War Games

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Many prominent 9/11 researchers claim that the US air defence system would have prevented the 9/11 attacks under normal circumstances, but were unable to do so because air traffic controllers, the FAA and NORAD were confused by "war games" that were running at the same time. Mike Ruppert's summary is typical:

(There's much more at the link above. Please go check it out.)

The claim is that Cheney was in charge, then. Several war games were running, simulating multiple hijackings and placing "false blips" on FAA radar screens, and the resulting confusion meant the planes could not be intercepted. Is there any truth in this? Let's see.

Cheney running NORAD

Central to Ruppert's take on this is the idea that Dick Cheney was in charge of NORAD on 9/11. Which is a shame, as the charge is utter nonsense. What actually happened is that four months before 9/11, Bush created a new government body that would be in charge of "[A]ll federal programs dealing with weapons of mass destruction consequence management within the Departments of Defense, Health and Human Services, Justice, and Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, and other federal agencies…" The key here is "consequence management", plans to deal with what might happen if a nuclear weapon were to be exploded in a US city, for example. We're plainly talking about emergency plans to evacuate areas, deal with medical emergencies, that kind of thing. And yet as Cheney was to oversee this office, Ruppert takes from this that he was now personally in charge of all war games, even those that had nothing to do with "weapons of mass destruction" or "consequence management". It doesn't make sense, and there's not the slightest evidence for it, but Ruppert assumes it anyway. Read more in our page on Cheney in charge of NORAD.


Researchers list a number of exercises that were running on or around 9/11. The following selection are typically included.

Amalgam Virgo

"The Military Drills on 9-11: 'Bizarre Coincidence' or Something Else?", by Four Arrows (aka Don Jacobs) claims that Amalgam Virgo, a military exercise involving hijacked planes, could have been under way on 9/11:

Read this closely and it seems confusing. Ben-Veniste's question talks of Amalgam Virgo being "in the works" only, but then Jacobs follows up by telling us that they "had this particular drill just in June 2001" and it may have been "continuing on 9/11". He then moves on to tells us that is was a "fact" that 9/11 was the premier of this exercise:

So now we have three time frames for Amalgam Virgo: June 2001 alone; June 2001 and continuing on 9/11; starting on 9/11. Can Jacob's reference back up what he says? Here's the complete story:

Absolutely nothing here to confirm that Amalgam Virgo was running on 9/11. Further, this explains that the Amalgam Virgo didn't happen until June 2002; the preceding version was "a scenario involving a cruise missile". And other links confirm that was the exercise held in June 2001, as Jacobs himself mentioned earlier:

The fact that the exercise was in the planning stage on 9/11 can be used as evidence that someone, at least, was thinking about terrorist hijackings (though note there’s no suggestion that these hijackings involved using planes as missiles). However, Jacobs presents no evidence at all to show that either exercise could possibly have been running on 9/11, or had any influence on the events of that day.

Timely Alert II

"The Military Drills on 9-11: 'Bizarre Coincidence' or Something Else?" next discusses an exercise called "Timely Alert II":

How did this affect NORAD, or influence the outcome of the attacks in any way? Jacobs fails to tell us. Still, History Commons (aka Cooperative Research) step in and try to help by pointing out the significance of the venue:

However, the final “it is tasked with...” sentence might perhaps make you think that CECOM is responsible for all these elements in a dynamic sense, that it provides real-time services to NORAD (for example) that would be compromised by the exercise, and that isn't true. It's far more about research and development, and so for instance the top line of the mission page says it aims "To develop, acquire, field and sustain superior information technologies and integrated systems for America's warfighters".

Neither Jacobs nor the History Common page present any evidence to show that the normal functions of Fort Monmouth were compromised (in fact, the latter explicitly points out that "The exercise is called off once the base is alerted to the real attacks.") As they also fail to show how those functions would have had any effect on the outcome of 9/11, it’s difficult to see why we should attach any importance to this particular exercise.

Operation Northern Vigilance

One of the most famous "war games" is Northern Vigilance, which "The Military Drills on 9-11: 'Bizarre Coincidence' or Something Else?" mentions here.

