Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Big Time

Vanity Fair:

NEW YORK, N.Y.­—Vanity Fair writer Michael Bronner is the only journalist who has listened to the complete audiotapes—covering six and a half hours of real time—made in the bunker of the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD)’s Northeast headquarters (NEADS) on the morning of September 11, 2001. Bronner calls the tapes more important in terms of understanding America’s military capabilities that day than anything happening simultaneously on Air Force One, in the Pentagon, or in the White House.

The tapes, which Bronner describes as “fascinating and chilling,” have never been played publicly beyond a handful of sound bites presented during the 9/11 hearings, and may be heard on

The tapes prove that:

· There was no command given to shoot down United Flight 93, despite implications to the contrary made by Vice President Cheney. Cheney was not notified about the possibility that United 93 had been hijacked until 10:02 a.m.—only one minute before the airliner impacted the ground. And United 93 had crashed before anyone in the military chain of command even knew it had been hijacked. President Bush did not grant commanders the authority to give a shoot-down order until 10:18 a.m., which—though no one knew it at the time—was 15 minutes after the attack was over.

· Parts of Major General Larry Arnold and Colonel Alan Scott’s testimony to the 9/11 commission were misleading, and others simply false. The men testified that they had begun their tracking of United 93 at 9:16 a.m., but tapes reveal that the plane had not yet been hijacked, and that NEADS did not get word of the hijacking for another 51 minutes. According to Bronner, when confronted with evidence from the tapes that contradicted his original testimony, a NORAD general admitted, “The real story is actually better than the one we told.”

· For the NEADS crew, 9/11 was not a story of four hijacked airplanes, but one of a heated chase after more than ten potential hijackings—some real, some phantom—that emerged from the turbulence of misinformation that spiked in the first 100 minutes of the attack and continued well into the afternoon and evening. The fighter pilots over New York and Washington, D.C. (and later Boston and Chicago) would spend hours darting around their respective skylines intercepting hundreds of aircraft they deemed suspicious. Meanwhile, NORAD was launching as many additional fighters as it could, placing some 300 armed jets in protective orbits over every major American city by the following morning.

When Bronner asks Lieutenant Colonel Kevin Nasypany, NEADS mission control commander, about the conspiracy theories—the people who believe that he, or someone like him, secretly ordered the shootdown of United 93 and covered it up—the corners of his mouth begin to quiver and he puts his head in his hands and cries. “Flight 93 was not shot down,” he says. “The individuals on that aircraft, the passengers, they actually took the aircraft down. Because of what those people did, I didn’t have to do anything.”