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Context of 'Shortly After 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001: Officer in Pentagon Command Center Only Learns from TV that Pentagon Has Been Hit'

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Boston flight control begins notifying the chain of command that a suspected hijacking of Flight 11 is in progress. Those notified include the center’s own facility manager, the FAA’s New England Regional Operations Center (ROC) in Burlington, Massachusetts, and the FAA Command Center in Herndon, Virginia (see 8:28 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Federal Aviation Administration 9/17/2001 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 11) According to the 9/11 Commission, this is consistent with FAA protocol: “From interviews of controllers at various FAA centers, we learned that an air traffic controller’s first response to an aircraft incident is to notify a supervisor, who then notifies the traffic management unit and the operations manager in charge. The FAA center next notifies the appropriate regional operations center (ROC), which in turn contacts FAA headquarters.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 458) But according to Ben Sliney, the national operations manager at the FAA’s Command Center, “the protocol was in place that the center that reported the hijacking would notify the military.… I go back to 1964, where I began my air traffic career, and they have always followed the same protocol.” (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004) Yet Boston Center supposedly will not contact NORAD about Flight 11 until about 12 minutes later (see (8:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Already about ten minutes have passed since controllers first noticed a loss of contact with Flight 11 (see (8:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Boston reportedly also contacts several other air traffic control centers about the suspected hijacking at this time (see 8:25 a.m. September 11, 2001).

Captain Charles Leidig. 
Captain Charles Leidig. [Source: US Navy]Brigadier General Montague Winfield, the deputy director for operations (DDO) in the National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon, leaves his post to attend a pre-scheduled meeting, allowing a colleague, who only recently qualified to take over his position, to stand in for him, and not returning to his post until after the terrorist attacks have ended. (9/11 Commission 7/21/2003 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 4/29/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 6/17/2004)
Winfield Attends Air Force-Convened Meeting - Winfield leaves his post to attend what a 9/11 Commission memorandum will call “an unrelated, closed-door personnel meeting convened by the Air Force to discuss the rating of Air Force officers.” (9/11 Commission 7/21/2003 pdf file) Another Commission memorandum will state that this meeting is a “session for general officers who rated Air Force officers.” It is unclear whether the meeting takes place somewhere in the NMCC or outside the center. The Commission memorandum will only say that it takes place “elsewhere in [Joint Chiefs of Staff] spaces.” At least one of the NMCC’s other qualified DDOs, Brigadier General Norman Seip, is also attending it.
Winfield Asked Colleague to Replace Him on Previous Day - Winfield is temporarily replaced as DDO by Captain Charles Leidig. Leidig only joined the operations directorate of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in July 2001, when he assumed duties as the deputy for Command Center operations. In that, his usual role, he is responsible for the maintenance, operation, and training of watch teams for the NMCC. He qualified to stand in as the DDO in the NMCC about a month ago, in August 2001. The previous afternoon, Winfield asked Leidig to relieve him for a portion of his duty this morning, and Leidig agreed to do so.
Leidig Takes Over as DDO - As arranged, Leidig takes over from Winfield as DDO at 8:30 a.m., allowing Winfield to attend his meeting. Upon arrival at the NMCC, Leidig receives the intelligence and other turn over briefings. After seeing the reports of the plane crashes in New York on television, he will be responsible for convening a significant event conference (see 9:29 a.m.-9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001), which he soon upgrades to an air threat conference (see 9:37 a.m.-9:39 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 4/29/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 6/17/2004 pdf file)
Winfield Does Not Resume Duties until Attacks Are Over - Even though it becomes obvious that a coordinated attack is under way when television shows the second plane hitting the World Trade Center at 9:03 a.m. (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001), Winfield apparently remains in his meeting instead of resuming his duties as DDO (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). He will only take over from Leidig as DDO after Flight 93 crashes in Pennsylvania, apparently at around 10:30 a.m. (see (10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 4/29/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 6/17/2004) In later interviews for television, Winfield will give the impression that he remained in charge of the NMCC throughout the 9/11 attacks, and make no mention of having allowed a stand-in to take his place during this most critical period of time. (CNN 9/4/2002; ABC News 9/11/2002)

