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Profile: US Department of the Air Force
US Department of the Air Force was a participant or observer in the following events:
A B-29 bomber similar to the one that crashed in Georgia. [Source: Global Security (.org)]A test flight for the Air Force’s Project Banshee, located at Robins Air Force Base in Georgia, is set for 8:30 a.m. Banshee is an attempt begun in 1946 to develop and deploy a long-range missile ahead of both the Soviet Union and rival US military branches. The airplane used in the test flight crashes less than an hour into its flight, killing 9 of the 13 aboard.
Maintenance Problems - The plane assigned for the flight is a B-29 Stratofortress, a bomber made famous by its delivery of the atomic bombs to Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II. B-29s are notoriously difficult to fly and maintain: their four wing-mounted engines almost routinely overheat and catch fire, causing engine shutdowns, sudden drops in altitude, and, often, crashes. The engines’ eighteen cylinders lack sufficient airflow to keep them cool, and the overheating often causes the crankcases, made of light but highly flammable magnesium, to burst into flames. Like so many of its brethren, the plane has suffered its share of maintenance issues, and is flying without numerous recommended maintenance and repair tasks being performed. Just five days before, it had been designated “red cross”—grounded and unfit for service. It was allowed to fly through an “exceptional release” signed by the squadron commander.
Crew Difficulties - The flight is moved back to the afternoon after some crew members fail to show up on time, and to allow last-minute repairs to be made. By takeoff, the flight crew is assembled: Captain Ralph Erwin; co-pilot Herbert W. Moore; flight engineer Earl Murrhee; First Lieutenant Lawrence Pence, Jr, the navigator; Sergeant Walter Peny, the left scanner; Sergeant Jack York, the right scanner; Sergeant Melvin Walker, the radio operator; and Sergeant Derwood Irvin, manning the bombsight and autopilot. The crew is joined by civilian engineers assigned to Banshee: Al Palya and Robert Reynolds from RCA, William Brauner and Eugene Mechler from the Franklin Institute, and Richard Cox from the Air Force’s Air Materiel Command. In violation of standard procedure, none of the crew or the civilians are briefed on emergency procedures, though Murrhee will later say that the crew were all familiar with the procedures; he is not so sure about the civilians, though he knows Palya and Reynolds have flown numerous test flights before. In another violation of Air Force regulations, none of the flight crew have worked together before. As author Barry Siegel will note in 2008, “The pilot, copilot, and engineer had never shared the same cockpit before.”
Engine Fire and Crash - Less than an hour into the flight, one engine catches fire and two others lose power, due to a combination of maintenance failures and pilot errors. The civilians have some difficulty getting into their parachutes as Erwin and Moore attempt to regain control of the aircraft. Four of the crew and civilians manage to parachute from the plane, but most remain on board as the airplane spirals into the ground on the edge of the Okefenokee Swamp, near Waycross, Georgia. Crew members Moore, Murrhee, and Peny survive, as does a single civilian, Mechler. Four others either jump at too low an altitude or die when their chutes foul the airplane; the other five never manage to leave the plane and die on impact.
Widows File Suit - Several of the civilians’ widows will file suit against the US Air Force, asserting that their husbands died because of Air Force negligence (see June 21, 1949). Their lawsuit will eventually become US v. Reynolds, a landmark Supreme Court case and the underpinning for the government’s claims of state secrets privilege (see March 9, 1953). [Siegel, 2008, pp. 3, 14-17, 33-49]
Entity Tags: Derwood Irvin, Barry Siegel, US Department of the Air Force, Walter Peny, William Brauner, Air Materiel Command, Richard Cox, Ralph Erwin, Robert Reynolds, Al Palya, Radio Corporation of America, Eugene Mechler, Earl Murrhee, Franklin Institute, Project Banshee, Melvin Walker, Lawrence Pence, Jr, Herbert W. Moore, Jr, Jack York
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Initial Associated Press reports of a crash in Georgia of a B-29 that had been on a test flight for the Air Force’s secret Project Banshee (see October 6, 1948) acknowledge that “the plane had been on a mission testing secret electronic equipment which RCA developed and built under an Air Force contract… Full details of the plane’s mission were not disclosed.… The Air Force would say only that the bomber was engaged in ‘electronic research on different types of radar…’” Local papers have a bit more detail, with survivor accounts hinting at confusion and some contradictions between their versions of events and that being given out by official Air Force spokesmen. Later reports from the Air Force will downplay the B-29’s involvement in Project Banshee. [Siegel, 2008, pp. 56-58]
The Army Air Force’s Air Materiel Command receives the initial report on an investigation of a B-29 crash in Georgia (see October 6, 1948). Perceptions of the crash are colored by the fact that the bomber was carrying equipment from Project Banshee, a secret Air Force missile development initiative. The initial report is meticulously factual, providing an almost minute-by-minute account of the events preceding the crash as told by the four survivors and intensive examination of the debris. The report concludes that it would benefit future B-29 pilots to have more training on flying the plane when it has lost both engines on one wing, and a general recommendation that the pilot and crew should give civilian passengers better instruction in emergency procedures. Though the report is circumspect in the extreme in finding fault with the pilot and military personnel for the crash, and gives only vague and generalized recommendations to help prevent future crashes, the Air Force will heatedly deny that the pilots or crew could have been in any way responsible for the crash. In 2008, reporter Barry Siegel will write, “Years later, this particular claim, in fact Air Materiel Command’s entire position, would cause various veteran aviators to hoot.” Pilot error causing the crash is obvious, they will conclude. [Siegel, 2008, pp. 62-65]
Frank Folsom, the executive vice president of the Radio Corporation of America’s RCA Victor Division, writes a letter to General Hoyt Vandenberg, the commander of the US Air Force. Folsom is inquiring about the deaths of two RCA employees in a recent B-29 crash in Georgia (see October 6, 1948). The plane had been on a secret test mission for the Air Force’s Project Banshee, a missile development project in which RCA is heavily involved. Folsom believes that the Air Force is downplaying the likelihood that pilot error caused the crash (see October 18, 1948), and tells Vandenberg that “certain steps will [need to be taken] if we are to participate in the future in Air Force flight test programs.” Folsom wants more pay and compensation for RCA employees participating in Air Force test programs, as well as newer and safer airplanes to be used in the test flights and a higher caliber of test pilots and crew members. Perhaps the portion of the letter that causes the most consternation among Air Force officials is Folsom’s request to read over the official accident reports. “When a crash has occurred, a copy of the official report… must be made available promptly to us,” he writes. “Needless to say, the report will not be disclosed except to those who are directly concerned.” Folsom’s letter will spark a new round of Air Force investigations into the crash, in hopes of mollifying Folsom. However, the report from this investigation will be classified at the highest level of security and not provided to RCA. Additionally, though the second investigation will find a strong likelihood of pilot error causing the crash, the Air Force will not admit any such findings to RCA. [Siegel, 2008, pp. 65-80] These accident reports will play a key role in the lawsuit filed against the US government by three widows of killed crew members (see June 21, 1949 and August 7-8, 1950).
Phyllis Brauner and Elizabeth Palya, who both lost their husbands in the “Project Banshee” B-29 crash (see October 6, 1948), file a civil action lawsuit against the US government in regards to the crash. The lawsuit claims that the US Air Force, in the person of the pilot and military crew members of the B-29, caused the deaths of their civilian husbands by “the negligence and wrongful acts and omissions of the officers and employees” of the US. The widows’ lawyer, Charles Biddle, asks the government for $300,000 per family. A third widow, Patricia Reynolds, will join the lawsuit in September 1949. One of the biggest issues surrounding the case is the lawsuit’s request that Biddle and his lawyers be given access to the official accident reports, which the government will claim cannot be revealed because they may contain classified information (see October 18, 1948 and August 7-8, 1950). Biddle’s promise that no one else will see the reports makes no impression on the government’s lawyers. [Siegel, 2008, pp. 100-101]
A federal judge orders the Air Force to turn over copies of its classified accident reports about a B-29 crash (see October 6, 1948) as part of a lawsuit filed by three of the widows of crew members killed in the crash (see June 21, 1949). Claiming that the reports may contain classified information about a secret missile development project, Project Banshee, the Air Force not only refuses to turn over the accident reports to the widows’ lawyer, it refuses to allow even the attorney general to view the documents (see August 7-8, 1950). The lawyer for the widows, Charles Biddle, will continue to press for the release of the accident reports. [Siegel, 2008, pp. 120-123]
The Air Force refuses to meet the court-imposed deadline to turn over accident reports of a 1948 B-29 crash in Georgia (see October 6, 1948) to the plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the government (see July 26, 1950). Instead, the Justice Department argues before the court that because the accident reports might contain “state secrets” that might imperil “national security” if made available to anyone outside the Air Force, the reports cannot be made available. “[T]he aircraft in question, together with the personnel on board, were engaged in a highly secret mission of the Air Force,” the government lawyers argue. “The airplane likewise carried confidential equipment on board and any disclosure of its mission or information concerning its operation or performance would be prejudicial to this department and would not be in the public interest.” Such a claim—that the production of the reports would “seriously hamper national security”—renders the reports “beyond judicial authority,” the Justice Department lawyers claim. [Siegel, 2008, pp. 124-126]
Weeks after the Justice Department refused to make accident reports of a 1948 B-29 crash (see October 6, 1948) available to the plaintiffs in an ongoing wrongful death lawsuit against the government (see July 26, 1950) because the reports are so highly classified that their disclosure might “seriously hamper national security” (see July 26, 1950 and August 7-8, 1950), the Air Force, in a routine review, drastically lowers the classification of the accident reports from top-level “Secret” to third-level “Restricted.” Whereas “Secret” documents supposedly contain information that “might endanger national security” if revealed, “Restricted” documents are “for official use only” and should not be disclosed “for reasons of administrative privacy.” The Air Force apparently no longer considers the documents a threat to national security. However, neither the plaintiffs’ lawyers, the judge hearing the lawsuit, or even the Justice Department lawyers are aware of the reports’ reduction in status. They continue to argue the merits of releasing the reports as if they are still highly classified. [Siegel, 2008, pp. 133]
Lawyers make their opening arguments before the Supreme Court in the case of US v Reynolds, the lawsuit that finds the government had no overarching right to unilaterally refuse to deliver classified documents in the course of a wrongful death lawsuit against the government (see December 11, 1951). The government has appealed the appellate court ruling to the Supreme Court (see March 1952). Because four of the nine justices had voted not to hear the case—in essence to let the appellate court ruling stand—the defense is cautiously optimistic about the Court’s decision.
Judiciary Has No Right to Interfere with Powers of the Executive, Government Argues - Acting Solicitor General Robert Stern tells the Court that the appellate judges’ decision, written by Judge Albert Maris, “is an unwarranted interference with the powers of the executive,” and that the decision forced the government to choose “whether to disclose public documents contrary to the public interest [or] to suffer the public treasury to be penalized” (a reference to the decision to award the plaintiffs monetary damages—see October 12, 1950). The judiciary “lack[s] power to compel disclosure by means of a direct demand [as well as] by the indirect method of an order against the United States, resulting in judgment when compliance is not forthcoming.”
