9/11 Timeline

Vanity Fair has a story today documenting the timeline of the morning of 9/11 taken for the NORAD tapes. Other than being an interesting look into the events of the morning, some supposed facts given by the Administration are also called into question.

As I wrote about yesterday, the 9/11 commission has called into question portions of the testimony given by the DOD and NORAD during the hearings and the Vanity Fair article seems to back up the commission’s concerns.

As the tapes reveal in stark detail, parts of [Colonel Alan] Scott’s and [Major General Larry] Arnold’s testimony were misleading, and others simply false. At 9:16 a.m., when Arnold and Marr had supposedly begun their tracking of United 93, the plane had not yet been hijacked. In fact, NEADS wouldn’t get word about United 93 for another 51 minutes. And while NORAD commanders did, indeed, order the Langley fighters to scramble at 9:24, as Scott and Arnold testified, it was not in response to the hijacking of American 77 or United 93. Rather, they were chasing a ghost. NEADS was entering the most chaotic period of the morning.

Also being called into question are Dick Cheney and the Administration’s so-called tough decisions of that morning.

In his bunker under the White House, Vice President Cheney was not notified about United 93 until 10:02–only one minute before the airliner impacted the ground. Yet it was with dark bravado that the vice president and others in the Bush administration would later recount sober deliberations about the prospect of shooting down United 93. “Very, very tough decision, and the president understood the magnitude of that decision,” Bush’s then chief of staff, Andrew Card, told ABC News.Cheney echoed, “The significance of saying to a pilot that you are authorized to shoot down a plane full of Americans is, a, you know, it’s an order that had never been given before.” And it wasn’t on 9/11, either.

President Bush would finally grant commanders the authority to give that order at 10:18, which–though no one knew it at the time–was 15 minutes after the attack was over.

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: F*** the code words. That’s perishable information. Negative clearance to fire.

What that above information shows is just how heroic the passengers of flight 93 actually were. Cheney has said that their actions were the only thing that prevented the Administration from having to order the shooting down of a commercial aircraft when in fact the flight 93 heroism was the only thing that prevented the terrorists on that flight from carrying out their mission and further exposing the Administration’s indecision as the they didn’t actually get around to giving the order until 15 minutes after the attacks had ended.

(h/t Daily KOS)

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