The hole caused by the Flight 11 crash.The hole caused by the Flight 11 crash. [Source: Reuters]Flight 11 slams into the WTC North Tower (Building 1). Hijackers Mohamed Atta Waleed Alshehri, Wail Alshehri, Abdulaziz Alomari, and Satam Al Suqami presumably are killed instantly, and many more in the tower will die over the next few hours. Seismic records pinpoint the crash at 26 seconds after 8:46 a.m. (CNN 9/12/2001; New York Times 9/12/2001; North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/18/2001; Cauchon 12/20/2001; Federal Emergency Management Agency 5/1/2002, pp. 1-10; Dwyer et al. 5/26/2002; Levin, Adams, and Morrison 8/12/2002; Associated Press 8/21/2002; Adcock 9/10/2002) The NIST report states the crash time to be 8:46:30. (National Institute of Standards and Technology 9/2005, pp. 19) The 9/11 Commission Report states the crash time to be 8:46:40. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 7) Investigators believe the plane still has about 10,000 gallons of fuel (see 8:57 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Dwyer et al. 5/26/2002) The plane strikes the 93rd through 99th floors in the 110-story building. No one above the crash line survives; approximately 1,360 people die. Below the crash line, approximately 72 die and more than 4,000 survive. Both towers are slightly less than half full at the time of the attack, with between 5,000 to 7,000 people in each tower. This number is lower than expected. Many office workers have not yet shown up to work, and tourists to the observation deck opening at 9:30 A.M. have yet to arrive. (Cauchon 12/20/2001; National Institute of Standards and Technology 9/2005, pp. 20-22) The impact severs some columns on the north side of the North Tower. Each tower is designed as a “tube-in-tube” structure and the steel columns which support its weight are arranged around the perimeter and in the core. The plane, which weighs 283,600 lb and is traveling at an estimated speed of around 430 mph (see October 2002-October 2005), severs 35 of the building’s 236 perimeter columns and damages another two. The damage to the South Tower’s perimeter will be similar (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). (National Institute of Standards and Technology 9/2005, pp. 5-9, 20, 22) The perimeter columns bear about half of the tower’s weight, so this damage reduces its ability to bear gravity loads by about 7.5 percent. (National Institute of Standards and Technology 9/2005, pp. 6) The actual damage to the 47 core columns is not known, as there are no photographs or videos of it, but there will be much speculation about this after 9/11. It will be suggested that some parts of the aircraft may have damaged the core even after crashing through the exterior wall. According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST): “Moving at 500 mph, an engine broke any exterior column it hit. If the engine missed the floor slab, the majority of the engine core remained intact and had enough residual momentum to sever a core column upon direct impact.” (National Institute of Standards and Technology 9/2005, pp. 107) According to NIST’s base case computer model, three of the core columns are severed and another ten suffer some damage. (National Institute of Standards & Technology 9/2005, pp. 189 pdf file) If this is accurate, it means that the impact damage to the core reduces the Tower’s strength by another approximately 7.5 percent, meaning that the building loses about 15 percent of its strength in total. This damage will be cited after 9/11 by NIST and others researchers as an event contributing to the building’s collapse (see October 23, 2002 and October 19, 2004). In addition, some of the fireproofing on the steel columns and trusses may be dislodged. The original fireproofing on the fire floors was mostly Blazeshield DC/F, but some of the fireproofing on the flooring has recently been upgraded to Blazeshield II, which is about 20 percent denser and 20 percent more adhesive. (National Institute of Standards & Technology 9/2005, pp. xxxvi, 83 pdf file) Photographs and videos of the towers will not show the state of fireproofing inside the buildings, but NIST will estimate the damage to it using a computer model. Its severe case model (see (October 2002-October 2005)) will predict that 43 of the 47 core columns are stripped of their fireproofing on one or more floors and that fireproofing is stripped from trusses covering 60,000 ft2 of floor area, the equivalent of about one and a half floors. NIST will say that the loss of fireproofing is a major cause of the collapse (see April 5, 2005), but only performs 15 tests on fireproofing samples (see October 26, 2005). (National Institute of Standards and Technology 9/2005, pp. 23) According to NIST, more fireproofing is stripped from the South Tower (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001).

According to a statement by two high-level FAA officials, “Within minutes after the first aircraft hit the World Trade Center, the FAA immediately established several phone bridges [i.e., telephone conference calls] that included FAA field facilities, the FAA command center, FAA headquarters, [Defense Department], the Secret Service, and other government agencies.” The FAA shares “real-time information on the phone bridges about the unfolding events, including information about loss of communication with aircraft, loss of transponder signals, unauthorized changes in course, and other actions being taken by all the flights of interest, including Flight 77. Other parties on the phone bridges in turn shared information about actions they were taken.” The statement says, “The US Air Force liaison to the FAA immediately joined the FAA headquarters phone bridge and established contact with NORAD on a separate line.” (9/11 Commission 5/23/2003) Another account says the phone bridges are “quickly established” by the Air Traffic Services Cell (ATSC). This is a small office at the FAA’s Herndon Command Center, which is staffed by three military officers at the time of the attacks (see (Between 9:04 a.m. and 9:25 a.m.) September 11, 2001). It serves as the center’s liaison with the military. According to Aviation Week and Space Technology, the phone bridges link “key players, such as NORAD’s command center, area defense sectors, key FAA personnel, airline operations, and the NMCC.” (Scott 6/10/2002; 9/11 Commission 6/17/2004) According to an FAA transcript of employee conversations on 9/11, one of the phone bridges, between the FAA Command Center, the operations center at FAA headquarters, and air traffic control centers in Boston and New York, begins before Flight 11 hits the World Trade Center at 8:46 (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Federal Aviation Administration 10/14/2003, pp. 3-10 pdf file) If these accounts are correct, it means someone at NORAD should learn about Flight 77 when it deviates from its course (see (8:54 a.m.) September 11, 2001). However, the 9/11 Commission will later claim that the FAA teleconference is established about 30 minutes later (see (9:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The Air Force liaison to the FAA will claim she only joins it after the Pentagon is hit (see (Shortly After 9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001).