Executive Has No Right to Unilaterally Withhold Information, Defense Counters - Stern’s arguments are countered by those of the plaintiffs’ lawyer, Charles Biddle, who writes, “We could rest our case with confidence on the clear opinion of Judge Maris,” but continues by arguing that if the government asserts a claim of executive privilege on the basis of national security, it must make the documents available to the Court for adjudication, or at least provide enough information for the Court to judge whether the documents present in fact a threat to national security if disclosed. This is particularly true, Biddle argues, “where there is no showing that the documents in question contain any military secret” (Biddle is unaware that the documents’ classification status had been reduced two years before—see September 14, 1950). “The basic question here is whether those in charge of the various departments of the government may refuse to produce documents properly demanded… in a case where the government is a party (see June 21, 1949), simply because the officials themselves think it would be better to keep them secret, and this without the Courts having any power to question the propriety of such decision.… In other words, say the officials, we will tell you only what we think it is in the public interest that you should know. And furthermore, we may withhold information not only about military or diplomatic secrets, but we may also suppress documents which concern merely the operation of the particular department if we believe it would be best, for purposes of efficiency or morale, that no one outside of the department, not even the Court, should see them.”
No Basis for Claims of Military Secrets - Biddle argues that because of responses he has received to his demands over the course of this lawsuit, he is relatively sure there are no military secrets contained within them. “[T]he proof is to the contrary,” he says, and goes on to say that had the Air Force disclosed from the outset that the plane crash, the fatal accident that sparked the original lawsuit (see October 6, 1948), was probably caused by pilot error and not by random chance, the plaintiffs may have never needed to ask for the disclosure of the documents in question, the accident reports on the crash (see October 18, 1948). “The secretary [of the Air Force]‘s formal claim of privilege said that the plane at the time was engaged in a secret mission and that it carried confidential equipment,” Biddle says, “but nowhere was it asserted that either had anything to do with the accident. The whole purpose of the demand by the respondents was for the purpose of finding out what caused the accident.… They were not in the least interested in the secret mission or equipment.” [Siegel, 2008, pp. 165-170]
Albert Biderman, an Air Force sociologist, publishes a study that notes how “brainwashing” had been achieved by depriving prisoners of sleep, exposing them to intense cold, and forcing them into excruciatingly painful “stress positions” for long periods of time. Biderman’s study is based on techniques used by Chinese Communist interrogators against US prisoners of war, which produced little real intelligence but excelled in producing false confessions (see December 2001). In 2002, Biderman’s study will become the basis of a interrogators’ training class for use against detainees at Guantanamo (see July 2002). [Vanity Fair, 12/16/2008]
The Reagan administration provides covert support to Iraq in an effort to prevent Iran from overrunning the oil-rich states of the Persian Gulf. [New York Times, 8/18/2002; Nation, 8/26/2002; Washington Post, 12/30/2002]
US Air Force officers are secretly deployed to Iraq to assist their counterparts in the Iraqi military. [Nation, 8/26/2002]
The US provides satellite photography to Iraq revealing the movements of the Iranian forces. [Washington Post, 12/15/1986; New York Times, 8/18/2002 Sources: senior military officers with direct knowledge of the program, Unnamed informed sources interviewed by reporter Bob Woodward]
The US provides Iraq with intelligence gathered by Saudi-owned AWACS operated by the Pentagon. [Nation, 8/26/2002]
Iraq uses US-supplied military intelligence “to calibrate attacks with mustard gas on Iranian ground troops….”
(see 1984) [Washington Post, 12/15/1986]
“[M]ore than 60 officers of the Defense Intelligence Agency…. secretly [provide] detailed information on Iranian deployments, tactical planning for battles, plans for airstrikes and bomb-damage assessments for Iraq.” [New York Times, 8/18/2002]
President Reagan and Vice President George Bush personally deliver military advice to Saddam Hussein, both directly and through intermediaries (see 1986). [Affidavit. United States v. Carlos Cardoen, et al. [Charge that Teledyne Wah Chang Albany illegally provided a proscribed substance, zirconium, to Cardoen Industries and to Iraq], 1/31/1995 ; Washington Post, 12/30/2002]
The US closely monitors “third country arms sales to Iraq to make sure Iraq [has] the military weaponry required.” [Affidavit. United States v. Carlos Cardoen, et al. [Charge that Teledyne Wah Chang Albany illegally provided a proscribed substance, zirconium, to Cardoen Industries and to Iraq], 1/31/1995 ; Washington Post, 12/30/2002]
According to the censured portion of Iraq’s December 7, 2002 declaration to the UN (see December 7, 2002)
(see December 19, 2002), Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories help train Iraqi nuclear weapons scientists and provide nonfissile material for Iraq’s nuclear weapons program. [San Francisco Chronicle, 1/26/2003]
Entity Tags: Saddam Hussein, United Nations, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories, George Herbert Walker Bush, Defense Intelligence Agency, Ronald Reagan, US Department of the Air Force, US Department of Defense, Reagan administration
Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, US-Iraq 1980s
The US military’s ‘Desert Shield’ logo. [Source: Eagle Crest (.com)]The US officially begins “Operation Desert Shield” in response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait (see August 2, 1990) and Saudi Arabia’s request for US troops to defend it from possible Iraqi incursions. The first US forces, F-15 fighters from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia, arrive in Saudi Arabia (see August 5, 1990 and After). [PBS Frontline, 1/9/1996; American Forces Press Service, 8/8/2000] The US opens a military response to the Iraq invasion as much to defend Saudi Arabia as to defend Kuwait. Both the US and Saudis fear that Iraq will occupy Saudi Arabia’s Hama oil field near the countries’ mutual border, one of its largest. Between its own oil fields and those of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia which Iraq could feasibly control, Iraq would control the majority of the world’s oil reserves. Iraq would have difficulty in successfully occupying the Hama oil field, because of the large amount of inhospitable desert terrain it would have to cross to reach the field, and because of the likelihood of intense air strikes from the US-equipped Saudi Air Force. President Bush says the operation is “wholly defensive” in nature, a claim quickly abandoned. The US deploys two carrier groups and two battleship groups to the Persian Gulf, and deploys numerous Air Force units. Eventually, half a million American troops will join the other US forces. [NationMaster, 12/23/2007]
A sketch of a 1990 US Army GPS system similar to that used by the Air Force. [Source: Department of the Army]Shortly after Iraq invades Kuwait (see August 2, 1990), a US Air Force official arrives at the Baghdad airport with a Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) receiver in a briefcase. He is driven to the US Embassy. At the embassy, he takes a position in the courtyard and takes a single GPS reading. He then flies to the US, where he gives the GPS receiver to CIA officials in Langley, Virginia. The CIA determines the precise GPS location of the embassy from the Air Force officer’s reading. That set of grid coordinates will serve as the center of the large and sophisticated coordinate system used to designate military strike targets in and around Baghdad during Operation Desert Storm (see January 16, 1991 and After). [NationMaster, 12/23/2007]
One of the many air strikes launched against Iraqi targets during Operation Desert Storm. [Source: US Air Force]The US launches a massive air assault against Iraq in retaliation for that country’s invasion of Kuwait (see August 2, 1990). The air assault begins the day after a UN deadline for Iraq’s withdrawal from Kuwait expires (see November 29, 1990). F-117 Stealth bombers hit Baghdad with an array of high-tech bombs and missiles; many of the explosions are televised live, or on briefly delayed feeds, on CNN, which launches virtually 24-hour coverage of the air strikes. In the first 48 hours of the war, 2,107 combat missions drop more than 5,000 tons of bombs on Baghdad alone, nearly twice the amount that incinerated Dresden in World War II.
'Thunder and Lightning of Desert Storm' - US Army General Norman Schwarzkopf, chief of the US Central Command (CENTCOM), announces the beginning of hostilities by transmitting the following: “Soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines of the United States Central Command, this morning at 0300, we launched Operation Desert Storm, an offensive campaign that will enforce the United Nation’s resolutions that Iraq must cease its rape and pillage of its weaker neighbor and withdraw its forces from Kuwait. My confidence in you is total. Our cause is just! Now you must be the thunder and lightning of Desert Storm. May God be with you, your loved ones at home, and our country.” [US Navy, 9/17/1997]
Initial Attacks Obliterate Iraqi Navy, Much of Air Force, Many Ground Installations - The attack begins with an assault of over 100 Tomahawk land attack missiles (TLAMs) launched from US naval vessels in the Persian Gulf and Red Sea, and attack helicopter strikes on Iraqi radar installations near the Iraq-Saudi Arabian border. The assaults destroy much of Iraq’s air defense and command-and-control capabilities. The missile assault is quickly followed by fighter, bomber, and assault helicopter strikes which continue pounding at Iraqi government buildings, power stations, dams, military sites, radio and television stations, and several of Saddam Hussein’s palaces. The strikes essentially obliterate the Iraqi Navy, and drastically cripple the Iraqi Air Force. (Between 115 and 140 aircraft and crews of the Iraqi Air Force flees to Iran over the course of the war, a move that surprises US commanders, who expected the aircraft and their crews to attempt to flee to Jordan, not Iran. The Iranians will never give Iraq back its aircraft, and will not release Iraqi air crews for years to come.) A US Navy review later calls the combined Navy-Marine air campaign, conducted in concert with US Air Force strikes, “successful beyond the most optimistic expectations.” The Navy later reports that “allied air forces dropped over 88,500 tons of ordnance on the battlefield.” [US Navy, 9/17/1997; NationMaster, 12/23/2007] Iraqi anti-aircraft counterattacks are surprisingly effective, downing around 75 US and British aircraft in the first hours of attacks. The US media does not widely report these downings, nor does it give much attention to the dozens of pilots and air crew captured as POWs. [NationMaster, 12/23/2007]
'The Mother of All Battles' - Five hours after the first attacks, Baghdad state radio broadcasts a voice identified as Saddam Hussein. Hussein tells his people that “The great duel, the mother of all battles has begun. The dawn of victory nears as this great showdown begins.” [NationMaster, 12/23/2007]
US Embassy Helped Locate Targets for Air Strikes - Deputy Chief of Mission Joseph Wilson, the last American to leave Baghdad (see January 12, 1991), and his staff provided critical assistance to the US battle planners in choosing their initial targets. Over the months, Wilson and his staff developed a “hostage tracking system,” monitoring and recording the movements of the American hostages as they were transferred from site to site to be used as human shields in the event of a US strike (see August 4, 1990 and August 8, 1990). Wilson and his staff were able to identify some 55 sites that were being used around the country, presumably some of the most critical military and infrastructure sites in Iraq. Wilson gave that information to the Pentagon. He will later write, “I was gratified when several months later, on the first night of Desert Storm, long after the hostages had been released, many of those sites were ones hit by American bombs.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 141]
Entity Tags: US Department of the Navy, United Nations, US Department of the Marines, US Department of the Air Force, US Department of the Army, CNN, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Norman Schwarzkopf, Joseph C. Wilson, US Department of Defense, US Department of State, Saddam Hussein
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion
Demolished and disabled vehicles litter the ‘Highway of Death’ in the hours after Iraqi forces were slaughtered by US strikes. [Source: Public domain / US Department of Defense]Thousands of Iraqi soldiers retreating on two highways from Kuwait City, Kuwait, towards Basra, Iraq, are slaughtered by US forces on what is later called the “Highway of Death.” [PBS Frontline, 1/9/1996] The so-called “Battle of Rumaylah,” or as some call it, the “Battle of the Junkyard,” is not a battle in the classic sense, as the huge losses of Iraqi soldiers and vehicles are contrasted with the loss of a single American tank, lost when an Iraqi tank explodes too close to it. Only one US soldier is injured. In the two separate but connected US assaults that make up the battle, at least 600 Iraqi tanks, armored vehicles, and trucks are destroyed or disabled; estimates of Iraqi personnel losses vary widely, but the losses are well in the thousands. Iraqi, Kuwaiti, and Palestinian civilians, including children, are caught in the heavy US assault as well as innumerable Iraqi soldiers. (Some believe the Kuwaitis and Palestinians were being taken to Baghdad to be used as hostages.) Most of the bodies are buried within hours, making it impossible to ascertain the number of dead. During the US assault, US tanks, using sophisticated thermal-imaging targeting, have little trouble sighting and destroying Iraqi tanks before the Iraqi units are even aware that they are being fired upon. [Time, 3/18/1991; New Yorker, 5/22/2000; Newsweek, 5/29/2000]
Air Strikes - Initially, a force of retreating Iraqi armored units are bombed front and rear by US aircraft during the night of February 27-28, trapping the convoy between the centers of destruction. The remaining units are targets for later air strikes. Most of the vehicles—military tanks, trucks, and armored personnel carriers, as well as civilian cars and trucks—are destroyed.