Northern Vigilance was running on 9/11, as the NORAD press release referenced here confirms:

But it's not what Jacobs claims.

This isn't a "war game", for instance, conveniently set by the US to create a cover for 9/11. It's a real operation, carried out in response to a Russian exercise. Unless Jacobs wants to claim the Russians are "in on it", or NORAD shouldn't have responded in this way (unlikely if they'd done so before), the timing seems no more than a coincidence.

But did the operation have any effect on NORAD? Here’s what the “Wargames Were Cover...” article, cited here, says:

Here we're told definitively that “jet fighters were removed”. The NORAD quote says fighters “shall be deployed as necessary”. Was it necessary? Perhaps, but the quote doesn’t say.

Then we’re told the fighters would be removed “from patrolling the US east coast”. NORAD doesn’t say where the fighters would be taken from, or what (if anything) they would normally have been doing.

Finally it’s claimed that this would reduce “the amount of fighter planes available to protect the east coast”. If this is intended to imply that NORAD would have had more fighters on alert had the exercise not been running, though, there’s simply no evidence for that. NORAD reportedly had only 14 fighters on alert on 9/11, and an article in Airman (the “magazine of America’s Air Force”) from 1999 confirmed the same thing. That is, this was the standard number available:

Bold claims, then, but a distinct lack of supporting evidence. There’s no compelling reason given to believe that Northern Vigilance had any effect on the outcome of 9/11.

Tripod II

Tripod II was a bio-warfare exercise scheduled to be run on September 12th, 2001. "The Military Drills on 9-11: 'Bizarre Coincidence' or Something Else?" comments:

As this drill was scheduled for September the 12th, then plainly it’s not going to in itself have had any effect on the outcome of the attacks. So what’s the significance? Jacobs explains:

The idea that Cheney was in charge of Tripod may be based on the same flawed assumptions that suggest he controlled the other exercises (see here), but that’s a separate point. Here Jacobs appears to be saying that Tripod II had created a duplicate control centre by 9/11 so it was all ready to go. Unfortunately, that isn’t true: Jacobs is happy to use Giuliani’s confirmation of the Tripod exercise, but inexplicably ignores this part of the same testimony:

First, Tripod did not “set up a command and control centre on 9/11”: it didn’t appear until two to three days later.

And second, they had two other command and control centre options anyway. Giuliani points out that they were “too small”, but presumably if Tripod II hadn’t been running then the sole complication is that they’d have had to wait perhaps an extra 2 or 3 days for a large command and control centre to be working. Is the claim really that the conspirators were so concerned about Giuliani and others working in cramped conditions for a few days that they set up an entire FEMA exercise to avoid this? It makes very little sense to us.

Operation Vigilant Guardian

Vigilant Guardian is another frequently-discussed 9/11 exercise. "The Military Drills on 9-11: 'Bizarre Coincidence' or Something Else?" has this to say:

There’s no reference explaining how Jacobs knows that Vigilant Guardian “simulated hijacked planes”, which seems a shame as it’s the most important information so far. It looks like the paragraph was taken from a Prison Planet article that Jacobs mentioned earlier, though: will that help?. No:

Still no references to justify the claims. And accounts elsewhere explain the initial “part of the exercise” comments. Here’s Major General Larry Arnold testifying before the 9/11 Commission:

More information appears in a Vanity Fair article, that does tie the concern to a hijacking exercise due to be run on 9/11. This was not under way during the attacks, though:

Despite the claim of multiple hijackings mirroring the days other events, this turns out to be a single plane, presumably flying outside of US airspace, and not being used as a weapon.

Just how much confusion was caused by this? One article says the exercise was called off very quickly:

What’s more, testimony to the 9/11 Commission said it only took “30 seconds” to adjust to the situation, and as the required staff were at their stations the response was, if anything, better:

Some people point to other parts of the Vanity Fair article, for instance, as an illustration of possible confusion:

However, as the author points out, this was following the second attack, and perhaps more likely to be gallows humour. The reality is there's no indication that NORAD was "confused" for any more than the 30 seconds mentioned by General Eberhart, and in fact 9/11 Commissioners and witnesses tended to say the exercises may have improved response time:

To recap, then, Vigilant Guardian was planned to include a hijacking exercise. This wasn't scheduled to happen until after the attacks, though, and so never actually took place. Any "confusion" was limited to the time it took to explain to people that this was "real world", not "exercise", and overall response time may have marginally improved as staff were immediately available to be called upon. And despite the myriad of articles written on this topic, there's still not a jot of evidence to show the exercise delayed any response to the hijackings.

