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March 11, 2016

New 9/11 Timeline Entries: Training Exercises, NORAD’s Commander on 9/11, United Airlines’ Response to the Attacks, and More

Filed under: Complete 911 Timeline — Matt @ 4:50 am
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Many entries have been added to the Complete 9/11 Timeline at History Commons, which describe a variety of events relating to the 9/11 attacks, with numerous entries revealing new details of the events of September 11, 2001.

Training Exercises Were Held in the Run-Up to 9/11

Several new timeline entries describe training exercises that were held in the years and months before 9/11. In May 1998, an exercise was held at the Pentagon called Cloudy Office, which was based around the scenario of a terrorist attack at the Pentagon involving chemical weapons.

In February 2001, the FBI’s Washington, DC, field office started sponsoring training with local fire department and law enforcement commanders on how emergency response workers and the FBI should coordinate their actions if there was a terrorist attack in the Washington area. Just two or three days before 9/11, the Washington field office and various other agencies held an exercise in Northern Virginia, based around the scenario of a terrorist attack involving chemical weapons.

And United Airlines, which had two of its planes hijacked on September 11, held a surprise exercise 12 days before 9/11 in which employees were led to believe one of their planes had crashed.

Special Forces Personnel Were Involved in Exercises on September 11

Other new entries describe exercises that were taking place when the 9/11 attacks occurred. For example, members of America’s “top counterterrorism unit”–the Joint Special Operations Command–were out of the US on September 11, participating in a counterterrorism exercise in Europe called Jackal Cave. Members of the Department of Energy’s Nuclear Emergency Search Team were also away from the US that day, due to their participation in this exercise.

Jackal Cave was “nested” in a larger counterterrorism exercise called Ellipse Bravo. Hundreds of US military personnel were preparing for this exercise, run by the United States European Command, when the 9/11 attacks took place.

Furthermore, members of Delta Force–the US Army’s elite counterterrorist unit–who were in Europe for Jackal Cave received many false reports of attacks that had supposedly occurred and it took two days before they had an accurate picture of what actually happened in the US on September 11.

Situation Room Staffers Stayed in the White House, despite Being Advised to Evacuate

Numerous timeline entries describe other events that took place on September 11. One entry describes how Secretary of the Navy Gordon England was unable to communicate with colleagues on the ground while being flown from Texas back to Washington, after he learned of the attacks on the World Trade Center.

Another entry describes how personnel in the White House Situation Room refused the advice they were given to evacuate and then sent out a list of their names, in case an aircraft crashed into the White House. And a communications officer in the Situation Room was unable to make contact with Air Force One as it flew President Bush from Sarasota, Florida, to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana.

Furthermore, before Air Force One left Sarasota, NORAD personnel were told they would not need to provide fighter jets to escort the president’s plane after it took off. And just before 11:00 a.m., a member of staff at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) told someone he was talking to on the phone to keep quiet about the location of Air Force One and the fact that the plane was airborne.

Some entries describe events at United Airlines’ headquarters. After he was told an American Airlines plane had crashed into the World Trade Center, Andy Studdert, United Airlines’ chief operating officer, went to the airline’s operations center to help respond to the incident. Then, at around 9:00 a.m., the airline’s crisis center was activated and personnel responded to the attacks from there. After United Airlines learned that its aircraft, Flight 93, had been hijacked, Studdert tried to come up with a plan on how a non-pilot could land a Boeing 757, in case Flight 93’s passengers and crew were able to retake control of the plane from its hijackers.

NORAD Commander Learned of the Attacks and Later Headed to His Operations Center

A few entries describe the actions of General Ralph Eberhart, the commander of NORAD, on September 11. Eberhart learned of the crisis when he received a phone call at his home at around 8:45 a.m. in which he was told a plane had been hijacked and he then headed to his office at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado. After he saw the second hijacked plane hitting the World Trade Center on television at 9:03 a.m., Eberhart contemplated going to NORAD’s Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center but he didn’t head there until around 9:30 a.m.

Just after 10:00 a.m., it was reported that Eberhart had officially declared “concern” for the crisis that was taking place, thereby triggering a number of consequences. Early in the afternoon, personnel in the Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center were told that a suspicious truck, or a number of trucks, carrying several Arab-looking men was heading their way, but the apparent threat turned out to be a false alarm.