Five-Hour Air, Armor Assault - The March 2 attack on the Iraqi Republican Guard “Hammurabi” tank division is ordered by Army General Barry McCaffrey (the general who commanded the already-famous “left hook” maneuver days before—see February 23, 1991 and After), in response to what McCaffrey says is an attack on his forces with rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs). The decision surprises some in the Allied command structure in Saudi Arabia and causes unease among civilian and military leaders in Washington, who worry about the public relations ramifications of an attack that comes days after a cease-fire was implemented (see February 28, 1991). McCaffrey himself later calls the attack “one of the most astounding scenes of destruction I have ever participated in.” The “Hammurabi” division is obliterated in the assault.
Criticism from Fellow Officers - Some senior US officers are not sure that McCaffrey’s unit, the 24th Mechanized Division, was in fact attacked; many senior US officers privately assert that McCaffrey’s five-hour assault was well out of proportion. (McCaffrey, later accused of war crimes by an anonymous but well-informed accuser, will be exonerated by an Army inquiry.) McCaffrey will assert that his troops were indeed attacked—an assertion backed by other field officers on the scene—and that he ordered the retaliation because had he not, his forces would have come under heavy attack by Iraqi armored units. Besides, McCaffrey will later say, the entire war was intended to be a one-sided affair: “We didn’t go up there looking for a fair fight with these people.” The whole war, one British commander said in earlier weeks, was “rather like a grouse shoot.” [New Yorker, 5/22/2000; Newsweek, 5/29/2000]
One critic is the commander of the Army’s 82nd Airborne Unit, Lieutenant General James Johnson, who will later say: “There was no need to be shooting at anybody. [The Iraqis] couldn’t surrender fast enough. The war was over.” Johnson, whose unit is deployed near McCaffrey’s, will add, “I saw no need to continue any further attacks.” Explaining why McCaffrey ordered the assault on his own authority, Johnson will say that McCaffrey—widely perceived as CENTCOM commander General Norman Schwarzkopf’s favorite general—“does what he wants to do.”
Lieutenant General Ronald Griffith, commanding the 1st Armored Division of VII Corps, will later say that many of the tanks destroyed in the assault were being transported on trailer trucks to Baghdad, with their cannons facing away from the US troops, and thus posing no threat. “It was just a bunch of tanks in a train, and he made it a battle,” Griffith will later say of McCaffrey. “He made it a battle when it was never one. That’s the thing that bothered me the most.”
Major James Kump, the senior intelligence officer for the Army’s 124th Military Intelligence Battalion, is monitoring what he believes to be a routine retreat before McCaffrey’s units begin attacking the Iraqi forces. Kump will later recall: “I thought, I can’t believe what I’m hearing! There’s nothing going on. These guys are retreating.” Kump receives a large amount of electronic data indicating that McCaffrey is attacking a retreating force. “I had links to several intelligence systems—more than I can talk about,” he will later say. “And I’d have known if troops were moving toward us.… I knew of no justification for the counterattack. I always felt it was a violation of the ceasefire. From an integrity standpoint, I was very troubled.”
McCaffrey’s orders will be questioned even by one of his own subordinates, Lieutenant Colonel Patrick Lamar, the 24th’s operations officer. Lamar, who is in charge of the assault command post and who relays McCaffrey’s orders to the field units, will later say: “There was no incoming. I know that for a fact.” The battle is “a giant hoax. The Iraqis were doing absolutely nothing. I told McCaffrey I was having trouble confirming the incoming.” But, Lamar will recall, nothing he says matters. McCaffrey wants to attack.
Private First Class Charles Sheehan-Miles, a gun loader in a 1st Brigade tank platoon, will later recall being sent to rescue an American unit under attack by Iraqi armored units. “We went up the road blowing the sh_t out of everything,” he will recall. “It was like going down an American highway—people were all mixed up in cars and trucks. People got out of their cars and ran away. We shot them.” Sheehan-Miles recalls shooting at least one person in civilian clothing. “My orders were to shoot if they were armed or running. The Iraqis were getting massacred.”
Specialist 4 James Manchester, a member of the Scout platoon of the 27th Battalion of the 1st Brigade, will later call the battle nothing more than “f_cking murder.”
Shortly after the attack, an interpreter for the 124th Military Intelligence Battalion interrogates a captured Iraqi tank commander who asks over and over: “Why are you killing us? All we were doing was going home. Why are you killing us?”
After the battle, military analysts will pore over the battle films recorded by the Apache attack helicopters participating in McCaffrey’s assault. One of the analysts will later tell a reporter that the footage was clear: the Iraqi tanks were in full retreat and posed no threat to American forces. “These guys were in an offroad defensive position—deployed in a perimeter,” the analyst will recall. Some of the Iraqi tanks attempted to return fire once McCaffrey began his assault: “We saw T-72s in battle lines, firing away blindly in the air. They didn’t know what was killing them, but they were gamely shooting—knowing they would die.”
Many officers on the ground will later describe actions by McCaffrey and some of his senior subordinates they believe are designed to provoke a response from the retreating Iraqis and thus provide an excuse to begin a counterattack.
Massacre Factor in Decision to End Hostilities - Reporters are not allowed in the area, so no one is there to report on, or photograph, the actual assault or its immediate aftermath. But the area is heavily photographed in the following days, and the swath of destroyed, burned-out vehicles becomes at once a symbol of US military superiority and of Iraqi defeat. It is later cited as one of the factors in President Bush’s decision to accept Iraq’s surrender and cease hostilities. The decision enables the Iraqi Army to survive the war somewhat intact, and keeps Saddam Hussein in power. Bush will later explain: “If we continued the fighting another day… would we be accused of a slaughter of Iraqis who were simply trying to escape, not fight? In addition, the coalition was agreed on driving the Iraqis from Kuwait, not on carrying the conflict into Iraq or on destroying Iraqi forces.”
Dehumanizing the Iraqis - Manchester will later tell a reporter: “I was as patriotic as they come. I was a gung-ho ass-kicking Commie-hating patriotic son of a b_tch. I hated the Arabs. We all did. I dehumanized them. Did the Iraqis commit war crimes in Kuwait? Did they retreat back into Iraq to commit war crimes against their own people? The answer is yes to both questions. But does that make March 2nd justified? There have to be limits, even in war. Otherwise, the whole system breaks down.” [New Yorker, 5/22/2000]
Entity Tags: US Department of the Air Force, Ronald Griffith, Saddam Hussein, George Herbert Walker Bush, Charles Sheehan-Miles, Barry McCaffrey, US Department of Defense, James Johnson, James Manchester, James Kump, Patrick Lamar, Norman Schwarzkopf, US Department of the Army
Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion
The Airborne Holographic Projector [Source: Air University]According to a 1999 Washington Post website report, the US Air Force starts a research program this year to develop a “holographic projector” as a psychological warfare weapon. Holograms are three-dimensional images created by laser technology. The US military explored the idea of using holograms during the 1991 Gulf War to deceive the Iraqis, but did not pursue it for technical reasons. One idea was to project a hologram of Allah several hundred feet in size over Baghdad, but this would take a mirror in space more than a mile square, plus huge projectors and power sources. Additionally, there are strict Islamic proscriptions on the depiction of Allah. However, the US military did not abandon the concept. “The Gulf War hologram story might be dismissed were it not the case that [the Post] has learned that a super secret program was established in 1994 to pursue the very technology for PSYOPS [psychological operations] application. The “Holographic Projector” is described in a classified Air Force document as a system to “project information power from space… for special operations deception missions.” [Washington Post, 2/1/1999; Sydney Morning Herald, 2/5/2000] A 1996 study commissioned by a US Air Force panel called “Air Force 2025” shows how a future “Airborne Holographic Projector” might look like. In this illustration, a virtual aircraft is created to deceive the enemy as to the size and location of attacking forces. [Air University, 1996; al, 6/1996, pp. 114 ]
[Source: Ptech]Ptech is a Boston computer company connected to a number of individuals suspected of ties to officially designated terrorist organizations (see 1994). These alleged ties will be of particular concern because of Ptech’s potential access to classified government secrets. Ptech specializes in what is called enterprise architecture. It is the design and layout for an organization’s computer networks. John Zachman, considered the father of enterprise architecture, later will say that Ptech could collect crucial information from the organizations and agencies with which it works. “You would know where the access points are, you’d know how to get in, you would know where the weaknesses are, you’d know how to destroy it.” Another computer expert will say, “The software they put on your system could be collecting every key stroke that you type while you are on the computer. It could be establishing a connection to the outside terrorist organization through all of your security measures.” [WBZ 4 (Boston), 12/9/2002] In late 1996, an article notes that Ptech is doing work for DARPA, a Defense Department agency responsible for developing new military technology. [Government Executive, 9/1/1996] In 1997, Ptech gains government approval to market its services to “all legislative, judicial, and executive branches of the federal government.” Beginning that year, Ptech will begin working for many government agencies, eventually including the White House, Congress, Army, Navy, Air Force, NATO, FAA, FBI, US Postal Service, Secret Service, the Naval Air Systems Command, IRS, and the nuclear-weapons program of the Department of Energy. For instance, Ptech will help build “the Military Information Architecture Framework, a software tool used by the Department of Defense to link data networks from various military computer systems and databases.” Ptech will be raided by US investigators in December 2002 (see December 5, 2002), but not shut down. [Wall Street Journal, 12/6/2002; CNN, 12/6/2002; Newsweek, 12/6/2002; Boston Globe, 12/7/2002] A former director of intelligence at the Department of Energy later will say he would not be surprised if an al-Qaeda front company managed to infiltrate the department’s nuclear programs. [Unlimited (Auckland), 12/9/2002] Ptech will continue to work with many of these agencies even after 9/11. After a Customs Department raid of Ptech’s offices in late 2002, their software will be declared safe of malicious code. But one article will note, “What no one knows at this point is how much sensitive government information Ptech gained access to while it worked in several government agencies.” [WBZ 4 (Boston), 12/9/2002]
Entity Tags: White House, US Department of Defense, US Department of the Air Force, US Department of the Navy, US Secret Service, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, US Postal Service, Federal Aviation Administration, US Department of the Marines, Internal Revenue Service, US Congress, Ptech Inc., John Zachman, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, US Congress
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
Sheila E. Witnall, the secretary of the Air Force, declassifies all Air Force accident reports prior to January 25, 1956. The declassification includes the 1948 crash of the B-29 bomber that killed nine of 13 crew members during a secret “Project Banshee” mission (see October 6, 1948). The formerly classified reports had been at the heart of the case of US v Reynolds (see March 9, 1953) that sparked the so-called “state secrets” privilege. Four years after the declassification, the daughter of one of the slain civilians on board, Judy Palya Loether, finds the accident report on the Internet; the discovery spurs her to begin looking into the circumstances of her father’s death, and ultimately will result in a second lawsuit being filed on behalf of the families of the slain crewmen (see February 26, 2003). [Siegel, 2008, pp. 205-208]
A military report released this year describes the “Joint Vision 2010” program, a series of “analyses, war games, studies, experiments, and exercises” which are “investigating new operational concepts, doctrines, and organizational approaches that will enable US forces to maintain full spectrum dominance of the battlespace well into the 21st century.”
