Losing Flight 77
The 9/11 Commission reported that American Airlines Flight 77 deviated from its flight plan at 8:54 on 9/11. Its transponder was turned off two minutes later. And yet the plane was still able to fly across the country for over 40 minutes before finally hitting the Pentagon at 9:37:46, without coming close to being intercepted. Many critics of the Commission say this simply isn't possible, but do they have any real evidence that contradicts the report?
The Commission Report account
In addition, the "We Have Some Planes" Staff Statement includes the following details:
To summarise, then.
The Indianapolis controller responsible for Flight 77 noticed that the plane changed course and disappeared from his radar screen. He was unaware of the other hijackings and believed the plane had mechanical problems only.
The initial problem in spotting Flight 77 arose because the FAA's preferred radar didn't cover this area, and the secondary radar system had only poor coverage. Further “tertiary” and “quadrary radars were available, but the FAA ATC system couldn't use these to display primary data.
This situation lasted only until 9:05, when Flight 77 reemerged on Indianapolis radar scopes. However, by that time were looking for the plane to the west and southwest, following its projected flight path, and believed it may have crashed. In reality the flight had turned east and they didn't spot it.
Indianapolis Centre learned about the other hijackings by 9:18 at the latest. At 9:20 Indianapolis called the Herndon Command Centre to discuss the situation, began to wonder if Flight 77 had also been hijacked, and notified other facilities who also began looking for the aircraft. At 9:32 Dulles controllers spotted a target heading east, and at 9:36, less than two minutes before impact, this information reached NORAD.
That's what the 9/11 Commission Report tells us, at least, and there's evidence available to support what they're saying in other documents.
The NORAD tapes
Perhaps the single most informative part of the NORAD tapes comes in the conversation between the Washington Centre Operations Manager and NORAD Technical Sergeant Shelley Watson (with interjections from Master Sergeant Maureen Dooley) between 9:31 and 9:34 on 9/11. Watson explains what she knows so far of the situation, which includes precisely nothing about Flight 77, and the Operation Manager explains how the position of Flight 77 has been lost.- NORAD - Washington conversation 9:31 to 9:34
(Hat tip to JREF forum member gumboot for the initial transcript):
It's after 9:30, then, and NEADS believe Flight 11 is still in the air. The Washington ARTCC Operations Manager confirms that Flight 77 was lost. He hadn't spoken to Indianapolis for around 15 minutes, but nonetheless doesn't know where the plane is. NEADS in turn aren't aware that Flight 77 has been hijacked, just as the Commission Report says.
Air Traffic Control Transcripts
In October 2001 the New York Times reproduced air traffic control conversations with Flight 77. They reveal no suspicion of hijacking, and the controller doesn't get to hear about what's happening in New York until 9:09.
The early FAA Chronologies didn't match up with the Commission Report on every detail. One in particular says the FAA notified NORAD of the hijacking of Flight 77 at 9:24, for instance, a significant difference. The OIG Investigation later explained this error, though, and even by the 17th of September 2001 we can see there's a broad agreement between the FAA and the eventual conclusions of the Commission.
Flight 77 disappeared before 9:00; controllers assumed it had crashed; by 9:20 they were considering the possibility of a hijacking, but the plane wasn't picked up again on radar until after 9:30. A very similar account to the 9/11 Commission.
This graphic from September 14th 2001 shows the loss of radar contact, just as the Commission described:
The following FAA memorandum explains why this happened, and how a flight path was eventually reconstructed:
The loss of radar contact isn't some invention of the 9/11 Commission, then. It's confirmed by an FAA document dating from within a week of the attacks.
Information to corroborate the 9/11 Commission Report is freely available, then, but nonetheless there are many who say this cannot be an accurate explanation of what happened.
For example, Nafeez Ahmed wrote in his book The War On Truth that the "unfathomable failure of FAA radar" was "an incoherent narrative that is clearly therefore untrue", concluding that "the Commission's account is unsubstantiated and contradictory - clearly the FAA and NORAD were aware that Flight 77 was heading towards Washington, DC". And David Ray Griffin wrote in Debunking 9/11 Debunking that aspects of the story "strain credulity" and "we have very strong reasons to consider the tapes-based of AA 77 false". Both books muster several arguments to support their views, and we'll consider them here.
The 9/11 Commission Report told us that the Indianapolis controller handling Flight 77 was unaware of the other hijackings, and so initially suspected the aircraft was suffering mechanical or electrical problems. David Ray Griffin questions whether this was really possible, though.
Dr Griffin doesn't provide links for the Guardian and Village Voice stories, however we believe he sourced his information from the Flight 11 Timeline:
This page contained a link to the Guardian story, but it turns out this contains only one line relevant to Griffin's claim, tucked away in a Flight 11 timeline:
No source, nothing to say that Indianapolis were notified.
What about the Village Voice story? That contains questions about knowledge of hijackings, like this:
There's nothing to support the claim that Indianapolis would have known, though, and little in the way of definitive, sourced information at all. Hardly surprising as the piece is dated September 13th 2001, and was presumably written the day before - there would have been very little to go on.
What about the NBC programme? That was "America Remembers", a piece created for the first anniversary of 9/11. Here's the relevant part of the transcript:
Again, nothing about Indianapolis being informed. Could there be a reason why other areas might be told of the hijackings, but not them? Yes, as it happens, and this information has been available in the Staff Monograph on the Four Flights and Civil Aviation Security all along:
This could have Boston "notifying other regional centers" of the hijacking soon after 8:30, close enough to Dr Griffin's 8:25-8:30 timeline to make it plausible that we're talking about the same event. There's no evidence Indianapolis was one of those centres, though, not in any of Dr Griffin's sources, and we have a plausible reason why that's so: Boston only notified adjoining regions, and Indianapolis wasn't one of them.
With regard to the last point, Dr Griffin appears to suggest the Commission somehow invented the idea that the controller assumed the plane had crashed. This is of course false, as we can see from the FAA Chronology. They were saying this had happened only days after 9/11. Why would the controller have made this assumption if he knew of hijackings?
Dr Griffin is also relying heavily on assumptions here, not only that all this information was sent out as he described, but that every single controller somehow then knew all about it. And that's not necessarily the case, as this January 2004 article opinion piece points out:
Here we have air traffic controllers only miles from the scene who appear unaware that the World Trade Centre has been hit by a hijacked plane, more than 15 minutes after it happened. There's no indication of reports flying around the ATC world here.
We asked Colin Scoggins about this, the military liasion at Boston who has many years of air traffic control experience.
An air traffic controller who was there on the day finds nothing surprising about the idea that the Indianapolis controller was unaware of the other hijackings, then.
Oddly, in Dr Griffin's Debunking 9/11 Debunking he would debunk his own claim by quoting Pamela Freni's "Ground Stop", which said: "At 9:07 AM a message was sent from the Air Traffic Control System Command Center in northern Virginia to every air traffic facility in the nation, announcing the first hijacking." The Indianapolis Centre manager didn't make any concerns about flight 77 known until 9:20, so there may be an argument that he was slow to respond, but that's not necessarily true. It could take time for the contents of this message to reach the manager, for instance (especially if he's busy on the phone or engaged with his staff regarding the suspected crash). And even on hearing the report, he may not initially link this to Flight 77. What seems clear to us now wasn't quite so obvious back then. For example, Pamela Freni reported in Ground Stop that FAA headquarters, on hearing of the hijacking, and then the plane hitting the World Trade Centre, didn't immediately think the two incidents were linked (Ground Stop, page 63. It took time for the reality to hit home.
That's all speculation, of course, but in any event, even Dr Griffin's own quote places no formal notification of the hijackings until more than 10 minutes after Flight 77 had disappeared from radar. He has failed to provide any substantive evidence to contradict the FAA chronology or 9/11 Commission account, showing that Indianapolis considered the plane had crashed before later thinking it may have been hijacked.
Widespread hijacking knowledge
Dr Griffin does his best to make this information seem significant, by pretending that the 9/11 Commission somehow suppressed it. The reality is a little different. Take a look at the Commission Staff Report covering the chronology of the planes and you'll see the following entry for flight 77:
Ted Olson could have completed a phone call with his wife by around 9:17 AM. He knew the flight number. We have a specific report that he's called the Department of Justice, who would presumably have reported this immediately to the FBI. It's also conceivable that someone else could have called them - someone in Olson's or the Attorney General's office, say. If Olson "called collect", then maybe she also asked the operator to do it. The times are a little tight - if the information came from Olson then we must assume his wife called earlier, rather than later - but the 9/11 Commission has provided a mechanism here that might explain how the FBI would know about the hijacking before NORAD.