Novels Were Being Written before September 11 with Plots Resembling the 9/11 Attacks

Some new entries describe miscellaneous events from the period leading up to 9/11. A couple of entries describe novels that were being written in the months before 9/11, with storylines that resembled the 9/11 attacks. Joel Rosenberg, a communications strategist, was writing a novel in which suicide terrorists attempted to crash a plane into the president’s motorcade. Apparently around the same time, well-known British actor Michael Caine was writing a novel in which terrorists crashed a plane into a skyscraper, but he stopped working on it in response to the 9/11 attacks.

At some time before 9/11, the FAA’s intelligence division held a conference call to examine the idea of “suicide attackers,” during which an expert on the subject said a suicide attack on aviation was unlikely. However, an assessment was published on September 11, apparently by the FAA, which stated that if an aircraft hijacking took place within the US, it would be part of a suicide attack.

And around three months before 9/11, White House counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke gave National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice a checklist of what to do if there was a terrorist attack.

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July 16, 2011

New 9/11 Timeline Entries: Military Exercises, Air Force Response to Attacks, and More


Many new entries have been added to the Complete 9/11 Timeline at History Commons, most of them describing events that took place on the day of 9/11.

Two important entries deal with events before 9/11, specifically regarding military training exercises. One entry reveals that prior to 9/11, NORAD practiced for hijackings five times per month at its operations center in Colorado. The other entry describes how, in the days before 9/11, the Army had been planning an exercise for the week after 9/11, based, remarkably, on the scenario of a plane crashing into the World Trade Center.

Several entries give new details about the actions of the two F-15 fighter jets launched in response to the first hijacked plane. After being told by the military that the fighters had been given a “bad heading,” an air traffic controller had to redirect the two aircraft. When he did this, he also notified the lead fighter pilot that Flight 11 had crashed into the WTC. And yet the two pilots have both denied learning this news until about 10 minutes later, when they were told that a second plane had hit the WTC. After being given the new heading, the lead pilot contacted the military, but apparently neither he nor the person he spoke with mentioned the crash during their call. The two fighters then headed into military airspace over the ocean.

A number of entries deal with the actions of the US Park Police Aviation Unit in Washington, DC, on September 11. That morning, the unit had been holding a large training event. Its two Huey helicopters promptly responded to the Pentagon attack, with one of them providing live video footage of the crash scene and also being put in charge of controlling the Washington airspace. However, its pilot’s request that the Maryland State Police send helicopters to help out at the Pentagon was bluntly refused. The other Park Police helicopter subsequently had to respond to numerous reported emergencies that turned out to be false alarms. Furthermore, contrary to official accounts, a new timeline entry reveals that one of the Park Police helicopters was in the air before the Pentagon attack and was instructed to intercept the approaching aircraft.

A US Border Patrol agent who saw the helicopter from his hotel window also described seeing an American Airlines plane taking off from Washington’s Reagan National Airport, flying north toward the nearby Pentagon, about a minute before the Pentagon attack occurred. And several witnesses have described hearing secondary explosions inside the Pentagon following the attack there.

An entry describes how National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice thought the first plane hitting the WTC was an accident when she was informed of it by her assistant. While phoning President Bush about the incident, Rice was told that the crashed plane was a commercial airliner, and she passed on this news to the president. Rice has also described how those in the shelter conference room below the White House were unable to hear the audio from television broadcasts and the White House video teleconference at the same time throughout the day, due to technical problems.

Unlike Rice, those in the office of the vice chief of naval operations at the Pentagon realized right away that the first crash must have been deliberate, and even speculated that the Pentagon was a likely target for any subsequent attack. But when a senior officer there was told of a suspicious aircraft approaching Washington, he instructed his deputy to keep quiet and not pass on this crucial information.

Some entries describe how United Airlines, as well as having two of its aircraft hijacked that morning, had to deal with numerous false alarms. These included threats that were found to be “misunderstandings or hoaxes”; a loss of contact with three aircraft at around 10:00 a.m.; nine aircraft reported missing about an hour later; and another of its aircraft reported as missing by the Secret Service.

Later in the day, those in the White House were told that a US Airways plane flying to the US from Spain had been hijacked, but this also turned out to be a false alarm.

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