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As the 9/11 attacks are taking place, a large military training exercise called Global Guardian is said to be “in full swing.” It has been going on since the previous week. (Dejka 2/27/2002; Buttry 9/10/2002) Global Guardian is an annual exercise sponsored by US Strategic Command (Stratcom) in cooperation with US Space Command and NORAD. One military author defines Stratcom as “the single US military command responsible for the day-to-day readiness of America’s nuclear forces.” (Arkin 2005, pp. 59)
Exercise Tests Military's Ability to Fight a Nuclear War - Global Guardian is a global readiness exercise involving all Stratcom forces and aims to test Stratcom’s ability to fight a nuclear war. It is one of many “practice Armageddons” that the US military routinely stages. (Arkin 11/1/1997; Ruff 2/21/2002; Dejka 2/27/2002; Buttry 9/10/2002) It links with a number of other military exercises, including Crown Vigilance (an Air Combat Command exercise), Apollo Guardian (a US Space Command exercise), and the NORAD exercises Vigilant Guardian and Amalgam Warrior. (US Department of Defense 5/1997; GlobalSecurity (.org) 4/27/2005) Global Guardian is both a command post and a field training exercise, and is based around a fictitious scenario designed to test the ability of Stratcom and its component forces to deter a military attack against the US. Hundreds of military personnel are involved. (US Congress n.d.; Wasiak 12/1999 ; Villafuerte 9/8/2002) The exercise involves “a lot of the elements of what ultimately would be the nuclear command and control system in support of a national emergency,” according to Admiral Richard Mies, the commander in chief of Stratcom. It includes an “exercise secretary of defense” and “an exercise president.” Mies will say that because of the exercise, “A lot of [Stratcom’s] command and control systems that, in peacetime, are normally not on alert were at a much, much higher state of alert [on September 11] and we had a number of aircraft, manned control aircraft that were airborne that were simulating their wartime roles.” (Kelly 12/27/2011)
Exercise Normally Held in October or November - According to a 1998 Internet article by the British American Security Information Council—an independent research organization—Global Guardian is held in October or November each year. (Kristensen 10/1998) In his book Code Names, NBC News military analyst William Arkin dates this exercise for October 22-31, 2001. (Arkin 2005, pp. 379) And a military newspaper reported in March 2001 that Global Guardian was scheduled for October 2001. (Space Observer 3/23/2001, pp. 2 ) If this is correct, then some time after March, the exercise must have been rescheduled for early September.
Exercise Includes a 'Computer Network Attack' - Furthermore, a 1998 Defense Department newsletter reported that for several years Stratcom had been incorporating a computer network attack (CNA) into Global Guardian. The attack involved Stratcom “red team” members and other organizations acting as enemy agents, and included attempts to penetrate the command using the Internet and a “bad” insider who had access to a key command and control system. The attackers “war dialed” the phones to tie them up and sent faxes to numerous fax machines throughout the Command. They also claimed they were able to shut down Stratcom’s systems. Reportedly, Stratcom planned to increase the level of computer network attack in future Global Guardian exercises. (Parker 6/1998 ) It is unclear if a computer network attack is incorporated into Global Guardian in 2001.
Personnel and aircraft at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana are participating in the annual US Strategic Command (Stratcom) exercise Global Guardian (see 8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001) when the first crash at the World Trade Center is reported on television. (US Department of Defense 5/1997; Villafuerte 9/8/2002)
Nuclear Weapons Are Being Loaded onto Bombers - Global Guardian is based around the scenario of a rogue nation attacking the United States with nuclear weapons. At Barksdale, according to journalists Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker, air crews taking part in the exercise have been “pulling nuclear bombs and missiles out of their heavily guarded storage sites and loading them aboard B-52s” this morning. Real, live nuclear weapons are being used, but “their triggers [are] not armed.” (Schmitt and Shanker 2011, pp. 22) “We were in the midst of this big annual exercise called Global Guardian. They loaded all the bombers, put the submarines out to sea, put the [intercontinental ballistic missiles] at nearly 100 percent,” Lieutenant General Thomas Keck, commander of the 8th Air Force at Barksdale, will later recall. “It was routine, you did it every year,” he will add. (Graff 9/9/2016)
Officers Realize America's Security Is at Risk - Colonel Mike Reese, director of staff for the 8th Air Force, is monitoring several television screens at the base as part of the exercise when he sees CNN cut into coverage of the first crash at the WTC, two minutes after it happens (see 8:48 a.m. September 11, 2001). He will see the second hijacked plane crashing into the WTC live on television at 9:03 a.m. (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). He will recall that at this point: “[W]e knew it wasn’t a mistake. Something grave was happening that put the nation’s security at risk.”