What is the significance of this information, though? Dr Griffin doesn't explain. Presumably he's attempting to imply that if the FBI knew at 9:20 or so, then it's inconceivable that NORAD wouldn't receive the same information for another ten minutes or more. But if that is what he's saying, then we disagree. The FBI surely aren't going to take it on themselves to inform NORAD (how can they, with no positional information, tail number or anything else?) Instead the information will be forwarded to someone who can deal with the case. They will then contact the FAA to try and verify the hijack story, see what's known about the situation already. This all takes time, and it's not in the slightest bit surprising that FBI knowledge of the hijacking wouldn't reach the military in just a few minutes.
The Secret Service
Next, Dr Griffin tells us that the Secret Service also had useful knowledge regarding Flight 77:
The Secret Service did indeed receive real-time information about the approaching Flight 77. The 9/11 Commission told us about it here:
The plane was being tracked in its final minutes. There's nothing in Riggs' statement to contradict that, and in fact if you read the part of the paragraph Dr Griffin left out then this becomes obvious:
There's confirmation by Richard Clarke that this information only arrived very late. Here's what immediately followed Dr Griffin's quote:
Clarke links the warning to the evacuation of the White House, but this didn't occur until after the Pentagon was hit.
As for the Secret Service knowing everything the FAA knew, let's keep in mind that the FAA didn't know for sure that Flight 77 was hijacked, and they had no idea it was "heading back towards Washington". The flight was simply "missing". Dr Griffin appears to believe that, based on this information, the Secret Service should have informed NORAD directly. But why would the Secret Service have bypassed the FAA and taken this task on for themselves? They wouldn't necessarily know the tail number, transponder code, last position, number of passengers on board, destination or anything else (unless they'd overheard it and happened to note all this down). We're not at all surprised that the Secret Service didn't call NORAD: they had nothing to tell them, and it wasn't their responsibility. The Secret Service would be monitoring the teleconference in order to take action if a concrete threat emerged, not to try and second-guess the FAA.
Dr Griffin concludes by explaining that military liaisons also knew about Flight 77. He quotes Ben Sliney:
Monte Belger, FAA's acting deputy administrator on 9/11:
Dr Griffin points to confirmation by Pamela Freni, who in her book Ground Stop referred to "the onsite Department of Defense (DoD) liaison to the FAA", and concludes:
What, exactly, is Dr Griffin's point here? He doesn't appear to be explicitly saying that if these liaisons were present, then information should have filtered from them back to NORAD. And that's just as well, as to prove this we'd have to know who they were, where they were, when they began work, what information they received, and what they did with it. And no answers to those questions have been provided here.
Dr Griffin also omits some interesting parts of Ben Sliney's testimony, where he reveals that there were no FAA procedures in place for the Command Center to request fighter assistance from NORAD:
If Sliney made the assumption that NORAD had already been informed, and everyone believed that the NMCC was monitoring the hijack conference call from 9:20, and there were no procedures for the FAA Command Centre to ask for military assistance anyway, then we see no reason to believe that FAA-based military liaisons would have contacted NORAD directly.
Of course it's also possible that Dr Griffin is simply playing a semantic game: the 9/11 Commission in a section titled "military awareness" say NORAD didn't know about Flight 77 until after 9:30, and so Dr Griffin is pointing to the fact that some individual military employees may have known about the missing flight (and concerns that it may have been hijacked) before then. Very good. He's not proved that, though, or shown if true that it has any significance or would have changed anything, or even speculated on what its significance might be. This is perhaps the most substance-free argument so far.
See also Military liaisons.
NORAD not informed
Ahmed assumes information should normally be passed on far more quickly than happened here, but that's not borne out elsewhere.
In the famous Payne Stewart case, for instance, controllers found Stewart's jet offered no response to a radio request at 9:33:38. The controller continued trying to contact the plane for a further four and a half minutes. Even though in this case NORAD had a clear part to play, as the plane was still visible on primary radar, they still weren't notified until 9:55, some 21 minutes after the problem had been noticed, perhaps 17 minutes after it was confirmed.
