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Profile: Northeast Air Defense Sector


Positions that Northeast Air Defense Sector has held:




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Northeast Air Defense Sector actively participated in the following events:


(6:30 a.m.): NORAD on Alert for Emergency Exercises      Complete 911 Timeline

Dawne Deskins.
Lieutenant Colonel Dawne Deskins and other day shift employees at NEADS start their workday. NORAD is conducting a weeklong, large-scale exercise called Vigilant Guardian. [Newhouse News Service, 1/25/02] Deskins is regional mission crew chief for the Vigilant Guardian exercise. [ABC News, 9/11/02] Vigilant Guardian is described as “an exercise that would pose an imaginary crisis to North American Air Defense outposts nationwide”; as a “simulated air war”; and as “an air defense exercise simulating an attack on the United States.” According to the 9/11 Commission, it “postulated a bomber attack from the former Soviet Union.” [Newhouse News, 1/25/02; Air War Over America, by Leslie Filson, 1/04, pp 55 and 122; 9/11 Commission Final Report, 7/04, pp 458] Vigilant Guardian is described as being held annually, and is one of NORAD's four major annual exercises. [Air War Over America, by Leslie Filson, 1/04, pp 41; Code Names, by William M. Arkin, 1/05, pp 545; GlobalSecurity [.org] Vigilant Guardian page, 4/14/02] However, another report says it takes place semi-annually. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/02] Accounts by participants vary on whether 9/11 was the second, third, or fourth day of the exercise. [Code One Magazine, 1/02; Newhouse News Service, 1/25/02; Ottawa Citizen, 9/11/02] Vigilant Guardian is a command post exercise (CPX), and in at least some previous years was conducted in conjunction with Stratcom's Global Guardian exercise and a US Space Command exercise called Apollo Guardian. [Committee on Armed Services, undated; Code Names, by William M. Arkin, 1/05, pp 545; GlobalSecurity [.org] Vigilant Guardian page, 4/14/02] All of NORAD is participating in Vigilant Guardian on 9/11. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/02] At NEADS, most of the dozen or so staff on the operations floor have no idea what the exercise is going to entail and are ready for anything. [Utica Observer-Dispatch, 8/5/04] NORAD is also running a real-world operation named Operation Northern Vigilance. NORAD is thus fully staffed and alert, and senior officers are manning stations throughout the US. The entire chain of command is in place and ready when the first hijacking is reported. An article later says, “In retrospect, the exercise would prove to be a serendipitous enabler of a rapid military response to terrorist attacks on September 11.” [Bergen Record, 12/5/03; Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/02] Colonel Robert Marr, in charge of NEADS, says, “We had the fighters with a little more gas on board. A few more weapons on board.” [ABC News, 9/11/02] However, Deskins and other NORAD officials later are initially confused about whether the 9/11 attacks are real or part of the exercise. There is a National Reconnaissance Office exercise planned to occur as well (see 9:00 a.m.), involving a scenario of an airplane as a flying weapon. [Associated Press, 8/21/02; UPI, 8/22/02]
People and organizations involved: Northeast Air Defense Sector, Dawne Deskins, Robert Marr, North American Aerospace Defense Command, Vigilant Guardian, Operation Northern Vigilance

(8:24 a.m.): Flight 11 Turns, Many Watch It on Primary Radar      Complete 911 Timeline

       Boston flight control radar sees Flight 11 making an unplanned 100-degree turn to the south (the plane is already way off course). Flight controllers never lose sight of the flight, though they can no longer determine altitude once the transponder is turned off. [Christian Science Monitor, 9/13/01; MSNBC, 9/11/02 (B); Newhouse News Service, 1/25/02] Before this turn, the FAA had tagged Flight 11's radar dot for easy visibility and, at American Airlines headquarters at least, “All eyes watched as the plane headed south. On the screen, the plane showed a squiggly line after its turn near Albany, then it straightened.” [Wall Street Journal, 10/15/01] Boston flight controller Mark Hodgkins later says, “I watched the target of American 11 the whole way down.” [ABC News, 9/6/02] However, apparently, NEADS has different radar. When they are finally told about the flight, they cannot find it. Boston has to update NEADS on Flight 11's position periodically by telephone until NEADS finally finds it a few minutes before it crashes into the WTC. [Newhouse News Service, 1/25/02; ABC News, 9/11/02; Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/02]
People and organizations involved: Northeast Air Defense Sector, Boston flight control, Mark Hodgkins, Federal Aviation Administration

