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9 11 commision { May 23 2003 }

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Public Hearing
Friday, May 23, 2003
Hart Senate Office Building
Room 216
Washington, DC



MR. KEAN: Yesterday the Commission received testimony from members of Congress and from expert witnesses about the U.S. civil aviation security system that operated in the period leading up to September 11, 2001.

Today we move forward with the first look at the 9/11 hijackings themselves and the security system's performance of that day. Our final panelists will then address the changes which have been made in aviation security since 9/11 and also options for further improvements in the current system.

Before we proceed further, I want the record to be made very clear that the Commission is intensely aware of any number of reports indicating failures outside the area of the aviation security system. These would include failures in intelligence, law enforcement and border security, which may have played a major part in making 9/11 possible. The Commission has a statutory mandate and will be examining those areas as well. They may even be the subject of future hearings.

Our focus today, however, is the field of civil aviation. Today's first -- where we start, we pick up the story of the hijackings on September 11th itself. How did the civil aviation security system operate that day with respect to the 19 hijackers? What weapons and tactics did they employ to defeat the system? Why couldn't we stop them or, at least in the three out of four cases that reached their target, prevented successful completion of their mission?

This hearing record will remain open for 14 additional calendar days for any of the witnesses who want to to submit additional material and perhaps for the commission to send follow-up questions.

We are very pleased with the group of witnesses who are here today, particularly our first witness. And we're going to hear from the secretary of Transportation, with a long record of public service in the United States Congress, Secretary Mineta.

MR. MINETA: Thank you very much, Chairman Kean, Vice Chairman Hamilton and distinguished members of the Commission, for this opportunity to testify before you.

I want to compliment the Commission on its intention to collect and provide the information on the circumstances surrounding the tragedies of September 11th, 2001. I would like to provide the Commission with a brief account of what happened on September 11th, 2001. I believe I can be most helpful to this Commission by providing information in which I have personal knowledge and a few observations from my perspective as Secretary of Transportation.

There are many events that occurred on September 11th that I do not have personal knowledge of, though I have learned about them in subsequent investigations and reports. I know this commission will be speaking to the same agencies and individuals that provided me with that information, so I will let the Commission collect that information from those primary sources.

However, I do want to comment on what I believe is an important responsibility of this commission, and that is to add to the understanding of the American people about what we call terrorism and the threat that it poses. I have seen terrorism in several forms and from several vantage points over the years, as an intelligence officer in the United States Army during the era of the Korean conflict, and in Congress as one of the early members of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. Like a mutating virus, I have seen terrorism take different form over the years in an effort to defeat the safeguards that have been devised to protect against it. And I believe it is critical to recognize this important truth about terrorism: The threat of terrorism is constant, but the nature of that threat changes, because to be successful, terrorism must continually change how it operates.

On Tuesday morning, September 11th, 2001, I was meeting with the Belgian transport minister in my conference room adjacent to my office, discussing aviation issues. Because of the agenda, FAA Administrator Jane Garvey was also in attendance.

A little after 8:45 a.m., my chief of staff, John Flaherty, interrupted the meeting. He asked Administrator Garvey and me to step into my office, where he told me that news agencies were reporting that some type of aircraft had flown into one of the towers of New York's World Trade Center.

Information was preliminary, so we did not know what kind of aircraft nor whether or not it was intentional. Jane Garvey immediately went to a telephone and contacted the FAA operations center. I asked to be kept informed of any developments and returned to the conference room to explain to the Belgian prime minister that our meeting might have to be postponed.

In an incident involving a major crash of any type, the Office of the Secretary goes into a major information-gathering response. It contacts the mode of administration overseeing whatever mode of transportation is involved in the incident. It monitors press reports, contacts additional personnel to accommodate the surge in operations, and centralizes the information for me through the chief of staff.

In major incidents, it will follow a protocol of notification that includes the White House and other agencies involved in the incident. These activities, albeit in the nascent stage of information-gathering, took place in these initial minutes.

A few minutes after my return to the conference room, my chief of staff again asked me to step back into my office. He then told me that the aircraft was a commercial aircraft and that the FAA had received an unconfirmed report that a hijacking of an American Airlines flight had occurred.

While Mr. Flaherty was briefing me, I watched as a large commercial jet flew into the second tower of the World Trade Center. At this point things began to happen quickly. I once more returned to the conference room and informed the minister of what had happened and ended the meeting. I received a telephone call from the CEO of United Airlines, Jack Goodman, telling me that one of United's flights was missing. I then called Don Carty, the CEO of American Airlines, and asked him to see if American Airlines could account for all of its aircraft. Mr. Flaherty reported to me that Jane Garvey had phoned to report that the CEO of Delta Airlines had called the FAA and said it could not yet account for all of its aircraft.

During this time, my office activated the Department of Transportation's crisis management center, which was located on the 8th floor at that time of the Department of Transportation headquarters, and provides for senior DOT personnel to conduct surge operations in a coordinated manner.

By this time, my office had contacted the White House. A brief moment later, the White House called my chief of staff and asked if I could come to the White House and operate from that location. I decided that, given the nature of the attack and the request, that I should be at the White House directly providing the president and the vice president with information.

When I got to the White House, it was being evacuated. I met briefly with Richard Clark, a National Security Council staff member, who had no new information. Then the Secret Service escorted me down to the Presidential Emergency Operations Center, otherwise known as the PEOC. I established contact on two lines, one with my chief of staff at the Department of Transportation, and the second with Monty Belger, the acting deputy administrator of the FAA, and Jane Garvey, both of whom were in the FAA operations center.

And as the minutes passed, the developing picture from air traffic control towers and radar screens became increasingly more alarming. Some aircraft could not be contacted. While on a normal day that may be just a communications snafu, we were faced with trying to quickly sort out minor problems from significant threats. We did not know how many more attacks might be in progress.

The FAA began to restrict air travel in the Northeast United States by a combination of actions which included sterilizing air space in certain regions and at various airports, and ultimately a nationwide ground stop of all aircraft for all locations, regardless of destination.

Within a few minutes, American Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon. At this time, as we discussed the situation with the North American Aerospace Defense commander and his staff, we considered implementing an emergency system of coordinated air traffic management to allow maximum use for defensive activities.

It was clear that we had to clear the air space as soon as possible to stop any further attacks and ensure domestic air space was available for emergency and defensive use. And so at approximately 9:45 a.m., less than one hour after I had first been notified of an airplane crash in New York, I gave the FAA the final order for all civil aircraft to land at the nearest airport as soon as possible. It was the first shutdown of civil aviation in the history of the United States.

Within minutes, air traffic controllers throughout the nation had directed 700 domestic and international flights to emergency but safe landings. Within another 50 minutes, air traffic controllers, working with skilled flight crews, made sure another 2800 airplanes returned safely to the ground.

By shortly after noon, less than four hours after the first attack, U.S. air space was empty of all aircraft except military and medical traffic. A total of approximately 4500 aircraft were landed without incident in highly stressful conditions. Additionally, all international inbound flights were diverted from U.S. air space and U.S. airports.

Unfortunately, during this time we also learned that United Flight 93 crashed in Stony Creek Township, Pennsylvania. As America knows, but it is important to keep repeating, that aircraft never reached the terrorists' target due to the heroic actions taken by the passengers and crew on United Flight 93.

A question has been asked whether or not there is evidence that other hijackings and attacks were prevented by the actions that were taken that day. There are classified reports, media reports and investigative documents that indicate that other attacks may have been planned. But the evidence on this question is speculative at best, and I do not believe anyone can assert that other attacks were thwarted on that day unless he or she is the one who either planned the attack or planned to carry it out.

I also want to tell the Commission that although the focus of this commission's interest is on the airplane crashes on September 11th, as secretary of the United States Coast Guard, I was involved that day in the mass evacuation of more than 350,000 people from Manhattan. In addition to the largest maritime evacuation conducted in the history of the United States, our department's agencies were working with the various New York authorities on the devastating infrastructure damage suffered there.

Over the next few days, our department spent hours working with various state, local and federal agencies to reopen roads, tunnels, bridges, harbors and railroads while getting essential relief supplies into the area. I have talked about the staff at the Department of Transportation and how proud I am of how they responded on September 11th and in the days and the months afterward.

I also want to remark on the families, friends, the victims of that tragic day and those who were injured physically and emotionally. I share in much of their grief and heartache, although I can never experience the depth of it. The consequences of September 11th affected all of America, but the greatest effect was on these people. And I have spent a great deal of physical and emotional effort this past year trying to make sure that what happened on that day does not happen again.

We must do everything we can to try and prevent other Americans from enduring the pain that these families and friends have suffered. But in that work, we must never forget those families and that pain and anguish. I know I don't. It helps me in the work I continue to do. They are in my thoughts and prayers.

Thank you very much.

MR. KEAN: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. When you were being prepared in the sense of preparing yourself to take your role in the Cabinet, were you briefed in any way, or what part of the possibility of terrorism occurring was part of your preparation? I mean, as you've looked at all the vast things you have to understand for your position, was the possibility of terrorism and what you might have to do in the result of terrorism a large part of that briefing, a small part of that briefing?

MR. MINETA: The nature of what was happening in the civil aviation industry in the United States at that time did not put terrorism high on the list of priorities. We were still dealing with the whole issue of delays, of congestion, of capacity issues, and so terrorism was really not something that I was prepared to deal with except as it came up on that tragic day.

MR. KEAN: So you had to improvise, in a sense, based on what was happening and the news reports you were getting.

MR. MINETA: Absolutely. And in terms of what motivated me to bring all the aircraft down, as you see one thing happen, that's an accident. When you see two of the same thing occur, it's a pattern. But when you see three of the same thing occur, it's a program. And so at that point I decided to bring all the aircraft down.

MR. KEAN: But in a sense, what I'm trying to get at, I guess, is the government was really unprepared for this kind of event. Nobody had anticipated it, this event or any kind of major terrorist event. So this was not a major preparation. You weren't prepared. You had to do your best under very difficult circumstances.

MR. MINETA: That's correct, sir.

MR. KEAN: There's been some confusion as to the issue of box cutters. You testified, I gather, that as of September 11th, the FAA did not prohibit box cutters, before Congress. Yesterday we got testimony from the ATA that in checkpoint operation guides, box cutters were classified as restricted items, which could be kept off an aircraft if identified. What was the status of box cutters within the aviation system as a whole, and certainly in Boston, where those checkpoints were?

MR. MINETA: The FAA regulation referred to blades of four inches or greater as prohibited items. And so a box cutter was really less than four inches. Now, on the other hand, the airline industry had a guideline. And in that guideline, they did prohibit box cutters, as it was in that guideline. But in the FAA regulations, that was not the case. All they referred to was the length of the blade, and that was four inches. And so under the FAA regulations, box cutters would have been okay on an airplane.

MR. HAMILTON: Mr. Secretary, we're very pleased to have you here this morning. I understand your time is short and you'll only be able to spend a few minutes with us. We're grateful for the time that you're able to make available. It might very well be that we'll have some questions that we would want to submit to you in writing subsequently.

MR. MINETA: And I will submit those to the Commission in writing.

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.

MR. HAMILTON: A final question and then we'll let other commissioners ask a question. And this is kind of a broad, sweeping one. What worries you most about transportation safety today? What are the most vulnerable points, do you think, in our transportation system today? A lot of steps have been taken, obviously, to improve security, a lot of progress made. What would be towards the top of your list? Or would there be two or three items that worry you the most?

MR. MINETA: I would say today the most vulnerable would be the maritime ports. With the number of containers coming into this country, we really don't have a good handle on what's in those containers. And to me that is one that we still haven't really been able to put our hands on.

