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Saturday, July 15, 2006

To shoot or not to shoot, that is the question...

Were there orders to shoot down planes given at some point on 9/11 before Flight 93 went down? Perhaps, perhaps not. Perhaps to some pilots and not others? Read the following quotes and see whether you can sort out what the rules of engagement were on 9/11 between say 9:30 and 10:20 AM. Did NEADS (NORAD) get different orders than DCANG (non NORAD)? That's the only plausible explanation I can come up with (short of lying) for the following accounts of events.

A quote from the Vanity Fair article 9/11 Live: The NORAD Tapes (August 2006 issue)
But comments such as those above were repeated by other administration and military figures in the weeks and months following 9/11, forging the notion that only the passengers' counterattack against their hijackers prevented an inevitable shootdown of United 93 (and convincing conspiracy theorists that the government did, indeed, secretly shoot it down). The recordings tell a different story, and not only because United 93 had crashed before anyone in the military chain of command even knew it had been hijacked.

At what feels on the tapes like the moment of truth, what comes back down the chain of command, instead of clearance to fire, is a resounding sense of caution. Despite the fact that NEADS believes there may be as many as five suspected hijacked aircraft still in the air at this point-one from Canada, the new one bearing down fast on Washington, the phantom American 11, Delta 1989, and United 93-the answer to Nasypany's question about rules of engagement comes back in no uncertain terms, as you hear him relay to the ops floor.

NASYPANY (to floor): Negative. Negative clearance to shoot.… Goddammit!…
FOX: I'm not really worried about code words at this point.
NASYPANY: Fuck the code words. That's perishable information. Negative clearance to fire. ID. Type. Tail.

The orders from higher headquarters are to identify by aircraft type and tail number, and nothing more. Those orders-and the fact that the pilots have no clearance to shoot-are reiterated by NEADS controllers as a dramatic chase towards the White House continues. Two more problems emerge: the controllers can't find the White House on their dated equipment, and they have trouble communicating with the Langley fighters (which are referred to by their call signs, Quit 2-5 and Quit 2-6).

A quote from a CNN story
Cheney recalls taking charge from bunker
September 11, 2002

After the planes struck the twin towers, a third took a chunk out of the Pentagon. Cheney then heard a report that a plane over Pennsylvania was heading for Washington. A military assistant asked Cheney twice for authority to shoot it down.

"The vice president said yes again," remembered Josh Bolton, deputy White House chief of staff. "And the aide then asked a third time. He said, 'Just confirming, sir, authority to engage?' And the vice president -- his voice got a little annoyed then -- said, 'I said yes.'"

It was a rare flash of anger from a man who knew he was setting the tone at a White House in crisis.

"I think there was an undertone of anger there. But it's more a matter of determination. You don't want to let your anger overwhelm your judgment in a moment like this," Cheney said.

Word came that Flight 93 crashed in Pennsylvania. Aides frantically called the White House to find out whether a military jet had shot it down.

"The vice president was a little bit ahead of us," said Eric Edelman, Cheney's national security advisor. "He said sort of softly and to nobody in particular, 'I think an act of heroism just took place on that plane.'"

Cheney and staffers watched in horror as the first tower of the World Trade Center collapsed. Matalin remembered the moment.

"Oddly everything just stopped. Not for long, but it did stop totally at that moment," she said. "[Cheney] emoted in a way that he emotes, which was to stop."

Quotes from America's Chaotic Road to War
(between 9:32 and 9:55 AM according to story timeline)
Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta, summoned by the White House to the bunker, was on an open line to the Federal Aviation Administration operations center, monitoring Flight 77 as it hurtled toward Washington, with radar tracks coming every seven seconds. Reports came that the plane was 50 miles out, 30 miles out, 10 miles out-until word reached the bunker that there had been an explosion at the Pentagon.

Mineta shouted into the phone to Monte Belger at the FAA: "Monte, bring all the planes down." It was an unprecedented order-there were 4,546 airplanes in the air at the time. Belger, the FAA's acting deputy administrator, amended Mineta's directive to take into account the authority vested in airline pilots. "We're bringing them down per pilot discretion," Belger told the secretary.

"[Expletive] pilot discretion," Mineta yelled back. "Get those goddamn planes down."

Sitting at the other end of the table, Cheney snapped his head up, looked squarely at Mineta and nodded in agreement.

9:55 a.m.

The Vice President in the Bunker: 'Should We Engage?' 'Yes.'

