Coastal Post Online


September 2002

Sorting Out The Pandemonium Of A Massacre
By Carol Sterritt

The events of one year ago shifted the consciousness of all Americans. Before the attacks of September 11th, 2001, we were a nation that viewed threats as coming from abroad. When the three jets loaded with aviation fuel slammed into the World Trade Center Towers and the Pentagon, an era ended.

It is left for all of us to examine those events in many contexts. In terms of our humanity, we applaud the heroes of that day, we mourn the victims, we seek to impose justice on those who would violate our freedoms. But the political realities exist as well, and require examination.

Questions remain about the military's handling of its response to the attacks. In large part, these questions occur due to discrepancies between the many sources of information surrounding the attacks. You can avoid worrying your pretty little head about these discrepancies if you take any one of the following as an infallible source: CNN, local news (pertaining to New York and Washington DC,) NORAD, the FAA, or eyewitness accounts. If you take any one source as fact, and ignore the others, then you may feel secure. It is only if you compare the accounts one to another that problems arise.

And if the discrepancies cannot be resolved, then what precisely has gone wrong? There are at least two possible answers to that. One is that over the years, since we pretended to have security in place against terrorism, but never felt the need to take it seriously, complacency arose. A steadfast lack of enthusiasm for effectiveness crippled what should have been smoother operations and a more effective response on that clear-blue sky, gorgeous September day.

As an individual who spent two years of her life resolving a clear security breach of the highest order here at San Francisco International Airport, I am well acquainted with the mismanagement of security, the lack of protocol and hampering guidelines that prevent simple resolution to obvious problems. Since my own experience took place at the local security airport level and went clear up to the local FBI headquarters, I can suggest that when conspiracy buffs list the nagging suspicions triggered by the 9-11 events, they need to include plain old disinterest, mismanagement of resources and bureaucratic red-tape as possible contributing factors. Perhaps not as glamorous as a conspiracy theory that Cheney or Bush ordered a stand down of the fighter jet resources going into effect as much as three days before the Nine Eleven. Not as glamorous, but just as likely.

However, this article will indeed examine answer number two: that at higher levels of government, someone knew and someone desired an event so catastrophic to the American psyche that Presidential and militant authority could achieve new heights. It is certainly true that in the year since the attacks, The Powers That Be have revamped our Constitution, overridden all considerations for the environmental movement (dig that oil in Alaska, baby, or DIE!), stomped into place a New World Order that places nations on lists detailing the axis of evil, and derailed the two party system. (To oppose the President, for any reason on any issue, is to support Bin Laden.)

In the strait-jacketed spirit of these times, it is now obvious that "the government/media made it seem as if anyone who criticized the government was for the "other side." The sacred role of the citizenry as watchdogs of the government was temporarily put on hold." (This quote from web site """)

If we examine two documents, the news story of Sept. 15th posted in The New York Times, against the timeline of events posted by NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command,) one immediate discrepancy becomes apparent. According to the New York Times, several if not all Air Traffic Control Centers in the US knew several minutes after the 8:46 AM first assault that Flight 77 out of Dulles was a potential hijack. Yet FAA notification to NEADS (North East Air Defense Sector, under NORAD) did not occur until later in the game. NORAD's own official timeline of events, posted on their web site at, under "Press Releases," indicates that not until 9:24 does the FAA alert NORAD. Why a 34 minute delay?

To give you an idea of how slow this is, compare this response to the one when in Autumn 1999, pro-golfer Payne Stewart's Lear jet went off the radar: It took only 14 minutes for the FAA to notify NORAD, despite the fact that that October day there had been no previous state of alert caused by planes slamming into New York City.

So 34 minutes after alert bells are ringing in the minds of those in the Air Traffic Control Centers, NORAD is informed. During those 34 minutes, civilians in Washington DC area hear of the 8:46 AM World Trade Center attack and are glued to their TV's, especially to local Channel 8. Before the FAA alerts NORAD to Flight 77's hijacking, people in Washington are being advised by their newscasters that a plane overhead has veered off course and is potentially targeting government buildings. Perhaps due to the newscast, government buildings evacuate. A CNN story of September 17th relates that the government itself failed to warn the government apparatus (i.e., people) in the buildings that they should evacuate. The fact is that people did leave the White House, the Capital Building and parts of the Pentagon, and local TV viewers witnessed them doing so. Some conspiracy buffs take this discrepancy as the government lying about whether it did or did not issue evacuation orders. But it is equally plausible that in this matter, there is no lie: people all over America were watching TV and responding to reported events, with as much influence coming from the media as official channels. (Witness the high number of police and fire people in New York City, who upon hearing of the morning's events as they drove home from a night shift, or woke up to TV on their day off, then took it upon themselves, without any official call from their superiors, to hasten back into their police or fire stations.)

