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The 9/11 Mystery Plane and the Vanishing of America
By Mark H. Gaffney
Trine Day LLCCopyright © 2008 Mark H. Gaffney
All rights reserved.
Overview of the Official Story
The official 9/11 narrative did not emerge in its present final form all of a piece. The official story is the product of evolution and underwent two major revisions. The military announced the first revision a week after the attack. The 9/11 Commission unveiled the second in its final report, released in July 2004. Dr. David Ray Griffin has argued persuasively that both revisions were attempts to salvage the official conspiracy theory.
Before we proceed, it might be helpful to review how this process unfolded. We start, of course, with the events themselves and the raw news coverage on the day of the attack, especially the riveting television reports, which exposed NORAD's failure to intercept any of the four allegedly hi- jacked planes. At first, of course, the nation was understandably in a state of shock, but within days the full magnitude of the U.S. military's failed response began to sink in. On September 13, 2001, General Richard Myers, acting Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, admitted to the Senate Armed Services Committee that the first Air National Guard fighters had not arrived to defend Washington until well after the Pentagon strike, roughly 90 minutes after the first sign of trouble aboard American Airlines Flight 11. During all of that time the nation's capital had been exposed — undefended.
Myers' testimony caused huge problems for the military because NORAD's failure went beyond negligence and looked like a deliberate standdown, which, if true, was treason. Days later, on September 18, 2001, the Pentagon attempted to shield itself from mounting criticism by announcing the first revised timeline, essentially placing the blame for the massive breach of security on the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). The Joint Chiefs claimed that the military was unable to respond in a timely manner because the FAA failed to notify NORAD about the hijacked planes until too late. As 9/11 commissioner Bob Kerrey later pointed out, this first major alteration in the story occurred immediately after Pentagon generals (probably including Myers) briefed President Bush on September 17, 2001. His point was that the White House obviously had instructed the Joint Chiefs to change their tune.
This first revised timeline stood for almost three years, but suffered from the serious problem of being improbable. Why? In the first place, because there is nothing unusual about the FAA's scrambling of NORAD fighters. The procedure is routine. If a commercial or private aircraft deviates from its scheduled flight -path by as little as two miles, or if there is a loss of radio contact, or if its transponder stops transmitting, FAA air traffic controllers will first attempt to contact the pilot and remedy the problem. Failing this, the standard FAA protocol is to request immediate assistance from NORAD. Furthermore, if there is any doubt, FAA policy is to assume the worst and declare an air emergency, which means an automatic scramble. During one nine-month period in the year 2000 the FAA made sixty-seven such requests, and in every case NORAD responded by scrambling fighters — all without a hitch. This is an average of about two scrambles a week, more than 100 per year. Yet, we are supposed to believe that on 9/11, for no apparent reason, FAA controllers began to behave like a bunch of morons.
Their alleged failure to contact NORAD on 9/11 was doubly strange, even bizarre, since the FAA simultaneously showed remarkable professionalism and skill by grounding approximately 4500 commercial and private aircraft in less than three hours, all without a single mishap. The shutdown started in New York after the second WTC impact (at 9:03 A.M.), and quickly spread. By 9:26 A.M. the ground-stop was nationwide. The FAA shutdown of the entire air traffic system was unprecedented in the annals of U.S. aviation and was all the more impressive given the adverse, i.e., essentially wartime, conditions that prevailed. At least two FAA facilities had to be evacuated that morning in response to perceived threats of terrorism. The commission even admits in its final report that the FAA performed "flawlessly." Yet, we are supposed to believe that on the same morning this same agency fumbled a routine phone hand-off to NORAD four times in succession. This simply does not add up.
As time passed it also became apparent that the Pentagon's revised timeline suffered from an even more serious problem. Assuming the revised story was correct, arguably there was still sufficient time for NORAD to scramble fighters and intercept at least two of the "hijacked" planes, namely, Flight 77 (which allegedly hit the Pentagon) and Flight 93 (which allegedly crashed near Shanksville, PA). The time from scramble- to-intercept normally takes about ten minutes.
The 9/11 Commission acknowledges these difficulties in its final report released in July 2004, then attempts to resolve them by introducing a second major revision of the story, which puts the blame even more emphatically on the FAA. According to this most recent official timeline, the FAA was not merely tardy in making the hand-offs, it failed altogether. In the case of Flight 77 officials supposedly had less than two minutes of warning about its final approach. The report further asserts that NORAD did not receive notification that Flights 175, 93 and 77 had been hijacked until after the planes had crashed. The new timeline effectively absolves the Joint Chiefs of Staff of any negligence.