Ahmed's description of controllers as "waiting" before informing the FAA might also lead you to believe they were inactive for a long time, but that simply wasn't true, and indeed the Commission told us that Indianapolis didn't begin acting on their suspicions that the plane had crashed until "shortly after 9:00". So it's reasonable to assume that, just as in the Payne Stewart case, he spent four or five minutes trying to regain contact with the plane.
The controller would then need to escalate the situation to his supervisor, and explain the problem. The Commission describe them continuing to look for the plane.
The report then told us that "At 9:08, Indianapolis Center asked Air Force Search and Rescue at Langley Air Force Base to look for a downed aircraft", as well as contacting the West Virginia State Police and asking for reports of a downed aircraft, passing this information on to the FAA regional centre a minute later. All this has happened within 13 minutes of the problem being identified, perhaps 9 minutes of it being confirmed: not such a bad record. (It did take 15 minutes for the regional centre to pass this on to FAA HQ, but we'd need something more than Ahmed's rhetoric to justify describing that as "inexplicable".)
NORAD weren't contacted, that's true, but as we've seen (and Ahmed forgot to point out) Indianapolis Centre did get in touch with the military, they just happened to choose more appropriate people to help out with the crash they believed might have occurred. What more would NORAD do in a potential rescue situation, without even having a position for the plane?
Colin Scoggins, military liaison at Boston on 9/11 and an experienced air traffic controller confirmed that calling NORAD is not always the first action he would take in an emergency:
We see no reason to be surprised that NORAD weren't contacted, then. There's no reason to believe that Indianapolis were aware of the other hijackings, and getting in touch with Air Force Search and Rescue made more sense if you wanted to locate a downed aircraft.
Tracked or not tracked
Ahmed points to what he seems to believe is a contradiction in the 9/11 Commission's account.
His first issue is addressed in a 9/11 Commission Report footnote that we reproduced above:
The Commission were not saying that all the FAA radar systems were unable to fully track Flight 77, just the preferred and supplemental radars. Flight 77 could still have been tracked on the “tertiary” and “quadrary” radars, and so accessible for later analysis by the Commission, but these wouldn't have been visible to air traffic controllers at the time.
This isn't some invention of the Commission, either. We've also seen broad confirmation of the report from an early FAA document.
Ahmed's second issue is correct, this would have been endemic at the time: and this means what, exactly? It's a fact that there are areas in the US that don't have radar coverage, as Ralph Yost of the FAA describes:
Radar isn't perfect, then, but for aircraft with their transponders on, and maintaining an expected course, this need not be a significant issue. Of course on 9/11 both these conditions changed.
If this is truly an issue, then we'd suggest Ahmed or some other 9/11 researcher get in touch with air traffic controllers who can explain why the system didn't work the way the 9/11 Commission describe. There must be thousands of people who would know about this, and testimony from a few of them would be valuable. Otherwise all we have here is Ahmed's personal incredulity, and that's evidence of precisely nothing at all.
Phantom Flight 11
Ahmed claims the "phantom flight 11" was tracked on radar, that this was actually Flight 77, and the FAA must have realised this at the time as they already knew Flight 11 had crashed. It sounds convincing, until you spot the flawed assumption: there's no evidence whatsoever that the "phantom flight 11" ever appeared on radar.
Here's the original call reporting that flight 11 is still in the area, for instance:- NORAD - Flight 11 still in the air, 9:21
Scoggins doesn't have a position on the plane.
As the 9/11 Commission Report reported, the Mission Crew Commander had the same problem:
"If I can find him" - they didn't have a position.
There's further confirmation in the Vanity Fair article, "The NORAD Tapes", that broke a lot of new information on NORAD's 9/11 response:
"They were never tracking an actual plane on the radar after losing American 11 near Manhattan, but if it had been flying low enough, the plane could have gone undetected".
This all seems clear enough, but these are important details and so we located Colin Scoggins, the man who made the call about the "phantom Flight 11" and asked him about it.
Scoggins tells us that the "phantom Flight 11" was not tracked by radar, then. It was not the same as the missing Flight 77, and it does not show that the FAA were monitoring the approach of Flight 77.
Scoggins also explains that the FAA did not know for sure that Flight 11 was the first plane to hit the World Trade Centre as American Airlines hadn't yet confirmed this. There was no contradiction in a report that it was still in the air, and so neither of Ahmed's points stand up to scrutiny.
