Intercepts, NORAD and the FAA
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The story...

A NORAD spokesman said from the time the FAA senses that something is wrong, "it takes about one minute" for it to contact NORAD, after which NORAD can scramble fighter jets “within a matter of minutes” to anywhere in the United States.

Our take...

This claim sometimes crops up as a means of describing the standards expected of the FAA and NORAD on 9/11. Here's how David Ray Griffin used the statements in The New Pearl Harbour (our emphasis): 8:14, the loss of radio contact [with Flight 11] alone would have led the flight controller to begin emergency procedures. The loss of the transponder signal would have made the situation doubly suspect. The controller, after finding that it was impossible to re-establish radio contact, would have immediately contacted the National Military Command Center (NMCC) in the Pentagon and its North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), which would have immediately had jets sent up — "scrambled" — from the nearest military airport. According to spokespersons for NORAD, from the time the FAA senses that something is wrong, "it takes about one minute" for it to contact NORAD, and then NORAD can scramble fighters "within a matter of minutes to anywhere in the United States." [footnote 4] "According to the US Air Forces own website," reports Nafeez Ahmed, an F-15 routinely "goes from 'scramble order' to 29,000 feet in only 2.5 minutes" and then can fly at 1,850 nmph (nautical miles per hour). >5 If normal procedures had been followed, accordingly, Flight 11 would have been intercepted by 8:24, and certainly no later than 8:30, 16 minutes before it, in the actual course of events, crashed into the WTC.
David Ray Griffin
Chapter 1
The New Pearl Harbour

Griffin tells us here what the flight controller should have done, and uses the NORAD statements to suggest that's what should have happened in response. This all seems very damning, until you spot the footnote attached to this claim. Which, it turns out, is quite important:

4. Congressional testimony by NORAD'S commander, General Ralph E. Eberhart, made in October 2002, and Slate magazine, January 16, 2002, both quoted in Thompson, "September 11," introductory material. Although both statements were preceded by "now," suggesting a speed-up in procedure since 9/11, there seems to be no evidence that response times were different prior to that date. That should, in any case, be easy enough for investigators to determine.
David Ray Griffin
Footnote 4, Chapter 1
The New Pearl Harbour

While the body copy plainly implies the NORAD statements related to standard procedure on 9/11, the footnote appears much less certain. We learn that the statements occurred after 9/11, not before, and were preceded by "now". Which before Griffin edited it out, did indeed suggest "a speed-up in procedure".

This is hardly the message you'd take from the version readers will encounter first, but Griffin suggests that's okay, because "there seems to be no evidence that response times were different prior to that date". Really? Are we actually supposed to believe that NORAD and the FAA made no attempt to improve and speed up their procedures post-9/11? As for there being "no evidence", there are other reports that suggest the procedures had changed:

Military Jets 7 Times as Busy as Before Sept. 11

H E R N D O N, Va., Aug. 13 — The military sent fighter jets to chase suspicious aircraft 462 times between Sept. 11 and June, nearly seven times as often as the 67 scrambles from the same period a year earlier.

More frequent scrambles are also faster in the tense new environment because the North American Aerospace Defense Command communicates better with the Federal Aviation Administration.

On Sept. 11, flight controllers suspected around 8:25 a.m. ET that American Airlines Flight 11 from Boston's Logan Airport had been hijacked, but NORAD wasn't notified until 8:40 a.m. — six minutes before the plane struck the World Trade Center in New York City.

Today, NORAD would know instantly of a suspected hijacking, officials said Monday.

"NORAD is now linked up telephonically 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so anything that's an anomaly or a suspected anomaly that's found in the system, NORAD knows about it as quickly as we do," said David Canoles, FAA's manager of air traffic evaluations and investigations.

At a NORAD operations center in Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado Springs, Colo., a noncommissioned officer listens to conversations on the FAA network from all over the United States, said Maj. Douglas Martin, NORAD spokesman.

"If he hears anything that indicates difficulty in the skies, we begin the staff work to scramble," Martin said. Before Sept. 11, the FAA had to telephone NORAD about any possible hijackings...
ABCNews Source

Changes to Norad defence strategy as a result of Sept. 11:

- For the first time in history, NATO radar planes from the 19-member alliance -- countries such as England, Germany and France -- are patrolling U.S. skies to assist Norad's AWACs.