Exercise Participants Switch to Defending the Base - The New Orleans Times-Picayune will describe how awareness of the real attacks impacts those participating in the exercise, stating: “Immediately their focus turned to defense, securing Barksdale, Minot [North Dakota], and Whiteman [Missouri] air force bases, where dozens of aircraft and hundreds of personnel were involved in the readiness exercise ‘Global Guardian.’ The exercise abruptly ended as the United States appeared to be at war within its own borders.” (Villafuerte 9/8/2002)
Air Force Becomes Concerned about a Plane Being Crashed into the B-52s - The Air Force will be particularly concerned that terrorists might try to crash a hijacked plane into the B-52s with nuclear weapons on board that are on the tarmac at Barksdale. Although an attack of this kind would not set off a nuclear blast, it could cause a large explosion. “You would destroy half of Bossier City, Louisiana, with the explosions,” Al Buckles, Stratcom’s deputy director for operations, will comment. He will add: “That would have been a way to really cripple us. All these nuclear weapons were exposed.” (Liewer 9/9/2016) Four A-10s, aircraft not designed for air-to-air combat, from Barksdale’s 47th Fighter Squadron, will be placed on “cockpit alert,” the highest state of readiness for fighter pilots. “Within five minutes,” according to the Times-Picayune, “the A-10s, equipped only with high-intensity cannons, could have been launched to destroy unfriendly aircraft, even if it was a civilian passenger airliner.” Lieutenant Colonel Edmund Walker, commander of the 47th Fighter Squadron, and a novice pilot still in training will be sitting in their jets, ready to take off, when they are ordered back to the squadron office. They will be told they are no longer practicing. Walker will recall: “We had to defend the base against any aircraft, airliner, or civilian. We had no idea. Would it fly to the base and crash into the B-52s or A-10s on the flight line?” (Villafuerte 9/8/2002) When Air Force One with President Bush on board takes off from Sarasota, Florida, at around 9:55 a.m. (see 9:54 a.m. September 11, 2001), it will initially have no fixed destination. But after a short time, it will begin heading toward Barksdale Air Force Base and land there at 11:45 a.m. (see 11:45 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 39, 325)
Offutt Air Force Base, near Omaha, Nebraska, appears to be the headquarters of the US Strategic Command (Stratcom) exercise Global Guardian that is “in full swing” when the 9/11 attacks begin (see 8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001). At least the director of the exercise, Admiral Richard Mies, commander in chief of Stratcom, is at Offutt this morning. Because of Global Guardian, bombers, missile crews, and submarines around America are all being directed from Stratcom’s command center, a steel and concrete reinforced bunker below Offutt. (Arkin 11/12/1997; Ruff 2/21/2002; Dejka 2/27/2002; BBC 9/1/2002; Buttry 9/10/2002) This bunker is staffed with top personnel and they are at a heightened security mode because of the exercise. (Ruff 2/21/2002; Bjorkman 7/2002 )
'Doomsday' Planes Airborne for Exercise - Because of Global Guardian, three special military command aircraft with sophisticated communications equipment, based at Offutt, are up in the air this morning (see (9:27 a.m.) September 11, 2001, Shortly After 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001, and (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). These E-4B National Airborne Operations Center planes—nicknamed “Doomsday” planes during the Cold War—are intended to control nuclear forces from the air in times of crisis. They are capable of acting as alternative command posts for top government officials from where they can direct US forces, execute war orders, and coordinate the actions of civil authorities in times of national emergency. The federal advisory committee, whose chairman is retired Lieutenant General Brent Scowcroft, is aboard one of these Doomsday planes, being brought to Offutt to observe the exercise (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Global Guardian will reportedly be put on pause at 9:11 a.m. (see 9:11 a.m. September 11, 2001), but not formally terminated until 10:44 a.m. (see (10:44 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and the battle staff at Offutt will switch to “real-world mode” once the attacks are apparent. However, even after Global Guardian is called off, the three E-4Bs will remain airborne. Also this morning, a small group of business leaders are at Offutt because of a charity fundraiser event due to take place later in the day, hosted by the multi-billionaire Warren Buffett (see (8:45 a.m.-9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Dejka 2/27/2002; Bjorkman 7/2002 ; BBC 9/1/2002; Dejka 9/8/2002; Bombardier 9/8/2006 )