The US Air Force liaison to the FAA arrives at FAA headquarters in Washington, DC, but, according to her own later recollections, does not immediately join a teleconference that has been set up in response to the first plane hitting the World Trade Center. (9/11 Commission 5/23/2003; US Department of Transportation 8/31/2006 pdf file)
Military Liaisons at FAA Headquarters - Each of the four military services within the US Department of Defense (the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, and the Marine Corps) assigns an FAA liaison officer to represent its requirements to the director of air traffic. These four liaisons share office space on the fourth floor of FAA headquarters. (Federal Aviation Administration 3/21/2002 pdf file) Colonel Sheryl Atkins is the Air Force liaison there. Air Force liaisons at the FAA regional offices all report to Atkins, and she reports to the Pentagon.
Atkins Arrives at FAA Headquarters - Atkins will later recall that she was on her way to work when the first plane hit the WTC at 8:46 a.m., and she arrives at FAA headquarters “probably five, 10 minutes after that.” Once there, she goes to her office, where everyone is gathered around the television. She will see the CNN coverage of the second plane hitting the WTC at 9:03 a.m., and then immediately begin “personnel accounting.” (9/11 Commission 3/26/2004; US Department of Transportation 8/31/2006 pdf file)
Atkins Does Not Join Teleconference - According to a 2003 statement provided by the FAA, the FAA established a teleconference with several other agencies minutes after the first WTC tower was hit (see (8:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and the Air Force liaison to the FAA (i.e. Atkins) “immediately” joined this. (9/11 Commission 5/23/2003) However, Atkins will say she only joins this teleconference after 9:37 a.m., when the Pentagon attack occurs (see (Shortly After 9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 3/26/2004; US Department of Transportation 8/31/2006 pdf file)
Not Responsible for Reporting Hijackings - Atkins will tell the 9/11 Commission that she is not responsible for being a channel from the FAA to the military for hijack and/or fighter escort protocols. She will explain that her office is “a liaison military administrative office,” and therefore, if she is notified of a hijacking, this does not represent “procedural military notification.” 9/11 Commission staff members will confirm “that there is no indication in the FAA handbook for special military procedures that [Atkins’s] office has a role in the notification to the military of a hijack, or the request to the military for fighter asset support.” Atkins will recall that, on this morning, “no one at the FAA” says to her that she should initiate “notification for a military response and/or coordination with the FAA response to the attacks.” Instead, she is “involved with military administrative coordinating and facilitating… and not with direct assessment or response to the attacks.” (9/11 Commission 3/26/2004; 9/11 Commission 4/19/2004)
No Other Military Liaisons Present - The three other military liaisons that share office space with Atkins at FAA headquarters are currently elsewhere, spread out around northern Virginia and Washington, DC. The Navy and Marine Corps liaisons will arrive at FAA headquarters at around 10:30 a.m.; the Army liaison will not arrive until the following day. (Federal Aviation Administration 3/21/2002 pdf file)

An article in the New York Times will later suggest that officials in the Pentagon’s National Military Command Center (NMCC) promptly become aware of the problems with Flight 77, long before NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) is alerted to the flight. The article will state, “During the hour or so that American Airlines Flight 77 [is] under the control of hijackers, up to the moment it struck the west side of the Pentagon, military officials in [the NMCC are] urgently talking to law enforcement and air traffic control officials about what to do.” (Wald 9/15/2001) This appears consistent with what would be expected under normal procedures. According to the FAA’s acting Deputy Administrator Monte Belger: “Prior to 9/11, FAA’s traditional communication channel with the military during a crisis had been through the National Military Command Center (NMCC). They were always included in the communication net that was used to manage a hijack incident.” He will say that, since the FAA does not have direct dedicated communication links with NORAD, in a hijack scenario the NMCC has “the responsibility to coordinate [the Defense Department]‘s response to requests from the FAA or the FBI.” (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 6/17/2004) NEADS reportedly is not alerted to Flight 77 until significantly later: at 9:24 a.m. by some accounts (see (9:24 a.m.) September 11, 2001), or, according to other accounts, at 9:34 a.m., when it only learns that Flight 77 is missing (see 9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001). (North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/18/2001; 9/11 Commission 6/17/2004)

Flight 77 from Washington begins to go off course over southern Ohio, turning to the southwest. (Washington Post 9/12/2001; Adcock, Donovan, and Gordon 9/23/2001; 9/11 Commission 6/17/2004)

