Point ME-2: The Claim that the Military Exercises Did Not Delay
the Response to the 9/11 Attacks
Until September 11, 2001, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) conducted four major annual war exercises a year.1 These aerial practice drills, run cooperatively with the US Strategic Command and the US Space Command, simulated war situations for a period of one or two weeks.
The two largest, Global Guardian and Vigilant Guardian, were command level (high level) exercises that ran together, involved all levels of command, and were designed to exercise most aspects of the NORAD mission.
Global Guardian also linked with other exercises sponsored by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Unified Commands — which included Amalgam Warrior, Apollo Warrior, and Crown Vigilance.2
These exercises, traditionally held in October or November, were all running on September 11, 2001.
The Official Account
The 9/11 Commission Report states that when Boston FAA Flight Center called NEADS (NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector) to report the hijacking of Flight 11, NEADS asked, “Is this real world or exercise?”3
The Commission’s footnote to this question reported that the large-scale exercise Vigilant Guardian, which postulated a bomber attack from the former Soviet Union, had not compromised the military response.4 This statement reflected the claims of several military officers:
- According to General Ralph Eberhart, Commander of NORAD at Peterson Air Force Base, “it took about 30 seconds” to make the adjustment to the real-world situation.5
- According to Robert Marr, “we found that the response was, if anything, expedited by the increased number of staff at the sectors and at NORAD because of the scheduled exercise.”6
- General Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, concurred, saying in 2005 that the exercises “actually enhanced the response.”7
The Best Evidence
I. Although the 9/11 Commission mentioned only one military exercise – Vigilant Guardian – that was scheduled for 9/11, evidence shows that at least 12 exercises had been scheduled for that day:
- Vigilant Guardian: An annual NORAD exercise held traditionally in October,8 often in conjunction with Global Guardian.9 On 9/11, all levels of command at NORAD Headquarters, including NEADS, were participating in this command-post exercise (CPX),10 “24/7”.11
- Global Guardian: A massive annual Command Post-Exercise (CPX) and Field Training Exercise (FTX),12 which was sponsored jointly by the U.S. Strategic Command, US Space Command, and NORAD, and was linked to Vigilant Guardian and Amalgam Warrior.13Global Guardian is traditionally held in October or November each year.14 According to a military newspaper dated March 23, 2001,15 the over-arching Global Guardian exercise had indeed been originally scheduled for October,16 but was subsequently moved to early September.
- Crown Vigilance was sponsored by Air Combat Command and was linked to Global Guardian.17
- Amalgam Warrior was also running — a large-scale live-fly exercise involving two or more NORAD regions, traditionally held twice a year in April and October.18
- Amalgam Virgo: NORAD officers told the 9/11 Commission Team 8: “On 9/11 there were two FDX exercises planned: Amalgam Virgo and Amalgam Warrior.“19
- Northern Vigilance: A large annual real-world NORAD operation that on 9/11 diverted much of the US air defense fleet to Canada and Alaska to counteract a Russian drill.20 This operation involved NORAD’s Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center (CMOC) in Colorado.21
- Apollo Guardian, linked to Global Guardian and run by the US Space Command, was also running on September 11, 2001. “Hijacks were included in these exercises to exercise transition in Rules of Engagement (ROE).”22
- W-105at Otis Air Force Base: Six F-15′s from Otis (out of a contingent of 18) took off on a routine ocean training exercise at 9:00 AM, eight minutes after two “alert” F-15′s on the same runway were scrambled in response to the first WTC attack. The six training jets were recalled at 9:25 AM to be armed and to join the response.23
- Andrews Air Force Base (outside Washington, DC): There were only seven pilots available in the AAFB 121st Fighter Squadron on 9/11 because many had not returned from the large-scale training exercise “Red Flag” in Las Vegas.24 Three F-16 fighter jets took off on a training exercise at 8:36 AM from Andrews AFB and did not return until 2:35 PM. Flight strips indicated that Andrews-based fighters were not scrambled in response to the hijackings until 11:12 AM.25
- New Jersey Air National Guard: When the World Trade Center was hit, two F-16 fighters from the 177th Fighter Wing based in Atlantic City were on a routine training mission eight minutes flying time away from New York, but the pilots were not informed of the hijackings until after the second Tower was hit at 9:03 AM. Two other fighters from this Wing were also on a routine training exercise. No jets took off from Atlantic City in response to the attacks until after the Pentagon was hit at approximately 9:37.26
- Washington DC Army Aviation Support Unit: Members of this Unit were attending annual weapons training, 90 minutes drive away.27 The Unit’s mission was to maintain “a readiness posture in support of contingency plans,” to exercise “operational control” of the Washington area airspace, and to provide “aviation support for the White House, US government officials, Department of Defense, Department of the Army, and other government agencies,”28 including the Pentagon.
