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CNN BREAKING NEWS
Coverage of 9/11 Commission Hearings
Aired June 17, 2004 - 08:28 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back, everybody.
We've been listening to some of the testimony from a staffer from the 9/11 Commission who's been reading to us, we believe, and playing for us what we believe are the first words heard of Mohamed Atta.
PHILIP ZELIKOW, 9/11 COMMISSION STAFF: I want to read to you some of what this Commission staffer had to say.
8:24:38 on 9/11, from American Flight 11 comes this: "We have some planes. Just stay quiet and you'll be OK. We are returning to the airport."
Again, this is believed to be a transmission from Mohamed Atta.
Then, not long after that, American Flight 11 again: "Nobody move. Everything will be OK. If you try to make any moves, you'll endanger yourself and the airplane. Just stay quiet."
Then, 8:34, another transmission from Flight 11: "Nobody move, please. We're going back to the airport. Don't try to make any stupid moves."
The Boston controllers at this point -- you'll recall, that American Airlines Flight 11 began its roll out of Boston -- not sure what to do, involved the military.
Let's get back to that testimony from the Commission staffer right now.
Because the Otis fighters had expended a great deal of fuel in flying first to military air space and then to New York, the battle commanders were concerned about refueling. NEADS considered scrambling alert fighters from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia to New York to provide backup.
The Langley fighters were placed on battle stations at 9:09. NORAD had no indication that any other plane had been hijacked.
The following is a time lapsed depiction of the flight paths of American 11 and United 175.
O'BRIEN: A graphic, again, the staffer showing the change in the flight path of American Airlines Flight 11 which had left Boston Logan Airport just moments ago. At one point it becomes clear, although it's still very confusing to some of the controllers, that something is happening on board that plane.
And the focus then becomes the word "planes," that a voice that is heard in the transmission says, "We have some planes." But it's unclear if that's his accent, of one of the controllers, or if they actually have more than one plane they are talking about.
The military response, and they're trying to figure out if, in fact, more planes have now been hijacked. Obviously, you can see there just after 9 in the morning, one plane -- in fact, someone who's talking to the Boston center says it looks like there is another plane that is aimed at the World Trade Center in New York.
By then they're on the phone with New York City and they realize there are two aircrafts. The New England regional center, where Flight 11 has left off but responsible for Flight 11, says there is another aircraft, unaware that another flight now is headed for the World Trade Center.
And they say a second one has just hit the trade center. That's the Boston center. And from New England they say, "We've got to alert the military real quick on this."
This is essentially a rundown of what happened on September 11, step by step, that the 9/11 commissioners have been able to piece together.
We're going to take you back to Barbara Starr, who's at the Pentagon for us. And again, Barbara, you know, so many people know of this timeline, but to hear the transcript and see it, I think, second by second, is absolutely riveting.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, it is, Soledad, for everybody who watched the events unfold that day.
And of course, what we are hearing from the commission this morning is what they believe is the voice of Mohammed Atta, one of the hijackers on American Flight 11. If you listen very closely, the chills indeed.
ZELIKOW: Controllers immediately began to move aircraft out of its path and searched from aircraft to aircraft in an effort to have another pilot contact American 11. At 8:24 and 38 seconds, the following transmission came from American 11.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
MOHAMED ATTA, 9/11 HIJACKER: We have the planes, just stay quiet and you'll be OK. We're returning to the airport.
(END AUDIO CLIP) ZELIKOW: The controller only heard something unintelligible. He did not hear the specific words, quote, "We have some planes," end quote. The next transmission came seconds later.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
ATTA: Nobody move, everything will be OK. If you try to make any moves, you'll injure yourself and the airplane. Just stay quiet.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
ZELIKOW: Hearing that transmission the controller told us he then knew it was a hijacking.
STARR: But, indeed, what the FAA, what the federal government did not know that morning, of course, is that this was not one of the typical hijacking that the U.S. government had always trained and prepared for.
This was the seizure of airplanes turning them, basically, into suicide bombers that would emerge, of course, over the next several minutes.
Now this hearing today, the last public hearing of the commission. You will hear many more new details throughout the day, Soledad, details about the FAA response, about the response by the U.S. military, the confusion that there was at the highest levels of the government as they tried to figure out what was going on and what, if anything, they could do about it -- Soledad.
O'BRIEN: Barbara, thanks. We'll check in with you again. Appreciate it.
Let's go back to the hearing now. There's testimony now on Flight 77. American Airlines Flight 77 took off 20 minutes after Flight 11 left out of Boston. Flight 77 taking off from Dulles.
Thirty-four minutes later, that plane began deviating from its flight path. Let's listen to what the testimony is at this commission hearing.
JOHN FARMER, 9/11 COMMISSION STAFF MEMBER: ... center had no primary radar and that it was looking for the aircraft.
The failure to find a primary radar return for America 77 led us to investigate this issue further.
Radar reconstructions performed after 9/11 reveal that FAA radar equipment tracked the flight from the moment its transponder was turned off at 8:56. But for 8:13 seconds, between 8:56 and 9:05, this primary radar information on American 77 was not displayed to controllers at Indianapolis center.
The reasons are technical, arising from the way software process radar information, as well as from poor primary radar coverage where American 77 had been flying.
According to the radar reconstruction, American 77 reemerged as a primary target on Indianapolis Center radarscopes at 9:05, east of its last-known position. The target remained in Indianapolis Center airspace for another six minutes, then crossed into the western portion of Washington Center's air space at 9:10.
As Indianapolis Center continued searching for the aircraft, two managers and the controller responsible for American 77 looked to the west and southwest along the flight's projected paths, not east, where the aircraft was now heading. The managers did not instruct other controllers at Indianapolis Center to turn on their primary radar coverage to join in the search for American 77.
In sum, Indianapolis Center never saw Flight 77 turn around. By the time it reappeared in primary radar coverage, controllers had either stopped looking for the aircraft because they thought it had crashed or they were looking toward the west.
In addition, while the flight center learned Flight 77 was missing, neither it nor FAA headquarters issued an all all-points bulletin to surrounding centers to search for primary radar targets.
American 77 traveled undetected for 36 minutes on a course heading due east for Washington, D.C.
By 9:25, FAA's Herndon command center and FAA headquarters knew the following: they knew two aircraft had crashed into the World Trade Center. They knew American 77 was lost. They know a hijacker on board American 11 had said, quote, "We have some planes," end quote.
Concerns over the safety of other aircraft began to mount. A manager at the Herndon command center asked FAA headquarters if they wanted to order a, quote, "nationwide ground stop," end quote.
While executives at FAA headquarters discussed it, the command center went ahead and ordered one anyway at 9:25.
The command center kept looking for American 77. At 9:21 it advised a Dulles terminal control facility, which urged its controllers to look for primary targets. At 9:32 they found one.
Several of the Dulles controllers, quote, "observed a primary radar target tracking eastbound at a high rate of speed," end quote, and notified Reagan Airport. FAA personnel at both Reagan and Dulles airports notified the Secret Service. The identity or aircraft type was unknown.
Reagan airport controllers then vectored an unarmed National Guard C-130H cargo aircraft, which had just taken off en route to Minnesota, to identify and follow the suspicious aircraft. The C-130H pilot spotted it, identified it as a Boeing 757 and attempted to follow its path.
And at 9:38, seconds after impact, reported to Washington tower, quote, "Looks like that aircraft crashed into to the Pentagon, sir," end quote.
Military notification and response. NORAD did not know about the search for American 77. Instead, they heard once again about a plane that no longer existed, American 11. At 9:21, NEADS received reports from the FAA.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Military advise center, just had a report that American 11 is still in the air, and it's on its way heading towards Washington.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: American 11 is still in the air on its way towards Washington?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Definitely another aircraft that hit the tower. That's the latest report we have.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm going to try to confirm it, ideally. But I would assume he's somewhere over either New Jersey or somewhere further south.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So American 11 isn't the hijack at all then, right?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, it is a hijack.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: American 11 is a hijack? And he's headed into Washington?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It looks like there will be a third aircraft.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
FARMER: This mention of a, quote, "third aircraft," end quote, was not a reference to American 77. There was confusion at that moment in the FAA.
Two planes had struck the World Trade Center, and the Boston Center had heard from FAA headquarters in Washington that American 11 was still airborne. We have been unable to identify the source of this mistaken FAA information.