After 8:37 a.m.: NEADS Staff Unable to Locate Hijacked Planes on Radar Screens      Complete 911 Timeline

       Lt. Col. Dawne Deskins of NEADS says that when the FAA first calls and reports the first hijacking, “He [FAA] gave me the latitude and longitude of that track ... [but] there was nothing there.” [Fox News, 9/8/02] Master Sergeant Kevin Foster and Staff Sergeant Mark Rose, also working at NEADS this morning, later complain about their inability to locate the hijacked planes on their radar screens. After being informed of the first hijacking, reportedly, “As they had practiced countless times before, the NEADS team quickly began searching their screens for the plane. Because they had been informed its transponder was off, they knew to look for a tiny dash instead of the usual dot. But radar systems also use such lines to indicate weather patterns, so NEADS personnel began urgently clicking their computer cursors on each stray line to see if information indicating an aircraft would appear.” Yet, after receiving further calls indicating more hijackings, “the inability to find the hijacked planes on the radar, despite their best efforts, was difficult.” According to Kevin Foster, “We were trying to find the tracks, and not being able to was very frustrating.” [Utica Observer-Dispatch, 8/5/04] NEADS Staff Sergeant Larry Thornton says, “Once we were called by the FAA, we could find split-second hits on what we thought we were looking for. But the area was so congested and it was incredibly difficult to find. We were looking for little dash marks in a pile of clutter and a pile of aircraft on a two-dimensional scope.” Each fluorescent green pulsating dot on their radar scopes represents an airplane, and there are thousands currently airborne, especially over the busy northeast US. [Air War Over America, by Leslie Filson, 1/04, p. 56]
People and organizations involved: Mark Rose, Larry Thornton, Federal Aviation Administration, Dawne Deskins, Kevin Foster, Northeast Air Defense Sector

(8:40 a.m.): ‘Hubbub’ at NEADS Headquarters      Complete 911 Timeline

       At NEADS, a huddle of people is gathered around one of their radar scopes. NEADS Commander Robert Marr initially thinks this hubbub is part of the NORAD training exercise (presumably Vigilant Guardian). He says, “I've seen many exercises � and as I saw that huddle I said, ‘There's got to be something wrong, something is happening here.’ You usually see that whenever they find a track on the scope that looks unusual; it's usually an indicator that something is getting ready to kick off.” He sends Lt. Colonel Dawne Deskins, the regional mission crew commander for the exercise, to check it out. According to Marr, she comes running back with urgency in her voice: The FAA needs help with a possibly hijacked civilian airliner that has just disappeared from the radar scope and was heading toward New York. [Air War Over America, by Leslie Filson, 1/04, p. 55] Presumably it is while she is checking out this 'hubbub' that Deskins speaks over the phone with FAA's Boston Control Center about the first hijacking (see (8:37 a.m.)). According to the 9/11 Commission, this call to NEADS begins at 8:37:52 a.m. However, Deskins has given the time for the call at 8:31 a.m.(see (8:37 a.m.)). [9/11 Commission Report, 6/17/04]
People and organizations involved: Northeast Air Defense Sector, Federal Aviation Administration, Dawne Deskins, Robert Marr, Vigilant Guardian

8:43 a.m.: NORAD Notified That Flight 175 Has Been Hijacked      Complete 911 Timeline

National Guard troops stationed at NORAD's Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) in Rome, New York.
After 9/11, NORAD and other sources claim that NORAD is notified at this time Flight 175 has been hijacked. [Newsday, 9/10/02; Associated Press, 8/19/02; NORAD, 9/18/01; CNN, 9/17/01; Washington Post, 9/12/01] The 9/11 Commission, however, later concludes that New York flight control gives NEADS its first notification that Flight 175 has been hijacked at 9:03 a.m. [9/11 Commission Report, 6/17/04] If this earlier account is the accurate one, NEADS technicians learn of the hijacking at the exact same time the flight controllers do. They already have their headsets linked to Boston flight control to track Flight 11 at this time,and so they learn instantly about Flight 175. [Newhouse News Service, 1/25/02]
People and organizations involved: North American Aerospace Defense Command, Northeast Air Defense Sector, New York flight control