- National Reconnaissance Office: NRO, a large intelligence agency of the Department of Defense, had planned a 9:32 AM simulation of a small plane crashing into one its own towers near Washington’s Dulles Airport.29
The rescheduling from October to early September of seven aerial drills — the two largest having been Global Guardian and Vigilant Guardian, and the five related aerial drills that accompanied them — resulted in an unprecedented number of simultaneous drills that morning.
This was an enormous departure from other years.
These drills included at least two hijackings (a Boeing 747 flying from Tokyo to Anchorage, and a Korean Airlines Boeing 747 flight from Seoul to Anchorage),30 and one drill in which a plane was planned to simulate hitting a building (the National Reconnaissance Office).
II. One would expect that having so many exercises would have caused some confusion, which might have slowed down the military response. Indeed, statements to this effect have been made:
- According to a summary of a 9/11 Commission interview with Canadian Lt. Gen. Rick Findley, who was at NORAD as the Battle Staff Director at Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center (CMOC) on September 11,2001, there was, following the second attack on the Twin Towers, “confusion as to how many, and which aircraft, were hijacked. There was no situational awareness that was directly credible, and CMOC was relying on the communications over the phone lines with its operations sectors. Findley opined that AA 11 was reported still airborne and headed towards Washington, D.C. because of the added confusion of many hijack reports.”31
- At Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington, DC, FAA Air Traffic Controller James Ampey, stationed at Andrews Tower, reported in a 9/11 Commission interview that there were an unusually high number of aircraft taking-off and landing at Andrews that morning because previously scheduled military exercises were underway. The radar screens were showing “emergencies all over the place.”32
- General Larry Arnold, commander of NORAD’s Continental U.S. Region, said: “By the end of the day, we had 21 aircraft identified as possible hijackings.”33
- Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke: “There were lots of false signals out there. There were false hijack squawks, and a great part of the challenge was sorting through what was a legitimate threat and what wasn’t.”34
- FAA Deputy Administrator, Monte Belger, said:“Between 9:20-9:45 there were many confusing reports about various aircraft being unaccounted for.”35
- An independent study in 2011 gave detailed accounts of nine falsely reported hijackings on 9/11, plus nine other reported aircraft emergencies.36
Because of the rescheduling of military exercises normally scheduled for different times, there were an extraordinary number of exercises underway the morning of September 11, 2001.
The Department of Defense and the 9/11 Commission failed to report all but one of the exercises that occurred that morning.
They also denied that such exercises slowed down military responses to the attacks.
Had the 9/11 Commission reported the full extent of the exceptional number of exercises it knew were operating that morning, the above-quoted statements by military officers such as Eberhart, Marr, and Myers – that the exercises did not, by causing confusion, slow down the military response – would have seemed implausible.
Any new investigation should probe the fact that, taken together, this evidence suggests that:
(1) the Pentagon, after creating conditions that confused the military response to the attacks, sought to cover up its creation of these conditions, and that
(2) the 9/11 Commission facilitated this cover-up by not making public the information held in its records cited above.
References for Point ME-2
1. Steven Komarow and Tom Squitieri, “NORAD Had Drills of Jets as Weapons,” USA Today, April 19, 2004.
2. GlobalSecurity.org. “Global Guardian.”
3.The 9/11 Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks upon the United States, Authorized Edition (New York: W. W. Norton, 2004), 20.
4. The 9/11 Commission Report, 458, note 116.
7. Myers said: “The important thing to realize is that North American Aerospace Defense Command was responsible [for managing the wargames]. These are command post exercises; what that means is that all the battle positions that are normally not filled are indeed filled; so it was an easy transition from an exercise into a real world situation. It actually enhanced the response; otherwise, it would take somewhere between 30 minutes and a couple of hours to fill those positions, those battle stations, with the right staff officers.” “Transcript of Representative Cynthia McKinney’s Exchange with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Richard Myers, and Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) Tina Jonas,” March 11th, 2005.
