Discussion with Miles Kara about 9/11 air defense
Following the publication of the paper "Anomalies of the air defense on 9/11" (see here: http://www.journalof911studies.com/resources/Schreyer-Vol-33-Oct2012.pdf ) in October 2012 a discussion started between author Paul Schreyer and Miles Kara, former professional staff member of the 9/11 Commisson, assigned to their "Team 8", investigating the air defense on 9/11. Kara also published an article about this in November 2012 (see here: http://www.oredigger61.org/?p=5747 ).
Following the core points of this discussion, based on 7 questions Schreyer raised, published now with the approval of both at 9/11 Blogger and at JREF.
Paul Schreyer: The time of Scoggins´ first call to NEADS - I have it in my paper on page 6, lower part. What do you make of this? When did this call happen?
Miles Kara: The first NEADS/Scoggins communication was the Watson call to Boston after the Cooper alert. On the NEADS tapes you can hear the two calls concurrently overlap. While Deskins is talking to Cooper, Watson is talking to Scoggins. There was no previous call. Colin does not have his recall correct, here. And you cannot go by participant recall, it is just as inaccurate as eyewitness accounts, by and large. Colin did not, did not go immediately to the floor, he was on break and held back, at first, so as not to get in the way. There are no primary source records of any contact between Boston and NEADS prior to the Cooper call and the subsequent Watson call. So that is what you have to go on, not the anecdotal accounts.
Paul Schreyer: You´re missing my point. Scoggins clearly remembers talking to NORAD about American 11, when it was 20 miles south of Albany. Though it is true, that memories can be false sometimes, this is clearly not the type of information you invent erroneously in hindsight. A journalist from national public radio here in Germany interviewed Scoggins in 2011 and asked him on my behalf just about this again. Scoggins repeated the information, saying he would even witness it before a jury and that there were indeed a few minutes, that "never matched up".
Miles Kara: You rely on anecdotal information unsupported by the primary source information. Scoggins never talked to NORAD, he talked to NEADS and that conversation began with Watson's call circa 8:40.
Paul Schreyer: Why couldn´t NEADS see American 11 on radar, when Boston Center could?
Miles Kara: Because NEADS was looking to the North of where AA11 actually was when the surveillance technicians started their search. I cover this, in part, in my most recent article on my website. This is a far more definitive account that anything I've previously done.
Paul Schreyer: You answer, because NORAD was looking to the north of where flight 11 really was. Again, this seems not very convincing, considering Boston Center even gave precise coordinates to NORAD and they still couldn´t see anything. There weren´t that many planes southbound in that precise area at that time. It´s simply not understandable that NORAD´s surveillance experts couldn´t see the radar blip, when civilian air traffic controllers could. In my opinion this strange inability of NORAD has two possible explanations: either Boston Center didn´t see American 11 that moment, but a virtual insert, or the American 11 blip was real, but filtered out somehow on the NORAD screens.
Miles Kara: The coordinates were passed to Dawne Deskins at 8:40 and that became the Z point around which the Surveillance Technicians began their search. As you should know, NY TRACON also had difficulty at first finding the radar track. The only mystery here is in your own mind.
Paul Schreyer: The issue of the "radar gap" exactly were AA77 turned - I have it on page 2 of my paper: "How could the alleged hijackers have known that this gap existed, where it was located, and when they would have arrived there?"
Miles Kara: You make too much of this. The plan, retrospectively was to manipulate each transponder differently. It fell to Hanjour to turn his off during the turn back. We can speculate that the hijacker pilots intuitively knew that a turnoff in the interior would be problematic. They didn't need to know the specifics, just that it would be problematic. It is my recall that the JSS (Joint Surveillance System) coverage map was in the public domain at the time. It would not have been difficult for Atta et al to pull it up. Plus, retrospectively, we can assess that they wanted the transponder manipulations to each be in a different en route control center space, not including Washington Center. (The four were Boston, New York, Indy, and Cleveland)
Paul Schreyer: You say: "We can speculate that the hijacker pilots intuitively knew that a turnoff in the interior would be problematic. They didn't need to know the specifics, just that it would be problematic." So that would mean they catched the radar gap precisely by coincidence? This is not very likely. Because disappearing in the radar gap was essential for the success of the whole mission. Then you say: "It is my recall that the JSS (Joint Surveillance System) coverage map was in the public domain at the time. It would not have been difficult for Atta et al to pull it up." Now, that sounds interesting, but it´s way too vague. We need a definitive source here. Can you show me this map? And where precisely should it have been "in the public domain" before 9/11? That´s important, otherwise there is no backing for your claim.