The NEADS technician who took this call from the FAA immediately passed the word to the mission crew commander. He, in turn, reported to NEADS battle commander.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. American Airlines is still airborne, 11, the first guy, he's heading toward Washington. OK? I think we need to scramble Langley right now, and I'm going to take the fighters from Otis and try to chase this guy down, if I can find him.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
FARMER: The mission crew commander at NEADS issued an order at 9:23, quote, "OK, scramble Langley. Head them towards the Washington area," unquote.
That order was processed and transmitted to Langley Air Force Base at 9:24 and radar data showed the Langley fighters were airborne at 9:30. NEADS decided to keep the Otis fighters over New York. The headed of the Langley fighters was adjusted to send them to the Baltimore area.
The mission crew commander explained to us that the purpose was to position the Langley fighters between the reported southbound American 11 and the nation's capitol.
At the suggestion of the Boston center's military liaison, NEADS contacted the FAA Washington center to ask about American 11. In the course of the conversation, a Washington center manager informed NEADS that, quote, "We're looking. We also lost American 77," end quote. The time was 9:34.
This was the first notice to the military that American 77 was missing, and it had come by chance. If NEADS had not placed that call the NEADS air defenders would have received no information that American 77 was even missing, although the FAA had been searching for it.
No one at FAA command center headquarters ever asked for military assistance with American 77.
At 9:36, the Boston center called NEADS and relayed the discovery about the aircraft closing on Washington, an aircraft that still had not been linked with the missing American 77.
The FAA told NEADS, quote, "Latest report, aircraft VFR" -- visual flight rules -- "six miles southeast of the White House. Six southwest. Six southwest of the White House deviating away," end quote.
This startling news prompted the mission crew commander at NEADS to take immediate control of the air space to clear a fight path for Langley fighters. Quote, "OK, we're going to turn it. Crank it up. Run them to the White House," end quote.
He then discovered to his surprise that the Langley fighters were not headed north through the Baltimore air as instructed, but east over the ocean. Quote, "I don't care how many windows you break," he said. "Damn it. OK, push them back," quote.
The Langley fighters were heading east, not north for three reasons. First, unlike a normal scramble order, this order did not include a distance to the target or the target's location.
Second, a generic flight plan incorrectly led the Langley fighters to believe they were ordered to fly due east, 090, for 60 miles. The purpose of a generic flight plan was to quickly get the aircraft airborne and out of local air space.
Third, the lead pilot and local FAA controller incorrectly assumed the flight plan instruction to go, quote, "090 for 60, end quote, was newer guidance that superseded the original scramble order.
After the 9:36 call to NEADS about the unidentified aircraft, a few miles from the White House, the Langley fighters were ordered to Washington, D.C.
Controllers at NEADS located an unknown primary radar track but, quote, "It kind of faded," end quote, over Washington." The time was 9:38. The Pentagon had been struck by American 77 at 9:37 and 46 seconds.
The Langley fighters were approximately 150 miles away.
Right after the Pentagon was hit NEADS learned of another possible hijacked aircraft. It was an aircraft that, in fact had not been hijacked at all.
After the second World Trade Center crash, Boston center managers recognized both aircraft were transcontinental 767 jetliners that had departed Logan airport. Remembering the, quote, "We have some planes," end quote, remark, Boston center had guessed that Delta 1989 might also be hijacked.
Boston Center called NEADS at 9:41 and identified Delta 1989, a 767 jet that departed Logan Airport destined for Las Vegas as a possible hijack. NEADS warned the FAA's Cleveland air traffic control center to watch Delta 1989.
The FAA's Herndon command center and FAA headquarters were watching it, too. During the course of the morning there were multiple erroneous reports of hijacked aircraft in the system.
The report of American 11 heading south was the first. Delta 1989 was the second. NEADS never lost track of Delta 1989 and even launched fighter aircraft from Ohio and Michigan to intercept it. The flight never turned off its transponder.
NEADS soon learned, however, that the aircraft was not hijacked and tracked Delta 1989 as it reversed course over Toledo, headed east and landed in Cleveland.
But another aircraft was heading towards Washington, United 93. The following is a time lapsed depiction of the flight path of American 77.
O'BRIEN: You're looking at a time lapsed depiction of American Flight 77. We have been listening to a commission staffer explain exactly what happened to that flight. That flight left Dulles International Airport 20 minutes after Flight 11 left Boston.
And you can see from some of the pictures they have been showing of some of the family members who have been attending this hearing, the pain, as they begin to understand just how many mistakes were made in relaying the information on this particular flight, Flight 77, as it apparently disappears and goes undetected for some 36 minutes, as it is, in fact, heading for Washington, D.C. but not noticed by air traffic controllers because of their neglect in notifying across the board other air traffic controllers, as well.
In addition, they do not notify the military until nearly one hour after this flight's taken off that flight 77 is, in fact, missing. The late notification, of course, delays the scrambling of the jets from Langley and sort of has a spiraling affect on the ability to respond to the attacks.
This the plane, of course that does strike the Pentagon at 9:37 in the morning on September 11.
Now, the commission staffer is relaying what exactly they've been able to discover happened to United Airlines Flight 93, which took off from Newark at 8:42 on the morning of September 11.
FARMER: ... "radio transmission of unintelligible sounds, possible screaming or a struggle from an unknown origin," end quote. The controller responded seconds later, quote, "Somebody call Cleveland," end quote.
This was followed by a second radio transmission, the sounds of screaming and someone yelling, quote, "Get out of here! Get out of here!" end quote, again from an unknown source.
The Cleveland center controllers began to try to identify the possible source of the transmissions and noticed that United 93 had descended some 700 feet.
The controller attempted again to raise United 93 several times, but no response. At 9:30, the controller began to pull the other flights in his frequency to determine if they heard the screaming. Several said that they had.
At 9:32, a third radio transmission came over the frequency. Quote, "Keep remaining sitting. We have a bomb on board," end quote. The controller understood but chose to respond, quote, "Calling Cleveland center. You're unreadable. Say again slowly," end quote. He notified his supervisor to pass a notice up the chain of command.
By 9:34, word of the hijacking had reached FAA headquarters in Washington. FAA headquarters had, by this time, established an open line of communication with the command center at Herndon and instructed it to pull all the centers of suspect aircraft.
The command center executed the request, and a minute later Cleveland center reported that, quote, "United 93 may have a bomb on board," end quote. That was the information command center relayed to FAA headquarters at 9:34.
Between 9:34 and 9:38 the controller observed United 93 climbing to 40,700 feet and immediately moved several aircraft out of its way. The controller continued to try to contact United 93 and asked for the pilot to confirm that he had been hijacked. There was no response. Then, at 9:39, a fifth radio transmission came over the radio frequency from United 93.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... a bomb aboard. (UNINTELLIGIBLE)
(END AUDIO CLIP)
FARMER: The controller responded, quote, "United 93, I understand you have a bomb on board. Go ahead," end quote. The flight did not respond.
At 9:41, Cleveland center lost United 93's transponder signal. The controller located it on primary radar, matched its position with visual sightings from other aircraft and tracked the flight as it turned east, then south.
At about 9:36 Cleveland center asked command center specifically whether someone had requested the military to launch fighter aircraft to intercept United 93. Cleveland center offered to contact a nearby military base.
Command center replied that FAA personnel well above them in the chain of command had to make that decision and were working the issue.
From 9:34 to 10:08 a command center manager updated executives at FAA headquarters on the progress of United 93. During this time, the plane reversed course over Ohio and headed toward Washington.
At 9:42 command center learned from television news reports that a plane had struck the Pentagon. The command center's national operations manager, Ben Steiny (ph), ordered all FAA facilities to instruct all airborne aircraft to land at the nearest airport.
This was a totally unprecedented order. The air traffic control system handled it with great skill as about 4,500 commercial and general aviation aircraft soon landed without incident.
At 9:46 and, again, two minutes later, command center updated FAA headquarters that United 93 was now, quote, "29 minutes out of Washington, D.C.," end quote.
A minute after that at 9:49, 13 minutes after getting the question from Cleveland center about military help, command center suggested that someone at headquarters should decide whether to request military assistance.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're pulling Jeff (ph) away to talk about United 93.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do we want to think about scrambling aircraft?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, God, I don't know.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's a decision somebody is going to have to make probably in the next ten minutes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, everybody just left the room.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
FARMER: At 9:53, FAA headquarters informed command center that the deputy director for air traffic service was talking to deputy administrator Monty Belger (ph) about scrambling aircraft.
