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Northern Vigilance was an exercise run by NORAD.
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September 9-11, 2001: NORAD Begins Northern Vigilance Military Operation NORAD begins Operation Northern Vigilance. For this military operation, it deploys fighters to Alaska and Northern Canada to monitor a Russian air force exercise in the Russian Arctic and North Pacific Ocean, scheduled for September 10 to September 14. The Russian exercise involves its bombers staging a mock attack against NATO planes that are supposedly planning an assault on Russia. [BBC, 2001, PP. 161; NORAD, 9/9/2001; WASHINGTON TIMES, 9/11/2001] The NORAD fighters are due to stay in Alaska and Canada until the end of the Russian exercise. At some time between 10:32 a.m. and 11:45 a.m. on 9/11, Russian President Vladimir Putin will call the White House to say the Russians are voluntarily halting their exercise. [WASHINGTON POST, 1/27/2002] It is unknown from which bases NORAD sends fighters for Operation Northern Vigilance, and how many US military personnel are involved. However, in December 2000, it took similar action—called Operation Northern Denial—in response to a “smaller scale” Russian “long-range aviation activity in northern Russia and the Arctic.” More than 350 American and Canadian military personnel were involved on that occasion. [CANADIAN CHIEF OF DEFENSE STAFF, 5/30/2001, PP. 6 ; NORAD, 9/9/2001] Entity Tags: Bush administration, North American Aerospace Defense Command, Operation Northern Vigilance, Vladimir Putin Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
(6:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001: NORAD on Alert for Emergency Exercises
NORAD’s war room in Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado [Source: Val Gempis] Lieutenant Colonel Dawne Deskins and other day shift employees at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) in Rome, NY, start their workday. NORAD is conducting a week-long, large-scale exercise called Vigilant Guardian. [NEWHOUSE NEWS SERVICE, 1/25/2002] Deskins is regional mission crew chief for the Vigilant Guardian exercise. [ABC NEWS, 9/11/2002] Exercise Includes Simulated Attack on the US - 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 SERVICE, 1/25/2002; FILSON, 2003, PP. 55 AND 122; 9/11 COMMISSION, 7/24/2004, PP. 458] Vigilant Guardian is described as being held annually, and is one of NORAD’s four major annual exercises. [FILSON, 2003, PP. 41; ARKIN, 2005, PP. 545; GLOBALSECURITY (.ORG), 4/27/2005] However, one report says it takes place semi-annually. [AVIATION WEEK AND SPACE TECHNOLOGY, 6/3/2002] Accounts by participants vary on whether 9/11 is the second, third, or fourth day of the exercise. [CODE ONE MAGAZINE, 1/2002; NEWHOUSE NEWS SERVICE, 1/25/2002; OTTAWA CITIZEN, 9/11/2002] 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. [US CONGRESS, N.D.; ARKIN, 2005, PP. 545; GLOBALSECURITY (.ORG), 4/27/2005] All of NORAD is participating in Vigilant Guardian on 9/11. [AVIATION WEEK AND SPACE TECHNOLOGY, 6/3/2002] Exercise Includes Simulated Hijacking - Vanity Fair reports that the “day’s exercise” (presumably Vigilant Guardian) is “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.” [VANITY FAIR, 8/1/2006] However, 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, 8/5/2004] NORAD Fully Staffed and Alert - NORAD is currently running a real-world operation named Operation Northern Vigilance (see September 9-11, 2001). It may also be conducting a field training exercise calling Amalgam Warrior on this morning (see 9:28 a.m. September 11, 2001). NORAD is thus fully staffed and alert, and senior officers are manning stations throughout the US. The entire chain of command will be 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.” [AVIATION WEEK AND SPACE TECHNOLOGY, 6/3/2002; BERGEN RECORD, 12/5/2003] Colonel Robert Marr, in charge of NEADS, will say: “We had the fighters with a little more gas on board. A few more weapons on board.” [ABC NEWS, 9/11/2002] However, Deskins and other NORAD officials later are initially confused about whether the 9/11 attacks are real or part of the exercise (see (8:38 a.m.-8:43 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Entity Tags: Northeast Air Defense Sector, Dawne Deskins, North American Aerospace Defense Command, Operation Northern Vigilance, Vigilant Guardian, Robert Marr Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
(8.46 a.m.) September 11, 2001: NORAD Operations Center Receives First Notification of Hijacking; Approves Launching of Fighters Immediately after ordering the scrambling of fighters after Flight 11, NEADS calls Canadian Captain Mike Jellinek at NORAD’s operations center in Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado. It informs him that the FAA is reporting a hijacking and requesting NORAD support, and asks for NORAD commander-in-chief approval for the scramble. [TORONTO STAR, 12/9/2001; AVIATION WEEK AND SPACE TECHNOLOGY, 6/3/2002] The Cheyenne Mountain operations center “provides warning of ballistic missile or air attacks against North America.” [NORTH AMERICAN AEROSPACE DEFENSE COMMAND, 11/27/1999] Its role is to “fuse every critical piece of information NORAD has into