I know that the Transportation Security Agency is looking and working on that matter diligently. But with the number of containers that come off of ships every day, something like 16 million a year, it's a formidable task.

MR. HAMILTON: Mr. Chairman, thank you very much. I understand the secretary's time is very tight now.

MR. KEAN: I have one final question and then we'll go to Commissioner Roemer. Is there one recommendation that you know of that's pending now, either in the administration or in the Congress or other, that you believe would be most important to making the traveling public feel safer?

MR. MINETA: I suppose, in terms of aviation, I think that we are probably as confident about the security relating to aviation issues today in terms of where we were before the 11th of September and improvements that were made subsequent to the 11th of September and in terms of each month, each day it gets better.

But, again, I would go back to my maritime containers as still the most vulnerable and the one that really needs the funding to get to the bottom of that issue.

MR. KEAN: Thank you, Mr. Secretary. Commissioner Roemer.

MR. ROEMER: Nice to see you, Mr. Secretary, and nice to see you feeling better and getting around as well, too.

I want to follow up on what happened in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center and try to understand that day a little bit better. You said, if I understood you correctly, that you were not in the room; you were obviously coming from the Department of Transportation, where you had been busy in a meeting in official business, but you had not been in the room when the decision was made -- to what you inferred was a decision made to attempt to shoot down Flight 77 before it crashed into the Pentagon. Is that correct?

MR. MINETA: I didn't know about the order to shoot down. I arrived at the PEOC at about 9:20 a.m. And the president was in Florida, and I believe he was on his way to Louisiana at that point when the conversation that went on between the vice president and the president and the staff that the president had with him.

MR. ROEMER: So when you arrived at 9:20, how much longer was it before you overheard the conversation between the young man and the vice president saying, "Does the order still stand?"

MR. MINETA: Probably about five or six minutes.

MR. ROEMER: So about 9:25 or 9:26. And your inference was that the vice president snapped his head around and said, "Yes, the order still stands." Why did you infer that that was a shoot-down?

MR. MINETA: Just by the nature of all the events going on that day, the scrambling of the aircraft and, I don't know; I guess, just being in the military, you do start thinking about it, an intuitive reaction to certain statements being made.

MR. ROEMER: Who was the young man with the vice president?

MR. MINETA: Frankly, I don't recall.

MR. ROEMER: And was there another line of communication between the vice president -- and you said you saw Mr. Richard Clark on the way in. Was Clark running an operations center as well on that day?

MR. MINETA: Dick was in the Situation Room.

MR. ROEMER: So there was the Situation Room making decisions about what was going to happen on shootdowns --

MR. MINETA: I don't believe they were --

MR. ROEMER: -- as well as the PEOC?

MR. MINETA: I don't believe they were making any decisions. I think they were more information-gathering from various agencies.

MR. ROEMER: Could it have been in the Situation Room where somebody in the Situation Room recommended the shoot-down and the vice president agreed to that?

MR. MINETA: Commissioner Roemer, I would assume that a decision of that nature would have had to be made at a much higher level than the people who were in the Situation Room.

MR. ROEMER: So take me through that. The Situation Room is monitoring the daily minute-by-minute events and they find out that Flight 77 is headed to the Pentagon. Somebody's got to be getting that information. The Situation Room is then communicating with the PEOC and saying, "We've got another flight that's on its way toward the Pentagon. Here are the options." Then the vice president talks to the president and says, "Here are the options; we have a shoot-down recommendation. Do you agree, Mr. President?" Is that what happens?

MR. MINETA: Again, that would be speculation on my part as to what was happening on that day, so I just wouldn't be able to really answer that -- on that inquiry.

MR. ROEMER: I know, because you had been conducting official business, and I'm sure you were hurriedly on your way over there.

MR. MINETA: As I was listening --

MR. ROEMER: I'm just trying to figure out how the Situation Room, which was gathering the minute-by-minute evidence and information and talking probably to a host of different people, and how they're interacting with the PEOC and then how the PEOC is interacting with the president, who is at that point on Air Force One, how a decision is made to shoot down a commercial airliner.

And then would you say -- let's say we're trying to put that part of the puzzle together. Then would your inference be that they scrambled the jets to shoot down the commercial airliner, it failed, and the commercial airliner therefore crashed into the Pentagon, the jets were not able to get there in time to succeed in a mission that they'd been tasked to do?

MR. MINETA: I'm not sure that the aircraft that were scrambled to come up to the DC area from Norfolk were under orders to shoot the airplane down. As I said, I just --

MR. ROEMER: But it was an inference on your part.

MR. MINETA: It was an inference, without a doubt. And that's why, in thinking about the United plane that went down in Pennsylvania, the question that arose in my mind --

MR. ROEMER: Right away was "Was that shot down?" And did you ever get an answer to that?

MR. MINETA: Yes, sir. The vice president and I talked about that. We then made the inquiry of the Department of Defense. They then got back to us saying, "No, it was not our aircraft."

MR. ROEMER: No shots were fired and no effort was made to shoot that down.

MR. MINETA: That's correct.

MR. KEAN: I'm going to go to another questioner.

MR. ROEMER: Thank you.

MR. KEAN: The secretary's time is limited. Commissioner Lehman.

MR. LEHMAN: Mr. Secretary, I have one question, and that is, we had testimony yesterday that there were many intelligence reports leading up to 9/11 and actual plots uncovered to use aircraft as missiles.

Do you feel that the system set up to provide to you as secretary of Transportation the latest intelligence bearing on your responsibilities, such as that subject, was adequate before 9/11? If not, have measures been taken to see that you are provided with the best possible product on a daily basis as to threats to the broad range of transportation assets under your purview? Could you comment on before and after?

MR. MINETA: Well, I do get a daily briefing, intelligence briefing. And I did during that time period, prior to the 11th of September and subsequent to the 11th of September. And there's no doubt that the nature of the intelligence data has improved.