Then command center informed headquarters they lost track of United 93 over the Pittsburgh area. Within seconds, command center received a visual report from another aircraft and informed headquarters that the aircraft was 20 miles northwest of Johnstown.
United 93 was spotted by another aircraft, and at 10:01, command center advised FAA headquarters that one of the aircraft had seen United 93, quote, "waving his wings," end quote.
The aircraft had witnessed the radical gyrations to what we believe was the hijackers effort to defeat the passenger assault on the cockpit.
United 93 crashed in Pennsylvania at 10:03 and 11 second, 125 miles from Washington, D.C. The precise crash time has been subject to some dispute. The 10:03 and 11 second time is supported by evidence from the staff's radar analysis, the flight data recorder, NTSB analysis and infrared satellite data.
Five minutes later, command center forwarded this update to headquarters.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, there is now on the United 93.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There is a report of black smoke in the last position I gave you, 15 miles south of Johnstown.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: From the airplane or from the ground?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're speculating it's from the aircraft who have hit the ground. That's what they're speculating. That's speculation only.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
FARMER: The aircraft that spotted the, quote, "black smoke," end quote was the same unarmed Air National Guard cargo plane that had seen United 77 crash into the Pentagon 26 minutes earlier. It had resumed its flight to Minnesota and saw the smoke from the crash of United 93 less than two minutes after the plane went down. At 10:17, command center advised headquarters of its conclusion that United 93 had, indeed, crashed.
Despite the discussions about military assistance, no one from FAA headquarters requested military assistance regarding United 93. Nor did any manager at FAA headquarters pass any of the information it had about United 93 to the military.
Military notification and response. NEADS first received a call about United 83 from the military liaison at Cleveland center at 10:07. Unaware that the aircraft had already crashed, Cleveland passed to NEADS the last known latitude and longitude.
NEADS was never able to located United 93 on radar, because it was already at the ground.
At the same time, the NEADS mission crew commander was dealing with the arrival of the Langley fighters over Washington, D.C. He was sorting out what their orders were with respect to potential targets.
Shortly after 10:10, and having no knowledge either that United 93 had been heading toward Washington or that it had crashed, the mission crew commander explicitly instructed that the Langley fighters did not have, quote, "clearance to shoot aircraft," end quote, aircraft over the nation's capitol.
The news of a reported bomb on board United 93 spread quickly at NEADS. The air defenders' search for United 93's primary radar return and tried to locate assets to scramble toward the plane.
NEADS called Washington center to report.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I also want to give you a heads up, Washington.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Go ahead.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: United 93, have you got information on that yet?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, he's down.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's down?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When did he land? Because we had confirmation...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He did not land.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, he's down?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Somewhere northeast of Camp David. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Northeast of Camp David.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's the last report. They don't know exactly where.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
FARMER: The time of notification of the crash of United 93 was 10:15. The NEADS air defenders never located the flight or followed it on the radarscopes. The flight had already crashed by the time they learned it was hijacked.
The following is a time lapsed depiction of United 93.
O'BRIEN: We have been listening to a 9/11 commission staffer run through what exactly happened to United Airlines Flight 93. And you can see from the timeline highlights that were massive delays in actually requesting the military's help.
The plane took off around 9:30. Nineteen minutes later, after air traffic controllers believe that they heard some kind of muffled screaming on board -- it was still unclear to them -- the FAA managers are still discussing whether or not they should call the military in and notify them.
The question there at 19 minutes after hearing the screaming and reports of a bomb on board, do we want to think about scrambling aircraft and giving notification to military headquarters to get involved?
And again, when they take shots of the family members who are listening to this testimony, you can see the pain on their faces when they recognize the number of balls dropped, certainly, by some of the members of the FAA, the flight managers who were unable and did not give information about what exactly was happening to all these planes at the same time.
You're looking now at -- at the graphic of the military's response when they're finally notified about what had happened to the flight, Flight 93, United Airlines.
Apparently, we can hear some testimony and some of the audiotape, as well. There are certain people that don't even realize that the plane has crashed. There's a long time that goes by while they're searching for the plane, unavailable to find on radar, of course, because that is the plane that has gone down and been grounded, we later learned, by some of the passengers onboard.
It's been fascinating to hear for this testimony, reading through what they've bee n able to reconstruct about each and every flight and a timeline and the large lapses between when the military is notified and when the FAA is well aware that there is a problem with these planes.
BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Must be extremely difficult for the families watching this, seeing the expressions on their faces and oftentimes the tears in their eyes as the testimony continues.
CHRISTOPHER KOJM, 9/11 COMMISSION STAFF: ... this statement was incorrect. There was no hijacked report at 9:16. United 93 was proceeding normally at that time.
In the same public testimony, NORAD officials stated that at 9:24 NEADS received notification of the hijacking of American 77. This statement was also incorrect. The notice NEADS received at 9:24 was not about American 77. It was notification that American 11 had not hit the World Trade Center and was heading for Washington, D.C.
A 9:24 entry in the NEADS event log records American Airlines number 9334A hijacked. This is the tail number of American 11.
In their testimony and in other public statements, NORAD officials also stated that the Langley fighters were scrambled to respond to the notifications about American 77 and/or United 93. These statements were incorrect, as well.
The report of American 11 heading south, as the cause of the Langley scramble, is reflected not just in taped conversations at NEADS, but in taped conversations in FAA centers, on chat logs compiled at NEADS, continental region headquarters and NORAD and in other records.
Yet, this response to a phantom aircraft, American 11, is not recounted in a single public timeline or statement issued by FAA or DOD. Instead since 9/11, the scramble of the Langley fighters has been described as a response to the reported hijacking of American 77 or United 93 or some combination of the two.
This inaccurate account created the appearance that the Langley scramble was a logical response to an actual hijacked aircraft. Not only was the scramble prompted by the mistaken information about American 11, but NEADS never even received notice that American 77 was hijacked.
It was notified at 9:34 that American 77 was lost and minutes later, NEADS was told that an unknown plane was six miles southwest of the White House. Only then did the already scrambled airplanes start moving directly to Washington, D.C.
Thus, the military did not have 14 minutes to respond to American 77, as testimony last year suggested. It had at most one or two minutes to respond to the unidentified plane approaching Washington, and the fighters were in the wrong place to be able to help. They had been responding to a report about an aircraft that did not exist.
Nor did the military have 47 minutes to respond to United 93, as would be implied by the account that it received notice about it at 9:16. By the time the military learned about the flight, it had crashed.
(AUDIO GAP) ... 15. By that time the Langley fighters were over Washington, but, the operating orders were (AUDIO GAP), close quote, regarding nonresponsive targets over Washington, D.C. The word of the authorization to shoot down hijacked civilian aircraft did not reach NEADS until 10:31.
We do not believe that an accurate understanding of the events of this morning reflects discredit on the operational personnel from NEADS or FAA facilities. The NEADS commanders and floor officers were proactive in seeking information and made the best judgments they could, based on the information they received.
Individual FAA controllers, facility managers and command center managers thought outside the box in recommending a nationwide alert, in ground stopping local traffic and ultimately in deciding to land all aircraft and executing that unprecedented order flawlessly.
In fact, it was inaccurate accounts of what happened that created questions about supposed delays in the military's interception of the hijacked aircraft. They also had the effect of deflecting questions about the military's capacity to obtain timely and accurate information from its own resources.
They overstated the FAA's ability to provide the military timely and useful information that morning.
We now turn to the timing and circumstances of that shoot-down authorization and the role of national leadership in the events that morning.
DANA HYDE, 9/11 COMMISSION STAFF: On the morning of 9/11, there was no one decision maker in Washington with perfect information. Various people had various pieces of information, and they were in different locations.
The president was initially at an elementary school in Florida and then en route to Louisiana. At the White House, other decision makers gathered in either the White House situation room or the underground shelter, formerly known as the presidential emergency operations center.
At the Department of Defense, the center of crisis management was the Pentagon's national military command center.
At the FAA, two locations were pivotal: Washington headquarters and the command center in Herndon.
National decision making from 8:46 to 9:03. When American 11 struck the World Trade Center at 8:46, no one in the White House or traveling with the president knew that it had been hijacked. Immediately afterward, duty officers at the White House and Pentagon began notifying senior officials what had happened. Even within the FAA, the administrator and her deputy had not been told of a confirmed hijacking before they learned from television that a plane had crashed. Others in the agency were aware, as we explained earlier in this statement.