Flight 77’s transponder is turned off, meaning that the aircraft’s speed, altitude, and flight information are no longer visible on radar displays at the FAA’s Indianapolis Center. (Federal Aviation Administration 9/17/2001 pdf file; National Transportation Safety Board 2/19/2002 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 9) The Indianapolis Center air traffic controller in charge of Flight 77 watched the plane go off course and head southwest before its data disappeared from his radar screen. He looks for primary radar signals along the aircraft’s projected flight path as well as in the airspace where it had started to turn, but cannot find it. (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004) He tries contacting the plane repeatedly, saying “American 77, Indy,” and: “American 77, Indy, radio check. How do you read?” But there is no response. (Wald and Sack 10/16/2001; New York Times 10/16/2001)
NEADS Not Contacted - US News and World Report will later comment, “[E]xperts say that an airliner making a 180-degree turn followed by a transponder turnoff should have been a red flag to controllers.” It will quote Robert Cauble, a 20-year veteran of Navy air traffic control, who says: “The fact that the transponder went off, they should have picked up on that immediately. Everyone should have been on alert about what was going on.” (Schultz 10/8/2001) Yet the Indianapolis Center supposedly does not notify NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS). According to the 9/11 Commission, NEADS will only learn that Flight 77 is missing at 9:34 a.m. (see 9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 26-27)
Controller Thinks Plane Suffered Mechanical Failure - While several air traffic control centers were reportedly informed of the Flight 11 hijacking as early as 8:25 a.m. (see 8:25 a.m. September 11, 2001), according to the 9/11 Commission, the controller handling Flight 77 does not realize other aircraft have been hijacked, and he is unaware of the situation in New York. He mistakenly assumes Flight 77 has experienced an electrical or mechanical failure. (Ellison 10/17/2001; 9/11 Commission 6/17/2004) After he informs other Indianapolis Center personnel of the developing situation, they will clear all other aircraft from the plane’s westerly route so their safety will not be affected if Flight 77 is still flying along its original path but unable to be heard. (Freni 2003, pp. 29; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 460; 9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 30)
Airline and Possibly Pentagon Learn of Flight 77 Problems - While NEADS is not alerted about the errant aircraft, a controller at the Indianapolis Center will contact American Airlines at 8:58 to inform it that contact has been lost with Flight 77 (see 8:58 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 30) And an article in the New York Times will indicate that the Pentagon’s National Military Command Center (NMCC) promptly becomes aware of the problems with Flight 77 (see (Shortly After 8:51 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Wald 9/15/2001)

Colin Scoggins, the military liaison at the FAA’s Boston Center, learns from an FAA teleconference that there is a second hijacked plane over the US. He has previously called the FAA’s New York Center and was told, “We’re working a hijack,” but mistakenly thought the controller was referring to Flight 11 (see (Between 8:40 a.m. and 8:54 a.m.) September 11, 2001). According to author Lynn Spencer, Scoggins now hears on the FAA headquarters’ hijack teleconference of the second hijacked airliner, Flight 175. (Spencer 2008, pp. 48-49 and 82) Spencer’s account is consistent with a May 2003 statement by the FAA, according to which the FAA established its teleconference “[w]ithin minutes after the first aircraft hit the World Trade Center” (see (8:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 5/23/2003) But the 9/11 Commission will claim that the FAA headquarters’ hijacking teleconference is only established at “about 9:20” (see (9:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 36) According to Spencer, Scoggins assumes that NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) is also on the FAA teleconference and is receiving the same information that he is about the second hijacking. However, the “FAA headquarters’ teleconference is between air traffic control facilities, the [FAA] Command Center, the Defense Department, and several other agencies; NORAD is not looped in.” (Spencer 2008, pp. 82) Although the FAA will claim that the “Air Force liaison to the FAA immediately joined the FAA headquarters [teleconference] and established contact with NORAD on a separate line,” the Air Force liaison will subsequently claim she only joins the teleconference after 9:37 a.m., when the Pentagon is hit (see (Shortly After 9:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 5/23/2003; US Department of Transportation 8/31/2006 pdf file) Even though Scoggins assumes NEADS is already aware of the information, he will subsequently call it with the news of the second hijacking (see (9:02 a.m.-9:07 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Spencer 2008, pp. 82)

Those in the National Military Command Center (NMCC) within the Pentagon see the second plane hitting the World Trade Center live on television. According to Dan Mangino, an operations officer at the center, the staff there had thought the first WTC crash was a “terrible accident,” but after seeing the second one, “we knew immediately that it was a terrorist attack.” The American Forces Press Service later reports, “Personnel in the center shifted into hyperdrive.… Phones in the center began ringing off the hook.” Mangino says he initiates “the process to stand up a working group in advance of the direction that would come down later.” One of his deputies is responsible for this process. Yet, despite this supposed urgency, Mangino later recalls that he “knew he would have little time in the days ahead, so he quickly ran to the concourse to get some money out of an automated teller machine.” He will not arrive back at the NMCC until after the Pentagon is hit. (Garamone 9/7/2006) Brigadier General Montague Winfield had earlier on allowed a colleague to temporarily take over from him as the NMCC’s deputy director for operations (see 8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001). Yet, despite the obvious emergency now taking place, he does not retake charge of the center until more than an hour later, at around 10:15-10:30 a.m. (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004) Furthermore, according to the 9/11 Commission, the NMCC does not begin a “significant event” conference call in response to the attacks until 9:29 a.m., which is 26 minutes after the South Tower is hit (see 9:29 a.m.-9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 37)