a concise and crystalline snapshot,” and the mandate of its staff is “to respond to any threat in the skies over Canada and the United States.” [TORONTO STAR, 12/9/2001; OTTAWA CITIZEN, 9/11/2002] This is apparently the first time it becomes aware of the morning’s emergency. Mike Jellinek is sitting near Canadian Major General Rick Findley, NORAD’s director of combat operations, who has just completed the night shift. Findley’s staff is “already on high alert” because of Vigilant Guardian and Operation Northern Vigilance, a training exercise and a NORAD operation that are currently in progress. According to some accounts, Findley quickly gives Jellinek “thumbs up” approval for the sending of the fighters after Flight 11. However, Findley tells CNN that after learning of the hijacking, “I just kind of asked the question, OK, folks, open up our checklist, follow our NORAD instruction, which included, at that time, to ask in either Ottawa or Washington is it OK if we use NORAD fighters to escort a potential hijacked aircraft?” Findley also later states, “At that point all we thought was we’ve got an airplane hijacked and we were going to provide an escort as requested. We certainly didn’t know it was going to play out as it did.” [CANADIAN BROADCASTING CORPORATION, 11/27/2001; TORONTO STAR, 12/9/2001; AVIATION WEEK AND SPACE TECHNOLOGY, 6/3/2002; OTTAWA CITIZEN, 9/11/2002; CANADIAN PRESS, 9/10/2006; CNN, 9/11/2006] Findley remains in charge of the NORAD operations center. His staff feeds information to NORAD Commander-in-Chief Ralph Eberhart, and Findley himself is in phone contact with Eberhart several times during the crisis. Eberhart is in his office at NORAD headquarters, at nearby Peterson Air Force Base, but will relocate to Cheyenne Mountain later in the morning (see (Between 9:35 a.m. and 10:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [CALGARY HERALD, 10/1/2001; 9/11 COMMISSION, 7/24/2004, PP. 465; LEGION MAGAZINE, 11/2004] Entity Tags: Operation Northern Vigilance, North American Aerospace Defense Command, Northeast Air Defense Sector, Ralph Eberhart, Vigilant Guardian, Mike Jellinek, Rick Findley Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
(9:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001: Northern Vigilance Operation Canceled; False Blips Reportedly Purged from NORAD Radar Screens
A soldier monitors a NORAD radar screen. [Source: National War College] NORAD has had fighter jets deployed to Alaska and Northern Canada for the past two days. They are there for a real-world maneuver called Operation Northern Vigilance, tasked with monitoring a Russian air force exercise being conducted in the Russian Arctic all this week (see September 9-11, 2001). [NORAD, 9/9/2001] At its operations center deep inside Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, NORAD is also reportedly at “full ‘battle staff’ levels for a major annual exercise that tests every facet of the organization.” The operations center is now contacted by NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS), based in Rome, New York. NEADS says the FAA believes there is a hijacking in progress and is asking NORAD for support; this is not part of the exercise. As the Toronto Star will later report: “In a flash, Operation Northern Vigilance is called off. Any simulated information, what’s known as an ‘inject,’ is purged from the screens.” [TORONTO STAR, 12/9/2001] NORAD has the capacity to inject simulated material, including mass attacks, during exercises, “as though it was being sensed for the first time by a radar site.” [US DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE, 1/15/1999] However, Northern Vigilance is a military operation, not a training exercise. [NORAD, 9/9/2001; US CONGRESS, 3/11/2005] So presumably the “simulated information” is part of a NORAD exercise currently taking place, such as Vigilant Guardian (see (6:30 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Therefore, many minutes into the real 9/11 attacks, there may be false radar blips appearing on the screens of NORAD personnel. Additional details, such as whose radar screens have false blips and over what duration, are unclear. However, while the Toronto Star will indicate that the simulated material is removed from NORAD radar screens shortly before 9:03 a.m., when the second attack on the World Trade Center takes place, at 10:12 a.m. an officer at the operations center will call NEADS and ask it to “terminate all exercise inputs coming into Cheyenne Mountain” (see 10:12 a.m. September 11, 2001). [NORTH AMERICAN AEROSPACE DEFENSE COMMAND, 9/11/2001; TORONTO STAR, 12/9/2001] This would indicate that the NORAD operations center continues receiving simulated radar information for over an hour more, until after Flight 93 has crashed (see (10:06 a.m.) September 11, 2001) and the terrorist attacks have ended. The Russians, after seeing the attacks on New York and Washington on television, will quickly communicate that they are canceling their Russian Arctic exercise. [TORONTO STAR, 12/9/2001; NATIONAL POST, 10/19/2002] Entity Tags: Northeast Air Defense Sector, Vigilant Guardian, Operation Northern Vigilance, North American Aerospace Defense Command Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline