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MIchael Canavan

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).”[1]

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. “