Col Alan Scott
Ahmed's final significant argument comes in the testimony of Col Alan Scott.
It's no secret that this testimony contained many errors, though. Some issues are apparent to even the most casual observer (our emphasis):
Here Scott says that Flight 77 reappeared on radar screens at 9:09, much earlier than the Commission claimed, when it would have been over West Virginia. But he then explains they tried to figure out who is was by asking a "C-130 that is westbound toward Ohio", and if Scott is referring to Steve O'Brien's plane then that wouldn't happen for almost another 25 minutes. Are we really to believe that air traffic controllers asked "a lot of people" but couldn't get anyone to identify the plane for all that time? Or was the plane really not spotted until after 9:30, just as the Commission said, and the C-130 was asked to check out the plane just as soon as it appeared?
That is, the 9:24 entry reflected the call NORAD received telling them Flight 11 was still in the air. The Commission Report provided more details here:
Those investigations later reported that there was no intent to mislead, although two officials were culpable for allowing errors to remain on the record:
It's possible to argue that this is all a coverup, of course, however just saying that doesn't make it so. We need to look at the other arguments regarding the Commission's account of Flight 77 to discover whether there's any supporting evidence for Scott's timeline.
"A number of reports based on FAA and NORAD sources provide a different picture to that being constructed by the Commission", Ahmed explains. But what will this prove?
If you search every report of an incident, especially one as widely covered as 9/11, then of course you'll find differences. For example, the Flight 93 crash time has varied considerably in media reports:
|9:58||Pittsburgh Post-Gazette||16th September 2001 (Source)|
|10:00||Canadian News Presswire||11th September 2001 (Lexis Nexis)|
|10:01||Gannett News Service||11th September 2001 (Lexis Nexis)|
|10:03||Los Angeles Times||11th September 2001 (Source)]|
|10:03||CNN||11th September 2002 (Source)]|
|10:06||CNN||11th September 2002 (Source)|
|10:10||CNN||12th September 2001 (Source)|
|10:20||WTAE.TV||11th September/ October 2001 (Source)|
|10:37||Toronto Sun||12th September 2001 (Lexis Nexis)|
|10:40||Seattle Times/ Daily News, New York||13th September 2001 (Lexis Nexis)|
|10:40||The Herald-Sun (Durham, NC)||12th September 2001 (Lexis Nexis)|
|10:40||Abilene Reporter-News||12th September 2001 (Source)|
This isn't actually evidence of anything, though, other than the fact that reporters were relying on hints and off-the-record briefings, perhaps from people who didn't have the whole picture.
But let's suppose they got a briefing straight from a high-up NORAD and FAA official. Again, so what? It's already been alleged that their timetables were incorrect. Reproducing media reports sourced from NORAD is another way to duplicate the Col. Alan Scott timeline, and isn't any kind of independent verification.
Anyway, Ahmed offers the following examples.
Ahmed references the Cooperative Research web site for this claim. However, as we write its current Flight 77 timeline contains nothing to support the story.
Next we get this:
Ahmed has omitted some qualifications in the original story, though.
The article did not say "controllers knew"; it claims "controllers would have known". It's an inference. The author specifically says this isn't an official FAA timetable, so it's an inference made by some unknown contact of his. And we can get a feel for the accuracy involved here in the claim that Flight 77 "stayed aloft until 9:45", when actually it crashed at 9:37:46. This isn't a great surprise: the story appeared on September 15th 2001, presumably being written the day before, so it's relatively early and inaccuracies are to be expected. And as such it can't be relied upon to contradict the 9/11 Commission.
Next up is a Newsday report. Here's part #1:
This isn't the most convincing of arguments. The 9/11 Commission already say that Flight 77 made an unauthorized turn to the south at 8:54. The flight path information shows this was a wide turn, though, and the plane wasn't on its new heading until around 8:59, so there's nothing here to show that "the FAA would have been fully aware that the flight had turned toward Washington, DC, before its transponder was turned off".
Part #2 is supplemented with another report from the Washington Post.