In Florida, the president's motorcade was just arriving at the Emma E. Booker Elementary School where President Bush was to read to a class and talk about education. White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card told us he was standing with the president outside the classroom when senior adviser to the president, Karl Rove, first informed them that a small twin engine plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. The president's reaction was that the incident must have been caused by pilot error.
At 8:55, before entering the classroom, the president spoke to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, who was at the White House. She recalled first telling the president it was a twin engine aircraft, then that it was commercial, saying, "That's all we know right now, Mr. President."
At the White House, the vice president had just sat down for a meeting when his assistant told him to turn on his television because a plane had struck the north tower of the World Trade Center. The vice president was wondering, "how the hell a plane could hit the World Trade Center" when he saw the second aircraft strike the south tower.
The Agencies Confer:
When they learned a second plane had struck the World Trade Center, nearly everyone in the White House told us they immediately knew it was not an accident. The Secret Service initiated a number of security enhancements around the White House complex. The officials who issued these orders did not know that there were additional hijacked aircraft or that one such aircraft was en route to Washington.
These measures were precautionary steps because of the strikes in New York. Officials across the government struggled to find out what was going on. The FAA, the White House and the Defense Department each initiated a multi-agency teleconference before 9:30. The FAA, following its protocol, set up a hijacking teleconference at approximately 9:20 with several agencies, including the Defense Department. However, FAA and Defense Department participants in this teleconference told us the call played no role in coordinating the military and FAA response to the attacks of 9/11.
The White House situation room also initiated a video teleconference chaired by Richard Clarke. While important, it had no immediate effect on the emergency defense efforts.
The Defense Department's NMCC initiated a key teleconference that started at 9:29 as a "significant event conference." And then, at 9:37, resumed as an air threat conference call. This teleconference lasted over eight hours.
The president, vice president, secretary of defense, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and deputy national security adviser all participated in the air threat conference at various points in the day, as did military personnel from the White House underground shelter. So did the president's military aide on Air Force One.
Operators worked fever richly to include the FAA in this teleconference, but they had equipment problems and difficulty finding secure phone numbers. NORAD asked three times before 10:03 to confirm the presence of FAA on the conference to provide an update on hijackings. The FAA did not join the call until 10:17. The FAA representative who joined the call had no familiarity with or responsibility for a hijack situation, had no access to decision makers, and had none of the information available to senior FAA officials by that time.
We found no evidence that, at this critical time during the morning of September 11, NORAD's top commanders in Florida or Cheyenne Mountain ever coordinated with their counterparts at FAA headquarters to improve situational awareness and organize a common response.
Lower level officials improvised. The FAA's Boston center bypassing the chain of command to contact NEADS. But the highest level Defense Department officials relied on the NMCC's air threat conference in which the FAA did not meaningfully participate.
At 9:39, the NMCC's deputy director of operations, a military officer, opened the call from the Pentagon which had just been struck by a Boeing 757 airliner. He began, "An air attack against North America may be in progress. NORAD, what's the situation?"
NORAD said it had conflicting reports. Its latest information was, "of a possible hijacking -- hijacked aircraft taking off out of JFK en route to Washington, D.C." The NMCC mentioned reports of a crash into the Mall side of the Pentagon and requested that the secretary of defense be added to the conference.
At 9:44, NORAD briefed the conference on the possible hijacking of Delta Flight 1989. Two minutes later, the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Office of the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff reported that they were still trying to track down the secretary and vice chairman and bring them into the conference. The chairman was out of the country.
At 9:48, a representative from the underground shelter at the White House asked if there were any indications of another hijacked aircraft. The NMCC deputy director for operations mentioned the Delta flight and concluded, "That would be the fourth possible hijack."
At 9:49, the commander of NORAD directed all air sovereignty aircraft to battle stations fully armed. At 9:59, an Air Force lieutenant colonel working in the White House military office joined the conference and stated that he had just talked to Deputy National Security Adviser Steve Hadley.
The White House requested, one, the implementation of continuity of government measures; two, fighter escorts for Air Force one; and three, the establishment of a fighter combat air patrol over Washington, D.C.
The President and Vice President:
The President was seated in a classroom of second graders when, at approximately 9:05, Andrew Card whispered to him, "A second plane hit the second tower. America is under attack."
The president told us his instinct was to project calm, not to have the country see an excited reaction at a moment of crisis. The National Press Corps was standing behind the children in the classroom. He saw their phones and pagers start to ring. The president felt he should project strength and calm until he could better understand what was happening.
The president remained in the classroom for another five to seven minutes while the children continued reading. He then returned to a holding room shortly before 9:15 where he was briefed by staff and saw television coverage. He then spoke to Vice President Cheney, Dr. Rice, Governor Pataki and FBI Director Mueller.
He decided to make a brief statement from the school before leaving for the airport. The Secret Service told us they were anxious to move the president to a safer location but did not think it was imperative for him to run out the door.
Between 9:15 and 9:30, the staff was busy arranging a return to Washington while the president consulted his senior advisors about his remarks. No one in the traveling party had any information during this time that other aircraft were hijacked or missing. As far as we know, no one was in contact with the Pentagon.
The focus was on the president's statements to the nation. No decisions were made during this time other than the -- a decision to return to Washington.
The president's motorcade departed at 9:35 and arrived at the airport between 9:42 and 9:45. During the ride, the president learned about the attack on the Pentagon. He boarded the aircraft, asked the Secret Service about the safety of his family, and called the vice president.
According to notes of this call, at about 9:45, the president told the vice president, "It sounds like we have a minor war going on here. I heard about the Pentagon. We're at war. Somebody's going to pay."
About this time, Card, the lead Secret Service agent, the president's military aide, and the pilot were conferring on a possible destination for Air Force one. The Secret Service agent felt strongly that the situation in Washington was too unstable to return. Card agreed. The president, however, needed convincing. All witnesses agreed that the president strongly wanted to return to Washington and only grudgingly agreed to go elsewhere.
The issue was still undecided when the president conferred with the vice president at about the time Air Force one was taking off. The vice president recalled urging the president not to come back to Washington.
Air Force one departed at approximately 9:55 with no destination at takeoff. The objective was to get up in the air as fast and as high as possible and then decide where to go. News of an incoming aircraft, later discovered to be American 77, prompted the Secret Service to order the evacuation of the vice president just before 9:36. The vice president entered the underground tunnel that led to the shelter at 9:37. Once inside, Vice President Cheney and the agents paused in an area of the tunnel that had a secure phone, a bench, and a television.
The vice president asked to speak to the president, but it took some time for the call to be connected. He learned in the tunnel that the Pentagon had been hit and saw television coverage of smoke coming from the building.
The Secret Service logged Mrs. Cheney's arrival at the White House at 9:52. She joined her husband in the tunnel. According to contemporaneous notes, at 9:55, the vice president was still on the phone with the president, advising that three planes were missing and one had hit the Pentagon.
We believe this is the same call initiated close to the time Air Force One took off in which the vice president joined the chorus of advisors urging the president not to return to Washington. The call ended, she and the vice president moved from the tunnel to the shelter conference room.
FARMER: United 93 and the Shootdown Order:
There was not an open line of communication between the president and vice president on the morning of 9/11, but rather a series of calls between the two leaders. The vice president remembered placing a call to the president just after entering the shelter conference room. There is conflicting evidence as to when the vice president arrived in the shelter conference room.
We have concluded after reviewing all the available evidence that the vice president arrived in the shelter conference room shortly before 10:00, perhaps at 9:58. The vice president recalls being told just after his arrival that an Air Force combat air patrol was up over Washington. At 9:59, a White House request for such a CAP was communicated to the military through the air threat conference.
The vice president states that the purpose of his call to the president was to discuss the rules of engagement for the CAP. He recalled that he felt it did not do anything to put the CAP up there unless the pilots had instructions to tell them whether they were authorized to shoot if the plane would not divert. He said the president signed off on that concept.
The president said he remembered such a conference and that it reminded him of when he had been a fighter pilot. The president emphasized to us that he had authorized the shootdown of hijacked aircraft.
The vice president's military aide told us he believed the vice president spoke to the president just after entering the conference room, but he did not hear what they said. Rice, who entered the conference room shortly after the vice president, and sat next to him, recalled hearing the vice president inform the president that, "Sir, the CAPs are up. Sir, they're going to want to know what to do." Then she recalled he hear him say, "Yes, sir."