Once airborne, Bush spoke again to Cheney, who said the combat air patrol needed rules of engagement if pilots encountered an aircraft that might be under the control of hijackers. Cheney recommended that Bush authorize the military to shoot down any such civilian airliners-as momentous a decision as the president was asked to make in those first hours. "I said, 'You bet,'" Bush recalled. "We had a little discussion, but not much."

Bush then talked to Rumsfeld to clarify the procedures military pilots should follow in trying to force an unresponsive plane to the ground before opening fire on it. First, pilots would seek to make radio contact with the other plane and tell the pilot to land at a specific location. If that failed, the pilots were to use visual signals. These included having the fighters fly in front of the other plane.

If the plane continued heading toward what was seen as a significant target with apparently hostile intent, the U.S. pilot would have the authority to shoot it down. With Bush's approval, Rumsfeld passed the order down the chain of command.

In the White House bunker, a military aide approached the vice president.

"There is a plane 80 miles out," he said. "There is a fighter in the area. Should we engage?"

"Yes," Cheney replied without hesitation.

Around the vice president, Rice, deputy White House chief of staff Joshua Bolten and I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Cheney's chief of staff, tensed as the military aide repeated the question, this time with even more urgency. The plane was now 60 miles out. "Should we engage?" Cheney was asked.

"Yes," he replied again.

As the plane came closer, the aide repeated the question. Does the order still stand?

"Of course it does," Cheney snapped.

The vice president said later that it had seemed "painful, but nonetheless clear-cut. And I didn't agonize over it."

It was, "obviously, a very significant action," Cheney said in an interview. "You're asking American pilots to fire on a commercial airliner full of civilians. On the other hand, you had directly in front of me what had happened to the World Trade Center, and a clear understanding that once the plane was hijacked, it was a weapon."

Within minutes, there was a report that a plane had crashed in southwestern Pennsylvania-what turned out to be United Flight 93, a Boeing 757 that had been hijacked after leaving Newark International Airport. Many of those in the PEOC feared that Cheney's order had brought down a civilian aircraft. Rice demanded that someone check with the Pentagon.

On Air Force One, Bush inquired, "Did we shoot it down or did it crash?"

It took the Pentagon almost two hours to confirm that the plane had not been shot down, an enormous relief. "I think an act of heroism occurred on board that plane," Cheney said. Later, reports of cell phone conversations before the plane crashed indicated that some passengers had fought with the hijackers.

A quote from a cached UPI article entitled Military unprepared for 9/11 attacks
By Shaun Waterman
Published 5/23/2003 8:06 PM

NORAD also scrambled F-16s from Langley air force base in Virginia, he said. They were in the air within six minutes, which he said was "exceedingly quick." But they were still 12 minutes away from Washington when Flight 77 crashed in the Pentagon.

Moreover, the man who had McKinley's job on Sept. 11, retired Maj. Gen. Larry Arnold, told the panel that he could not have ordered the hijacked airliners shot down even if either set of F-16s had been able to make it to the capital in time.

"To my knowledge, I did not have the authority to shoot it down at that time," he said, adding later of Flight 77, "even if we were there, I don't think we would have shot it down."

He said that he only learned President Bush had made the decision to give him that authority five minutes after the last plane, Flight 93, crashed into a field in rural Pennsylvania because passengers who had learned the fate of the other airliners apparently stormed the cockpit.

A quote from video transcript (reportedly from CSPAN's video of Norman Mineta's testimony before the 9/11 Commission).

Mineta: "During the time that the airplane was coming into the Pentagon, there was a young man who would come in and say to the Vice President...the plane is 50 miles out...the plane is 30 miles out....and when it got down to the plane is 10 miles out, the young man also said to the vice president "do the orders still stand?" And the Vice President turned and whipped his neck around and said "Of course the orders still stand, have you heard anything to the contrary!??"

Windows Media
Real Media

I can't vouch for the authenticity of the video or transcript, but thought it was worth including as is nonetheless. Apparently, that part of the video record never made it into the 9/11 Commission's video archive (or at least had not at some point, it may be there now, since I was able to find the transcript for it). Read more on that story here.

Written transcript of that testimony from the 9/11 Commission's site follows. I will quote a larger block of that testimony below:
MR. HAMILTON: We thank you for that. I wanted to focus just a moment on the Presidential Emergency Operating Center. You were there for a good part of the day. I think you were there with the vice president. And when you had that order given, I think it was by the president, that authorized the shooting down of commercial aircraft that were suspected to be controlled by terrorists, were you there when that order was given?