And so -- but again, there was nothing in those intelligence reports that would have been specific to anything that happened on the 11th of September. There was nothing in the preceding time period about aircraft being used as a weapon or of any other terrorist types of activities of that nature. And so -- but I do get briefings, and I think that since the 11th of September, 2001, the nature of the briefings have improved.

MR. LEHMAN: Just to follow up, Mr. Secretary, given the fact that there were, in the preceding couple of years, about half a dozen novels and movies about hijackings being used as weapons and the fact that there were reports floating around in the intelligence community, did you personally think that that was a possibility, that it could have happened? Or when it happened, did it just take you totally by surprise? Because yesterday we had testimony from the former FAA administrator that, in effect, it never entered her mind.

MR. MINETA: Well, I would have to, again, say that I had no thought of the airplane being used as a weapon. I think our concentration was more on hijackings. And most of the hijackings, as they occur in an overseas setting, or the hijacking, if it were to be a domestic one, was for the person to take over the aircraft, to have that aircraft transport them to some other place. But I don't think we ever thought of an airplane being used as a missile.

MR. LEHMAN: Given that there was so much intelligence, not a specific plot, but of the possibility and the fact that some terrorists had, in fact, started planning, wouldn't you view it as a failure of our intelligence community not to tell the secretary of Transportation that there was such a conceivable threat that the people like the Coast Guard and FAA should be thinking about?

MR. MINETA: We had no information of that nature at all. And as to whether that was a failure of the intelligence agencies, I think it would have been just even for them hard to imagine.

MR. KEAN: Thank you. We recognize your time constraints. We have two more commissioners --

MR. MINETA: Absolutely.

MR. KEAN: -- who have questions. Commissioner Gorelick and then Commissioner Fielding.

MS. GORELICK: Secretary Mineta, again, thank you for being here. We all know that in the spring and summer of 2001, the intelligence community was putting out reports of a, I would say, near-frantic level suggesting that we were expecting there to be some type of terrorist attack somewhere in the world -- we didn't know where, we didn't know the modality, but a very high level of concern.

My first question to you -- and I'll just give them to you all at once, is, one, were you called to any meeting or summoned at a Cabinet level, or was there any sort of cross-functional group put together across the government to say, What can we do as a government to respond to this very heightened level of intelligence warning that we are getting generally?

Second, even though in response to Commissioner Lehman's questions you have indicated that this particular modality of attack was not made known to you clearly, hijackings and use of aircraft, bombings, bombs on aircraft, were a favorite tool, if you will, of terrorists. Did you yourself do anything within the agencies under your control to seek out mechanisms for being on alert and for heightening our security in this period of reporting? What did you know, what was anyone telling you, and what did you do in response?

MR. MINETA: First of all, on the first question I would say, no, that we had no meetings of an interagency nature given the nature of intelligence that you're describing. I think most of the response at that time was to what you might call the chatter, because the chatter is really just increased communication between people, but nothing specific as to the nature of the kind of attack that might be coming. We're at orange level now, and what prompted that was again increased chatter. But it wasn't anything specific about the nature of what the threat might be.

MS. GORELICK: Well, let me just contrast perhaps the chatter, the same kind of chatter level right in advance of the millennium. As I understand it, that information was widely disseminated in the government. There were Cabinet-level and sub-Cabinet-level meetings, and each agency essentially searched to do what they could to harden our country against attacks. Now, clearly when you don't know where the attack is coming from or what mode will be used, it's difficult. But what I am asking essentially is: Did this higher level of chatter, the what I believe to be a frantic quality to the intelligence warnings, result in any action across the government, and particularly in the area of transportation? I take it your answer to that is no?

MR. MINETA: That's correct.

MR. KEAN: Commissioner Fielding.

MR. FIELDING: Mr. Chairman, I would like further explanation of the division of responsibility between the FAA and NORAD on the morning of 9/11, because there seems to be some confusion about that. I'd like the secretary's views, but I'd be very happy in respect to his time to submit that in writing to him.

MR. MINETA: All right, I'll submit that in writing.

MR. KEAN: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much.

MR. MINETA: Very well. Thank you very much to the Commission.

MR. HAMILTON: Mr. Chairman?

MR. KEAN: Mr. Hamilton.

MR. HAMILTON: I just wanted to be recognized for a moment to comment on a headline really in The Washington Post that appeared this morning. The headline states that a -- and I'm quoting it now -- "New Panel, Independent of 9/11 Commission, Is Sought," end of quote. And I want to observe that I don't see how it is possible to get that headline out of the article. And the article really does not say anything at all about a separate panel.

When I first saw the headline it occurred to me that maybe I had attended a different meeting yesterday than The Washington Post reporters and headline writers had attended. But I hope the Post will see fit to prominently correct that headline which is quite erroneous.

MR. KEAN: Thank you very much. I would certainly agree.

I would like to have Major General Craig McKinley, commander, 1st Air Force, Continental U.S. NORAD, here representing NORAD.

GEN. MCKINLEY: Governor Kean, Congressman Hamilton and members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today on behalf of the combatant commander, United States Northern Command and North American Aerospace Defense Command, to provide testimony on the events surrounding the events of September 11th, 2001, when our nation was attacked from within by foreign terrorists using commercial aircraft as weapons of mass destruction.

It is an honor to represent the thousands of men and women from the Air National Guard, the active duty forces and the Air Force Reserves still serving around the clock defending America from further attacks in support of the North American Aerospace Defense Command. I personally was inside the Pentagon on September 11th, and I personally know what it feels like to be attacked by hostile forces. Although over 18 months have passed since that tragic day, our vigilance remains focused. We have flown almost 30,000 airborne sorties in support of Operation Noble Eagle in the continental United States alone.