She believed this conversation occurred a few minutes, perhaps five, after they entered the conference room. We believe this call would have taken place sometime before 10:10 to 10:15.
Among the sources that reflect other important events that morning, there is no documentary evidence for this call, although the relevant sources are incomplete. Others nearby who were taking notes, such as the vice president's chief of staff, Scooter Libby, who sat next to him, and Mrs. Cheney, did not note the call between the vice president and president immediately after the vice president entered the conference room.
At 10:02, the communicators in the shelter began receiving reports from the Secret Service of an inbound aircraft, presumably hijacked, heading toward Washington. That aircraft was United 93. The Secret Service was getting this information directly from the FAA through its links to that agency.
The Services Operations Center and their FAA contact were tracking the progress of the aircraft on a display that showed its projected path, not its actual radar return. Thus, for a time, they were not aware that the aircraft was going down in Pennsylvania.
At some time between 10:10 and 10:15, a military aide told the vice president and others that the aircraft was 80 miles out. Vice President Cheney was asked for authority to engage the aircraft. The vice president's reaction was described as quick and decisive. "In about the time it takes a batter to decide to swing."
He authorized fighter aircraft to engage the inbound plane. He told us this was based on his prior conversation with the president. The military aide returned a few minutes later, probably between 10:12 and 10:18, and said the aircraft was 60 miles out. He again asked for authorization to engage. The vice president again said yes. The Secret Service was postulating the flight path of United 93, not knowing it had already crashed.
Also at the conference table was White House Deputy Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten. Bolten watched the exchanges, and after what he called a "quiet moment," suggested that the vice president get in touch with the president and confirm the engage order. Bolten told us he wanted to make sure the president was told that the vice president had executed the order. He said he had not heard any prior conversation on the subject with the president.
The vice president was logged calling the president at 10:18 for a two minute call that obtain the confirmation. On Air Force One, at 10:20, the president's press secretary, Ari Fleischer, noted that the president had told him he had authorized to shoot down the aircraft if necessary.
Minutes went by, and word arrived of an aircraft down over Pennsylvania. Those in the conference room wondered if perhaps the aircraft had been shot down pursuant to these directions.
At approximately 10:30, the shelter started receiving reports of another hijacked plane, this time only five to 10 miles out. Believing they had only a minute or two, once again the vice president communicated authority to, "engage," or "take out" the airborne aircraft.
At 10:33, Deputy National Security Adviser Steve Hadley passed that guidance on the air threat conference call. "I need to get word to Dick Myers that our reports are there's an inbound aircraft flying low five miles out." The vice president's guidance was need -- was "We need to take them out."
Once again, there was no immediate information about the fate of the inbound aircraft. As one witness to the event described, "It drops below the radar screen and it's just continually hovering in your imagination. You don't know where it is or what happens to it." Eventually, the shelter received word that the alleged hijacker, five miles away, had been a MedEvac helicopter.
Transmission of the Authorization From the White House to the Pilots:
The National Military Command Center learned of the hijacking of United 93 at about 10:03. The FAA had not been -- had not yet been connected to the air threat conference and in general had practically no contact with the military at the level of national command.
The NMCC instead received news about the hijacking of United 93 from the White House. The White House had received the word from the Secret Service's contacts with the FAA.
NORAD had no information either. In response to questions, the NORAD representative on the air threat conference stated at 10:07, "NORAD has no indication of a hijack heading to Washington, D.C. at this time."
Repeatedly, between 10:14 and 10:19, a lieutenant colonel at the White House relayed the information to the National Military Command Center that the vice president had confirmed fighters were clear to engage the inbound aircraft if they could verify that the aircraft was hijacked. The commander of NORAD, General Eberhart, was en route to the NORAD operations center in Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, when the shootdown order was communicated on the air threat conference. He told us that by the time he arrived at the mountain the order had been already passed down the NORAD chain of command.
It is not clear how the shootdown order was communicated to the continental region headquarters, but we know that at 10:31 General Larry Arnold (ph) instructed his staff to broadcast the following message over a NORAD chat log: "10:31: the vice president has cleared us to intercept tracks of interest and shook them down if they do not respond per Conar CC (ph) -- General Arnold."
In Upstate New York, NEADS personnel first learned of the shootdown order from that chat log message. (BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You need to read this. The region -- the region commander has declared that we can shoot down aircraft that do not respond to our direction. Did you copy that?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Copy that, sir.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So if you're trying to divert somebody and he won't divert...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) is saying no.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No? It came over the chat. You've got a conflict on that direction?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right now, no, but...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You read that from the vice president, right?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The vice president is cleared.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The vice president has cleared us to intercept tracks and shoot them down if they do not respond per Conar CC (ph).
(END AUDIO CLIP)
FARMER: In the interviews with us, NEADS personnel expressed considerable confusion over the nature and effect of the order. Indeed, the NEADS commander told us he did not pass along the order because he was unaware of its ramifications. Both the mission commander and the weapons director indicated they did not pass the order to the fighters circling Washington and New York City because they were unsure how the pilots would or should proceed with this guidance.
In short, while leaders in Washington believed the fighters circling above them had been instructed to "take out" hostile aircraft, the only orders actually conveyed to the Langley pilots were to "I.D., type and tail."
In most cases, the chain of command in authorizing the use of force runs from the president to the secretary of defense, and from the secretary to the combatant commander. The president apparently spoke to Secretary Rumsfeld some -- briefly sometime after 10:00, but no one can recall any content beyond the general request to alert forces.
The president and the secretary did not discuss the use of force against hijacked airliners in this conversation. The secretary did not become part of the chain of command for those orders to engage until he arrived in the NMCC. At 10:39, the vice president tried to bring the secretary up to date as both participated on the air threat conference.
ZELIKOW: The vice president said, "There's been at least three instances here where we've had reports of aircraft approaching Washington. A couple were confirmed hijack. And pursuant to the president's instructions, I gave authorization for them to be taken out. Hello?"
Secretary of defense: "Yes, I understand. Who did you give that direction to?"
The vice president: "It was passed from here through the operations center at the White House from the shelter."
Secretary of defense: "OK. Let me ask the question here. Has that directive been transmitted to the aircraft?"
Vice president: "Yes, it has."
Secretary of defense: "So, we've got a couple of aircraft up there that have those instructions at the present time?"
The vice president: "That is correct. And it's my understanding they've already taken a couple of aircraft out."
Secretary of defense: "We can't confirm that. We're told that one aircraft is down, but we do not have a pilot report that they did it."
FARMER: As this exchange shows, Secretary Rumsfeld was not involved when the shutdown order was first passed on the air threat conference. After the Pentagon was hit, Secretary Rumsfeld went to the parking lot to assist with rescue efforts. He arrived in the National Military Command Center shortly before 10:30. He told us he was just gaining situational awareness when he spoke with the vice president, and that his primary concern was ensuring that the pilots had a clear understanding of their rules of engagement.
The vice president was mistaken in his belief that shootdown authorization had been passed to the pilots flying at NORAD's direction. By 10:45, there was, however, another set of fighters circling Washington that had entirely different rules of engagement. These fighters, part of the 113th Wing of the D.C. Air National Guard, launched out of Andrews Air Force Base, based on information passed to them by the Secret Service.
The first of the Andrews fighters was airborne at 10:38. General Worley (ph), the commander of the 113th Wing, reached out to the Secret Service after hearing secondhand reports that it wanted fighters airborne. A Secret Service agent had a phone in each ear, one to Worley (ph), and one to a fellow agent at the White House, relating instructions that the White House agent said he was getting from the vice president.
The guidance for Worley (ph) was to send up the aircraft, with orders to protect the White House and take out any aircraft that threatens the Capitol. General Worley (ph) translated this in military terms to "weapons-free," which means the decision to shoot rests in the cockpit, or in this case, the cockpit of the lead pilot. He passed these instructions to the pilots that launched at 10:42 and afterward.
Thus, while the fighter pilots under NORAD direction, who had scrambled out of Langley, never received any type of engagement order, the Andrews pilots were operating under weapons-free, a permissive rule of engagement. The president and vice president had told us they had not been aware that fighters had been scrambled out of Andrews at the request of the Secret Service and outside the military chain of command.
ZELIKOW: Reflections on United 93:
Had it not crashed in Pennsylvania at 10:03, we estimate that United 93 could not have reached Washington, D.C. any earlier than 10:13, and most probably would have arrived before 10:23. We examined the military's ability to intercept it.
