Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Was Flight 93 part of a military hijack exercise?

FAA delayed alerting of NEADS on the hijacking of Flight 93

Since 2002, when Jared Israel was the first one to point out the lame reaction of the US air defense to the hijackings (not being able to intercept leastwise one of the airliners), there's still no satisfying answer to the question for those who were responsible for the fatal delays.

The 9/11 Commission basically argues that the existing protocol for the collaboration between the FAA and NORAD in the case of a hijacking was "unsuited in every respect" because it was designed for "traditional hijackings" rather than suicide terrorists using hijacked planes as missiles. The Commission Report describes meticulously how the information "Flight X is hijacked" was ought to be processed from the basic FAA controller who spots the plane, upward the FAA hierarchy to the "hijack coordinator" who contacts the NMCC (National Military Command Center), and - after seeking approval from the Secretary of Defense - down the NORAD chain of command.

There is an entire section on this subject ("Interagency collaboration", p. 17/18), which is copied word by word from the Commission's Staff Statement No. 17, a working paper from June 2004, with one remarkable exception. The sentence "Most FAA centers had a civilian employee to coordinate with NORAD, for situations like training exercises", which is written down in the statement, didn't manage it into the final report.

It should have, however. On 9/11, these civilian employees, also known as "military liaisons", were in direct contact to the NEADS air defenders. So the regional FAA Centers were by all means able to shortcut the intricate protocol by simply telling their own military liaison to call up NEADS. And this is exactly what happened:

Controller realizes flight is hijacked.......8:25.......8:55.......----........9:32
Notification of NEADS.........................8:37.......9:03.......----.......10:07

Delay in minutes..................................12...........8..........----.........35

While 8 or 12 minutes look to be a reasonable time for controllers to figure out the situation, discuss various options and get clearance from higher-ranking FAA managers, the outstanding 35 minutes delay for Flight 93 requires a closer look at Cleveland Center, the facility responsible for Flight 93. (Flight 77 is a special case because it was not believed to be hijacked, but missed; it completely vanished from the radar scopes of FAA controllers.)

The "Flight 93 is a hijack with a bomb on board" information needed only two minutes from the basic controller to FAA headquarters:
At 9:32, a third radio transmission came over the frequency: "Keep remaining sitting. We have a bomb on board." The controller understood, but chose to respond: "Calling Cleveland Center, you're unreadable. Say again, slowly." He notified his supervisor, who passed the notice up the chain of command. By 9:34, word of the hijacking had reached FAA headquarters. (911 CR, p. 28)
However: NEADS first received a call about United 93 from the military liaison at Cleveland Center at 10:07. We know his name from transcripts of NEADS radio messages: that was Mr. Dukelin - first name unknown. Dukelin was in direct contact to Stacia Rountree from NEADS, he spoke with her at 9:45 and again at 10:00. At both occasions, he alerted her to Delta 1989 - but not one single word on United 93.

Did Dukelin not know about the hijacking of Flight 93? This can be precluded. He was certainly in contact with the Traffic Management Unit and Ed Wolbers, the operations manager:
They are speaking to the pilot, Dukelin talks to Ed and tells him he is talking to HUNTRESS. Ed says D1989 is not being hijacked, he is landing as a precaution in Cleveland.
So Dukelin, like the Cleveland Center management, was certainly aware of the Flight 93 problem. Maybe he was eagerly waiting for an order from above to inform NEADS:
Cleveland even told the Command Center [at 9:36] it was prepared to contact a nearby military base to make the request. The Command Center told Cleveland that FAA personnel well above them in the chain of command had to make the decision to seek military assistance and were working on the issue. (911 CR, p. 28/29)
But the upper FAA management shied away from requesting the help of NEADS:

At 9:49, 13 minutes after Cleveland Center had asked about getting military help, the Command Center suggested that someone at headquarters should decide whether to request military assistance:

FAA Headquarters: They're pulling Jeff away to go talk about United 93.
Command Center: Uh, do we want to think, uh, about scrambling aircraft?
FAA Headquarters: Oh, God, I don't know.
Command Center: Uh, that's a decision somebody's gonna have to make probably in the next ten minutes.
FAA Headquarters: Uh, ya know everybody just left the room.
(911 CR, p. 29)

Everybody left the room. The Headquarters and the Command Center were tracking Flight 93 as it turned around and headed toward Washington. They got the information that it was hijacked and had a bomb on board. They knew that two airliners had already been used as guided missiles - yet nobody of the leading FAA personnel bothered to follow Cleveland Center's suggestion and tell NEADS (via Dukelin) to scramble fighters.
What was going on there?