Every day Americans and Canadians work side by side in NORAD to defend North America. We have forged unprecedented relationships with in the U.S. government, with federal agencies to strengthen our ability to detect and defend against further attempts to harm our nation from the air. We are now patterned with the new United States North Command to extend and perfect our mission in both homeland defense as well as civil support missions. We are proud to be a part of this team focused on defending our nation against all threats, and supporting our government in its role, primary role, of protecting its citizens.

First Air Force is a subordinate command of Air Combat Command, and is responsible to the North American Aerospace Defense Commander for the execution of the air defense mission to protect our nation. First Air Force, as NORAD's continental United States NORAD region, is responsible for the air defense of the continental United States under the NORAD agreements.

I personally took command of 1st Air Force in the continental United States's NORAD region on August 1st of 2002, and then became the joint force air component commander for General Eberhardt. This was 11 months after the attacks. I am pleased to say today that when I saw the nature of your questions, that I asked General Eberhardt's permission, and received it, to invite Major General Retired Larry Arnold, the past commander of 1st Air Force, and the commander on the day of the attacks, that led the command through those trying days during and after the event. He is with us today, and has volunteered to be part of this commission's hearings. I also asked for probably the best subject matter expert I could find on the chronology, the series of events that is so vital to this commission, to be with us today with your concurrence to walk us through the NORAD timeline.

I also have with me today Major Don Arias to show you the human nature of this. Don's brother, Adam, was killed in the South Tower 2. He was talking to his brother at 8:59 on the 11th of September, '01, and Mr. Arias is our public affairs officer. Please stand up, Don.

I'd like to thank the Commission staff, especially Miles Kara, for his help in preparing for this. The committee has posed many questions regarding the events surrounding the 9/11 attacks. Our intention is to provide the chronology first to the events leading up to September 11th, as well as taking your questions to give you a detailed look at how NORAD's response was made on 9/11, and any subsequent questions you may have on our posture since. Mr. Commissioner, that concludes my formal statement. The rest will be provided for the record. And, with your indulgence, sir, I would like Colonel Scott (ret.), Alan Scott, to walk you through the timeline.

MR. SCOTT: Good morning, Mr. Chairman, commissioners. It is my pleasure to be here with you today. General Arnold and I worked together that day on September the 11th.

What I will walk you through here is a chronology of the attacks, and I've presented it in a matrix form. And the only thing I lay claim to is having studied all of the attacks and how they are interwoven together. This was not a linear sequence of events where one attack began and ended and then a second attack began and ended. This was a coordinated, well-planned attack. We had multiple airplanes in the air. The fog and friction of war was evidence everywhere in the country, both on the civil side as well as the military side. And this hopefully will show you how those interwoven events came about.

I will tell you the times on this chart come from our logs. The time on the chart is the time that's in the log. It may not be the exact time the event happened. It may be the time when the log-keeper was advised or became aware of the event.

The first thing that happened in the morning related to the events at 9:02, or I'm sorry 8:02 a.m., Eastern Standard Time, is when American Airlines 11 took off out of Boston. American Airlines 11 was a 767, and it was headed, I believe, to Los Angeles. Fourteen minutes later, also coming out of Boston Logan, United Airlines 175, a 757, also headed to Los Angeles, took off out of Boston, and initially took roughly the same ground track as American 11. Three minutes later, American Airlines 77 took off out of Dulles here in Washington, also headed to Los Angeles, and also a 757, and proceeded westbound toward the West Coast. So now the first three airplanes are airborne together. The first time that anything untoward, and this was gleaned from FAA response, that anything out of the ordinary happened was at 8:20, when the electronic transponder in American Airlines 11 blinked off if you will, just disappeared from the screen. Obviously the terrorists turned that transponder off, and that airplane, although it d

At 8:40 in our logs is the first occasion where the FAA is reporting a possible hijacking of American Airlines Flight 11. And the initial response to us at that time was a possible hijacking had not been confirmed. At that same moment, the F-15 alert aircraft at Otis Air Force Base, Massachusetts, about 153 miles away, were placed immediately on battle stations by the Northeast Air Defense Sector commander. At 8:43, as this is going on, the fourth airplane, United 93, takes off out of Newark, New Jersey. It's a 757. It is headed for San Francisco. At 8:46, our next log event, we get the last, and, by the way, much of this radar data for these primary targets was not seen that day. It was reconstructed days later by the 84th Radar Evaluation Squadron, and other agencies like it who are professionals at going back and looking at radar tapes and then given that they are loaded with knowledge after the fact, they can go and find things that perhaps were not visible during the event itself.

At 8:46, the last data, near the Trade Center,8:46, the first impact on the Trade Center. At that minute is when the Otis F-15s were scrambled. And, again, they were 153 miles away. And that scramble came, and General Arnold, I am sure can address this, based on a conversation between the Northeast Sector commander and himself. Those F-15s were airborne in six minutes. That is well inside the time that is allowed for them to get airborne. But because they were on battle stations, the pilots were in the cockpits ready to start engines, that scramble time was shortened by a significant amount of time.

At 8:53, that's a minute later, in the radar reconstruction, we are now picking up the primary radar contacts off of the F-15s out of Otis. At 8:57, which is seven minutes after the first impact is, according to our logs when the FAA reports the first impact. And about this time is when CNN coverage to the general public is beginning to appear on the TV, not of the impact, but of the burning towers shortly thereafter. So you can see what in the military I am sure you have heard us talk to the fog and friction of war, and as the intensity increases the lag tends to also increase for how quickly information gets passed.

9:02 -- United 175, the second airplane, which by the way never turned off its transponder before impact, crashes into the North Tower at 9:02.

The distance of those fighters which had been scrambled out of Otis, at that particular point they were still 71 miles away, about eight minutes out, and going very fast.

