Why the Planes Were Not Intercepted on 9/11: The Wall Street Lawyer and the Special Ops Hijack Coordinator
Of the many unanswered questions about the attacks of September 11, one of the most important is: Why were none of the four planes intercepted? A rough answer is that the failure of the US air defenses can be traced to a number of factors and people. There were policy changes, facility changes, and personnel changes that had recently been made, and there were highly coincidental military exercises that were occurring on that day. But some of the most startling facts about the air defense failures have to do with the utter failure of communications between the agencies responsible for protecting the nation. At the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), two people stood out in this failed chain of communications. One was a lawyer on his first day at the job, and another was a Special Operations Commander who was never held responsible for his critical role, or even questioned about it.
The 9/11 Commission wrote in its report that – “On 9/11, the defense of U.S. airspace depended on close interaction between two federal agencies: the FAA and the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD).”
According to the Commission, this interaction began with air traffic controllers (ATCs) at the relevant regional FAA control centers, which on 9/11 included Boston, New York, Cleveland, and Indianapolis. In the event of a hijacking, these ATCs were expected to “notify their supervisors, who in turn would inform management all the way up to FAA headquarters. Headquarters had a hijack coordinator, who was the director of the FAA Office of Civil Aviation Security or his or her designate. “
The hijack coordinator would then “contact the Pentagon’s National Military Command Center (NMCC)” and “the NMCC would then seek approval from the Office of the Secretary of Defense to provide military assistance. If approval was given, the orders would be transmitted down NORAD’s chain of command [to the interceptor pilots].”
The 9/11 Commission report (the report) indicated that the military was eventually notified about all the hijackings but none of those notifications were made in time to intercept the hijacked aircraft. The report also contradicted a good deal of testimony given on the subject by suggesting that earlier statements made by military leaders, in testimony to the Commission, were “incorrect.” The corrections to these statements led to a reassessment of how much time the military actually had to respond to requests for interception from the FAA. Ultimately, the report stated that -- “NEADS air defenders had nine minutes’ notice on the first hijacked plane, no advance notice on the second, no advance notice on the third, and no advance notice on the fourth.”
The report does not place blame for the failure to intercept on any specific people in the chain of communications, but it specifically exonerates “NEADS commanders and officers” and “[i]ndividual FAA controllers, facility managers and Command Center managers.” In fact, the report goes so far as to praise these people for how well they did. Curiously, the hijack coordinator at FAA headquarters was not mentioned in the list of those who were exonerated.
The ATCs did notify their management as required, but further notification to FAA headquarters (FAA HQ) was apparently riddled with delays. FAA HQ got plenty of notice of the four hijacked planes but failed to do its job. One of the most glaring examples was demonstrated by the failure of FAA HQ to request military assistance for the fourth hijacking, that of Flight 93.
On page 28, the report says: “By 9:34, word of the hijacking had reached FAA headquarters.” Despite this advance notice, Flight 93 “crashed” in Pennsylvania sometime between 10:03 and 10:07.
To put this in perspective, at 9:34 it had been over 30 minutes since a second airliner had crashed in the World Trade Center (WTC). It was known that a third plane was hijacked and it was about to crash into the Pentagon. Everyone in the country knew we were under a coordinated terrorist attack via hijacked aircraft because, as of 9:03, mainstream news stations including CNN had already been televising it.
That was the situation when FAA HQ was notified about a fourth hijacking. Given those circumstances, an objective observer would expect the highest level of urgency throughout all levels of government in response to that fourth hijacking. But FAA management did not follow the protocol to ask for military assistance. The 9/11 Commission contends that FAA HQ gave air defenders no notice whatsoever of the hijacking of Flight 93 until after the plane had been destroyed. For whatever reasons, the FAA’s Command Center (located in Herndon, VA) did not request military assistance either. In fact, neither the Command Center nor FAA HQ contacted NMCC to request military assistance for any of the hijacked planes.
Therefore it seems reasonable to look at the people whose roles were most important in this failed chain of communications. Once the entire country was aware that we were under attack and that planes were being hijacked and used as weapons, the two people who were most important to the FAA’s response were 1) the person running the FAA’s national Command Center and 2) the hijack coordinator at FAA headquarters.
