Sunday, September 01, 2002

At the time of the 9-11 attacks there were four fighter pilots on alert covering the northeastern United States. We know that two of those took off from Otis Air National Guard Base on Cape Cod, so that means that there were two other available planes. Some questions:

  1. The BBC interviewed "Duff', the pilot who took off at the same time as 'Nasty', the fellow interviewed by The Cape Cod Times. Duff stated: "For a long time I wondered what would have happened if we had been scrambled in time. We've been over the flight a thousand times in our minds and I don't know what we could have done to get there any quicker." Well, one thing that he could have done is not take off from a base that is almost 200 miles from New York City. If the northeastern U. S. is protected by only four airplanes, what are two of them doing tucked away in a place which only plausibly covers Boston? The only reason you would place them there is if you anticipated that the only attack would be by plane from Europe, a rather quaintly old fashioned view of air defence. It is even worse than that. The area covered is called the Northeast Air Defense Sector, stretching from Minnesota to Maine to Virginia. Why do you hide half your planes in one corner of this area? In The Cape Cod Times article, it is stated that they were 71 miles away from Manhattan when the second hijacked plane hit (and it appears that they had to dadle to be that far away). This reminds me of those signs that say "If you lived here you would be home by now". If they had started 150 miles closer to New York City they would have had plenty of time to intercept at least the second plane.

  2. Two unarmed F-16's were sent after Flight 93, but apparently Flight 93 crashed before they arrived on the scene. This means: 1) an admission that Flight 93 wasn't shot down by the U. S. military (for why send two unarmed planes after Flight 93 and agonize about what they are going to do if an armed plane was available to shoot Flight 93 down?); and 2) an admission that none of the two remaining armed planes were used to follow Flight 93 (for if an armed plane was in pursuit of Flight 93, why agonize about sending two unarmed planes?). If two other armed planes were available on September 11, what happened to them? Why weren't the other two planes scrambled when the two planes were scrambled from Cape Cod? NORAD claims that two F-16's were scrambled from Langley AFB at 9:30 (were these the other two available planes?), but were still 105 miles away when the Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon. The timing of this makes no sense unless they were flying at a ridiculously slow speed (I'd really like to hear an interview with the pilots of these two planes, and I don't think we'll be hearing from them soon). Why weren't the Cape Cod planes redeployed to assist the other two planes once the New York attacks had occurred?

  3. In the original interview of 'Nasty' in The Cape Cod Times, he makes a big deal out of the fact that even if they had managed to intercept the hijacked aircraft, they could not have done anything, as they were not permitted to shoot it down as only the President could make that decision and he was unavailable (reading about goats). Now we're getting information that Colonel Robert Marr, Commander of the North East Defence Sector, was considering sending unarmed planes as battering rams on suicide missions to take down any additional attacking hijacked planes. If even the armed planes couldn't do anything, and Bush didn't make a decision to shoot down planes until after Flight 77 had crashed around 9:41, how would unarmed planes have been allowed to be used to take down a hijacked plane? Is Marr working on the assumption that he has authority to take down planes without Presidential approval while the pilots from Cape Cod were working on the opposite assumption? Or does Marr already have the Presidential approval when he decides to divert the unarmed planes after Flight 93 (since Flight 93 is supposed to have crashed at 10:03, Marr's window of obtaining possible orders is only from around 9:41 or later until 10:03)? It would be very interesting to know the exact timing of the order to send the unarmed planes after Flight 93. It would also be interesting to know if all the parties involved were working off the same rules of engagement.

  4. We need a little context to understand what happened on September 11. I quote from an article in The Washington Post:

    "On July 5 of last year, a month and a day before President Bush first heard that al Qaeda might plan a hijacking, the White House summoned officials of a dozen federal agencies to the Situation Room.

    'Something really spectacular is going to happen here, and it's going to happen soon,' the government's top counterterrorism official, Richard Clarke, told the assembled group, according to two of those present. The group included the Federal Aviation Administration, along with the Coast Guard, FBI, Secret Service and Immigration and Naturalization Service.

    Clarke directed every counterterrorist office to cancel vacations, defer nonvital travel, put off scheduled exercises and place domestic rapid-response teams on much shorter alert. For six weeks last summer, at home and overseas, the U.S. government was at its highest possible state of readiness -- and anxiety -- against imminent terrorist attack."

    The same article goes on to say:

    "Director of Central Intelligence George J. Tenet had been 'nearly frantic' with concern since June 22, according to one frequent interlocutor, and a written intelligence summary for national security adviser Condoleezza Rice said on June 28: 'It is highly likely that a significant al Qaeda attack is in the near future, within several weeks.' By late summer, one senior political appointee said, Tenet had 'repeated this so often that people got tired of hearing it.'"

    Although this state of alert didn't last, in the context of U. S. government knowledge that al-Qaeda had plans to make an attack against buildings using hijacked planes, the obvious fact that the WTC had already been the target of an al-Qaeda attack, and with the extremely recent heightened state of alert, it is incredible that air defence for the whole northeastern U. S. was just four fighter planes.