At 9:05, FAA reports a possible hijack of United 175. Again, that's three minutes after the impact in the tower. That's how long it is taking now the information to flow through the system to the command and control agencies and through the command and control agencies to the pilots in the cockpit. At 9:09, Langley F-16s are directed to battle stations, just based on the general situation and the breaking news, and the general developing feeling about what's going on. And at about that same time, kind of way out in the West, is when America 77, which in the meantime has turned off its transponder and turned left back toward Washington, appears back in radar coverage. And my understanding is the FAA controllers now are beginning to pick up primary skin paints on an airplane, and they don't know exactly whether that is 77, and they are asking a lot of people whether it is, including an a C-130 that is westbound toward Ohio. At 9:11 FAA reports a crash into the South Tower. You can see now that lag time has incr

At 9:24 the FAA reports a possible hijack of 77. That's sometime after they had been tracking this primary target. And at that moment as well is when the Langley F-16s were scrambled out of Langley.

At 9:25, America 77 is reported headed towards Washington, D.C., not exactly precise information, just general information across the chat logs; 9:27, Boston FAA reports a fifth aircraft missing, Delta Flight 89 -- and many people have never heard of Delta Flight 89. We call that the first red herring of the day, because there were a number of reported possible hijackings that unfolded over the hours immediately following the actual attacks. Delta 89 was not hijacked, enters the system, increases the fog and friction if you will, as we begin to look for that. But he lands about seven of eight minutes later and clears out of the system.

At 9:30 the Langley F-16s are airborne. They are 105 miles away from the Washington area; 9:34, through chat, FAA is unable to precisely locate American Airlines Flight 77; 9:35, F-16s are reported airborne. And many times, reported airborne is not exactly when they took off. It's just when the report came down that they were airborne. At 9:37 we have the last radar data near the Pentagon. And 9:40, immediately following that, is when 93 up north turns its transponders off out in the West toward Ohio, and begins a left turn back toward the East.

At 9:49, FAA reports that Delta 89, which had been reported as missing, is now reported as a possible hijacking. So again he is --

MR.: That's 9:41, sir.

MR. SCOTT: I'm sorry, 9:41. Again, he is in the system. He is kind of a red herring for us.

Now, the only thing that I would point out on this chart is this says 9:43, American Airlines 77 impacts the Pentagon. The timeline on the impact of the Pentagon was changed to 9:37 -- 9:43 is the time that was reported that day, it was the time we used. And it took about two weeks to discover in the parking lot of the Pentagon this entry camera for the parking lot, which happened to be oriented towards the Pentagon at the time of impact, and the recorded time is 9:37. And that's why the timeline went from 9:43 to 9:37, because it is the best documented evidence for the impact time that we have. Getting toward the end now, 9:47 is when Delta 89 clears the system by landing in Cleveland. So he is not a hijack. Lots of things are going on now in the system as the sectors begin to call both units that are part of 1st Air Force and NORAD, as well as units that have nothing to do with us. We are beginning to call everyone now and the 103rd Air Control Squadron, for instance, stationed in Connecticut, is an air con

At 10:02, United 93 last radar data and the estimated impact time for United 93 is 10:03.

At 10:07 FAA reports there may be a bomb on board 93 -- that's four minutes after the impact. At 10:15 they report that it's crashed. And you can see now that fog and friction lag time has increased from seven minutes to nine minutes to 15 minutes, because of the level of activities that are going on. And there are notations here about other airplanes as we begin to divert other airplanes that are just out were intended for training that day. We're picking up the phone, calling Syracuse, the Air National Guard. They're beginning to get flights airborne. They're beginning to arm those aircraft with whatever weapons they have handy so we can posture that defense.

That is how the timeline unfolded. As you can see, it is a fabric of interwoven actions. This is not just a linear event. So lots of things going on, lots of activities, and lots of C2 centers. Sir, that completes my piece.

GEN. MCKINLEY: Mr. Chairman, we thought right up front we'd put that on the record so we can have that as a departure point for your questions. I'd again caveat by saying that this is the North American Aerospace Defense Command and continental NORAD region timeline. Other agencies may have other logs that may have different times. But this is the best and most accurate data that we could piece together for your Commission, sir. With that, I open up to questions.

MR. KEAN: Thank you very much. Commissioner Ben-Veniste.

MR. BEN-VENISTE: Good morning, gentlemen. First I would like to personally commend each of you and the dedicated men and women who serve our nation through NORAD. I'd like to explain to you what you probably know already, and that is that our mandate as a commission is to provide the most detailed and accurate exposition in our final report of what occurred leading up to the 9/11 tragedy and the events subsequent thereto. And so please understand that our questions may be very pointed. We mean no disrespect, but we have our mission as well. Now, General McKinley, is it fair to say that the mission and the primary responsibility of NORAD is to defend our homeland and our citizens against air attack?

GEN. MCKINLEY: On the day of September 11th, 2001, our mission was to defend North America, to surveil, to intercept, to identify, and if necessary to destroy, those targets which we were posturing were going to come from outside our country. In fact, that tracks originating over the landmass of the United States were identified friendly by origin. Therefore those alert sites that were positioned on the morning of September 11th were looking out primarily on our coasts at the air defense identification zone, which extends outward of 100 to 200 miles off our shore. So that was the main focus of NORAD at the time.

MR. BEN-VENISTE: I asked you about your responsibilities, sir, and I ask you again, whether it was not your responsibility as NORAD to protect the United States and its citizens against air attack.

GEN. MCKINLEY: It is, and it was, and I would just caveat your comment by saying that our mission was at that time not designed to take internal FAA radar data to track or to identify tracks originating within our borders. It was to look outward, as a Cold War vestige, primarily developed during the Cold War, to protect against Soviet long-range bomber penetration of our intercept zone.

MR. BEN-VENISTE: Well, I think, sir, that you have used a good term, not good for the United States, but accurate, in terms of the vestigial mandate operationally to look outward toward the borders rather than inward. And as vestigial you mean, I am sure, as a result of our decades of confrontation with the former Soviet Union.

GEN. MCKINLEY: Correct, sir.