Miles Kara: The JSS coverage map was uploaded from my work files by Erik Larson. I've posted it somewhere in one of my articles. When I stumble across it I'll send you the link. I'm not going out of my way on this issue. On my work copy uploaded by Larson you will note that I, too, was intrigued by the location of the turn. It was a coincidence; they would have known nothing about the complex sort box issue at Indy Center whereby the primary returns, that were in the system, were not fed to the scopes tracking AA 77. That was a technical issue tied to the algorithms in place that day at Indy Center. AA77 was never lost on radar.
Paul Schreyer: Langley scramble, "generic flight path" - How could the initial scramble order be simply "superseded" by a standard flight plan, every jet receives? I don´t get this.
Miles Kara: You need to reread one of my very first articles on the Langley scramble "gang aft agley." I explain this thoroughly. Here is the short story. The scramble order lacked a necessary component, a distance. Langley Tower knew that it could be difficult to try and find a flight plan that would work, so they used the tried and true cold war flight plan 090 for 60, knowing full well from experience that someone else would turn the pilots, once airborne. The procedures in place called for runway heading to 4000 feet, in this case just short of the Delmarva Peninsula. That point is faint but clear on the radar path. At that point the TRACON controller asked the lead pilot which way he wanted to go. Lacking any other information the two decided to go with 090 for 60 and that sent the fighters to Giant Killer. When I replayed that communication for the Langley lead pilot he was brutally honest with himself. "That was an opportunity missed," he said. On three separate occasions I visited Langley Tower to sort all this out. Three times the Langley controllers told me that they would do the same thing if they had it to do over, 090 for 60. Those are the facts. It happened that way. There is nothing nefarious about any of this. Fog of war.
Paul Schreyer: So the Langley pilots made the mistake. They "missed an opportunity". Okay. But how did they forget the initial scramble order they received from NORAD? Did they forget it at all? Frankly, I don´t believe that these professionals "forget" such things. The issue is still unsolved to me. And what a coincidence again, that the air traffic control tapes, which could tell us a lot more, are missing in this case …
Miles Kara: The scramble order was not forgotten; both Norfolk TRACON/Tower and the Langley lead knew very well what the scramble order was. The flight plan 090 for 60 was simply later information. The scramble order did not specify a target. There are no pertinent missing tapes pertaining to the Langley scramble; I don't know where you get this nonsense. The weapons controllers are heard on multiple positions at NEADS and we have the TRACON tapes. The fact that Langley Command Post and Tower did not retain their records does not detract from the story. We know what Langley Tower did and why they did it.
Paul Schreyer: Indeed, the misleading flight plan 090 for 60 was later information. But who precisely issued it? I checked the 9/11 Commission´s documents about this:
From the 9/11 Commission´s Memorandum for the record, interview with William Casson, Radar Controller at Norfolk TRACON: "He took the call from HUNTRESS (= NEADS) on the scramble line. He recalled the order contained a heading, 010, and altitude and a frequency. After that the flight strip came out with different information, 090 for 60."
From the 9/11 Commission´s Memorandum for the record, interview with John Harter, Operations Supervisor at Norfolk TRACON: "The flight strip showed 090 for 60. All they could figure out was that someone through secure communications changed the scramble order to which they were not privy. They do not have a secure line. He personally understood that the flight plan was different from the scramble order but did not take steps to change it. He has never done that."
My question: Did you ever try to find out who precisely changed the scramble order?
Miles Kara: No one changed the scramble order. Scramble orders serve to get planes into the sky. Thereafter, controllers tell them what to do. That is what everyone is used to. The Vigilant Guardian tapes for Sep 3 may have some examples. The controller on duty at Langley inserted a standard flight plan 090 for 60 that he knew would go through immediately. I stress, that was a flight plan, he worked under FAA policies and procedures and had to put something into the system that it would immediately accept. It would not, would not accept the scramble order because there was no distance. A flight plan requires a distance, pure and simple. He did what he was supposed to do, get the planes into the air. He did it then, and he would have done the same thing again, he told us emphatically. As I have constantly said over the years, we understood that everyone concerned with the Langley scramble did their jobs as best they could. The scramble was a series of understandable and logical individual events that did not cohere in the aggregate. The Otis scramble was not followed, either, in a fluid situation and that is well captured on the ATC tapes and the NEADS tapes. There is nothing else to be said.
