to the Operations Center because things had “quieted down”;
  • that the airliner pilots had squawked the hijack code;
  • that he could not use his cell phone during his drive to the Operations Center;
  • that the military exercises would have delayed NEADS no more than 30 seconds;
  • that he had only recently learned that the 9:24 AM scramble was based on a false report about American 11;
  • that he called General Myers while the latter was on Capitol Hill.

Eberhart also caused delays through his actions and omissions:

  • by turning INFOCON down to the least protective level;
  • by taking 45 minutes or longer to drive to the Operations Center with a cell phone that reportedly did not work (which meant that Eberhart – like Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Myers, Shelton, and Winfield – was reportedly incommunicado during the attacks);
  • by ordering interceptor pilots to “battle stations,” which meant that the pilots wait in their jets with the engines off, so they were not ready to scramble immediately;
  • by delaying to implement SCATANA until after the attacks were over;
  • by arranging multiple military exercises for 9/11, with at least one of them being “sim over live,” then not ordering removal of these confusing “sims” until after the Pentagon attack.

Finally, in agreeing with The 9/11 Commission’s statement that NORAD’s 2001 timeline was false, Eberhart implied that the military (under his control) had given a false account.

In short, Eberhart did nothing effective in response to the 9/11 hijackings – despite being present in the military’s teleconference as those hijackings were in progress – except to delay responses.

Considerable evidence points to Eberhart as having been derelict in his duty. [36]

A formal investigation should be launched to see if there is any other conclusion that could be reached.

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References for Point MC-9
Gerry J. Gilmore, “Eberhart Tabbed to Head U.S. Northern Command,” American Forces Press Service, May 8, 2002; the Northern Command (NORTHCOM) is considered “the nation’s premier military homeland defense organization”; NORAD and USNORTHCOM Public Affairs, “NORAD and USNORTHCOM Honour 9/11 Heroes,” October 15, 2012.
The 9/11 Commission Report, note 228 on p. 465.
Ibid., p. 2.
General Myers confirmed that shortly after Eberhart’s call the Pentagon was hit while he was on his way back to it. Source: “Panel I, Day II of the Twelfth Public Hearing of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States.” Chaired by Thomas Kean, Chairman, June 17, 2004, p. 43-44.
Richard Myers (with Malcolm McConnell), Eyes on the Horizon: Serving on the Front Lines of National Security (New York: Threshold Editions, 2009), 9.
“Richard Myers, Interview by Jim Miklaszewski,” NBC News, September 11, 2002; Myers, Eyes on the Horizon, 9.
The 9/11 Commission Report, 465; T. R. Reid, “Military to Idle NORAD Compound,” Washington Post, July 29, 2006.
Bruce Finley, “Military to Put Cheyenne Mountain on Standby,” Denver Post, July 27, 2006.
The 9/11 Commission Report, 42; Pam Zubeck, “Cheyenne Mountain’s Fate May Lie in Study Contents,” The Gazette, June 16, 2006; Lynn Spencer, Touching History: The Untold Story of the Drama That Unfolded in the Skies Over America on 9/11 (New York: Free Press, 2008), 240.
The 9/11 Commission Report, p. 38 (pdf-p. 55), citing “DOD transcript, Air Threat Conference Call, Sept. 11, 2001.”
William B. Scott, “Exercise Jump-Starts Response to Attacks,” Aviation Week & Space Technology, June 3, 2002; 9/11 Commission, Twelfth Public Hearing, June 17, 2004, p. 70; Spencer, Touching History, 269.
9/11 Consensus Panel, Point MC-6: “The Activities of General Richard Myers during the 9/11 Attacks.”
9/11 Consensus Panel, Point Flt-1: “A Claim Regarding Hijacked Passenger Jets.”
“No reason was ever given (or requested) for why Eberhart did not fly directly to CMOC from Peterson, making use of the Cheyenne Mountain helicopter port,” Kevin Ryan, “The Case Against Ralph Eberhart, NORAD’s 9/11 Commander,” January 12, 2013.
The 9/11 Commission Report, p. 38 (pdf-p. 55), citing “DOD transcript, Air Threat Conference Call, Sept. 11, 2001.”
Leslie Filson, Air War Over America: Sept. 11 Alters Face of Air Defense Mission (Tyndall Air Force Base: 1st Air Force, 2003), 55; Lynn Spencer, Touching History, 27.
NORAD, “NORAD’S Response Times, Sept. 11, 2001,” September 18, 2001.
The 9/11 Commission Report, pp. 18-30 (pdf-p. 35-47).
The 9/11 Commission Report, p. 34 (pdf-p. 51).
1st Fighter Wing History Excerpt, July through December 2001: 61.
Vigilant Guardian 01-02 Planning Document; “ ’Real-World or Exercise’: Did the U.S. Military Mistake the 9/11 Attacks for a Training Scenario?” Shoestring 9/11, March 22, 2012; “ ‘Let’s Get Rid of This Goddamn Sim’: How NORAD Radar Screens Displayed False Tracks All Through the 9/11 Attacks,” Shoestring 9/11, August 12, 2010; 9/11 Commission, Twelfth Public Hearing, June 17, 2004. 9/11 Consensus Panel, Point ME-2: “The Claim that the Military Exercises Did Not Delay the Response to the 9/11 Attacks”.
Kane spoke to Eberhart following the Commission’s Twelfth Public Hearing, June 17, 2004. Source: Don Jacobs, “The Military Drills on 9-11: ‘Bizarre Coincidence’ or Something Else?” In Paul Zarembka, ed., “The Hidden History of 9-11-2001,” Elsevier, 2006, p. 129.
9/11 Commission Interview with Lt. Col. Dawne Deskins, North Eastern Air Defense Sector (NEADS) field site visit, October 30, 2003, p. 3.
“Dereliction of duty is a specific offense under United States Code Title 10,892, Article 92, and applies to all branches of the US military. A service member who is derelict has willfully refused to perform his duties … or has incapacitated himself in such a way that he cannot perform his duties [as when Eberhart took his long drive] … Article 92 also applies to service members whose acts or omissions rise to the level of criminally negligent behavior.” (“Dereliction of Duty,” Wikipedia, accessed April 2015).


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