When Lieutenant General Thomas Keck, the commander of the 8th Air Force at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana, is told that a plane has crashed into the World Trade Center, he mistakenly thinks this is a simulated scenario as part of a training exercise. (2d Bomb Wing 6/30/2002, pp. 40 ; Freeman 10/2006 ) Barksdale is one of a number of Air Force bases where aircraft and personnel are currently participating in the exercise Global Guardian (see 8:48 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Villafuerte 9/8/2002) This annual exercise is run by the US Strategic Command (Stratcom) and aims to test the command’s ability to fight a nuclear war (see 8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Arkin 11/1/1997; Dejka 2/27/2002; Dejka 9/8/2002; GlobalSecurity (.org) 4/27/2005)
Keck Thinks Crash Is a 'Scenario Injection' - Keck is sitting in a windowless command center at Barksdale, monitoring the base’s participation in Global Guardian. Ground crews are practicing getting a fleet of B-52 bombers fueled, armed, and ready to get airborne for bombing runs. Keck watches on a monitor as, at exactly 9:00 a.m., an alarm sounds across the base and the crews rush to their planes. Then a younger officer taps him on the shoulder and tells him, “Sir, we just had an aircraft hit the World Trade Center.” Keck mistakenly thinks the officer is describing a simulated crisis that is being included in the exercise. He says: “That’s not the way you interject a situation into a training exercise! When you have a scenario injection, you say, ‘Sir, this is an exercise input,’ and then you give me the information.” But the younger officer replies, “No, sir,” and points at a television showing CNN, which is broadcasting live coverage of the burning WTC in New York.
Keck Thinks First Crash Is an Accident - Keck’s initial thought upon seeing the TV coverage is reportedly, “How could such a terrible accident happen?” It is only when Keck sees the second plane hitting the WTC at 9:03 a.m. that he will realize the US is under attack. He then yells to his staff, “Lock it down,” thereby signaling that the exercise is over. (Freeman 10/2006 ) (However, according to an article in The Bombardier, the newspaper for Barksdale Air Force Base, Stratcom will put Global Guardian on pause at 9:11 a.m. (see 9:11 a.m. September 11, 2001), but only terminate the exercise at 10:44 a.m. (see (10:44 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Bombardier 9/8/2006 ) ) After seeing the second crash, Keck will leave the command center from where he has been monitoring the exercise and go to the 8th Air Force battle staff, to be briefed on reports coming from Air Force headquarters about the ongoing terrorist attacks. He will later on accompany President Bush while he is at Barksdale, after landing there on Air Force One at about 11:45 a.m. (see 11:45 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Freeman 10/2006 )
Crew members on an E-4B National Airborne Operations Center (NAOC) at Andrews Air Force Base, just outside Washington, DC, learn that the US is under attack, but some of them initially think what they are being told about is a simulated scenario in a training exercise they are participating in. (Kieschnick 9/7/2012 ) The E-4B is a highly modified Boeing 747 that is fitted with sophisticated communications equipment and can serve as a flying military command post during a national emergency. (Federation of American Scientists 4/23/2000; Gaffney 9/12/2001; Verton 2003, pp. 143) The E-4B on the ground at Andrews is currently involved in a major training exercise. “We were one of many commands practicing a global war-gaming and communication exercise called Global Guardian. My aircraft was one of three brought to full alert status for the exercise,” Mark McLaughlin will later recall. McLaughlin has, today, been assigned to Operations Team One as the Single Integrated Operational Plan adviser to the National Command Authority—the president and the secretary of defense. “My job was to be the expert on nuclear war plans and give all the VIP briefs,” he will say. (Kieschnick 9/7/2012 ) “Global Guardian,” which he refers to, is an annual exercise that tests the ability of the US Strategic Command (Stratcom) to fight a nuclear war (see 8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Dejka 2/27/2002; Harris 9/2011)
Plane Is Tasked with Picking Up Former National Security Adviser - As well as its involvement in the exercise, the E-4B, according to McLaughlin, has a “secondary mission” today, which is to fly to Washington and pick up former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, who has been “appointed by President Bush to analyze the nation’s nuclear arsenal and strategic plans.” While the plane was flying into Andrews Air Force Base, McLaughlin will recall, those on board “heard over one of the many communications nets that an airplane had crashed into a tower at the World Trade Center.” However, he will comment, “It never dawned on us at that moment that a terrorist attack was under way.”