Paul Schreyer: Langley scramble, 9:50 turn to the southwest - Lynn Spencer reports (and you repeat) it was just an erroneous transposition of coordinates. At the same time both of you keep completely silent about Venus 77 being there at exactly the same time. You say: "They were unrelated events." Okay, that´s your hypothesis. Can you prove it? Why is it "academically irresponsible" to suggest another hypothesis, namely, that these events could have been related indeed? And why is there no explanation at all of the 9:50 turn in the 9/11 Commission Report?
Miles Kara: Venus 77 was not there at exactly the same time. There is a time and spatial separation between the two. You have to run the radar to fully appreciate this. Venus 77 is a sidebar story, at best, having to do with continuity of operations and support for Air Force One. Because the NMCC transitioned to an Air Threat Conference Call, that triggered SIOP (single integrated operation plan) (Doomsday) procedures. Venus 77 literally self launched at 9:43 EDT under VFR rules (that's on the Andrews tapes) and I would like to recall declared for Wright Patterson AFB. Once airborne that changed and the plane turned back west over Silver Spring MD (that is the "mystery" plane) and proceeded to set up a 60-mile north-south orbit centered on Richmond, VA. That orbit is explicit on the graphic you cite, by the way. I know who prepared that graphic and he and I agree there is zero correlation with the Langley fighters. More important, there is nothing, zero, on any tapes, NEADS or Andrews or Reagan or ZDC that ties the two planes together. The segue south occurred exactly as Lynn Spencer and I have it and exactly as captured on the NEADS tapes. There is no story here.
Paul Schreyer: The langley fighters turned at 9:50 and were then heading exactly for the southbound Venus 77. So it appears from radar, that they followed that aircraft. That´s obvious. You say, "there is nothing, zero, on any tapes, (…) that ties the two planes together". Sounds convincing. My problem only is that there are so many tapes missing from 9/11. Then you say: "The segue south occurred exactly as Lynn Spencer and I have it and exactly as captured on the NEADS tapes. There is no story here." Maybe so. But I would be not so sure about it. By the way, the turn didn´t "occured exactly as Lynn Spencer" has it, as you say. In her book she claims, the Langley fighters turned southwest at 9:40 and turned again towards Washington at 9:51. Both times are wrong. You also didn´t answer my question: Why is there no explanation at all of the 9:50 turn in the 9/11 Commission Report?
Miles Kara: Sigh. The Langley fighters did not follow Venus 77. What are the "so many missing tapes," to which you refer. This is glib, self-serving language that does not stand scrutiny. We have continuity on the Langley flight path from multiple FAA entities, as well as NEADS. The Giant Killer tapes would have been interesting, but not central to the story. This story is as I have told it. Spencer is off on many facts, I should have pointed that out. Why should there be an explanation in the Commission Report? That was a minor hiccup that only becames important in the minds of those who speculate the Venus 77 digression, which did not happen. The coordinate problem is the story, as I have written about at least twice.
Paul Schreyer: Andrews Air Force Base. Okay, it was no alert base. It was not part of NORAD. I wrote that in my paper. Still these were fighter jets called for some reason the "Capital Guardians". Some of them were on a training mission already in the air only a few minutes flying time away. Why could nobody order these jets to Washington some time before 10:38? Not to shoot down a plane, but simply to look out what was going on there? I don´t get this as well.
