Point ME-1: Did Military Exercises Show that the Military was Prepared for
Domestic (as Well as Foreign) Hijackings?
The Official Account
Critical to the success of the 9/11 attacks was the element of surprise, which was emphasized by key White House and Pentagon officials.1
The element of surprise, as the 9/11 Commission pointed out, rested on two factors:
- Hijacked planes were used as weapons – a departure from predictable, traditional hijackings;2
- The attacks originated, unpredictably, from within the country, rather than from outside.3
The Best Evidence
The military had trained for the possibility of hijacked planes used as weapons, including hijacked planes originating within the country. Professor John Arquilla, a Special Operations expert at the Naval Postgraduate School, stated in 2002 that “the idea of such an attack [using hijacked airliners for suicide attacks against major buildings] was well known, had been wargamed as a possibility in exercises before Sept. 11, 2001, and previous airline attacks had been attempted.”4
Multiple training drills using planes as weapons had taken place before September 11, 2001.
- In October 2000, a military exercise had created a scenario of a simulated passenger plane crashing into the Pentagon. The exercise was coordinated by the Defense Protective Services Police and the Pentagon’s Command Emergency Response Team.5
- US Medicine reported that two health clinics housed within the Pentagon trained for a hijacked airplane to hit the Pentagon in May 2001. “Though the Department of Defense had no capability in place to protect the Pentagon from an ersatz guided missile in the form of a hijacked 757 airliner, DoD medical personnel trained for exactly that scenario in May.”6
- The Department of Transportation in Washington held an exercise on August 31, 2001, which Ellen Engleman, the administrator of the department’s Research and Special Projects Administration, described thus:
“Ironically, fortuitously, take your choice, 12 days prior to the incident on September 11th, we were going through a tabletop exercise. It was actually much more than a tabletop…in preparation for the Olympic…which was a full intermodal exercise… Part of the scenario, interestingly enough, involved a potentially highjacked plane and someone calling on a cell phone, among other aspects of the scenario that were very strange when twelve days later, as you know, we had the actual event.”7
- One such operation involved planes originating from inside the United States. According to USA Today:
“In the two years before the Sept. 11 attacks, the North American Aerospace Defense Command conducted exercises simulating…hijacked airliners used as weapons to crash into targets and cause mass casualties….[O]ne operation, planned in July 2001 and conducted later, involved planes from airports in Utah and Washington state that were hijacked.”8
- The operation involving multiple hijacking drills using planes from inside the United States was Amalgam Virgo 2002, planned for 1500 people in July 2001 and scheduled for operation in June 2002.9
Contrary to claims by The 9/11 Commission Report, US military exercises prior to 9/11 involved hijackings – within as well as outside US airspace – in which planes were used as weapons.
Any new investigation should ask why the highest responsible officials denied that such preparation had preceded the attacks on 9/11, and why, given that preparation, no effective actions were taken to stop the hijacked planes from reaching their targets.
References for Point ME-1
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said, “Never would have crossed anyone’s mind.” “Text: Rumsfeld on NBC’s ‘Meet the Press’”, September 30, 2001.
General Richard Myers, Deputy commander of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said, “You hate to admit it, but we hadn’t thought about this.” American Free Press Service, US Department of Defense, Oct. 23rd, 2001.
White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said, “Never did we imagine what would take place on September 11th, where people used those airplanes as missiles and weapons.” Ari Fleischer Press Briefing, May 16, 2002.
National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice said, “I don’t think anybody could have predicted that these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center, take another one and slam it into the Pentagon; that they would try to use an airplane as a missile, a hijacked airplane as a missile.” “National Security Advisor Holds Press Briefing,” May 16, 2002.
2. “In sum, the protocols in place on 9/11 for the FAA and NORAD to respond to a hijacking presumed that. . .the hijacking would take the traditional form: that is, it would not be a suicide hijacking designed to convert the aircraft into a guided missile.” The 9/11 Commission Report, 18.
3. “America’s homeland defenders faced outward. NORAD itself was barely able to retain any alert bases. Its planning scenarios occasionally considered the danger of hijacked aircraft being guided to American targets, but only aircraft that were coming from overseas.” The 9/11 Commission Report, 352.
4. Kevin Howe, “Expert Stresses Need for Intelligence,” Monterey County Herald, 18 July 2002. Ken Merchant, NORAD’s joint exercise design manager, told the 9/11 Commission in 2003 that he could not “remember a time in the last 33 years when NORAD has not run a hijack exercise.” Interview, November 14, 2003.
5. Dennis Ryan, “Contingency Planning Pentagon MASCAL Exercise Simulates Scenarios in Preparing for Emergencies,” November 3, 2000.
9. “Airborne Anti-Terrorist Operation Getting Underway,” CNN.com, June 4, 2002; Gerry J. Gilmore, “NORAD-Sponsored Exercise Prepares For Worst-Case Scenarios,” American Forces Press Service.
Myers and Sept. 11: “We Hadn’t Thought About This”
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