August 12, 2010
Military personnel responsible for defending
U.S. airspace had false tracks displayed on their radar screens throughout
the entire duration of the 9/11 attacks, as part of the simulation for a
training exercise being conducted that day.
NORAD's Northeast Air Defense
Sector (NEADS) were still receiving the simulated radar information around
the time the third attack, on the Pentagon, took place.
Those at NORAD's
operations center in Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, were still receiving it
several minutes after United Airlines Flight 93 apparently crashed in rural
No one has investigated why false tracks continued being injected onto NORAD
radar screens long after the U.S. military was alerted to the real-world
crisis taking place that morning.
And yet we surely need to know more about these
simulated "inputs" and what effect they had on the military's ability to
respond to the 9/11 attacks.
NEADS TECHNICIANS TOLD
TO TURN OFF 'SIM SWITCHES'
The terrorist attacks on
September 11, 2001 took place in airspace that was
the responsibility of NEADS, based in Rome, New York.
NEADS was therefore
responsible for trying to coordinate the military's response to the
hijackings. And yet, in the middle of it all, at 9:30 a.m. that morning a
member of staff on the NEADS operations floor complained about simulated
material that was appearing on the NEADS radar screens.
what, let's get rid of this goddamn sim. Turn your sim switches off. Let's
get rid of that crap." 
Four minutes later, Technical Sergeant Jeffrey
Richmond gave an instruction to the NEADS surveillance technicians,
surveillance, turn off your sim switches." (A "sim switch" presumably allows
a technician to either display or turn off any simulated material on their
radar screen.) 
This means that at least some of the radar scopes at NEADS were still
displaying simulated information - presumably false tracks - 57 minutes after
an air traffic controller at the FAA's Boston Center called there and
"We have a problem here. We have a hijacked aircraft headed
towards New York."
Forty-eight minutes had passed since the first attack on
the World Trade Center occurred, and 31 minutes since the second tower was
hit and it became obvious that the U.S. was under attack.
It was only three
minutes after Richmond gave his instruction, at 9:37 a.m., that the Pentagon
was struck in the third successful attack that morning. 
Why were NEADS radar scopes displaying simulated information for so long
during the real-world crisis, when it appears the technicians could have
removed that information at the flick of a switch? Surely any false tracks
could have hindered the ability of NEADS personnel to effectively respond to
the attacks, so should have been terminated at the first sign of an actual
And yet this inexplicable behavior was not an exception.
A similar thing
happened at NORAD's Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center (CMOC) in Colorado,
where it appears that false radar tracks were being displayed for even
longer than at NEADS.
CENTER ASKS FOR 'EXERCISE INPUTS' TO BE STOPPED
At 10:12 a.m., an officer at the NORAD operations center, "Captain Taylor,"
called NEADS and spoke to Captain Brian Nagel, the chief of live exercises
After introducing himself, Taylor said,
"What we need you to do right
now is to terminate all exercise inputs coming into Cheyenne Mountain."
Nagel gave Taylor an extension number and asked him to call it to get the
exercise inputs stopped.
"I'll do that." 
according to an article in Vanity Fair, are simulated scenarios that are put
into play by a simulations team during training exercises. 
Taylor was presumably referring specifically to false tracks that had been
transmitted onto radar screens at the CMOC, where more than 50 members of
the battle staff had been participating in the exercise conducted that
Indeed, the Toronto Star reported,
"Any simulated information,
what's known as an 'inject'" was "purged from the screens" at the CMOC in
response to the news of the real-world attacks.
(However, the report
indicated, apparently incorrectly, that the false tracks appearing on CMOC
screens were terminated earlier on, at some time shortly before 9:03 a.m.,
when the second WTC tower was hit.) 
If simulated material was still being displayed on CMOC radar screens at
10:12 a.m., this would be astonishing. By that time, 95 minutes had passed
since - according to the 9/11 Commission - the military was first alerted to
the hijacking of American Airlines Flight 11, and more than an hour had
passed since the second plane hit the WTC.
Flight 93 had apparently crashed
in a field in rural Pennsylvania minutes earlier, and so the 9/11 attacks
were already over. 
