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Context of 'September 2009: Air Force Loses Control of Drone over Afghanistan, Shoots It Down'

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The US Energy Department, Defense Department, and the CIA begin conducting classified biodefense programs. [Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 1/2003]

Timeline Tags: US Military

Many aircraft at Andrews Air Force Base, which is just a few miles outside Washington, DC, are taking part in training exercises. James Ampey, an FAA air traffic controller who is currently on duty in the control tower at the base, will later recall that there are “an unusually high number of aircraft taking off and landing at Andrews [this] morning, because previously scheduled military exercises [are] underway.” [9/11 Commission, 7/28/2003 pdf file] It is unclear what specific exercises these aircraft are participating in, and the exact time period Ampey is referring to.
Militarized 747 Involved in 'Global Guardian' Exercise - According to journalist and author Dan Verton, around the time of the Pentagon attack, “civilian and military officials [are] boarding a militarized version of a Boeing 747, known as the E-4B National Airborne Operations Center (NAOC), at an airfield outside of the nation’s capital. They [are] preparing to conduct a previously scheduled Defense Department exercise” (see (9:27 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Verton, 2003, pp. 143-144] This airfield is Andrews Air Force Base and the exercise being referred to is the US Strategic Command’s annual exercise, Global Guardian, for which three E-4Bs are launched (see 8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001 and Before 9:00 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Omaha World-Herald, 2/27/2002; Flying K, 9/7/2012 pdf file] Whether other aircraft that are taking off or landing at Andrews are participating in Global Guardian is unknown.
NORAD Exercise, 'Vigilant Guardian' - Another major exercise taking place this morning is called Vigilant Guardian. All of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) is participating in it (see (6:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Newhouse News Service, 1/25/2002; Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/2002] However, Andrews is not one of NORAD’s seven “alert” sites around the US. [Airman, 12/1999] And the 113th Wing of the District of Columbia Air National Guard, which is based at Andrews, is not part of the NORAD air defense force. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002; Filson, 2003, pp. 76] Furthermore, members of the 113th Wing have just returned from a major training exercise in Nevada (see Late August-September 8, 2001), and so, with only a few pilots and planes available, today is a “light flying day” for their unit. [9/11 Commission, 3/11/2004 pdf file] Presumably the 113th Wing is therefore not currently participating in Vigilant Guardian or any other major exercises.
Numerous Units at Andrews - There are, however, many units at Andrews that may be participating in exercises. Among more than 60 separate organizations located at the base are units from the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force Reserve, and Air National Guard. [DC Military (.com), 6/2001; GlobalSecurity (.org), 1/21/2006] These units include Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 321 (VMFA-321), which flies the F/A-18 Hornet fighter jet, and Naval Air Facility, Washington, DC, which has numerous aircraft available, including the F/A-18 Hornet. [DC Military (.com), 2/9/2001; DC Military (.com), 6/2001]
Andrews Units Respond to Attacks - DC Air National Guard fighters will later take off from Andrews to protect Washington in response to the morning’s attacks (see (10:38 a.m.) September 11, 2001, 10:42 a.m. September 11, 2001, and 11:11 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 9/9/2002] And a member of VMFA-321 calls NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) at around 9:50 a.m. to offer his unit’s assistance in response to the attacks (see (9:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Spencer, 2008, pp. 188]

