By: David Ray Griffin
In many respects, the strongest evidence provided by critics of the official account
involves simply the events of 9/11 itself. At 8:46 AM, one hijacked airplane crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center (WTC). At 9:03, another crashed into the South Tower. And at 9:38, the Pentagon was hit. In light of standard procedures for dealing with hijacked airplanes, however, not one of these planes should have reached its target, let alone all three of them. It is also far from clear how the New York attacks could have succeeded in the sense of causing the buildings of the WTC to collapse. There are, furthermore, disturbing questions about the third airliner — whether it was really the aircraft that hit the Pentagon — and about the fourth one — whether it was the one plane that was shot down.
Finally, after examining questions that have been raised about all these matters, I will look at questions raised by President Bush’s behavior that day. The present chapter, however, deals only with Flights 11 and 175 and the collapse of the WTC buildings.
American Airlines Flight II
The first plane to be hijacked was American Airlines (AA) Flight 11, which left Boston at 7:59 AM. At 8:14, besides failing to respond to an order from FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) ground control to climb, its radio and transponder went off, suggesting that it had possibly been hijacked. At 8:20, with FAA ground control watching its flight path on radar, the plane went radically off course, leading ground control to conclude that it had probably been hijacked. At 8:21, flight attendants reported by telephone that the plane had definitely been taken over by hijackers, who had already killed some people. At 8:28, the plane turned toward New York. At 8:44, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld was in the Pentagon talking about terrorism with Representative Christopher Cox.
“Let me tell ya,” the Associated Press quoted Rumsfeld as saying, “I’ve been around the block a few times. There will be another event. There will be another event.” And, if he in fact said this, he was right. Two minutes later, at 8:46, Flight 11 crashed into the WTC’s North Tower. This was 32 minutes after evidence that the plane had possibly been hijacked and 25 minutes after knowledge that it definitely had been.
Skeptics about the official account believe that the attempt to crash an airliner into the WTC could not have been successful under normal circumstances. The basic problem, they argue, is that there are standard procedures for situations such as this and that, if they had been followed, Flight 11 would have been intercepted by fighter jets within 10 minutes of any sign that it may have been hijacked. Had the plane then failed to obey the standard signal to follow the fighter jets to an airport
to land, it would have been shot down. This would have occurred by 8:24, or 8:30 at the latest, so that the question of whether to shoot down a commercial airliner over the heart of New York City would not have arisen.
As evidence, the skeptics cite FAA regulations, which instruct air traffic controllers:
Consider that an aircraft emergency exists…when:…There is unexpected loss of radar contact and radio communications with any… aircraft…. If…you are in doubt that a situation constitutes an emergency or potential emergency, handle it as though it were an emergency.
Accordingly, at 8:14, the loss of radio contact alone would have led the flight controller to begin emergency procedures. The loss of the transponder signal would have made the situation doubly suspect. The controller, after finding that it was impossible to re-establish radio contact, would have immediately contacted the National Military Command Center (NMCC) in the Pentagon and its North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), which would have immediately had jets sent up — “scrambled” — from the nearest military airport. According to spokespersons for NORAD, from the time the FAA senses that something is wrong, “it takes about one minute” for it to contact NORAD, and then NORAD can scramble fighters “within a matter of minutes to anywhere in the United States.” “According to the US Air Forces own website,” reports Nafeez Ahmed, an F-15 routinely “goes from ‘scramble order’ to 29,000 feet in only 2.5 minutes” and then can fly at 1,850 nmph (nautical miles per hour). If normal procedures had been followed, accordingly, Flight 11 would have been intercepted by 8:24, and certainly no later than 8:30, 16 minutes before it, in the actual course of events, crashed into the WTC. Furthermore, even if radio contact and the transponders signal had not been lost, the fact that the plane went radically off course at 8:20 would have led the FAA to notify the military. Every plane has a flight plan, which consists of a sequence of geographic points, or “fixes,” and, according to a report by MSNBC:
Pilots are supposed to hit each fix with pinpoint accuracy. If a plane deviates by 15 degrees, or two miles from that course, the flight controllers will hit the panic button. They’ll call the plane, saying “American 11, you’re deviating from course.” It’s considered a real emergency.
So, even if the FAA had waited until the plane went off course at 8:20, the plane should have been intercepted by 8:30, or 8:35 at the latest, again in plenty of time to prevent it from going into New York City.
As to what would occur upon interception, Ahmed explains by quoting the FAA manual:
[The interceptor military craft communicates by] Rocking wings from a position slightly above and ahead of, and normally to the left of, the intercepted aircraft…. This action conveys the message: “You have been intercepted.” The commercial jet is then supposed to respond by rocking its wings to indicate compliance, upon which the interceptor performs a “slow level turn, normally to the left, on to the desired heading [direction].” The commercial plane then responds by following the escort.
If Flight 11 had been thus intercepted but did not respond, it would, according to standard procedures, have been shot down. Marine Corps Major Mike Snyder, a NORAD spokesman, after telling the Boston Globe that NORAD’s “fighters routinely intercept aircraft,” continued:
When planes are intercepted, they typically are handled with graduated response. The approaching fighter may rock its wingtips to attract the pilots attention, or make a pass in front of the aircraft. Eventually, it can fire tracer rounds in the airplanes path, or, under certain circumstances, down it with a missile.
The question raised by critics, of course, is why this did not happen in the case of Flight 11. Why was the plane not even intercepted?
Some confusion about this matter, they point out, was created by Vice President Cheney during an interview on “Meet the Press” on September16, in which he suggested that the “question of whether or not we would intercept commercial aircraft,” as well as the question of whether it would be shot down, was “a presidential-level decision.” This statement, point out the critics, confuses two matters: intercepting and shooting down, and interception is a routine matter, which
occurs well over a hundred times a year. The confusion of these two matters as also aided by General Richard Myers, then Acting Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee on September 13, in which he stated:”[A]fter the second tower was hit, I spoke to the commander of NORAD, General Eberhart. And at that point, I think the decision was at that point to start launching aircraft.” He, like Cheney, implied that fighters would be sent up to intercept flights only if ordered to by commanders at the highest level. But interception occurs routinely, as a matter of standard operating procedure, even if shooting down a plane would be, as Cheney implied, “a presidential-level decision.”
Moreover, although some researchers have accepted the view that a hijacked plane could be shot down only with presidential authorization, Thierry Meyssan points out that the military regulations seem to say otherwise. According to these regulations,
In the event of a hijacking, the NMCC [National Military Command Center] will be notified by the most expeditious means by the FAA. The NMCC will, with the exception of requests needing an immediate response — forward requests for DoD [Department of Defense] assistance to the Secretary of Defense for approval.
Accordingly, concludes Meyssan, the regulations give the responsibility for shooting down hijacked airplanes “to the Secretary of Defense.” Furthermore, as the phrase beginning “with the exception” shows, if the Secretary of Defense cannot be contacted in time, other people in the line of command would have the authority. According to a Department of Defense document cited by Meyssan:
It is possible to formulate to any element in the chain of command “Requests needing Immediate Response.” These arise from imminently serious conditions where only an immediate action taken by an official of the Department of Defense or a military commander can prevent loss of lives, or mitigate human suffering and great property damage.
According to this reading, many people in the line of command would have had the authority to prevent the “loss of lives” and “great property damage” that occurred when AA Flight 11 slammed into the North Tower of the WTC.
One might argue, to be sure, that at that time no one would have known that the plane was going to do that. But, critics of the official account would reply, that argument — besides not explaining why Flight 11 was not at least intercepted — would not apply to the second plane to crash into the WTC.