portland independent media center  
images audio video
newswire article reposts global

9.11 investigation

Where Was the Air Force? The Real Question on 9-11

The really big unanswered question of September 11, 2001 is this: Once it became obvious that at least four passenger jets had been hijacked--at one point that Tuesday morning, Clarke says the FAA thought it had as many as "eleven aircraft off course or out of communications"--why didn't our government intercept them?
Published on Wednesday, March 31, 2004 by UExpress

Where Was the Air Force? The Real Question on 9-11

by Ted Rall

George W. Bush, writes former counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke, "failed to act prior to September 11 on the threat from Al Qaeda despite repeated warnings and then harvested a political windfall for taking obvious yet insufficient steps after the attacks." That incendiary charge, coupled with his apologetic testimony before the commission investigating the attacks, has reignited a long-simmering debate: What did Bush know when and how quickly should he have done something about it?

But both the 9/11 commission and liberal opponents of the Bush Administration are focusing on the wrong question. Nothing has surfaced from the 2001 "summer of threat" beyond a bunch of vague they're-up-to-something caveats. The specific details intelligence agencies would have needed to stop the attacks before they happened--potential hijackers' names, dates and times, targets--were maddeningly elusive.

The really big unanswered question of September 11, 2001 is this: Once it became obvious that at least four passenger jets had been hijacked--at one point that Tuesday morning, Clarke says the FAA thought it had as many as "eleven aircraft off course or out of communications"--why didn't our government intercept them?

To their credit, the Bushies quickly sussed out what was going on. "Well, now we know who we're dealing with," Clarke recalls remarking when he heard that United Flight 175 had smashed into the second World Trade Center tower. That was at 9:03 am. American 77 hit the Pentagon and United 93 went down over Pennsylvania 40 and 67 minutes later, respectively.

On a flight from Bishkek to Tehran on dilapidated Kyrgyzstan Airlines a few years ago, the pilot announced that the landing gear on my friend's Tupolev 154 wouldn't deploy. Tehran refused permission to crash-land the Soviet-era plane at its newly renovated airport. Five minutes later, my pal recalls, fighter jets appeared on each side of the crippled plane to escort it out of Iranian airspace. (It landed safely back in Bishkek.) Why didn't we respond to our crisis in the air on 9/11 with the same efficiency as Iran, a third world country hobbled by international trade sanctions?

The notion of a hijacked passenger jet meandering over the northeastern United States, unmolested for more than an hour before blasting away a chunk of the Pentagon, should appall anyone whose taxes contributed to the quarter of a trillion dollars spent on defense that year. And if you stop and think about it, there was actually two hours in which something could have been done.

Fifteen minutes after taking off from Boston at 7:58 am, American Airlines flight attendant Madeline Sweeney telephoned a flight services manager back at Logan airport to report that two of her colleagues had been stabbed and a passenger had had his throat cut by Middle Eastern men. "This flight has been hijacked," she concluded, maintaining her professional composure as Los Angeles-bound Flight 11 veered south toward Manhattan. Meanwhile, up in the cockpit, the pilot was frantically clicking his transmission button to tell air traffic controllers what was happening.

They figured it out at 8:13 am. The drama would end nearly two hours later with the crash in Pennsylvania. There was ample time for the airline to notify federal authorities and for the latter to order the Air Force to begin intercepting unresponsive or off-course planes--but slow-witted bureaucrats and years of doing domestic defense on the cheap whittled away precious minutes.

The North American Aerospace Command (NORAD) claims that it received FAA notification by 8:40 am, a dismaying 27 minutes after air traffic controllers determined that hijackings were in progress. According to the New York Times, only a dozen planes, all belonging to the weekend warriors of the Air National Guard, were assigned to protect the continental United States on the morning of 9/11. And not a single one was in the air.

The Air Force waited six minutes before responding to NORAD with a "scramble order," the pilot needed another six minutes to get the first F-15 aloft and 17 more minutes were required to fly at Mach 0.9 from Otis air base in Cape Cod to New York City. The second hijacked plane had already hit when the Guardsman arrived over Ground Zero. The FAA notified NORAD about the Pentagon-bound plane at 9:24 pm and the Pennsylvania flight even later (the exact time remains unavailable). The time needed to scramble planes and travel from distant bases ate up the advance warning.

It's unreasonable to expect the government to have anticipated 9/11. Once it began, however, previously established safeguards ought to have been deployed by fast-thinking officials to mitigate the damage. Surface-to-air missiles ought to have protected the Pentagon from the incoming flight. A policy of keeping Air Force fighters aloft 24 hours a day could have allowed the shoot-down of the second New York-bound plane, saving hundreds at the second tower and possibly those who died at the Pentagon. And, rather than leave entire states undefended by air bases, spreading military facilities evenly throughout U.S. territory would have shrunk response time to a bare minimum. Bush and his cabinet members should explain why they didn't take such common-sense precautions to defend us before 9/11--and what they're waiting for now.