“The Air Force has begun a series of war games entitled Global Engagement at the Air War College, Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama.” The same report mentions that the military is working on a “variety of new imaging and signals intelligence sensors, currently in advanced stages of development, deployed aboard the Global Hawk, DarkStar, and Predator unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs)…” [US Department of Defense, 1998] Global Hawk is a technology that enables pilotless flight and has been functioning since at least early 1997. [US Department of Defense, 2/20/1997] While it may be mere coincidence, “Air Force spokesman Colonel Ken McClellan said a man named Mohamed Atta—which the FBI has identified as one of the five hijackers of American Airlines Flight 11—had once attended the International Officer’s School at Maxwell/Gunter Air Force Base in Montgomery, Ala.” But he adds that “there [was] discrepancies in the biographical data” (mainly the birth date) and that “it may just be a case of mistaken identity” (see also 1996-August 2000 and September 15-17, 2001) [Gannett News Service, 9/17/2001; Gannett News Service, 9/20/2001]
John ‘Soup’ Campbell. [Source: US Air Force]Air Force Lieutenant General John “Soup” Campbell, associate director of central intelligence for military support, holds two exercises at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, to consider the issues around killing Osama bin Laden with an armed drone aircraft. With fears about an attack by al-Qaeda increasing, the CIA is now discussing the details of how a mission to kill the terrorist group’s leader with an armed drone might be carried out. Campbell holds the two exercises as part of this effort.
Officials from Several Agencies Attend the First Exercise - The first exercise, held in a windowless conference room at CIA headquarters, is attended by around 40 officials, action officers, and experts. About 20 of them sit around the conference table. These officials include Charlie Allen, assistant director of central intelligence for collection; Roger Cressey, deputy for counterterrorism on the National Security Council staff; and a number of lawyers from the CIA, Department of Defense, and National Security Council. The other 20 or so participants sit around the walls. They include officials from the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, Air Force officers, and various “subject matter experts.”
Participants Agree to Kill Bin Laden in One Scenario - For about the first hour, a former Army officer who now works for the Counterterrorist Center presents what the CIA has learned about bin Laden from other sources since September 27, 2000, when a man believed to be the al-Qaeda leader was recorded on video by a Predator drone. The former Army officer then puts forward a specific scenario. Exercise participants are to imagine that human intelligence sources have informed the CIA that bin Laden is going to be at Tarnak Farms, an al-Qaeda base near Kandahar, Afghanistan, and so the decision has been made to launch an armed Predator while he is there. Campbell then plays the video of bin Laden recorded on September 27, 2000, which many in the room have never seen before. He asks who would be prepared to have the Predator fire a Hellfire missile at the man in the video and who thinks doing so might be a mistake, and why. Everyone in the room says they would support a decision to fire a missile at the man. They all feel certain that the total intelligence picture indicates he is bin Laden, the men around him must also be extremists, and there are no women or children nearby who would be at risk of injury when the missile struck.
Scenario Involving Weaker Evidence Is Considered - The former Army officer then asks those in the room to imagine a second scenario. In this situation, they have no information from human intelligence sources or other supplementary intelligence to base their decision on. All they have is another video captured by the Predator’s camera while the drone flew over a suspected al-Qaeda training camp the previous year. A tall man in white robes appears on the video walking along the wall outside the training compound, with some men surrounding him as if they are his security cordon. The appearance of the tall man and the behavior of those around him suggest he is bin Laden, but there is room for doubt and there is no intelligence from CIA agents or tribal allies to confirm this is the case.
Participants Disagree over Whether to Fire a Missile - Campbell asks those in the room who among them would be prepared to have a missile fired at the man and who would be unprepared to do so. This time, people disagree over what should be done. Some think the video alone is adequate evidence for firing a missile at the man, since if he was indeed bin Laden his death might eliminate a major threat to America. At the very least, the strike would eradicate some al-Qaeda terrorists. Others feel there is too much room for error without further evidence that the man in the video is bin Laden. Campbell feels encouraged to find those in the room disagreeing, since if an armed drone ever goes into use, he wants those handling it to be discerning about when to take action.
Aftermath of Killing Bin Laden Is Discussed - The exercise ends with Campbell leading a discussion of other, related issues. Participants are asked to consider what rules should be adopted to avoid collateral damage, especially the killing or injuring of women and children. They are also asked how the CIA and the rest of the US government should deal with the aftermath of a drone strike that killed bin Laden.
Second Exercise Is Attended by Senior Officials - Campbell and the former Army officer then hold their second tabletop exercise. This exercise, which takes place in the director’s conference room on the seventh floor of CIA headquarters, is smaller and attended by more senior CIA officials, including Director George Tenet. During it, there is more disagreement among participants than there was in the first exercise. Tenet is sure the CIA lacks the legal authority to kill someone by firing a missile from a drone at them, despite the existence of secret presidential orders, findings, and other directives relating to bin Laden and al-Qaeda. Other participants share his unease. Some of the officials express concern about what might happen if the CIA’s role in a drone strike became known. [Whittle, 2014, pp. 206-208]
The future of “continental air sovereignty” over America is in doubt. Discussions at the Air Force’s highest levels call for the dismantling of NORAD’s seven “alert” sites around the US and its command and control structure. [Filson, 2003, pp. 149] Maj. Gen. Larry Arnold, the commanding general of NORAD’s Continental Region, will later add that “the secretary of the Air Force, James G. Roche, stated that he and the then chief of staff of the Air Force, General John Jumper, had decided to withdraw funding for air defense, and they had made that decision on September 7, 2001.” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 289] Earlier in the summer of 2001, “a reduction in air defenses had been gaining currency in recent months among task forces assigned by [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld to put together recommendations for a reassessment of the military” (see Summer 2001). [Los Angeles Times, 9/15/2001]
The National Military Joint Intelligence Center. [Source: Joseph M. Juarez / Defense Intelligence Agency]Lieutenant Colonel Mark Stuart, an intelligence officer at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), calls the National Military Joint Intelligence Center (NMJIC) at the Pentagon regarding the hijacking of Flight 11, but the center is unable to provide him with any more information than he already has. [9/11 Commission, 10/30/2003 ] NEADS was alerted to the hijacking of Flight 11 at 8:37 a.m. (see (8:37 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 20] Stuart now calls the Air Force desk at the NMJIC about it. [9/11 Commission, 10/30/2003 ] The NMJIC, located in the Joint Staff area of the Pentagon, constantly monitors worldwide developments for any looming crises that might require US involvement. [Washington Times, 9/25/1997; Joint Chiefs of Staff, 2/6/2006] It “forms the heart of timely intelligence support to national-level contingency operations,” according to James Clapper, a former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency. And during a crisis, it “serves as a clearinghouse for all requests for national-level intelligence information.” [Joint Forces Quarterly, 3/1994 ] However, Stuart will later recall that the NMJIC can provide him with “no additional relevant information” on the hijacking. Stuart then calls Robert Del Toro, an intelligence officer with the 1st Air Force at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida. But, Stuart will say, the 1st Air Force also has “no further information” about the hijacking. [9/11 Commission, 10/30/2003 ]
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 ] 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 ]
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 ] 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 ]
General Lance W. Lord. [Source: Air Force Space Command]General John Jumper, the Air Force chief of staff, and many other senior Air Force officials learn about the attacks on the World Trade Center during a regular staff meeting, but, instead of responding to them, initially continue their meeting. [Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 136; 9News, 8/30/2011] Jumper only became Air Force chief of staff five days ago, on September 6, and this is his first official duty day. [Air Force Magazine, 10/2001; Air Force Space Command News Service, 9/5/2002] The meeting, which he is chairing, is taking place in the Air Force Council conference room on the mezzanine level of the Pentagon basement. [Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 136]
Dozens of Senior Officers Are Attending Meeting - Jumper’s meeting is attended by around 40 experienced Air Force officers. [9News, 8/30/2011] These include Lieutenant General Lance Lord, assistant vice chief of staff of the Air Force; Lee-Volker Cox, executive officer to the assistant vice chief of staff of the Air Force; Brigadier General Paul Kimmel, chief operating officer of the Air National Guard; Colonel Jack Egginton, executive officer to the Air Force chief of staff; Tim Green, assistant executive to the Air Force chief of staff; Lieutenant Colonel Pierre Powell, deputy chief of the secretary of the Air Force’s action group; and Lieutenant General Paul Carlton Jr., surgeon general of the Air Force. [Murphy, 2002, pp. 216; Midland Reporter-Telegram, 4/2/2002; Air Force Space Command News Service, 9/5/2002; Air Force Print News, 9/11/2003; Daytona Beach News-Journal, 9/7/2004 ; KSBY 6, 9/10/2011; Airman, 9/15/2011] It is “the meeting that had all the Air Force senior staff who are in the Pentagon,” Cox will later comment. [KEYT NewsChannel 3, 9/11/2012]
Briefing Is about Terrorism - The regular meeting, referred to as the “Ready Brief,” is where the highest levels of the military are updated on worldwide issues. [9News, 8/30/2011] Today’s meeting, as is always the case on the second Tuesday of the month, is about “black world activities”—subjects that are not normally in the news. “Ironically,” the Daytona Beach News-Journal will report, “this day’s briefing is on anti- and counterterrorism.” On the presentation screen, according to the News-Journal, “faces of terrorists from around the world are being shown and terrorist incidents described.” [Daytona Beach News-Journal, 9/7/2004 ]
Screen Shows TV Coverage of First Attack - About halfway through the meeting, at around 9:00 a.m., Powell suddenly stops the briefing and announces that an airplane has hit one of the WTC towers. He turns on the television news coverage of the incident and the large screen in the conference room shows the burning North Tower. [Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 136; 9News, 8/30/2011; Airman, 9/15/2011] “I briefed the boss [i.e. Jumper] that something was up in New York and we piped the news feed into the conference room,” Egginton will recall. [Air Force Print News, 9/11/2003] “At first we thought it was part of the briefing,” Kimmel will comment, adding, “The briefers stopped talking and there was silence in the room.” [Daytona Beach News-Journal, 9/7/2004 ] According to Jumper, those in the meeting are immediately suspicious about the cause of the crash. “The news commentator was talking about how the airplane had hit the building and it looked like somebody had been off course going into La Guardia [Airport],” he will recall. “Of course, there was a conference table full of airmen who looked at that dark blue sky on CNN, then looked at each other, and we knew right away that it wasn’t a navigation mistake. It was something much more profound than that.” [Airman, 9/15/2011]
Meeting Attendees See Live Coverage of Second Crash - Soon after they start watching the TV news coverage, those in the meeting see the second hijacked plane, Flight 175, crashing into the South Tower at 9:03 a.m. (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Daytona Beach News-Journal, 9/7/2004 ] “[W]e started watching a live feed and probably within 30 seconds, the second tower got hit,” Green will recall. [Midland Reporter-Telegram, 4/2/2002] According to Cox, “[T]he room just became totally silent.” [KEYT NewsChannel 3, 9/11/2012] Everyone there is now “quite certain what was going on,” Jumper will say. [Airman, 9/15/2011] According to Green, they all quickly respond after seeing Flight 175 crashing. “Everyone in the room knew instantly that we were at war,” he will say. “It’s amazing to watch people in that situation; they immediately shift gears from whatever they were doing to do what needed to be done.” [Midland Reporter-Telegram, 4/2/2002] Lord will say that after seeing the second crash, those in the conference room “all sat there in stunned disbelief for a few seconds, then we quickly went back to our offices.” [Air Force Space Command News Service, 9/5/2002]