Briefing Is Disrupted as Crew Members Learn about Attacks - McLaughlin learns that the nation is indeed under attack after his plane has landed at the base, and Scowcroft and his traveling party have boarded. While he is briefing the former national security adviser about nuclear weapons and the nation’s nuclear war-fighting plans, McLaughlin notices a commotion in the battle staff space, a compartment behind the briefing area that houses the operations team. The agitated behavior of the operations team members, according to McLaughlin, “is unheard of and not allowed when a VIP is on board, especially receiving a briefing.” McLaughlin’s assistant, who is working at the computer behind McLaughlin, then slips a note into McLaughlin’s hand. McLaughlin reads the note, which states simply: “Captain. Battle staff. Now.” He therefore tells Captain Joseph Gershon, the NAOC commanding officer, that his presence has been requested immediately in the battle staff area, and Gershon then heads there. Although McLaughlin realizes from the commotion going on that “something big [is] happening,” he continues the briefing.
Captain Interrupts Briefing and Says the Nation Is under Attack - During such high-level briefings, it is protocol that if you have to leave the room, you never return until the briefing is over. But Gershon returns and interrupts the briefing. He tells Scowcroft, “It appears that the country is under attack, sir.” According to McLaughlin, many of the people on the plane think at this time that what is being reported is a simulated scenario, as part of the exercise they are participating in. “Adding to the confusion was that we were in a global exercise and many of us thought it was part of the exercise injects,” he will comment. But he will say that “during the next few minutes, everyone began to fully comprehend that [the US was] under attack.” It also becomes “very apparent,” according to McLaughlin, “that our aircraft had to get airborne for safety reasons.” (Kieschnick 9/7/2012 )
Plane Heads to Base in Nebraska - The E-4B, which has the call sign “Word 31,” will take off from Andrews Air Force Base at around 9:27 a.m. (see (9:27 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Another E-4B, with the call sign “Venus 77,” will also take off from Andrews this morning, at around 9:45 a.m. (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Federal Aviation Administration 9/11/2001 ; 9/11 Commission 2/17/2004; Farmer 2009, pp. 206) McLaughlin’s plane will land later on at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, so Scowcroft and his staff can get off. (Kieschnick 9/7/2012 ) The original plan for today, according to the Omaha World-Herald, had been for the plane to take Scowcroft and his staff to Offutt to observe the Global Guardian exercise. (Dejka 2/27/2002) But after reaching the base, McLaughlin’s team’s mission will be to remain in the air, and so the E-4B will subsequently take off from Offutt and resume its airborne operations. (Kieschnick 9/7/2012 )
The US Strategic Command (Stratcom) orders that its Global Guardian exercise be put on pause at this time, according to a 2006 article in The Bombardier, the newspaper for Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana. (Bombardier 9/8/2006 ) Global Guardian is an annual exercise sponsored by Stratcom, which has its headquarters at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska. The exercise tests Stratcom’s ability to fight a nuclear war (see 8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Dejka 2/27/2002; GlobalSecurity (.org) 4/27/2005) Many aircraft and personnel at Barksdale, as well as other military bases, are involved in it (see 8:48 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Villafuerte 9/8/2002) Global Guardian will be formally terminated at 10:44 a.m., according to The Bombardier (see (10:44 a.m.) September 11, 2001), although other reports will say it is canceled earlier on, possibly after the second World Trade Center tower is hit at 9:03 a.m. (Dejka 2/27/2002; Dejka 9/8/2002; Bombardier 9/8/2006 )