It turns out that these two people were both new to their jobs. In fact, it was the first day on the job for Benedict Leo Sliney, the national operations manager at FAA’s Command Center.
Benedict Sliney was an ATC in the US Air Force during the Vietnam War and, after that, worked at the FAA for the first half of his professional career. In the 1980s, Sliney went on from the FAA to work as an attorney and continued in that career throughout the 1990s. He worked for several law firms during this time, handling various kinds of cases, and he was a partner in some of those firms.
Sliney’s clients included financial investors who were accused of Securities and Exchange violations. In one 1998 case, he represented Steven K. Gourlay, Jr., an employee of Sterling Foster. It was reported that Sterling Foster was “secretly controlled” by Randolph Pace and was at the center of "one of the most notorious scams ever.” Sliney got Gourlay’s charges dropped in 1998 but, in a related 2002 case, Gourlay pled guilty to conspiracy to commit securities fraud, mail fraud and wire fraud, and was sentenced to six months in prison.[6,7]
In the summer of 2000, Sliney represented Merrill Lynch in a case in which the delay of the transfer of clients’ funds to Smith Barney was said to have “caused their investments with Merrill, Lynch to lose some $638,000 in value.” Sliney was able to get Merrill Lynch off the hook.
For whatever reasons, Sliney decided to leave his lucrative law career behind just months before 9/11 in order to return to the FAA. It was reported that Jack Kies, FAA’s manager of tactical operations, offered Sliney the job of Command Center national operations manager. Instead, Sliney asked to work as a specialist and he started in that role. Kies offered Sliney the national operations manager position again six months later and Sliney accepted. His first day on the job was 9/11/01.
On 9/11, others present at the FAA’s Command Center outranked Sliney. Interviews of those others, however, including Linda Schuessler and John White, confirm that Ben Sliney was given the lead in the Command Center’s response to the hijackings that day. Despite that critical role, Sliney is mentioned only one time in the narrative of the 9/11 Commission report.
According to the summary of his interview for the investigation, Sliney was first notified of “a hijack in progress” sometime between 8:15 and 8:20 EDT. This was about the same time as communications were lost with American Airlines Flight 11, the first of the planes to be hijacked, and it was about 30 minutes before that plane crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center (WTC). It was nearly two hours before Flight 93 was destroyed in Pennsylvania. Incredibly, according to Sliney’s interview, it was not until after a second confirmed hijacking occurred and two planes had crashed in the WTC (nearly an hour after he learned about the first hijacking) that Sliney “realized that the hijackers were piloting the aircraft.”
After the second tower was hit, Sliney responded by asking for a military response via the special military outfit assigned to the FAA’s Command Center, the Air Traffic Services Cell (ATSC). This was at approximately 9:06 am. At the time, one of the three military officers in the ATSC called the NMCC and that officer was told that “senior leaders” at the NMCC are “in a meeting to determine their response” to the attacks, and will call back. As this example shows, there are at least as many unanswered questions about what went on at the NMCC that morning as there are about what happened at the FAA.
Several of the FAA’s top people confirmed that the military was engaged and knew about the hijackings early on. This included Jeff Griffith at the Command Center and Monte Belger, the FAA’s acting Deputy Administrator, who was present at FAA Headquarters. Belger stated that -- “[T]here were military people on duty at the FAA Command Center, as Mr. Sliney said. They were participating in what was going on. There were military people in the FAA’s Air Traffic Organization in a situation room. They were participating in what was going on.”
Sliney’s interview summary is full of phrases like he “did not recall” and “was not aware,” although he did recall “being informed” that interceptors were eventually launched (too late). Apparently, Sliney didn’t even know what the fighters would do if they were launched. He recalled thinking: “Well, what are they going to do?” Additionally, in an apparent defensive posture, Sliney claimed -- “definitively that he did not receive a request to authorize a request to the military for assistance.”