- Air Force generals have been authorized to shoot down hijacked commercial jets threatening U.S. cities without consulting the president first.

- Norad now monitors 40,000 daily flights, adding domestic flights to the 7,000 international flights it formerly tracked.

- New computers in Norad headquarters Command Centre identify every internal North American flight.

- Federal Aviation Administration officials moved into the Command Centre in Cheyenne Mountain, Colo., to liaise round the clock with Norad.

- Now 100 fighter jets stand on constant alert as opposed to 14 in North America prior to Sept. 11.

- No inflight problem is considered routine. Fighter jets now scramble to "babysit" suspect aircraft several times daily as opposed to one or so a week before the attacks.

- About a dozen Norad mobile radars have been moved across the U.S. to expand the ability to monitor home skies.
End of a Calgary Herald article cached at 911Research

Griffin didn’t have to go looking for new articles, though. Simply checking the original sources would have helped.

The Slate article uses the NORAD statements in this paragraph, for instance:

After 9/11, NORAD said it adjusted to the new realities. In October, Gen. Eberhart told Congress that "now it takes about one minute" from the time that the FAA senses something is amiss before it notifies NORAD. And around the same time, a NORAD spokesofficer told the Associated Press that the military can now scramble fighters "within a matter of minutes to anywhere in the United States."

But lo and behold, earlier this month when 15-year-old student pilot Charles Bishop absconded with a Cessna and flew it into a Tampa skyscraper, NORAD didn't learn of it until it overheard FAA radio calls about the situation, and it wasn't able to launch its fighter jets until 15 minutes after Bishop had already crashed into the building. Those fighters didn't arrive on the scene until 45 minutes after Bishop took off.

It's made clear in this piece that NORAD are talking about improvements in their standard procedure. And while the author points out that some things haven't changed, this doesn't help Griffin's argument, in fact it makes it worse: the Charles Bishop case shows that even post-9/11, fighters wouldn't necessarily arrive as quickly as you might hope.

And Eberhart? He made his statement in October 2001, not 2002. Here's some context to the comment that was later used by Griffin and others (our emphasis):


Thank you.

General Eberhart, there's been some confusion about the sequence of events on September 11 that maybe you can clear up for us. The time line that we've been given is that at 8:55 on September 11, 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 had struck the World Trade Center towers.

Then 15 minutes later, at 9:25, the FAA notified NORAD that flight 77 was headed toward Washington. Was that the first notification -- the 9:25 notification -- that NORAD or the DOD had that flight 77 was probably being hijacked? And if it was, do you know why it took 15 minutes for the FAA to notify NORAD?


Sir, there is one minor difference. I show it as 9:24 that we were notified, and that's the first notification that we received. I do not know, sir, why it took that amount of time for FAA. I hate to say it, but you'll have to ask FAA.


And do you know if that was the first notification to the DOD?


Yes, sir. That's the first documented notification that we have.


Either NORAD or any other component of the DOD?


Yes, sir.


If you could -- for the record, I have a number of other questions relative to that issue which should be clarified, and I'm going to ask you those questions for the record to clear that up. We should get -- it seems to me we all should have a very precise not only timetable, but a precise indication as to why other agencies, entities were not notified by FAA, if they weren't.

Perhaps you could make that inquiry for us, or we'll ask the FAA directly if you prefer; and also as to what notification was considered to the buildings in Washington once the concept was clear that this plane was headed toward Washington. But we'll save those for the record.

Senator Warner?


Mr. Chairman, you asked of our distinguished witness a very important question. I'm going to deviate from my planned opening here to say I guess I'm a little bit stunned that you don't know why that delay occurred. I would have thought by now all of you in this chain would have gone back, rehearsed these things, figured out what happened, what went wrong so that we ensure it won't happen again. If it was that significant delay and you can't tell us why, how do we leave with an assurance that you and you subordinates have taken steps so that it won't happen again?


Sir, I assure you that we have, and we practice this daily now, and now it takes about one minute from the time that FAA sees some sort of discrepancy on their radar scope or detects a discrepancy in terms of their communication before they notify NORAD. So that certainly has been fixed.