MR. BEN-VENISTE: And so on the day of September 11th, as you can see these dots -- I know it may be difficult to see -- NORAD was positioned in a perimeter around the United States, but nothing in the central region, nothing on the border with Canada?

GEN. MCKINLEY: That's correct, sir.

MR. BEN-VENISTE: Now, let me ask you, sir, whether the concept of terrorists using an airplane as a weapon was something unknown to the intelligence community on September 10th, 2001.

GEN. MCKINLEY: Very good question, and I --

MR. BEN-VENISTE: Thank you.

GEN. MCKINLEY: -- I asked our staff to provide me some data on what they had that morning. As I said, General Arnold was at the helm that morning. But basically the comments I received from my staff was that there was no intelligence indication at any level within NORAD or DOD of a terrorist threat to commercial aviation prior to the attacks. And information from the daily Joint Chiefs intelligence report on the morning of September 11th indicated no specific dangers or threats within the country.

MR. BEN-VENISTE: My question, sir, and I mean no disrespect, but we'll save time if you listen to what I ask you. My question is: The concept of terrorists using airplanes as weapons was not something which was unknown to the U.S. intelligence community on September 10th, 2001, isn't that fair to say?

GEN. MCKINLEY: I'd like the intelligence community to address that. I would find it hard to believe that they hadn't speculated against that. But it was unavailable to us at the time.

MR. BEN-VENISTE: Well, let's start, for example, with September 12th, 1994, a Cessna 150L crashed into the South Lawn of the White House, barely missing the building, and killing the pilot. Similarly, in December of 1994, an Algerian armed Islamic group of terrorists hijacked an Air France flight in Algiers and threatened to crash it into the Eiffel Tower. In October of 1996, the intelligence community obtained information regarding an Iranian plot to hijack a Japanese plane over Israel and crash it into Tel Aviv. In August of 1988, the intelligence community obtained information that a group of unidentified Arabs planned to fly an explosive-laden plane from a foreign country into the World Trade Center. The information was passed on to the FBI and the FAA.

In September of 1998, the intelligence community obtained information that Osama bin Laden's next operation could possibly involve flying an aircraft loaded with explosives into a U.S. airport and detonating it. In August 2001, the intelligence community obtained information regarding a plot to either bomb the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi from an airplane, or crash an airplane into it. In addition, in the Atlanta Olympics, the United States government and the Department of Justice and my colleague Jamie Gorelick were involved in planning against possible terrorist attacks at the Olympics, which included the potential of an aircraft flying into the stadium. In July 2001, the G-8 summit in Genoa, attended by our president, among the measures that were taken were positioning surface-to-air missile ringing Genoa, closing the Genoa airport and restricting all airspace over Genoa.

Was not this information, sir, available to NORAD as of September 11th, 2001?

GEN. MCKINLEY: It's obvious by your categorization that those events all took place and that NORAD had that information. I would only add, sir, that the intelligence data that we postured our forces for and the training and the tactics and the procedures that we used to prepare our missions for support of the combatant commander of NORAD had hijacking as a primary intercept tactic. And we have some of the finest fighter pilots, as you know in the world, who are some of the best people in the world who can do their mission extremely well. But we had not postured prior to September 11th, 2001, for the scenario that took place that day.

MR. BEN-VENISTE: Well, obviously it would be hard to imagine posturing for the exact scenario. But isn't it a fact, sir, that prior to September 11th, 2001, NORAD had already in the works plans to simulate in an exercise a simultaneous hijacking of two planes in the United States?

GEN. MCKINLEY: Colonel Scott, do you have any data on that? I'm not aware of that, sir. I was not present at the time.

MR. BEN-VENISTE: That was Operation Amalgam Virgo.

MR. SCOTT: Yes, sir. Specifically Operation Amalgam Virgo, which I was involved in before I retired, was a scenario using a Third World united -- not united -- uninhabited aerial vehicle launched off a rogue freighter in the Gulf of Mexico. General Arnold can back me up -- at the time one of our greatest concerns was the proliferation of cruise missile technology and the ability for terrorist groups to get that technology, get it close enough to our shores to launch it. In fact, this exercise -- in this exercise we used actual drone -- NQM-107 drones, which are about the size of a cruise missile, to exercise our fighters and our radars in a Gulf of Mexico scenario.

MR. BEN-VENISTE: You are referring to Amalgam 01, are you not?

MR. SCOTT: Yes, sir, Amalgam 01.

MR. BEN-VENISTE: I am referring to Amalgam 02, which was in the planning stages prior to September 11th, 2001, sir. Is that correct?

MR. SCOTT: That was after I retired, and I was not involved in 02.

MR. BEN-VENISTE: Will you accept that the exercise involved a simultaneous hijacking scenario?

MR. SCOTT: I was not involved in 02.

GEN. MCKINLEY: Sir, I do have some information on 02, if you would allow me to read it for the record.


GEN. MCKINLEY: Amalgam Virgo in general, 02, was an exercise created to focus on peacetime and contingency NORAD missions. One of the peacetime scenarios that is and has been a NORAD mission for years is support to other government departments. Within this mission falls hijackings. Creativity of the designer aside, prior to 9/11, hijack motivations were based on political objectives -- i.e., asylum or release of captured prisoners or political figures. Threats of killing hostages or crashing were left to the script writers to invoke creativity and broaden the required response for players.

MR. BEN-VENISTE: Well, isn't that a bit fatuous given the specific information that I've given you? It wasn't in the minds of script writers when the Algerians had actually hijacked the plane, which they were attempting to fly into the Eiffel Tower. And all of the other scenarios which I mentioned to you. I don't mean to argue with you. But my question is, sir, given the awareness of the terrorists use of planes as weapons, how is it that NORAD was still focusing outward protecting the United States against attacks from the Soviet Union or elsewhere, and was not better prepared to defend against the hijacking scenarios of a commercial jet laden with fuel used as a weapon to target citizens of the United States? When you say our training was vestigial, I think you said it in capsulated form. But would you agree that on the basis of the information available that there could be, could have been better preparedness by NORAD to meet this threat?