One might think that the national operations manager for the FAA’s Command Center would not need a “request to authorize a request for military assistance” and that he might know what military assistance would entail. But Sliney’s interview summary suggests that he did not even know what the protocol was for requesting military assistance in the event of a hijacking. Sliney’s understanding on 9/11 “and today” (two years later, when the interview was conducted) was that an FAA request for military assistance “emanates from the effected Center…directly to the military.” That is, Sliney supposedly was not aware of any role that the FAAs’ Command Center or FAA HQ might have had in the request for interception of hijacked aircraft. This appears to be in contradiction to the protocol given by the 9/11 Commission report and it is definitely in contradiction to the concept of a “hijack coordinator.”
In addition to the confusion about the Command Center’s role in requesting military assistance, it seems there was only one person at FAA headquarters who was authorized to request military assistance. On 9/11, Ben Sliney was told that no one could find that one person. Sliney later recounted his experience learning of that fact in this way.
“I said something like, ‘That’s incredible. There’s only one person. There must be someone designated or someone who will assume the responsibility of issuing an order, you know.’ We were becoming frustrated in our attempts to get some information. What was the military response?”
The hijack coordinator at FAA headquarters, Lt. Gen. Michael A. Canavan, had been in his position for only nine months and would leave the job within a month of 9/11. Surprisingly, although Mike Canavan was mentioned in the 9/11 Commission report, he was not cited for his role as the FAA’s hijack coordinator, a role that was at the center of the failure to intercept the planes on 9/11.
Instead of being mentioned as the hijack coordinator, Canavan was in the report because he had been the commander of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which ran the military’s counterterrorism operations and covert missions. The report described Canavan’s part in the the failure to follow-through on a carefully laid-out 1998 CIA plan to capture Osama bin Laden (OBL) in Afghanistan. Canavan was quoted as saying that the plan put tribal Afghanis at too much risk and that the “operation was too complicated for the CIA.”
Nearly the entirety of Canavan’s career was in military special operations. He was a Special Forces soldier for many years and before he was JSOC Commander he was Special Operations Commander for the US European Command (SOCEUR), which included operations throughout Africa as well. Canavan was SOCEUR from 1994 to 1996 and JSOC Commander from 1996 to 1998.
JSOC is a successor organization to the Office of Policy Coordination (OPC), which was a secret government-funded organization authorized by the National Security Council in 1948. The OPC was led by CIA director Allen Dulles and Frank Wisner, a State Department official who wielded unprecedented power due to his position in New York law and financial circles. The JSOC was created in 1980 by the Pentagon and run by Ted Shackley’s OPC colleague, Richard Stillwell. According to author Joseph Trento, JSOC quickly became “one of the most secret operations of the US government.”
Creation of the JSOC was, ostensibly, a response to the failed 1980 hostage rescue attempt in Iran called Operation Eagle Claw. JSOC immediately went on to engage in an “array of highly covert activities” by way of “black budgets.” This included operations in Honduras and El Salvador which supported the illegal wars associated with the Nicaraguan rebels called the Contras.
In 1987, JSOC was assigned to a new military command called the US Special Operations Command (SOCOM) that came about through the work of Senator William S. Cohen. Senator Cohen went on to become the Secretary of Defense from 1997 to 2001 and it was he who led the Quadrennial Defense Review of 1997 that reduced the number of fighters actively protecting the continental US from 100 to 14. Cohen is now chairman of The Cohen group, where he works with his Vice Chairman, Marc Grossman, whom FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds says figures prominently in the information she has been trying to provide.
Interestingly, Hugh Shelton was the commander of SOCOM during the same years that Canavan was the commander of JSOC. Shelton went on to become the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), which is the highest position in the US military. He was in that position on September 11th and was, like Canavan, curiously absent for just the morning hours on that day.
In any case, it seems odd that Michael Canavan occupied what turned out to be the most important position relative to the failure to intercept the hijacked planes on 9/11 and was also involved in evaluating plans to capture OBL just three years earlier. Apart from the coincidence that he was selected as the most qualified person for both of those very different positions, he was also a central figure in these two different reasons why the 9/11 attacks were said to have succeeded.
When he first started the job as FAA’s hijack coordinator, just nine months before the attacks, Canavan was in charge of running training exercises that were “pretty damn close to [the] 9/11 plot,” according to John Hawley, an employee in the FAA’s intelligence division. In his comments to the 9/11 Commission, Canavan denied having participated in any such exercises and the Commission apparently didn’t think to reconcile the conflicting comments it had received from Hawley and Canavan on this important issue.