Miles Kara: There was an excellent political cartoon in the Wash Post immediately after our final air defense hearing that showed the USAF and the Secret Service AF butting heads in the skies over DC. Try as I might, I have not been able to find that cartoon. The Bully, flight of three, from Andrews was well to the south over Dare Range in North Carolina. They were not a few minutes flying time away. They were recalled. Bully two was back first, a rookie pilot out of gas. He did not take off again. Bully 1, Hutchison, the flight lead did immediately take off low on gas at about 10:38 or so. It took Andrews over an hour to get a fully armed pair of fighters in the air, Caine and his wingman. None of that mattered. The Langley pilots began their CAP procedures at 10:00
Paul Schreyer: There´s a really huge time delay, I can´t understand. Andrews´ SOF offered help to the Secret Service at about 9:15, at least according to Lynn Spencer. And then it took some 83 minutes to put planes in the air? For fighters with an assignment to protect the capital? It´s pretty obvious that there is something covered up. If not at Andrews than at the Secret Service. Also North Carolina is not 80 minutes flying time away from Washington. It is claimed the Andrews jets on training mission were out of radio reach. Okay, but for how long? I remember that it was also claimed that the Langley jets were out of radio reach when they were flying east. If I get it right, the radio connection to the Langley jets could only be established again at 9:38 - one minute after the Pentagon crash. What the heck of a coincidence. Sorry for the irony. It appears just not credible to me that this was only bad luck. I have a short chapter in my paper on this, titled "Communication breakdown".
Miles Kara: Again, anectodal information sways you, unfortunately. The fact that two action officers might have talked at 9:15 or earlier is interesting, but remains anecdotal. Yes, it did take that long to put planes in the air. Even when General Wherley got involved circa 9:35 of so it still took until after 11am to get fully armed Andrews fighters launched. Why, because it takes time, measurable time, to upload ordinance from storage. The guns-only pair, Sasseville and Penney were not in the air until after10:40 and they did not have written weapons-free authority. The Langley pilots were never out of communication with air traffic control. It was the comms to NEADS that were intermittent because of the range.
Paul Schreyer: Vigilant Guardian - the fake inserts on NORAD radar screens. Are you sure, that this was "value added", as you write about the impact of this exercise? I think this was "noise added".
Miles Kara: Vigilant Guardian had not started up that morning when Cooper called. But NEADS was poised, the Battle Cab was operational, and additional assets were available without the need to recall anyone. That was a major plus as they expanded operations that morning. Plus, Nasypany could immediately talk to Marr, in fact could turn around and see him behind glass in the Battle Cab. When the electronic feed started up Nasypany recognized that immediately and gave orders to suppress the feed, orders that were carried out instantly. You can surmise all you want that it was "noise added" but you are simply wrong, based on the NEADS tapes, primary source information. Take the time to reread my Nasypany series to understand how well NEADS functioned that morning, over all.
Paul Schreyer: Just to understand you right: do you say there were no fake inserts on NORAD radar screens that morning?
Miles Kara: Just briefly at NEADS, a matter of seconds until Nasypany took action to suppress the feed.
Paul Schreyer: If it is right what you say, that the feed of fake inserts on the radar screens was suppressed immediately, than why all the chatter at NEADS as for example "I think this is a damn input" (9:04), "turn your sim switches off", "let´s get rid of this damn sim" (9:30) and so on? At what exact time was the feed suppressed?
Miles Kara: Read my article again, the one where I discuss, in detail, the times that the exercise is mentioned. (http://www.oredigger61.org/?p=4685) It was only when I did the research for that article that I correlated Nasypany's order with the immediate reaction by the head of the Surveillance Section. Before that I was not aware of the sequencing of those comments. The comment that "I think this is a damn input" is simply a muse at the time, based on years of experience in dealing with both exercises and real world. You need to review my work on Vigilant Guardian to gain a sense of how NEADS balanced real world and exercise events concurrently. They were well practiced in the art and knew exactly what they were doing. Outsiders can never gain an appreciation for how professional NEADS was that morning, they performed very well, given the lead times they had, or lack thereof. The best perspective so far is my Nasypany series.
Paul Schreyer: You mention in your article the "turn your sim switches off" dialogue at 9:30. And you suggest that the sim feed startet just in that minute. How do we know that it hadn´t started well before?
Miles Kara: We know this. The exercise had not yet started, and never started. We know that the Surveillance Technicians did not acknowledge any exercise feed on their scopes, prior. We know that Nasypany's reaction was instantaneous and we know from his experience and professionalism that he would have noticed it earlier if it had occurred. We also know that any such electronic feed had to support an exercise inject. There was no such inject, at least as of the time that Cooper called, since the exercise had not yet started. What we don't know is the time that the first inject was supposed to occur. It may be that I can sniff that out from the other channels and perhaps a written scenario somewhere, but I don't really see the need to do that.