I think at that time, the FAA was still thinking that if they saw a problem it was a problem that was a result of a mechanical failure or some sort of crew deviation. They weren't thinking hijacking. Today, the first thing they think is hijacking, and we respond accordingly.


So working with the FAA, NORAD had not rehearsed the possibilities of an aircraft being seized for some terrorist activity?


Sir, FAA is charged with the primary responsibility in terms of hijacking in the United States of America. We are charged with assisting FAA once they ask for our assistance. As you know, the last hijacking of a commercial aircraft in the United States of America was 1991. So although we practice this, day in and day out, the FAA sees on their scopes scores of problems that are a result of mechanical problems, switch errors, pilot errors, et cetera, and that that's what they think when they see this.

Although we have exercised this, we have practiced it, in most cases it's a hijacking like most of the hijackings, all of the hijackings I'm aware of, where we have plenty of time to react, we get on the wing, and we follow this airplane to where it lands and then the negotiations start. We were not thinking a missile -- an airborne missile that was going to be used as a target -- a manned missile if you will.

And in most cases when we practice this, regrettably we practiced it -- the origin of this flight was from overseas and we did not have the time-distance problems that we had on that morning. We had plenty of time to react. We were notified that for sure there was a hijacking and we were notified that they were holding a gun to the pilot's head and telling him to fly toward New York City or Washington, D.C. So that's how we had practiced this, sir.

I certainly wish we had practiced it differently, but I really think that, for sure in the first two instances, and probably in the third, the time and distance would not have allowed us to get an airplane to the right place at the right time.

The core exchange in bold makes it clear that the "about one minute" claim is a new situation, an old problem that has been fixed. It could still be argued that Eberhart's word isn't direct evidence and more proof is required, but that doesn't give Griffin the right to use his words quite so blatantly out of context.

In fairness, Dr Griffin’s subsequent use of these quotes has been more up-front. This is from a Match 2006 lecture, for example:

The jet fighters at NORAD's disposal could respond very quickly: According to the US Air Force website, F-15s can go from "scramble order" to 29,000 feet in only 2.5 minutes, after which they can fly over 1800 miles per hour.50 Therefore--according to General Ralph Eberhart, the head of NORAD—after the FAA senses that something is wrong, "it takes about one minute" for it to contact NORAD, after which, according to a spokesperson, NORAD can scramble fighter jets "within a matter of minutes to anywhere in the United States."51 These statements were, to be sure, made after 9/11, so we might suspect that they reflect a post-9/11 speed-up in procedures. But an Air Traffic Control document put out in 1998 warned pilots that any airplanes persisting in unusual behavior "will likely find two [jet fighters] on their tail within 10 or so minutes."52

He’s still inexplicably suggesting that we only need “suspect that they reflect a post-9/11 speed-up in procedures”, trying to introduce doubt, when it’s entirely clear from Eberhart’s statement that is exactly what he meant. But at least listeners now had more information.

And in "The 9/11 Commission Report: Omissions and Distortions", he adds the rider:

"For the sake of accuracy, however, I need to point out that Eberhart's statement was preceded by the word "now", so he was saying that it now takes the FAA only about a minute to contact NORAD and that now NORAD can scramble jets to anywhere in the USA within a matter of minutes. Eberhart was thereby implying that procedures had been speeded up after 9/11. But if this is true, it could easily be supported by comparing NORAD response times for interceptions prior to 9/11 with those afterward.

I know of no such comparison. The 9/11 Commission Report does not mention any comparison and reflects no probing about any such speed-up of procedures. My own assumption is that no such change was made. One piece of support for such a belief is a 1998 document warning pilots that any airplanes persisting in unusual behaviour "will likely find two [jet fighters] on their tail within 10 or so minutes."
Page 140-141
The 9/11 Commission Report: Omissions and Distortions
David Ray Griffin

Now Griffin is openly admitting that the NORAD quotes are about procedures after 9/11, even if he’s also still assuming they applied to that day.  But you’re still not getting the true picture. By way of support for the idea that procedures hadn't changed after 9/11, for instance, Griffin tells us about this "Air Traffic Control document put out in 1998": let's trace this back to its source.