That’s not surprising in light of the fact that Canavan’s treatment by the 9/11 Commission was one of uncritical deference. Reading through the transcript of the related hearing gives the impression that the Commission members were not only trying to avoid asking the General any difficult questions, but they were fawning over him.
Lee Hamilton began his questioning of Canavan by saying “You're pretty tough on the airlines, aren't you?” As with many of the statements and reports made by Hamilton, however, the evidence suggests that the opposite is true.
In May 2001, Canavan wrote an internal FAA memorandum that initiated a new policy of more lax fines for airlines and airports that had security problems. The memo suggested that, if the airlines or airports had a written plan to fix the problem, fines were not needed. For whatever reason, the memo was also taken to mean that FAA agents didn’t even have to enforce corrections as long as the airline or airport said they were working on it. Canavan’s memo was repeatedly cited as a cause of failure to fix security problems in the months leading up to 9/11.[23,24]
Canavan’s job as hijack coordinator was clearly the most important link in the communications chain between the FAA and the military. But the 9/11 Commission did not address this hijack coordinator position in terms of how it was fulfilled on 9/11, and did not mention the alarming fact that we don’t know who actually handled the job of hijack coordinator on the day of 9/11. We don’t know because Canavan said he was in Puerto Rico that morning and claimed to have missed out on “everything that happened that day.”
Here is Canavan’s exact statement to the Commission, in response to a question from Commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste, whose questions were, like Hamilton’s, rather submissive.
"Here's my answer -- and it's not to duck the question. Number one, I was visiting the airport in San Juan that day when this happened. That was a CADEX airport, and I was down there also to remove someone down there that was in a key position. So when 9/11 happened, that's where I was. I was able to get back to Washington that evening on a special flight from the Army back from San Juan, back to Washington. So everything that transpired that day in terms of times, I have to -- and I have no information on that now, because when I got back we weren't -- that wasn't the issue at the time. We were -- when I got back it was, What are we going to do over the next 48 hours to strengthen what just happened?”
One might think that the Commissioners would have expressed surprise at Canavan’s rambling, somewhat incoherent claim that he was just not available during the events of 9/11. We would certainly expect the Commissioners to have followed up with detailed questions about who was in charge that day with respect to the most important role related to the failed national response. But that was not the case. Instead, Ben-Veniste redirected the discussion while “putting aside the issue.” None of the other Commissioners said a word about Canavan being missing that day or even asked who was filling in for him as the primary contact between the FAA and the military with regard to hijackings. And, of course, the 9/11 Commission report did not mention any of it at all.
In the interest of finding out what happened we should return to the failure of FAA HQ to request military assistance for Flight 93. We should ask -- what was FAA HQ doing with this information for those 30 minutes in the absence of the one person who was charged to do something about it? Apparently, for fifteen minutes nothing was done. But after fifteen minutes, according to the 9/11 Commission report, the conversations were going nowhere.
At 9:49, according to the report, this was the exchange between the FAA Command Center and FAA HQ.
Command Center: Uh, do we want to think, uh, about scrambling aircraft?
FAA Headquarters: Oh, God, I don’t know.
Command Center: Uh, that’s a decision somebody’s gonna have to make probably in the next ten minutes.
FAA Headquarters: Uh, ya know everybody just left the room.
The Commission report says that ineffectual discussions about scrambling aircraft were still occurring at FAA HQ twenty minutes after it had received notification of the fourth hijacking.
At 9:53 am, “FAA headquarters informed the Command Center that the deputy director for air traffic services was talking to Monte Belger about scrambling aircraft.”
Apart from contradicting Benedict Sliney’s testimony that an FAA request for military assistance “emanates from the effected Center…directly to the military,” this part of the 9/11 Commission report never mentions who the “deputy director for air traffic services” was. Tape recordings suggest that it was someone named Peter. This might have been Peter H. Challan, an engineer who had worked for the FAA since 1969 and had been Deputy Associate Administrator for Air Traffic Services since July 1999. But the Deputy Director of Air Traffic Services that day was Jeff Griffith. Monte Belger was the Deputy Administrator for the FAA, second in command to the FAA Administrator, Jane Garvey. Belger and Griffith later denied they ever had a conversation about scrambling aircraft, despite the 9/11 Commission stating this as fact.