Operation Northern Guardian

Most of these "war games" lists are padded out with less than relevant exercises. "The Military Drills on 9-11: 'Bizarre Coincidence' or Something Else?" is no exception, as the entry on "Operation Northern Guardian" proves:

If Northern Guardian was a part of Vigilant Guardian then listing it separately serves no purpose (other than to boost the figures).

If it isn't, then how does Jacobs come to assume Operation Northern Guardian has anything to do with hijackings? He doesn’t say.

Further, note that all we know about the dates here is that the exercise took place between “late August” and early December: there’s no indication that anything happened on 9/11. And even if it did, these fighters were in Iceland, so the act of carrying out the exercise is most unlikely to have affected NORAD in the US.

There’s still the argument that the fighters reduced the staff available at Langley on 9/11, of course. However, they only needed to maintain two fighters on alert, and did this on 9/11. If those fighters were unable to prevent the Pentagon from being hit, it's hard to see how more would have made any difference. Which means that, once again, there’s no evidence to show this exercise had any effect on the 9/11 attacks.

Operation Vigilant Warrior

This exercise makes most lists of 9/11 war games. Which is odd, as there's very little evidence that it existed at all. Here's what "The Military Drills on 9-11: 'Bizarre Coincidence' or Something Else?" has to say:

The problem with this account is that Clarke is the only person to mention “Operation Vigilant Warrior” as an exercise running on 9/11. It was the name of a major exercise from 1994, though (see here), so could Clarke have heard “Vigilant Guardian” and, with the stress of the day, remembered it incorrectly later? This seems at least possible. You could of course argue that no-one else mentioned it because it was the top secret cover for the attacks, but then why is Myers blurting it out over the phone, and to Clarke, who judging by his actions later was no friend of the Bush administration?

Andrew Burfield provides support for this idea, by pointing out that these exercise names aren’t simply dreamed up from nowhere, they actually mean something. And the name “Vigilant Warrior” doesn’t fit with what it’s claimed to be:

According to Jacobs, however, the “misremembered” argument doesn’t stand up because the exercise “is also discussed in ‘‘Air Force Magazine Online”. We’ve learned the importance of checking claims, though, and visited the URL Jacobs mentioned (now only available on the Web Archive) to read the details. And there was no mention of Vigilant Warrior, at all. Go look, confirm it for yourself.

Jacobs also tells us about a quote from “the lead pilot for the exercise”. Here’s the relevant section from his source:

No mention of him being “lead pilot for the exercise”. No mention of “Vigilant” or “Warrior” in the entire page, in fact. No details on the exercises at all.

None of this proves that Vigilant Warrior didn’t exist, of course -- we can’t prove a negative. But it does show that, despite what Jacobs writes, there’s still no confirmation beyond Clarke’s account, and so it remains possible that he was simply mistaken.

Global Guardian

Global Guardian was another exercise running on 9/11. "The Military Drills on 9-11: 'Bizarre Coincidence' or Something Else?" mentions it here:

Here's the first Cooperative Research entry on Global Guardian:

Points to note include the fact that it had been running since the previous week, so wasn't just a 9/11 thing. And it intentionally links with a number of other exercises, a point that's repeated elsewhere. It's not a "coincidence" that both Global Guardian and Vigilant Guardian are running on 9/11, for instance: it's planned. The exercises are supposed to run together.

The computer network attack scenario, however, remains as speculative as Jacobs suggests: it's not known if any such attack were included in the 2001 scenario, or whether it was running during the attacks, or whether that might have had any effect on NORAD. No-one suggests that the FAA or NORAD were suffering computer problems, though, so there continues to be no reason to believe that this exercise had a negative effect on response to the 9/11 attacks.

