Vanity Fair has a new story online today that provide a detailed chronology of the morning of 9/11 from the perspective of the Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), the East Coast regional HQ for NORAD. The author of the story received 30 hours of audio files from the operations floor at NEADS, which serve as the basis for the piece. The tapes tell a story of mass confusion on the day of 9/11, with multiple contradictory pieces of evidence about hijackings lasting all day. And while F-15 fighters were finally in place over DC after AA 77 hit the Pentagon, they were not authorized to shoot down UA 93 until after it had already crashed in Shanksville, PA, in large part because the FAA did not notify NORAD about UA 93 for 35 minutes. This belies the commonly-accepted wisdom about this decision:
In his bunker under the White House, Vice President Cheney was not notified about United 93 until 10:02â€”only one minute before the airliner impacted the ground. Yet it was with dark bravado that the vice president and others in the Bush administration would later recount sober deliberations about the prospect of shooting down United 93. “Very, very tough decision, and the president understood the magnitude of that decision,” Bush’s then chief of staff, Andrew Card, told ABC News.
Cheney echoed, “The significance of saying to a pilot that you are authorized to shoot down a plane full of Americans is, a, you know, it’s an order that had never been given before.” And it wasn’t on 9/11, either.
President Bush would finally grant commanders the authority to give that order at 10:18, whichâ€”though no one knew it at the timeâ€”was 15 minutes after the attack was over.
The story also focuses on an initial false presentation of this narrative by military commanders before an early hearing of the 9/11 Commission, which led the commission to bring back top commanders for a second hearing to try to get the story straight. The Commission eventually decided to refer this matter to the Inspectors General of the Department of Defense and Department of Transportation, and as noted in a story in the Washington Post today, these investigations have been completed and should be publicized soon. The Post story indicates lasting vexation among Commission members and staff at the initial timeline provided by officials:
“We to this day don’t know why NORAD [the North American Aerospace Command] told us what they told us,” said Thomas H. Kean, the former New Jersey Republican governor who led the commission. “It was just so far from the truth. . . . It’s one of those loose ends that never got tied.”
Hopefully these IG reports will finally clear this matter up, and if there was any deliberate effort to mislead or conceal information, then those people should be punished severely. Anything that gives new ammunition to delusional 9/11 conspiracy theorists weakens the essential base of public support that the United States needs if it is going to successfully wage the war on terror. For that reason, it’s essential that there be zero tolerance in the government for actions that shade or distort the truth about 9/11.