Questions for Miles Kara on NORAD (and Other) Exercises by Erik Larson

June 2009, 9/11 Commission Team 8 staff member Miles Kara launched a blog- 9/11 Revisited– and has been taking questions from the public, as well posting articles expanding on the 9/11 Commission’s work. In this open letter to Miles Kara I pose a set of questions that have been raised in various forms since 9/11, and since the release of the 9/11 Commission Report. In addition, there are new questions based on 9/11 Commission records released to the National Archives, January 2009. Hopefully, Miles Kara will fill in the details.

UPDATED 7/4/09 – see “Dialogue with Miles Kara” at the end of the list of questions (new reply from Miles Kara at the end)

UPDATED 7/3/09 – see “Dialogue with Miles Kara” at the end of the list of questions

——

Greetings Miles Kara, and welcome to the blogosphere!

As the History Commons contributor ‘paxvector’ who’s been scanning and uploading NARA’s 9/11 Commission records to Scribd.com/HistoryCommons (including many of yours), your public expression of gratitude for the project is appreciated.

I am very interested in your blog, 9/11 Revisited, and that you’re responding to questions from the public. With your knowledge from having served on the Commission’s staff as a member of Team 8, you may be able to settle some of the unanswered questions and speculation regarding 9/11.

I’ve compiled a list of questions and posted this as an open letter to you at my blog, 911Reports.comQuestions for Miles Kara on NORAD (and Other) Exercises. Your responses are up to you, of course, but as a courtesy to readers please include the questions with your responses, or provide a link to the questions and number your answers to correspond.

Thanks for your time- I look forward to your response, and any additional information you may provide.

Erik Larson

1. What were the name(s) and scenario(s) of the hijack exercise(s) that NORAD conducted or planned to conduct on September 11, 2001?

At least one hijack exercise is documented by the NEADS tapes, and was reported on by Michael Bronner for Vanity Fair in 2006. Bronner provides some details of the exercise, and quotes Major Kevin Nasypany, who helped design the exercise:

“When they told me there was a hijack, my first reaction was ‘Somebody started the exercise early,'” Nasypany later told me. The day’s exercise was designed to run a range of scenarios, including a “traditional” simulated hijack in which politically motivated perpetrators commandeer an aircraft, land on a Cuba-like island, and seek asylum. “I actually said out loud, ‘The hijack’s not supposed to be for another hour,'” Nasypany recalled.

2. Why was the hijack exercise (or exercises) scheduled for September 11, 2001 not included in your NORAD Exercises – Hijack Summary table?

3. Why was the hijack exercise (or exercises) not mentioned in the 9/11 Commission Report, or made into a subject at the Commission hearings?

4. Why does the 9/11 Commission Report, Chapter 1 endnote 116 restrict itself to a description of Vigilant Guardian on September 11, 2001 as having “postulated a bomber attack from the former Soviet Union”, without mentioning other exercise scenarios, and in particular omitting hijack exercises? (458n116)

Endnote 116 is the reference for the following conversation, which is also featured in the Vanity Fair article, and in your article 9/11: Training, Exercises and War Games:

NEADS: “Is this real world or exercise?”

FAA: ”No, this is not an exercise, not a test.” (20)

As quoted by Bronner (see 1. above), Nasypany indicated the questions he and many other military personnel had about “real world or exercise” were due to the hijack exercise coinciding with the 9/11 real world events- not a Soviet Bomber attack exercise, as implied by endnote 116.

Your NORAD Exercises – Hijack Summary table lists 9 versions of Vigilant Guardian from 9/6/01 to 9/10/01, all of which involved a hijack scenario.

5a. What was total number of military exercises involving aircraft that took place on September 11, 2001?

5b. What were the names and scenarios of these exercises? (Other than the hijack exercise(s) you name and describe in response to question 1. above)

6a. Which exercises involved the use of computer-simulated aircraft aka “injects” (or “inputs”) on 9/11, and how many injects were being used?

6b. Which radar screens were the injects on, and what time were they cleared?

6c. Why was the use of injects in NORAD exercises on September 11 not mentioned in the 9/11 Commission Report?

7. On your NORAD Exercises – Hijack Summary table, you highlighted certain text in Red, Yellow and Bold; what was your reason for doing this?

8. You say in your article 9/11: Training, Exercises and War Games, “The [NORAD Exercises – Hijack Summary] was prepared to list what we knew about exercises before we traveled to NORAD Headquarters.”

How was this information used in the interviews?

