Transcript: 9/11 Commission Hearings for June 17, 2004
And my question for you is why that gap? And whose decision would that have been?
EBERHART: SCATANA is a procedure that, as you say, allows us to take control of the air space. It's a procedure that was designed, again, to counter the Soviet Union and their long-range bombers. It's a procedure that if I had tried, and as the people approached me with, "Declare SCATANA," the problem was that we could not control the air space that day with the radars we had and all the aircraft that were airborne, 4,000 to 5,000 airplanes airborne.
So if I suddenly, "We've got it, we will control the air space," we would have had worse problems than we had that morning, because I cannot provide traffic deconfliction like the FAA has.
What mine is designed to do is we see a bomber coming from a long range, we tell everybody to get the aircraft down safely, then nothing flies and we control the air space. We are prepared to do that. But we're not prepared suddenly to take control of the air space and say, "We have it," because now we're talking -- in terms of safety and security of air travel, we're talking about a bad situation getting worse.
The other thing -- and I have the authority to do that. But I have the authority to do it against an external threat.
The second thing that's very important to note, there are procedures in SCATANA that are designed -- designed -- to counter long-range bombers.
EBERHART: For example, we're supposed to turn off all the navigational aids. That morning, the last thing we wanted to do was turn off all the navigational aids. You turn them off so that the enemy bombers can't use them. But we don't want to turn them off so that the airplanes can't land safely. We don't want to turn them off so that law enforcement and Flight For Life can't fly.
So what we did -- and you said we executed it, but I think it's very important that we note that when we executed it, we executed a modified SCATANA and that's what I told them is, "I will execute SCATANA once you have a modified SCATANA that clearly delineates the lines in the road and doesn't cause a bad situation from getting worse."
So our SCATANA said, "Leave the nav aids on." Our SCATANA said, "FAA, you still control the traffic that's flying." Our SCATANA said, "Law enforcement and Flight For Life can continue to fly." We don't want to ground them during this terrible tragedy. And then procedures for getting waivers to fly.
So we had to take that procedure and modify it to this horrific act that occurred on 9/11.
GORELICK: So another needed improvisation on your part, because this was a scenario that we had not planned for?
EBERHART: I don't say that to pat myself or ourselves on the back, but that's what we did.
GORELICK: Thank you.
KEAN: Commissioner Lehman?
LEHMAN: Thank you.
In this era of jointness, I think it's very unfair that the only sailor on the panel hasn't taken his fair share of hits.
Captain Leidig, you were the administrator of the NMCC, the National Military Command Center, at the time. It's still confusing to me from the records of our staff at the tactical level who really was in charge, whether it was NORAD or whether FAA saw it as the NMCC, whatever the NMCC is as an entity.
First, would you explain what you viewed the role of the NMCC to be that morning at that time?
LEIDIG: Yes, sir.
In the National Military Command Center, I was the deputy director for operations, so I was the senior watch officer in the National Military Command Center.
Initially, when the first plane was reported on the news to have crashed in the first Trade Center tower, the National Military Command Center was primarily a means to notify senior leadership that, in fact, an event had occurred.
After the second aircraft impacted the second tower, the command center then became a focal point for coordinating information flow. And at that point, I convened what -- by the procedures that existed on 9/11, I convened a conference call called a significant event conference.
And what that does is that brings leadership and combatant commanders into the conference to start discussing what actions should be taken or might be taken. And so, at that point I, as the senior watch officer, then control the conference that gets all these folks on the phone.
FAA was -- tried to be included in that conference and we had difficulty throughout the morning getting them in the conference and that hampered information flow to some degree.
LEHMAN: So why didn't somebody just pick up their cell phone and call them?
LEIDIG: Yes, sir, we did open a separate line to them, but the conference is a -- on a special phone circuit and is classified to be able to pass information and relay information between very senior leadership, all the way over to the White House.
LEIDIG: And in some cases the president could be included.
LEHMAN: How long was FAA out of connectivity to this conferencing?
LEIDIG: Sir, I couldn't tell you. I don't know how long. I know that they were intermittently in. Most of the time they were not in the conference.
LEHMAN: They were not in. And do you think that interfered with NORAD learning about 93, which was a pretty critical failure of the...
LEIDIG: I can't speak to that specifically, sir, but I can say that it did hamper information flow because were getting information in a more roundabout way from FAA. Sometimes it would come from a local commander to NORAD, back to us, or sometimes it would come on an open line. We were trying to maintain just an open telephone line to the operations center at FAA.
LEHMAN: Wouldn't it have been better to have FAA -- communicating directly with FAA and with NMCC monitoring if they could, but not being the focal point?