MR. MINETA: No, I was not. I was made aware of it during the time that the airplane coming into the Pentagon. There was a young man who had come in and said to the vice president, "The plane is 50 miles out. The plane is 30 miles out." And when it got down to, "The plane is 10 miles out," the young man also said to the vice president, "Do the orders still stand?" And the vice president turned and whipped his neck around and said, "Of course the orders still stand. Have you heard anything to the contrary?" Well, at the time I didn't know what all that meant. And --

MR. HAMILTON: The flight you're referring to is the --

MR. MINETA: The flight that came into the Pentagon.

MR. HAMILTON: The Pentagon, yeah.

MR. MINETA: And so I was not aware that that discussion had already taken place. But in listening to the conversation between the young man and the vice president, then at the time I didn't really recognize the significance of that.

And then later I heard of the fact that the airplanes had been scrambled from Langley to come up to DC, but those planes were still about 10 minutes away. And so then, at the time we heard about the airplane that went into Pennsylvania, then I thought, "Oh, my God, did we shoot it down?" And then we had to, with the vice president, go through the Pentagon to check that out.

MR. HAMILTON: Let me see if I understand. The plane that was headed toward the Pentagon and was some miles away, there was an order to shoot that plane down.

MR. MINETA: Well, I don't know that specifically, but I do know that the airplanes were scrambled from Langley or from Norfolk, the Norfolk area. But I did not know about the orders specifically other than listening to that other conversation.

MR. HAMILTON: But there very clearly was an order to shoot commercial aircraft down.

MR. MINETA: Subsequently I found that out.

MR. HAMILTON: With respect to Flight 93, what type of information were you and the vice president receiving about that flight?

MR. MINETA: The only information we had at that point was when it crashed.

MR. HAMILTON: I see. You didn't know beforehand about that airplane.

MR. MINETA: I did not.

MR. HAMILTON: And so there was no specific order there to shoot that plane down.

MR. MINETA: No, sir.

MR. HAMILTON: But there were military planes in the air in position to shoot down commercial aircraft.

MR. MINETA: That's right. The planes had been scrambled, I believe, from Otis at that point.

MR. HAMILTON: Could you help me understand a little the division of responsibility between the FAA and NORAD on that morning?

MR. MINETA: Well, FAA is in touch with NORAD. And when the first flight from Boston had gone out of communications with the air traffic controllers, the air traffic controller then notified, I believe, Otis Air Force Base about the air traffic controller not being able to raise that American Airlines flight.

A quote from the Aviation Week and Space Technology article called F-16 Pilots Considered Ramming Flight 93
The Andrews-based 121st Fighter Sqdn. was not standing alert on Sept. 11, because the District of Columbia Air National Guard (DCANG) unit was not assigned to the North American Aerospace Defense Command air defense force. Norad had already scrambled three F-16s from their alert base at Langley AFB, Va., but they were about 12 min. from Washington when the Pentagon was struck at 9:37 a.m. (AW&ST June 3, p. 48).

The 121st squadron's day had started normally. Three F-16s were flying an air-to-ground training mission on a range in North Carolina, 180 naut. mi. away. At Andrews, several officers were in a scheduling meeting when they received word that the World Trade Center had been hit by an aircraft. Minutes later, after United Airlines Flight 175 slammed into the second WTC tower, a squadron pilot called a friend in the Secret Service "to see what was going on. He was told some bad things were happening. At that time, we weren't thinking about defending anything. Our primary concern was what would happen to the air traffic system," said Lt. Col. Marc H. (Sass) Sasseville, the current 121st FS commander. On Sept. 11, he was the director of operations and air operations officer--the acting operations group commander under the 113th Wing.

Soon thereafter, the Secret Service called back, asking whether the squadron could get fighters airborne. The unit's maintenance section was notified to get several F-16s armed and ready to fly. Anticipating such an order, Col. Don C. Mozley, the 113th Logistics Group commander, had already ordered his weapons officer to "break out the AIM-9s and start building them up." The missiles had to be transported from a bunker on the other side of the base, which would take a while.

"After the Pentagon was hit, we were told there were more [airliners] coming. Not 'might be'; they were coming," Mozley recalled.

Sasseville grabbed three F-16 pilots and gave them a curt briefing: "I have no idea what's going on, but we're flying. Here's our frequency. We'll split up the area as we have to. Just defend as required. We'll talk about the rest in the air." All four grabbed their helmets, g-suits and parachute harnesses, and headed for the operations desk to get aircraft assignments.

Another call from the Secret Service commanded, "Get in the air now!" Almost simultaneously, a call from someone else in the White House declared the Washington area "a free-fire zone. That meant we were given authority to use force, if the situation required it, in defense of the nation's capital, its property and people," Sasseville said.


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