An E-4B National Airborne Operations Center (NAOC) takes off from Andrews Air Force Base, just outside Washington, DC. The E-4B is a militarized version of a Boeing 747. Its purpose is to provide the president, vice president, and Joint Chiefs of Staff with an airborne command center that could be used to execute war plans and coordinate government operations during a national emergency. The E-4B taking off from Andrews, which has the call sign “Word 31,” is carrying civilian and military officials, and is launched in order to participate in a previously scheduled military exercise, according to journalist and author Dan Verton. (Federal Aviation Administration 9/11/2001 ; Verton 2003, pp. 143-144; 9/11 Commission 2/17/2004; NET Nebraska 9/2/2011) This exercise would be Global Guardian, which is being conducted by the US Strategic Command (Stratcom) to test its ability to fight a nuclear war (see 8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001). Two other E-4Bs are also participating in Global Guardian today (see Before 9:00 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Dejka 2/27/2002)
Plane Ends Participation in Exercise after Taking Off - The E-4B taking off from Andrews Air Force Base is supposed to be using and testing its sophisticated technology and communications equipment for the exercise. It has “only just taken off” at the time the Pentagon is hit—9:37 a.m.—according to Verton. (Verton 2003, pp. 144) But the flight tracking strip from Andrews will record it as having taken off at 9:27 a.m., 10 minutes before the Pentagon is hit. (Federal Aviation Administration 9/11/2001 ; 9/11 Commission 2/17/2004) The crew will later be informed that after the plane launches, it flies “right over the top of the aircraft that eventually impacted the Pentagon.” (Kieschnick 9/7/2012 ) After taking off, the E-4B is “immediately ordered to cease the military exercise it was conducting and prepare to become the actual National Airborne Operations Center,” Verton will write. (Verton 2003, pp. 144) (Global Guardian was reportedly put on pause at 9:11 a.m. (see 9:11 a.m. September 11, 2001), but it is not formally terminated until 10:44 a.m. (see (10:44 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Bombardier 9/8/2006 ) ) The plane then converts “on the fly from exercise status to real-world crisis management.” (Verton 2003, pp. 150)
Plane Flies Former National Security Adviser to Base in Nebraska - Former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft and his staff are on the E-4B, which will fly them to Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Kieschnick 9/7/2012 ) The original plan had been for the aircraft to take them to Offutt to observe the Global Guardian exercise today. (Dejka 2/27/2002) After reaching the base, the E-4B will take off again and resume its airborne operations. (Kieschnick 9/7/2012 ) Minutes after the Pentagon is attacked, an unidentified four-engine jet plane will be seen circling above the White House (see (9:41 a.m.-9:42 a.m.) September 11, 2001). CNN will suggest this is an E-4B, so it is possible it is “Word 31.” (CNN 9/12/2007) Another E-4B, with the call sign “Venus 77,” will take off from Andrews Air Force Base at around 9:45 a.m. (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Federal Aviation Administration 9/11/2001 ; 9/11 Commission 2/17/2004; Farmer 2009, pp. 206)
The US Strategic Command (Stratcom) formally terminates its Global Guardian exercise at this time, according to a 2006 article in The Bombardier, the newspaper for Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana. Global Guardian was put on pause just over 90 minutes earlier, according to the same article (see 9:11 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Bombardier 9/8/2006 ) However, other reports will suggest that Global Guardian was canceled significantly earlier than 10:44 a.m. One article in the Omaha World-Herald will state, “When the second World Trade Center tower was hit,” at 9:03 a.m., “the exercise was canceled, and the battle staff [at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska] moved to the real-world crisis.” (Dejka 9/8/2002) But an earlier article in the World-Herald will say that military authorities canceled Global Guardian “after the attacks on the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon,” suggesting some time after 9:37 a.m., when the Pentagon was hit. (Dejka 2/27/2002) An E-4B National Airborne Operations Center aircraft that was involved in Global Guardian was reportedly only told to pull out of the exercise just after the Pentagon was hit (see (9:27 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Verton 2003, pp. 143-144) Even after Global Guardian is canceled, this plane and two other E-4Bs that are involved in the exercise will remain airborne. (Dejka 2/27/2002) The annual Global Guardian exercise tests Stratcom’s ability to fight a nuclear war (see 8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Dejka 2/27/2002; GlobalSecurity (.org) 4/27/2005)
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