"Nothing Urgent" on 9/11: The Curious Lack of Military Action on the Morning of September 11, 2001
by George Szamuely
Global Research Editor's Note
As September approaches, we are reminded that the anniversary of the tragic events of 9/11 will soon be upon us once
again. 11 years laters, are we any closer to the truth about what really happened on that fateful day?
For the next month until September 11, 2012, we will be posting on a daily basis important articles from our early
archives pertaining to the tragic events of 9/11.
George Szamuely's incisive article published more than 10 years ago raises some "uncomfortable questions" regarding Air
Force Preparedness in the case of a national emergency: "Why were no fighter planes launched until after the Pentagon
"Talk about a lack of urgency! Assuming Otis Air National Guard Base is about 180 miles away from Manhattan it should
have taken the F-15s less than six minutes to get here. Moreover, since Washington, DC, is little more than 200 miles
from New York, the two F-15 fighters would have had time to get to DC, intercept Flight 77 and grab breakfast on the
Michel Chossudovsky, Global Research, August 14, 2012
by George Szamuely
New York Press,
Vol. 15, No. 2
Centre for Research on Globalisation (CRG), globalresearch.ca
, 15 February 2002
Let’s revisit the curious lack of military action on the morning of September 11.
That morning, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard B. Myers, was having a routine meeting on Capitol
Hill with Sen. Max Cleland. While the two men chatted away, a hijacked jet plowed into the World Trade Center’s north
tower, another one plowed into the south tower and a third one into the Pentagon. And still they went on with their
meeting. "[W]hen we came out," Myers recounted to American Forces Radio and Television Service, "somebody said the
Pentagon had been hit." Myers claims no one had bothered to inform him about the attacks on the World Trade Center.
Meanwhile, in Florida, just as President Bush was about to leave his hotel he was told about the attack on the first WTC
tower. He was asked by a reporter if he knew what was going on in New York. He said he did, and then went to an
elementary school in Sarasota to read to children.
No urgency. Why should there be? Who could possibly have realized then the calamitous nature of the events of that day?
Besides, the hijackers had switched the transponders off. So how could anyone know what was going on?
Passenger jet hijackings are not uncommon and the U.S. government has prepared detailed plans to handle them. On Sept.
11 these plans were ignored in their entirety. According to The New York Times, air traffic controllers knew at 8:20
a.m. "that American Airlines Flight 11, bound from Boston to Los Angeles, had probably been hijacked. When the first
news report was made at 8:48 a.m. that a plane might have hit the World Trade Center, they knew it was Flight 11." There
was little ambiguity on the matter. The pilot had pushed a button on the aircraft yoke that allowed controllers to hear
the hijacker giving orders. Here are the FAA regulations concerning hijackings: "The FAA hijack coordinator…on duty at
Washington headquarters will request the military to provide an escort aircraft for a confirmed hijacked aircraft… The
escort service will be requested by the FAA hijack coordinator by direct contact with the National Military Command
Center (NMCC)." Here are the instructions issued by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on June 1, 2001: "In the
event of a hijacking, the NMCC will be notified by the most expeditious means by the FAA. The NMCC will…forward requests
for DOD assistance to the Secretary of Defense for approval."
In addition, as Vice President Cheney explained on Meet the Press on Sept. 16, only the president has the authority to
order the shooting down of a civilian airliner.
The U.S. is supposed to scramble military aircraft the moment a hijacking is confirmed. Myers’ revelation to the Senate
Armed Services Committee on Sept. 13 that no fighter planes had been launched until after the Pentagon was hit was
therefore surprising. Senators and even some TV commentators were a little incredulous. Dan Rather asked: "These
hijacked aircraft were in the air for quite a while… Why doesn’t the Pentagon have the kind of protection that they can
get a fighter-interceptor aircraft up, and if someone is going to plow an aircraft into the Pentagon, that we have at
least some…line of defense?"
Good question. Clearly another, more comforting, story was needed, and on the evening of Sept. 14 CBS launched it by
revealing that the FAA had indeed alerted U.S. air defense units of a possible hijacking at 8:38 a.m. on Tuesday, that
six minutes later two F-15s received a scramble order at Otis Air National Guard Base on Cape Cod and that by 8:56 the
F-15s were racing toward New York. Unfortunately, the fighters were still 70 miles away when the second jet hit the
south tower. Meanwhile, at 9:30 a.m., three F-16s were launched from Langley Air Force base, 150 miles south of
Washington. But just seven minutes later, at 9:37 a.m., Flight 77 smashed into the Pentagon. The F-16s arrived in
Washington just before 10 a.m.
This story, which has now become the "official" version, raises more questions than it answers. F-15s can travel at
speeds of 1875 mph while F-16s can travel at 1500 mph. If it took the F-16s half an hour to cover 150 miles, they could
not have been traveling at more than 300 mph–at 20 percent capability. Boeing 767s and 757s have cruising speeds of 530
mph. Talk about a lack of urgency! Assuming Otis Air National Guard Base is about 180 miles away from Manhattan it
should have taken the F-15s less than six minutes to get here. Moreover, since Washington, DC, is little more than 200
miles from New York, the two F-15 fighters would have had time to get to DC, intercept Flight 77 and grab breakfast on
Ah, but of course the transponders were turned off. So no one could keep track of the planes. If it were true that the
moment a transponder is turned off a plane becomes invisible there would be no defense against enemy aircraft. Normal
radar echo return from the metal surface of an aircraft would still identify it on the radar scope.
Luckily, we still have first-rate establishment media to make sure that we retain confidence in our government.