Attendees Watch Coverage for Eight Minutes Then Resume Meeting - But according to the Defense Department’s book about the Pentagon attack, those in the conference room watch the TV news coverage for about eight minutes and then Jumper resumes the meeting. He concludes it “quickly.” [Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 136] He announces: “Well, ladies and gentlemen, I think the meeting is adjourned. We have some work to do.” According to the News-Journal, the meeting is adjourned at 9:20 a.m., 17 minutes after those attending it witnessed the second crash at the WTC. [Daytona Beach News-Journal, 9/7/2004 ]
Attendees Return to Their Offices - Those who are in the meeting will then head upstairs to their offices. [Airman, 9/15/2011] Lord will recall that on the way, they hear there is another suspicious plane heading toward Washington, DC. [Air Force Space Command News Service, 9/5/2002] Jumper, accompanied by Egginton, will head to the office of Secretary of the Air Force James Roche and subsequently go with Roche to the Air Force Operations Center in the basement of the Pentagon (see Shortly After 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Air Force Print News, 9/11/2003; Airman, 9/15/2011]
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; Aviation Week and Space Technology, 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 ] 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.” [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 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.” [Air Force Times, 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.” [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 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]
Harry Brosofsky. [Source: Syracuse University]General John Jumper, the Air Force chief of staff, and James Roche, the secretary of the Air Force, as well as other senior Air Force officials, arrive at the Air Force Operations Center in the basement of the Pentagon’s C Ring, where they assist the Air Force’s response to the terrorist attacks. [CNN, 10/10/2001; Lompoc Record, 9/11/2003; Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 136]
Operations Center Personnel Did Not Realize a Plane Had Hit the Pentagon - Jumper and Roche were in Roche’s office on the fourth floor of the Pentagon when the Pentagon was hit, at 9:37 a.m. (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001), and were then promptly escorted down to the Operations Center (see Shortly After 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Air Force Print News, 9/11/2003; Air Force Magazine, 9/2011 ] They were unclear what had happened when the Pentagon was attacked, but when they arrive at the Operations Center, they find out that an aircraft hit the building. [CNN, 10/10/2001; Midland Reporter-Telegram, 4/2/2002] Those in the Operations Center had not initially realized a plane had hit the Pentagon either. The center is deep underground on the opposite site of the building to where it was hit and so they did not feel the impact when the attack occurred. But, according to the Dover Post, “Suddenly, sirens started to go off,” and “[r]eports from the television news and from outside the building confirmed the worst.” [Dover Post, 9/19/2001; Prospectus, 9/2006, pp. 3-6 ]
Operations Center Is Quickly Going from 'Zero to Crisis Mode' - When Roche and Jumper arrive at the Operations Center, they find Air Force personnel there are “already starting to try to get the intel picture together; they were trying to get the air picture up on the walls,” according to Colonel Philip Breedlove, Roche’s senior military assistant, who has come down to the center with the two men. The center is “going from zero to crisis mode very quickly and very smoothly,” Breedlove will add. [Air Force Magazine, 9/2011 ] Personnel in the center have been answering calls coming in on multiple lines. “We didn’t know who was still out there or what their hostile intention might be,” Major Harry Brosofsky, who arrived at the center shortly after the Pentagon was hit, will later recall. However, Brosofsky will say, “at times we had information overload and had to decide quickly what to do with all the information that was pouring in.” But the atmosphere is still noticeably professional, according to Major Donna Nicholas, who arrived at the center before the Pentagon was hit. “I was amazed at the calm,” she will comment.
Crisis Team Is at Work in Operations Center - Furthermore, the Air Force’s Crisis Action Team (CAT), which, according to the Dover Post, “coordinates Air Force reaction to anything that might be a threat to the United States,” was activated earlier on and is now carrying out its activities in the Operations Center (see (9:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Dover Post, 9/19/2001; Syracuse University Magazine, 12/2001] Members of the CAT have also begun to assemble in the center for a 10:00 a.m. briefing, due to the fact that one of their responsibilities is to work with the Army to provide assistance to civil authorities in New York, in response to the attacks on the World Trade Center. [Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 136]
Roche and Jumper Try to Contact NORAD - The first thing Roche and Jumper do when they reach the Operations Center is try and locate Air Force personnel, to make sure they are safe, and safely out of the Pentagon. [CNN, 10/10/2001] CAT members work to obtain a head count of Air Force personnel who have evacuated from the building. [Syracuse University Magazine, 12/2001] Roche and Jumper then try to contact NORAD. [CNN, 10/10/2001] The Air Force leaders are “not the command authority” at the moment, according to Air Force Magazine, and, instead, NORAD is primarily responsible for operational control of the situation. Air Force officials, however, still need to “do what they could to inform and support the operational units.” [Air Force Magazine, 9/2011 ] The CAT also coordinates with NORAD to put fighter jets on alert in Alaska and Hawaii. [Syracuse University Magazine, 12/2001] Roche will recall that after contacting NORAD, he and Jumper “stand by and start to think of how we, the Air Force, could support any casualties or any other things that might develop during the day.” [CNN, 10/10/2001] The CAT also works with the FAA to monitor flight activity over the continental United States. [Syracuse University Magazine, 12/2001] And CAT members activate a team to focus on “continuity of operations,” which is the effort to ensure that the Air Force is able to continue its essential functions in an emergency. [US Department of Defense, 5/26/1995; Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 136; US Air Force, 10/16/2013 ]
Air Force Personnel Affected by Communication Problems - The ability of those in the Operations Center to respond to the crisis, however, is impaired when, at some point after Jumper and Roche arrive, communications go down. “There was a short period where literally the only [communications] we had was the BlackBerry device, because it communicates differently across the lines,” Breedlove will recall. The reason for the problem, according to Air Force Magazine, is that networks have become overloaded by people at the Pentagon and around Washington, DC, all trying to call their relatives to let them know they are okay. As the morning goes on, Air Force officials also begin experiencing problems with smoke from the burning building coming into the center. The decision will therefore be made to establish a temporary Air Force Operations Center at Bolling Air Force Base, just across the Potomac River from the Pentagon. At 12:20 p.m., Air Force leaders and assistants will be flown by helicopter to the base. The new Operations Center there will be up and functioning by 1:00 p.m. (see 1:00 p.m. September 11, 2001). [Prospectus, 9/2006, pp. 3-6 ; Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 136; Air Force Magazine, 9/2011 ]
President Bush watching TV in his office on Air Force One. [Source: White House]President Bush and those with him on Air Force One are less aware of ongoing events than millions of Americans are, because the television reception on the plane is weak and intermittent. [Bamford, 2004, pp. 83; Draper, 2013, pp. 100; Politico Magazine, 9/9/2016] The president’s plane currently has no satellite television. [White House, 8/8/2002; Bush, 2010, pp. 130] The TV system is instead only able to pick up local stations as the plane flies over large populated areas and even then the reception is poor. [Walsh, 2003, pp. 210; Schmitt and Shanker, 2011, pp. 21] When the plane is over a populated area, the televisions on board flicker briefly before the images fade away. [Albuquerque Tribune, 9/10/2002; Wall Street Journal, 8/26/2011]
Passengers Only See 'Bits and Pieces' of the News - “It was not a good signal,” Mark Rosenker, director of the White House Military Office, will later recall, and the plane’s passengers are only able to see “bits and pieces” of what is being broadcast. [White House, 8/29/2002] “Everyone is watching the monitors, trying to get snippets of visual information, and the reception keeps going in and out,” White House photographer Eric Draper will say. [Albuquerque Tribune, 9/10/2002] “After a few minutes on a given station, the screen would dissolve into static,” Bush will describe. [Bush, 2010, pp. 130]
Passengers Are 'Starving for Information' - Partly because of their inability to follow events on television, Draper will say, “Everyone [on Air Force One] was starving for information.” [Politico Magazine, 9/9/2016] “Bush was largely blind to the vivid images of destruction and disarray that were seen by millions of Americans live on television,” journalists Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker will write. [Schmitt and Shanker, 2011, pp. 21] Those on the plane end up learning the news through sharing information among themselves by word of mouth. [Sarasota Magazine, 11/2001; National Journal, 8/31/2002] Bush will state, however, that despite the poor television reception, he manages to catch “enough fleeting glimpses of the coverage to understand the horror of what the American people were watching.” [Bush, 2010, pp. 130]
Bush Is Frustrated by the 'Woeful' Communications - Officials will subsequently comment on Air Force One’s inadequate communications capabilities and their effects today. The president’s plane lacks “continuous direct broadcast television receive capability” and today’s events highlight “limitations in the president’s airborne capability to… monitor real-time news coverage,” the Air Force will state. [Northwest Indiana Times, 9/22/2002] “One of my greatest frustrations on September 11 was the woeful communications technology on Air Force One,” Bush will write. [Bush, 2010, pp. 130] The communications systems on Air Force One will be upgraded in order to correct the problems experienced today. [White House, 8/8/2002; Business Week, 11/4/2002; Walsh, 2003, pp. 33; Business Week, 3/20/2017] As well as having difficulty following events on television, Bush and his staffers have problems communicating with their colleagues in Washington, DC, while they are on Air Force One (see (9:54 a.m.-2:50 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Northwest Indiana Times, 9/22/2002; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 9/10/2006; Politico Magazine, 9/9/2016]
Several early news reports suggest that US military fighter jets may have shot down an aircraft, perhaps Flight 93. Ireland’s Thomas Crosbie Media reports, “A Boeing 767 has crashed near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.… US anti-aircraft fighters are in place—unconfirmed reports say this plane was shot out of the sky by US defense.” [TCM Breaking News, 9/11/2001] Forbes states, “There are reports of a fourth airliner [having] been brought down near Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland, by US military fighters.” [Forbes, 9/11/2001] And the Northwestern Chronicle states, “Air Force officials say an airliner has been forced down by F-16 fighter jets near Camp David.” [Northwestern Chronicle, 9/11/2001] However, according to later reports, military officials say US aircraft did not shoot down any of the hijacked planes. [CNN, 9/11/2001]
The main gate at Bolling Air Force Base. [Source: US Air Force]A temporary Air Force Operations Center is established at Bolling Air Force Base in Washington, DC, after the original Operations Center at the Pentagon had to be evacuated due to smoke from the burning building coming in. [CNN, 10/10/2001; Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 136; Air Force Magazine, 9/2011 ] Air Force personnel had been responding to the terrorist attacks in the Operations Center in the basement of the Pentagon. The Air Force’s Crisis Action Team (CAT) was activated in response to the attacks in New York and carried out its activities there (see (9:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Dover Post, 9/19/2001; Syracuse University Magazine, 12/2001] Senior officials, including General John Jumper, the Air Force chief of staff, and James Roche, the secretary of the Air Force, arrived at the Operations Center after the Pentagon was hit and assisted the Air Force’s response to the attacks (see After 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). [CNN, 10/10/2001; Lompoc Record, 9/11/2003; Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 136] But as the morning went on, thick smoke from the burning building started coming into the Operations Center and became a major problem. Air Force officials therefore decided to set up a temporary Operations Center at Bolling Air Force Base, just across the Potomac River from the Pentagon. At 12:20 p.m., Air Force leaders and assistants left the Operations Center at the Pentagon, and were flown by helicopter to the replacement facility. Member of the CAT also relocated to the new facility, which is functioning by 1:00 p.m. At the new Operations Center, Air Force Surgeon General Paul Carlton Jr. briefs Roche and Jumper on what medical assistance the Air Force might provide to help the emergency response efforts in New York and the Washington area. The two men approve his plan to send medical personnel and equipment to McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey, to support the emergency response efforts in New York as required. By 3:00 a.m. on September 12, conditions at the Pentagon will have improved sufficiently for operational command to be moved back to the Air Force’s original Operations Center, and that center will be fully operational again at 5:30 a.m. [Prospectus, 9/2006, pp. 3-6 ; Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 117, 136; Air Force Magazine, 9/2011 ]