Brian Meenan.Brian Meenan. [Source: US Air Force]The Air Traffic Services Cell (ATSC)—a small office at the FAA’s Command Center in Herndon, Virginia, manned by military reservists—is activated.
Officers Learn of Attacks - Three officers are currently on duty in the ATSC: Colonel John Czabaranek, Lieutenant Colonel Michael-Anne Cherry, and Major Kevin Bridges. Colonel Brian Meenan, the director of the cell, is not in the ATSC at this time, and so Czabaranek, his deputy, is currently in charge. Czabaranek, Cherry, and Bridges learned of the first attack in New York at around 8:55 a.m. when another employee at the Command Center told them to turn on CNN, because an aircraft had crashed into the World Trade Center. The three officers initially thought the crash was an accident, but realized it was not when they saw the second aircraft hitting the WTC at 9:03 a.m. They then established contact with the Air Force Ops Center.
Cell Activated, Though Timing Unclear - The ATSC is activated, although the exact time this happens at is unclear. According to Aviation Week and Space Technology magazine, the cell “quickly became a key communications node during the military’s response to [the] terrorist attacks.” (US Air Force 9/11/2001; Scott 6/10/2002) Jeff Griffith, the FAA’s deputy director of air traffic control, will tell the 9/11 Commission that “the military officers assigned to the Air Traffic Services Cell became immediately involved in coordinating FAA… Command Center actions with military elements.” (9/11 Commission 6/9/2004 pdf file) According to a chronology of the ATSC’s actions on this day, calls to activate the cell are apparently made at unspecified times following the second attack in New York and before the FAA’s ground stop (at 9:26 a.m.). These calls are made by a Lieutenant Colonel Mahoney and a Colonel Litzenberger from the Air Force Ops Center. Apparently shortly after the calls are made, Czabaranek contacts NORAD to let it know that the ATSC is “up and running.” (US Air Force 9/11/2001)
Military Cell Aided by Recently-Installed Hardware - The ATSC’s response to the terrorist attacks benefits from the fact that, six weeks earlier, the cell had a secure terminal to access the SIPRNET—the military’s classified version of the Internet—installed, along with other hardware, which significantly enhances the movement of vital information. According to Meenan, because the cell has the SIPRNET terminal, “we could immediately look at NORAD and [Defense Department] plans as they evolved; filter, package, and format them, then walk out to the [FAA] national operations manager—who had control of the entire national airspace system—and give him current visibility into… fighter, tanker, and support aircraft activities. It cut down our response time tremendously.” (Scott 6/10/2002)
ATSC Is a Bridge between FAA and Military - The ATSC is a “part-time military outfit, staffed by part-time Air Force Reserve members” who “provide a bridge between the civilian and military worlds when air traffic issues arise,” according to the Air Force Times. For example, “During a crisis, the armed forces suddenly may need to inject a large number of military airplanes into a sky that typically handles only a few hundred.” (Dorr 2000) However, Czabaranek will tell the 9/11 Commission that the ATSC is “not part of [the] FAA/NORAD hijack notification process.” (9/11 Commission 4/14/2004)
Presence of ATSC Officers a 'Fluke' - According to Aviation Week and Space Technology, the presence of the three ATSC officers at the FAA Command Center this morning is a “fluke,” since the Pentagon staffs the military cell “only three days per month for refresher training, but September 11 happened to be one of those days.” (Bond 12/17/2001)
Cell Handles Aircraft after Airspace Shut Down - Later in the day, after the national airspace has been shut down (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001), the ATSC personnel will coordinate actions relating to military and other special flights that are permitted to fly. (9/11 Commission 2003) They will be responsible for validating the requests they receive for the movement of aircraft, and issuing permissions in response to those requests. (Federal Aviation Administration 3/21/2002 pdf file)

The FAA sets up a hijacking teleconference with several agencies, including the Defense Department. This is almost one hour after the FAA’s Boston flight control began notifying the chain of command (see 8:25 a.m. September 11, 2001) and notified other flight control centers about the first hijacking at 8:25 a.m. (see 8:25 a.m. September 11, 2001). According to the Acting FAA Deputy Administrator Monte Belger, this teleconference (called the “hijack net”) is “the fundamental primary source of information between the FAA, [Defense Department], FBI, Secret Service, and… other agencies.” Yet even after the delay in setting it up, FAA and Defense Department participants later claim it plays no role in coordinating the response to the hijackings. The 9/11 Commission says, “The NMCC [National Military Command Center inside the Pentagon] officer who participated told us that the call was monitored only periodically because the information was sporadic, it was of little value, and there were other important tasks. The FAA manager of the teleconference also remembered that the military participated only briefly before the Pentagon was hit.” (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 36) According to a statement provided by the FAA to the 9/11 Commission in 2003, this teleconference began significantly earlier—“[w]ithin minutes after the first aircraft hit the World Trade Center” (see (8:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 5/23/2003)

Monte BelgerMonte Belger [Source: FAA]At 9:20 a.m. (or earlier, according to some accounts), the FAA set up a hijacking teleconference with several agencies (see (9:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001). FAA records indicate that the National Military Command Center within the Pentagon was included in the communication network “no later than 9:20 a.m.” (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004 pdf file) Yet at some point later in the morning, Acting FAA Deputy Administrator Monte Belger becomes aware that the military is not involved in the teleconference in any meaningful way. Presumably referring to tape recordings of the FAA headquarters, 9/11 Commissioner Jamie Gorelick will later say to Belger, “We heard some rather colorful language came from your mouth at that point.” The absence of the NMCC from the teleconference is unusual. Belger says, “I’ve lived through dozens of hijackings in my 30-year FAA career… and [the NMCC] were always there. They were always on the net, and were always listening in with everybody else.” He adds, “The most frustrating after-the-fact scenario for me to understand is to explain… the communication link on that morning between the FAA operations center and the NMCC.… I know how it’s supposed to work, but… it’s still a little frustrating for me to understand how it actually did work on that day.” (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 36)