9. What is the reason Ken Merchant stated “that [NORAD hijack exercises] were always resolved peacefully, that is, NORAD did not project shooting down a hijacked aircraft.”? (3)

Your NORAD Exercises – Hijack Summary” table lists at least 3 exercises which included a shoot-down scenario; Vigilant Guardian 10/26/98 and 9/6/01, and Amazon Condor 10/21/99.

Ken Merchant’s MFR states:

“Mr. Merchant is the joint exercise design manager for NORAD, and has been with NORAD J3 (or J38) for 17 years.”

10. In a comment on your 9/11: Training, Exercises and War Games article, you said, “there was one Department of Justice exercise that didn’t have anything to do with the other three”. Please cite sources for information on this exercise (or provide links).

10a. What was the name, scenario and purpose of this DOJ exercise?

10b. Why was this DOJ exercise not mentioned in the 9/11 Commission Report?

11a. Why was the 2001 Global Guardian exercise rescheduled from October to the week of September 11?

11b. What are the names of those responsible for rescheduling Global Guardian?

11c. Why was Global Guardian not mentioned in the 9/11 Commission Report?

12. What are the names and roles of those who were in charge of coordinating the military, intelligence, law enforcement and emergency management exercises scheduled for September 11, 2001?

13. The 9/11 Commission Report says, “Other threats were identified during the late 1990s, including terrorists’ use of aircraft as weapons.” (17)

13a. What information was this threat-identification based on; what NORAD documents describe this threat, what do they say, and are Bin Laden and/or Al Qaeda mentioned in any of them?

13b. What did the Commission learn about this threat-identification from interviews?

14. Why does the 9/11 Commission Report say, “Exercise planners also assumed that the aircraft would originate from outside the United States, allowing time to identify the target and scramble interceptors. The threat of terrorists hijacking commercial airliners within the United States—and using them as guided missiles—was not recognized by NORAD before 9/11.”? (17)

In this unclassified Amalgam Virgo 01-02 exercise scenario (also described in your NORAD Exercises – Hijack Summary table), a suicide pilot took off from Clearwater, Florida with a plan to crash into SEADS- in order to disrupt NORAD’s ability to intercept drug-smuggling flights.

In addition to other ‘planes as missiles’ plots, Commissioner Ben-Veniste noted at the May 23, 2003 hearing, “September 12th, 1994, a Cessna 150L crashed into the South Lawn of the White House, barely missing the building, and killing the pilot.  Similarly, in December of 1994, an Algerian armed Islamic group of terrorists hijacked an Air France flight in Algiers and threatened to crash it into the Eiffel Tower.  In October of 1996, the intelligence community obtained information regarding an Iranian plot to hijack a Japanese plane over Israel and crash it into Tel Aviv.”

General McKinley responded, “It’s obvious by your categorization that those events all took place and that NORAD had that information.”

And the 9/11 Commission Report noted that, “in February 1974, a man named Samuel Byck attempted to commandeer a plane at Baltimore Washington International Airport with the intention of forcing the pilots to fly into Washington and crash into the White House to kill the president.” (561n21)

15. Why was Osama Bin Laden’s picture used on the cover of the Amalgam Virgo 01 exercise proposal?

16. DOD Document Request No. 4, Item 20 requested “The final briefing and intelligence scenario for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) exercise scheduled on 9/11 concerning a plane crash into NRO headquarters.” This DOD Document Index (emailed by Dan Levin) says it was delivered 7/15/03.

17a. What was the full NRO exercise scenario- and did it involve an accidental plane crash, or an intentional one?

17b. In what ways, if any, was this NRO exercise connected with the other exercises happening on 9/11?

17c. Why was this NRO exercise not mentioned in the 9/11 Commission Report?

UPDATE: Dialogue with Miles Kara (Click on the date to go directly to the comment at his blog; my comments have not been posted)

Oredigger 61 says:

July 2, 2009 at 8:08 am

Eric, good morning, and nice to hear from you. I am relying heavily on you and your effort to get our work files in the public domain in some sensible fashion.

I can’t answer your questions piecemeal, I simply don’t have enough information in front of me and my recall from memory is problematic. For example, I had no active memory recall of the exercise spreadsheet until Phil Shenon jogged my memory.

Here’s part of the problem. What you are seeing in the NARA files is just the tip of the iceberg. NARA hasn’t even begun to touch our audo files or any of the electionic files, including master data bases. I have suggested that they make the audo file of our NORAD visit to J37 a high priority, by the way.

Let me comment on what I can, at this point. First, we are talking notional injects into exercises. There were no planes in the skies involved. There was a series of three Guardian exercises, NORAD, SpaceCom and StratCom; I think NORAD played in two of those, according to Myers testimony at the McKinney hearings. Those were both CPX. There was no impact on the air defense mission other than as I have stated–battle cabs were fully manned.