Jane Garvey was also present during the failed response at FAA HQ. She was the FAA Administrator from 1997 to 2002 and coincidentally, in the years before that, had been the director of Logan International Airport in Boston, where two of the flights took off on 9/11. Apparently Garvey’s record as director for the Logan airport, which had for many years the worst security record of any major airport, was not a problem for her nomination to the top job at FAA. It was Garvey who appointed Canavan to his role as Associate Administrator for Civil Aviation Security and, therefore, hijack coordinator.
In any case, in the absence of the hijack coordinator the FAA was completely incompetent in terms of communicating the need to intercept the hijacked planes on 9/11. Officially, the only notice of the hijackings to the military came directly from the FAA centers, bypassing both the Command Center and FAA HQ. Boston Center reached the North East Air Defense Sector (NEADS) at 8:37 to request help with the first hijacking, and New York Center notified the military of the second hijacking at 9:03. NEADS only found about the third hijacking at 9:34 by calling the Washington center to ask about Flight 11, and the military was said to have first learned about the hijacking of Flight 93 from Cleveland Center at 10:07. Still, none of the planes were intercepted.
9/11 and special operations
Although Michael Canavan was unavailable to perform his critical job function on 9/11, he was fully involved in the response to the attacks. Just two days later, he attended a “Principals Committee Meeting” chaired by Condoleezza Rice that included all of Bush’s “war cabinet.” This meeting set the stage for how the new War on Terror would be conducted.
Canavan later cashed in on the windfalls of the resulting wars and the privatization of military operations when he hired on at Anteon International Corporation as president of its Information Systems Group. In doing so he joined a number of prominent defense department alumni, including his former special operations colleague, SOCOM commander and JCS chairman Hugh Shelton, who was on the board of directors at Anteon.
Since 9/11, covert activities have been encouraged at a much higher level but, prior to 9/11, SOCOM was not supposed to conduct covert operations. Therefore, JSOC worked intimately with the CIA’s clandestine division called the Special Activities Division (SAD). Canavan led those kinds of operations in northern Iraq, Liberia and Bosnia. He ran special operations in Croatia in 1996 and, according to President Clinton, was the one who identified Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown’s body after Brown’s plane crashed there.
JSOC regularly works with foreign intelligence agencies, including the Mossad. It has been involved with hijackings, for example that of the Achille Lauro and TWA Flight 847. It has also operated from bases in foreign countries, such as Saudi Arabia, for many years. Presidential Decision Directive, PDD-25, gave JSOC one of the rare exemptions from the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, which means that JSOC can legally conduct its missions within the US.
In the “War on Terror”, the special mission units of JSOC have been given the authority to pursue secret operations around the world. JSOC effectively operates outside the law, capturing and killing people with or without the knowledge of the host countries in which it operates. JSOC missions are always low-profile and the US government will not acknowledge any specifics about them.
Reporter Seymour Hersh has reported that the JSOC was under the command of Vice President Dick Cheney after the attacks. Hersh also claimed that the leaders of JSOC “are all members of, or at least supporters of, the Knights of Malta” and that “many of them are members of Opus Dei.” The ties between the Knights of Malta and high-level US intelligence personnel, including William Casey and William Donovan, have been well-documented. Such accusations have also been made of Louis Freeh, who headed the FBI from 1993 to June 2001 and would have worked closely with Canavan and Shelton in the pursuit of special operations targets.
Other special operations leaders who were involved in the lack of response on 9/11 included Richard Armitage, who was present on the Secure Video Teleconference (SVTS) during the attacks. This was the White House meeting chaired by Richard Clarke, which the 9/11 Commission said convened at 9:25 and included leaders of the CIA, the FBI, the FAA, as well as the departments of State, Defense and Justice. Even with all those leaders in on the call, nothing was done to stop Flight 93 from “crashing” that morning, approximately 40 minutes after the call began. Instead, we were left completely undefended.