Additionally, at 9:45 the FAA issued the general grounding order for all aircraft. Who ordered it? The official story has it that it was Ben Sliney, director of the Command Center, but there are also reports that it was Monte Belger, deputy director of the Headquarters - not to forget that Norman Mineta claims the glory for himself. No matter who was it - why did this hero make the risky, unprecedented, precautionary decision to "get all the birds down", but failed to make the acute, urgent, if well-rehearsed and operationally easy decision to alert NEADS about a hijacked airliner on his way to Washington with a bomb on board?

There seems to be only one realistic recourse: Flight 93 was part of a military exercise, probably a hijack simulation, and the exercise plot included a delayed alerting of NEADS. The behavior of Belger, Sliney & co. indicates that they didn't view the plane as a threat, but were told (possibly from the Secret Service who - according to Mike Ruppert - had direct access to FAA data) that it was a "special", i.e. a military exercise flight. The purpose of the delayed alert might have been to test NEADS - to make it more difficult for them to intercept the flight in time.

To substantiate this thesis, I take a look at the function of the so-called military liaisons. I've already mentioned that the 9/11 Commission describes their job as "to coordinate with NORAD, for situations like training exercises". An analysis paper from 2001, examining the structure of Air Traffic Control, confirms that the military liaisons dealt with exercises. Moreover it looks that the exercises were the only job of the liaisons.
Military Coordinator: coordinates paper work and flight data for all military exercises within Boston Center airspace.
This certainly applies to the other FAA Centers as well. Also FAA directive 7610.4K ("Special Military Operations") shows up the central role of the military liaisons for the exercises:
FAA Military Liaison Officers’ Responsibilities

1−6−1. ACTIONS

Liaison officers shall take the following actions in connection with proposed military exercises:

a. Encourage mission planning officers to include assigned airspace requirements in the information disseminated with the request for exercise approval.

b. Recommend the use of planning conferences to mission planning officers for the resolution of problems when it is evident that the exercise requirements will generate sufficient traffic to create untenable air traffic or airspace user situations.c. Provide early notification and information to the affected ARTCCs and CARF on any exercises which are classified under subparagraph b.
So by dropping the "military liaisons" from the final report, the Commission avoided questions about their function. Their function was to coordinate military exercises with civilian air traffic. It was not to assist the FAA in the case of a hijacking. Interestingly, there is an interview with the military liaison of Boston Center, Colin Scoggins (as his alias "Cheap Shot"):
As the military specialist I am responsible for all military procedures between Boston Center and the military units in my airspace, and any visiting military units that participate in any of our Special Use Airspace (SUA).
Q: What can you tell about the military exercises of that day, and if they had any effect whatsoever on the response?

Cheap Shot: I never knew anything about them. Vigilant Guardian is an exercise that we don’t participate at Boston Center. We normally are involved in Fertile Spades, Fertile Angels, and Amalgam Virgo’s. Occasionally we will get involved in large-scale exercises such as a while back Amalgam Warrior, and Global Yankee.

"Cheap Shot" denies any knowledge of or involvement in the ongoing exercises. This comes as a big surprise, because NORAD was conducting several large-scale exercises, Vigilant Guardian being only one of them. Other exercises, not mentioned by Scoggins, were Global Guardian, Northern Guardian, or Vigilant Warrior. NORAD covers the entire airspace of Boston Center. When Boston Center called NEADS, the air defenders thought it was the begin of Vigilant Guardian. Scoggins' "I never knew" claim would imply that NORAD conducted its exercises in Boston Center airspace without any coordination with civilian air traffic control - bypassing Scoggins, the scheduled coordinator.

This is hard to believe and entails the search for an alternative explanation. Here is one: Scoggins was involved in the exercises, but to admit this fact would have opened the doors for more gnawing questions. Many suspect Scoggins of being a gatekeeper, and the job of a gatekeeper is to absorb dangerous questions. This is exactly what he's doing.

