Thread: Debunk-a-LIHOP
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Old 19th October 2007, 04:51 PM   #20
gumboot's Avatar
Join Date: Jun 2006
Posts: 25,327
On to more points...

Originally Posted by You
Tightly controlled actions, like issuing an order for fighter jets to shoot down a civilian aircraft, constituted an emergency and had to originate with the President and pass through every link in the chain to the responsible fighter pilots.

What's important to remember first is that the CJCS order pertaining to intercept of hijacked aircraft states quite clearly:

3. Procedures

a. General. Military personnel will provide the following types of
support: intercept, surveillance, lift, equipment, and communications.
Military personnel may not participate in a search, seizure, arrest, or
other similar activity. This restriction would include the apprehension
of aircraft hijackers or use of military aircraft (fixed-wing or helicopter)
or other vehicles as platforms for gunfire or the use of other weapons
against suspected hijackers.

CJCSI 3610.01A (PDF)
While the above is from the infamous June 2001 changed order, this particular section of the order was not altered from the previous version of the same order. The list of changes was actually very minor, and is at the front of the document.

Secondly, the restriction cited above - which prohibits use of gunfire against hijackers - is due to the Posse Comitatus Act. Under the Posse Comitatus Act federal troops cannot be employed in a domestic law enforcement capacity.

There are exceptions to this, however:

1) By authorisation of the Constitution or Act of Congress
2) Under authority of the Attorney General if invoking US Code Title 18 Sect.831 (Prohibited Transactions involving Nuclear Material)
3) Under authority of the President if invoking the Insurrection Act

Originally Posted by You
As the 9/11 Commission explained, “prior to 9/11, it was understood that an order to shoot down a commercial aircraft would have to be issued by the National Command Authority (a phrase used to describe the president and secretary of defense).” [2]
The problem with the above phrase is, of course, that it wasn't really understood at all, because no one had really envisaged a scenario in which a civilian airliner would have to be shot down. The authorisation from the President actually came from the other end. Faced with the realisation that they would need to use deadly force, Major Nasypany, Colonel Marr, and General Arnold between them discussed who could legitimately give authorisation to use force.

It was General Arnold who made the decision that he needed permission from the President to use force against a civilian airliner. What's important is he made that decision on the day. It had never been contemplated before. It was then NORAD that sought that permission from the President via the VP.

Originally Posted by You
This Chain of Command was not ordinarily needed to get escort fighters off the ground – this could all be done automatically and at intermediate levels, as indicated by the swift fighter response in the Payne Stewart case.

There's a number of issues here. A chain of command was needed to scramble escort fighters, as clearly laid out in both FAA regulations and DoD regulations. The process was:

ARTCC controller
To ARTCC supervisor
To FAA National ARTCC centre (Herndon)
To FAA Hijack Co-ordinator at FAA HQ (Washington DC)
<Decision to Request Escort Made>
Request issued to NMCC (Pentagon)
<Request Granted or Denied>
Intercept orders issued to NORAD via NORAD chain of command

This has always been the procedure, and an attempt was made to follow it on 9/11, although the first request for AA11 never got past the FAA HQ, and the processing of the request for AA11 held up the other requests.

It's also interesting that you cited the intercept of Payne Stewart's learjet.

We can learn a lot about the limitations of NORAD interception by looking at this case. The NTSB report into the crash is available online.

The first thing to note is that this incident is the ONLY time in the ten years prior to 9/11 that NORAD deployed alert fighters to intercept an aircraft over domestic US airspace.

At 0933 EDT Jacksonville ARTCC lost contact with the aircraft. The controller then sought military assistance.

At 0954 CDT a lone F-16 Test Pilot from the 40th Flight Test Squadron at Eglin AFB reached within 2,000ft of the aircraft and attempted to make contact.

There's some vital facts to bear in mind at this point.

The first is the time. There's a change in timezone here, because the lear jet crossed into the Central Time Zone. It looks, on first glance, like it only took 21 minutes from loss of contact to interception. However because of the change of time zone you have to add an entire hour. This first interception took 81 minutes, not 21.

Secondly, this aircraft was not a NORAD aircraft, was not an alert scramble aircraft, and significantly, was not armed. This was simply a local military aircraft already in the air.

NORAD did eventually send interceptors though, if you read on...

At the end of this document we have some tables that list the 29 NORAD alert sites at the time of the document's writing. It is worth pointing at that the document is specifically about reducing the number of alert sites to 14.

Back to the NTSB report, we see that at 1113CDT two Oklahoma ANG F-16's intercept the aircraft and at 1150CDT they are joined by two North Dakota ANG F-16's.

There are no alert sites listed amongst the 29 for Oklahoma, however Fargo, North Dakota is listed. Assuming that Fargo remained an air defense site after the reduction in alert bases, that means NORAD first got interceptors on station at 1150CDT - 3 hours and 17 minutes after communication with the aircraft was lost.

Without putting too fine a point on it, 3 hours 17 minutes was too long to pull off a successful intercept on 9/11. So all the Payne Stewart intercept really tells us is it's highly unlikely NORAD could have intercepted any of the flights on 9/11.

Originally Posted by You
These guidelines, in effect since 1986, oddly changed just three months before September 11, with Rumsfeld asserting the sole authority to allow fighters to take off at all. This is covered in more in detail in the post "Muzzling the Defense?"
I've previously touched on how minor the changes in the June 2001 DoD order were.

The document states:

The NMCC will, with the exception of immediate responses as authorized by reference d, forward requests for DOD assistance to the Secretary of Defense for approval.
This is what Conspiracy Theorists got their panties in a twist about. However they never bothered to find out what reference d) was...

d. FAA Order 7610.4J, 3 November 1998, “Special Military Operations,” was added as a reference.
This is FAA Order 7610.4J here.

That link has only the pertinent section - Chapter 7: Escort of Hijacked Aircraft.


The escort service will be requested by the FAA hijack coordinator by direct contact with the National Military Command Center (NMCC). Normally, NORAD escort aircraft will take the required action. However, for the purpose of these procedures, the term "escort aircraft" applies to any military aircraft assigned to the escort mission.
In other words the Secretary of Defense was not consulted for Hijacking Escorts.

Originally Posted by You
The 9/11 Commission’s final report later stated in its blameless way: “As they existed on 9/11, the protocols for the FAA to obtain military assistance from NORAD required multiple levels of notification and approval at the highest levels of government […] The protocols did not contemplate an intercept […] On the morning of 9/11, the existing protocol was unsuited in every respect for what was about to happen.” It became even more unsuited in the days and hours and even minutes before the attacks, and on the morning of September 11th, strangely, the National Command Authority’s chain of command seemed to sprout new links, swap out old ones, and seemed to not be anchored down to anything. The following posts deal with the US leadership response and the flailings and failings of a Chain of broken links.
The above comment is interesting, however there's no evidence that the new staff positions had any negative impact on air defense response times. Ben Sliney, in particular, did exceptionally well on his first day.

Further, because of the quick actions of staff at Boston ARTCC and NEADS, the chain of command was skipped and a more immediate air defense was assembled. Finally, the USSS also got in on the act and scrambled additional aircraft from Andrews AFB - again an improvised defense. The reality is the improvised defense cobbled together by Boston ARTCC, NEADS, and the USSS, although ultimately unable to prevent the attacks, was far superior to any defense the proper channels could have provided.


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