There was only one set of fighters orbiting Washington, D.C., during this timeframe, the Langley F-16s. They were armed and under NORAD's control. But the Langley pilots were never briefed about the reason they were scrambled.
As the lead pilot explained, "I reverted to the Russian threat. I'm thinking cruise missile threat from the sea. You know, you look down and see the Pentagon burning, and I thought the bastards snack one by us. You couldn't see any airplanes and no one told us anything."
The pilots knew their mission was to identify and divert aircraft flying within a certain radius of Washington but did not know that the threat came from hijacked commercial airliners. Also, NEADS did not know where United 93 was when it first heard about the hijacking from FAA at 10:07.
Presumably, FAA would have provided the information, but we do not know how long it would have taken, nor how long it would have taken NEADS to find and track the target on its own equipment. Once the target was known and identified, NEADS needed orders to pass to the pilots. Shootdown authority was first communicated to NEADS at 10:31.
Given the clear attack on the United States, it is also possible, though unlikely, that NORAD commanders could have ordered the shootdown without the authorization communicated by the vice president. NORAD officials have maintained that they would have intercepted and shot down United 93.
We are not so sure. We are sure that the nation owes a debt to the passengers of United 93. Their actions saved the lives of countless others and may have saved either the U.S. Capitol or the White House from destruction. The details of what happened on the morning of September 11th are complex. But the details play out a simple theme. NORAD and the FAA were unprepared for the type of attacks launched against the United States on September 11, 2001. They struggled, under difficult circumstances, to improvise a homeland defense against an unprecedented challenge they had never encountered and had never trained to meet.
O'BRIEN: We have been listening to really riveting testimony from some of the staffers of the 9/11 Commission, including the executive director in charge of the investigation, really relaying a litany of balls dropped when it came to military response and timing, and also response of the FAA and the flight controllers when the planes are first notified or it's first believed that they are being hijacked.
The testimony that we heard this morning really began with the chilling words of a voice believed to be that of Mohammed Atta. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Controllers immediately began to move aircraft out of its path and searched from aircraft to aircraft in an effort to have another pilot contact American 11. At 8:24 and 38 seconds, the following transmission came from American 11.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have some planes just (ph) statewide (ph) and we'll be OK. We are returning to the airport.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The controller only heard something unintelligible. He did not hear the specific words "We have some planes." The next traps mission came seconds later.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nobody move. Everything will be OK. If you try to make any move, (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Just stay quiet.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hearing that transmission, the controller told us he then knew it was a hijacking.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: As information starts coming in through the flight controllers, who then are relaying this information to their higher- ups, never really for a long time letting the military know. We also heard from the commission staffers about the reaction of the president and the vice president.
The president, you will recall, was reading books to youngsters at an elementary school. As they tried to first get the president back to Washington, D.C., unaware that actually at the same time that they have seen and heard reports of the World Trade Center under attack, they're unaware that the Pentagon is also under attack, potentially planes flying, at least one, flying that direction as well. FAA seems to have, on many levels, dropped the ball as well from some of the testimony we've been hearing. Let's listen to a little bit about what was said about a conference call that NORAD was trying to have with the members of the administration and the FAA.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HYDE: Operators worked feverishly to include the FAA in this teleconference, but they had equipment problems and difficulty finding secure phone numbers. NORAD asked three times before 10:03 to confirm the presence of FAA on the conference to provide an update on hijackings. The FAA did not join the call until 10:17.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: The military response also a big focus, as we've heard that pilots were scrambled both out of Langley Air Force Base by NORAD. But those pilots didn't actually have a shootdown order.
Other pilots were scrambled out of Andrews Air Force Base due to the efforts of one general who apparently volunteered his team. And those pilots did have a shootdown order. The Langley pilots, in fact, saying that they were never really clear why they were scrambled in the first place. No one had ever briefed them.
Finally, we heard that the passengers on Flight 93, according to members of the commission, essentially saved the United States Capitol or even the White House from devastation by downing that plane themselves.
Really riveting testimony. We know that General Myers is heading in to give more of this testimony as well.
I have to say it's really been chilling to hear some of this.
HEMMER: The headline obviously the miscommunication, the confusion that was brought that day. One of the last lines we heard at the end of the last part of the testimony -- quoting now -- "NORAD and the FAA we're unprepared for the type of attacks launched against the U.S. on September 11, 2001."
As we go back inside the room here, they concluded by saying they struggled under difficult circumstances to improvise a homeland defense against an unprecedented challenge they had never faced in the past. We heard the words of at least one hijacker, Mohammed Atta, believed to be his voice, and another hijacker on board Flight 93 that went down in Pennsylvania.
General Richard Myers in the room now. We should hear more about the tick-tock of the events that took place on September 11. Really for the first time since we have heard in the past two and a half years minute-by-minute, blow-by-blow about how air defense got ready or lack of preparedness on that day, what was happening at the Pentagon, also what was happening in the White House at the time, when the president in Florida and the vice president there had ended (ph) things up with Condoleezza Rice. Back into the room here as we continue to listen to the testimony. The people gathered there, by the way, many of them family members who have come to hear this testimony. You can see the anguish quite often and quite clearly in their own faces, often crying at times.
Back inside, Governor Kean, chairman.
THOMAS H. KEAN, COMMISSION CHAIRMAN: ... after General Myers' opening statement. After General Myers departs, we'll proceed with the rest of the panel.
GEN. RICHARD MYERS (USAF), CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: Thank you, sir.
I have a brief statement and then we'll get right to questions.
First I want to thank the commission for your efforts to help our nation guard against future attacks. We share a common goal: to capture the lessons of September 11th, 2001, in order to better protect the American people.
You have my written statement and I'll just make a few comments so we have as much time left for questions.
First, our military posture on 9/11, by law, by policy and in practice was focused on responding to external threats, threats originating outside of our borders.
Nevertheless, we executed the continuity of government plan very well on 9/11, and our service men and women displayed superb professionalism, judgment and flexibility at every level that day. And I'm very proud of their performance.
That said, the lessons learned from 9/11 are many. Our armed forces efforts to respond militarily, reorganize our forces, define and effectively resource our evolving task and our missions, and revise our processes have been colossal and are still ongoing.
Day in and day out, our service men and women bravely combat terrorists in Afghanistan, Iraq and other places around the world; maintain alert for the homeland defense mission here in the United States; and work phenomenal hours on headquarters staffs to do everything they can to keep America and our allies safe and free.
I appreciate everyone who supports their efforts, including this committee, of course.
And with that, we'll take your questions.
KEAN: Thank you, sir.
The questioning this morning will be led by Commissioner Ben- Veniste and Commissioner Lehman.
Commissioner Ben-Veniste? RICHARD BEN-VENISTE, COMMISSION MEMBER: Good morning, gentlemen.
MYERS: Good morning, sir.
BEN-VENISTE: I'd like to start first by commending our staff for an extraordinary, detailed, 18-month investigation, which has provided the detail which we have provided today to the American public.
I want to say that nothing that we have found indicates anything but the highest commitment to duty and valor among the pilots and support personnel involved in the air mission on that infamous day of September 11th, 2001.
By the same token, General Myers, our staff has found that NORAD and FAA were unprepared for the type of attacks launched against the United States on September 11, 2001.
And so I would like to ask you, sir, whether you and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs were made aware of the available information during the summer of threat in 2001, which reflected the preparations by al Qaeda for a spectacular attack against the United States, and specifically whether the information in the August 6th PDB was shared with you or the chairman of the Joint Chiefs?
MYERS: We were aware -- I think some of this information started flowing, intelligence information -- at the end of May. It continued to June, July, the August 6th memo. It talked, as I recall, about al Qaeda threat to United States primarily overseas.
It was focused primarily on the Saudi Arabian peninsula is my memory of that. And that threat reporting continued through those months. And we were certainly aware of it.
But, in fact, we even took action when, I think it was in July, we actually sortied some ships out of Bahrain because of the threat in the peninsula area.
And that -- as I recall, the best estimate from the intel analysis was that it would take place either on the Saudi peninsula, perhaps in Turkey -- there was one mention I remember of Italy actually. And then there was potential threats to the United States but never including an aircraft.
BEN-VENISTE: Now, the PDB memo that I'm referring to specifically mentions FBI information of suspicious activity within this country consistent with the preparations for hijackings. Was that information shared with you?