NRO Drill

The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) were holding a drill on 9/11. "The Military Drills on 9-11: 'Bizarre Coincidence' or Something Else?" thinks it may be relevant:

Although this involved a plane crashing into a building, it wasn’t terrorism but rather an accident, as Jacobs points out. And that’s worth doing, because others are a little more deceptive:

"An identical scenario" implies a terrorist act, but Mike Ruppert gave more details on the real reason:

There’s no direct involvement with the military or FAA, however Jacobs suggests the drill meant that “many key people who are responsible for watching images from numerous satellites were not even at their stations when the first plane struck its target!”. And he’s not alone.

It seems like we have one or two questionable assumptions here, like the idea that NRO would have been an “indispensable resource” to NORAD. Why? How are spy satellites going to be any more useful at picking up and identifying a particular plane, than radar?

But let’s assume they were. Why shouldn’t the satellites still have been available? Who says they’re controlled from the NRO Headquarters, anyway? From the photos we’ve seen, it just looks like a big office building ( http://ludb.clui.org/ex/i/VA3142/ ).

What’s more, other reports suggest the satellites are actually controlled from Buckley Field in Colorado.

The intelligence site Cryptome seems to agree, and has published pictures showing various parts of the Buckley site (note that they don’t mention NRO HQ at all).

NRO Buckley.jpg

Even if the NRO headquarters did play a part, it’s not clear that the drill would have made any difference:

As the crash only affected one tower, it’s surely possible that staff elsewhere continued to work as normal. There’s certainly nothing here on the numbers of staff involved, and no reason to believe that satellite feeds wouldn’t have been available as normal.

Note also that, despite this being grandly described as a “war game” at some sites (presumably because it was being run by “John Fulton” and his team, a CIA agent assigned as the “head of the NROs strategic gaming division”), it actually sounds like little more than an extended fire drill.

But wait: the claim is that the NRO staff were sent home “during” the crisis, right? As events unfolded? Might seem suspicious if it were true, but unfortunately there’s no evidence that this happened.

Staff were sent home after the attacks, not during. And even then, essential personnel remained -- again, no evidence to show satellite use was compromised, and nothing to indicate that satellites would have made the slightest difference to events anyway.

There's one more issue which strongly suggests (at least to us) that there's nothing to the NRO story, and that's how it was uncovered. It didn't come about through a FOIA request from some diligent reporter. It wasn't revealed by truther investigations, or interviews with those involved. Rather, it was announced at a homeland security conference in Chicago, as part of an introduction for CIA agent John Fulton:

If the exercise were set up to affect the US response on 9/11, then why make it public in such an unnecessary way?

False Blips

Jacobs moves on to mention “the obvious problem of not being able to tell the difference between real and drill blips on NORAD screens”. This seems to be part of a common idea that “false blips” used by one or more of the above exercises confused NORAD and the FAA, but as usual this isn't nearly as "obvious" as Jacobs would pretend. And in fact there's no evidence at all that "false blips" were in use on 9/11. Read more here.


One of the most common approaches with regard to the "war games" is to present you with some huge list, and then argue that this is too many exercises to be coincidental. But as we've seen, these lists aren't always an accurate reflection of what was going on.

Of the nine exercises we've listed here, for instance, two weren't running on 9/11 (Amalgam Virgo, Tripod II), and a third probably doesn't exist (Vigilant Warrior). Three of the remaining six have no obvious relevance to NORAD (Timely Alert II, Operation Northern Guardian, NRO Drill). Of the remaining three, one was a real operation in response to a Russian exercise and not a "war game" at all (Operation Northern Vigilance). That leaves us with only two NORAD-related exercises, which are intentionally run at the same time: Global Guardian and Vigilant Guardian. This perhaps isn't quite the staggering coincidence that some would have you believe.

Even more importantly, there’s a distinct lack of evidence for any of these exercises adversely affecting the response to 9/11, or even to contradict the NORAD and 9/11 Commission view that they actually helped. 9/11 researchers need to deliver something more than their current empty speculation on this topic if the argument is to move any further.