Shortly after 9/11, NORAD reported that the FAA notified them at this time that Flight 77 “may” have been hijacked and that it appears headed toward Washington. (Washington Post 9/12/2001; CNN 9/17/2001; North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/18/2001; Ellison 10/17/2001; Associated Press 8/21/2002) Apparently, flight controllers at Dulles International Airport discover a plane heading at high speed toward Washington; an alert is sounded within moments that the plane appears to be headed toward the White House. (Phillips 11/3/2001) In 2003, the FAA supported this account, but claimed that they had informally notified NORAD earlier. “NORAD logs indicate that the FAA made formal notification about American Flight 77 at 9:24 a.m. (see (9:24 a.m.) September 11, 2001), but information about the flight was conveyed continuously during the phone bridges before the formal notification.” (Federal Aviation Administration 5/22/2003) Yet in 2004, the 9/11 Commission claims that both NORAD and the FAA are wrong. The 9/11 Commission explains that the notification NEADS received at 9:24 a.m. was the incorrect information that Flight 11 had not hit the WTC and was headed south for Washington, D.C. Thus, according to the 9/11 Commission, NORAD is never notified by the FAA about the hijacking of Flight 77, but accidentally learns about it at 9:34 a.m. (see 9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004)

The National Miilitary Command Center, inside the Pentagon.The National Miilitary Command Center, inside the Pentagon. [Source: US Department of Defense]The National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon finally commences and runs a “significant event conference” in response to the ongoing crisis, 26 minutes after the second plane hit the World Trade Center and officers in the NMCC realized the US was under terrorist attack. (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 37; Garamone 9/7/2006)
NMCC Directors Decided to Establish Conference - After those in the NMCC saw Flight 175 hitting the WTC live on television at 9:03 a.m. (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001), Captain Charles Leidig, the acting deputy director for operations (DDO) in the center throughout the attacks, and Commander Pat Gardner, the assistant DDO, talked about the need to convene a significant event conference so there could be a discussion of what actions were to be taken in response. The DDO and the assistant DDO are the two officers responsible for deciding what type of conference the NMCC should convene, and when it should do so. Because there is no specific procedure for dealing with terrorist attacks, Leidig and Gardner decided a significant event conference would most suit their needs, because it would have the flexibility of allowing more people to be added in as required. They also discussed who would need to be on this conference. (9/11 Commission 4/29/2004 pdf file) But Major Charles Chambers, who is currently on duty in the NMCC, will give a slightly different account. According to Chambers, Staff Sergeant Val Harrison had a phone in her hand and said NORAD was asking for a significant event conference. Leidig had agreed, and so Harrison started establishing the conference.
Conference Begins with Recap of Situation - According to Chambers, “The computer does a mass dialing to connect to those command centers that are always included” in an NMCC conference call, but Harrison also had to manually call the civilian agencies that were going to be included in the conference, such as the FAA, the FBI, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). (US Department of Defense 9/2001) The conference then begins at 9:29 a.m. with a brief recap: Two aircraft have hit the WTC, there is a confirmed hijacking of Flight 11, and fighter jets have been scrambled from Otis Air National Guard Base in Massachusetts (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). The FAA is asked to provide an update, but its line is silent as the agency has not yet been added to the call (see (9:29 a.m.-12:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). A minute later, Leidig states that it has just been confirmed that Flight 11 is still airborne and is heading toward Washington, DC. (This incorrect information apparently arose minutes earlier during a conference call between FAA centers (see 9:21 a.m. September 11, 2001).) (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 37) NMCC conference calls are moderated by the DDO. (9/11 Commission 7/21/2003 pdf file) Leidig will tell the 9/11 Commission that they are conducted over “a special phone circuit, and it’s classified to be able to pass information, relay information between very senior leadership all the way over to the White House.” (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004)
NMCC Struggled to Convene Conference - Some officers currently on duty in the NMCC will later complain about circumstances that delayed the establishing of the significant event conference. Chambers will recall that the conference took “much longer than expected to bring up.” (US Department of Defense 9/2001) Gardner will tell the 9/11 Commission that the NMCC had been “struggling to build the conference,” which “didn’t get off as quickly as hoped.” (9/11 Commission 5/5/2004) He will describe his “frustration that it wasn’t brought up more quickly.” (9/11 Commission 5/12/2004)
Other Conference and Connection Problems Delayed Call - Preparations for the conference were disrupted as a result of the CIA convening a National Operations and Intelligence Watch Officer Network (NOIWON) conference call between government agencies in the Washington area, reportedly at sometime between 9:16 a.m. and 9:25 a.m. (see (Between 9:16 a.m. and 9:25 a.m.) September 11, 2001). According to a 9/11 Commission memorandum, the NMCC had “abandoned its attempt to convene a [significant event conference] so its watch officers could participate in the NOIWON conference.” (Federal Aviation Administration 9/11/2001; Federal Aviation Administration 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/21/2003 pdf file) Another factor that slowed attempts to convene the significant event conference was a problem with connecting some agencies to it. According to Chambers, “A couple of the civil agencies couldn’t be reached and others kept dropping off moments after connecting.” He will recall, “We finally decided to proceed without those agencies that were having phone problems.” (US Department of Defense 9/2001) Leidig had announced that the NMCC would have to start without those agencies and add them to the conference later on. (9/11 Commission 5/12/2004)
Call Ends after Five Minutes - The significant event conference ends after only a few minutes, following a recommendation by NORAD that it be reconvened as an “air threat conference.” It is brought to an end at around 9:34 a.m., and will resume as an air threat conference at 9:37 a.m. (see 9:37 a.m.-9:39 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 4/29/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 37)

According to the 9/11 Commission, NEADS contacts Washington flight control to ask about Flight 11. A manager there happens to mention, “We’re looking—we also lost American 77.” The commission claims, “This was the first notice to the military that American 77 was missing, and it had come by chance.… No one at FAA Command Center or headquarters ever asked for military assistance with American 77.” (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004) Yet, 38 minutes earlier, flight controllers determined Flight 77 was off course, out of radio contact, and had no transponder signal (see 8:56 a.m. September 11, 2001). They’d warned American Airlines headquarters within minutes. By some accounts, this is the first time NORAD is told about Flight 77, but other accounts have them warned around 9:25 a.m.