Like Canavan and Shelton, Armitage was involved in special operations in Vietnam and later was reportedly involved in several of the most well-known covert operations in US history, including the Phoenix Program and the Iran-Contra crimes. Although he had spent many years in the Defense department, he was Deputy Secretary of State on 9/11. After the invasion of Iraq, he was identified as the one who betrayed CIA agent Valerie Plame by revealing her identity, apparently in retaliation for her husband’s attempt to set the record straight on weapons of mass destruction. Armitage admitted he revealed Plame’s identity but claimed it was done inadvertently.
Another special operations soldier who testified to the 9/11 Commission and played a significant role with regard to the airlines and facilities prior to 9/11 was Brian Michael Jenkins. While Shelton and Canavan were running SOCOM and JSOC, Jenkins was the deputy chairman of Kroll when that company was designing the security system for the World Trade Center (WTC) complex.
Jenkins was appointed by President Clinton to be a member of the White House Commission on Aviation Safety and Security, where he collaborated with James Abrahamson of WTC security company Stratesec, and FBI director (and alleged Opus Dei member) Louis Freeh. In 1999 and 2000, Jenkins served as an advisor to the National Commission on Terrorism, led by L. Paul Bremer, who went on to be an executive of WTC impact zone tenant, Marsh & McLennan, and then the Iraq occupation governor. Jenkins returned to the RAND Corporation where he had previously worked with Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, Frank Carlucci of The Carlyle Group, and Paul Kaminski of Anteon.
Lieutenant Colonel John Blitch was yet another special operations soldier who played a big part in the events immediately following 9/11. Blitch spent his career in the US Army's Special Forces and was said to have retired just the day before 9/11 to become an employee of Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC). Immediately following the attacks, he was put in charge of the team of robotic machine operators that explored the pile at Ground Zero, using devices that had previously been used for elimination of unexploded ordnance.
Despite being given plenty of notice about the four planes hijacked on 9/11, FAA management did not request military assistance to ensure the planes were intercepted before they crashed. The 9/11 Commission attributes this to a string of gross failures in communication between the FAA and the military on 9/11. However, the report places no blame on any of the people who were involved and doesn’t even mention the one person who was most important to this chain of communications.
One of the most important people involved was Benedict Sliney, who had, just before 9/11, left a lucrative law career defending Wall Street financiers to return to work as a specialist at the FAA. It was his first day on the job. With regard to ensuring military interception of the hijacked planes, he said he did not receive a “request to authorize a request.” Sliney also claimed to not know that FAA management at the Command Center, where he was in charge, or FAA HQ, had any role in requests for military assistance. This is in contradiction to the stated protocol in the 9/11 Commission report and also the idea of an FAA “hijack coordinator.”
The FAA hijack coordinator was Michael Canavan, a career special operations commander who had come to the civilian FAA job only nine months before 9/11. According to an FAA intelligence agent, one of the first things Canavan did in that job was lead and participate in exercises that were “pretty damn close to the 9/11 plot.” He was also known within the FAA for writing a memo just a few months before 9/11 that instituted a new leniency with regard to airport and airline security.
With regard to the communication failures, Canavan offered the unsolicited excuse that he was absent during the morning hours of 9/11, in Puerto Rico. The 9/11 Commission did not pursue this excuse nor did it ask who was filling the critical hijack coordinator role in Canavan’s absence. In fact, the 9/11 Commission report didn’t address the hijack coordinator role at all. The report mentioned Sliney only once in the entire narrative and did not refer to Canavan in his role as hijack coordinator.
When a new, honest investigation is finally convened, it should look into why a lawyer, who knew how to handle evidence and get financiers off the hook, was experiencing his first day on the job as national operation manager at the FAA. And If 9/11 was a “special operation” as many people now suspect, that investigation might consider that a number of special operations specialists were in place to ensure that the operation went off without a hitch and was not discovered. Long-time special operations leaders like Michael Canavan, Hugh Shelton, Brian Michael Jenkins, and Richard Armitage played critical parts with respect to the facilities, events, and official story of 9/11. These facts seem worth investigating.
 The 9/11 Commission Report, page 14
 The 9/11 Commission report, pages 17 to 18
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