A military liaison was not only assigned to the FAA field facilities, but to the Command Center and the Headquarters, too. There is little information available for the latter. The military liaison at the Command Center was the "Air Traffic Services Cell", consisting of Col. John Czabaranek, Lt. Col. Michael-Anne Cherry and Maj. Kevin Bridges. Mike Williams of 911myths.com speculates that the job of the "cell" on 9/11 was to help with the communication infrastructure (teleconferences etc.):
From this description the cell officers earliest task appears to have been to set up the various teleconferences. They were assisting with communications in general, and there's nothing here to say the officers would take it upon themselves to monitor FAA information and pass it on to NORAD, especially if they believed (like Sliney) NORAD had already been informed. It wasn't their job, and they had other things to do.
Other sources suggest, however, that the task of the Air Traffic Services Cell was to coordinate civilian with military aircraft movement, like their counterparts at the field facilities:
Military Air Traffic Services Cell
–Housed within the System Command Center
–Mission -To coordinate all priority military aircraft movement and airspace issues during times of tension, warfare, natural disasters or civil unrest.
–Warfare Support
–Deployment of forces
–Sensitive, specialized, or classified mission coordination
–Military training exercise support
–Natural or environmental disaster assistance
–Civil exercise collaboration involving military participation
On 9/11, there was no tension, warfare, natural disaster or civil unrest, leaving the "military training exercise support" as the residual task of the "cell". This is confirmed by an article of Aviation Week & Space Technology from December 2001, describing the job of the cell as "refresher training", i.e. conducting exercises:
In a fluke, so was what Herndon calls "the military cell"--the Air Traffic Services Cell, created by the FAA and the Defense Dept. for use when needed to coordinate priority aircraft movement during warfare or emergencies. The Pentagon staffs it only three days per month for refresher training, but Sept. 11 happened to be one of those days.
It is unclear if the Air Traffic Services Cell was in direct contact to the military liaisons at the FAA field facilities, but there is reason to assume that. The cell was able to communicate with other military facilities via SIPRNET, the military's Internet:
The ATSC’s response to the terrorist attacks benefits from the fact that, six weeks earlier, the cell had a secure terminal to access the SIPRNET—the military’s classified version of the Internet—installed, along with other hardware, which significantly enhances the movement of vital information. According to Meenan, because the cell has the SIPRNET terminal, “we could immediately look at NORAD and [Defense Department] plans as they evolved; filter, package, and format them, then walk out to the [FAA] national operations manager—who had control of the entire national airspace system—and give him current visibility into… fighter, tanker, and support aircraft activities. It cut down our response time tremendously.”

The last sentence - "it cut down our response time tremendously" - deserves only scorn and derision, considering the 35-minute delay of alerting NEADS to Flight 93. Instead, SIPRNET seems to have been the central tool to conduct the various exercises. Moreover, it was a valuable tool for "interested circles" to make the exercises a springboard for performing the 9/11 crimes.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Source of the Delta 1989 hijack rumor: the FAA teleconference

The FAA Command Center (source:caasd.org)

Why indeed was Delta 1989 believed to be hijacked? And who was the source for this misinformation? The answers appear to change everytime when a new report on the aircraft is published.

According to USA Today (2002), the FBI was the source. Delta 1989 simply fit the "hijack profile" of American 11 and United 175 (i.e. a Boeing 767 from Boston going from East Coast to West Coast).


The 9/11 Commission Report (2004) mentions the same reason (the hijack profile), but identifies Boston Center as the source. Just recently, Commission staffer Miles Kara has repeated this version.


But Colin Scoggins, the controller from Boston Center who called NEADS to warn them about Delta 1989, explains in an interview from 2007 that the plane became suspicious because it missed a frequency transfer from Boston Center to Cleveland Center:


Lynn Spencer ("Touching History", 2008) also mentions a failed frequency transfer, but this time within Cleveland Center (i.e. from sector to sector).


Something doesn't add up here.

But here's a document that expels all of these accounts into the land of hearsay. It's the written account of Colin Scoggins, the said Boston Center controller, from 9/20/2001. According to Scoggins, it was the FAA Open Teleconference which was established by the Command Center after Flight 11 was reported being hijacked:

Open TELCON reports that DAL1889 is NORDO in ZOB airspace. ASD indicates aircraft is near Cleveland.

Call NEADS to advise of DAL1889, possible hijack.


In plain language: One participant of the teleconference reported that Delta 1989 (Scoggins remembered the flight number incorrectly) had lost radio contact while flying over Cleveland.

Here are three annotations to this surprising message:

1 - Delta 1989 was never out of radio contact, i.e. the message is flagrant misinformation.

2 - it's Scoggins 2001 vs. Scoggins 2007; when determining which account is more reliable, just look at the date. Memories use to be more accurate after nine days than after six years.

3 - who participated on the teleconference? At least the FAA Command Center and the three facilities Boston Center, New York Center and Cleveland Center, if we follow the 9/11 Commission. Cleveland Center was in continous contact with Delta 1989, Boston Center and New York Center were not responsible for Cleveland Center airspace. Therefore these three facilities are out of the question when it comes to the source of the misinformation.