GEN. MCKINLEY: In retrospect, sir, I think I would agree with your comment.

MR. BEN-VENISTE: With respect to the bases that were available for protecting the East Coast, you -- and Colonel Scott has gone through the scrambling of aircraft -- I wanted to focus just on one flight, Flight 77, and then Secretary Lehman will ask you some more specific questions. With respect to Flight 77, sir, you testified previously before the House Armed Services Committee, and General Eberhardt was questioned -- you are familiar with his testimony?

GEN. MCKINLEY: Yes, sir.

MR. BEN-VENISTE: Okay. He was questioned about Flight 77, and because of the use of Langley Air Base, which is 105 miles from our capital, as opposed to, say, Andrews Air Force Base, which is in the neighborhood, the question arises again about the positioning and the thought behind the positioning of fighter planes to protect our capital in an enhanced terrorist situation such as existed on September 10th, September 9th, 2002.

Let me ask you about Flight 77 again. The question was the timeline we have been given is that at 8:55 on September 11th American Airlines Flight 77 began turning east away from its intended course, and at 9:10 Flight 77 was detected by the FAA radar over West Virginia heading east. That was after the two planes struck the Trade Center towers. Is that correct, Colonel Scott?

MR. SCOTT: Yes, sir.

MR. BEN-VENISTE: Now, 15 minutes later, at 9:25, the FAA notified NORAD, according to this statement, that Flight 77 was headed toward Washington. Was that the first notification, 9:25, that NORAD or DOD had that Flight 77 was probably hijacked? And, if it was, do you know why it took 15 minutes for FAA to notify NORAD? General Eberhardt said, "Sir, there's one minor difference: I saw it as 9:24, which you do as well, that we were notified, and that's the first notification we received." "Do you know if that was the first notification to DOD?" "Yes, sir, that's the first documented notification that we received." And I want to focus on the word "documented," because it's very important for us to know when NORAD actually received notification, given the fact that planes had already crashed into the World Trade Center, and given I am sure the assumption that these were terrorist acts and there could be more coming, more planes coming.

Is it in fact correct, sir, that the first notification of any type that NORAD received was not until 9:24 with respect to Flight 77?

GEN. MCKINLEY: With your concurrence, sir, I would like to ask General Arnold to address that. He was on the floor that morning.

GEN. ARNOLD: Thank you. The simple answer to your question is I believe that to be a fact: that 9:24 was the first time that we had been advised of American 77 as a possible hijacked airplane. Our focus -- you have got to remember that there's a lot of other things going on simultaneously here, was on United 93, which was being pointed out to us very aggressively I might say by the FAA. Because our radars looking outward and not inward, the only way for us to know where anything was was for the FAA to pass along that information to us.

MR. BEN-VENISTE: Well, is it not the case, General Arnold, that there was an open line established between FAA, NORAD and other agencies, including CIA and FBI, that morning?

GEN. ARNOLD: Well, I wasn't on that line at that particular time if that were the case. In fact, there is an open line established between our sectors at really the tactical level where they are controlling the aircraft talking to the FAA controllers from time to time. We did not have an open line at that time with the FAA. That is not accurate.

MR. BEN-VENISTE: You did not. You were not -- NORAD was not in contact --

GEN. ARNOLD: The continental United States NORAD region, my headquarters, responsible for the continental United States air defense, did not have an open line with the FAA at that time.

MR. BEN-VENISTE: Was there some NORAD office that had an open line with the FAA --


MR. BEN-VENISTE: Excuse me. Let me finish my question, please. Was there some NORAD office -- and you'll forgive us because we had asked for this information prior to the hearing from FAA and did not receive it -- but we are advised that there was indeed an open line between either the net or some other name given to a -- essentially an ongoing conference where under, in real time, FAA was providing information as it received it, immediately after the first crash into the Towers, we were told, with respect to each of the events that were ongoing of any remarkable nature? I see General McKinley is nodding.

GEN. MCKINLEY: I'd like to, if I may, address this, based on my research and review for this commission. It's my understanding that the FAA was in contact with our Northeast Air Defense Sector at Rome, New York. Understanding the relationship of how we defend North America from threats, NORAD located in Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado Springs, our continental NORAD region, our air operations center located at Tindel Air Force Base in Florida -- that's where the joint force air component commander resides. And then we have three sectors based on the size and volume of our country that handle that. It is my understanding from talking with both FAA and our supervisors at the Northeast Air Defense Sector in Rome, that those lines were open and that they were discussing these issues.

MR. BEN-VENISTE: So, is it fair to say that at least the NORAD personnel in Rome, New York, had information available to it in real time once it saw -- and we were advised that this occurred at 9:02, which was then 22 minutes earlier that Flight 77 first was observed deviating from its course, something which in the context of what was going on that day would be quite interesting, if not remarkable? Colonel Scott, any comments?

MR. SCOTT: Sir, I think it's also important to understand that like the CONUS region, the FAA is also broken down into subordinate command and control centers as well. I know that the Boston center was talking directly to the Northeast sector. I don't believe Flight 77 was in Boston Center's airspace. They were in Cleveland.

GEN. MCKINLEY: I think the FAA can report accurately on this, but I believe 77 was in Cleveland Center airspace when it developed the problem where they lost its radar image. And I believe -- and the FAA again can testify better to this -- they would take action based on losing that identification in Cleveland.

MR. BEN-VENISTE: Well, actually I think according to the information that we have, the first indication was not a loss of radar contact but rather a course deviation with respect to Flight 77.

Now, I don't mean to take up any more time on this, because we are going to want to follow up on all of this information in great detail. But let me ask whether there is regularly made a tape recording of these open-line communications.

GEN. ARNOLD: (?) Not to my knowledge.

GEN. MCKINLEY: Not to my knowledge.

MR. BEN-VENISTE: Does FAA to you

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