On September 13th , General Richard Myers, who on 9/11 had been acting Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was asked whether the order to scramble fighter aircraft was given "before or after the Pentagon was struck". He replied "that order, to the best of my knowledge, was after the Pentagon was struck".
Chapter 11, Page 141
The 9/11 Commission Report: Omissions and Distortions
David Ray Griffin
This is a key part of the early criticisms of NORAD, and a contributing factor to the “stand down” claims, and a central ingredient in the idea that NORAD offered several official timelines on the response to 9/11. And therefore it’s important to ensure that Myers testimony is interpreted correctly. But did Myers really offer any kind of a definitive account? Nafeez Ahmed offers an emphatic “yes” (our emphasis):
On 13th September, Acting Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Air Force General Richard B. Myers stated before the Senate Armed Services Committee: “When it became clear what the threat was, we did scramble fighter aircraft, AWACS, radar aircraft and tanker aircraft to begin to establish orbits in case other aircraft showed up in the FAA system that were hijacked.” Myers was then asked: “Was that order that you just described given before or after the Pentagon was struck? Do you know?” The Air Force General admitted that he did know, replying: “That order, to the best of my knowledge, was after the Pentagon was struck.” Myers was asked three times before the Committee about the failure to scramble planes, and each time confirmed the same. At no time in this testimony did Myers indicate that he did not know, had not been in a position to know, or might be mistaken.
The War On Truth
Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed
There's certainly no doubt that another Norad spokesman, Mike Snyder, was reported as saying that no planes were scrambled until the Pentagon was hit. Curiously his account conflicted with another version that was reported on CBS News, though. Here's how the Boston Globe reported this on September 15th.
According to CBS News, the Federal Aviation Administration alerted air defense units to the hijackings at 8:38 a.m. Tuesday, less than 10 minutes before the first tower was struck. Otis received its order to scramble its alert aircraft at 8:44 a.m., the network reported, and the planes took off at 8:56 a.m. They were still 70 miles away from New York when the second tower was struck at 9:03 a.m.
CBS also reported that at 9:30 a.m., minutes before the Pentagon was struck, three F-16 fighters were scrambled from Langley Air Force Base in southern Virginia and sent to Washington. However, they did not arrive until 10 a.m., about 20 minutes too late.
But Snyder, the NORAD spokesman, had a different version. He said the command did not immediately scramble any fighters even though it was alerted to a hijacking 10 minutes before the first plane, American Airlines Flight 11 from Boston to Los Angeles, slammed into the first World Trade Center tower at 8:45 a.m. Tuesday.
Never before had a hijacked airliner been steered into a skyscraper, Snyder noted, in trying to explain the lack of immediate response.
The spokesman said the fighters remained on the ground until after the Pentagon was hit by American Airlines Flight 77 at 9:40 a.m., during which time the second trade center tower was struck by United Air Lines Flight 175, which also originated in Boston and was destined for Los Angeles.
By that time, military authorities realized the scope of the attack, Snyder said, and finally ordered the jets aloft.
The delay in scrambling fighters was confirmed by Air Force General Richard B. Myers, a four-star officer who has been nominated to be the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday: "We're pretty good if the threat is coming from outside; we're not so good if it's coming from the inside."
These are second-hand accounts, though. If we want to know exactly what questions were asked, and how they were answered, we need to consider Myers own testimony. Here's the first relevant quote.
LEVIN: Was the Defense Department contacted by the FAA or the FBI or any other agency after the first two hijacked aircraft crashed into the World Trade Center, prior to the time that the Pentagon was hit?
MYERS: Sir, I don't know the answer to that question. I can get that for you, for the record.
LEVIN: Thank you. Did the Defense Department take -- or was the Defense Department asked to take action against any specific aircraft?
MYERS: Sir, we were . . .
LEVIN: And did you take action against -- for instance, there has been statements that the aircraft that crashed in Pennsylvania was shot down. Those stories continue to exist.
MYERS: Mr. Chairman, the armed forces did not shoot down any aircraft. When it became clear what the threat was, we did scramble fighter aircraft, AWACS, radar aircraft and tanker aircraft to begin to establish orbits in case other aircraft showed up in the FAA system that were hijacked. But we never actually had to use force.
LEVIN: Was that order that you just described given before or after the Pentagon was struck? Do you know?
MYERS: That order, to the best of my knowledge, was after the Pentagon was struck.
Myers final response here is interpreted by Griffin as being the order to scramble, but it reads more to us as a shootdown order, being asked to "take action against any specific aircraft", especially with Levin bringing up the possible shooting down of Flight 93. However, this is ambiguous, and later it appears that another Senator shared Griffins interpretation.