I don’t recall the DoJ exercise and I don’t recall working on that. Not sure how I got linked to that; please check how you made that equation.

Nothing detracted from the work on the NEADS floor; the only military element that actually ‘fought’ the battle that day. It is quite clear that the ID Techs are solely focused on getting any information they could and that the Surveillance Techs were continuously looking for tracks and that the WD/SD section under Fox was doing what it was supposed to be doing. I listened to these tapes multiple times and the concentration on the real-world task at hand is clear. Occasional exercise-related comments are just that; occasional and understandable.

We spent a lot of time working through this whole issue and at the end of the day it was an intervening variable, but not one that was significant.

I can comment on the NRO exercise since I’m the one that worked that. Eventually our released files will show that NRO provided us the details and there was nothing related to 9-11. NRO lives and works under one of the approach/takeoff paths to Dulles. They have long known that they were vulnerable to an accident. They scheduled an exercise predicated on an accidental crash, nothing more. There is no correlation to anything having to do with hijackings or with the events of 9-11 as they unfolded. The exercise was cancelled.

For now, let me close with a question of my own. What exactly is it that NORAD was supposed to do if they had received timely notification, which they did not? Once hijacked, a happening totally beyond NORAD’s control, those four planes were going to come down violently. I was about 1/4 mile from the Pentagon on 9-11, see the picture in my article on becoming a Commission Staff member, and I could easily have become a victim, depending on where AA77 came down.

Thanks again for your hard work on uploading files.

Miles

——

Oredigger 61 says:

July 2, 2009 at 6:41 pm

Erik, hi, I’ve given some thought to your lengthy list of questions and I want to provide you a response that helps further your own efforts.

First, let me estabish the common ground. We are both interested in making public as much of the Commission’s files as possible. We both have the same reason for doing that, to establish the facts of the day. To that end I will do what I can to assist with NARA.

Second, as I told Jon Gold, Kyle Hence, and Kevin, I am not interested in debating the facts of the day. That is counterproductive to my own stated objectives but more important for your own endeavors. What will happen is we will enter an endless “do loop” where I answer questions and the answers are found wanting, which leads to more questions, on ad infinitum.

As I told one of the three, in two cases where I was the sole staffer working the issue–Payne Stewart and the seismic 10:06 time for UA 93–it didn’t matter. The answers were not “right,” and not accepted in some quarters. I have now done that in a 3d case, NRO. I was the sole staffer working that issue and as I’ve told you it is a non-issue.

Third, I have my own question on the table. What is it, exactly, that NORAD was supposed to do? Take it one step further, given perfect information and the time to respond, what is it, exactly, that NORAD was supposed to do? I have had in place a Google Alert “9-11 Commission” since late 2004. I am not aware of anyone who has ever tried to answer that question. It is, in your world, the ‘elephant in the room.’ Might be time to acknowledge that.

Finally, I have a suggestion to help you and your colleagues further your own work in a meaningful way. It is ultimately not productive for you to engage in a continuing exchange with a single staffer whose personal recall on many of the facts of the day is nearly five years removed from the relevant work files. I submit that many of your colleagues intuitively understand this and its futility. So, if you are truly serious in getting at the issues of the day here is my suggestion.

First, write an article in a mainstream publication outside the ‘blogosphere.’ I suggest the Washington Post sunday magazine as I example of where to publish. Or, do as Michael Bronner did and publish in a magazine such as Vanity Fair.

Second, file suit in a court of your choice. I’m sure there are lawyers in your group who can take on this task.

Third, petition a Congressman or Senator to task the statutory Inspectors General to open an investigation. This is the course of action I recommend. Any number of people have had success doing this. The mother of a Marine killed in El Salvador in the ‘Zona Rosa Massacre.’ petitioned Senator Shelby to find out why her son died. Senator Shelby tasked multiple statutory Inspectors General to answer that question, in detail. A private citizen, Jose Basulto, CEO of Brothers to the Rescue, petitioned Representative Dan Burton to find out why Cuba MiGs were allowed to pursue him within three nautical miles of the Continental US. Representative Burton tasked the DoD Inspector General to answer that question, in detail. You will be interested to know that Jose Basulto leveraged his own website to further his cause. The POW/MIA concerned citizens petitioned Senator Bob Smith to champion their cause. He caused an ad hoc special committee to convene and, unhappy with those results, caused the concerned statutory Inspectors General to conduct a detailed investigation. Finally, Jennifer Harbury, widow of a slain Guatemalan guerrilla leader caused the US Government to investigate the death of her husband. That was accomplished through tasking to the statutory Inspectors General by the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board.