Why did it take so long for someone at the CMOC to call NEADS and ask it to,
"terminate all exercise inputs coming into Cheyenne Mountain?"
simulated information should have been stopped as soon as NORAD learned of
the real-world crisis taking place that morning.
The operations center was certainly in a valuable position to assist in the
response to the terrorist attacks, so the intrusion of false tracks on its
radar screens would presumably have considerably impaired the emergency
response capabilities of the military.
Airman magazine described the CMOC as
"nerve center of NORAD," and its troops as "the eyes and ears of North
America ... nothing escapes their unsleeping watch." 
According to the
"Whether it's a simulation or a real-world event, the role of
the center is to fuse every critical piece of information NORAD has into a
concise and crystalline snapshot." 
NORAD has stated that the center
"from a worldwide system of satellites, radars, and other
sensors, and processes that information on sophisticated computer systems to
support critical NORAD and U.S. Space Command missions."
The CMOC provided,
"warning of ballistic missile or air attacks against North
America, assists the air sovereignty mission for the United States and
Canada, and, if necessary, is the focal point for air defense operations to
counter enemy bombers or cruise missiles."
The Battle Management Center
"command and control for the air surveillance and air defense
network for North America."
In 1994, for example, it monitored over 700
"unknown" radar tracks that entered North American airspace. 
SIMULATED RADAR INFORMATION DURING EXERCISES
Simulated information was being transmitted onto radar screens the morning
of September 11 as part of an annual command post exercise called
All of NORAD, including NEADS, was participating in this exercise,
which has been described as a "simulated air war" and as "an air defense
exercise simulating an attack on the United States." 
An information page on Vigilant Guardian stated:
"All of NEADS, operations
personnel are to have their sim switches turned 'on' starting at 1400Z 6
Sept. 01 till endex [the end date of the exercise, which was originally
going to be September 13]."
The information page added,
"A sim test track
will be in place and forward told [i.e. transferred to a higher level of
command] to both NORAD and CONR," NORAD's Continental United States Region.
Presumably this was why the NORAD operations center needed to contact NEADS
in order to get the "exercise inputs" terminated. 
A memo outlining special instructions for Vigilant Guardian participants
described how their equipment needed to be set up to deal with the simulated
material. It stated:
"The exercise will be conducted sim over live on the
air sovereignty string. The Q-93 must be placed in the mixed mode to allow
the telling [i.e. the communicating of information between facilities] of
sim tracks." 
The Q-93 was an important piece of equipment used by NORAD, described as,
suite of computers and peripheral equipment configured to receive plot data
from ground radar systems." 
"connectivity to numerous domestic
radar sites, receives flight plans from the FAA, and has bi-directional
communications with NORAD headquarters and a real-time link to AWACS
[Airborne Warning and Control System planes]."
surveillance, identification, and weapons control missions." 
According to Master Sergeant Joseph McCain, the NEADS mission crew commander
"Q-93 radar screens have the ability to run a multiple input
wartime scenario." 
Indeed, in 1999, then Deputy Secretary of Defense
John Hamre revealed that NORAD could inject "mass attacks" onto its radar
In December 1998, for example, it conducted an exercise called
Vigilant Virgo, which reportedly,
"analyzed the Y2K preparedness of the
entire ground radar array network. These systems were put through a series
of scenarios involving tactical warning." 
During this exercise, NORAD,
"injected 30 plus, well over 30 missile events into [its] sensors." This was
"data that was injected as though it was being sensed for the first time by
a radar site," according to Hamre.
Of the more than 30 different simulated
scenarios, some were "mass attacks" while others involved just "single
WHEN WAS VIGILANT
Since NEADS and the NORAD operations center were still receiving simulated
radar information long after the 9/11 attacks began, this raises the
question of when exactly Vigilant Guardian was brought to an end.
to some accounts, it was called off "shortly after" 9:03 a.m., when the
second WTC tower was hit. 
However, when at 9:15 a.m. a caller asked,
"Did they suspend the exercise?"
NEADS tracking technician Mark Jennings
"Not at this time, no." Jennings continued, "I think they're going
to," but added, "I don't know." 
In fact, one military newspaper has indicated that Vigilant Guardian may
have been terminated more than half an hour after the attacks ended.
