9 min read
Stand Down 9/11

by William Thomas

It happens all the time. When planes stray toward the 23-mile restricted ring around the U.S. Capitol, ready alert F-16 interceptors are immediately launched from Andrews Air Force Base, just 10 miles away.  Military radar operators at more than a dozen sites along the US East coast “look at everything in the air” – according to a former radar defense operator, who says his Maine radar outpost “often” scrambled interceptors on its own authority, without waiting to hear from the FAA or their own higher command. Powerful Air Force ASR Air Surveillance Radars with a 200 to 250-mile range are tied into the Federal Aviation Administration’s air traffic control network.      

     These well-practiced routines sent armed fighter jets to check out wayward and/or incommunicative airplanes at least once a week before 911. But on Sept 11, 2001, NORAD and the FAA ignored routine procedures and strict regulations. In response to a national emergency involving hijacked airliners as dangerous as cruise missiles, interceptors launched late from distant bases flew to defend their nation at less than a third of their top speeds. [NORAD news release Sept. 18/01]


On this bright September morning, NEADS (not NORAD in Colorado) was protecting some of the most high-value terrorist targets in the USA. Conveniently concentrated on the country’s Northeast corridor, this target-rich environment has its own dedicated air defense force. 


By “bizarre coincidence,” according to the Pentagon, on Sept. 11, 2001 NORAD was three days into Operation Vigilant Guardian. Held twice a year to tweak NORAD’s continent-spanning surveillance, communications and interception web, North American air defenses that morning were aggressively alert and battle staffed, with key officers needed to make immediate decisions stationed in the "battle cabs" of each interlinked air force command post.     

     But NORAD was looking the other way. For reasons not yet explained, on Sept. 11, Operation Vigilant Guardian saw America’s air defenses locked on the North Pole for a simulated attack by a former Cold War enemy who was now a NATO ally.     Whose idea was that?


Confusion reigned at the NEAD Northeast Air Defence headquarters as hijacked “bogeys” falsely flooding their scopes, and bogus messages streamed in by fax and telex from simultaneous Northern Vigilance, Vigilant Guardian, Vigilant Warrior and Global Guardian exercises     

     Though at least two-dozen air force installations are within minutes of New York City, the White House, and the Pentagon, many of their fighters have been drawn north for the Vigilant Guardian, Vigilant Warrior and Northern Vigilance exercises by Vice President Dick Cheney.     

     In yet another amazing “coincidence” arranged by Cheney, intelligence analysis expert John Fulton and his CIA team are about to run test emergency responders by simulating a plane striking the nerve center of America’s live satellite surveillance capabilities. [National Law Enforcement and Security Institute conference Sept 6/02; thememoryhole.org Aug 14/02; jfcom.mil]

     President Bush had appointed Cheney to head a task force to “combat terrorist attacks on the United States.” But the task force never met. [9/11 Commission Report]


In the most heavily armed nation on Earth, at least two-dozen air force installations were within fast flying time of the World Trade Center and Pentagon. But no one in the corporate media is curious as to why none of those aircraft was ordered launched. Or why none of the armed fighters on training flights or patrolling Air Defense Intercept Zones just off the Atlantic Coast were diverted to intercept four commandeered airliners until after the Pentagon was struck, one-hour and 18 minutes after Flight 11 was hijacked.        

     Meanwhile, two armed “ready alert” jets – an F-16 from the 121st Fighter Squadron and a similarly fanged F/A-18 from the 321st Marine Fighter Attack Squadron – are on round-the-clock strip alert at Andrews Air Force Base, just eight miles from the Pentagon and 10 miles from Washington DC. The heavily armed F-15 and F-18 sitting on strip alert can be over D.C. in less than two minutes after take-off.     

     Still no one gives the order to launch – or divert “fast movers” already airborne on training exercises, or aggressively patrolling Air Defense Intercept Zones off the Atlantic Coast.     And the air defense exercises are not cancelled. 


Ten weeks previously, NEADS’ Col. Marr could have scrambled F-15s on his own authority. But not today. Because on June 1, 2001, acting as National Command Authority – a post shared only by the President in its unquestioned authorization to issue orders directly to the military – Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had sent binding instructions to the Joint Chiefs of Staff countermanding long-established aerial intercept procedures.     

     J-3 CJCSI 3610.01A ordered air traffic controllers concerned with rogue airplanes to first call the police! Then Rumsfeld instructed them to “contract” out an appropriate aerial response—presumably to the lowest commercial bidder. Under Rumsfeld’s new edict, only then could concerned FAA controllers contact military authorities—who must then track down Rumsfeld personally and get his permission to launch or divert fighters already in the air.

