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lie # 2: presidential authorization was needed to scramble jets to intercept flight 77
On Sunday, September 16th, Vice-President Richard Cheney was interviewed on NBC TV's 'MEET THE PRESS.' During that interview he created the impression that the military would have needed presidential authorization to scramble fighter jets to intercept American Airlines Flight 77 before it hit the Pentagon.

Mr. Cheney did not present this lie in a straightforward manner.

Instead he did two things. First, he avoided discussing the failure to intercept Flight 77. Instead he talked only about the choices Mr. Bush supposedly made after the Pentagon was hit.

Second, he took it for granted that presidential approval was required to intercept a commercial jet, as if this were an accepted fact. Then based on this false foundation, he emitted a fog of emotional misinformation to confuse the millions of Americans who wanted to know: why didn't jet fighters scramble to intercept Flight 77 before it crashed into the Pentagon? Doesn't the U.S. have radar and an Air Force anymore?

It is common for officials attempting to cover-up a capital crime to put the blame on a subordinate. However Mr. Cheney used a different approach on 'MEET THE PRESS.' Relying on his skills in public deception, Cheney tried to create the impression that nothing improper had occurred, that faced with horrendous choices a brave President had done the right thing.

But as soon as one sees through this verbiage, one realizes Mr. Cheney has actually placed the responsibility for the failure to intercept American Flight 77 on George W. Bush.

Here is the relevant excerpt from 'MEET THE PRESS':

"MR. RUSSERT: What's the most important decision you think he made during the course of the day?

"VICE PRES. CHENEY: Well, the--I suppose the toughest decision was this question of whether or not we would intercept incoming commercial aircraft.

"MR. RUSSERT: And you decided?

"VICE PRES. CHENEY: We decided to do it. We'd, in effect, put a flying combat air patrol up over the city; F-16s with an AWACS, which is an airborne radar system, and tanker support so they could stay up a long time...

"It doesn't do any good to put up a combat air patrol if you don't give them instructions to act, if, in fact, they feel it's appropriate.

"MR. RUSSERT: So if the United States government became aware that a hijacked commercial airline[r] was destined for the White House or the Capitol, we would take the plane down?

"VICE PRES. CHENEY: Yes. The president made the decision...that if the plane would not divert...as a last resort, our pilots were authorized to take them out. Now, people say, you know, that's a horrendous decision to make. Well, it is. You've got an airplane full of American citizens, civilians, captured by...terrorists, headed and are you going to, in fact, shoot it down, obviously, and kill all those Americans on board?

"...It's a presidential-level decision, and the president made, I think, exactly the right call in this case, to say, "I wished we'd had combat air patrol up over New York."
--NBC, 'Meet the Press' 16 September 2001 (1)

* * *

Note that Mr. Cheney has performed a sleight of hand here.

First he says, "the toughest decision was...whether we would intercept incoming commercial aircraft."

Later he says, "The president made the decision... that if the plane would not divert as a last resort, our pilots were authorized to take them out..." that is, "shoot it down."

But "intercept": and "shoot it down" do not mean the same thing.


"in·ter·cept (în´ter-sèpt¹) verb, transitive
in·ter·cept·ed, in·ter·cept·ing, in·ter·cepts
"1. a. To stop, deflect, or interrupt the progress or intended course of"
--'American Heritage Dictionary'


"shoot·down (sh¡t¹doun´) noun

"Destruction of a flying aircraft by a missile attack or gunfire."
--'American Heritage Dictionary'
Mr. Cheney deliberately confused these terms to stop people from asking: why weren't any of the hijacked planes intercepted?

Since "stopping, deflecting, or interrupting the progress or intended course of" a hijacked airplane does not necessarily involve violence, there could be no moral obstacle to scrambling fighter jets to intercept Flight 77. Therefore Mr. Cheney shifted quickly to the morally charged question of whether to shoot down "an airplane full of American citizens". By creating this emotional link between interception (not necessarily violent) and shooting down a commercial jet (very violent), Cheney hoped to create sympathy for a President forced to make this "horrendous" choice: to intercept or not to intercept.