A JBECC unit. [Source: Air Force]The US Air Force turns to a new type of device to improve NORAD’s air surveillance capabilities for the East Coast. The new system, called the Joint Based Expeditionary Connectivity Center, or JBECC, is a sophisticated mobile radar command center. It is housed inside a Humvee. Once the vehicle is parked, a tent can be expanded to allow additional screens and communication equipment to be laid out and used. Brown International, the Alabama-based company behind it, received an urgent call from an Air Force commander on the evening of 9/11, requesting the new system. A cargo plane was sent to pick it up immediately. [Associated Press, 11/29/2004] On September 12, the JBECC prototype is deployed to Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia. It links the CONR (NORAD’s Continental US Region) Air Operations Center into AWACS and other East Coast radars. [Filson, 2003, pp. 143] The principal innovation of the JBECC is that it allows the merging of military and civilian radar data on one screen. Now, the military can see civilian radar returns and transponder information without having to call the FAA. Reportedly, during the 9/11 attacks, the military’s inability to see the FAA’s data hampered its response to the hijackings. Terry Beane, the president of Brown International, will later explain: “A military radar will see there is something there but doesn’t know what it is. On 9/11, they were having to literally talk on the phone to each other. The problem was they didn’t know which planes were OK and which ones weren’t because they didn’t have all that integrated.” [Associated Press, 11/29/2004] The JBECC is also superior at tracking low-level aircraft like cruise missiles, something that has always been difficult for ground-based radar because of the earth’s curvature. It was successfully tested prior to 9/11 during the Amalgam Virgo 01 air defense exercise in June 2001 (see June 1-2, 2001). [Jane's Defense Weekly, 5/4/2001; GlobalSecurity (.org), 4/27/2005] The JBECC will later be deployed during important national security events such as the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics and the 2004 G8 summit in Sea Island, Georgia. [Associated Press, 11/29/2004]
General Hamid Gul, the former head of the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI), gives several interviews in which he says Osama bin Laden is not responsible for 9/11, and that he believes the attacks were perpetrated by the Israeli overseas intelligence service, Mossad, and renegade elements within the US Air Force. [Newsweek, 9/14/2001; Tehelka (.com), 9/14/2001; United Press International, 9/26/2001]
Failure of US Air Defenses - Gul points to the failure of the US Air Force to halt the 9/11 attacks. He tells Newsweek: “F-16s don’t scramble in time, though they had 18 minutes after the first plane hit the World Trade Center.… A flight to Los Angeles turns to Washington and is in the air for 45 minutes, and the world’s most sophisticated air defense doesn’t go into action.” [Newsweek, 9/14/2001] In an interview with United Press International editor at large Arnaud de Borchgrave, he says: “The attacks against the Twin Towers started at 8:45 a.m. and four flights are diverted from their assigned air space and no air traffic controller sounds the alarm. And no Air Force jets scramble until 10 a.m. That also smacks of a small scale Air Force rebellion, a coup against the Pentagon perhaps? Radars are jammed, transponders fail. No IFF—friend or foe identification—challenge.” He adds: “In Pakistan, if there is no response to IFF, jets are instantly scrambled and the aircraft is shot down with no further questions asked. This was clearly an inside job.”
Bin Laden Innocent - Gul says he believes Osama bin Laden would have been incapable of perpetrating such a sophisticated attack. When de Borchgrave asks, “What makes you think Osama wasn’t behind September 11?” Gul responds: “From a cave inside a mountain or a peasant’s hovel? Let’s be serious.… He doesn’t have the means for such a sophisticated operation.” He comments: “Within ten minutes of the second Twin Tower being hit… CNN said Osama bin Laden had done it. That was a planned piece of disinformation by the real perpetrators. It created an instant mindset and put public opinion into a trance, which prevented even intelligent people from thinking for themselves.” [United Press International, 9/26/2001] He tells the Indian news website Tehelka.com that blaming bin Laden and Afghanistan “is a convenient bogey to divert attention.” [Tehelka (.com), 9/14/2001]
Blames Israel - Israelis are Gul’s prime suspects for 9/11. He says: “Mossad and its American associates are the obvious culprits. Who benefits from the crime?” [United Press International, 9/26/2001] He tells Newsweek: “I can’t say for sure who was behind [9/11], but it’s the Israelis who are creating so much misery in the world. The Israelis don’t want to see any power in Washington unless it’s subservient to their interests, and President Bush has not been subservient.” [Newsweek, 9/14/2001] In his interview with Tehelka.com, he adds: “One knows that after the Florida fiasco of the presidential election, there is a big rift between the Jewish lobbies and George Bush and his administration. He has not taken a single Jew in his Cabinet. So [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon and company are very upset with George Bush. They [the Jewish lobbies] have been told to indulge in acts of terrorism in the past. Why can’t they do it now?” [Tehelka (.com), 9/14/2001]
Supports Taliban and Opposes US Action against Afghanistan - General Gul was the head of the ISI between 1987 and 1989 (see April 1987). [Daily Telegraph, 9/23/2001] As Newsweek describes, he is “widely considered the architect of the Afghan jihad: the man who, with financial and logistical support from the CIA, engineered the fight of the mujaheddin against the Soviet Union and its proxy government in Kabul in the 1980s. Now, he’s a big fan of the country’s ruling Taliban.” [Newsweek, 9/14/2001] He currently serves as an adviser to Pakistan’s extremist religious political parties, which oppose their government’s decision to support the US in any action against the Taliban. [United Press International, 9/26/2001] Newsweek comments: “If General Gul were anyone else, it would be easy to dismiss him as a crackpot. But here in military-ruled Pakistan, he remains an influential figure, even in semiretirement.” [Newsweek, 9/14/2001]
Major General Paul Weaver, director of the Air National Guard, provides reporters with details of the 9/11 attacks and the US military’s response to the hijackings. Speaking at the Pentagon, Weaver gives reporters a detailed account of what happened on September 11. He says Air National Guard planes responded to the hijackings on orders from NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), which was alerted to the hijackings by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
Fighters Took Off Too Late to Catch Flight 175 - Weaver says that at 8:53 a.m., seven minutes after Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001), two F-15 fighter jets took off from Otis Air National Guard Base in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, in pursuit of Flight 175, the second plane to be hijacked (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001 and 8:53 a.m. September 11, 2001). However, Weaver says, the FAA had only told NEADS that “there was an airplane that had a problem,” and at that time it was unclear if Flight 175 had been hijacked. He says that although the fighters flew at over 500 miles per hour, they were unable to catch up with Flight 175 before it hit the South Tower of the WTC at 9:03 a.m. (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001).
More Fighters Were Launched Just before Pentagon Was Hit - Weaver says Flight 77, the third aircraft to be hijacked, flew west for 45 minutes and then turned east, and its transponder was turned off. He does not claim that the military received notice that it had been hijacked, but says NEADS scrambled F-16 fighters that were on alert at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia at 9:35 a.m. (see 9:24 a.m. September 11, 2001 and (9:25 a.m.-9:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Two minutes later, at 9:37 a.m., the Pentagon was hit (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). The F-16s, he says, subsequently remained on patrol over the Pentagon.
No Fighters Took Off to Intercept Flight 93 - Weaver says no fighters were scrambled to chase after Flight 93, the fourth hijacked plane, which crashed in a field in Pennsylvania (see (10:03 a.m.-10:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and (10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001). “There was no notification for us to launch airplanes,” he tells the reporters. “We weren’t even close.” [Dallas Morning News, 9/14/2001; Farmer, 2009, pp. 244] (However, also on this day, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz contradicts Weaver’s claim. He tells PBS’s NewsHour, “[W]e were already tracking in on that plane that crashed in Pennsylvania,” and adds, “[T]he Air Force was in a position to do so [i.e. shoot Flight 93 down] if we had had to.” [NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, 9/14/2001; Farmer, 2009, pp. 245] ) Weaver says that even if fighters had caught up with the hijacked planes, they may have been unable to stop them reaching their targets. “You’re not going to get an American pilot shooting down an American airliner,” he says. “We don’t have permission to do that.” According to Weaver, only the president can issue an order to shoot down an American airliner. [Dallas Morning News, 9/14/2001]
Weaver's Account Is the 'Most Accurate' Prior to the 9/11 Commission's Investigation - The account he gives to reporters today, according to John Farmer, the senior counsel to the 9/11 Commission, will be “the last public statement uttered by General Weaver on the subject and proved to be the most accurate account of events issued until the 9/11 Commission’s investigation.” [Farmer, 2009, pp. 245] Apparently after Weaver issues his statement to the reporters, an Air Force spokesman, speaking on condition of anonymity, adds that no regular Air Force planes were scrambled during the 9/11 attacks, “because continental air defense is the mission of the Air National Guard.” He says regular Air Force fighters “have air superiority as their mission,” which means they train “to deploy somewhere where we are engaged in hostile action and secure the skies.” These fighters, according to the spokesman, “ordinarily are not ready to fly on short notice and their pilots are not on standby to defend the United States.” [Dallas Morning News, 9/14/2001]
Pentagon Has Been Slow to Answer Questions about Response to Hijackings - The Washington Post will comment, “Questions about the time it took US military planes to respond to the threat of several hijacked aircraft speeding toward the nation’s financial and military centers have dogged the Pentagon since the attacks.” It will add, “Top Pentagon officials have been slow to respond to press inquiries for a timeline that would establish the exact times that civil aviation authorities became aware of the hijackings, when US military commanders were notified, and when US fighter jets took to the air.” [Washington Post, 9/15/2001] The previous day, Air Force General Richard Myers was questioned about the military’s response to the attacks before the Senate Armed Services Committee, but his answers were vague and confused (see September 13, 2001). [US Congress, 9/13/2001; Farmer, 2009, pp. 241-242] NORAD will release its own timeline of the events of September 11 and its response to the hijackings on September 18 (see September 18, 2001). [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 9/18/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/29/2004]
A series of articles suggests that at least six of the 9/11 hijackers trained at US military bases. [New York Times, 9/15/2001; Newsweek, 9/15/2001; Washington Post, 9/16/2001]
Three of the alleged hijackers—Ahmed Alnami, Ahmed Alghamdi, and Saeed Alghamdi—are revealed as having listed the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida, as their permanent address on their driver’s licenses and car registrations, between 1996 and 1998. According to military records, the three used 10 Radford Boulevard as their address. This is a base roadway where residences for foreign-military flight trainees are located. Hamza Alghamdi was also connected to the Pensacola base (see 1996-August 2000). [Newsweek, 9/15/2001; Washington Post, 9/16/2001; Pensacola News Journal, 9/17/2001]
Air Force spokesman Colonel Ken McClellan states that Saeed Alghamdi also attended the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California. The Washington Post and Time magazine say he graduated from the Defense Language Institute at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. (It is unclear whether Alghamdi therefore attended both Defense Language Institutes, or if this is simply a reporting error.) [Washington Post, 9/16/2001; Gannett News Service, 9/17/2001; Time, 9/24/2001]
