In a 2004 U.S. Senate hearing, Senator Mark Dayton remarked that “this country and its citizens were completely undefended” for “109 minutes” on 9/11. Dayton went on to clarify that officials within the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) had covered up the facts about the lack of air defenses by lying to the 9/11 Commission, to Congress and to the American people. And they were not held accountable.
One man was most responsible for both the air defense failures and the lying that covered it up. U.S. Air Force General Ralph Edward Eberhart had taken over command of NORAD from General Richard Myers in February 2000. The position included leadership of all air defense operations in North America and, also, the U.S. Space Command. Therefore, on 9/11, Eberhart was the man most responsible for failure to intercept the four hijacked aircraft over a period of nearly two hours.
NORAD is the joint U.S.-Canadian military organization responsible for monitoring and defending the airspace over North America. Long-standing operating procedures at NORAD, for dealing with airliners that have gone off-course or been hijacked, were not followed on 9/11. Each of the four flights involved in the 9/11 attacks should have been intercepted when they lost radio contact, deviated from their course, or turned off their transponders.
The procedures for interception were automatic and required no special orders to implement. Through these procedures, interceptor jets had been scrambled 129 times in the year 2000 and 67 times in the year prior to June 2001. A 1994 government report stated, “Overall, during the past four years, NORAD’s alert fighters took off to intercept aircraft (referred to as scrambled) 1,518 times, or an average of 15 times per site per year. Of these incidents, the number of suspected drug smuggling aircraft averaged … less than 7 percent of all of the alert sites’ total activity. The remaining activity generally involved visually inspecting unidentified aircraft and assisting aircraft in distress.”
On 9/11, the NORAD interception system failed completely and we have been given multiple, conflicting explanations for why that happened. Considering that there is strong evidence for an alternative hypothesis of insider involvement in 9/11, it is reasonable to assume that an intentional compromising of the U.S. air defenses might have occurred that day. Adding to this suspicion is the fact that guilt tends to be reflected in false testimony. And as Senator Dayton said, NORAD officials “lied to the American people, they lied to Congress and they lied to your 9/11 Commission.”
Exactly which NORAD statements were lies and which were not is a matter that is still not clear to this day. This is partly because the explanations and testimony that are now said to have been false were far more damning to NORAD than the final account, which exonerates NORAD entirely. Why would NORAD leaders want to lie so as to make their performance look worse?
In order to better determine the facts, investigators should begin with at least three areas of inquiry: 1) the times at which NORAD was notified (or made aware) of the hijackings, 2) the times at which NORAD responded in the form of scrambling jets to intercept, and 3) the instructions given to the interceptor pilots in terms of speed and direction.
NORAD’s ever-changing story
The military’s explanations began with a short description of the response to the hijackings. Two days after the attacks, General Richard Myers gave this account to the Senate Armed Services Committee, in an official hearing for his confirmation as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS). He said that no fighter jets were scrambled to intercept any of the hijacked 9/11 flights until after the Pentagon was hit.
Although Myers was not in command of NORAD on 9/11, he should have known two days later if normal procedures had been followed. As Acting CJCS on 9/11, and as Vice Chairman otherwise, his role was to ensure the president and secretary of defense were informed of critical military matters.
A second story was given a week after the attacks, when NORAD provided a partial timeline of the notifications it had received from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the responses that followed. General Eberhart reiterated this timeline in testimony to the U.S. Senate a few weeks later and for over two years it stood as the official account. This timeline said that NORAD had received notification about three of the hijacked planes with plenty of time left to ensure interception and had scrambled jets from multiple bases as the attacks proceeded.
The new timeline showed that NORAD was notified about the hijacking of Flight 175 at 8:43 am, a full twenty minutes before it impacted the south tower of the World Trade Center (WTC). Moreover, F-15 interceptor jets from Otis Air Force Base (AFB) were said to be airborne by 8:52, having been scrambled in response to the first hijacking. This allowed twice the time needed for the jets to reach New York City before Flight 175 crashed.
Eberhart added that NORAD was notified about the hijacked Flight 77 coming into Washington at 9:24 am, fourteen minutes before it impacted the Pentagon. He told the Senate Armed Services Committee (repeatedly) that this was a “documented notification.” If true, interceptor jets from Andrews AFB, only ten miles from the Pentagon, could have easily reached the errant airliner given this lead time.
Although the military might now use the excuse that Andrews was not technically under the command of NORAD, the 9/11 Commissions says Eberhart’s statement was simply not true. In fact, both Commission counsel Dan Marcus and Team leader John Farmer were later very blunt about this being a false statement. Therefore, it is clear that Eberhart should be brought up on a charge of contempt of Congress. It is illegal to make any materially false statement or representation in testimony to the Unites States Congress. And that was not the only false statement that Eberhart apparently made to the senators.
In May 2003, Eberhart’s subordinates General Arnold and Colonel William Alan Scott presented a slightly revised version of NORAD’s timeline. They contradicted the timeline for Flight 175, saying that NORAD was not notified of the hijacking until 9:05, three minutes after the aircraft crashed into the south tower. This was despite the fact that when asked by a U.S. Senator about “the second hijacked plane somewhere up there” (Flight 175), Eberhart had previously said “Yes, sir. During that time, we were notified.”
Arnold and Scott also revealed for the first time that NORAD was notified about the hijacking of Flight 93 at 9:16 am. This was 47 minutes before that flight allegedly crashed in Pennsylvania, at 10:03 am. Obviously, interceptor jets could have easily reached and escorted Flight 93 given this revised timeline.
The fourth and final story from NORAD was the official account given by the 9/11 Commission Report, now supported by NORAD. In this explanation NORAD received “no advance notice” on any of the last three hijacked airliners. Instead of 20 minutes’ notice on Flight 175, and 14 minutes’ notice on Flight 77, and 47 minutes’ notice on Flight 93, we were told that NORAD was not notified about any of them until it was too late. The military was off the hook entirely.
All the evidence for notifications and response, which had constituted the official account for nearly three years, had been thrown out the window. In place of these documents and testimonies, new explanations were given for why the scrambled aircraft never reached the hijacked airliners. These included unbelievable claims of communication failures and misdirection of the scrambled jets, as well as the introduction of a never-before mentioned “Phantom 11” scenario.
The 9/11 Commission Report account was supported two years later by an article in Vanity Fair. Allegedly, the author of the article was given privileged access to audio tapes that were not available to the public. Although the newly revealed “NORAD tapes” ostensibly bolstered the Commission’s new timeline, credible explanations were never given for throwing out the years of testimony and evidence that supported entirely different timelines.