According to the military information website, GlobalSecurity.org, Vigilant
Guardian was held each year in conjunction with a U.S. Strategic Command (Stratcom)
exercise called Global Guardian, and a 1997 Department of Defense report
similarly listed Vigilant Guardian as one of several exercises that Global
Guardian "links with." 
An article in The Bombardier, the newspaper for Barksdale Air Force Base,
Louisiana, stated that Stratcom ordered a pause in Global Guardian at 9:11
a.m. on September 11, but only "formally terminated" this exercise at 10:44
Considering that false tracks were still being displayed on NORAD
radar screens at 10:12 a.m., and that NORAD's exercise that day was held in
conjunction with Global Guardian, did Vigilant Guardian similarly continue
until around 10:44 a.m. before being "formally terminated"?
The fact that key NEADS and NORAD operations center personnel had false
information appearing on their radar screens throughout the 9/11 attacks
raises critical questions that have yet to be investigated.
We need to know
who was responsible for transmitting the simulated "exercise inputs" to
radar scopes. It has been reported that there was a "simulations team"
working at NEADS the morning of September 11. 
Was this team putting out
the false tracks?
If so, who were its members?
Why did they continue with
the simulation when it should have been obvious that a real-world crisis was
And why didn't their higher-ups order them to stop
transmitting the false tracks?
We also need to find out how many radar scopes at NEADS, the CMOC, and other
NORAD facilities across the U.S. were receiving the simulated information.
And what scenarios were transmitted onto the screens? Considering that
Vigilant Guardian has been described as a "simulated air war," one would
assume that many false tracks were being displayed.
Furthermore, we need to find out if personnel were able to distinguish
genuine radar tracks from the simulated ones. It is worth noting that, since
the mid-1990s, a tool called the PAC-3 Mobile Flight Mission Simulator (MFMS)
has been available, which is capable of simulating a variety of enemy air
vehicles. The MFMS was used by the U.S. Army in training exercises prior to
9/11. Crucially, it has been reported that "the graphic representations of
MFMS tracks" on radar screens were "no different than those of actual
To distinguish between real and simulated tracks, an operator had
to observe the "Identify Friend or Foe" response of a track.
"Simply, a real
aircraft will generate an interrogation response whereas the simulated
aircraft will return no response." 
If NORAD used equipment that simulated enemy aircraft in a similar way to
the MFMS, this would presumably mean the task of distinguishing between real
and false radar tracks on September 11 was less than straightforward,
especially considering that three of the four aircraft targeted that day had
their transponders turned off. 
These aircraft would therefore not have
been transmitting anything like an "Identify Friend or Foe" signal.
In sum, we need to determine the extent to which the U.S. military was
hindered in its ability to respond on 9/11 as a result of its radar scopes
receiving simulated information throughout the terrorist attacks.
It seems possible that the injection of false radar information could have
been one way that normal emergency responses were sabotaged, so as to ensure
the success of the attacks on New York and Washington, DC.
If that is the
case, those responsible must be investigated and brought to justice.
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Channel 2. North American Aerospace Defense Command, September 11, 2001;
Transcripts From Voice Recorder, Northeast Air Defense
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 NEADS Audio File, Air Surveillance Technician Position, Channel 15.
North American Aerospace Defense Command, September 11, 2001;
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NEADS Audio File, Senior Director Position, Channel 20.
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Michael Bronner, "9/11 Live: The NORAD Tapes." Vanity
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Commission, March 1, 2004.
Scott Simmie, "The Scene at NORAD on Sept. 11: Playing
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Pat McKenna, "The Border Guards." Airman, January
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"Vigilant Guardian 01-2." Northeast Air Defense Sector,
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Neil A. Cleveland, "Special Instructions (Spins) Vigilant
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Charles P. Satterthwaite, David E. Corman, and Thomas S.
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John J. Hamre, "Dr. Hamre's Briefing on Year 2000
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Michael Kraig, "Safe or Sorry: The 'Y2K Problem' and
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John J. Hamre, "Dr. Hamre's Briefing on Year 2000
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Note that the times given in this article are in Central time, which I
have converted to Eastern time.
 Lynn Spencer, Touching History: The Untold Story of the Drama
That Unfolded in the Skies Over America on 9/11. New York: Free
Press, 2008, p. 25.
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