Entity Tags: Andrews Air Force Base, James Ampey

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Matt Swanson.Matt Swanson. [Source: Iowa State University]The Air Force’s Crisis Action Team (CAT) at the Pentagon is activated and will go on to play a key role in the Air Force’s response to the terrorist attacks. [Dover Post, 9/19/2001; Prospectus, 9/2006, pp. 3-6 pdf file] The CAT, which is under the command of the Air Force chief of staff, is a “disaster response group,” which, according to the Dover Post, “coordinates Air Force reaction to anything that might be a threat to the United States.” [Dover Post, 9/19/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2011] It carries out its activities in the Air Force Operations Center, in the basement of the Pentagon’s C Ring. [Syracuse University Magazine, 12/2001; Air Force Print News, 9/11/2003] Its usual first in charge is away today and so Lieutenant Colonel Matt Swanson, its second in command, has to take their place supervising emergency operations for the Air Force. [Prospectus, 9/2006, pp. 3-6 pdf file]
Crisis Team Becomes 'Eyes and Ears' of the Air Force - Prior to the Pentagon being hit at 9:37 a.m. (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001), according to the Defense Department’s book about the Pentagon attack, “Members of the Air Force Crisis Action Team [have] already begun to assemble [in the Operations Center] for a 10:00 a.m. briefing.” This is because “one of their responsibilities [is] to work with the Army to provide assistance to civil authorities in New York.” [Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 136] Major Donna Nicholas arrives in the Operations Center to assist the CAT at some time after 9:03 a.m., when the second hijacked plane crashes into the World Trade Center (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). When she gets there, someone tells her, “Just so you know, we’re considering that we’re under attack.” After arriving at her station and pulling out emergency checklists, she will later recall, Nicholas finds the area around her is “a flurry of activity as Air Force officials worked to gather information, both from the media and from their own intelligence sources.” [Dover Post, 9/19/2001] The CAT becomes “the eyes and ears of the Air Force” as it responds to the terrorist attacks, according to Major Harry Brosofsky, who will go to the Operations Center to assist the CAT after the Pentagon is attacked. [Syracuse University Magazine, 12/2001]
Air Force Leaders Only Join Crisis Team after Pentagon Attack - It is unclear when exactly the CAT is activated. Nicholas is told it has been activated at “about 9 a.m.,” according to the Dover Post. [Dover Post, 9/19/2001] Tim Green, assistant executive to the Air Force chief of staff, will say that after senior Air Force officials who are together in a staff meeting (see (9:00 a.m.-9:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001) see the second crash at the WTC at 9:03 a.m., they “set up a Crisis Action Team down in our Operations Center and they began working immediately.” [Midland Reporter-Telegram, 4/2/2002] However, senior officials such as General John Jumper, the Air Force chief of staff, and James Roche, the secretary of the Air Force, will only head to the Operations Center to assist the response from there after 9:37 a.m., when the Pentagon is hit (see Shortly After 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Air Force Print News, 9/11/2003; Air Force Magazine, 9/2011 pdf file] Swanson—the man in charge of the CAT today—will say he receives a phone call in his office at the Pentagon at some time after the second WTC tower is hit, in which he is told he has to go and join the CAT. However, he will apparently only reach the Operations Center to do so after the Pentagon is attacked: He will say that when he arrives, he is greeted by Jumper and Roche, and these two men only get there after the Pentagon is hit (see After 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Prospectus, 9/2006, pp. 3-6 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Harry Brosofsky, Matthew Swanson, US Department of the Air Force, Air Force Crisis Action Team, Donna Nicholas, Tim Green

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

In mid-November 2001, the Washington Post will report that senior Air Force officials are upset they have missed opportunities to hit top al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders since the start of the bombing of Afghanistan. According to these officials, the Air Force believes it has the leaders in its crosshairs as many as ten times, but they are unable to receive a timely clearance to fire. Cumbersome approval procedures, a concern not to kill civilians, and a power play between the Defense Department and the CIA contribute to the delays. One anonymous Air Force official later says, “We knew we had some of the big boys. The process is so slow that by the time we got the clearances, and everybody had put in their 2 cents, we called it off.” The main problem is that commanders in the region have to ask for permission from General Tommy Franks, based in Central Command headquarters in Tampa, Florida, or even Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and other higher-ups. Air Force generals complain to Franks about the delay problem, but never receive a response. For example, at one point in October, a Taliban military convoy is moving north to reinforce front line positions. Targeters consider it an easy mark of clear military value. But permission from Central Command is denied on the suspicion that the target is so obvious that “it might be a trick.” In another example, a target is positively identified by real-time imagery from a Predator drone, but Central Command overrides the decision to strike, saying they want a second source of data. An anonymous official calls this request for independent verification of Predator imagery “kind of ridiculous.” [Washington Post, 11/18/2001] The London Times paraphrase officials who claim that, “Attempts to limit collateral damage [serve] merely to prolong the war, and force the Pentagon to insert commandos on the ground to hunt down the same targets.” [London Times, 11/19/2001] By the end of the war, only one top al-Qaeda leader, Mohammed Atef, is killed in a bombing raid (see November 15, 2001), and no top Taliban leaders are killed.

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Taliban, Donald Rumsfeld, Thomas Franks, Al-Qaeda, Central Intelligence Agency, Mohammed Atef

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

The US Air Force loses control of a drone it is flying over Afghanistan. As a result, the drone is shot down. The reason for the loss of control is unclear. [New Yorker, 10/26/2009]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, US Department of the Air Force

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan


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