The press coverage of the recently released 9/11 Commission Staff Report has focused on the 52 warnings the FAA sent out to airlines and airports in the months prior to 9/11. Instead of reporting this as the FAA disseminating prescient information to its clients, this Associated Press article, for example, implies the FAA didn't act upon the intelligence it received. Similarly, the National Security Archive, which got the report declassified under the FOIA, headlined its page: "9/11 Commission Staff Report on FAA Failings Published on Web". I sense a NORAD or White House spin.
The declassified (and redacted) Staff Report is in two parts. Part One concerns the chronology of the hijacks and the FAA's and NORAD's responses on 9/11; Part Two relates how well or badly the two agencies had prepared for such an attack. The Report adds some details, especially in the footnotes, that were airbrushed out of the published report.
Here are some extracts from Part One. The questions concern American Airlines 77, which hit the Pentagon, and United Airlines 93 (which crashed in Pennsylvania).
Noteworthy for its omission in this account is the claimed 9:24 A.M. FAA notification to the military that Flight 77 was hijacked. In the official NORAD timeline of 9/11 (released September 18, 2001), and as presented to the Commission in May 2003, NORAD claimed to have received notification that Flight 77 was a hijacked aircraft at 9:24 A.M. NORAD officials also indicated that the fighters at Langley Air Force Base were immediately scrambled to meet the threat posed by Flight 77. Retired General Larry Arnold (CONR Commander on 9/11) amplified, and confused, the issue in testimony before the Commission, stating:
9:24 was the first time that we had been advised of American 77 as a possible hijacked airplane. Our focus - you have got to remember that there's a lot of other things going on simultaneously here - was on United 93, which was being pointed out very aggressively I might say by the FAA... We were advised [American 77] was possibly hijacked. And we had launched almost simultaneously with that, we launched the aircraft out of Langley to put them in position in case United 93 were to head that way.
Based on its review of tapes, transcripts and other records obtained under subpoena, as corroborated by witness interviews at NEADS, the Commission can state unequivocally that the 9:24 A.M. notification time was not accurate. The 9:24 notification was inaccurately derived from a handwritten log maintained by the staff working for the Mission Crew Commander (the operational commander on watch) at NEADS. Called the "MCC/T Log", it was the principal log of events kept at NEADS on 9/11. At 9:24 A.M., the log records: "American Airlines #N334AA hijacked." This tail number refers not to Flight 77 but to Flight 11, the first hijacked aircraft. The subpoenaed tapes confirm that this time corresponds to the receipt of the tail number information on Flight 11 and to reports that Flight 11 was still airborne and headed towards Washington, DC.
General Arnold's testimony is even weirder than the Report allows - he said that at 9:24 NEADS' focus was on Flight UA93, but UA93 wasn't hijacked until 9:28. But if Arnold were telling the truth, NORAD/NEADS had been tracking Flight 93 before the alleged hijackers had left their seats.
From the main text:
9:36 AM The FAA's Boston Center - which had learned of an unidentified primary radar target tracking eastbound via an FAA conference call line - called NEADS and relayed the report of the aircraft closing in on Washington. The aircraft had still not been linked to the missing Flight 77. Boston Center told NEADS: "Latest report. Aircraft VFR [Visual Flight Rules] six miles southest of the White House...Six, southwest. Six, southwest of the White House, deviating away." This startling news prompted the Mission Crew Commander at NEADS to order "AFIO" (Authorization for Interceptor Operations), which entailed taking immediate control of the Langley fighters from the FAA. He then ordered the fighters to proceed directly towards Washington DC: "Okay, we're going to turn it up ... crank it up ... Run them to the White House".
Shortly after 9:36 AM, the Mission Crew Commander at NEADS discovered, to his surprise, that the Langley fighters were not headed north as the scramble order had instructed, but east over the sea. His response was emotional: "I don't care how many windows you break," he said, "Damn it...Okay. Push them back." [footnote 287]
9:37:46 AM, American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon. [...] The Langley fighters were 150 miles away
At approximately 10:00 A.M., the Langley fighters established a Combat Air Patrol over Washington DC.