LEIDIG: I'm not sure I understand your question. Could you say it one more time again, sir.
LEHMAN: Well, if the commander of NORAD had picked up the phone and set up a line, secure or insecure, with the head of FAA, or whoever had the OPCON at FAA, it seems to me things would have worked a lot better than had everybody had to hook into this teleconference.
Was it a teleconference or a voice conference?
LEIDIG: It's a voice conference, sir.
LEHMAN: Voice conference.
LEIDIG: Yes, sir.
I don't know if I can speak for NORAD, but I can say that the conference as set up includes a combatant commander and other entities, and so they're all on a conference. Whether it's controlled elsewhere or not, I don't know if it would have helped the information flow.
But if FAA had been in the same conference that was being directed by the National Military Command Center, the information flow would have went directly to NORAD, because they're in that conference.
LEHMAN: Do you think the insistence on having a secure line, as opposed to an open line, which is what FAA's excuse is, was the main problem? And if so, why was it necessary?
LEIDIG: I know some changes have been made in the command center. I apologize, I've been gone from the joint staff for over a year now, and I'm not familiar with the upgrades.
I understand on that day that there were some compatibility issues between their secure phone and ours in the command center that caused them to drop out of the conference, but I'm not of the technical aspects of it.
LEHMAN: General Eberhart, did you find the set-up that was quickly put together going through the NMCC a help or a hindrance, in retrospect?
EBERHART: Sir, in retrospect, I think it was a help, because you have to have all these different players with all these different interests and responsibilities and authorities up on the conference.
At the same time, because of just what you've said, today we have all sorts of alternative paths to the FAA at the tactical and the operational and strategic levels. I don't think, had FAA been up at that time, that we would have gotten have any different information because I don't think that the sectors, the FAA regions had up- channeled to the headquarters, and that's who we're talking to when we talk to.
And remember, on flight 93, they didn't know where 93 was. And so, when you see the line on the chart that reflies 93, we postulate that based on the last radar contact and where it crashed, sadly.
So they didn't have the radar track, so therefore they couldn't tell us where it was.
LEHMAN: Captain, were you satisfied with the connectivity you had with the White House, with the vice president and through him to the president, or directly, say, to Air Force One?
LEIDIG: We were connected to the White House and I was satisfied with the communications to the White House.
LEHMAN: Do you have any personal lessons learned? You're no longer there, but you certainly went through one of the most frantic crisis as to those arrangements.
LEIDIG: Sir, the most significant lesson, and I think you've, kind of, zeroed in on it, was the communications capabilities and the ability to bring leadership at the important organizations together to make a decision in a timely manner.
LEIDIG: We were hampered that day by communications. And any improvements in that area would be significant.
LEHMAN: Yes, I think also we all know that there are always communications glitches. And there have got to be work-arounds. I mean the fact was that FAA headquarters did know about 93 very early on; from 9:34 on. And if somebody had just picked up the phone to keep the connectivity open, it could have made a difference.
KEAN: Commissioner Roemer?
ROEMER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Captain, just a brief follow-up to Commissioner Lehman's last question. He asked you: Were you satisfied with your connectivity to the White House and Air Force One? You said you were satisfied with the White House. Were you satisfied with Air Force One?
And I think it's been conveyed to you that in our interview with the president, the president said he was very frustrated and troubled with connections and connectivity that day.
LEIDIG: Sir, I can't speak to the connectivity with Air Force One. I was connected to the White House. And my understanding is Air Force One was in contact with the White House situation room. I was not in contact with Air Force One.
ROEMER: So you have no knowledge of that?
LEIDIG: No, sir.
(UNKNOWN): Is there no NMCC protocol to connect directly with Air Force One?
LEIDIG: Yes, sir, there is a capability to do that. On that day, we were connected with the White House.
ROEMER: Why weren't you using that other capability?
LEIDIG: I don't recall, sir.
ROEMER: General Eberhart, a question about our training posture on the day of 9/11. On page 5 of our staff statement, the FAA says at 8:38 in the morning, "High Boston Center TMU, we have a problem here. We have a hijacked aircraft headed toward New York and we need someone to scramble some F-16s or something up there. Help us out." NIAD (ph) says, "Is this real world or an exercise?"
My question is, you were postured for an exercise against the former Soviet Union. Did that help or hurt? Did that help in terms of were more people prepared? Did you have more people ready? Were more fighters fueled with more fuel? Or did this hurt in terms of people thinking, "No, there's no possibility that this is real world; we're engaged in an exercise," and delay things? Shouldn't it have both impacts?