Erik, I have given considerable thought and have taken the time to give you a detailed response so that you have some meaningful options beyond just nitter-nattering with a single Staffer who happens to have started a blog site to continue his work on the events of the day of 9-11. I need time to do that and engaging in endless questions and answers is not the way I choose to go.

Amicably,

Miles

——

My response:

Hi Miles, I was at the Archives til 9p and I don’t go online there, except to research an occasional question.

Thank you for the 2 responses so far; you’ve provided many details and a lot of food for thought.

As you say, “We are both interested in making public as much of the Commission’s files as possible. We both have the same reason for doing that, to establish the facts of the day. To that end I will do what I can to assist with NARA.”

You are correct; these are my goals, and I very much appreciate what you’re doing toward those ends.

While some of my questions are challenging, I am only posing them as the answers are not yet clear, and as a human being and an American, I believe they should be.

Like you, I am not interested in debating. However, you posed a question to me: “What exactly is it that NORAD was supposed to do if they had received timely notification, which they did not? Once hijacked, a happening totally beyond NORAD’s control, those four planes were going to come down violently.”

So I’ll answer, based solely on the premise you posed above: NORAD should have “take[n] lives in the air to save those on the ground”. As I noted in my open letter, “Your NORAD Exercises – Hijack Summary” table lists at least 3 exercises which included a shoot-down scenario; Vigilant Guardian 10/26/98 and 9/6/01, and Amazon Condor 10/21/99.”

I could say a lot more, but I’m going to leave it at this. I do hope you will answer a few more of the questions; 7 and 8 should be fairly simple, as they are about your Hijack Summary and how it was used for the interviews.

In any case, I am looking forward to your forthcoming articles.

Peace.

——

Oredigger 61 says:

July 3, 2009 at 6:37 am

Erik, good morning. I usually go to NARA in the morning hours and target my visits for finite boxes or to do specific things. For example, on my last visit I was allowed to take photos of the poster boards that NORAD (Scott) used at the May 23 hearing and I am ginning up an article to add that information to my NORAD piece. There are, by the way, 8 1/2 by 11 copies of those poster boards in Box 8.

I can’t answer question 7 and 8 without refreshing my memory on our NORAD trip. I’m not even sure I was in on the Merchant interview. We split up duties and I was pursuing whether or not CMOC had tapes/files of the ‘forward tell’ feed from NEADS and also in tracking down Cheri Gott. In box 8 you will find a couple of briefings that Cheri put together. The sound bite in my head is that Merchant characterized all of the injects as notional, someone’s imagination, not real world inspired.

In regards to my question, yes that is the NORAD response that is out there, but it ignores the key question. Those four planes were going to come down somewhere and someone on the ground was going to die, perhaps me. No one has thought through the specifics of how diversion/shooting down/ramming was going to save lives on the ground. That is what I am looking for.

I don’t mind continuing our conversation via PM, your approach is reasonable in this mode.

Back to NARA, did you know that you can reclama withdrawal notices that aren’t caveated as classified information or closed by statute?

Miles

——

My response:

Hi Miles,

Thanks for the additional info- I’m looking forward to digging thru Box 8. Re; reclaiming Withdrawal Notices; nearly all the Withdrawal Notices for the most interesting material are labeled ‘classified’, ‘closed by statute’, ‘law enforcement sensitive’ and sometimes ‘personal privacy’. At this point I’m focused on reviewing box contents and scanning records- I hope to finish in July or August. After that I’ll be reviewing the Withdrawal Notices, requesting the ‘mandatory declassification review’ and submitting FOIA requests. Any help you provide on this is much appreciated- if you can get the Archives to make all interview transcripts public, that would be awesome.

Re: questions 7 and 8- it sure would be interesting to hear your responses, if you will. Regarding your point about NORAD intercept and shoot-down- I’ll address that at the end of my post here, but as questions 13 and 14 quote from a Commission Report passage which bears on the subject, I’m going to address this issue in more detail first:

1) “Exercise planners also assumed that the aircraft would originate from outside the United States, allowing time to identify the target and scramble interceptors.” (17)

In at least one exercise in your Hijack Summary (Amalgam Virgo 01-02), exercise planners did envision an aircraft on a suicide mission originating in the US. The description says, “Scenario fruition is ‘up to Blue Forces’”, so presumably shoot-down was an option being reserved in this case as well.

In addition, the 1974 plot by Byck cited in the Commission Report was to “commandeer a plane at Baltimore Washington International Airport with the intention of forcing the pilots to fly into Washington and crash into the White House to kill the president.” (561n21)

2) Why would exercise planners assume that aircraft originating outside the U.S. would give them “time to identify the target and scramble interceptors”? (17)

In one of the real-world examples cited by Comissioner Ben-Veniste at the May 23, 2003 hearing, the 1996 plot was to “hijack a Japanese plane over Israel and crash it into Tel Aviv.”