A long footnote  then seeks to explain how, half an hour after the second plane had hit the WTC, the interceptor planes ordered to scramble from Langley and head north ("Scramble on a heading of 010 flight level 290") instead followed normal procedure and headed east out to sea ("090 for 60") and away from Washington. I question the given explanation on two grounds: first, NEADS says it needed a fixed distance to the target in order to scramble the interceptor planes, but enemy planes in the air are never static targets with predictable destinations; second, all hell was breaking loose in New York and elsewhere, and things get surreal at Langley AFB:
Third, both the lead Langley pilot and the FAA's Norfolk TRACON facility - which was briefly controlling the aircraft once it departed the Langley AFB airspace - assumed the flight plan instruction to go "090 for 60" was newer guidance that superseded the original scramble order instructions. In fact, shortly after the fighters got airborne, the lead Langley pilot was asked by Norfolk TRACON in what direction he wanted to head. After a brief discussion between the lead plot (identified as "Quit 25") and Norfolk TRACON, it was mutually decided that the fighters would follow the flight plan guidance. Put simply, the Langley pilots received flight direction guidance from both the scramble order and the Langley AFB departure flight plans, and continued on the latter heading for several minutes until a direction and destination was provided.
America is under attack and they choose to disregard the scramble order and instead head east over the ocean, miles away from Washington DC. I ask you.
The military did not receive notice at 9:16 A.M. that Flight 93 was hijacked, as was reported to the Commission in May 2003 by NORAD. At 9:16 A.M., the NEADS "MCC/T Log" records: "United tail #N612UA/75 SOB/." The tail number in the log belonged to Flight 175, not Flight 93. A corresponding conversation [?] on recorded conversations on the NEADS floor confirms that at 9:16 A.M., NEADS was receiving (from an FAA facility) confirmation of the tail number of Flight 175.
The "MCC/T Log" was also mentioned in Footnote 282. (I wonder if the Commissioners subpoenaed it.) The written MCC/T Log again contradicts the NORAD officials' testimony. So either NORAD officials were confused, or they lied when they said that that they knew from 9:16 that UA93 was hijacked and were tracking it, or the MCC/T Log was altered post facto, before the Commissioners saw it, to remove evidence of NEADS knowing about, and tracking, UA93 from 9:16 onwards.
The timing of the Mission Crew Commander's instruction on ROE [Rules of Engagement] also belies various NORAD officials' public recounting of their awareness of and response to Flight 93. "Air War over America" [published 2003], for instance, the 1st Air Force's official history of the response to the 9/11 attacks, offers the following accounts by two of the key NORAD participants:
(Colonel Robert Marr, NEADS Commander):
With all available alert fighters in the air, Marr and his crew were still faced with United Flight 93. The plane was headed west, so controllers began looking for any other fighter jets that might be nearby. 'I'm thinking Chicago is the target and know that Selfridge Air National Guard Base (Mich.) has F-16s in the air. We contacted them so they could head 93 off at the pass. The idea is to get in there, close in on him and convince him to turn. ... As UA Flight 93 was going out, we received the clearance to kill if need be. In fact, General Arnold's words almost verbatim were: "We will take lives in the air to save lives on the ground."
(General Larry Arnold, CONR Commander):
...we watched the 93 track as it meandered around the Ohio-Pennsylvania area and started to turn south toward DC. By now the Pentagon has been hit and we have aircraft in orbit... They are now orbiting over Washington, DC, and have been for a while. As United 93 headed toward DC, the desire is to move the fighters toward that aircraft.
The record demonstrates, however, that no one at any level in NORAD (or DOD) ever "watched the 93 track" start to turn south towards Washington DC. In fact, the military never saw Flight 93 at all. The Selfridge base was contacted by NEADS not regarding Flight 93, but in response to another commercial aircraft in the area that was reported hijacked (Delta Flight 1989, which ultimately was resolved as not hijacked). Most important, NORAD certainly never "received the clearance to kill if need be" on Flight 93.
It is not possible to reconcile Col Marr's and Gen Arnold's memories with the 9/11 Commission's findings. Because Marr and Arnold corroborate each others' memories of tracking UA93, I tend to believe them as against the MCC/T Log, which was handwritten and thus could be rewritten.
In sum, NORAD claimed it had acted to defend Washington DC from AA77 when it didn't, and its planes in fact ended up 150 miles away. And, despite the (sworn?) testimonies of senior NORAD officials, "no one at any level in NORAD (or DOD)" knew about Flight UA93 at all, ever, absolutely not, so the idea that the plane was shot down is itself completely shot to pieces. And, if you believe that, I have a timeshare appartment you'll just love.