Senior officials in the Executive Support Center (ESC) at the Pentagon decide against evacuating the Pentagon, despite being aware of the attacks on the World Trade Center. (Clarke 7/2/2002 pdf file; Eichenwald 2012, pp. 22) The ESC, on the third floor of the Pentagon, is “the place where the building’s top leadership goes to coordinate military operations during national emergencies,” according to Victoria Clarke, assistant secretary of defense for public affairs. (Clarke 2006, pp. 219) Those currently in it include Clarke; Larry Di Rita, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s special assistant; Stephen Cambone, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy; and William Haynes, the general counsel of the Department of Defense.
Officials Discuss How to Respond to the Attacks - These officials know about the two crashes in New York and realize America is under attack. They are “talking about setting up a crisis action team and how we needed to respond to this apparent terrorist attack in New York City,” Haynes will later recall. They discuss things like, “Should we think about the force conditions [and] threat conditions?” according to Di Rita. (Rita 6/27/2002 pdf file; Clarke 7/2/2002 pdf file; Cambone 7/8/2002 pdf file; Haynes 4/8/2003 pdf file) However, they reportedly dismiss the possibility of evacuating their building. “The idea of evacuating the Pentagon was batted about, then rejected,” journalist and author Kurt Eichenwald will write. (Eichenwald 2012, pp. 22)
Two of the Officials Thought the Pentagon Might Be a Target - This is despite the fact that at least two of them have considered the possibility of the Pentagon being attacked. Haynes has spoken to David O. “Doc” Cooke, the Pentagon’s director of administration and management, and, he will recall, told him “that we ought to be thinking about the possibility of attacks here [at the Pentagon].” (Haynes 4/8/2003 pdf file) And Cambone has talked to Vice Admiral Edmund Giambastiani Jr., Rumsfeld’s senior military assistant, about the possibility of the Pentagon being a target and what they would do if it was attacked (see Between 9:03 a.m. and 9:35 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Cambone 7/8/2002 pdf file; Miles 9/8/2006) Clarke and Di Rita, however, will subsequently be unclear about whether they thought the Pentagon might be attacked. When asked, “Was there any anticipation at that time that the Pentagon also might be at risk?” Clarke will only say, “There was anticipation that lots of things might be at risk.” (Clarke 7/2/2002 pdf file) And when he is asked, “At that point was there a reason to expect a larger threat specific to the Pentagon?” Di Rita will reply, “I don’t know that I thought about that.” (Rita 6/27/2002 pdf file)
Official Will Order an Evacuation after the Pentagon Is Hit - No steps are taken to evacuate the Pentagon before it is attacked (see Before 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Adcock, Donovan, and Gordon 9/23/2001; Vogel 2007, pp. 429) Cambone will finally give the order for the building to be evacuated shortly after 9:37 a.m., when the attack occurs (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). Those in the ESC will feel and hear the impact (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). Someone will then come in and report to them that the building has been hit by an airplane. “At that moment, I asked for the building to be evacuated and also locked down,” Cambone will recall. (Cambone 7/8/2002 pdf file; Clarke 2006, pp. 220)

Those inside the Pentagon’s Executive Support Center (ESC) feel and hear the impact when the building is hit, yet supposedly do not realize what has happened. Victoria Clarke, the assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, who is in the ESC at this time, calls the center “the Pentagon’s war room, with instant access to satellite images and intelligence sources peering into every corner of the globe.” She describes it as “the place where the building’s top leadership goes to coordinate military operations during national emergencies.” In it with her are Stephen Cambone, Donald Rumsfeld’s closest aide, and Larry Di Rita, Rumsfeld’s personal chief of staff. They’d been discussing how to go about getting every plane currently in the air back on the ground when, according to Clarke, “we felt a jarring thump and heard a loud but still muffled explosion. The building seemed to have shifted.” Yet, despite all the ESC’s resources, they supposedly do not initially realize exactly what has happened. Clarke says to the others, “It must have been a car bomb.” Di Rita replies, “A bomb of some kind.” But one unnamed staffer who frequently uses the ESC for meetings points to the ceiling and says, “No, it’s just the heating and cooling system. It makes that noise all the time.” Clarke later claims, “The notion of a jetliner attacking the Pentagon was exactly that unfathomable back then. Our eyes were glued to television screens showing two hijacked planes destroying the World Trade Center and it still didn’t occur to any of us, certainly not me, that one might have just hit our own building.” Clarke guesses aloud that the noise was something other than the heating and cooling system. In the ensuing minutes, she and the others with her will scramble “for information about what exactly had happened, how many were hurt or killed, and [analyze] what we could do to prevent further attacks.” Yet, she will later claim, it is only when Donald Rumsfeld comes into the ESC at 10:15 a.m., after having gone to the crash scene, that they receive their first confirmation that a plane has hit the Pentagon (see (10:00 a.m.-10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Clarke 2006, pp. 219-221) Those inside the National Military Command Center (NMCC), located next door to the ESC, supposedly do not feel the impact when the Pentagon is hit, and one officer there claims he only learns of the attack from television reports (see Shortly After 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). (CNN 9/4/2002; Garamone 9/7/2006; Cockburn 2007, pp. 5) But Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, who is in his office about 200 feet away from the ESC, feels the building shake due to the explosion. After seeing nothing out of his window, he immediately dashes outside to determine what has happened (see 9:38 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Clarke 9/15/2001; Rumsfeld 10/12/2001; Rumsfeld 1/9/2002; 9/11 Commission 3/23/2004)