According to a high-ranking Pentagon official, another alleged hijacker was a former Saudi Air Force pilot who may have received training in strategy and tactics at the Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama. [Los Angeles Times, 9/15/2001; Newsweek, 9/15/2001]
A further hijacker—also said to be a former Saudi Air Force pilot—may have been given language instruction at Lackland Air Force Base. [Los Angeles Times, 9/15/2001; Newsweek, 9/15/2001]
A man called Abdulaziz Alomari (the same name as one of the suspected Flight 11 hijackers) attended Brooks Air Force Base Aerospace Medical School in San Antonio, Texas. [Washington Post, 9/16/2001; Gannett News Service, 9/17/2001]
Ken McClellan says a man with the name Mohamed Atta once attended the US International Officers School at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama (see 1998). [Washington Post, 9/16/2001; Gannett News Service, 9/17/2001]
According to Newsweek, it is not unusual for foreign nationals to train at US military facilities. A former Navy pilot tells the magazine that during his years at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, “we always, always, always trained other countries’ pilots. When I was there two decades ago, it was Iranians. The shah was in power. Whoever the country du jour is, that’s whose pilots we train.” Newsweek adds that the “US has a long-standing agreement with Saudi Arabia… to train pilots for its National Guard.” [Newsweek, 9/15/2001] The media stops looking into the hijackers’ possible US military connections after the Air Force makes a less than definitive statement, saying, “Some of the FBI suspects had names similar to those used by foreign alumni of US military courses. However discrepancies in their biographical data, such as birth dates 20 years off, indicate we are probably not talking about the same people.” [Washington Post, 9/16/2001]
An RC-135 “Rivet Joint” spy plane. [Source: Defense Department]In May 2002, the US Air Force’s only specially-equipped RC-135 “Rivet Joint” U spy planes—credited with having successfully intercepted the radio transmissions and cellphone calls of al-Qaeda’s leaders—are pulled from Afghanistan to conduct surveillance over Iraq. In June 2003, some RC-135s will finally return to support operations in Afghanistan. Retired Air Force colonel Rick Francona will later comment, “It’s not just the platform itself, it’s the linguists that man the platform. They were being really overworked.” He also says, “I don’t think there is any question that the effort against al-Qaeda was degraded.” [MSNBC, 7/29/2003; Guardian, 3/26/2004] NSA satellites are also “boreholed,” (redirected) from Afghanistan to Iraq. [Atlantic Monthly, 10/2004]
Kristen Breitweiser. [Source: Hyungwon Kang/ Reuters]Two 9/11 victims’ relatives testify before the Congressional 9/11 inquiry. Kristen Breitweiser, whose husband Ronald died at the WTC, asks how the FBI was so quickly able to assemble information on the hijackers. She cites a New York Times article stating that agents descended on flight schools within hours of the attacks. “How did the FBI know where to go a few hours after the attacks?” she asks. “Were any of the hijackers already under surveillance?” [MSNBC, 9/18/2002] She adds, “Our intelligence agencies suffered an utter collapse in their duties and responsibilities leading up to and on September 11th. But their negligence does not stand alone. Agencies like the Port Authority, the City of NY, the FAA, the INS, the Secret Service, NORAD, the Air Force, and the airlines also failed our nation that morning.” [US Congress, 9/18/2002] Stephen Push states, “If the intelligence community had been doing its job, my wife, Lisa Raines, would be alive today.” He cites the government’s failure to place Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi on a terrorist watch list until long after they were photographed meeting with alleged al-Qaeda operatives in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000 and Shortly After). [MSNBC, 9/18/2002]
Entity Tags: Stephen Push, US Secret Service, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, US Department of the Air Force, Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, Kristen Breitweiser, Al-Qaeda, Federal Aviation Administration, Federal Bureau of Investigation, US Immigration and Naturalization Service, 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, City of New York, Lisa Raines
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
The deputy commander of the Pentagon’s Criminal Investigation Task Force at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility raises concerns that the SERE techniques being used against suspected terrorists (see December 2001) were “developed to better prepare US military personnel to resist interrogations and not as a means of obtaining reliable information.” Concurrently with this officer’s questions, Air Force officials cite “serious concerns regarding the legality of many of the proposed techniques.” Legal officials from other military branches agree, citing “maltreatment” that would “arguably violate federal law.” [Senate Armed Services Committee, 11/20/2008 ]
Major Jack Rives, a top Judge Advocate General (JAG) officer in the US Air Force, writes a memo challenging the legal opinion issued by Justice Department lawyer John Yoo justifying “harsh interrogation methods” (see January 9, 2002). Rives is representative of a large number of JAG officers who have sent fiercely worded memos calling torture and “harsh interrogation methods” illegal, regardless of what Yoo may have written. Rives writes, “[S]everal of the exceptional techniques, on their face, amount to violations of domestic criminal law,” and notes that US interrogators who use such techniques risk prosecution. And, telling soldiers it is permissable to brutalize prisoners could lead to a general breakdown in discipline and morale, Rives adds, “We need to consider the overall impact of approving extreme interrogation techniques as giving official approval and legal sanctions to the application of interrogation techniques that US forces have consistently trained [as being] unlawful.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 180]
Lawyers Wilson Brown and Jeff Almeida file a request with the Supreme Court, asking it to reconsider its landmark 1953 case, US v Reynolds (see March 9, 1953). The lawyers are representing several family members who lost fathers (and, in one case, a husband) in the airplane crash that led to the original case (see October 6, 1948). The lawyers note that the government’s original claim that the accident reports could not be released due to the inclusion of “military secrets” (see July 26, 1950) is false, as the accident reports have been declassified and examined for such secrets (see February 2000). “Indeed,” the lawyers write, “they are no more than accounts of a flight that, due to the Air Force’s negligence, went tragically awry. In telling the Court otherwise, the Air Force lied. In reliance upon that lie, the Court deprived the widows [the three original plaintiffs] of their judgments. It is for this Court, through issuance of a writ of error coram nobis and in exercise of its inherent power to remedy fraud, to put things right… United States v. Reynolds stands as a classic ‘fraud on the court,’ one that is most remarkable because it succeeded in tainting a decision of our nation’s highest tribunal.” [Siegel, 2008, pp. 249-251] On July 26, 2002, one of the plaintiffs, Judy Palya Loether, wrote in an e-mail to Brown: ”US v Reynolds has come to be a landmark case that is used by the government when it claims that documents cannot be turned over to the courts because of national security. Yet this very case is now proven, in my mind, to be based on a lie that did injury to 3 widows and 5 little children (see February 2000)… It allowed the government an area of no checks and balances (see December 11, 1951). How many times has the government used this decision, not to protect national security, but for its own purposes?” [Siegel, 2008, pp. 237-238]
President Bush orders several attack planes, along with a number of B-1 and B-52 bombers, to the US Air Force base in Guam, as an implied threat against North Korea’s restarted nuclear program (see January 10, 2003 and After). Foreign affairs journalist Fred Kaplan will call the administration’s response “a feeble threat, a classic case of shutting the barn door after the horses escaped.” The fuel rods of such concern to the US (see October 4, 2002) are long hidden away from US satellites. Bush makes no further preparations for any sort of air strike against North Korea, nor does he make any diplomatic “carrot and stick” overtures to the North Koreans. After two months, Bush orders the aircraft back to their home bases. Why such a feeble response? Many believe that the answer lies in the administration’s focus on Iraq; in the words of one senior administration official, “President Bush does not want to distract international attention from Iraq.” In April, after the invasion of Iraq experiences initial success (see March 25, 2003), Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld tells Bush that North Korea could also profit from an Iraq-style regime change; while Bush agrees, the administration takes no steps in that direction. Instead, Bush officials mount what is little more than a pretense of diplomatic negotiations (see April 2003). [Washington Monthly, 5/2004]
The Shreveport Times, of Louisiana, interviews Lt. Gen. Bruce Carlson, commander of the 8th Air Force, who tells the newspaper that his fleet of B-2 and B-52 bombers are on alert to launch strikes anywhere in the world against enemy countries suspected of developing weapons of mass destruction. “We’re now at the point where we are essentially on alert,” Carlson says, adding that his forces are the US Strategic Command’s “focal point for global strike” (see also July 2004) and have the capability to execute an attack “in half a day or less.” The US has expressed its most immediate concerns over Iran and North Korea. [Tribune (Chandigarh), 9/8/2004; Washington Post, 5/15/2005]
Alarmed by several attempts by Vice President Cheney’s office to place the independent Judge Advocate General (JAG) corps of military lawyers under the control of the military branches’ general counsels—all of whom are political appointees—a group of retired JAG officers asks the Senate Armed Forces Committee to intervene. Cheney has tried off and on for years to place the JAGs under political control (see June 1991-March 1992), but has pushed harder in the past year because of his belief that, as military law expert Scott Silliman will later explain, “the political appointees will not contest what the president wants to do [with detainees captured and held without trial or legal representation], whereas the uniformed lawyers… are going to push back.” The JAGs find an advocate in Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), himself a former JAG officer, who quickly pushes a new law through Congress forbidding Defense Department employees, including general counsels, from interfering with the ability of JAG officers to “give independent legal advice” directly to military leaders. The law also rescinds an effort by the Air Force to place its senior JAG officer under its general counsel. President Bush signs the law into effect, but issues a signing statement saying that the legal opinions reached by his political appointees will still “bind all civilian and military attorneys within the Department of Defense.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 286-289]
The US Air Force begins flying sorties over Iran from its bases in Afghanistan and Iraq in order to lure Tehran into turning on air defense radars so the US can develop “an electronic order of battle for Iran.” “We have to know which targets to attack and how to attack them,” an unnamed administration official tells United Press International. [United Press International, 1/26/2005] Bush officials initially deny the overflight reports. [Guardian, 1/29/2005]
Early this morning, Colonel Tim Tarchick, wing commander for the Air Force’s Reserve 920th Rescue Wing at Florida’s Patrick Air Force Base, tells FEMA and Northcom that his men are “ready to go,” and requests permission to conduct search and rescue missions as soon as the storm subsides. FEMA tells Tarchick that it is not authorized to task military units, according to Tarchick. Tarchick will be unable to cut through the red tape and deploy for more than 24 hours, until Tuesday afternoon, a delay Tarchick describes as “unacceptable.” Within 72 hours of deployment, his men will rescue 400 people in the New Orleans area. “He wonders how many more they might have saved.”
[Time, 9/4/2005; Newsweek, 9/12/2005]
White House officials, including Joe Hagin, White House Deputy Chief of Staff, participate in a video conference call with federal and state officials from aboard Air Force One, according to Scott McClellan, White House Press Secretary. President Bush likely will not participate: “I think there is a little bit more of a staff participation in this call. This is something the White House has been doing both from D.C. as well as from Crawford over the last few days. We’ve been participating in these video conference calls with the federal authorities and with state emergency management operation centers.” McClellan will report at around 11:30 am that “One of the main things that [FEMA Director Michael Brown] emphasize[s during the call is] that it remains a serious situation, and there’s still a lot of concern about storm surge, flooding, the damage and destruction on the ground, power outages, and things of that nature.” FEMA also provides updates from other states as well. [White House, 8/29/2005] McClellan will later state that that Hagin is the “point person in terms of overseeing efforts from the White House.”