This isn't FAA information, though - their early chronologies don't mention it at all. It's far more likely that the claim of rediscovering Flight 77 came from a NORAD source. Indeed, Col. Alan Scott confirmed it in a Commission hearing:
If this story did come from NORAD then plainly it's not independent confirmation of their timeline, and is rather just repetition of it.
Nevertheless, Ahmed reads big things into these stories.
As we've seen, there's nothing here to say that the controller did not see Flight 77 turn to "the southwest". Ahmed appears to be making something of that fact that the Washington Post said it turned east instead, but there's no contradiction here. The plane simply started a 180 degree turn by heading south west, and kept going until it was heading east.
Further, there's nothing here to justify the statement that "between 9:05 and 9:10 AM the FAA had undoubtedly recommenced tracking the flight as it headed east towards Washington". Ahmed is simply choosing to believe this particular unsourced detail because it's convenient for him to do so. And he can believe what he likes, but let's not pretend it's definitive proof of anything.
Finally, as we've seen, the NORAD tapes already show us that NEADS and the Washington ARTCC Operations Manager, at least, did not have a position for Flight 77 even shortly after 9:30. If the flight was being tracked, a point Ahmed has failed to prove, then they knew nothing about it.
The Laura Brown memo
There are multiple problems with Ahmed's argument.
First, Brown tells us (our emphasis) "NORAD logs indicate that the FAA made formal notification about American Flight 77 at 9:24 a.m., but information about the flight was conveyed continuously during the phone bridges before the formal notification." The only definitive time here comes, once again, from NORAD's timeline. It's repeating the testimony of Col. Alan Scott, not confirming it. It could be argued that saying "information about the flight was conveyed continuously during the phone bridges before the formal notification" is the confirmation, but the fact that Brown needs to use NORAD logs at all tells us she doesn't have a complete timeline of events.
Second, and by way of confirmation, Brown later confirmed to Kyle Hence that she did not have access to all the necessary data:
(I've snipped that to the relevant information for this point, but there's more to read, please check out the whole thing.)
Third, as we've seen, Ahmed's timeline is contradicted by NORAD and FAA documentation. NORAD tapes show that NORAD was unaware of Flight 77 until after 9:30, and the Washington ARTCC manager didn't know its position. And the early FAA Chronology gives an approximate time of 9:25 to 9:30 for when controllers spotted the "primary radar target tracking eastbound" that was Flight 77.
Fourth, Ahmed is deriving precise times from a memo that contains none at all. How can anyone take the paragraph beginning "within minutes after the first aircraft hit the World Trade Center, the FAA immediately established several phone bridges..." and claim this means NORAD knew of the hijacking by "approximately 8:51 AM"? The information simply isn't there to support that. (Especially as no-one at the FAA says they knew it was hijacked at that time.)
It's unnecessary, too, as the FAA have provided more precise details.
An early document covered in handwritten notes talks of the "Washington Primary conference bridge" being established at 9:05, and four internal conferences being set up at 9:08.
The more comprehensive 17th September 2001 Executive Summary gives us the following:
The 9/11 Commission said the FAA hijack conference call didn't start until 9:20. They didn't invent this information, though: FAA deputy administrator Monte Belger told them as much at a Commission hearing:
So even though Belger thought the military were sharing information through the conference call, this wasn't the case, a fact that has been viewed as suspicious in itself. (It's a win/win situation for the truth movement: whether the military received information early, or late, apparently both options are evidence of an "inside job".)
Fifth, the claim that "the US Air Force liaison to the FAA immediately joined the FAA headquarters phone bridge and established contact with NORAD on a separate line" has also been reported as inaccurate by the Office of the Inspector General report into the FAAs timeline inaccuracies.
Ahmed said of the memo:
However, there's no evidence that the FAA knew of the hijacking at that time. FAA records do not say they picked up Flight 77 at 9:09, and later claims that the FAA notified NORAD of Flight 77 at 9:24 have been shown to be inaccurate. The NORAD tapes complete the picture by revealing that NEADS didn't know of Flight 77 until they were told, after 9:30, just as the 9/11 Commission reported.
