NORADs first story
The 9/11 Commission told us that NORAD scrambled fighters from Otis and Langley Air Force bases on 9/11. The Otis planes were airborne at 8:53, the Langley fighters at 9:30, but neither had the information or shoot-down orders they needed to make a material difference to what happened.
Some researchers question this claim, however. They point to statements immediately after the attacks that say no fighters were launched until after the Pentagon was hit, at 9:37. It's been suggested that this supports the case that a "stand down order" was issued, preventing any meaningful response by NORAD and ensuring the attacks would succeed.
One early commentary on the first NORAD story comes from Nafeez Ahmed, in his book The War on Freedom:
The picture presented here is of a solid, definitive, corroborated retelling of what occurred. For example, Ahmed explains that "Myers was asked three times before the Committee about the failure to scramble planes, and each time confirmed the same. At no time in this testimony did Myers indicate that he did not know, had not been in a position to know, or might be mistaken."
And yet, suddenly this story changed. Why? Good question. Let's take a closer look.
The testimony of Richard Myers is key to the idea that NORAD presented a unified story of inaction, immediately after the attacks. We've seen the weight that Nafeez Ahmed placed on his account, for instance. And the Scholars for 9/11 Truth & Justice recount only Myers comment as support for the "first version":
Unfortunately neither source offers a full or accurate report of what Myers actually said. For example, the above exchange is correct, but it was followed by this:
Myers began by explaining that fighters were launched only after the Pentagon was hit "to the best of his knowledge": there's something of a get-out clause right there. And now he's saying he thinks he has the time right, but wants to "review the exact timelines" before he commits himself entirely. Will he clarify things later?
He "thinks" the decision was taken to start launching aircraft after the second tower was hit. He does "not recall" if there were any fighters launched to intercept Flight 77. Can he make his mind up before the end of the testimony? Well, no -- he gets less certain as time goes by.
Myers first statement, that fighters weren't launched until after the Pentagon was hit, does not accurately represent his testimony, then. That statement itself contains a major get-out clause in the words "to the best of my knowledge". Later Myers admitted uncertainty, that he really didn't know when they were launched, and he would have to find out.
It's also clear that some analyses of Myers' testimony have been grossly inaccurate. The Nafeez Ahmed line that “at no time in this testimony did Myers indicate that he did not know, had not been in a position to know, or might be mistaken” looks very misleading once you read Myers saying: "The time I do not know is when NORAD responded with fighter aircraft. I don't know that time".
It could be argued that Myers should have known, perhaps. Why did he not?
Myers and Cleland
The only real reason General Myers offered for his ignorance of events is that he wasn't in the Pentagon for most of them, instead visiting Senator Max Cleland on Capitol Hill. There's confirmation of this from both at Myers' confirmation hearing:
If Myers wasn't present when the crucial decisions were taken, then his later accounts must be based on second-hand information: he doesn't have a clear picture of what happened because he wasn't there.
Myers account is contradicted by a passage from Richard Clarke's book Against All Enemies, however, where the General is placed in the Pentagon before 9:30:
Who to believe? On balance we'd opt for Myers account, on the grounds that it's corroborated by Cleland. A Democrat who later resigned from the 9/11 Commission, he's hardly someone who would cover up for the Bush administration:
However, it seems the truth of this will make little difference. We've seen theories that say Myers was in the Pentagon, but it was covered up, because he was making sure the attacks "went to plan"; and Myers wasn't in the Pentagon, and that was also suspicious, in that by not taking charge and doing his job he also contributed to the success of the attacks. As usual, there's an "inside job" theory to fit every occasion.
General Myers is only one of those quoted as saying fighters weren't launched until after 9:37, though. We need to consider other accounts, too.
Nafeez Ahmed pointed to the following corrobation for the late launch of fighters on 9/11:
However, the Boston Globe did more than repeat Snyder's comments. Here's more from the article:
It is true that Snyder said the fighters were launched after the Pentagon was hit, then. However the Boston Globe also reports CBS News as delivering another version that said otherwise. That included details on when scramble orders were issued, and the fighters took off, so presumably it either came from CBS contacts at NORAD, or perhaps the relevant Air Force Bases.
CBS weren't alone, either. A Washington Post timeline dated the 12th of September included the following entries:
How could Snyder have been wrong? NORAD didn't produce an official timetable of events until a press release appeared on September 18th. If we assume they released the timetable as soon as it had been assembled, then Snyder, talking on the 14th or 15th, may have been basing his comments on less accurate information. Just as Myers expressed a tentative preference for the idea that fighters weren't launched until after the Pentagon was hit, but still admitting he really didn't know for sure.
There's some support for the idea that Snyder may have been expressing a preliminary view in this Cape Cod Online article:
This story is dated the 16th of September, and refers to Snyder speaking on the 15th, the same day the Boston Globe report appears. If Snyder were still confident that fighters were launched only after the Pentagon was hit, then why does he not say so here? We would say it's because he's now aware of the differing CBS News account, and so is not commenting further until NORAD has prepared and released an official timetable.
Further confirmation of the late launch was supposedly delivered by Cheney, Nafeez Ahmed told us:
However, this analysis is flawed. The statement that NORAD were "not able to scramble fighters in time to protect the Pentagon" is in no way inconsistent with the 9/11 Commission account. Fighters were launched earlier from Otis and Langley, but neither protected the Pentagon. There was nothing for Cheney to dispute.
Most 9/11 researchers present this issue as though there was an instant, single, almost entirely unified story about fighter response times. But as we've seen, the reality is very different. Mike Snyder said fighters weren't launched until after the Pentagon was hit; General Myers admitted he didn't really know; the CBS News and Washington Post sources said fighters were launched earlier from Otis and Langley.
It all seems like confusion more than coordination to us, then. And perhaps this isn't such a surprise. After all, the official NORAD timetable wasn't released until the 18th, so if comments were made before the data had been assembled then there's clearly a chance that they might be wrong.
It seems a stretch to claim that any of this this offers major support to a stand down scenario, though. If senior NORAD or Government officials knew what was to happen, or imposed a "stand down" order, then surely we'd have heard a prepared cover story rather than these contradictory accounts? Does Myers sound like someone working to a pre-planned script? Why doesn’t he take the opportunity to explain exactly what happened, look like he’s in control, instead of expressing so much doubt?
Somehow we don't think Myers would have chosen to appear quite so bumbling and ignorant out of choice. And therefore an alternative explanation might have been that he simply didn't have all the facts yet, and was reporting a tentative first impression of the situation. We believe Snyder was doing the same thing, while the CBS News account reflected a more up-to-date version of events.
Whether you agree or not, the most important point here is to be wary of how these events are analysed. Misrepresentations are commonplace: be sure to check any references carefully before accepting what anyone, including this site, has to say.