The Phantom Plane
The latest revision was supposedly based on new evidence that exposed serious discrepancies in the Pentagon's previous testimony before the panel in May 2003. During those early hearings USAF Col. Alan Scott told the commission that F -16 fighters had been scrambled from Langley AFB near Hampton, Virginia, at 9:24 A.M. (and were airborne by 9:30 A.M.) for the purpose of intercepting Flight 77. NORAD Maj. Gen. Larry Arnold also testified at this same hearing. He confirmed this scramble time, but stated that the Langley fighters had been sent to protect Washington from hijacked Flight 93.
The new evidence was in the form of NORAD audio-tapes from 9/11, which the government had withheld for many months, but which thanks to a court order were finally handed over to the 9/11 Commission late in the investigation. When the panel reviewed these NORAD tapes in June 2004, they discovered a previously unknown transmission, which became the basis for a completely new element in the story: the so called "phantom plane scenario," first unveiled in the 9/11 Commission Report.
The transmission supposedly proves that in the one instance where the FAA did alert NORAD, i.e., in the case of hijacked Flight 11, the FAA got it wrong and passed incorrect information, sending NORAD on a wild goose chase after a nonexistent aircraft. According to the report, someone at the FAA mistakenly notified NORAD at 9:24 A.M. that Flight 11 was still in the air, that is, had not crashed into the North Tower, and was headIng south toward Washington. Based on this false information NORAD scrambled three F-16s from Langley AFB near Hampton, Virginia to intercept southbound Flight 11, now deemed a threat to the nation's capital. The fighters were armed and the intercept was supposed to happen near Baltimore.
Here, the plot thickens, however, because at this point a bizarre screw-up occurred, one that has never been explained. Instead of handing-off the Langley fighters to air traffic controllers in the Washington DC area, local controllers sent the fighters to a military training airspace over the Atlantic known as "Whiskey 386." This explains why the fighters failed to arrive in time to defend against incoming Flight 77, which in the meantime had mysteriously appeared on the radar screens southwest of the capital.
Incredibly, a similar scenario had unfolded earlier in the case of the F-15s scrambled from Otis ANGB. Instead of flying directly to Manhattan, the two fighters ended up in holding pattern off Long Island, more than 100 miles from the World Trade Center.
This new disclosure was a major change in the official story and was embarrassing to the Pentagon, because it contradicted earlier testimony of Col. Alan Scott and Generals Richard Myers, Ralph Eberhart and Larry Arnold, none of whom had previously mentioned the phantom plane. Indeed, when Arnold was recalled for his second appearance before the commission in June 2004 he still did not have his facts straight, nearly three years after the event. Arnold had to be coached by panel members. His inability to recall details that as a NORAD commander he should have known caused shock and outrage on the panel. According to the Washington Post, the commission and staffers were convinced that the Pentagon had deliberately deceived them: "[S]uspicion of wrongdoing ran so deep that the ten-member commission, in a secret meeting at the end of its tenure in summer 2004, debated referring the matter to the Justice Department for criminal investigation." John Farmer, one of the commissioners, said, "I was shocked at how different the truth was from the way it was described."
But the outrage never made it into the 9/11 Commission Report, which mentions nothing about deception. The report merely states that the generals' previous testimony was "incorrect." Although much has been made of this loss of face by the Pentagon, "what is really going on," as David Ray Griffin has pointed out, "is that the military is briefly suffering a little embarrassment, experienced primarily by a few scapegoats [eg., General Arnold], for the sake of the new story, which, if accepted, permanently removes the suspicion of guilt for treason and murder from everyone in the military." Griffin has it right. A close reading of the 9/11 Commission Report shows that its main objective is to exonerate the Pentagon brass of responsibility for the breach of security on September 11.
This is why the latest Kean/Hmilton about-face discussed in my introduction is so important. The sharp tone of Kean and Hamilton's January 2008 op-ed in the New York Times blasting the CIA for obstruction is a radical departure from the bland non-confrontational style of their final report, which pointed no fingers (except in the direction of the FAA) and indeed bent over backward to exonerate the Pentagon and CIA from any culpability. The shift in tone is a red flag, and this should alert us.
We must not be fooled by the bland language of the 9/11 Commission Report, which deserves to be recognized for what it is: a thoroughly sanitized account. Crucially, the commission failed to subject the NORAD tapes to forensic analysis, which ought to have been a priority, given the disparities in the previous testimony as evidenced by the tapes. The 9/11 Commission Report fails to provide even one checkable source to substantiate the NORAD tapes as evidence. It is the same problem we encountered in the case of the CIA interrogations. In the absence of independent confirmation, we have no assurance about the NORAD tapes' authenticity, hence, can have no confidence in the "corrected" story.
