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Context of 'March 16, 2004: NORAD Tells 9/11 Commission It Did Not Produce a 9/11 After-Action Report'

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General Richard B. Myers takes over as commander in chief of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), commander in chief of the US Space Command, and commander of the Air Force Space Command. He replaces General Howell M. Estes III. (North American Aerospace Defense Command 6/3/1998; Air Force News 8/19/1998) Myers will serve in these positions until February 22, 2000, when he will be replaced by General Ralph E. Eberhart. (Air Force News 2/22/2000) On 9/11, Myers will serve as the acting chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. (Myers 2009, pp. 10)

The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) commences Northern Vigilance, a military operation that involves it deploying fighter jets to Alaska and Northern Canada to monitor a Russian Air Force training exercise. The Russian exercise is scheduled to take place over the North Atlantic, Pacific, and Arctic Oceans from September 10 to September 14 (see September 10, 2001), and the NORAD fighters are set to stay in Alaska and Northern Canada until it ends. (BBC 2001, pp. 161; North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/9/2001; Gertz 9/11/2001) As well as conducting this operation, NORAD is currently running a major exercise called Vigilant Guardian, which “postulated a bomber attack from the former Soviet Union,” according to the 9/11 Commission Report (see September 10, 2001, (6:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001, and (8:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 2004; 9/11 Commission 3/1/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 458) The Russians will cancel their exercise on the morning of September 11 in response to the terrorist attacks in the United States (see (After 10:03 a.m.) September11, 2001), when they “knew NORAD would have its hands full,” according to the Toronto Star. (Simmie 12/9/2001; Doscher 9/8/2011) It is unknown from which bases NORAD sends fighters for Northern Vigilance and how many US military personnel are involved. However, in December 2000, it took similar action—called Operation Northern Denial—in response to a “smaller scale” Russian “long-range aviation activity in northern Russia and the Arctic.” More than 350 American and Canadian military personnel were involved on that occasion. (Canadian Chief of Defense Staff 5/30/2001, pp. 6 pdf file; North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/9/2001)

A briefing is held at the White House on this day, which is apparently attended by a representative from the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD). 9/11 Commissioner Bob Kerrey will note, during a 9/11 Commission hearing, that “it feels like something happened in that briefing that produced almost a necessity to deliver a story that’s different than what actually happened on that day [of September 11].” (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004)

Unlike other branches of the military, NORAD has not completed an after-action report on its response to the 9/11 attacks, according to a letter to the 9/11 Commission by its Office of the Staff Judge Advocate. (North American Aerospace Defense Command, Office of the Staff Judge Advocate 3/16/2004) The letter is in response to the Commission’s repeated document requests for NORAD’s after-action report. The Commission has already obtained after-action reports “from a number of DOD services and components, including the Air Force, Navy, and NMCC,” but, to its frustration, “a similar report related specifically to NORAD’s performance on 9/11 [has not been] forthcoming.” (9/11 Commission 2/20/2004) In its response, NORAD says: “While NORAD did not produce what would be traditionally classified as one final and comprehensive after-action report, it did produce a series of after-action reports that document 9/11 lessons learned. These documents have been provided to the Commission.”


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