8:46 a.m.: NEADS Staff Believe They See Flight 11 Disappear Over New York      Complete 911 Timeline

       NEADS staff have been desperately trying to track the missing Flight 11 on their radar screens. Despite having great difficulty locating it, Master Sergeant Joe McCain believes they see Flight 11 when it disappears over New York. He says: “We picked up a search track going down the Hudson Valley, straight in from the north toward New York. It's very unusual to find a search target, which is a plane with its transponder turned off, in that area. This plane was headed toward New York going faster than the average Cessna and was no doubt a jet aircraft. We had many clues. The plane was fast and heading in an unusual direction with no beacon. We had raw data only. Everything just kind of fit. We watched that track until it faded over New York City and right after that someone came out of the break room and said the World Trade Center had been hit.” [Air War Over America, by Leslie Filson, 1/04, pp. 56-57]
People and organizations involved: Northeast Air Defense Sector, Joe McCain

(9:03 a.m.): New York Flight Control Informs NORAD That Flight 175 Has Been Hijacked; Timing of Notice in Question      Complete 911 Timeline

       The 9/11 Commission later concludes that New York flight control tells NEADS that Flight 175 has been hijacked at this time. The commission refers to this as “the first indication that the NORAD air defenders had of the second hijacked aircraft.” [9/11 Commission Report, 6/17/04] Colonel Robert Marr, head of NEADS, claims that he first learns a flight other than Flight 11 has been hijacked when he sees Flight 175 crash into the WTC on television. [Aviation Week and Space Technology, 6/3/02] NEADS Mission Crew Commander Dawne Deskins claims that when she sees Flight 175 hitting the South Tower on television, “we didn't even know there was a second hijack.” [Air War Over America, by Leslie Filson, 1/04, pp 59] However, these accounts contradict NORAD's conclusion reached shortly after 9/11 that it was first notified about Flight 175 at 8:43 a.m. (see 8:43 a.m.). [NORAD, 9/18/01] Additionally, as Flight 175 crashes into the WTC, Canadian Captain Mike Jellinek (who is overseeing the Command Center in NORAD's Colorado headquarters) is on the phone with NEADS. He sees the crash live on television and asks NEADS, “Was that the hijacked aircraft you were dealing with?” The reply is yes. [Toledo Blade, 12/9/01] If the commission's account is correct, several questions remain unanswered. Flight 175 lost radio contact at 8:42 a.m. (see 8:41 a.m.) and changed transponder signals at 8:46 a.m. (see 8:46 a.m.); a flight controller declared it possibly hijacked sometime between 8:46 a.m. and 8:53 a.m. (see 8:46 a.m.); and a flight control manager called it hijacked at 8:55 a.m.(see (8:55 a.m.)) The commission has not explained why New York flight control would wait 10-17 minutes before warning NORAD that Flight 175 is possibly hijacked. [9/11 Commission Report, 6/17/04] It also would not explain why United Airlines headquarters would fail to notify NORAD National Guard after learning that the plane has been hijacked at about 8:50 a.m. (see (8:50 a.m.))
People and organizations involved: New York flight control, Northeast Air Defense Sector, Robert Marr, United Airlines, Mike Jellinek, North American Aerospace Defense Command

(9:08-9:13 a.m.): Fighters Put in Holding Pattern over Ocean Instead of Defending New York City      Complete 911 Timeline