Perhaps the phantom plane played no part in the earlier timeline because, as Griffin suggests, its part in the story is simply a fabrication. That would certainly explain why the generals failed to mention it in their previous testimony, and why General Arnold was unfamiliar with it as late as June 2004. At issue here is whether the Pentagon and the commission are telling the truth. The added problem, as Griffin has ably shown, is that even if we wish to believe the latest version of the official narrative, this means we must also accept that the Joint Chiefs deliberately deceived the panel and the nation about the previous timeline for nearly three years. Moreover, because the entire chain of command remained silent, it too was complicit in the deception.
While it is usually assumed that if the generals lied it was to conceal their own incompetence, why would they expose themselves to the treasonous charge of implementing a stand-down by understating the FAA's degree of negligence on 9/11, as they did in their first revised narrative, if the FAA was in fact even more culpable, as the latest revision holds? This makes no sense and should increase our skepticism about every facet of the official story. Indeed, we are compelled to consider the admittedly sinister alternative explanation that the generals lied to conceal their complicity in the 9/11 attack, perhaps even their role in staging it. This would explain both their previous "incorrect" testimony and their unreserved acceptance of the new timeline. One of the NORAD generals was actually heard to remark, "The real story [i.e., the latest version] is better than the one we told." Given that the latest version had the effect of exonerating the generals, one can appreciate his point of view. But was it "better" for the nation?
There is another serious problem: Assuming the FAA was guilty of gross negligence on 9/11, why was no one ever held accountable? Not a single FAA official was ever prosecuted, dismissed, demoted, or even reprimanded. Why not? Did the Bush administration refrain from disciplining the FAA because this would have begun a legal process of discovery/ appeal involving the scrutiny of relevant documents by the courts and the release of real evidence, a process which had to be avoided at all costs? As we know, instead of handing out dismissals and demotions, the Bush administration rewarded a number of officials and officers who held responsible positions on 9/11. CIA Director George Tenet, a prime example, was awarded the Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest honor, despite presiding over the "worst security failure" in U.S. history. The Bush policy of rewarding failure was perverse and violated the most basic principle of good government, which is that people should be held accountable for their actions. This strongly suggests that the Bush White House purchased the cooperation and silence of numerous officials by handing out bribes. Spectacular compensatory awards were also offered to families of the victims. The cash payments reportedly averaged $1.8 million apiece. But to receive the money the families had to sign a waiver forfeiting the right to legal action.
9/11 Live: The NORAD Tapes
The phantom plane story had the effect of letting the U.S. military off the hook. Was it a device contrived for this purpose? Although 9/11 Commission Report fails to explain how the phantom plane story the originated, in September 2006 Michael Bronner disclosed more details in a much-ballyhooed article in Vanity Fair magazine, "9/11 Live: The NORAD Tapes." Bronner is a former producer of 60 Minutes and also helped produce the film United 93. For reasons that have never been explained, the U.S. military blessed Bronner with exclusive access to the same NORAD tapes that the 9/11 Commission obtained only after a lengthy court battle. The tapes became the grist for Bronner's Vanity Fair article, which defends the official story presented in the 9/11 Commission Report. Although Bronner asserts that "the truth is all on tape," there are solid reasons to question his arguments and conclusions.
As part of his research, Bronner interviewed Colin Scoggins, who on September 11, 2001 was the military liaison at the FAA's Boston Air Traffic Center, where much of the action occurred. Scoggins told Bronner the phantom plane story began as a misunderstanding during a teleconference "in the flurry of information zipping back and forth ... [and] ... transmogrified into the idea that a different plane had hit the tower, and that American 11 was still hijacked and still in the air." Although the 9/11 Commission Report does not mention Scoggins by name, it was he who made the crucial call to NEADS at 9:24 A.M. informing the military that Flight 11 was heading toward Washington. When I conducted my own interview with Scoggins in 2007, he acknowledged that Boston Center had tracked Flight 11 continuously until just north of the World Trade Center, but denied that the FAA ever tracked a phantom plane south of Manhattan. As Flight 11 approached the World Trade Center, it was then nearly out of range of Boston Center's radar coverage. The plane was lost to radar at an altitude of just under 2,000 feet.
Excerpted from The 9/11 Mystery Plane and the Vanishing of America by Mark H. Gaffney. Copyright © 2008 Mark H. Gaffney. Excerpted by permission of Trine Day LLC.
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