Nelson: ...The second World Trade tower was hit shortly after 9:00. And the Pentagon was hit approximately 40 minutes later. That's approximately. You would know specifically what the timeline was.
The crash that occurred in Pennsylvania after the Newark westbound flight was turned around 180 degrees and started heading back to Washington was approximately an hour after the World Trade Center second explosion. You said earlier in your testimony that we had not scrambled any military aircraft until after the Pentagon was hit. And so, my question would be: why?
MYERS: I think I had that right, that it was not until then. I'd have to go back and review the exact timelines.
So maybe we were wrong about Levins question referring to a shootdown order. But regardless of that, Myers is now saying maybe fighters weren’t launched until after the Pentagon was hit, but, uh, maybe they were. Will he clarify things later?
MYERS: You bet. I spoke, after the second tower was hit, I spoke to the commander of NORAD, General Eberhart. And at that point, I think the decision was at that point to start launching aircraft.
One of the things you have to understand, senator, is that in our posture right now, that we have many fewer aircraft on alert than we did during the height of the Cold War. And so, we've got just a few bases around the perimeter of the United States.
So it's not just a question of launching aircraft, it's launching to do what? You have to have a specific threat. We're pretty good if the threat's coming from outside. We're not so good if the threat's coming from inside.
In this case, if my memory serves me -- and I'll have to get back to you for the record --my memory says that we had launched on the one that eventually crashed in Pennsylvania. I mean, we had gotten somebody close to it, as I recall. I'll have to check that out.
I do not recall if that was the case for the one that had taken off from Dulles. But part of it is just where we are positioned around this country to do that kind of work because that was never -- it goes back to Senator Collins' issue. Is this one of the things that we'll worry about. You know, what's next?
Now Myers thinks there were fighters after Flight 93, but doesn't know if there were any trying to intercept Flight 77. Can he make his mind up before the end of the testimony? Well, no -- he gets less certain as time goes by (bold text is our emphasis).
BILL NELSON: Mr. Chairman, may I, just for the record? Commenting from CNN on the timeline, 9:03 is the correct time that the United Airlines flight crashed into the south tower of the World Trade Center; 9:43 is the time that American Airlines flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon. And 10:10 a.m. is the time that United Airlines flight 93 crashed in Somerset County, Pennsylvania.
So that was 40 minutes between the second tower being hit and the Pentagon crash. And it is an hour and seven minutes until the crash occurred in Pennsylvania.
LEVIN: The time that we don't have is when the Pentagon was notified, if they were, by the FAA or the FBI or any other agency, relative to any potential threat or any planes having changed direction or anything like that. And that's the same which you will give us because that's . . .
MYERS: I can answer that. At the time of the first impact on the World Trade Center, we stood up our crisis action team. That was done immediately.
So we stood it up. And we started talking to the federal agencies. The time I do not know is when NORAD responded with fighter aircraft. I don't know that time.
LEVIN: Or the time that I asked you for, which was whether the FAA or FBI notified you that other planes had turned direction from their path, their scheduled path, and were returning or aiming towards Washington, whether there was any notice from any of them, because that's such an obvious shortfall if there wasn't.
LEVIN: And in any event, but more important, if you could get us that information.
MYERS: It probably happened. As you remember, I was not in the Pentagon at that time, so that part of it is a little hazy. After that, we started getting regular notifications through NORAD, FAA to NORAD, on other flights that we were worried about.
And we knew about the one that eventually crashed in Pennsylvania. I do not know, again, whether we had fighters scrambled on it. I have to . . .
LEVIN: If you could get us those times then. We know you don' t know them.
MYERS: But we'll get them.
Plainly there are many things that could be said about Myers testimony. It could be argued that he should have known what happened, for instance. That he's way too vague. That he certainly doesn't appear to believe fighters were launched prior to the Flight 175 impact, at least at first.
What you really can't claim is that Myers lays out any kind of a definitive timeline here. The Nafeez Ahmed line that “at no time in this testimony did Myers indicate that he did not know, had not been in a position to know, or might be mistaken” is utterly, utterly false: as Myers himself said: "The time I do not know is when NORAD responded with fighter aircraft. I don't know that time".
It also seems a stretch to claim that any of this this offers major support to a stand down scenario. Because if it did, then what was the cover story supposed to be? Does Myers sound like someone working to a pre-planned script? Why doesn’t he take the opportunity to explain exactly what happened, look like he’s in control, instead of expressing so much doubt? If the official story was supposed to be “we were surprised and didn’t launch any fighters in time”, and the reality is that no fighters were launched, then who gave CBS News the information that fighters were launched at 8:56? And why?
Or does this sound more like chaos, poor communication, people who don’t have the full story yet? Sounds more plausible to us, but it’s your call.