Friday, February 06, 2009

Monte Belger vs. Norman Mineta

Who's right?
Norman Mineta has repeatedly claimed that he was in contact with Monte Belger (FAA deputy) since the point when Flight 77 was 50 miles out of Washington, and that Belger was tracking the plane on radar:

And a little later on, someone said, "Mr. Vice President, there's a plane 50-miles out." So I was talking to Monte Belger, the Deputy Director of the FAA, and I said, "Monte, what do you have 50-miles out?"

He said, "Well, we have a target, bogey, on the radar, but the transponder's been turned off, so we have no identification of this aircraft. We don't know who it is. We don't know what altitude it's at, speed or anything else. All we're doing is watching with the sweep of the radar, the dot moving from position to position."

So then someone came in, the same person came in and said, "Mr. Vice President, it -- the plane's 30-miles out." So I said, "Monte, can you see it, and where is it in relationship to the ground?"

He said, "Well, that's difficult to really determine. I would guess it's somewhere between Great Falls and National Airport, coming what they call the DRA, the down river approach."

And so then the person came in and said, "Mr. Vice President, the plane's ten-miles out," and so I said, "Monte, where is it?" and he said, "Well, I'm not really sure but I'd be guessing somewhere maybe between the USA Today building and, and National Airport."

And then pretty soon he said, "Oh-oh, we just lost the target." And so a few moments later, someone came in and said, "Mr. Vice President, there's been an explosion at the Pentagon."

So I said, "Monte, is there something -- can you identify it as being at the Pentagon?" He said, "No, we can't really pinpoint it like that."
(this link - a MSNBC interview from 9/11/02 - doesn't work at present; the full text can be read here:

Some young man came in and said to the Vice President, "There's a plane 50 miles out coming towards D.C." So I said to Monty Belger, who is the No. 2 at FAA, I said, "Monty, what do you have on radar on this plane coming in?" He said, "Well, the transponder has been turned off, so we don't know who it is, and we don't know the altitude or speed." I said, "Well, where is it?" He said, "It's somewhere beyond Great Falls right now." Then, the young man came in and said it's 20 miles away. I'd say, "Well, Monty, where is this plane in relationship to the ground?" On radar it is hard to associate with a ground point, but they'd be able to tell you roughly the distance from wherever you are, but he couldn't tell you the speed or altitude, and then all of a sudden, as I was talking to him, he said, "Oh, I lost the bogie. Lost the target." I said, "Well, where is it?" He said, "Well, it's somewhere between Rosslyn and National Airport," and about that time someone broke into the conversation and said, "Mr. Secretary, we just had a confirmation from an Arlington County police officer saying that he saw an American Airlines plane go into the Pentagon." So then I said, "Monty, bring all the airplanes down." When you see one of something happen, it's an accident; when you see two of the same thing happening, it's a trend, something. When you see three, it's a plan. So I said, "Bring all the planes down."

It is interesting to confront these accounts with two statements of Monte Belger (note that both Mineta and Belger refer to the same time interval 9:20-9:45).
"The most frustrating after-the-fact scenario for me to understand and to explain is the communication link on that morning between the FAA operations center and the NMCC," said Monte Belger, who was the acting FAA deputy administrator when the attacks occurred. "I know how it's supposed to work, but I have to tell you it's still a little frustrating for me to understand how it actually did work on that day."

FAA and Defense officials testified during the final public hearing of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States on Thursday. Belger said the FAA initiated a "hijacking net" at 9:20 a.m. that he thought included the NMCC.

"The hijacking net is an open communication net run by the FAA hijack coordinator, who is a senior person from the FAA security organization, for the purpose of getting the affected federal agencies together to hear information at the same time," he said. "It was my assumption that morning, as it had been for my 30 years of experience with the FAA, that the NMCC was on that net and hearing everything real time," he added. "And I can tell you I've lived through dozens of hijackings in my 30-year FAA career, as a very low entry-level inspector up through to the headquarters, and they were always there."

Belger added that after initiating the hijacking net, he turned his attention to getting airplanes that were still in the air to land safely.

Between 9:20-9:45 there were many confusing reports about various aircraft being unaccounted for. He ((Belger) heard of a crash on the Indiana/Kentucky border that was thought to be AAL 77. By this point he believes he talked with Bob Baker and Russ Chew at AAL. Jane Garvey talked to Don Carty.

Belger doesn't recall any discussion that morning about the need to contact aircraft in the air about securing their cockpits, even though they were considering an order to land all planes.

With regard to the Primary Net, Belger said he believes that Lee Longmire was in charge. He had the impression that the military was on the line at some point and had assumed that the proper contacts had been made. He had no knowledge about the problem that Lee Longmire shared with the Commission that the NMCC was supposed to be on the Net but was in fact absent for some undetermined length of time. Belger wasn't aware of the NORAD response until after AAL 77 crashed (he subsequently learried that Boston and New York Centers had called NORAD earlier)

Belger was told about UAL 93 after it crashed. He stressed that everyone was very confused about which aircraft hit the Pentagon. UAL and AAL weren't sure what planes hit where. He said that the carriers were searching for information from the FAA not providing it. It took a long time to confirm what aircraft hit the Pentagon.

Belger believes that the "hijack coordinator" would have been the senior security person present who was Lee Longmire. (SEE FAA PROTOCOL ON "Hijack Coordinator).

Belger learned of the crash into the Pentagon shortly after it happened. He and Garvey got on the phone with Norm Mineta who decided to bring everything down (around 9:45) which was implemented. Belger continued to monitor the system as it executed this order. All aircraft were down and the system grounded by 12:15 P.M.

Belger mentions neither the approaching Flight 77 nor being in contact with Mineta prior to the Pentagon crash. In the interview to the Commissioners he indicates that first contact with Mineta was established after the crash. In case he was in contact with him before, this blatant omission would constitute a lie.

So who's right? Mineta or Belger?