In the footnotes, Griffin tells us it's the important-sounding Air Traffic Control Center, “’ATCC Controller's Read Binder’, available at , quoted in Ahmed, The War on Freedom, 148”. Sounds good. How does Ahmed use it? 

Indeed, “The U.S. military has their own radar network …(NORAD). They are tied into the FAA computer in order to get information on incoming flights.” If a target is discovered “without flight plan information,” or in violation of the same, “they will call on the ‘shout’ line to the appropriate [Air Traffic Control] Center sector for an ID.” If the Center sector “has no datablock or other information on it, the military will usually scramble an intercept flight. Essentially always they turn out to be private pilots… not talking to anybody, who stray too far outside the boundary, then get picked up on their way back in. But, procedures are procedures, and they will likely find two F-18s on their tail within 10 or so minutes.”303 ...
Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed
Page 148
The War on Freedom

Sounds relevant indeed. But why is Ahmed also relegating the details on where this text comes from to a footnote? Visiting the URL of the original text makes it all very obvious:

Intercept Missions

The U.S. military has their own network of radars looking over the U.S. borders, and out over the ocean (NORAD). They are tied into the FAA computer to be able to get information on incoming flights from overseas, but if they see a target over international waters headed toward the U.S., without flight plan information, they will call on the "shout" line to the appropriate Center sector for an ID. Sector 66 might get a call to ID a radar target, and if 66 has no datablock or other information on it, the military will usually scramble an intercept flight. Essentially always they turn out to be private pilots ("VFR") not talking to anybody, who stray too far outside the boundary, then get picked up on their way back in. But, procedures are procedures, and they will likely find two F-18's on their tail within 10 or so minutes.

For the controller, the scrambles are treated like most other flights, with normal handoffs and altitude assignments, though they are given direct routes to the target. Center controllers handle the intercept, except in unusual situations, after being shown the target (or general area) by the NORAD controller. The Center controller just gives them a heading toward the area, and usually whatever altitude the intercept flight requests. When the flight leader acquires the target on radar or visually, they just take over the remainder of the intercept, and call you back when they're done and need a clearance back to their base.

"Done" doesn't mean they shoot them down, but rather they have identified the aircraft as a frightened private pilot, or possible drug smuggler, and NORAD has decided to let the Coast Guard take over the tracking and/or following. Or, they just record the tail number and send a letter to the plane owner telling them to be careful!

Problem #1 is that this document talks about intercept missions relating to planes coming into the US, not flights originating in US airspace, a reason given by NORAD for their inability to intercept planes on 9/11.  In "The 9/11 Commission Report: Omissions and Distortions" Griffin rejects this idea, interpreting a point made by Jamie Gorelick as "expressing incredulity at the idea that NORAD could really have been thinking that its mission was only to defend against external threats [page 261]", yet that's exactly what his source suggests. On what basis is he choosing which parts of the document are reliable, and which are not?

But problem #2 is rather more significant, we think. Although Griffin describes his source as an "Air Traffic Control" document, and Ahmed quotes from its pages as though they have authority, it's not actually a Government release at all. The "Controllers' Read Binder" is, in fact,, a guide produced by Xavius Software for users of their simulation program ATCC (Air Traffic Control Center). Although this is described as a "fully realistic simulation of actual traffic flows, radar sectors, ATC procedures, and rader equipment currently used throughout the U.S. Designed by a real controller, ATCC is ideal for pilots [and] controller trainees”, so it should be realistic, it's still just a simulation game (classified as such here where it costs a mere $12), and not an official document in any sense. As you can tell from the qualification at the bottom of the page:

All information is for use with Xavius Software's Air Traffic Control CenterTM only, is the opinion of the author(s), and does not necessarily reflect the policies or practices of the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration or Federal Aviation Service.

This doesn’t make the information it contains incorrect, of course. But it does suggest the document carries less authority than Griffin and Ahmed want to admit, perhaps why they kept its true origins buried in the footnotes of their books.

Our conclusion, yet again, is that you really can't take what you read for granted. And that applies to every author and site (even us). Reading footnotes carefully, ensuring you have the references you need, then checking them in-depth are all essential steps in separating the facts from the spin.

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