     Order J-3 CJCSI 3610.01A reads in full: (1) Determine whether or not the assistance needed is reasonably available from police or commercial sources. If not, the DDO, NMCC, will notify the appropriate unified command or NORAD to determine if suitable assets are available and will forward the request to the Secretary of Defense for approval in accordance with DODD 3025.15, paragraph D.7 (reference d).” In language plainer than these cryptic acronyms, Rumsfeld’s June 2001 instruction required all FAA scramble requests to be “bucked up” to the Secretary of Defense for his personal authorization before fighters could be launched in pursuit of errant aircraft. But no one at NEADS knows where Rumsfeld can be reached.
Saudi hijackers not a problem for U.S. presidents


A recently resurfaced NORAD news bulletin released seven days after Sept. 11 explains that America’s aerial defenders were slow to counter rapidly developing air attacks because they didn’t hear from the FAA that American Airlines Flight 11 had been hijacked until 8:40 that fateful morning. [NORAD news release Sept. 18/01]     

     But at the National Military Command Center (NMCC) in the basement of the Pentagon, Air Force staff officers monitoring every inch of airspace over the northeastern seaboard would have caught that first hijacking when Flight 11’s identification transponder stopped transmitting at 8:20 – automatically triggering a radar alarm.     

     Perhaps edging out over the Atlantic just off their left wingtips to disperse their sonic footprint, with both sets of throttles rammed to the stops the fastest fighters on the planet would have intercepted Flight 11 over the Hudson River at least six minutes from Manhattan. [Boston Globe Sept15/01]    

     An F-16 Fighting Falcon can travel faster than 1,500 mph. Even launching later, on the FAA’s first official phone call to NORAD at 8:40, the Mach 2.5 fighters could have easily reached Flight 175 before it reached the World Trade Center. 


With their capability to monitor developing “situations” by tapping into military and civilian radars, U.S. military commanders would have also seen Flight 175 turn abruptly south 25 minutes later – just as they had watched on radar in October 1999 when pro golfer Payne Stewart's Learjet abruptly departed its flight path while en route to Dallas. [CNN Oct26/1999]     

     An F-16 out of Tyndall, Florida was sitting off the left wingtip of Payne’s pilotless business jet within 19 minutes of the FAA alert. [ABC News Oct 25/99]     

     Flying at full afterburners without edging over the Atlantic to disperse their sonic footprint, two of the fastest fighters on the planet might have intercepted Flight 11 over the Hudson Rive six minutes from the World Trade Center. Even launching on the FAA’s first alert, the Mach 2.5 fighters could have reached Flight 175 before it struck the South Tower. 

MACH .9 = 500 MPH 

Instead, in a stunning admission that received little press scrutiny at the time, NORAD noted that for all interceptions flown against the hijackers on Sept. 11: “Flight times are calculated at 9 miles per minute or .9 Mach.” In other words, every interception flown by the world’s hottest air-combat aircraft was flown at less than a third of the planes’ top speed.


While preparing my first of two books on 9/11 – All Fall Down: The Politics Of Terror And Mass Deception – for print in October 2011, I phoned NORAD in Colorado Springs and asked a disinformation officer why their own press release admitted the pursuing jets flew slower than the airliners they were supposedly “pursuing”?     After a lengthy pause, he said, “I’ll have to get back to you on that.”     

     “Hurry,” I told him. “I’m about to go to press.”     

     The following day I left the island and went into town. When I returned, my next door neighbour was waiting for me. “Should we build a blast wall?” she wanted to know.     

     “Why?” I inquired.     

     “Because while you were gone, an American F-16 flew right over your roof.”     

     As promised by the US Air Force, I had gotten my answer.


A Defense Department manual insists, "In the event of a hijacking, the NMCC will be notified by the most expeditious means by the FAA.” [CJCSI 3610.01A, June1/01]     

     According to NORAD, after air traffic controllers realized that Flight 11 had been hijacked, 38 vital minutes passed before a pair of F-15’s were scrambled from Otis. As they lifted off, American Airlines Flight 11 struck the North Tower of the World Trade Center, 153 air miles away as a Falcon flies. [NORAD Sept. 18/01]     

     United Airlines Flight 175 was still 20 minutes out. 


“The F-15 pilots flew ''like a scalded ape, topping 500 mph but were unable to catch up to the airliner,” Maj. Gen. Paul Weaver later told reporters. [St. Augustine Times Sept16/01]     

     Scalded apes? Airliners fly at 500 mph. An F-15 can fly almost four-times faster

NASTY AND DUFF “Nasty” and “Duff” drove their expensive air superiority fighters at a leisurely 447-mph – supposedly to intercept a Boeing 767 flying 43 mph faster! Utilizing only 27% power, the F-15’s were “eight minutes/71 miles” away, according to NORAD, when Flight 175 struck the South Tower with 56 souls and more than ten tons of fuel onboard. 


With both Trade Towers burning, and hijacked United Flight 93 shadowed by a circling F-16 over Pennsylvania, American Airlines Flight 77 was the only threat left in the sky. When that Boeing 757 silenced its transponder signal, made a U-turn over Kentucky and headed directly for the White House and the Pentagon, one billion viewers riveted to the big networks knew this was a kamikaze run. [TelegraphSept13/01]     

     With no other bogeys on eastern seaboard scopes, air combat doctrine dictates that the two unemployed Otis F-15s already in the area be redirected to “honor the threat” of an incoming flying bomb, 330 miles out. Even loafing along, the fighters would have more than 20 minutes to confront Flight 77 before it neared the Pentagon.     

     Pentagon professionals defending their country’s nerve centers waited more than an hour after watching Flight 11 go rogue - including 30 critical minutes after Flight 77 turned abruptly toward them and the nearby White House – before scrambling two F-16’s out of Langley Air Force Base to protect the capitol.     

     Nearly half-an-hour after receiving the belated order to scramble, two Falcons coasted in over the burning Pentagon. Slowed down to just 410 mph, it had taken the 1,500 mph-capable fighters 19 minutes to cover the 130 miles from Virginia. It should have taken just over seven minutes to reach the Pentagon – at about the time Flight 77 was making a predatory circle overhead. [NORAD Sept18/01; USAF]     

     The supersonic jets were flown no faster than the hottest WWII prop-driven fighters.


Flight 93 is still coming on. Inside his White House bunker, a military aide asks Dick Cheney, “There is a plane 80 miles out. There is a fighter in the area. Should we engage?”     

     “Yes,” the Vice President immediately replies.     

     As the pursuing air force F-16 straightens out in an attack profile astern of the United Airlines plane, Cheney is asked the same thing twice more. He responds, “Yes” both times. [CBS News Oct 11/02; Washington Post Feb 27/02; USA Today Oct 16/01; Newsday Oct 23/01]     

     Though this non-NORAD facility maintains no jets on stand-by alert status, on this morning the Air National Guard in Toledo, Ohio manages to launch armed interceptors just 16 minutes after receiving a request to get whatever fighters it can into the air. At least one other F-16 managed to get airborne at 9:56. Or maybe even earlier. Eyewitnesses at the Toledo airport emphatically report that the 180th Airborne Fighter Wing interceptors were launched around 0900. [thepowerhour.com]    

     A flight controller in New Hampshire later described the picture on his scope: “An F-16 fighter closely pursued United Airlines Flight 93. The F-16 made 360-degree turns to remain close to the commercial jet. He must’ve seen the whole thing.” [Telegraph Sept13/01]

     10:03: Locking on at close range to the unmistakable heat signature from one of the man-high turbines attached to the Boeing’s broad wing, the pursuing Fighting Falcon launches a highly-evolved heat-seeking missile.  Flying supersonic, the nine-and-a-half-foot–long rocket-propelled lance flies right up the intake of Flight 93’s right-side engine. Sensing the power plant’s mass, a pulsing laser proximity fuse triggers the detonation of the Sidewinder’s “improved” 28-pound warhead. Tumbling at high speed, two layers of solid rods rip through delicate, fan-shaped turbine-blades spinning at extremely high RPMs.     

     In a washroom onboard Flight 93, Edward Felt’s fingers shake as he dials 911. Philadelphia operator Glen Cramer takes his call. Speaking for less than a minute, Felt screams, “We’re being hijacked, we’re being hijacked!”     

     Just before contact is broken, he reports hearing an explosion. Felt says white smoke is pouring from the plane. “We’re going down!” he shouts. [All Fall Down; Pittsburgh  Tribune-Review Sept 8/02]     

     Clearly audible on the plane’s recovered Cockpit Voice Recorder is the missile's explosion outside the cockpit. It’s followed by white smoke – a sure-fire signature of a missile strike severing fuel lines.     

     A heat-seeking missile fired from a pursuing F-16 ordered “weapons free” by Vice-President Cheney, and seconded by “You bet” Bush, would have homed in on the intense exhaust gases coming from one of the Boeing 757’s big jet turbines – blowing it right off the wing, a Philadelphia newspaper reports. [Philadelphia Daily News Dec 15/01]     

     How else to explain a second, smaller impact zone? Soon after the crash of Flight 93, CNN initially reports that a “second plane” has gone down in Pennsylvania—before issuing a correction that both crash sites belong to the same airliner.     

     At the secondary site eight miles from Flight 93’s main impact crater, State Police Major Lyle Szupinka informs the press that searchers have found one of the large engines from the aircraft “at a considerable distance from the crash site. It appears to be the whole engine,” he adds. [Post-Gazette Sept 13/01]     

     But the 1,000-pound chunk of charred jet turbine turns out to be half of the big turbine blown off the airliner’s right wing by a high explosive warhead. When asked to explain how it ended up in another location, the FBI told reporters, “The wind blew it there.” Armed troops went door-to-door telling local resident who ight have witnessed the shootdown to keep their lips zipped.        

     Three years later, during a Christmas Eve address to American troops in Baghdad, a tongue-tied Donald Rumsfeld will attempt once again to draw a bogus connection between the events of Black Tuesday and an illegal invasion that has so far seen the deaths of more than 120,000 Iraqi civilians – mostly children under the age of 15 – by referring to the people who “shot down the plane over Pennsylvania.” [CNN Dec 28/04]


What about the two Air National Guard F-16s already airborne near Manhattan? Armed with practice bombs for runs over New Jersey’s Pine Barrens near Atlantic City, the intimidating interceptors are just eight minutes from Manhattan at cruising speed. Flying flat-out, the fighters from the Atlantic City-based 177th Fighter Wing can be over the WTC in less than three minutes.     

     Either way, they would have had time to try disrupting Flight 11’s flight path with close passes. Or – as the Pentagon later admitted to considering – ramming and ejecting.     

     Astonishingly for a country under violent attack, the two Atlantic City F-16s already in the immediate area are never contacted by their controllers. Instead of helping hunt down a DC-bound bogey, the two pilots zoom around for an hour bombing the Pine Barrens before being recalled to be refueled and rearmed with by air-to-air missiles – after the Trade Center strikes.     

     According to Col. Marr, air defense radars powerful enough to give women in the surrounding area cancer were unable to locate a target as big as a jumbo jetliner.     

     NORAD insists the F-16s from Langley were still “12 minutes/105 miles” away when the big Boeing they were “chasing” soared past the White House and the Andrews runways. Allegedly flown by an incompetent Egyptian flight student who couldn’t solo a Cessna, the 757 peeled off and piled into the Pentagon after an abrupt dive and pull-up that left veteran pilots agape. [San Diego Union-Tribune Sept12/01; NBC Nightly News Sept11/01; All Fall Down: The Politics Of Terror And Mass Persuasion by William Thomas]     

     Immediately after the Pentagon was hit, the Andrews alert jets were launched to guard empty skies. [Mirror Nov13/03]    


 Responding to questions from a Senate confirmation committee, two days after this suspicious fiasco, the Joint Chief’s acting air defense chief on Sept. 11 said he was in a meeting while all hell was breaking loose in his sector.  As jumbo jetliners kept diving into buildings, apparently no one thought to inform the acting commander of U.S. air defenses that his country was under attack. General Richard Myers came out of his meeting just as the Pentagon was hit.     

     Asked repeatedly when the brass were first informed of the emergency, and when interceptors were scrambled, Gen. Myers repeated a muddled mantra six times, saying “I'll have to get back to you on that.”     

     Instead of being court-martialed like the luckless commanders defending Pearl Harbor, or even reprimanded, General Myers was awarded command of the entire U.S. military as new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Bush publicly commended the air force general for his “calm manner, sound judgment, and his clear strategic thinking.” 


The FAA has refused to disclose documents disclosing when that agency notified U.S. air defenses about the four hijacked airliners. A second subpoena served on the Pentagon by the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States has been similarly unsuccessful in attaining records concerning whether NORAD responded quickly enough in dispatching interceptors on Sept. 11. [Washington Post Nov8/03]

Photo Captions:

Atlantic City ANG F-16

Where Were The Interceptors?


Excerpted from DAYS OF DECEPTION: Ground Zero And Beyond, presented by the author at 9/11 Truth, June 2007, in Vancouver, Canada (at left). William Thomas is a former civilian pilot and member of the US Navy Reserves (Resigned).
Download and read Days Of Deception here.
Anji Smith photo