The Laura Brown memo

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The 9/11 Commission report tells us that NORAD weren't given sufficient notice of the hijackings to allow for an intercept. There are many 9/11 researchers who argue this simply isn't true, though, and they often cite the Laura Brown memo as important evidence. Here's Richard Ben-Veniste reading it into the record during a Commission hearing (displayed here in bold):

If these "phone bridges" were "immediately established" "within minutes after the first aircraft hit the World Trade Center", the argument goes, then NORAD would have known about Flight 175, 77 and 93 as soon as the FAA did. And this can make a huge difference. In the case of Flight 93, for instance, the 9/11 Commission report says the FAA HQ were advised that it was hijacked at 9:34, and NORAD didn't hear about it until 10:07. How can this be, they ask, if the FAA were "sharing real-time information... about the unfolding events" "within minutes" of 8:45?

A fair question. Let's consider some possible explanations.

Short on details

Considering this document is used to support some very precise times, it's oddly short on details.

The process started "within minutes" of the first impact - how many minutes?

After this unknown period, the phone bridges were "immediately" established - this wasn't an instant process, presumably. It takes time to find people, get them all together and talking. How long? We're not told here.

Fortunately we don't have to speculate, as earlier FAA records and witness testimony provide the actual times.

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:

Belger didn't think the NMCC had joined the conference until 9:20, and later realised that they still hadn't done so. When we look at the more specific and detailed FAA records and testimony, then, they don't support this idea of communication with the military following immediately after 8:45.

Instantaneous knowledge

Some researchers assume the Laura Brown memo allowed information to instantly be shared amongst all interested parties. For example, in Debunking 9/11 Debunking David Ray Griffin writes: "the memo implies that, even if no-one from Boston or New York had called the military, both NORAD and the NMCC would have known about UA 175's troubles shortly after 8:47 (given the evidence that the FAA knew about these troubles by 8:40)".

Putting aside the last part of that statement (Flight 175 wasn't hijacked until some time between 8:42 and 8:46), Dr Griffin claims that the phone bridges would have immediately communicated the situation with Flight 175 to NORAD. But why? The initial suspicions with Flight 175 were raised by the air traffic controller handling the flight, who mentioned them to a colleague at 8:53. The controller in charge raised them to her manager to 8:55, who then tried (but failed) to pass them on to regional managers (read more on NORAD and Flight 175).

Some FAA employees in New York suspected a hijacking, then, but that doesn't mean the same knowledge immediately reached those involved in any phone bridges, let alone that they then communicated it to NORAD. If you find anyone claiming otherwise then check carefully to make sure they show how (and how quickly) this awareness spread through the system, because it's not the instant process that Dr Griffin would have us believe.

OIG Investigation

The memo tells us 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". At what time did this occur? The Office of the Inspector General carried out an investigation into FAA timeline inaccuracies, and told us:

The link to NORAD wasn't established until some time after 9:37, then, undermining the whole basis for assuming that NORAD would be immediately informed of the hijacks.

Bill Peacock

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.


The Laura Brown memo is short on details. It's been used to support the idea of a widespread 8:50-ish teleconference including the NMCC and NORAD, but is contradicted by more specific FAA documents, and the testimony of Monty Belger, and the NORAD tapes, which reveal no early knowledge of the hijackings.

Worse still, Brown herself has effectively disowned it:

So Brown accepts that records available to the 9/11 Commission "helped clarify what they did and when", and their account supercedes her own. (And the idea that they begin building "phone bridges" quickly doesn't contradict anyone. As we've seen, the first bridges were internal, while the 9:20 time - which came from the FAA's Monte Belger - referred to the later main hijack net.) As there's very little that supports the idea of memo's early teleconference, and substantial evidence against it, we suspect the real explanation is that the FAA's main hijack net didn't begin until 9:20, just as they and the 9/11 Commission described.