The Pentagon’s National Military Command Center (NMCC) is located on the other side of the building to where it is hit. Therefore, when the attack on the Pentagon occurs, those inside it supposedly do not feel the impact. (CNN 9/4/2002) According to Newsweek, the NMCC has been called “the primary nerve system” of the Pentagon, from where “commanders can monitor and communicate with American forces around the world.” (Newsweek 9/28/2001) A military instruction for dealing with hijacked aircraft describes it as “the focal point within Department of Defense for providing assistance” in response to hijackings. (US Department of Defense 6/1/2001 pdf file) But supposedly NMCC personnel do not initially realize the Pentagon has been attacked. Steve Hahn, an operations officer at the center, later says, “I didn’t know [the Pentagon had been hit] until I heard the news report on television.” (Garamone 9/7/2006) Yet an article in the New York Times later claims, “During the hour or so that American Airlines Flight 77 was under the control of hijackers, up to the moment it struck the west side of the Pentagon, military officials in [the NMCC] were urgently talking to law enforcement and air traffic control officials about what to do” (see (Shortly After 8:51 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Wald 9/15/2001) Furthermore, at about 8:50 a.m. according to the FAA, or 9:20 a.m. according to the 9/11 Commission, the FAA had established several phone bridges linking key players, including the NMCC (see (8:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001) (see (9:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The FAA states that it shares “real-time information on the phone bridges,” which includes “actions being taken by all the flights of interest, including Flight 77.” (9/11 Commission 5/23/2003; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 36) Why NMCC personnel do not therefore know immediately that the Pentagon has been hit is unclear. Also around this time, Officer Aubrey Davis of the Pentagon police is outside Donald Rumsfeld’s office. He hears what he later describes as “an incredibly loud ‘boom,’” when the Pentagon is struck (see 9:38 a.m. September 11, 2001). Yet no mention is made of anyone in the NMCC hearing this “boom,” even though the center is located only around 200 feet from where Davis is standing. (Clarke 9/15/2001; Cockburn 2007, pp. 1) Dan Mangino, an operations officer in the NMCC, went out earlier to withdraw some money from a cash machine (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001), and rushes back to the center after the Pentagon is hit. He finds the people in it are very calm. He says, “There was no panic, no raised voices. We train for emergencies all the time, and that training took over.” (Garamone 9/7/2006)

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld returns from the Pentagon crash site “by shortly before or after 10:00 a.m.” Then he has “one or more calls in my office, one of which was with the president,” according to his testimony before the 9/11 Commission. (9/11 Commission 3/23/2004) The commission later concludes that Rumsfeld’s call with President Bush has little impact: “No one can recall any content beyond a general request to alert forces.” The possibility of shooting down hijacked planes is not mentioned. (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004) Rumsfeld then goes to the Executive Support Center (ESC) located near his office, arriving there at around 10:15 a.m. In the ESC already are Stephen Cambone, Rumsfeld’s closest aide, Larry Di Rita, Rumsfeld’s personal chief of staff, and Victoria Clarke, the assistant secretary of defense for public affairs. Rumsfeld had instructed Di Rita and Clarke to go to the ESC and wait for him there when they’d come to his office soon after the second WTC tower was hit at 9:03 A.M. (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Presently, Rumsfeld gives them their first confirmation that a plane hit the Pentagon, saying, “I’m quite sure it was a plane and I’m pretty sure it’s a large plane.” According to Clarke, he pulls out a yellow legal pad and writes down three categories, “by which his thinking would be organized the rest of the day: what we needed to do immediately, what would have to be underway quickly, and what the military response would be.” (Clarke 2006, pp. 221-222; Cockburn 2007, pp. 5-6) The Executive Support Center has secure video facilities, and while there, Rumsfeld participates in the White House video teleconference. This is the video conference that counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke claims Rumsfeld is a part of much of the morning (see (9:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Then at around 10:30 a.m., he moves on to the National Military Command Center NMCC, located next door to the ESC (see (10:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Scarborough 2/23/2004; 9/11 Commission 6/17/2004; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 43-44) Those in the NMCC are apparently unaware of Rumsfeld’s whereabouts during the half-hour from 10 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.: Brigadier General Montague Winfield later recalls, “For 30 minutes we couldn’t find him. And just as we began to worry, he walked into the door of the [NMCC].” (ABC News 9/11/2002)


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