Operation Vigilant Guardian
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The story...

The exercise Operation Vigilant Guardian may have been a significant factor in the success of the 9-11 attacks.

Our take...

We'll examine this case as it's portrayed in "The Military Drills on 9-11: "Bizarre Coincidence" or Something Else?", by Four Arrows (aka Don Jacobs).

‘‘Operation Vigilant Guardian,’’ a fourth drill, simulated hijacked planes. During this event, Lt. Col. Dawne Deskins, a NORAD control and warning officer, took the call from the Boston Center warning that it was tracking a hijacked airliner. Her first words were, ‘‘It must be part of the exercise’’
(Seely, 2002).
"The Military Drills on 9-11: "Bizarre Coincidence" or Something Else?"

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:

3) OPERATION VIGILANT GUARDIAN: This exercise simulated hijacked planes in the north eastern sector and started to coincide with 9/11. Lt. Col. Dawne Deskins, NORAD unit's airborne control and warning officer, was overseeing the exercise. At 8:40am she took a call from Boston Center which said it had a hijacked airliner. Her first words, as quoted by Newhouse News Service were, "It must be part of the exercise." This is another example of how the numerous drills on the morning of 9/11 deliberately distracted NORAD so that the real hijacked planes couldn't be intercepted in time.

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 (our emphasis):

As you know through previous testimony from Gen. Eberhart to Congress, we were in the middle of a NORAD exercise at that particular time. Which means, that basically our entire staff was focused on being able to do the air operations center mission, which was our job to do. We had just come out of a video teleconference with the NORAD staff and with our folks at that particular time when I was handed note that we had a possible hijacking in Boston Center. And it had come from the Northeast Air Defense Commander Col. Bob Meyer (phonetic) who is commander up there and he had requested that I call him immediately. And I was upstairs in our facility. I immediately went downstairs and picked up the phone, asking on the way to my staff, is this part of the exercise? Because quite honestly and frankly, we do do hijacking scenarios as we go through these exercises from time-to-time. But I realized that it was not – that this was real-life.

More information appears in a Vanity Fair article, that does tie the concern to a hijacking exercise due to be run on 9/11, but later:

"When they told me there was a hijack, my first reaction was 'Somebody started the exercise early,'" Nasypany later told me. The day's exercise was designed to run a range of scenarios, including a "traditional" simulated hijack in which politically motivated perpetrators commandeer an aircraft, land on a Cuba-like island, and seek asylum. "I actually said out loud, 'The hijack's not supposed to be for another hour,'" Nasypany recalled. (The fact that there was an exercise planned for the same day as the attack factors into several conspiracy theories, though the 9/11 commission dismisses this as coincidence. After plodding through dozens of hours of recordings, so do I.)

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

An hour into his shift, something unscripted happens. NORAD's Northeast Air Defence Sector (NEADS), based in Rome, N.Y., contacts the mountain.

The Federal Aviation Administration has evidence of a hijacking and is asking for NORAD support. This is not part of the exercise.

In a flash, Operation Northern Vigilance is called off. Any simulated information, what's known as an "inject," is purged from the screens.

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:

116. On 9/11, NORAD was scheduled to conduct a military exercise, Vigilant Guardian, which postulated a bomber attack from the former Soviet Union. We investigated whether military preparations for the large-scale exercise compromised the military’s response to the realworld terrorist attack on 9/11. According to General Eberhart, “it took about 30 seconds” to make the adjustment to the real-world situation. Ralph Eberhart testimony, June 17, 2004. We found that the response was, if anything, expedited by the increased number of staff at the sectors and at NORAD because of the scheduled exercise. See Robert Marr interview (Jan. 23, 2004)
Footnote to Chapter 1
9/11 Commission Report

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

—Is this explosion part of that that we're lookin' at now on TV?
—Jesus …
—And there's a possible second hijack also—a United Airlines …
—Two planes?…
—Get the fuck out …
—I think this is a damn input, to be honest.

The last line—"I think this is a damn input"—is a reference to the exercise, meaning a simulations input. It's either gallows humor or wishful thinking. From the tape, it's hard to tell.

However, as the author points out, this was following the second attack, and perhaps more likely to be gallows humour. The debate will continue, but we see no real confirmation that the exercise delayed any response to the hijackings.

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