[White House, 8/30/2005]
Note - The Los Angeles Times will later report that the White House declines to say who is in charge of preparing for the hurricane in Washington, asserting that Bush and his aides can run the government just as well from their summer homes. “Andy Card is the chief of staff, and he was in close contact with everyone,” White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan will say, “And the president is the one who’s in charge at the White House.”
[Los Angeles Times, 9/11/2005] Knight Ridder will report that no one at the White House has been assigned the task of tracking and coordinating the federal response on behalf of the White House. [Knight Ridder, 9/11/2005]
Brigadier General Lawrence Stutzriem. [Source: US Air Force]The US Air Force sets up a secret strategic planning group, nicknamed “Project Checkmate,” tasked with “fighting the next war” against Iran. Project Checkmate, a successor to the group that planned the 1991 Gulf War’s air campaign, reports directly to the Air Force’s commander, General Michael Moseley, and consists of twenty to thirty senior USAF officials as well as defense and cyberspace experts with strong access to the White House, the CIA, and other intelligence agencies. While planning for war with Iran began two years ago in Washington, the strategic planning group represents a serious escalation of planning and perhaps intent by the Bush administration and the US military. Checkmate is envisioned to modernize the stratified strategic thinking that often results in the US military “fighting the last war” over again, and intends to provide innovative strategies for tactical battles using air, space, and even cyberwarfare. The leader of Checkmate is Brigadier General Lawrence “Stutz” Stutzriem, and is assisted by former Israeli military officer Dr. Lani Kass, an expert on cyberwarfare. George W. Bush has said repeatedly that he prefers diplomacy with Iran over military action, but if Iran continues to work towards developing a nuclear weapon, as he and his top advisers believe, then he will consider aggressive, pre-emptive military action. However, Bush faces strong opposition from his own Joint Chiefs of Staff: “None of them think it is a good idea, but they will do it if they are told to,” says one senior defense source.
Aftermath the Biggest Problem - Retired Air Force Lieutenant General Thomas McInerney warns that the administration must seriously consider the aftermath of such a military offensive against Iran. “There is no question that we can take out Iran,” he says. “The problem is the follow-on, the velvet revolution that needs to be created so the Iranian people know it’s not aimed at them, but at the Iranian regime.” Checkmate, which is also looking at military contingencies against China and North Korea, was originally formed in the 1970s to counter threats from the then-Soviet Union, but fell into disuse in the 1980s when the Soviet Union began showing signs of internal collapse. Checkmate was revived under Colonel John Warden in 1990 to draw up plans for air strikes against Iraq in the 1991 Gulf War. “When Saddam [Hussein] invaded Kuwait, we had access to unlimited numbers of people with expertise, including all the intelligence agencies, and were able to be significantly more agile than Centcom,” Warden says, referring to the US Central Command in Florida. Warden says Checkmate’s primary role is to develop the necessary expertise so that “if somebody says Iran, it says: ‘here is what you need to think about.’ Here are the objectives, here are the risks, here is what it will cost, here are the numbers of planes we will lose, here is how the war is going to end and here is what the peace will look like.” [London Times, 9/27/2007]
Entity Tags: US Central Command, US Department of the Air Force, Saddam Hussein, Thomas G. McInerney, Michael Moseley, George W. Bush, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), John Warden, Project Checkmate, Lani Kass, Lawrence Stutzriem, Joint Chiefs of Staff
Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran
A former Air Force interrogator writing under the pseudonym “Matthew Alexander” pens an impassioned plea against the use of torture for the Washington Post. Alexander is a former Special Operations soldier with war experience in Bosnia and Kosovo before volunteering to serve as a senior interrogator in Iraq from February 2006 through August 2006. He writes that while he served in Iraq, his team “had successfully hunted down one of the most notorious mass murderers of our generation, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq and the mastermind of the campaign of suicide bombings that had helped plunge Iraq into civil war.” Yet upon his return, Alexander writes that he was less inclined to celebrate American success than “consumed with the unfinished business of our mission: fixing the deeply flawed, ineffective and un-American way the US military conducts interrogations in Iraq.” Since then, Alexander has written a book, How to Break a Terrorist: The US Interrogators Who Used Brains, Not Brutality, to Take Down the Deadliest Man in Iraq (see December 2-4, 2008). He writes that interrogation techniques used against terror suspects in Iraq both “betrays our traditions” and “just doesn’t work.”
Army Used 'Guantanamo Model' of Interrogation - When he joined the team hunting for al-Zarqawi, he was astonished to find that “[t]he Army was still conducting interrogations according to the Guantanamo Bay model: Interrogators were nominally using the methods outlined in the US Army Field Manual, the interrogators’ bible, but they were pushing in every way possible to bend the rules—and often break them.… These interrogations were based on fear and control; they often resulted in torture and abuse.”
New and Different Methodology - Alexander refused to allow his interrogators to use such tactics, he writes, and instead taught them a new set of practices: “one based on building rapport with suspects, showing cultural understanding and using good old-fashioned brainpower to tease out information. I personally conducted more than 300 interrogations, and I supervised more than 1,000. The methods my team used are not classified (they’re listed in the unclassified Field Manual), but the way we used them was, I like to think, unique. We got to know our enemies, we learned to negotiate with them, and we adapted criminal investigative techniques to our work (something that the Field Manual permits, under the concept of ‘ruses and trickery’). It worked. Our efforts started a chain of successes that ultimately led to Zarqawi.” Alexander writes that his attitude, and that of his colleagues, changed during this time. “We no longer saw our prisoners as the stereotypical al-Qaeda evildoers we had been repeatedly briefed to expect; we saw them as Sunni Iraqis, often family men protecting themselves from Shi’ite militias and trying to ensure that their fellow Sunnis would still have some access to wealth and power in the new Iraq. Most surprisingly, they turned out to despise al-Qaeda in Iraq as much as they despised us, but Zarqawi and his thugs were willing to provide them with arms and money.” When Alexander pointed this out to General George Casey, then the top US commander in Iraq, Casey ignored him. Alexander writes that Casey’s successor, General David Petraeus, used some of the same “rapport-building” techniques to help boost the “Anbar Awakening,” which saw tens of thousands of Sunnis repudiate al-Zarqawi and align themselves with the US. And, the techniques persuaded one of al-Zarqawi’s associates to tell where he was hiding, giving the US a chance to find and kill him (see June 8, 2006).
Little Overall Change - Even the success in locating and killing al-Zarqawi had little effect on US interrogation methods outside of Alexander’s unit. He left Iraq still unsettled about the methods being used; shortly after his return, he was horrified at news reports that the CIA had waterboarded detainees to coerce information from them (see Between May and Late 2006). Such hard-handed techniques are not only illegal and morally reprehensible, Alexander notes, they usually don’t work. He writes: “Torture and abuse are against my moral fabric. The cliche still bears repeating: Such outrages are inconsistent with American principles. And then there’s the pragmatic side: Torture and abuse cost American lives.” He remembers one jihadist who told him: “I thought you would torture me, and when you didn’t, I decided that everything I was told about Americans was wrong. That’s why I decided to cooperate.”
Torture Breeds Terrorism - Alexander writes that while in Iraq, he learned that the primary reason foreign jihadists came to Iraq to fight Americans was because of their outrage and anger over the abuses carried out at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib. “Our policy of torture was directly and swiftly recruiting fighters for al-Qaeda in Iraq,” he writes. “The large majority of suicide bombings in Iraq are still carried out by these foreigners. They are also involved in most of the attacks on US and coalition forces in Iraq. It’s no exaggeration to say that at least half of our losses and casualties in that country have come at the hands of foreigners who joined the fray because of our program of detainee abuse. The number of US soldiers who have died because of our torture policy will never be definitively known, but it is fair to say that it is close to the number of lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001. How anyone can say that torture keeps Americans safe is beyond me—unless you don’t count American soldiers as Americans.”
Writing about His Experiences - Alexander began writing about his time in Iraq after returning to the US. When he submitted his book for the Defense Department’s review (standard procedure to ensure no classified information is being released), he writes that he “got a nasty shock.” The Pentagon delayed the review past the first scheduled printing date, then redacted what Alexander says was “an extraordinary amount of unclassified material—including passages copied verbatim from the Army’s unclassified Field Manual on interrogations and material vibrantly displayed on the Army’s own Web site.” Alexander was forced to file a lawsuit to get the review completed and to appeal the redactions. “Apparently, some members of the military command are not only unconvinced by the arguments against torture; they don’t even want the public to hear them.”
Conclusions - How we conduct ourselves in the “war on terror” helps define who we are as Americans, Alexander writes. “Murderers like Zarqawi can kill us, but they can’t force us to change who we are. We can only do that to ourselves.” It is up to Americans, including military officers directly involved in the battle against terrorist foes, “to protect our values not only from al-Qaeda but also from those within our own country who would erode them.” He continues: “We’re told that our only options are to persist in carrying out torture or to face another terrorist attack. But there truly is a better way to carry out interrogations—and a way to get out of this false choice between torture and terror.” With the ascension of Barack Obama to the White House, Alexander describes himself as “quite optimistic” that the US will renounce torture. “But until we renounce the sorts of abuses that have stained our national honor, al-Qaeda will be winning. Zarqawi is dead, but he has still forced us to show the world that we do not adhere to the principles we say we cherish. We’re better than that. We’re smarter, too.” [Washington Post, 11/30/2008]
Army Emergency Relief logo. [Source: US Army]The Associated Press reveals the results of its investigation into the nonprofit organization Army Emergency Relief (AER). The investigation shows that between 2003 and 2007, the organization kept $117 million in so-called “reserve” funds, and only distributed $64 million in assistance. Another $164 million was apparently used to cover operating costs. Most of the money collected by AER comes from donations by soldiers and their families. AER is an ostensibly independent organization that is actually controlled through the Army; it helps soldiers get through financial hardships by giving interest-free loans and donations. The AP finds that the organization “allows superiors to squeeze soldiers for contributions; forces struggling soldiers to repay loans—sometimes delaying transfers and promotions; and too often violates its own rules by rewarding donors, such as giving free passes from physical training.” Yet most of its money is being hoarded, much of it garnering interest in stocks and bonds, while Army soldiers and families are being denied help. Sema Olson, an outreach director for the US Welcome Home Foundation, says, “I have so many people who are losing their homes, they’re behind on their mortgage payments, they’re losing their jobs because of PTSD [post traumatic stress disorder] or the medication they’re taking—and the Army Emergency Relief can’t help them.” The smaller Navy and Air Force charities donated a far larger percentage of their monies to soldiers and their families during the four-year period investigated by the AP. AER officials defend their practice of hoading donations, pointing to the current economic crisis and insisting they need to keep large reserves to be ready for future problems. The American Institute of Philanthropy (AIP) says AER holds enough reserves to last about 12 years at its current level of aid; most charity watchdog organizations view a 1-3 year reserve as prudent, and classify larger reserves as hoarding. AIP president Daniel Borochoff says that AER collects money “very efficiently. What the shame is, is they’re not doing more with it.… It’s as if the group is more concerned about its own stability and longevity than the people it purports to serve.” Retired Colonel Dennis Spiegel, AER’s deputy director for administration, says he sees no need for AER to increase its giving. “I don’t necessarily think the need is any different than it was four or five years ago,” he says. In fact, Speigel says, the economic downturn has prompted AER to cut back on its scholarship aid program by a third. “We’re not happy about it,” he says. [Associated Press, 2/22/2009; KFOX-TV, 2/22/2009]
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]
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