Bush reacts to the message Andrew Card has just given him.
The two F-15s scrambled to find Flight 11 in New York are now ordered to circle in a 150-mile window of air space off the coast of Long Island. It is not clear whether they reach New York City before being directed over the ocean. Pilot Major Daniel Nash states, “Neither the civilian controller or the military controller knew what they wanted us to do.” [Cape Cod Times, 8/21/02] At 9:09 a.m., the NEADS Mission Crew Commander learns of the second WTC crash, and decides to send the fighters to New York City. At 9:10 a.m., the senior director on the NEADS floor tells the weapons director, “I want those fighters closer in.” NEADS controllers are concerned about refueling, and are simultaneously working with a tanker to relocate close to the Otis fighters. Then, at 9:11 a.m., either the senior weapons director at NEADS or his technician instructs the Otis fighters to “remain at current position [holding pattern] until FAA requests assistance.” According to the 9/11 Commission, the record of this instruction is the only NEADS recording of the NEADS senior weapons director and weapons director technician responsible for controlling the Otis scramble that is available to them. This, they state, is because of a “technical issue.” The Commission says the Otis fighters remain in a holding pattern over the ocean until 9:13 a.m. while the FAA clears the airspace. The fighters then establish a Combat Air Patrol over the city at 9:25 a.m. What the fighters do between 9:13 a.m. and 9:25 a.m. is unclear. The distance between the two locations is unknown but presumably not large. [9/11 Commission Report, 6/17/04; 9/11 Commission Final Report, 7/24/04, pp. 459-460] These fighters remain over New York City for the next four hours. [Cape Cod Times, 8/21/02]
People and organizations involved: Daniel Nash, Northeast Air Defense Sector, Federal Aviation Administration

(9:16 a.m.): NORAD's Original Claim Flight 93 Is Hijacked at This Time Is Apparently Wrong; One Hijacker May Have Snuck Into Cockpit Early      Complete 911 Timeline

       According to a NORAD timeline from a week after 9/11, NORAD claims that Flight 93 may have been hijacked at this time. The timeline inexplicably fails to say when the FAA told them about the hijack, the only flight for which they fail to provide this data. [CNN, 9/17/01; NORAD, 9/18/01] However, there may be one explanation: There are media reports that “investigators had determined from the cockpit voice recorder from United Airlines Flight 93 ... that one of the four hijackers had been invited into the cockpit area before the flight took off from Newark, New Jersey.” Cockpit voice recordings indicate that the pilots believed their guest was a colleague “and was thereby extended the typical airline courtesy of allowing any pilot from any airline to join a flight by sitting in the jumpseat, the folded over extra seat located inside the cockpit.” [Herald Sun, 9/25/01; Fox News, 9/24/01] However, this account has not been confirmed. The 9/11 Commission asserts the hijacking begins around 9:28 a.m. (see (9:28 a.m.)) [9/11 Commission Report, 6/17/04] Note that during the 9/11 Commission hearings in May 2003, NORAD officials stated that the FAA informed NEADS at 9:16 a.m. that United Flight 93 was hijacked. According to a commission report in 2004, “this statement was incorrect.” No further explanation is offered for NORAD's incorrect timeline. [9/11 Commission Report, 6/17/04]
People and organizations involved: North American Aerospace Defense Command, Federal Aviation Administration, Northeast Air Defense Sector

9:21 a.m.: FAA Headquarters Mistakenly Tells Boston Controller Flight 11 Is Still Airborne      Complete 911 Timeline

       According to the 9/11 Commission, NEADS is contacted by Boston flight control. A controller says, “I just had a report that American 11 is still in the air, and it's on its way towards—heading towards Washington. ... That was another—it was evidently another aircraft that hit the tower. That's the latest report we have. ... I'm going to try to confirm an ID for you, but I would assume he's somewhere over, uh, either New Jersey or somewhere further south.” The NEADS official asks, “He—American 11 is a hijack? ... And he's heading into Washington?” The Boston controller answers yes both times and adds, “This could be a third aircraft.” Somehow Boston is told by FAA headquarters that Flight 11 is still airborne, but the commission hasn't been able to find where this mistaken information came from. [9/11 Commission Report, 6/17/04]
People and organizations involved: Northeast Air Defense Sector, Boston flight control, Federal Aviation Administration

9:23 a.m.: NEADS Wants Fighters to Track Phantom Flight 11      Complete 911 Timeline

