Military personnel responsible for defending U.S. airspace had false tracks displayed on their radar screens throughout the entire duration of the 9/11 attacks, as part of the simulation for a training exercise being conducted that day. Technicians at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) were still receiving the simulated radar information around the time the third attack, on the Pentagon, took place. Those at NORAD’s operations center in Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, were still receiving it several minutes after United Airlines Flight 93 apparently crashed in rural Pennsylvania.

No one has investigated why false tracks continued being injected onto NORAD radar screens long after the U.S. military was alerted to the real-world crisis taking place that morning. And yet we surely need to know more about these simulated “inputs” and what effect they had on the military’s ability to respond to the 9/11 attacks.

The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 took place in airspace that was the responsibility of NEADS, based in Rome, New York. NEADS was therefore responsible for trying to coordinate the military’s response to the hijackings. And yet, in the middle of it all, at 9:30 a.m. that morning a member of staff on the NEADS operations floor complained about simulated material that was appearing on the NEADS radar screens. He said: “You know what, let’s get rid of this goddamn sim. Turn your sim switches off. Let’s get rid of that crap.” [1] Four minutes later, Technical Sergeant Jeffrey Richmond gave an instruction to the NEADS surveillance technicians, “All surveillance, turn off your sim switches.” (A “sim switch” presumably allows a technician to either display or turn off any simulated material on their radar screen.) [2]

This means that at least some of the radar scopes at NEADS were still displaying simulated information–presumably false tracks–57 minutes after an air traffic controller at the FAA’s Boston Center called there and announced: “We have a problem here. We have a hijacked aircraft headed towards New York.” Forty-eight minutes had passed since the first attack on the World Trade Center occurred, and 31 minutes since the second tower was hit and it became obvious that the U.S. was under attack. It was only three minutes after Richmond gave his instruction, at 9:37 a.m., that the Pentagon was struck in the third successful attack that morning. [3]

Why were NEADS radar scopes displaying simulated information for so long during the real-world crisis, when it appears the technicians could have removed that information at the flick of a switch? Surely any false tracks could have hindered the ability of NEADS personnel to effectively respond to the attacks, so should have been terminated at the first sign of an actual emergency.

And yet this inexplicable behavior was not an exception. A similar thing happened at NORAD’s Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center (CMOC) in Colorado, where it appears that false radar tracks were being displayed for even longer than at NEADS.

At 10:12 a.m., an officer at the NORAD operations center, “Captain Taylor,” called NEADS and spoke to Captain Brian Nagel, the chief of live exercises there. After introducing himself, Taylor said, “What we need you to do right now is to terminate all exercise inputs coming into Cheyenne Mountain.” Nagel gave Taylor an extension number and asked him to call it to get the exercise inputs stopped. Taylor replied, “I’ll do that.” [4] “Inputs,” according to an article in Vanity Fair, are simulated scenarios that are put into play by a simulations team during training exercises. [5]

Taylor was presumably referring specifically to false tracks that had been transmitted onto radar screens at the CMOC, where more than 50 members of the battle staff had been participating in the exercise conducted that morning. [6] Indeed, the Toronto Star reported, “Any simulated information, what’s known as an ‘inject'” was “purged from the screens” at the CMOC in response to the news of the real-world attacks. (However, the report indicated, apparently incorrectly, that the false tracks appearing on CMOC screens were terminated earlier on, at some time shortly before 9:03 a.m., when the second WTC tower was hit.) [7]

If simulated material was still being displayed on CMOC radar screens at 10:12 a.m., this would be astonishing. By that time, 95 minutes had passed since–according to the 9/11 Commission–the military was first alerted to the hijacking of American Airlines Flight 11, and more than an hour had passed since the second plane hit the WTC. Flight 93 had apparently crashed in a field in rural Pennsylvania minutes earlier, and so the 9/11 attacks were already over. [8]

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