In "Debunking 9/11 Debunking" Dr Griffin tells us that Laura Brown's view - that the "FAA initiated teleconference" began around 8:50 - was "independently supported by another high FAA official". Interesting. But not so much that Dr Griffin feels the need to explain immediately, as the details are hidden away in the footnotes:
Of course, as we've already seen, the FAA reported establishing multiple teleconferences on 9/11; the Washington Primary conference bridge at 9:05; four internal conferences at 9:08; the major hijacking teleconference at 9:26, later revised to 9:20 by the 9/11 Commission. There's no specific time given in Freni's account, and no reason why he couldn't have joined one of the earlier, pre-9:20 teleconferences. Certainly this account does not support a start time of around 8:50. Once again, a bold statement by Dr Griffin turns out to have no substance whatsover.
Some researchers argue that Norman Mineta's testimony is strong evidence that Flight 77 was being tracked prior to 9:30. However, we believe there's considerably more evidence that Mineta's timeline is incorrect, and the events he described cannot possibly relate to Flight 77. Read more here.
Dr Griffin and others say Flight 77 went off course earlier than claimed, at 8:46 AM, and this should have raised the alarm amongst controllers. However, look more closely and you'll find the claim doesn't stand up. Find out more here.
Ahmed amd Griffin provides us with eight sets of arguments to justify their criticisms of the 9/11 Commission's Flight 77 timeline. If you read nothing more than they seem a powerful combination, however inspect them more closely and the case isn't nearly so clear.
Dr Griffin tells us that the Indianapolis controller must have known of the hijackings at the time flight 77 went missing, for instance. He specifically states that "Boston flight controllers... had at 8:25... notified other regional centers - one of which was Indianapolis - of the hijacking of flight 11". But his sources fail to back this up. Dr Griffin is incorrect.
Dr Griffin explains that the FBI knew of the Flight 77 hijacking by around 9:20. But the Commission Report already has Ted Olson receiving a report on the hijacking potentially as early as 9:16, so there's nothing new here. We're told that the Secret Service knew Flight 77 was approaching Washington, but again there's nothing in his arguments to contradict the Commission Report. His arguments about military liaisons at the FAA tell us nothing at all, and at no point does Dr Griffin explain why FBI, Secret Service or military liaison knowledge of Flight 77 should mean NORAD hearing the same information almost immediately.
In his book, Nafeez Ahmed argued that the 9/11 Commission account is "incoherent" as it said Flight 77 was lost because there was poor primary radar in the area, but also says it was tracked on radar. But the Commission told us that the problem wasn't solely with tracking, but also display: the software used couldn't display primary radar from all the sources available, but because there were those other sources the Commission were able to track the flight later. No contradiction, no incoherence: this argument doesn't stand up.
Ahmed claims another contradiction in the report of a "phantom Flight 11", saying this was actually Flight 77, proving the FAA were tracking it as it approached Washington. But there's nothing to show this was Flight 77, or that it was tracked on radar, and evidence from the man who made the call that it was neither. This argument also fails.
Ahmed tells us NORAD should have been contacted earlier. But NORAD are not always called in the first few minutes of an emergency, and controllers did contact the section of the military they thought was more appropriate for a downed aircraft: search and rescue. More evidence is required to make this stand up.
The NORAD testimony does contradict the 9/11 Commission account in several aspects, but that's no secret, it's been widely reported, and NORAD officials have accepted that their timeline was incorrect.
Ahmed presents several media reports that he says contradict the 9/11 Commission. However, some aren't as clear as he'd like to pretend, and others merely repeat the NORAD timeline. If they were sourced from NORAD-related contacts then the reports tell us only what we know already: the NORAD timeline differs from that offered by the 9/11 Commission report.
And finally there's the Laura Brown memo discussing, amongst other things, when teleconferences began. This doesn't offer specific times, though. An early FAA chronology that offers times doesn't contradict the 9/11 Commission on the teleconference issue, and an Office of the Inspector General investigation has shown the memo to be incorrect on when NORAD became involved with the FAA phone bridge.
Not a single one of Ahmed and Griffin's arguments entirely withstands scrutiny, then. The most substantial point comes in the differing NORAD timeline, but the problems here are well-known, and Ahmed fails to provide independent confirmation to show that their version of events was correct. What's more, the NORAD tapes (released in full after Ahmed completed his book) contradict their timeline, for example clearly showing that they knew nothing of Flight 77 until after 9:30 on 9/11. And so while Ahmed and Griffin claim victory, the reality is very different: the balance of evidence continues to support the 9/11 Commission timeline for Flight 77.