MYERS: Not information, at least, that I saw, other than what was contained in the presidential daily brief memorandum, which I think was the last couple of paragraphs or last paragraph.
BEN-VENISTE: Was information shared with you, General, with respect to the arrest of Mr. Zacarias Moussaoui, which occurred on or about the 17th of August, in which the FBI quickly came to the conclusion that Mr. Moussaoui was a suicide hijacker, an individual with jihadist connections who had sought and received some training on a commercial airline?
MYERS: I don't recall. I simply can't recall. I think I would've but I don't recall.
BEN-VENISTE: Wouldn't that be something that you would recall?
MYERS: I would -- don't know. But -- pretty significant information, but I don't recall.
BEN-VENISTE: Had you received such information tying together the potential reflected in the August 6th PDB memorandum that was titled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in the United States" together with this additional information, might you have followed up on a training scenario, at the least, such as the Positive Force training scenario, where a hijacked plane was presumed to fly into the Pentagon, a proposal that was made and rejected in the year 2000?
MYERS: Well, a couple of things. I don't know that we would have because exercising alone is not enough. If you look at all, and you have -- you've looked at all the policy guidance we've gotten through the '90s into early 2000, 2001, all the policy guidance was that we treat terrorism primarily as a criminal event.
And the role of the Defense Department was to defend our forces, primarily, it was force protection, anti-terrorism, not counterterrorism. Counterterrorism responsibilities domestically were the FBI, externally were the CIA.
There was an exercise, and this was -- the idea was to stress the continuity of command in the one you referenced there. But it was an exercise focused on Korea and that's why the scenario was rejected, because it did not contribute to the exercise at hand.
I can't answer the hypothetical. It's more -- it's the way that we were directed to posture, looking outward. Those were the orders that NORAD had and has had for -- ever since the end of the Soviet Union when we had at that time I think it was 26 alert sites around the United States and we'd gone down to seven.
So it would have required more than exercising if you wanted to be effective and it would have been not just the military, because civilian agencies had the major role.
BEN-VENISTE: You've anticipated my next question. It might not be the entire answer, but it would be a start.
And let me ask you whether that might not have stimulated an effort to determine the level of communications with FAA which, as we determined, on September 11 were abysmal.
Would that not have also stimulated you, had you thought about the information had you received it, about an internal threat involving the United States air space involving the hijacking of commercial airliners by a suicide hijacker?
MYERS: It's certainly possible. And I can't -- you know, you just can't take hypothetical situations and say what you would have done in hindsight. I mean, obviously we've got pretty good hindsight at this point.
The communications between the FAA and NORAD were specifically designed for the hijacking scenario, but a hijacking scenario where NORAD's role was to track the aircraft, if it crashed to report the crash site, but certainly not to take -- it was not -- the understandings in the policy at the time was not these were hostile aircraft other than the fact they'd been hijacked. So it was to track that and help the FAA track that. And those were the rules that were standing at the time.
If we'd had definitive information, I think we would have probably taken steps, I hope, to work that. But to my knowledge, we didn't have that, sir.
BEN-VENISTE: Let me direct my remaining time to General Eberhart and General Arnold.
Why did no one mention the false report received from FAA that flight 11 was heading south during your initial appearance before the 9/11 Commission back in May of last year? And why was there no report to us that, contrary to the statements made at the time, that there had been no notification to NORAD that flight 77 was a hijack?
MAJ. GEN. LARRY ARNOLD (USAF, RET.), FRM. COMMANDER, CONTINENTAL U.S. NORAD REGION: Well, the first part of your -- Mr. Commissioner, first of all, I'd like to say that a lot of the information that you have found out in your study of this, of the 9/11 -- things that happened on that day -- helped us reconstruct what was going on.
If you're talking about the American 11 in particular, the call of the American 11 -- is that what you're referring to?
ARNOLD: The American 11 that was called after it impacted, is that what you're referring to?
BEN-VENISTE: No. I'm talking about the fact that there was miscommunication that flight 11 was still heading south instead of having impacted...
ARNOLD: That's what I'm referring to. That's correct.
As we worked with your committee in looking at that, that was probably the point in time where we were concerned -- remember, that call, as I recall, actually came after United 175, as well as American 11, had already impacted the North and South Towers of the World Trade Center. Then we became very concerned -- not knowing what the call signs of those aircraft were that had hit the World Trade Center, we became very concerned at that particular point that those aircraft -- that some aircraft might be heading toward Washington, D.C.
BEN-VENISTE: General, is it not a fact that the failure to call our attention to the miscommunication and the notion of a phantom flight 11 continuing from New York City south, in fact, skewed the whole reporting of 9/11? It skewed the official Air Force report, which is contained in a book called "Air War Over America," which does not contain any information about the fact that you were following or thinking of a continuation of flight 11 and that you had not received notification that flight 77 had been hijacked?
ARNOLD: Well, as I recall, first of all, I didn't know the call signs of the airplanes when these things happened. When the call came that American 11 was a possible hijacked aircraft, that aircraft just led me to come to a conclusion that there were other aircraft in the system that were a threat to the United States.
BEN-VENISTE: General Arnold, surely by May of last year, when you testified before this commission, you knew those facts.
ARNOLD: I didn't recall those facts in May of last year. That's the correct answer to that.
In fact, as I recall, during that time frame, my concern was why did -- the question that came to me was, "Why did we scramble the aircraft out of Langley Air Force Base, the F-16s out of Langley Air Force Base?"
And there had been statements made by some that we scrambled that aircraft at a report of American 77, which was not the case and I knew that. And I was trying to remember in my own mind, what was it that persuaded us to scramble those aircraft.
And I thought at the time it was United 93. But as I was able to -- we did not have the times when we were notified of this. I did not have that information at that time.
BEN-VENISTE: General Arnold,...
ARNOLD: It didn't happen.
BEN-VENISTE: ...according to source...
ARNOLD: We scrambled those aircraft to get them over Washington, D.C., to protect Washington, D.C.
BEN-VENISTE: According to our staff, you know that there was a substantial problem in getting information from NORAD; that we received information, we were told that the information was complete, we went out into the field -- our staff did and did a number of interviews.
And as a result of those interviews, we found that there were tapes which reflected the facts relating to flight 11. And we found additional information by which we were able, through assiduous and painstaking work, listening to any number of tape recordings, to reconstruct what actually occurred as you have heard in the staff statement.
I take it you have no disagreement with the facts put forward in the staff statement. That's been produced in advance for comment and I take it you're in agreement now with our staff's conclusions with respect to those facts.
ARNOLD: I am.
BEN-VENISTE: We have -- and I'm not going to go through it, but it is disturbing to see that there were efforts at after-action reports, which were available shortly after 9/11.
There were communications which our staff has received with respect to e-mails that reflect some of the facts on nearly a contemporaneous basis with the 9/11 catastrophe, that reflect a story which unfortunately is different from the one which was presented to this commission earlier.
When you and General Eberhart were asked about the existence of tape recordings reflecting these open line communications, both of you indicated that you had such -- no such recollections.
GEN. RALPH E. EBERHART (USAF), COMMANDER, NORTH AMERICAN AEROSPACE DEFENSE COMMAND: Mr. Commissioner, I think it's important to note that I did not testify in front of this commission. So to say that I said that that day is categorically wrong.
BEN-VENISTE: I'm sorry, sir. I'm sorry. You are correct. I will refer to General Arnold's comments, both with respect to...
KEAN: This is the last question, Commissioner.
BEN-VENISTE: Thank you.
EBERHART: Yes. The Northeast Air Defense sector apparently had a tape that we were unaware of at the time. And you're -- and to the best of my knowledge, what I've been told by your staff is that they were unable to make that tape run.
BEN-VENISTE: I'm told...
EBERHART: Though they were later able to -- your staff was able, through a contractor, to get that tape to run.
And so, to the best of my knowledge, that was an accurate statement in May that I did not know of any tape recordings. If I would have had them available to me, it certainly would have been -- I would have been able to give you more accurate information.
Our focus was on when the events occurred, and we did not focus on when we -- we didn't have a record -- I did not have a record of when we had been told different things.
BEN-VENISTE: In order to clarify it, and I apologize again, General Eberhart, the statement that I was referring to was a statement which we are advised was made to the staff. It was General McKinley, as well as General Arnold.
