Military liaisons

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The 9/11 Commission explained that NORAD were unable to intercept any flights on 9/11 because the FAA didn't notify them until it was too late. Others have argued that this cannot be true, though, and one of those arguments points to the existence of military liaisons at the FAA. Here David Ray Griffin claims they would have informed NORAD, even if the FAA hadn't done so:

Dr Griffin tells us that "if FAA headquarters heard about UA 93’s approach to Washington at 9:32, as the tapes indicate, then that would be when the military learned about it", but he provides no evidence to support it. He doesn't tell us who they were, where they were, when they became involved in the events of the day or what they were doing. He doesn't demonstrate that they were in a position to hear FAA news as it arrived, or show how it would be their responsibility to inform NORAD immediately.

Fortunately there are documents that can help us fill in the considerable gaps surrounding these military liaisons. Here's what we've learned so far.

ATO Report

Appendix B of the draft report "The Air Traffic Organization's Response to the September 11th Terrorist Attack: ATC System Assessment, Shutdown and Restoration" provides some useful information on the Air Traffic military liaison activities on 9/11. We've quoted the section covering the crucial period when all four planes were in the air, but if you click the source link then you'll find more information on what they did later.

Draft Report - "The Air Traffic Organization's Response to the September 11th Terrorist Attack"

Three of the four Air Traffic military liaisons were out of the building until long after all four hijacked planes had crashed, then. They could have played no part in informing NORAD about Flight 93, or anyone else. And the fourth? She appears to be mentioned in a separate report.

Colonel Sheryl Atkins

The 9/11 Commission asked the DoT Office of the Inspector General to investigate several incorrect statements made by the FAA, regarding the timeline of 9/11. One of those related to the claim that the Air Force Liaison to the FAA had established contact with NORAD "immediately" following the crash of Flight 11. However, they discovered she didn't actually join the phone bridge until after the Pentagon impact at 9:37:

The report doesn't name this person, but they do say it's a female, the Air Force Liaison, and that she's now retired. That's a match for Sheryl Atkins, so we believe she's the most likely candidate. In this case it seems that Atkins began to take part in events at some point after the crash at the Pentagon (9:37), but exactly what she did, and whether she would have taken the responsibility to pass on information to NORAD, has yet to be explained.

Military cell

History Commons suggest there were other military liaisons who could have played a part in the events of 9/11:

Would the military cell have informed NORAD? The full exchange gives more context to Sliney's quote:

Sliney explains that "responsibility [for notifying the military] devolves upon the air route traffic control center in whose jurisdiction that hijack occurs", and that he "was given to understand that all such notifications were made". It's not the responsibility of the military liaisons at FAA HQ to do so, and in fact there was "no process in place where a Command Center would make such a request for a military assistance".

So what were the Air Traffic Services Cell officers doing? FAA Deputy Director (on 9/11) Jeff Griffith provides a hint:

Fortunately Aviation Week provided more details:

From this description the cell officers earliest task appears to have been to set up the various teleconferences. They were assisting with communications in general, and there's nothing here to say the officers would take it upon themselves to monitor FAA information and pass it on to NORAD, especially if they believed (like Sliney) NORAD had already been informed. It wasn't their job, and they had other things to do.


Dr Griffin claimed that the presence of military liaisons meant that "if FAA headquarters heard about UA 93’s approach to Washington at 9:32, as the tapes indicate, then that would be when the military learned about it". But as we've seen, several liaisons weren't "in the loop" at 9:32; others had specific tasks of their own; no-one has yet explained why a liaison would take it upon themselves to do something that the FAA's Ben Sliney assumed had been done already (inform NORAD of the hijacking). Perhaps we're wrong, maybe they did anyway, but it's clear that Dr Griffin is a very long way from proving that. This isn't nearly as simple a story as he suggests.