In preparing this article, I spoke to the Public Affairs liaison for NORAD, Major Douglas Martin. The official word regarding Washington DC security is that NORAD is in charge of assigning specific air bases on the Eastern seaboard to that important task. But which one is assigned on which day is not releasable information. He would neither confirm nor deny that Langley Air Force Base, 130 miles from Washington DC, had the DC assignment on the day of September 11th. He also detailed the fact that American skies are safer now than in the days before 9-11. He stated that prior to 9-11, NORAD's expectations of potential attacks were from the outside world. Now NORAD possesses a broader viewpoint. Attacks must be watched for from within the country as well as from outside. His explanation regarding this seemed to serve as an explanation as to the lapse in oversight on that fateful day.

The Major related that prior to 9-11, in the period of September 2000 to June 2001, there were 67 occasions when NORAD issued orders to scramble or to divert. After 9-11, in the period of September 2001 to June 2002, there were 462 occasions when those same orders were issued. As an example of one such instance, he told about "Air India" in which a suspicious passenger was noted aboard a trans-Atlantic flight approaching the North American Continent. NORAD called upon the Canadian fighters to escort this plane into US air space, where once on the ground, American officials then took this passenger into custody. I asked if he had any knowledge of whether perhaps the ultimate destination of flight 93, which crashed in the fields of Somerset PA was that of Three Mile Island, or was it indeed targeting Washington DC. He would not offer any confirmation either one way or the other. Also, he answered my query about the surviving black boxes from the airliners as now being in the possession of the Secret Service.

Perhaps his most eloquent statement related to his observance that the events of 9-11 were not only a tragedy, they were a massacre. (A tragedy, he explained, is caused by nature. A massacre is something caused and planned by man.) When asked about current flight safety in the United States, he stated that he himself would put his own family (wife and child) onto any plane on any given day, and feel assured that all was fine. Having recently traveled, I am less sure than the major about this. I recently carried a device, which for all intents and purposes looked like a handheld detonator. Yet not one of the security people at SFO questioned me about this device (the item was only a "brain-tuner," used for bio-feedback.) Officials at SFO got distraught with me only when I placed a suitcase on a counter, that for some inexplicable reason had a huge sign saying "Do not place items on counter!" This suitcase placement brought about a near shutdown of the line that I was in. Everyone breathed much more normally once the offending suitcase was removed. Am I the only one in America feeling that since 9-11 I am living out a Dave Barry column?

My great disappointment in talking to Major Martin was not being able to entice him to offer details regarding the "scramble" of Air Force jets from Langley Air Force Base on that fateful day. Among the few comments made in our conversation regarding Langley was his pointing out that on the NORAD web site, there is only one timeline page mistake, and that concerns there not being two jets scrambled from Langley, but rather three. We also discussed the physical location of Langley, in Hampton VA, some 200 miles from Washington DC.

Of course, the reason for discussing this location again relates to the official NORAD timeline. This timeline details not just times, but mileage. Reading the timeline, we find that American Flight 77 departing Dulles behaves in a peculiar fashion, such that the FAA notifies NORAD at 9:24 about its being hijacked. Fighters at Langley scramble and are airborne by 9:30. At 9:37, Flight 77 hits the Pentagon. At this point, according to the NORAD timeline, the jets are still 105 miles away. But according to the legend in the uppermost area of the NORAD web site, the planes discussed on this page are assumed to go at a velocity of at least 9 miles a minute. So if Hampton is 200 miles from Washington, and the jets still have 105 miles to go before they reach Washington, they have covered 95 miles in seven minutes, thus traveling at a speed of 13 miles a minute. Since inside the city, windows were reported to have shattered, these jets did break the sound barrier, which is approximately 750 miles an hour. Nothing about this seems upsetting. But some individuals witnessing the Pentagon attack have concerns that the Pentagon was not really hit until 9:48. If their reports are the correct ones, then the Langley jets would be much closer. Since they had a speed of 13 miles a minute would they not have been able to cover the entire distance, and/or have intercepted the hijacked jet? This question must be added to the previous puzzle of why there was a 34 minute delay before the FAA ever got in touch with NORAD.

Plus consider this: there remains the fact that NORAD has as its mission continuous oversight of the FAA waveband. This to me is the biggest part of the puzzle. Answers are needed, but none seem to be forthcoming. We owe it to the victims both living and dead a clear resolution of these scenarios. Nothing less is acceptable to the memory of those who died. Until that day when Vice President Dick Cheney calls to provide the info needed, I can only lay out the pieces of the puzzle. Those readers who come up with solutions are asked to share...



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