       According to the 9/11 Commission, NEADS has just been told that the hijacked Flight 11 is still in the air and heading toward Washington. The NEADS Battle Commander says, “Okay, uh, American Airlines is still airborne. Eleven, the first guy, he's heading towards Washington. Okay? I think we need to scramble Langley right now. And I'm gonna take the fighters from Otis, try to chase this guy down if I can find him.” The NEADS Mission Crew Commander issues the order, “Okay ... scramble Langley. Head them towards the Washington area.” The Langley, Virginia, base gets the scramble order at 9:24 a.m. (see (9:24 a.m.)). NEADS keeps their fighters from the Otis base over New York City. [9/11 Commission Report, 6/17/04]
People and organizations involved: Northeast Air Defense Sector

9:34 a.m.: FAA Mentions in Passing to NORAD That Flight 77 Is Missing      Complete 911 Timeline

       According to the 9/11 Commission, NEADS contacts Washington flight control to ask about Flight 11. A manager there happens to mention, “We're looking—we also lost American 77.” The commission claims, “No one at FAA Command Center or headquarters ever asked for military assistance with American 77.” [9/11 Commission Report, 6/17/04] Yet, 38 minutes earlier, flight controllers determined Flight 77 was off course, out of radio contact, and had no transponder signal (see (8:56 a.m.)). They'd warned American Airlines headquarters within minutes. By some accounts, this is the first time NORAD is told about Flight 77, but other accounts have them warned around 9:25 a.m.
People and organizations involved: Federal Aviation Administration, Northeast Air Defense Sector, North American Aerospace Defense Command, American Airlines

Before 9:36 a.m.: Officials Claim NORAD is Monitoring Flight 93      Complete 911 Timeline

       According to one account given by NEADS Commander Robert Marr, some time before around 9:36 when it changes direction, while it is still flying west, Flight 93 is being monitored by NEADS. Marr describes how, “We don't have fighters that way and we think [Flight 93 is] headed toward Detroit or Chicago.” He says he contacts a base in the area “so they [can] head off 93 at the pass.” Not only does NORAD know about the flight, but also, according to NORAD Commander Larry Arnold, “We watched the 93 track as it meandered around the Ohio-Pennsylvania area and started to turn south toward DC.” (This change of direction occurs around 9:36 a.m.) [Air War Over America, by Leslie Filson, 1/04, pp. 68-71] This account completely contradicts the 9/11 Commission's later claim that NEADS is first notified about Flight 93 at 10:07 a.m. [9/11 Commission Report, 6/17/04]
People and organizations involved: North American Aerospace Defense Command, Northeast Air Defense Sector, Robert Marr, Larry Arnold

9:37 a.m.: Langley Fighters Still Short of Washington; Where and Why Is Not Clear      Complete 911 Timeline

       Accounts differ as to how far from Washington the F-16 fighters scrambled from Langley are when Flight 77 crashes. The Langley, Virginia, base is 129 miles from Washington. NORAD originally claimed that, at the time of the crash, the fighters are 105 miles away, despite having taken off seven minutes earlier. [NORAD, 9/18/01] The 9/11 Commission claims that at 9:36 a.m., NEADS discovers that Flight 77 is only a few miles from the White House and is dismayed to find the fighters have headed east over the ocean. They are ordered to Washington immediately, but are still about 150 miles away. This is farther away than the base from which they took off. [9/11 Commission Report, 6/17/04] The F-16 pilot codenamed Honey (who is apparently Captain Craig Borgstrom) offers a different explanation. As previously mentioned, he says they are flying toward New York, when they see a black column of smoke coming from Washington, about 30 or 40 miles to the west. He is then asked over the radio by NEADS if he can confirm the Pentagon is burning. He confirms it. He says that the mission of the Langley pilots at this time is clear: to keep all airplanes away from Washington. The F-16s are then ordered to set up a defensive perimeter above Washington. [Longman, 2002, pp 76; New York Observer, 2/11/04; Air War Over America, by Leslie Filson, 1/04, pp 66] The maximum speed of an F-16 is 1,500 mph. [Associated Press, 6/16/00] Had the fighters traveled straight to Washington at 1,300 mph, they would have reached Washington at least one minute before Flight 77. Furthermore, at the time the Pentagon is hit, according to Craig Borgstrom, he and the other Langley pilots are hearing a lot of chatter over their radios, but nothing about airliners crashing into buildings. He says they are “all three on different frequencies � and [are] getting orders from a lot of different people.” [Air War Over America, by Leslie Filson, 1/04, pp 66]
People and organizations involved: Northeast Air Defense Sector, Craig Borgstrom, Pentagon