EBERHART: Sir, my belief is that it helped because of the manning, because of the focus, because the crews -- they have to be airborne in 15 minutes and that morning, because of the exercise, they were airborne in six or eight minutes. And so I believe that focus helped.
The situation that you're referring to, it most cost us 30 seconds, 30 seconds for...
ROEMER: That's what we have recorded.
ROEMER: I just wondered if there was more of that down the line.
EBERHART: No, it became painfully clear, Commissioner, that this was not an exercise.
ROEMER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
KEAN: Our last questioner for this panel will be Commissioner Ben-Veniste.
BEN-VENISTE: Yes, I'd like to, first, relay information again from our staff report, so that there is clarity in the record.
It is our information that FAA tracked flight 93 from the moment it was hijacked. The problem was that it did not communicate the hijack information to NORAD, so that NORAD was in a position with unarmed planes over Washington in the CAP at some point.
ARNOLD: Armed, armed.
BEN-VENISTE: First unarmed.
ARNOLD: First armed. First armed.
BEN-VENISTE: And then the Andrews planes were unarmed. OK.
ARNOLD: Thirty minutes later.
BEN-VENISTE: So the point is that whether or not -- well, because the shoot-down order had not been communicated, whether or not those planes could have been -- that plane could have been intercepted and shot down was a matter of speculation within our staff report.
So with agreement on that...
(UNKNOWN): Sir, I believe there is a time there where FAA lost radar contact with this airplane. And that's when I believe I remember, so we'll have to check the record...
BEN-VENISTE: The information we have is they lost it briefly around Pittsburgh and they picked it back up again.
So let me move to another question...
ARNOLD: This one question has come up repeatedly, and I think it needs to be put in proper perspective. I'm not trying to defend Colonel Marr, but I think you need to understand that these aircraft that were airborne over Washington, D.C., at that particular time were not, as we call it, paired. They were not directed at an aircraft at that particular time.
And the way we train -- with peacetime rules of engagement -- the way we train is we pass along the authorities when they are required. So we have a requirement to go out an intercept that airplane, not to shoot that airplane down, but to try to divert that aircraft away from Washington, D.C. And then with the authorities that we had or would have had from the president at that particular time, when the time was pertinent, we would have said, "You're cleared to fire."
And that is the way we train. That's what the pilots would have expected. And so I don't find anything wrong with what Colonel Marr did. In fact, I think what General Eberhart stated was he was more concerned about shooting down an airplane that -- we had a lot of airplanes flying at that particular time.
BEN-VENISTE: I would not, in any way, shape, or form, seek to minimize the concern about shooting down an unarmed plane that posed no threat to the capital of the United States. My only point there was to clarify the record with respect to the time at which FAA had the plane, knowing it was hijacked.
The issue, which we have repeatedly come back to, is the disconnect between the fact that this plane was hijacked, that FAA knew it, but did not communicate that information to NORAD.
That problem was exacerbated by the fact that in our prior hearings and through prior public statements, there was a suggestion that NORAD was in a position in a knowing way with respect to both flights 77 and 93.
Now, I want to turn to one other area where there has been some misconception.
BEN-VENISTE: And perhaps I can start with Admiral Leidig.
In this regard, you were a participant on the air threat conference call?
LEIDIG: Yes, sir.
BEN-VENISTE: And you recall at some point -- we have it at 10:37 -- that the vice president of the United States reported on that call that there was an anonymous threat against Air Force One using the then code name Angel; that it was to be the next target. Do you recall that, sir?
LEIDIG: Sir, I think that occurred right after I was relieved on the watch by General Winfield (ph). I -- right after we resolved what was going on with United 93, around that time, General Winfield (ph) took over.
So I'm familiar because I've looked at the transcript, but I wasn't on the conference at that time.
BEN-VENISTE: Now, let me ask General Eberhart and General Arnold whether that information was communicated to you in any real-time basis.
EBERHART (?): No, sir, not to me.
BEN-VENISTE: The information, according to the staff, that that was another phantom report, that there was no anonymous call, there was no use of the code name Angel for Air Force One or a statement that Air Force One was to be next. And yet that mythology was perpetuated for some weeks, if not months, thereafter. And as we know, those things -- it's hard for them to go away.
So to the best of your knowledge here, do you have any information which would suggest that there was a threat received on September 11th against Air Force One?
EBERHART (?): I was not aware of it that day nor this day, Mr. Commissioner.
ARNOLD (?): Nor was I.
BEN-VENISTE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
KEAN: That concludes our questions for this panel. I want to thank you all very much for your service and for taking the time to be with us today.
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