Is there any reason that someone at the Command Center spreaded misinformation on the teleconference? Just note that Scoggins was not a regular air traffic controller, but the military liaison at Boston Center, and that there was a military liaison (or military cell) at the Command Center, too, who also participated in various teleconferences. This needs further research.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The passengers of Flight 11 embarked on the wrong plane: CONFIRMED

Memorial flag at Gate 32, Boston Logan Airport, Terminal B, American Airlines (Source: patrickmadrid.blogspot.com)

When did the passengers of Flight 11 embark on the plane? After nine years, this seemingly easy question is still lacking an answer. The 9/11 Commission Report doesn't deliver one, instead it confronts us with surprising boarding data:
See TSA report, "Selectee Status of September 11th Hijackers," undated. For boarding and seating information, see AAL record, SABRE information on Flight 11, Sept. 11, 2001. These boarding times from the American system are approximate only; for flight 11 they indicated that some passengers boarded after the aircraft had pushed back from the gate. See AAL response to the Commission's February 3, 2004, requests, Mar. 15, 2004. (9/11 Commisson Report, note #9 of Chapter 1)
It is, of course, impossible that any passenger boarded Flight 11 after it had moved off the gate. The concise explanation of the Commission: the boarding times are "approximate only". This sounds like as if the actual boarding times were spaciously rounded up by American Airlines' SABRE system which records and processes the boarding data.

Example: Given that Flight 11 pushed back at 7:40*** (see appendix). Now the Commission claims: if a passenger passed the gate at 7:37 (before the push-back), the system logged his boarding time as 7:50 (or 8:00 or whatever time after the push-back). This sizeable time gap smells funny and shows that the Commission's explanation for the oddity is concise, but far from conclusive. And indeed it doesn't withstand a closer scrutiny.

The cited note indicates that the Commission sent a request to American Airlines on February 3, 2004, which was answered at March 15, 2004. In 2009, this response was released to the public.
American previously has provided the Commission with documents that indicate the approximate times that passengers boarded AA Flights 11 and 77 and the approximate check-in times at the main ticket counters at the respective airports. These documents are Kean Commission Bates numbers 004658-004675 (Flight 77) and 004483-004518 (Flight 11) and are from American's Electronic Gate Reader ("EGR") records. The EGR records do not provide the exact time of individual passenger check-in, the check-in location (ticket counter vs. departure gate), or the identification of the check-in agent.

The EGR system for a particular flight is manually initiated by the gate agent usually several hours prior to boarding. The initation of the EGR system is done at the discretion of the gate agent. At initiation, the system downloads information for the flight, such as the names of all passengers holding reservations, check in status, seat assignment (if pre-reserved), booking class, and destination city.

Following system initation, the EGR system "polls" the Sabre passenger reservation system for any updates to this data. Prior to the start of boarding, the updates occur at approximately 15-minute intervals and provide a "snapshot" of any changes in information since the last update. For this reason, the ticket counter check-in times from the EGR system reflect only "approximate" times. During actual boarding of the flights, the "polling" process occurs more frequently, at approximately 15-second intervals. The EGR records the time that a passenger's boarding pass goes through the EGR and, provides an accurate record of when the passenger boards the aircraft.

So the boarding times are recorded fairly accurate, with an uncertainty of +-15 seconds. In our example: if a passenger passed the gate at 7:37:48, the system might round up the time to 7:37:50 or 7:38:00, but certainly not a time after 7:40 (the push-back). While the system checks the passenger's reservation status every 15 minutes only, it doesn't create minute-long gaps between actual and recorded boarding time.

The 9/11 Commissioners ignore this difference. Why does their report insinuate that the inaccurate boarding times are inherent in the SABRE system if American Airlines declares in plain language that the system "provides an accurate record of when the passenger boards the aircraft"? Either the gentlemen did not read AA's answer (?), or didn't understand it (???), or they decided to cease further inquiries and try to get away with a half-baked explanation ("approximate only"). An internal working draft from May 2004 shows that likely the latter is the case:
At 7:31 a.m. Wail Al-Shehri and Waleed Al-Shehri boarded American Flight #11. At 7:39 a.m. Atta and al Omari embarked on the aircraft and al Suqami boarded at 7:40 a.m. (PLACEHOLDER: THESE TIMES, WHICH ARE PULLED FROM AA'S SABRE RESPONSE SYSTEM, NEED FURTHER VERIFICATION BECAUSE THAT REPORT HAS SOME OTHER PASSENGERS "BOARDING" AFTER THE FLIGHT HAD PUSHED BACK).

The doubtfullness and need for further inquiry expressed in this paper is not reflected in the Commission report at all which was released three months later. The (too) late boarding is confirmed by two passengers of Flight 11 (Albert Filipov and Richard Ross) as well as flight attendant Madeleine "Amy" Sweeney. They called their spouse from the airport to tell her/him that the flight was delayed. Furthermore, there are conflicting reports of the gate where Flight 11 started from. Apparently the passengers embarked on a plane at gate 26, not at gate 32 as claimed by the 9/11 Commission. More about this here:


*** This is not 100% correct; at 7:40, Flight 11's doors were closed. The actual push-back ocurred at 7:45, as documented by the radio transcript between Boston Tower and Flight 11. However, this inaccuracy doesn't matter for the subject.