10:10 a.m.: Langley Fighters Told They Cannot Shoot Down Hijacked Planes      Complete 911 Timeline

       According to the 9/11 Commission, the NEADS Mission Crew Commander is sorting out the orders given to the Langley fighter pilots. The Commander does not know that Flight 93 had been heading toward Washington or that it had crashed. He explicitly instructs the Langley fighters that they cannot shoot down aircraft—they have “negative clearance to shoot” aircraft over Washington. Authorization to shoot down hijacked civilian aircraft only reaches NEADS at 10:31 a.m. (see 10:31 a.m.) Even then, the authorization is not passed on to the pilots. [9/11 Commission Report, 6/17/04]
People and organizations involved: Northeast Air Defense Sector

10:15 a.m.: NEADS Learns Flight 93 Is Down      Complete 911 Timeline

       According to the 9/11 Commission, NEADS calls Washington flight control at this time. Asked about Flight 93, flight control responds, “He's down.” It is clarified that the plane crashed “somewhere up northeast of Camp David.” [9/11 Commission Report, 6/17/04]
People and organizations involved: Northeast Air Defense Sector

10:31 a.m.: NEADS Does Not Pass Along NORAD Shootdown Order      Complete 911 Timeline

       According to the 9/11 Commission, NORAD Commander Major General Larry Arnold instructs his staff to broadcast the following message over a NORAD chat log: “10:31 Vice President [Cheney] has cleared us to intercept tracks of interest and shoot them down (see 10:14 a.m.) if they do not respond, per CONR CC [General Arnold].” NEADS first learns of the shootdown order from this message. However, NEADS does not pass the order to the fighter pilots in New York City and Washington. NEADS leaders later say they do not pass it on because they are unsure how the pilots should proceed with this guidance. [9/11 Commission Report, 6/17/04] The pilots flying over New York City claim they are never given a formal shootdown order that day.
People and organizations involved: Larry Arnold, Northeast Air Defense Sector, Richard ("Dick") Cheney

After 10:42 a.m.: Langley and Andrews Pilots Hear Warning Over Radio      Complete 911 Timeline

       After taking off from Andrews Air Force Base, Lt. Col. Marc Sasseville and Captain Heather Penney Garcia are flying at low altitudes over Washington, DC. The three fighters launched from Langley Air Force Base at 9:30 a.m. are flying above them at around 20,000 feet. The Langley pilots are communicating with controllers at NEADS, while the Andrews pilots are communicating with civilian controllers at the FAA. However, both sets of pilots hear a message over a shared channel: “Attention all aircraft monitoring Andrews tower frequency. Andrews and Class Bravo airspace is closed. No general aviation aircraft are permitted to enter Class Bravo airspace. Any infractions will be shot down.” [Air War Over America, by Leslie Filson, 1/04, p. 82]
People and organizations involved: Northeast Air Defense Sector, Federal Aviation Administration, Heather Penney Garcia, Marc Sasseville

September 12, 2001: Unidentified Plane Causes NEADS Evacuation      Complete 911 Timeline

       Staff at the Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) in Rome, NY, notice an unidentified, low-flying plane heading slowly and directly toward their building. Yet all civilian aircraft are supposed to be grounded, with only military or emergency aircraft allowed to fly over the US. According to NEADS Commander Robert Marr, “We thought anyone in the air was either a terrorist or a criminal.” Fighters from the Vermont Air National Guard are diverted towards Rome, and Marr orders the evacuation of the NEADS building, with only himself and a small crew remaining inside. Just miles away from them, the plane suddenly changes course and is forced to land nearby by the pursuing fighters. Robert Marr later says he never found out who the culprit was, but he'd heard it was a local pilot with a seaplane. [Air War Over America, by Leslie Filson, 1/04, pp. 133-134]
People and organizations involved: Robert Marr, Northeast Air Defense Sector

'Passive' participant in the following events:

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