Ted Rall is the author of "Wake Up, You're Liberal: How We Can Take America Back From the Right," coming in April.

COPYRIGHT 2004 TED RALL

homepage: homepage: http://www.commondreams.org/views04/0331-11.htm

A good article and I agree with a lot of it. But..... 31.Mar.2004 15:28

Coastie

Quote:

Surface-to-air missiles ought to have protected the Pentagon from the incoming flight. A policy of keeping Air Force fighters aloft 24 hours a day could have allowed the shoot-down of the second New York-bound plane, saving hundreds at the second tower and possibly those who died at the Pentagon. And, rather than leave entire states undefended by air bases, spreading military facilities evenly throughout U.S. territory would have shrunk response time to a bare minimum.

Unquote.

It would be nice to have a roving 24/7 air patrol. But do you know how much that would cost? Let's not take into account pilot burnout, equipment failure, etc. You think the budget is bad now, if DOD went for something like that, it would really run it into the high figures.

As for spreading out military facilities, many are fighting to keep open and operational even as we speak!

Ask why we have ships on homeland defense that are over 30 years old? planes that are 10 years past their expected life-span?

It all boils down to the bucks.

totally 31.Mar.2004 20:04

unreasonable

"It's unreasonable to expect the government to have anticipated 9/11"

Unreasonable my ass. Why is this unreasonable? The Neo-Con Gang's "Plan for A New American Century" states, nearly asking, that all it needs is a "New Pearl Harbor".

 http://abcnews.go.com/sections/nightline/DailyNews/pnac_030310.html

It may even still be on their website, they are so proud of it.

 http://www.newamericancentury.org/

It's unreasonable that a group of powerful men would wish this hard for something, and get it- not by magic?

"Wanted 9/11" might be a better phrase than "anticipated 9/11," and you will also notice than in accordance with wanting it, they wasted no time in milking it for all it was worth, and they still are.

It might have also been "unreasonable" to expect the government to have anticipated a U.S. Government hijacking, blamed on Cuba and used as an excuse to invade, under Operation Northwoods.

 http://abcnews.go.com/sections/us/DailyNews/jointchiefs_010501.html

Survivor Mindy Kleinberg testified to a 9-11 investigation that on 9-11, NORAD was on peak alertness as part of "Vigilant Guardian".

 http://www.9-11commission.gov/hearings/hearing1/witness_kleinberg.htm

Maybe I believe the fire station burned down while the firemen were out conducting drills, and maybe I believe what it is that Mindy is getting at there.

But that is stuff that most of us know only two well. Let me give you a hint from the alleged Starbucks playbook:

 http://portland.indymedia.org/en/2004/03/284649.shtml

"Stay inside the lines. We don't need to puff this (up). We need (to) be careful as hell about it," the handwritten notes say. "This thing will go away soon and what will keep it alive will be one of us going over the line."

If you want, you can think a little more. Clarke is still doing Bush favors by tying to paint him as negligent instead of gung-ho, even while trying to paint him as obsessed with Iraq. Clarke he doesn't want his remarks used in political ads against Bush-- why? He thinks Bush was that wrong but has nothing against him and would like to see him have a second term? Are you sure those papers turning up at Starbucks is an accident? Eric Ruff needs a map to Don Rumsfeld's house, isn't he important enough to have a GPS or something?

While I'm not sure the Starbucks papers aren't a plant just to dumb down any Bush / Clarke allegiances, I wouldn't need those to tell me that the quoted phrase really does pretty much sum up the whole deal. The Government in power can do whatever the hell it wants to with the expectation that any significant resentment or resistance will peter out by next week, because Janet Jackson's tit or whatever folly d' jeur is lots more interesting- that is very obvious from their remarks and their actions. They also seem fond of the idea that We the Sheeple will take anything as an accident rather than have the concidence theorists call us conspiracy theorists.

Don't let that shit happen. Don't settle for half-assed investions and questions that tip-toe around what has been obvious to many people since the afternoon of 9-11. Demand the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

pentagon is supposed to have a missile battery for defence 31.Mar.2004 22:41

brian

'In addition to that, my parents used to take me to lunch during the day in the center area of the Pentagon in the courtyard in the middle. And I remember asking my father when I was young what certain things were there. And there were surface-to-air missile batteries in that area that defend the building. It's also the case after the Piper Cub that flew into the Whitehouse hit that a surface-to-air missile battery was built on the Whitehouse lawn in order to protect that building. '
 http://www.ratical.org/ratville/JFK/JohnJudge/UQPC061002.html