3) How is the distinction of aircraft “originat[ing] from outside the United States” meaningful in terms of NORAD’s threat-identification, its planning for its primary mission of ensuring sovereignty over U.S. airspace, and its ability to respond to real-world situations?

In total, the Hijack Summary lists 8 hijacks as originating in the U.S. Furthermore, as it’s a NORAD ‘hijack’ summary, it presumably excludes NORAD exercises in which non-hijacked aircraft (commercial or private) originating in the US (or outside) are used to deliver WMD.

4) The Hijack Summary dates to 10/25/98; what can you tell us about military exercises involving aircraft prior to that date?

DOD Document Request No. 4 asked for: “11. Intelligence scenarios and briefing papers for all national military exercises, since January 1993, in which a plane was hijacked and/or used as a weapon and which involved any of the following DoD entities: NORAD, JCS, and Special Operations Command (SOCOM).”

5) “The threat of terrorists hijacking commercial airliners within the United States—and using them as guided missiles—was not recognized by NORAD before 9/11.” (17)

Also at the May 23, 2003 hearings, Ben-Veniste cited numerous instances of planes being used as weapons, and that in “September of 1998, the intelligence community obtained information that Osama bin Laden’s next operation could possibly involve flying an aircraft loaded with explosives into a U.S. airport and detonating it.”

General McKinley responded, “It’s obvious by your categorization that those events all took place and that NORAD had that information.”

6) Were the examples cited by Ben-Veniste at the May 23, 2003 hearing what the 9/11 Commission Report was referring to when it said, “Other threats were identified during the late 1990s, including terrorists’ use of aircraft as weapons.”? (17)

Now, back to your question: “In regards to my question, yes that is the NORAD response that is out there, but it ignores the key question. Those four planes were going to come down somewhere and someone on the ground was going to die, perhaps me. No one has thought through the specifics of how diversion/shooting down/ramming was going to save lives on the ground. That is what I am looking for.”

NORAD’s primary mission has been ensuring sovereignty over U.S. airspace since at least 1974. Mitigating loss of life and property damage are secondary missions, but are served by maintaining the primary mission. If NORAD had been unable to shoot down AA 11, UA 175 or AA 77 over an unpopulated area, it’s possible people on the ground may have been killed or injured- but NORAD’s primary mission would have been accomplished. Shooting down the aircraft would also have served as a message that planes cannot be used to attack the U.S., which would in turn have advanced NORAD’s primary mission. Not doing so contributed to the perception that the U.S. was and is vulnerable. And as far lives lost on the ground on 9/11; presumably, if the planes had not hit the WTC Towers or the Pentagon, no one would have died in those locations- and nearly 3000 died in the Twin Towers.

Shooting down planes is obviously the last line of defense, not the preferred course of action. Events leading up to the FAA/NORAD response to the hijackings were investigated by other teams; if you could get colleagues from any other teams to launch blogs as well, that would be great.

Erik

——

Oredigger 61 says:

July 3, 2009 at 10:45 pm

Erik, I’ll need to see much more of our work files to even begin to address this. I’ll also need to take a look at the “Planes as Weapons” part of our work on the Joint Inquiry. The short answer, for now, is that no one put these isolated items into a threat statement that was actionable. There had not been a real-world hijack of CONUS interest for a decade and that one originated overseas. The paradigm at all levels of Government was that a hijacker would seek asylum, despite the occasional notional inject in an exercise to the contrary. No one had put together the threat that materialized on 9-11 and it wasn’t NORAD’s job to do that. That task belonged to the intelligence community and the law enforcement community.

Couple of additional points to consider. First, the only reason we had any CONUS air defense capability at all is the Air National Guard carved out a niche mission for itself. There were just 14 aircraft available. The focus was outward despite what occasional MESL in some exercises might say, all of which were notional, by the way. The policy was that any transponding aircraft that departed from a CONUS airport was friendly, by definition. NEADS and NORAD didn’t monitor commercial civilian aircraft at all, they had no reason to and didn’t have the assets or the capability to do so.

Given the plot as it unfolded and the notifications that were given, what is it that NORAD was supposed to do? Were they, alone, supposed to have been aware of the plot ahead of time? I think not.

We can chat at some point at NARA this summer if convenient. I doubt anyone other than me will be blogging.

I may end up filing some FOIA requests of my own to get at some of the underlying information, by the way.

Miles

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