When I asked the question, "Let me ask you whether there's a regularly made tape recording of these open line indications?" General Arnold answered "Not to my knowledge," and General McKinley answered, "Not to my knowledge."
It was through the painstaking investigation that discovered these tapes and then our staff listening to those tapes which assisted us in being able to provide the level of detail and accuracy which we've done today.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
KEAN: Thank you very much, Commissioner.
Commissioner Lehman, we're going to concentrate on questions for General Myers because of his schedule. But we can come back, and can see other members of the panel later when they have a little a more time.
JOHN F. LEHMAN, COMMISSION MEMBER: General Myers, we're particularly pleased to have you here because your service from '98 to 2000 commanding NORAD gives you particular authority in talking about this.
I think what disturbs us most with regard to NORAD is not so much that this was an unprecedented threat; and there were certainly problems relating to that with the orientation outward rather than inward, and the sad capabilities really compared to military radars of the FAA radars that had to be depended on for much of the information. What disturbs us most is that the glitches in command and control are glitches that had really nothing to do with the fact that it was an internal rather than external.
Because in the justification for maintaining NORAD, of course, the possibilities of intercepting hijacked airliners was part of the justification from the beginning. Although the expectation was they would be foreign airliners hijacked and incoming.
So the problems of command and control -- let's start at the top. Who was in charge on 9/11? Was it the NORAD commander? Was it you? Was it NMCC? Was it SecDef? Was it FAA? With all the exercising that had been done in the past, clearly someone should have been in charge but we have been unable to find out who it was.
And also, for all of my questions, if you could also say what's been done to change it and what's the situation today.
MYERS: That's a lot.
In terms of national command authorities, you've interviewed the president and the vice president and I'm not privy to that interview so I can't comment on that.
I do know that the next person in the chain of command, Secretary Rumsfeld, was in contact with the president several times during that morning, then through the rest of the day, to include -- I believe it's at least two video teleconferences we had with the president -- I may be wrong, there may have only been one. But lots of conversations with the vice president.
LEHMAN: No, but I'm talking about operationally, the minute-by- minute.
MYERS: Operationally, General Eberhart was on duty and at his duty station, as was General Arnold.
In fact, the first call I got when I left Capitol Hill, after a meeting with Senator Cleland, was from General Eberhart saying, "We've had these crashes and that we're going to take certain actions," and it was shortly thereafter that the Pentagon was hit as we were on our way back to the Pentagon.
So, as you know, I'm not in the chain of command, I'm a military adviser to the chain of command and to the National Security Council. So I went back to my duty station. And we -- what we started doing at that time was to say, "OK, we've had these attacks. Obviously they're hostile acts. Not sure at that point who perpetrated them."
And my focus at that point, and I think the secretary's focus, was, "OK, what else is out there that is possibly going to happen either in the United States or in other regions of the world?" And that's where we started to focus, "What is the next event to happen?" It might not be an airliner, it might be some other attack.
So we just -- we were looking outward. We were on a threat conference that developed, as you all know, and NORAD was represented on that. I had several conversations that day and early that morning with General Eberhart as we talked our way through the actions that were being taken.
So as far as I'm concerned, the command and control was -- it was in place, the secretary, except for the short period of time that he went outside to examine where the aircraft came into the Pentagon and then to help, because at that point they needed hands and he lended his hand to help those injured and those responding, but then came back in some time around 10 o'clock and was upstairs -- I know he talked to the president, I know he -- some time in there I know he went to the -- what we call the ESC, but where the communications for the secretary's office goes through.
He was up there, he had a VTC with the White House. And about 10:30 he came down to the National Military Command Center where we joined up and we stayed joined the rest of the day together.
LEHMAN: Let's talk a little bit about technology and...
MYERS: Can I just mention one other thing...
MYERS: ... because you asked me to tell you what we've done?
In the National Military Command Center, that day the -- we did have trouble trying to conference the FAA into our threat conference that was ongoing, so we had to use a separate phone line for that which was not as efficient. That's been corrected.
And as you know, our posture today is quite a bit different as we look at this threat and other potential threats. So we've improved our communications and we've refined our procedures, both with the White House, with the FAA. And those procedures are in effect and are exercised.
LEHMAN: Assets -- I understand that there was a great argument during the period before 9/11 about whether NORAD should exist at all and the reduction from 23 to seven sites.
Why, given the increasing threat discussion of the possibility of hijackings and the intentions of al Qaeda, was this such a big issue? Because with so many fighter aircraft based around the country, Reserve, Guard, Navy, Marine, Air Force, why is it an asset issue?
Why can't there be a much broader allocation of assignment of alert throughout the country to deal with the threat that was becoming so evident?
MYERS: I think it's because the threat was not perceived to be so evident and we were following the same guidance that we got right after the fall of the Soviet Union, is where is the dividend from this? And so forces were scaled down, alert facilities, which are expensive to maintain, were closed and we wound up with those seven sites. And I think you all know where they are.
LEHMAN: But why is that so, I mean, why do they have to be owned assets? Why is it so expensive just to require rotating units to sit on alert and keep the aircraft armed as opposed to their normal training cycle?
MYERS: Well, it's just the, kind of -- it's the priorities that the Defense Department goes through to balance risk, and again the threat perception was not there to balance that risk and...
LEHMAN: It seems to me to be a false dichotomy because the assets exist. They're there. All of the services have huge training ready capabilities. It's not as if you have to buy and own separate aircraft for NORAD. Why is it even an issue?
MYERS: And that was -- and, by the way, that was the NORAD plan. The NORAD plan was, as the threat became more apparent, then we had access to Navy, Marine and Air Force aircraft. And we brought them up -- I think, the last number I remember, we could bring 3,000 aircraft to defend this country, not to mention the Canadian aircraft that would be participating, as well. So we could bring them up. We had alert sites designated.
So the plan was to do that, but you had to start with the perception of the threat and what we were asked to do. And our clear direction was to look outward.
And in fact, as General Arnold said, we fought many phantoms that day. I remember getting to the NMCC and we got the call that a bomb had gone off in front of the State Department. So you think, "Oh, my goodness what else is happening in this town?" We got many aircraft calls inbound that morning that turned out to be phantoms. So we were clearly looking outward. We did not have the situational awareness inward because we did not have the radar coverage. And that, by the way, will become an issue here later on as we discuss the fate of the FAA radars that exist in this country today, whether or not we keep radars and have situational awareness for the interior of this country.
LEHMAN: Why shouldn't there be -- why shouldn't the Air Force, today, and the Army, the military, look at our domestic defense as part of their mission in terms of the air space? It's a huge gap between the normal, common capabilities of tactical units, not only strategic units, of the radar sophistication and capability compared to what the FAA is stumbling along with.
LEHMAN: What do you recommend we do about that?
MYERS: They are doing it.
In fact, Army radars and Army air defense systems, as you know, are part of our defense of certain places. The National Capital Region is one of those places.
We also have, as you know, lots of aircraft on alert today where we can respond to those potential sites that we have identified that might be of interest to future terrorist actions. So today there are a lot of resources being brought to that.
I think General Eberhart will recommend and has recommended to the department that we work with the FAA to determine who's going to pay for the radars for the interior of the country so we can have the situational awareness that we think we need. And that's being debated now.
My guess is it will be a '06 budget issue as we go forward. And your recommendations in that regard would be helpful.
LEHMAN: As you know, the Israeli air force has exercised, practiced and developed...
HEMMER: As the testimony continues there in Washington, we should point out that oftentimes this is riveting testimony, too, with the statements we got earlier today from at least two of the so-called hijackers back on September 11. This investigation is extensive: a year and a half, a thousand witnesses, more than two million documents. Final report is due out the end of July, but today is perhaps one of the days that we will remember the most based on the -- the correspondence not only in two of the planes, but also what was happening at the Pentagon, at the White House, and also with the president traveling that day in Florida.
At 8:46 on that day, American Flight 11, when it struck the World Trade Center, no one in this country, at the White House, or traveling with the president knew that that plane had been hijacked. And from there, the events unfolded, as we've heard them throughout the morning here. O'BRIEN: Let's go back to Daryn Kagan, who's going to take over our coverage at this point and continue as they really run through the timeline and go over with General Myers. It looks like they're analyzing the value of NORAD and really what changes have been made in the military at this point. Hi, Daryn.
DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to both of you. You guys have a great day in New York City. We will be getting back to those hearings as they become important and as there's more riveting testimony to share with you.
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