Note that Cheney is speaking only of the period after Flight 77 hit the Pentagon. By confusing the issues of "intercepting" vs. "shooting down" AFTER the Pentagon was hit, Cheney was trying to get his listeners to forget the real issue: that nothing had been done BEFORE the Pentagon was hit.

Mr. Cheney attempted to hide the jump from "intercept" to "shoot down" by means of the following connecting sentence:

"It doesn't do any good to put up a combat air patrol if you don't give them instructions to act, if, in fact, they feel it's appropriate."

This is disinformation. Mr. Cheney was treating his viewers like fools.

First, as anyone with a computer and basic knowledge of the Internet can find out, Air Traffic Controllers request military jets to intercept commercial aircraft on a routine basis. Sometimes the purpose is to tell a commercial pilot that his plane has gone off course; other times the interceptor goes up in order to observe the situation directly - for instance, to see who is flying the plane. None of this requires presidential approval.

Second, military interceptors (or 'escorts') already have clear "instructions to act." These instructions can be read online in detailed manuals from the FAA and the Department of Defense. The instructions cover everything from minor emergencies to hijackings. If a problem is serious, high-ranking military officers from the National Military Command Center (NMCC) in the Pentagon can take charge.

Let us consider the procedures used in intercepting commercial aircraft.

An Air Traffic Controller (ATC) may request military jets to intercept (or 'escort') a commercial aircraft in response to any serious problem which the Air Traffic Controller cannot solve through radio contact. Perhaps the most common problem is that a commercial jet has deviated from its authorized flight path.

Every commercial jet is required to follow IFR, or Instrument Flight Rules. IFR requires pilots to file a flight plan with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) before takeoff.
(FAA Order 7400.2E 14-1-2) (2)

"Commercial flights fly according to predefined flight plans. These flight plans are intended to provide quick routes that take advantage of favorable winds while avoiding the routes traveled by other aircraft. The usual flight plan is a series of three connected routes: a standard instrument departure (SID) route, an en route path, and a standard instrument arrival (STAR). Each route consists of a sequence of geographic points, or fixes, which, when connected, form a trajectory from the point of departure to the point of arrival."
--'Direct-To Requirements' by G. Dennis & E. Torlak (3)

If a plane deviates from its flight plan, for example if it makes the wrong turn at one of its 'fixes,' an Air Traffic Controller (ATC) contacts the pilot. If the ATC cannot make contact, he or she will request an escort - that is, a military jet - to scramble and check out the situation. This is called 'interception.'

As you can see, interception is not necessarily an aggressive act. Usually it is requested because routine communication has become impossible.

For example, when the Lear jet chartered by Payne Stewart, the famous golf pro, went off course, and the pilot did not respond by radio, the FAA immediately contacted the military:

"Several Air Force and Air National Guard fighter jets, plus an AWACS radar control plane, helped the Federal Aviation Administration track the runaway Learjet and estimate when it would run out of fuel."
--'CNN,' 26 October 1999 (4)

The FAA online manual describes how an escort (i.e., a fighter jet) might communicate with a commercial airliner which fails to respond to radio contact. The FAA has a chart entitled:

"Signals initiated by intercepting aircraft and responses by intercepted aircraft."

According to the chart, which is available on-line, if a commercial jet is intercepted in daytime, the escort fighter jet may communicate by:

"...Rocking wings from a position slightly above and ahead of, and normally to the left of, the intercepted aircraft..."

This conveys the message, "You have been intercepted." The commercial jet should respond by rocking its wings, indicating it will comply.

The escort then makes a

"slow level turn, normally to the left, on to the desired heading [direction]."

The commercial jet is supposed to respond by following the escort.
(FAA 'AIM' 5-6-4) (5)

When a commercial jet deviates from its approved flight path, it creates a potentially deadly hazard: it could collide with another jet. It is therefore reassuring that the FAA has an exacting standard for what constitutes an emergency:

"Consider that an aircraft emergency exists ... when: ...There is unexpected loss of radar contact and radio communications with any ...aircraft."
--FAA Order 7110.65M 10-2-5 (6)



"If ... you are in doubt that a situation constitutes an emergency or potential emergency, handle it as though it were an emergency."
--FAA Order 7110.65M 10-1-1-c (7)