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Friday, August 04, 2006

The NORAD 9/11 Tapes: Shocking but Not Incriminating

For several years, I've wondered about the failure to scramble fighter planes on 9/11 to intercept the hijacked jets. I've ready all the conspiracy theories, and agree that the series of coincidences is not plausible, and probably not random. However, now that the transcripts of NORAD's Northeast control center (NEADS) have been released, it seems very clear to me that whatever conspiracies might have been in play, NORAD's controllers weren't a part of it.

Michael Bronner, writing in Vanity Fair, uses the actual transcripts of NORAD/NEADS control room operations on that fateful day, with his explanation and commentary. Bronner, an associate producer on the movie United 93, has the background to interpret what the cryptic military language actually means--and most of his commentary is simply explaining what we hear (yes, you can actually listen to several brief clips).

The article is long, and includes large sections of actual transcripts. I recommend printing it out and reading carefully (and listening to some of the clips).

What I come away with...
  • NORAD did absolutely the best job they could, given the lateness and dearth of information that should have been pouring into them from the first moment it was known that one plane had been hijacked
  • The government was completely unprepared for the possibility that planes would be hijacked by trained pilots who would know to turn off the transponder beacons that establish aircraft location for air traffic controllers
  • They only had four fighter jets to scramble, and they did scramble them, as well as call in additional resources so that by day's end, 300 jets were patrolling American cities--but because of the late notice and the equipment's failure to track planes with transponders disabled, they couldn't intercept--and misinformation such as the belief that American flight 11 was still airborne and headed for Washington (not to mention that there were reports of over a dozen possible hijackings) didn't help
  • There may have been a cover-up in NORAD's testimony to the 9/11 Commission--but the incorrect testimony just as easily could have been faulty memory or misunderstanding rather than malice
  • Any order to shoot down civilian aircraft could only come from the President--and as we all know, GWB was reading children's stories in Florida at the time
  • Dick Cheney lied about agonizing over the decision whether to shoot down Flight 93, which crashed in the Pennsylvania farm field within seconds of his first being notified that it was off course

  • What this article establishes in my mind is that NORAD's people behaved phenomenally well under conditions more stressful than any in history--but they had antiquated and inadequate equipment, antiquated and inadequate and in some cases completely false information, and no chance to preemptively block the hijackers from reaching their targets.

    I commend their courage, and I thank Vanity Fair for running the article. Now...was there a conspiracy involving other aspects of 9/11?


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