9. “Vigilant Guardian,” Global Security.
10. A command-post exercise (CPX) is one “in which the forces are simulated, involving the commander, the staff, and communications within and between headquarters.” See “Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms,” (US Department of Defense), 2005.
11. See the August 20, 2001, “Memorandum from Col. Robert Marr,” at the NEADS Command Center, outlining the 24/7 Operations that would be conducted September 10-13, 2001. The exercise included injects, or simulated track inputs, onto NORAD radar screens.
12. “Exercise Global Guardian 2001-2 Joint After Action Report,” US Strategic Command, Offutt AFB, Nebraska.
13. United States. Department of Defense. “Examples of U.S. Strategic Command Nuclear Exercise Activities,” 1997?
14. Hans N. Kristensen, “Taking the Pulse of the US Nuclear Arsenal,” Washington, DC, Basic, 1998. Global Guardian began on October 22, 2003. See: Hans M. Kristensen, “Global Strike: A Chronology of the Pentagon’s New Offensive Strike Plan,” Federation of American Scientists, 2006.
15. “21st Space Wing Priorities,” Space Observer, March 23, 2001, p. 2.
16.Global Guardian had been originally scheduled for October 22-31, 2001, according to NBC military analyst William M. Arkin, in his book, Code Names: Deciphering U.S. Military Plans, Programs and Operations in the 9/11 World, Steerforth, 2005, p. 379. See also the 2002 date, October 17 to 25.
17. GlobalSecurity.org, “Global Guardian.”
19. 9/11 Commission interview with Merchant and Goddard, “Memorandum for the Record: NORAD Field Site Visit: Interview with Major Paul Goddard (Canadian Forces), and Ken Merchant,” March 4, 2004.
20. Lieutenant-General Ken Pennie, Deputy Commander-in-Chief of NORAD, said that “NORAD-allocated forces will remain in place until the end of the Russian exercise. NORAD conducted operation Northern Denial from December 1 to 14, 2000 in response to a similar, but smaller scale, Russian deployment.” “NORAD Maintains Northern Vigilance,” NORAD News, Sept. 9, 2001.
21. 9/11 Commission “Memorandum for the Record,” Interview with NORAD Deputy Commander, Lieutenant General Rick.Findley, Canadian Forces (CF),” March 1, 2004.
23. TSgt. Bruce Vittner, “Historian’s Report for Sept. 11, 2001,” p. 2.
9/11 Commission, “Memorandum for the Record: Initial overview of Otis AFB operations by Colonel Paul Worcester,” October 14, 2003.
25. 9/11 Commission, “Memorandum for the Record: Visit to Reagan National Airport Control Tower in Alexandria, VA and Andrews Air Force Base Control Tower,” July 28, 2003.
26. Mary Lou Vocale, “Guard Tempo of Operation Noble Eagle,” Code One Magazine, Fourth Quarter 2002.
27. United States Army. Center of Military History. “Interview of CW2 (Chief Warrant Officer) _____,” (tape transcription), no date.
28. Jody T. Fahrig, “Davison Army Airfield Hosts Open House,” May 7, 1999.
29. 9/11 Commission. “Early Morning Flight Activity, September 11, 2001: Exercise Concept” (Commission Sensitive Document), Faxed July 3, 2003, 07:39 AM.
John J. Lumpkin, “Agency planned exercise on Sept. 11 built around a plane crashing into a building,” Associated Press, August 21, 2002.
30. 9/11 Commission. “NORAD Exercises Hijack Summary” (Commission Sensitive), no date.
31. 9/11 Commission, “Memorandum for the Record,” Interview with NORAD Deputy Commander, Lieutenant General Rick Findley, Canadian Forces (CF),” March 1, 2004.
32. 9/11 Commission, “Memorandum for the Record: Visit to Reagan National Airport Control Tower in Alexandria, VA and Andrews Air Force Base Control Tower,” July 28, 2003.
33. “Conversation With Major General Larry Arnold, Commander, 1st Air Force, Tyndall AFB, Florida,” Code One, January 2002.
34. “Chilling Audio From 9/11 Hijack Played at Hearing,” aired June 17, 2004.
35. 9/11 Commission, “Memorandum for the Record,” November 24, 2003.
36. Shoestring, “The Many False Hijackings of 9/11,” April 10, 2011.
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